Ed. Note—Nathan Killam has already raced three times this season, before heading home to Vancouver for the birth of his first child. Today, he checks in about the second of those three races, an adversity-rich affair on the coast of Texas. Photos by Aaron Palaian.
Sometimes, feeling good can be the worst news. It was only a few days after Puerto Rico. I was home, mostly recovered, and looking forward to Texas 70.3, about a week-and-a-half distant. I headed out the door for a run, turned onto one of my local trails, and felt like my legs were feeling better than they normally would be, this soon after a hard, hot race. I went to look at my watch and rolled my ankle, hard, the tendon making that sickening, shocking jerk as I tumbled to the ground, pain blooming up my leg. After a quick assessment, nothing was sticking out in any odd direction so stood up (slowly) and hobbled home, utterly pissed at myself for such a foolish maneuver. Luckily for me, nobody was around to see my embarrassment, so I guess that’s one check-mark in the win column. The ankle was rough for a few days, making running impossible, cycling painful, and swimming a rather uncomfortable affair. But a few days before Texas 70.3, I was able to run without too much discomfort, and I decided to make the trip. As frustrating as the injury was, it was improving quick enough that I knew I’d at least be able to start the race and make it to the run.
The lead-up to race day went off without much issue, aside from a bit of an unhappy stomach, which I’m still not really sure what to blame on. I was feeling rested, the legs loose, which is always a good sign for me. The weather had us on high-alert with a tornado warning for race day, which could have proved to make the bike interesting. The course rolls right along the open ocean, so there is zero buffer between the riders and the elements. I love a challenge, so I was pretty stoked to hear we’d be having some fun out there.
Race morning I felt great. I ate my usual breakfast of banana-maple oatmeal (GO Canada!) and two scoops of F2C Nutrition Rehab 3:1 mixed with water, and then rolled over to transition to rack my bike and prepare for the race. The winds were already super high, but the weather was dry and the water wasn’t too intense for us. We jumped off a big pier for swim warm-up (non-wetsuit for the pros,) and my arms were turning over well immediately. I had a good feeling about the day.
We lined up between the start line buoys, with over 40 pro men on the start line, which is probably my biggest field to date. As the gun went off, it was pandemonium and chaos immediately. The narrow start chute had us almost 5 deep in places, and it was more intense than I had expected. Within the first 100m, I had someone body-surfing on top of me, keeping me under the water. Thinking of death, I decided I needed to get out of the middle of this sh*t storm and move up. I body surfed over others until I made it to the outside, and put in an effort to get near the front of the pack. I slid on in behind the front swimmers, and just chilled out next to Matt Russell, getting into a nice smooth rhythm. With a few hundred meters to go, I pushed up closer to the front, as I knew the finish chute was narrow and we had a monster pack to smash through it. As we came out of the water I was delighted to hear we were only about 2:30 down from the front pack, which meant I had just had my best swim ever. I usually don’t swim well in non-wetsuit swims, so this was good news. We were within striking distance of the front of the race, and I always try to get to the front.
I was even more stoked to see that I was with Cody Beals and Matt Russell heading onto the bike. I know those guys have more watts to throw down than there are Tim Horton’s in Canada, so I was hopeful we would be able to put a dent in the front pack’s lead. Even better was to see my buddy Stephen Kilshaw, because having ridden with him and Russell in Puerto Rico only two weeks prior I knew we stood a good chance to ride well together. Although the pace was high for the first few miles, I loved it, knowing that we’d be making inroads to the group ahead of us. Then I heard a loud crack while going over a large speed hump. I looked down, confused as to what had happened, when I discovered my saddle had broken and was now slanted/hanging down on one side. Triathlon is a game of overcoming obstacles and challenges that continually present themselves throughout the race. All kinds of thoughts flooded my brain: stop? Try to find another saddle? 5k into a 90k ride, I realized that there was nothing at all I could do be take a huge dose of HTFU and just keep riding.
The lack of a saddle made the ride rather uncomfortable for a few reasons, the main two being my position was changed and I was riding on an odd part of the saddle not designed for sitting on. And no, as much as the guys at work like to allude to, there WAS in fact still a saddle on the bike and I DIDN’T ride with only a seat post. Just to clarify.
By the halfway turnaround point I was starting to fall off the pace of the group, as the legs were starting to struggle in my new position. 14 miles from home I was really feeling the hurt in the legs, as the 35-mph cross-winds on the way out had now turned into cross-headwinds. There were muscles aching in my legs that I didn’t even know I had, but I had to keep the death-march going. Rolling in to T2 after riding 2:05 for 90k, I was relieved to be finished the brutal ride. The new Dimond Brilliant that I’m riding was fantastic in the crosswinds, as there is no material in the middle of the bike to be buffeted by wind, keeping my list of things to deal with on the bike at a minimum.
Heading out on the run, I was mostly simply overjoyed to be off the bike! I slowly made my way up to my buddy Jonathan Shearon, and we ran for together for about the first 5-6km, holding 8th and 9th position. Not long after, though, the stress from the ride caught up to me, and I started to slow down. My energy was great, but the legs were just starting to ache like mad and I couldn’t coax them to move any faster! As I was slowly getting passed throughout the second of 3 laps, I was beginning to sink into a bad mental space. As I came into the final km’s of the 2nd lap, about to be passed by Chris Macdonald, something in my brain kicked me hard in the ass and told me to stop being a mopey fool and HTFU. I had been coming up with excuses for the last 5k about why my race was going bad and why I was slowing down and blah blah waah waah boohoo whatever. I thought about how Jeff Symonds just gets super ugly when he’s on the run course, and seems to run like the Dickens. With about 8km to go, I just picked up the pace and started to get a little ugly, then started to get REALLY ugly. With a few KM to go, I was so ugly that even my beautiful Tom Selleck moustache couldn’t make me look good. By 19km I was mentally somewhere between Mars and Venus, barely keeping it together. As I came down the finish chute I was so relieved to see that finish line. As I crossed the line and came to a halt, my legs immediately seized up, and I folded like a cheap lawn chair, grateful that they had a carpet to land on. It wasn’t a great finish, or even a great performance, but I was proud that I sucked it up and got the job done, and realized that the last 8kms were the fastest of my race. Every race has a point where things are hurting bad and it sucks and you’d rather be that guy on the side of the course cheering with a cold beer in your hand, but that’s when you need to really dig deep inside to find the ‘grind’ and keep going.