Ok, so I get that no one goes to Canada for the weather-but it's early September! I should have been safe.
No, I should have known better. Race day temperatures were in the low 40s, and a steady rain gained momentum as our 3:36 race start approached. I'm a firm believer in accepting conditions and then dealing with them once the starting horn sounds. On this day, that was too much to ask from myself.
After a slower-than-normal 750m swim, I transitioned into a very cold 40K bike ride. I felt prepared (as best I could) for the elements with base layers covering my arms and legs, but it was rough. Our group rode conservatively, everyone seemingly thinking ahead to the world championships in two weeks.
By the time we reached the second transition area and prepared for the run, we'd been wet and riding at 25-35 mph for about 30 minutes. When my fingers went to unclasp the buckle on my helmet strap, they just wouldn't work. It was kind of like trying to open a can of beer after you've been tailgating in 20 degree weather without gloves. My mind could see the task happening, but my body could not follow its simple instructions. I struggled with the task for almost a minute until I heard the buckle click open.
Boom, I was out for the run...but way back of the field. I could have quit here. It was pretty clear that I'd put myself in a position where I could no longer achieve my race goals, but I chose to continue. Quitting would have destroyed something deeper inside me--something which I can't quite describe but that I can feel with every fiber of my being. I don't quit, and I don't back down. It's what motivates me to perform day in and day out, and it's the ideal I want to represent. I race with a kit where my name, my country, and my sponsors are all prominently displayed. Those people don't quit. Those people know that we endure--we're fighters.
From way back in the race, I ran a respectable 16:13 5K to finish a still-disappointing 48th place. It was only after I returned to our team hotel and started defrosting in the hot tub that I noticed a piece of asphalt embedded in my right heel! I had apparently run the rock into my numb foot for 16:13! Under normal conditions, I would have noticed the rock in my shoe after a second or two, but we've established these weren't normal conditions.
As feeling came back to my extremities, my pain worsened and I realized I was going to need to get the rock out ASAP. Neither our USAT team physiotherapist and or my mom (a registered nurse who was there with my dad to watch the race) could remove the rock, so I took a quick trip to the University of Alberta Hospital's emergency room.
A few hours later, I was sitting at an Italian restaurant looking at the biggest plate of chicken parmesan I'd ever seen. I looked at my parents and the USAT support staff who joined me for a post-race, post-ER meal, and I thought, "I'm a pretty lucky guy." I'll live to fight another day. And that day is coming this week, in Chicago!