*** many thanks to Hasan Itani for this race report ***
Racing For Roy: The Roy Nasr Batroun Triathlon
The Batroun Triathlon in Lebanon is a race that has been organized for the past three years and one which Roy was naturally winning overall each time. This year he mentioned it to me and recommended I join him, I wasn't so sure back then due to work commitments and the perceived hassle of racing in Lebanon.
After his loss however, the race has been changed and officially named the Roy Nasr Batroun Triathlon in remembrance of Roy, and as a tribute they kept the bib number 1 booked in Roy's name for both the Sprint and the Olympic events.
Roy has left a legacy that extends beyond TriDubai, and beyond his consistently excellent performance on races. His gentle nature was one that lifted you and made you follow without imposing itself on you. He was a leader in every sense, his sense of organization mixed with sheer kindness, his military-like discipline that was strongly blended with inspiring warmth, his ever radiating smile, his selfless curiosity and genuine interest in you, that contained a lot of his usual light-hearted humor, they are all a mark of the great man he was.
Roy's inspiration is what drove me to contact the Roy Nasr Batroun Triathlon organizers and register for my first race at home, going with the goal of representing TriDubai, and carrying on Roy's legacy in the best of my ability.
Now as many of you who know me know very well that I'm a chubby fellow, have never placed or even came close to placing in a triathlon. My only triumphs and podium wins were in the gym fitness challenges between 2006 and 2010, the same sort of challenges that Roy used to compete at back in the 1990's and early 2000’s along with several other old timers such as Paul Venn.
For this race however, I was determined to perform above myself, no matter what that cost me. As irrational as it sounds, I wanted to pretend I was carrying Roy's spirit in me while racing, and performing up to its level as much as I physically can.
Maybe this mindset caused me a bit of a stress, coupled with a probable bug I caught as soon as I exited Beirut airport. I had to stay in bed for two days to recover (thankfully I landed on Thursday to race on Sunday). With every sneeze and bout of headache my frustration grew, and my fear that it would get worse and that I might not be able to race was growing. However, thankfully, the bed rest I had with all the medicines and home food did the trick, and I was feeling well again on Sunday morning, slightly heavier, but feeling strong at least.
I went on Saturday, and had a drive then a little spin on the bike course. The course was a treacherous one compared to Dubai roads, but a smooth one in Lebanese road standards. It had enough potholes to make me and my little brother debate on whether it would be a good idea to race it on my mountain bike, however in the end I stuck to my TT bike, and decided to stay focused on where the holes turn up.
Race morning was perfect, the Mediterranean was calm, and had its usual dark blue color that had its warm wild mystique about it different than Dubai waters. Before the race, Anthony Ussher, the race organizer, made a speech about Roy and his achievements and previous support for that race then we had one minute of silence for Roy’s soul.
There were two races, an Olympic and a Sprint. I registered down for the Olympic, and so the swim started around 10 minutes after the start of the Sprint distance. I still wasn’t feeling 100% from the cold, but the race buzz took care of that. I pushed my way straight to the front of the pack and stayed there, surprised with myself, but remembered all the pool sessions I have been doing all summer that made my swim improve in ways I never thought possible for me. I stayed in second or third place most of the swim despite getting lost around on entry to the rocky shore and thus lost a bit of time, but I exited the water in second place age group, and third place overall. As I dove from the concrete pier into my second lap, my heart rate strap slid to my waste and was quite distracting. I was swimming side by side to someone on the second swim lap and both relying on one another for direction, while people behind us were following our feet (oops). Apparently we did swerve off course as my Garmin swim distance recorded 1.9 km, but it also wasn't easy to spot the start with the sun glare, lesson learned.
I transitioned quickly, removing my heart rate strap, and hopped on my bike. I maintained the same lead on the bike, knowing I’m in either the second or third place, since the course was mixed between Sprint and Olympic athletes, but stayed in that position as far as possible with several strong looking athletes on my tail whom I was seeing at the turnarounds and I was happy to see I was gaining on them. I managed to escape a lot of potholes but passed through others, losing my toolkit in the process without knowing. Roy was on my mind most of the race, and I was imagining his previous victories on this course, and how he would tackle every corner, uphill and storm through the down hills, and I did the same. Those early dawn sessions with Chris Berglehner, Chris Henn, Jamie, Mark, Niels, Stephen and the other crazy riders did the trick very well in keeping me in top form on the bike.
Of course, as the word "puncture" is becoming my trademark on races, I had to get my usual treat after my rear wheel struck hard on one of the holes across the road. I had a foam canister that frustratingly didn't work, its hose coming off due to pressure and then when I finally managed to patiently put the tiny hose in the valve extender, the wheel pumped a bit then went flat again. The tube already had preventive slime in it, but apparently the hit was too hard. I had to remove the wheel quickly to change the tyre, but then found out the valve extender is too tightly screwed into the valve, and cannot be removed by hand. Since my toolkit was lost on the road somewhere the only thing I had left were my own teeth, but that still didn't work.
All this time competitors were quickly passing me. I was thinking on how disappointed I would be not being able to finish the race for Roy because of this, and deeply wished it can be resolved somehow soon. Shortly after, a kind looking elderly couple on an old scooter were passing and asked if I needed any help, I accepted their offer and borrowed a wrench and a clamp to take off the valve extender. A nice conversation with them as I worked eased my tension, and after I pumped my tyre I bid them farewell and hammered my way flat-out to the bike finish, passing as many people as I could. 14 minutes wasted on the flat repair, not good.
Quick transition, though suffered finding my running shoes as someone moved them around slightly, then off to the run determined to run hard in order to make up for lost time and catch as many athletes as I possibly can.
For that race I was banking on the swim and the bike more than the run, and hoping I would have enough lead off the bike to be safe on the run. I have done virtually no proper running for the past few months except the odd 3km off the bike during training. The last 10km I did was with Niels two weeks earlier, which was considered a long slow base-building run.
However, with the flat and my current situation, I knew I had to push as hard as I could on the run, so the plan was to go hard on the first 5km then hold on and rely on the finish line rush to carry me through the second 5km.
The plan worked and I started clipping athletes one by one, focusing on my age groupers. During the run, what motivated me is imagining Roy running alongside me, knowing if he would be there he would be way ahead, which pushed me more to be way ahead with him where I belonged. If he were running beside me, he probably wouldn’t be saying a lot because I know he races with full focus, but I could still sense his encouragement, this is our race. I managed to get as much to the front as possible and figured I had only one or two athletes of my age group whom I couldn’t catch, so I crossed the finish line strong and caught up with the fellow age grouper, Chris who finished in front of me. We both did not know whether we are first and second or second and third, so it was quite exciting to wait for the prize giving time.
At prize giving, my family was gathered around me, and I kept on my TriDubai top to climb to the podium in it. When they announced the name of the third position in the 40+ category, I whispered to my sister that I’m in second place since I know I left that athlete way behind me on the run. But then to my surprise, they announced that the second place was another athlete, who I also remember passing on the run, but then when they announced the winner, who was way ahead of both me and Chris, we were both puzzled and then tried to speak to the race organizer and announcer, who was too busy to focus with us but kindly requested us to wait for him to speak with the time keepers as he was not the one managing the timing chips. By the time he finished and we got the chance to speak to the time keepers and file our complaints, it was too late and the trophies were all distributed, and photos taken. The trophies included the Roy Nasr memorial trophy which was granted to the fastest athlete on the course, Patrick Dekorsi, and was presented to him by Roy’s sister, and Maxime Chaya, a highly respected and high achieving Lebanese athlete and adventurer, and a good friend of Roy.
The timing error happened with several other athletes as well, who were starting to get agitated and things were starting to get a bit chaotic, with some people in top places who had their times recorded wrong. I wanted to argue more about it for Roy’s sake especially that it was my first ever such achievement on a triathlon and I was doing it for him, and representing TriDubai. But then I just took a moment to think what Roy would have done if he were in my place, and what he would do in such situations, the gentleman and sportsman that he was. I let it go.
It turned out that the timing chips were accidentally passed over one of the timing mats after the finish and some of them recorded a new time over-riding the actual finishing time. Later on it was all sorted and the organizers were apologetic about it and published the proper race results, but it was too late as I was back in Dubai by then.
It was great however to have my family cheering me on a race for the first time, and thanks to Anthony Ussher and the organizers, the race was better than I anticipated. I’m glad I could wear a TriDubai top (thanks Paul Stevens) to represent what Roy has started, and thanks to Jamie and Sara Edmunds for the TriDubai cap and bike box that made me race properly on my own bike.
The race was a good learning experience as well as a very spiritual one. Even though I did not get to climb that podium for Roy in time, but more importantly, it wasn’t about the trophy as much as it was about pledging for Roy, hand on my heart that I raced with my best of efforts for his soul, and with his inspiration I did manage to win within the top three places in a triathlon for the first time in my life despite bike mishaps, so I am happy.
The effect that Roy had on me and many others is everlasting; his radiant smile is so dearly missed, but his positive energy and good spirit is ever present, and will always be an inspiration for me both in racing, and in life.