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My best race ever

Mar 6: Day 22

Planned workout(s): None, rest day.

Weight: 173 


Since today is a rest day and that’s kinda boring, I decided I would post an old race report from what I feel is my best race I ever did, an Olympic TRI in 2012.  Hopefully it’s entertaining…it certainly was fun for me to look back and reread!

Full race report–Vikingman TRI

The last competitive event of my season was yesterday at the Vikingman TRI.  Yes, I have many other events left on my calendar this year (4 half marathons and the Leadman TRI) but those I am doing for fun.  Olympic distance triathlon is where I have dedicated my race training for the last 2 years, and so as this is the last race of that distance on my calendar I really wanted to do well.  I had timed my fitness to peak last week for the Rexburg Rush, and was attempting to carry that peak over into the Vikingman.

It was not without challenges out of my control, as I ended up with a business trip that had me in a hotel the entire week leading up to the race.  I don’t know about you, but I never feel like I get the same training while on hotel bike machines, smaller pools and strange roads, but I did the best I could!  Adding to the difficulty was the stress I put on my body at Rexburg took me a full 3 days to recuperate from, and flying back home on Friday had me up and traveling starting at 2:20AM mountain time.  Needless to say, this takes a toll and I did not know what effect it might have on me come race day.  Friday night driving the course, I felt physically ready but mentally I was just not locked in.  I resigned myself to just do my best and let the chips fall as they may.

Let me say a little bit about the Vikingman TRI.  You have a downstream swim, but you are on the slower side of the river in regards to current.  The bike course is fast and flat, and you have laps rather than a straight out and back.  The run course is flat but has 4 miles of trail running, which I was not trained for.

Race day began at 5AM.  As this was my 6th event this year I have my personal transition setup down to a science.  Bright, red mat first.  Then, bike shoes with socks rolled up inside and ready to yank on.  Race number belt laid out on top of the shoes.   Helmet upside down and ready to put on.  Behind that, running shoes with my sunglasses upside down on top for quick access.  Beside those, two hammer flasks with accelerade hydro, in case I want a quick shot.  That done, we went back for the kids and then headed down to the swim start.

At the swim startAt the swim start

At the swim start I put on my wetsuit and went down to the water.  There was a boat launch ramp there and they had a carpet laid out down into the river.  Stupidly I chose to walk beside it, not on it.  Slime on the boat ramp + cheap flip flops = me on my ass.  Nothing hurt but my pride, thankfully!  The water was actually warmer than the air on this brisk August morning.  It was a beautiful day as the sun came up…not a cloud in the sky.  The water on that side of the bank is ~4 feet deep for the most part, so deep enough to swim but if people got into trouble it would be easy enough to get out of it.  I dunked my head, spit on my goggles, and waited for the start.

After a quick countdown from 10, we were off!  Having seen the half swimmers go by earlier, I noticed how far out from the shore they were.  I decided I would be on the inside of the pack to try and minimize the distance (after all, swimming an extra 50 yards back to shore at the end seemed wasteful).  So, I followed this strategy throughout the swim.  I discovered something as I was in the first 200 meters, which was good to discover: my body was responding just fine.  Fatigue and travel and lack of sleep aside, I was READY for this race.  I settled into a brisker pace than I usually take for the swim and felt like I was in good position as I saw very few folks ahead of me when I sighted.  I climbed out of the water feeling strong, yanked off my suit with the help of the strippers, and headed into transition with a few of my fellow racers alongside.  I found Laura who informed me I was 9th.  This surprised me a bit as I had thought I was faster out of the water….no matter.  Here I was heading into my strength.

All year long, the mount line has been an issue.  I’ve not been clean into my pedals, and it has resulted in a few poor starts.  Not today.  Click, click, boom!  That was a good sign!  I headed off into the bike knowing I had been faster out of transition than a few guys I came in with (turned out I had a 1:42 T1), and confident as the bike is my very best of the 3 events.  I was even more confident when I remembered this was a longer than normal bike.  Most Olympic bikes are 24-25 miles.  This one was a full 29.  That meant I had even more time on my strong event to put distance between people behind me, or gain ground on those ahead.  I got up to speed, settled into aero, and looked down at my garmin to find….my cadence meter was not registering.  Ugh.  I use the cadence meter as a way to help me remember to shift gears: if I’m over 100, shift into a harder gear.  Under 80, shift to an easier one.  I would not have that help today.  I half thought about stopping and seeing if the sensor was not aligned and maybe I could adjust….no, this is the last competitive race you have!  Put the hammer down and live without it!  Besides, if this is ALL that goes wrong today, I can live with that!

Headed out to the bike!Headed out to the bike!

The course had 2 laps for the olympic race, and on that first lap I passed 5 other racers.  By my wife’s count this had me 4th coming around the bend towards the end of the first lap when….suddenly I was passed!  This is rare for me on the bike.  In a few seconds I noted by his number it was another olympic racer, one I had passed earlier.  Worse, he had a “42” on his right calf.  Dang it, he’s in my age group!  I accelerated my pace a tad and decided to not let him get away.  What I hadn’t realized until we talked later is that when I passed him he said much the same to himself, and thus began an interesting, unspoken relationship that lasted throughout the rest of the race.

Settling in 5-10 bike lengths behind him, I sized him up.  Clearly we were of similar skills on the bike.  I figured I could pass him, but I didn’t think I could put him away and the effort it might take to try would be energy not available on the run.  So I stayed where I was, and in an odd way he replaced my cadence meter for me!  As we went through the second lap we passed another olympic racer, putting me back in 4th and he in 3rd.  Rounding the bend to go back to transition at the end, we passed yet another.  I pulled my feet out of my shoes while still at 23 mph, determined to have the fastest possible transition I could and then we would see who had “it” today on the run.  To the dismount line!

I came in less than 5 seconds after him.  It turned out we were next to each other on the rack and thus were transitioning next to one another.  Rack, helmet off, turn the race number to the front, yank on shoes, quick hammer shot, GO.  I was out of transition in :51.  When I went to the exit, he went the other way….confusing me (my wife said later he went to the portapotty).   Saw Laura, who confirmed I was 2nd overall….rarefied air for me!  I left transition all alone, with no idea where #1 was (he was waaaaaaay ahead, one of the elites I learned later), no idea where my pacer was, no idea what I had in the tank left, but determined to give what I had for this 10K.

The course goes down under a bridge, then crosses over the Snake River and out to the Burley airport.  You actually run trails along the airfields and then out past the sewage treatment plant (eww) before running along the river for another 3/4 mile to the turnaround.  After coming off the bridge and onto the trail portion, my “friend” was back.  I heard his footsteps as we hit trails, trails I had not trained for.  His footsteps got closer, I realized I was not going to hold him off the whole run.  I did a quick physical assessment, and realized that a ~7:30m/mile 10K was about the best I could do today.  If he could run 7:20, so be it.  He passed me at about mile 1.5, and I wished him luck and said “go get em!”.

Passing the aid station at mile 2, he stopped and walked through it as I did.  I was a little faster with my cup, and we left with him no more than 30 yards ahead.  Suddenly there footsteps behind me…..fast ones.  I was passed by a gentleman in his 50s who had a gait which made it clear he was going to take both of us.  Some guys you look at and think they could run faster than you forever if they had to.  This was one of those guys!  Meanwhile, him passing us both put my pacer in 3rd and me in 4th.   It stayed that way past the sewage treatment plant and down to the turnaround.  Around the sewage treatment plant we finally saw #1 on his way back, streaking along well ahead of us all.  Good job #200!

Meanwhile, the trails were taking their toll on my pace.  My first two miles registered on my Garmin <7:30.  The 3rd mile was 7:48.  I was losing the pace, and when I hit the turnaround began to lose a little hope as my pacer was a good 50 yards ahead.  Behind me, not 30 yards behind me, was another runner.  He had that same gait as the older gentleman, and he was young.  No way I could hold that guy off for 3 miles, and neither could my pacer.  That would kick us both out of top 3 overall, and 2nd place AG seemed inevitable.

Determined to hold off the young fellow (he was 26 I learned when he passed me) as long as possible anyway, I accelerated and forced myself back to ~7:30.  Of course, he passed me anyway but we wished each other luck and encouragement.  Right about then, someone coming the other way (we were seeing more racers now in the “out” direction) looked right at me and said “Come on, you’re 4th, you can catch those guys!”.  I nodded but knew a few things he didn’t.  1) I was 5th, not 4th, but #1 was so far ahead he probably never saw him and 2) I was never gonna catch that 50 year old and the 26 year old who just passed me.  But…wait….my pacer?  I looked ahead at him as we came towards the mile 4 aid station and saw that I had drifted back to within 20 yards.  More, I could see something I had not seen previously: his form was flagging.  Was it possible?  Did he go out too hard and was paying the price now?  We came into the aid station, and he again stopped and walked it.  But not a fast walk…a slow one.  A pained one.  A TIRED one.  I came into the aid station and walked it briskly, not hurrying, drank my cup, and was right behind him.  I came to the garbage bin, tossed my cup and ran past him out of the aid station.  It seemed odd, but suddenly, it was a RACE again.  He started right behind me, I could hear his footfalls.  This was going to be interesting!

Thoughts swirled in my head the first 100 yards out of that aid station.  First: he was tired.  I knew that by his body language.  Second: there are only 2 miles left now.  It’s anybody’s race.  I was tired, but I was not exhausted.  If most of it weren’t on these darned dirt trails and I could have solid ground under me, I would have felt more confident, but it is what it is.  Then I thought seven months.  Seven months of hard training, hard work.  Base days.  Build days.  Peak days.  Bad ones.  Good ones.  Days in the cold, the heat, the rain, the wind, up hills, sore muscles, pain.  All the hours and hours of work.  I thought of the bitter disappointment that my half iron was cut short by weather.  The frustration of that chip falling off in Rexburg, costing me first place.  I thought of the triumph of winning my first ever 1st place AG the race before.  Then I thought of holding off all those guys last week running up that long hill in Rexburg to keep my second place.

Two miles.  TWO MILES.  Not only that, this is your LAST CHANCE!  No other competitive races this season, just fun ones.  Dang it, it is NOW OR NEVER!  Adrenaline and determination flooded me.  I would set a pace that might break me, to see if I could break him, mentally.  Maybe, just maybe, if I set a good enough pace I could convince him that it was MY day, not his.  Maybe I can win.

I never looked behind me.  I put my head down, focused on form and my footing, and set a pace I was pretty sure was sub 7:15.  He did not pass me.  Soon I could not hear his footfalls, but I had no idea what that meant, if anything.  Keep going.  I passed volunteers before mile 5, and thy shouted encouragement.  I waited to see how long before they would shout encouragement to my pursuer.  I never heard them do it.  That meant one of two things: I had lost him, or he was so close they were encouraging us both!  I chose to believe the latter, and pushed harder, under 7:00/mile.  Coming out of the trails and onto the pavement heading onto the bridge, it was all I could do to keep my pace from flagging.  I was trying to peek ahead now….how far off the bridge is the finish line?  I had put so much into these last two miles a sprint to the finish was out of the question.  It was not going to happen.  So, hopefully I would have done enough before that last 100 yards or so.

Down the stretch on the run!Down the stretch on the run!

My heart suddenly sank through my shoes, the bridge, and down to the bottom of the Snake River.  Footfalls.  Faster than mine.  Ah well.  He must have caught me.

As he passed me I started to say “Co…” then I was confused.  Who the heck are you?  Wait….it’s not him!  It’s someone else?!!?  I quickly scanned his leg and saw it was a 37 year old I’d not noticed before.  Clearly a fast runner who’d finally caught me just now near the end.  I shifted to “Good job, finish strong!” and with renewed hope pushed the pace to the edge of the bridge.  Circling under it to go to the finish I was able to get my first peek behind me to find…..nobody there.  Nobody!  I climbed up out from under the bridge in amazement.  After trailing so much of the race and resigning myself to it not being my day, I had won my AG!  I crossed the finish line to my smiling wife and cheering kids knowing that today, all that training, all the time, all the hard work had paid off.

A few minutes later my pacer came in.  I shook his hand and we smiled and congratulated each other.  We both felt we pushed each other on this race and were glad for it.  I learned that what I had thought was true…after mile 4 he said he did his best but just could not keep up with me.

It was a real thrill to accept my second ever first place prize, a very nice plaque which I have no idea what to do with 🙂  Beyond that however, the most important payoff was knowing I had put myself in that place where you have to dig deep.  Dig deep and find out who you really are.  And in that place I found that I had the strength to see it through.  And that is what I treasure right now, far more than a first place plaque (although it’s really cool!).

May you all find that place in yourself!

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