I arrived in Raleigh on Thursday evening and stayed just about 20 minutes from the race finish line and T2. However, the start of the race was about 30 more minutes by car away from the finish line. So that made race morning a little tricky.
I woke up at 3:45. I generally like to follow a rule that waking up before 4 in the morning to workout is just ridiculous and I won’t do it. However, this was going to be more than workout… it was a race. And I had to be able to adapt to the situation. Everyone was in the same boat… we all had to wake up extra early to drop of our bike to run bags and then catch a shuttle bus with 4000 of your closest friends out of the swim start.
I did my best to close my eyes on the shuttle and envision the race, feeling the water, listening to the sound of my race wheels cutting the wind, and finding the rhythm of a good run pace. I did my best to keep my nerves at bay, but I knew that some nervous energy was a good thing, because it meant that I cared about what was about to happen.
I made it to Jordan Lake for the swim start and to get my bike ready to roll about 5:30… 1.5 hours until the start of my wave. The sun was coming up over the lake at 5:30 and was bright enough to not even need a flashlight or headlamp.
I finished everything in transition, had breakfast, and did a little warm up job about 25 minutes before the start of my wave. During that time, the race officials announced that the race would be wetsuit legal. I couldn’t believe it. The day before they announced the water temperature at 79 degrees. This morning it was 76. Just 0.1 degree below the line of being wetsuit legal. I left my wetsuit at my home stay since I was certain I wouldn’t need it. So while all but one other pro was putting on their wetsuit, I was suiting up in my swim skin from TYR. I knew they had a slight advantage over me now. However, I knew that I normally beat some of the pro field out of the water by about 30 seconds, and figured if I let them lead with their wetsuits on we would be equal. I found the group of guys I normally lead out of the water and when the gun went off, I stuck on their feet.
The first buoy came and we were all still in a pack. But after the 90 degree turn, the pack thinned out a bit. I noticed I was at the front of the group falling behind. I knew I had to make a move right then and there to hang on. I picked up the effort and closed the gap, made the final turn toward shore and settled back into their pace again. With about 300 meters left to go, I picked up the effort to try to beat a few more guys out of the water. I exited the water in 9th place, but about 3rd through 9th were all in a pack… I was just in the back of the pack letting the guys with the wetsuits do all the work.
The bike presented a few challenges. Some expected, some unexpected. The first came just a mile outside of transition. The road was a bit bumpy and had a lot of road vibration. The day before the race, I bought a gel flask holder to go on my bike so I wouldn’t have to try to get the flask back into my rear pocket on my TYR carbon race kit provided by Maverick Multisport. The flask holder slipped to the side of the top tube and my knee hit on the way down of the pedal stroke. I heard something hit the ground. I looked back and saw my 300 calorie flask bouncing to the side of the road. No time to stop and pick it up. I did a quick game plan change for nutrition and realized I would just grab the gels from the aid stations. If I could get one at each aid station that would be an additional 400 calories from what I had left on my bike (2 bottles of my custom mix of infinit, which totaled 560 calories). In previous races this year, I had struggled with adequate water to sodium replacement, but this time I think i nailed it. 1 salt stick capsule every 10 miles. My sodium intake was about 1000 mg/hr.
There was a group of about 5 guys in front of me by about a 1/4 mile. I thought about chasing them, but decided not to. I wanted to race my own race. I kept them in sight until about mile 15 and with all the turns and hills, I never saw them again. I managed to drop a guy that was leap frogging with me by about mile 20. I rolled through the second aid station and was able to grab water and to Gu energy gels. I took one right away, stuck the other in my shorts, and drank some water. I also used the water to squirt on my back in effort to keep my body cool. It’s a good thing I managed to get two gels that aid station, because the third aid station wasn’t ready to hand out gels and I missed on there. I took the one in my shorts instead to get the extra calories needed. I rode alone for the majority of the ride. Thankfully the night before the race, my host, Brooks, wrote me a letter about what to do keep negative thoughts out my head. He suggested to use a phrase, a song, a Bible verse, whatever it is to say over and over again to keep me focused on my goals, and prevent negative thoughts. I said this to myself out loud about every 5 miles. And it seamed to work… especially towards the end. The forth aid station I was out of my infinit mix and grabbed a water bottle, Ironman perform sports drink (which I hate, but I knew I needed something more than water), and two gels. I took one gel right away and the second one about 8 miles later to get me ready for the run.
There was one last short steep hill before transition. I didn’t realize that the dismount line was right at the top. I struggled to maintain speed and get my feet out of my shoes. In the end, the hill one. my feet slipped off my shoes and I came to a stop at the crest of the hill. I hopped off my bike with a good 10-15 meters before the dismount line and ran it in from there. I entered T2 in 8th place… and no idea how far ahead anyone was. I picked my bike up by the seat to rack it and the seat post came completely out. The screw holding my seat post in place rattled itself loose. I tried putting it back in, but quickly opted not to and drop the post/saddle on the ground and racked the bike by the handle bars instead. I put on my new Columbia arm coolers, slipped on my newton MV2’s, grabbed a flask of Infinit’s NAPALM, and was out on the run hoping to catch some of the pro field.
The run was an out-and-back with a double loop at the end. The up hill on the way was about 5 miles long. it made it hard to find a smooth rhythm that I had envisioned in my head before the race. I new I was still moving along really well judging by my form in the reflection of the windows as I ran by. Again, I used the phrase I chose for the day to keep my motivated, ignoring the heat, and to push. I came to the looped portion of the run and managed to see TJ Tollakson (he was on the second lap while I was on my first). I passed him at the aid station we would pass twice. He walked through it. I ran through it grabbing what I needed. I thought to myself, “you know… you can catch TJ. He is really hurting… and you’re feeling great. Catch TJ… catch TJ…” I coined a phrase in my head while I was doing my best to catch him… I was going to “rookie” TJ. it came from the idea of when a girl passes a guy in a race. which is called being “chic-ed” (sp?). I completed the second loop of the run and managed to pass my first person of the pro field. From that point on it was down hill. Up until that point I averaged about 6:05-:10 miles. I knew I was good down hill runner and could maybe catch a few more guys. “Keep digging deep, and catch TJ.”
I got back off the walking trail and on to the road. By that time I had passed another guy. I could see two more in the distance. The game of Cat-and-Mouse is one of my favorites. I love reeling in runners that are ahead of me. It takes my mind off the next mile marker (which is more than often out of sight) and keeps the constant reminder and motivator of closing in on the next position in the race. As I was nearing the first one, someone (I’m assuming a friend, family member, or coach) was yelling at the athlete to pick up because the guy behind him (me), was rolling and looking good. Before I knew, I had passed them him. One more guy to go… and it looked like TJ. By mile 11.5 I had passed them both. I heard someone say to me, “Bring it home… you’re in 5th place.” The feeling inside is hard to describe… but the best thing I can compare it to was the moment I realized I was running the last leg of Louisville IM in 2008 when I realized I was going to qualify for Kona and win my age group. “I’m gonna be on the podium.” A quick glance back and I knew they others were too far behind to catch me as long as something crazy didn’t happen. I saw 4th place in front of me… but not enough real estate left to reel him in.
I settled in to the pace and just maintained what little energy I had left. I crossed the finish line with a raised fist and giant grin on my face. I resting on my knees and tried getting my breath. I felt as it my lungs just couldn’t get enough air. I looked up and my girlfriend was waiting at the finish line for me… which was a big motivator to get to the finish line!
Before I could get very far, USADA came up to me and said that I had been selected to take part in a drug screening to check for doping. Honestly… this has been one of my goals for a long time. I wanted to do so good in a race they would want to check me to see if I was clean!
Looking back on the race, I am obviously very happy with my result. However, even in a “win” there are still lessons to be learned. In fact, I think that if I would have attacked early in the bike ride and chased the group of guys in front of me and sit in with them far enough back to not get caught for drafting, but still get some help from the other athletes, it might have made the difference between a 5th and 2nd place finish. If I only learn things when races go bad, I am setting myself for a slower learning curve and more frustrations. Taking it to the next level will require me to know when to break out of my race plan for the day and when to push the envelope. To learn where that limit is, I must push the envelope.
After getting home, the reality of not being able to do Muncie 70.3 dawned on me. I was going to go from now until August 4th when I plan on racing Steelhead 70.3 without a big race. I couldn’t get over that… and wanted to test my fitness again. Which race should I do between now and then?
With a little research, I settled upon Syracuse 70.3. It will be another long road trip, but I’m looking forward to it already.
Again, I would like to thank all my sponsors that have helped make this past weekend a huge success. I couldn’t have done it with them. But it’s not just some discounted/free product that made it successful. The tremendous amount of encouragement from my family, girlfriend, family and friends can’t go unnoticed. And ultimately, God… who gave me the ability to race and live my dream. I pray that I can continue to honor him with the gift he has given.