From the air-mattress in the back of the rental mini-van, I could see a million stars through the open rear hatch. It was 3:30 a.m. as slid out of the van and tiptoed across the campsite to the ice-chest in search of breakfast. Two Boosts, half a Gatorade, a couple Aleve Sinus and a couple sprays of Flonase in each nostril would have to do. The rest of the campground was sleeping like babies. Why do I do this again?
Shortly after the Navy Seal parachute team touched down on the beach at about 6:30 a.m., I joined the 40-44 year old guys for a running, stumbling, tripping-over-2-inch-white-caps-start into swollen Clinton Lake.
The course was well marked with big orange buoys. But having become an expert drafter an art I perfected at the Hawaii 70.3 a couple weeks ago -- I couldn't break the habit of not sighting. That, combined with the muddy (but tasty) water, and I swam the rectangular course in a large horseshoe meets Dow Jones Moving Average Graph shape. To make matters worse I kept slamming into competitors from earlier waves. Apparently, they too lacked sighting skills, but at least they had the good sense to prairie dog before heading to the next buoy.
I exited the water in 36 minutes. And because of the flooding, there was a fairly lengthy run from the water through the sand before we hit the timing mat for T-1. This added 2 minutes to my swim and a bazillion beats to my heart rate. So make it 38 minutes out of the water.
Within the first 5 miles on the bike it was clear that my A-game was still in Hawaii (some background: In Hawaii, I had an A-game until I flatted, bonked, barfed and shuffled to a 5:36 finish). Today, the power-meter was limping along at about 180 watts average about 20 less than what I normally ride. And my legs were cooked.
To compensate, I cruised up the hills at an even pace and sucked free speed out of the downhills in the 53-11. And there was a lot of free speed. The Cervelo and I hit 45 mph at least 6 times during the race, frequently passing back everyone who passed me on the uphills. Note to self: next year were going with a 56-11.
The downhills were not universally kind however. As I came through the aid station at about mile 16, a guy was laying on a stretcher with his head and neck immobilized. It seems he got tangled up with someone on the steep downhill, careened across the road and took out the aid station. (Thankfully, I hear he's on the road to recovery).
Because I bonked hard at the Hawaii, I really emphasized hydration and fueling. But to my great surprise I accidentally finished my whole bottle of Carbo Pro in the first 30 miles of the bike. I sure hope overfueling is better than underfueling.
Miles 36 to 44 hurt badly. The race headed into a strong wind and the road rollercoastered uphill in stages. The crest of every hill revealed another worse climb beyond. The wind bent the wheat at a 90 degree angle straight back at us. For the first time in a while, I got caught and was passed -- first by a couple studs in the 25-29 age group who were riding legally, and then, glued to their heels like dirty gum, a guy with a 50 on his calf who thought he was in an ITU race. Annoying, but I had my own issues to deal with.
Fortunately, what goes into the wind sometimes turns around and rockets back to T2 like a bat outta hell. It was laughable how easy it was to hold 25 mph on the inward leg. I picked off the unscrupulous dude a couple miles outside of T2 and savored justice and a decent 2:40 bike split until the moment I dismounted. I could barely jog to my bike rack.
At that moment, I knew that I couldn't run 13.1 miles. This meant that my 5:19 PR (set in Oceanside earlier this year) was out of reach a truly disappointing revelation. I felt a wave of sadness and a few tears come on. My chest heaved with stupidly exaggerated emotion brought on by fatigue. So now I couldn't run and I couldn't breathe. The humor of my self-created emotional death-spiral wasn't lost on me, causing me to laugh at myself. I figured I'd better run before someone called a psychologist.
Again -- I do this why?
Not wanting to walk in sight of my family, I set a 9 minutes per mile pace that felt doable for now. I kept this up for the first 4 miles, making sure to keep drinking at every aid station. In the midst of this, I got engrossed in watching Sam McGlone chase Joanna Lawn all over the campground.
Beyond all expectations, I noticed that I could keep running, dead legs and all. I had slowly gone from running 9 minute miles to 7:50's. I was running a negative split! So this is what it's like to save something for the back half.
I became so excited that I pushed the pace higher going into the last 3 miles and started overtaking people left and right. As I was blowing past my competitors 5 and 10 at a time, I couldn't believe how many spots I had moved up in only 30 minutes 50? 70? I was ready to announce the commencement of my professional career when I realized that I was passing people running the first loop.
Ignoring the blow to my ego, I had one last chance to move up in my age group as I ran into the chute. There was a guy 20 yards ahead of me and he wasn't ready for the steam I was bringing into the finish line. I ran the last 100 like Jesse Owens and with 5 yards left pulled even with my final competitor, who by now was giving everything he had. At the last second, I leaned past him to take the win over a guy in the 35-39 AG. Darn smudged calf marking.
I finished in 5:09:54, a new PR good for 11th in the 40-44 AG.
I went to the medical tent, covered myself in ice and sat down next to Dave Haight, an Army Doctor. Andy Baldwin has nothing on this guy. Dave beamed a smile my way and offered me a Shasta. This gesture of kindness triggered a massive cramp in Dave's right shoulder. As a medic massaged him back to health, Dave said this is why I'm done with triathlon. I replied, this is why I do triathlon.
Dave Haight and me. Dude on the right slays me -- just a classic look.