Give Me Five!
Well, it was a little more like I had to earn five, but nonetheless, I walked away last Saturday with my fifth consecutive Patriots Half title. It was by far the most difficult win of the five, presenting some challenges that I hadn’t faced in years’ past.
Historically I have been one of the stronger swimmers in this field, but this year Ian King was back to tackle the entire race, and Dan Harris, another pro was here for a bit of redemption from a 2nd place finish two years ago. I decided to start right next to Ian and figured that I would be able to catch a draft for an extremely short period of time. Maybe it might be enough to gap myself from the rest of the field. When the race started I executed my plan perfectly, hopped right onto Ian’s hip, and hung on for dear life. I made it in his slipstream about a minute before he popped me off. There was another swimmer up with Ian, and then one guy who was just to my left around the first buoy. Once I lost contact with Ian, I thought to myself, “Ok, let’s just work with this guy, who is obviously swimming pretty well right now.” So as he pulled up beside me and then slightly ahead of me, I was ready to work together and limit my losses to the top two guys. Then before I knew it, he just dropped the hammer and was gone. It was such a violent change of speed that I wasn’t prepared for, but I hardly doubt that it would have mattered anyways. I’m pretty sure this is the guy who came out of the water first, so not only did he drop me, but he also ended up bridging the gap to the leaders and then gaining some time on them too. So that left me on my own for probably a mile out of the 1.2 mile swim. The river was a little choppy today, and they definitely made the race go against the harder section of the current. After it was all said and done, I came out of the water with just a 2:18 deficit on the first swimmer, and with about 2 minutes flat on Ian King. I also had opened up about 2 minutes on anyone else in the race, so I was happy that I would have a buffer on Dan Harris going into the bike.
My transition was quick enough where I left T1 in 3rd place, and then set off to hunt down the leaders. I stayed conservative early on, knowing that although I couldn’t see the cyclists ahead of me, they were literally just up the road by a couple minutes. Once I turned onto Wilcox Neck, I started riding with a bit more purpose, and before mile 15 I caught and passed second place on the road. He looked strong, but it was evident that he would not be able to sustain my pace, so I went on in search of Ian. For a while I was a little worried. I figured that I would be catching Ian a little faster given my pace, but I still couldn’t see him or the lead motorcycle. Luckily, on the long stretch of road before the turn onto Sturgeon Point, I saw the flashing lights, and I knew I was within a minute. That was comforting, and it helped me to relax a little. Right around that time, I hit a bump, and the bottle behind my saddle popped right off, hitting the road and then spilling all over. It only had about 200 calories of electrolyte drink, and I knew the race would have a few more aid stations where I could get some Gatorade, so I didn’t worry about it too much.
Did I mention it was incredibly humid? While it never rained on me the entire race, apparently once we left transition and headed out of town, it just poured for a few minutes. So it was overcast, but athletes were losing lots of fluids throughout the morning.
I was prepared to get Gatorade at the second aid station, but unfortunately I was way too fast, and they weren’t quite ready for me. I knew at that point that I would basically need to stop at the final aid station 15 miles later and make sure I was able to get some fluids, or I would be in for it. During that time, I continued to inch closer and closer to Ian. My sense of urgency wasn’t there, because I also knew that nobody was too close behind me either, and I was confident that I could throw down a decent run split to close out the race. So by the time I got to the third aid station, I was about 10 seconds behind Ian, I basically stopped to make sure I got the bottle, and then spent a little time basically chugging the water. I finished the bottle way too fast, and I knew that I would be in trouble if I didn’t pay special attention to drinking on the run course. Starting a half marathon in a dehydrated state is never a good idea! Ian had put another 10-15 seconds into me during that time, so it took another 10 miles or so to really close back down on him, and by the time I got to within 5 seconds of him, we were turning onto Greensprings Road and preparing to dismount. So I just stayed where I was, let Ian lead into T2 because frankly he earned it. I know he had the motorcycle with him, but unfortunately the motorcycle only goes as fast as you are riding. I was able to judge my effort off of the motorcycle, so I had a big advantage there.
Ian had a crazy fast T2 and put another couple of seconds on me entering the run course. I felt ok, but definitely knew it would be a slog once I started going. I tried to stay calm and relaxed, and let my pace come to me. Sometimes you just can’t force things. I took the lead just before the mile mark, gave Ian a couple words of encouragement, and then went to work. By mile 4 I had put about 3 minutes into Ian, who was still holding on to second place. I did notice Dan Harris was making a move and was only about 90 seconds back from Ian at that point. By the time I reached mile 7, Dan had taken over second place, but was about 5:30 behind me. So he was running well, but I was still inching away from him. That gave me confidence, especially as I was starting to feel the effects of the humidity and the race up until that point. At mile 11 I had close to 7 minutes on Dan, so from that point on I just went into cruise control and came in as relaxed as I could. I was going to be about a minute away from my course record, but at that point, finishing strong and controlled was more important to me than 60 seconds. Dan Harris finished just over 6 minutes behind me in the closest Patriot’s Half finish I have had to date, which is a true testament to his steady improvement year by year. Soon, a course record effort will be necessary in order to win this race, which would be amazing. I think the Patriot’s Half is an incredible race with a fun, honest course, and I would love to see the top end of the field grow and become one of the more competitive events on the East Coast. Ian held on to third place and got a nice paycheck for his efforts, although he might be a bit more disenchanted with long course after his experience. I think it would be great to meet somewhere in the middle, perhaps an Olympic distance, and duke it out with him.
As I figured I would be, I was pretty smashed after finishing. It took me a few hours to rehydrate and get my body back up to speed. One thing that brought my overall spirit up was hearing about how all of the Otstot’s Hotshots did in their respective races! In the Olympic we had four athletes, and all four took first place in their respective categories. In the Half, we had a 30 minute personal best, and a first time finisher who broke 5:30 under very difficult running conditions. What an awesome day!
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