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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!

I would not be able to do what I do without the support of my family, friends, and sponsors.  Especially Xterra Wetsuits, Louis Garneau clothing, Rudy Project helmets and sunglasses, Osmo Nutrition, and overall support from Team Snapple.

Luray Triathlon Weekend

When One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

 

I was so fortunate to stumble upon the Luray Triathlon Festival, produced by Racine Multisports.  Although the race has existed for a decade, for some reason it’s never been on my race radar.  This year would have been more of the same, as I was originally planning to compete at Challenge Poconos with a large Snapple contingent.  However, once the Challenge Family announced that the pro race would be eliminated, I decided to look elsewhere for a race.  The Luray event seemed absolutely perfect.  They were offering a decent prize purse for both the Olympic and sprint distance races, and the trip to Luray wasn’t extraordinarily difficult for Tori and I to make Friday afternoon.

The rest of this blog could be devoted to what an amazing event was put on by Racine Multisports.  Instead, I’ll leave it at this:  do this race.  It was awesome.  I’ve been to races all over the country, and this was absolutely one of the best.  I loved every aspect and would do it again in a heartbeat.

Now to the races.  I decided to compete in both the Olympic and the sprint, which is dubbed the Devil’s Double.  I knew there would be some stiff competition, so I came in to the weekend mentally ready to give it a go.

The Olympic took place Saturday, and there were more than a handful of pro/elite competitors in the first wave, enough to make the swim start a bit rough for the first few hundred meters.  I hung tough from the start and found myself placed in the second pack halfway through the loop.  I felt comfortable and smooth, so from there I pushed the pace and broke the second pack up, resulting in not only making up some ground on the three leaders, but also creating a buffer between myself and the rest of the group.  I exited the water 5th and quickly set about trying to make up the 30 seconds or so that I lost in the swim over the long run to transition.  I was a bit rusty in transition, but got out decently well and found myself in second on the road within a mile of the bike course.

Nick Brodnicki had executed a very nice swim and a very quick T1, and he was just far enough ahead of me that I could spot him on long stretches of road.  His cycling was on fire, though, and he gradually distanced himself from me over the 26 mile course.  I was happy with my effort, and for me, I executed my race plan well.  I just didn’t anticipate that Nick would be three minutes ahead of me going into the run.

I will admit that the gap immediately made me quite nervous.  Three minutes in a full or half isn’t too much, but that’s a lot of ground to make up in a 10k.  I wasn’t going to do anything stupid, though, so I set out running within myself. I figured if that effort could get me to within 90 seconds at 5k, then I had a legitimate chance.  Nick started off strong, and in the first two miles I had made up about a minute.  Then at 5k the time gap was 1:10.  I felt good, I was relaxed, and I was ready to roll.  Over the next 2 miles I pushed hard, caught Nick just after 4.5 miles, and then kept the pace for another mile or so to attempt to create a gap.  The effort worked, and with half a mile left, I was able to come into the finishing area smooth and steady, and enjoy the victory.

After a couple of media interviews, I went for a cool down in Lake Arrowhead with Tom Wood, attended the awards ceremony, and went home to put the legs up and prepare for the Sprint.

Ouch.  I knew racing two triathlons in two days was going to be tough, but holy moly my legs felt rotten when I woke up Sunday morning.  I kept having to tell myself that all the guys who raced the Olympic were feeling the same way, so expectations for my own race execution were just going to have to be moderate.  I opted to cut my run warm up short and instead did most of my warm up in the water.

There were about the same number of athletes in the elite wave as the day before, but the race conditions were a little different.  There was a massive glare from the sunrise that made sighting eastward almost impossible.  It was strange because the day before was clear (and I would have assumed the sun would have been rising at the same time and at the same location), but for whatever reason, it was causing a much bigger problem today.  The start was hectic again, and there were a few who jumped off the front right away.  As soon as we turned the first buoy and looked east, BAM!  nothing but sunshine.  The leaders continued on course, and I worked with one other athlete a few ticks back for about 100m, and then the leaders unexpectedly turned right and started heading towards the finish.  I stopped for a brief moment, got my bearings, realized that there was one more buoy before the turn and continued on.  The three leaders realized their mistake after 15-20 seconds, and then corrected their line, meeting me at that turn buoy.  So I kind of lucked out in that I ended up right in the dead middle of the front group, as the front pack and second pack merged just 250m from the finish and they didn’t create another gap in that short period of time.

That gave me a bit of confidence, and I stormed up the hill to transition, looking to be as efficient as possible onto my bike.  All of the major players were there, and about 8 athletes hit the bike course within 15 seconds of each other.  I was determined to stick with Brodnicki on the bike today come hell or high water.  The sprint distance for Luray is a bit bike heavy, so I was concerned that if he put even 90 seconds into me on the bike that I wouldn’t have the time to catch him.  Brodnicki, Tom Wood, and I separated ourselves from the group quickly, and soon Tom made the pass for the lead.  I was content to sit back and stay within range of them both.  I kind of yo-yoed between 5-15 seconds of their pace over the next 5-6 miles, but when we hit the false flats, Tom really put the hammer down and I decided to make a push and bridge the gap.  I passed Brodnicki who wasn’t having the ride he had hoped for, and caught up to Wood with about 3 miles to go.  From there I stayed put and we came in to transition together, about 20 seconds ahead of Brodnicki.

Tom had run strong the day before (actually passing Nick at the line to take second), so I made the decision then and there to go out of the gates hard and make it as tough a possible the entire way.  We exited transition side by side, but after a few hundred meters, I had formed a gap.  I kept the pressure on until the turnaround, where I saw that I had a sizeable margin, and then was able to relax a bit and run controlled for the last half of the race.  It happened to be the USAT Mid-Atlantic Sprint Triathlon Championship, so I was able to add that title on top of my two wins.

Overall it was a great weekend, I was able to get to know some of my competitors, many of which race for US Pro Tri, and they represented their team extremely well.  I was able to meet up with some Snapple teammates, and I was also able to meet some new triathlon faces some of which were completing their first triathlon.  Congratulations to everyone!

Thanks to Tori, my daughter Cassidy, and my incredible support from Team Snapple, Xterra Wetsuits, LG Apparel, Osmo Nutrition, and Rudy Project.

Up next:  Going for my fifth win in as many tries at the Patriot’s Half in Williamsburg, VA.