Sunday, September 11, 2011

No, Not that Vegas...

September 10, 2011 Nashvegas Olympic Triathlon Race Report

I felt more relaxed before this race than any other all season.  Coming off of Nationals just a few weeks earlier, my nerves were not phased in the slightest by this local yet competitive event.  Just a few minutes before the gun, I took a warm-up swim out to the first buoy, I swam super hard for a warm-up.  It felt good.  At that point I decided to take a friend’s advice and go out hard right at the gun.  A complete sprint to the first buoy and settle in from there, hell what did I have to lose.  So I stood in waste deep water in the very front of the pack ready to make a jail break for the buoy with complete disregard for the rest of the swim and race.  And when the gun went off, I did just that.  I swam as hard as I possibly could right toward the first turn, about three hundred yards out.  To my complete surprise, when I got there I was alone, “holy shit it worked”!  Well, almost, there was one kid about one hundred yards ahead of me, “damn swimmers, oh well, bet he can’t run”.

Photo Credit: Donna Manely
With total confidence in my decision and lead on the pack I kept on the pace and settled into a good stroke.  Turning upstream on the last buoy was like turning into a fire hose, the river current was really strong.  One final hard effort similar to the one at the start of the race got me to the exit ramp with a solid five minute lead on the rest of the race and only forty five seconds down from the lead swimmer.  Feeling good, in and out of T1, smooth.

Getting on the bike I knew two things.  One, I wanted to catch the swimmer or at least get him in eyesight.  Two, I wanted to hold off my uber-biker buddy who was in the chase pack somewhere behind me.  With those two things in mind I pedaled forward as hard as I could, again without much regard for pacing or the run, “I’ll worry about that when I get there”.

All alone out on the main part of the out and back course I tried to stay steady and consistent while going up and down the endless medium and small rollers.  Only a few demanded out of saddle effort.  After fifteen minutes I still couldn’t see anyone, in front or behind which was bad and good.  It was harder than I thought to keep a consistent, stiff pace when I was completely alone on the road, the situation demanded my complete focus and provoked a small amount of paranoia. 

Photo Credit: Donna Manely
Finally about a minute before the turn, I saw the swimmer coming at me on his way back, “damn, he is holding position, but I still bet he can’t run”.  I made the turn and almost immediately saw my buddy coming for me, he had made up all five minutes on the bike (no surprise) and made the pass right after the turn “don’t worry Frank, I can’t run like you” he yelled as he smoked past.  It made me laugh, but I knew I had to keep him close.  He underestimates his running ability.  New goal, ride hard and keep him close.  With the rolling hills hitting us on the way back, my goal faded quickly as he continued to simply out power me up and down the roller coaster roads back to transition.  I had to stay within my limits, although I wasn’t concerned with pacing earlier, now I knew I had to save my running legs to take this race back.  Without a fight, I let him go up the road as I focused on the rest of my ride with confidence in my running legs.  The last few miles I was able to see far up the road and could tell he had also passed the swimmer who was finally fading.  I kept on the gas and on the final road into transition I caught the swimmer but just followed him in; a pass on the small park access road would not have been safe and really didn’t really matter.  Right before we dismounted I saw the lead runner coming out of transition “stay away, Frank” he yelled with a smile.  I smiled too.  The swimmer and I entered T2 together. 

Photo Credit: Donna Manely
A smooth and speedy in and out got me through transition and running way before the swimmer.  I never saw him again.  Once again, I was being told I was about one minute or so down from the leader, which was the good thing.  The bad thing was that I could tell my legs were not one hundred percent, maybe seventy-five.  Either way I had to keep running. Immediately my HR was way too high and I had to make the decision to settle into a slightly slower pace, allow my HR to calm down, and take my Chocolate Hammer Gel.  It went down like a slug but I needed it (and it worked), a quick look behind showed that I was alone again, no one in sight either direction.  The first few miles were relatively smooth but my legs and hips were too tight, I could feel it.  I was getting anxious too, “where is he?”  My pace wasn’t exactly that of a late race rundown but I was hopeful, I just kept running as hard as I could and ignored everything else, like my 185 HR.  The one thing hard to ignore was the temptation to look behind.  Even though I knew I had a sizable lead off the bike and hadn't seen anyone (including the swimmer) behind on the run to this point, I was constantly tempted to look back to see if I was being stalked by some super fast runner coming out of now where.  I only looked a few times, but was tempted many more.

Photo Credit: Donna Manely
Right before the turnaround I saw him coming at me, we smiled and high-fived, fewer words were exchanged, I just let him know “you got me today, I don’t have it” A little dose of head games?  Maybe?  A little honest slip of conceding truth?  Probably.  The crazy thing was, at this point he was closer than ever, I was just sixty seconds (if that) down but I was doing all I could.  As we went back out on the main road toward the finish, another racer coming at me yelled, “keep going, your close and he’s suffering!”  I know he meant to be encouraging but all I could think was “thanks pal, but I’m suffering too!”  Either way, I put my head down and gave it one more hard push.  It didn’t last long.  Quickly my HR eclipsed 190 and my vision blurred into a small dark tunnel, I could taste my heartbeat.   I knew if I wanted to finish conscious and upright I had to slow down, accept second place, and cruise to the finish line proud.  With more than a few nervously dazed looks back to make sure I wasn’t about to be surprised at the line, I did just that, coasted in for a happy second place, only missing first by about seventy seconds.

It was a unique race for me.  I am happy with many things and I certainly learned a lot too.  I was happy with my decision to go out super aggressive and trust my ability to settle in.  I am also happy I raced within my limits even in the middle of the fight.  I am happy I put faith in my run and stuck to my plan, even when the legs were not at their best.  Finally, I am happy I displayed some level of patience while ignoring everything other than the immediate task.  I am happy I trusted myself, my fitness and kept mentally strong and positive the entire race.

I learned to push myself (physically and mentally) super hard on the bike even when I am alone on the course.  I learned it’s easy to lose focus and let up even just for a few seconds when alone.  I learned that those few seconds are very valuable.  I learned to always trust my abilities and bank on my strengths (running).  But I also learned sometimes those strengths don’t come through or aren’t enough.  I learned that when racing for first, maintaining second should not be overlooked.  I learned there is something about second place that really sucks!  Finally, and this one took me a while, I learned to be happy with second place, at that it's actually pretty awesome.  There was a whole lot of woulda-coulda-shoulda’s after the race for me, but I’ve learned to accept the day as it was and to be happy.  The reality is I did my best for that day and earned a proud second place to a great cyclist and overall athlete.  I even learned to be happy for him…well, I’m working on that one. :)

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