A slight breeze on an overcast day caused my body to shiver. Still drying from warming up in Hagg Lake a few minutes prior had me uncomfortably cool. Yet, the chilly temperatures were an exciting prospect to race in, on this remote and beautiful course. Once the challenge began I would warm up almost immediately. Having a high starting number I ended up being the last athlete to find an open spot to dive from. I ran up and down the dock looking for an open space while every other athlete was prepared to dive in at a moments notice. I finally found one closer to the shore and readied myself. Something signified the start and I dove in, doing several streamlined dolphin kicks and coming up well ahead of the athletes on either side of me. The 40 plus men stayed in there lines for about 100 meters and then started converging on the leaders and I was nicely placed right behind them. Focusing on the feet in front of me became my number one priority. Too many times I had gotten comfortable with a pace and let a gap become insurmountable. Not today.
Feeling awesome throughout the swim I kept a close eye on the leaders just a few seconds ahead, hoping to stay near the front. At the same time I conserved my energy and relaxed my thoughts and my stroke knowing I was close enough to secure my place in the lead pack once we began biking. I was having fun. Coming into the finish of the swim it felt like the pace slowed or I was drafting well, so I used this to prepare for a steep run up and out of the reservoir and into T1.
Being just a few seconds off the leaders out of the swim did not secure me in that first group unless I nailed my transition. I had a sense of urgency running up the incline and passed a few guys on the way to my bike. I tossed my cap and goggles in the basket and strapped on my helmet. Then, grabbed my bike and ran to the mount line in good company. We began our first climb up to the main road which we would have to conquer 12 times on the bike and run.
Cresting the hill I was a few good pedal strokes from being in the lead group, but not worried. Pedaling hard to make up ground while passing a couple cyclists I just lingered off the back of the group. Exhausting myself from the sprinting that began the moment we excited the water, grabbing the wheel of one of the cyclists I had just passed helped. Still, we had some all out efforts to bridge those last few seconds. Finally, reaching the first turnaround, I was in the group and had a short reprieve from maxing out my heart rate.
While in the first chase pack; my attention turned to getting my shoes on. My crank idled for a second while my right foot slipped into place. This created a bike length between me and the group. I slipped in my left foot and lost a further bike length or two from the group. Still needing to tighten the Velcro, I coasted briefly to tighten the right foot and then the same for the left. The group was now a mere 5 to 10 seconds ahead of me. “No problem”, I thought. Charging after them it felt like at any instant the gap would be bridged. This ‘teasing’ kept my effort maxed out. After 2 miles, the pack was still a few seconds ahead and the solo effort was taking a toll. Just before descending the hill entering the transition area, Mark Fretta tumbled into the ditch. I thought this would be my chance, either he could help me bridge up or the group would slow down a bit from the commotion. Unfortunately neither happened, Mark stood up and his chain was dangling. I flew by knowing he was already too far off the pace to help me. (Later, I found out that rolling his tubular off the rim, caused his crash and essentially ended his race).
Going into lap two, it became imperative to close the gap quickly and then hope to recover while drafting off the pack. Attacking the climb a second time I made up some ground and was tantalizingly close. After cresting the hill the group charged, I needed a second to recover from the hill but had no wheel. It was now getting evident that the effort was going to whip me for the rest of the race even if I did catch up. I had to stop sprinting and grabbed my first sip from my bottle, losing some precious time to the leaders. Then, braced for another attempt at bridging up. Chasing to the next turnaround while still less than 20 seconds behind and holding onto a glimmer of hope, I had all my cards on the table. However, the solo attacking was fatiguing me beyond a state where one could recover and I was spent. The group steadily pulled away. Disappointed and wondering what could have been I looked back for the next group and no one was there.
Mentally and physically I was defeated. How in the world did I lose touch with that group? Tormenting over my misfortune for the remainder of the race did little to help. Later that night I couldn’t sleep because of it. It is both frustrating and exciting. Frustrating because it blew up my race, exciting because it was so close to being much faster.
I started coasting in hopes of recovering while waiting for the next group to swallow me up. Into the third lap they caught up and I sat in the back still working on my recovery. This group stayed even with the first chase group for the remainder of the race. I began feeling better on the last lap but starting the run I was toast. The early efforts on the bike were too much. I worked into a decent pace on the last of 4 laps but the race had long since gotten away from me.
Finishing in 23rd place was bitter sweet but I was happy to come up for air. Just having finished my 3rd race in 3 weekends of traveling and now feeling the gratifying slowness of a pause in the action. A chance to reflect.
The last three weeks had been rich with experience. A glorious challenge and a chance to learn more about enhancing the meditation in movement.
Keep moving, keep challenging