I put two pairs of running shoes out in transition. I always want to have two choices in any long race- a pair of racing shoes and a pair of lightweight trainers.
But you have to make up your mind what to wear on the bike. You can't get off your bike and not know what shoes you are taking with you. Same thing with food. I had plenty of blocks and gels and I'd decided that as much as I like the cliff shot blocks, they just aren't right on the run. I had a gel right away.
John was talking us all up in transition. He made what as far as I know was his only mistake on the mike. He was giving me running props, saying I would move up, and then called me a 'world-class' athlete. Clearly he meant 'fifth-guy-on-a-small-school-cross-country-team' class athlete. But he gave me an idea of what was on the table in front of me, and so I headed out, with a plan.
This plan was to attack the downhills and really manage the uphills but stay conservative on them- that's something for another blog post.
As I headed out I noticed that there was a guy in a red skin suit (or I think it was a skin suit) getting ready to exit transition. I also saw the first woman running her bike into transition. I knew she was a pro, or at least that there was a pro there, and I'm an average enough triathlete to know that if I can beat any pro, man or woman, I've had a good day. So I had people in front of me, people behind me, and that's a good way to exit transition.
Unlike the bike, the run sends you only about halfway up the hill out of the park and then you hook a right downhill to the lower campsites. As I was heading out on this out and back I was watching the people coming the other way, including a woman who had a good lead on me. What ? That didn't make any sense. I'd passed all the women out on the bike course...
I ran steady down the hill, but tried to moderate my effort. I almost felt like I was going too hard. I so didn't want to blow up on this run. I get some positive feedback about my running and it is a perceived strength, however, in a long race, I'm just like everyone else. If I'm going to have a rough patch or a meltdown, it will be on the run. the sun was out now, it was getting warm, and I had a plan. I had to stick to it.
I went around the cone and started back up, having run a mile. I had an athlete close ahead in front of me. But I was discouraged to see that the guy in red and the woman both had held their position relative to me. Having run a whole mile, that was not what I wanted. But I concentrated on making the catch and did that quickly. Then I climbed up out of the park, enjoyed the brief downhill, and then started climbing again.
This second climb was harder than the one leaving the park. George's Hill Road. I didn't seem to be making great progress catching the runner in front of me, and then the lead bicycle-leading the first runner- came through. Wow- that about a half hour deficit...
I passed the relay woman somewhere in all this but the long climb up Georges Hill on the first loop was the hardest part of the race. I was sure the people behind me were crawling up my back, not that I would look. I was tiring.
And then it was over- a quick right hand turn, a dip and then a little more climbing but very moderate. I hit the three mile sign and took one of my gels. The plan was one every three miles. And I started to feel a lot better. I got to a downhill section and really started to work, made a couple more passes before the turn around, and took plenty of water. One of the volunteers had said 'You have a nice long downhill to recover' as I'd headed down Jackson Cove.
What she didn't say was what the climb back out would be like. It was another out and back and I really didn't feel like I'd opened anything up on guy in red or woman pro. But I kept it moderate all the way back to Georges Hill and then opened up on the downhill. Everyone going out was great- lots of encouragement as I passed people and I tied to do the same. When I got back to the entrance to the park I took another gel. My stomach didn't really like the gel, but I knew it would be important to overcome that on the second loop.
I rounded the cone and headed back out. I ran that first mile again and got a look at the guy in red and the woman pro. I'd open a small- small- additional gap. But that gave me a lot of confidence. I wasn't just holding them off, I was starting to separate from them.
By the time I got out on the climb up Georges Hill I had another athlete in my sights, although he was still a ways off. I was also passing first loop runners.
At 9 miles, I went for a gel, but didn't have any, so I took one from a volunteer. Banana-strawberry ? Oh well.
I made the pass before the turn-around at Jackson Cove and was told I was in the fourth by Mike Baker, who I'd passed. That was nice of him to let me know where I was and said I was looking good and he wished he had my legs. We traded conversation a little and before I know t, I was at the turn-around. I encouraged all the volunteers to just throw water on me and they did such a good job of it that I was almost too wet and I felt a little heavy climbing up and out- it's basically all climbing back to Georges Hill Road.
This time, I could see that I'd opened up a bigger gap on the people chasing me and that gave me a big lift. I started digging for more- the guy in third was out there in front of me.
I ran hard to the entrance to the park. And then I flew through that last mile. It was some of the best long course running I've done- I really felt good and ending with a mile downhill is awesome.
I didn't catch that last guy, but I made t pretty close: http://www.plattsys.com/results/res2008/nutiron.htm by cutting his lead from 14 minutes to two. Of course, the top two guys crushed me.
I came into the finishers chute, John said some outrageously nice things and I bellowed that I wanted some NIN. He delivered a ten-pack. If there had been beer during the massage, I'd have given the race an 11 out of ten. I even finished early enough to sit down and talk to the really good guys that finished this awesomely tough course under 4:40...
It also can't be overstated that this race is probably one of the most environmentally friendly races I have ever seen, and that is a big deal !
I learned a few things:
1) Not to undervalue what running skills I have. I had a good bike, but it was the run where I did all the damage and got back into the race (more or less).
2) Confidence feeds itself as the race goes on. Staying patient early and making consistent gains had me relaxed in the second loop of the run and I really ran well because I felt good about how the race was going.
3) Gu and blocks DO mix, just as long as you use them in separate legs. I think I have my Florida plan...