Usually, a race is just a race.
As an athlete, I'm not one of your big thinkers. I don't have a head full of times, or averages or what other people have done. I don't really spend a lot of time thinking about a race before it happens period.
However, after the stinkbomb I laid at the Shamrock race I was quite frankly worried. I was coming into this race as the defending champion and I was coming off a race that really made me question what I was capable of. Sure, it was just one bad race, but...
But a funny thing happened.
The race started.
Like all duathlons, the very beginning is kind of weird. Unlike a road race, where I start out towards the front and fall back as the race progresses, in a duathlon, people stream around me and then I work my way up. I was concerned when I fell back in the first few hundred yards that I was not going to close down and then, well, then I did. I starting moving uo and around and settled into a top ten spot around 9 or 8 and that was exactly where I wanted to be.
There was a guy in a Cyclonauts jersey. I passed him, settled in in front of him and he managed to accidentally kick my right foot out from under me. I didn't fall, but I was annoyed. Don Gustavason was somewhere around me, in front for a while and then behind, then in front again. The first run settled down pretty quickly though and I felt good.
I really felt like we weren't pushing the run that hard, which is how I like it. Usually the bike is my strong leg in this race, although the age of my bike- 13 years at least- its weight, and its deteriorating condition- had me concerned. Then again, I've won the race twice, including last year, on that bike, so how bad can it be ?
I hopped on the bike and quickly started moving up, from 7 to 6 to 5, to 4. But then I was passed by the guy in the cyclonauts jersey and I was back in fifth as we went towards Meigs Point on the sand and dirt.
When you get to Meigs Point though, the race hops onto the road and I get down on my aerobars and just go. I averaged about 23 mph on the road and passed both Don and the Cyclonaut, moving up into 3rd. I was feeling good, pushing myself hard, and thinking I had a chance to dial into third on the bike and try to hold that on the run.
Now, remember that I laid the course out. I got on the off-road section and my decision to go with toe clips and not a one and one hurt me. I was slow on the off-road section and soon found myself back in fifth, close on to the two guys in front of me- and then we went into the woods. I was holding my own and then I went around a turn and a branch reached out and grabbed my leg and it stopped moving and that was it.
I went head over handbars onto the dirt and as my head hit the ground I watched the 3rd and 4th place riders getting away. That was that. I climed back on the bike, took way too long getting up to speed, and hauled some ass.
I finished the first loop, started on the second, and I just couldn't close. All the way out to Meigs Point I was working hard and keeping my eyes open, but there was no one coming back to me. When I got back on the road I did make up some time, but not really enough. And then as I came out of the woods on the back of the course, Charlie Hornak caught me and said something about the wind.
I picked it up right then. I'd thought I was riding in 5th in the middle of nowhere. Having someone catch me briefly was just the kick in the ass I needed to redouble my effort.
Despite the crash I still posted a top 5 bike time, which I feel pretty good about, except for the crash and the four people that posted faster times.
I came in 5th, hopped off the bike, dropped and retrieved my Oakleys and headed out on the run.
I had not yet given up on moving up and I ran hard. Really hard. Of the top five finishers on the winner had less of a difference between their first and second run times. I was hauling ass truing to catch the 4th place guy and I did see him, just a couple hundred yards ahead with a little less than a mile left, but it was just too much.
I came across the line about 45 seconds slower and four places lower than last year but I'll take it for now. It was a big improvement over my last race, I lost to a guy who put up a great time- Karl Schilling- and two of the guys that beat me- Tim Cote and Don Gustavson, are guys I know that are great athletes and nice guys as well. I also want to mention that Charlie Hornak really has picked up his racing this season and I'm expecting a lot out of him.
This was not a great race for me and I'm not happy with how I did, but I'm not too disturbed either. It was a definite step-up and a real motivator. I raced- pretty well. There's room to improve- a lot- but it was a good hard effort and a reminder that no, I don't actually suck.
I just have to work a little harder...