Yesterday was the John Stermer Memorial Duathlon. Actually, it’s not really a duathlon, just a run bike biathlon but they race director calls it a du anyway. The John Stermer is the second race in the South West Challenge Series, our regional series. I was contemplating skipping this race because I did the 300K brevet last weekend and during that brevet I had a wreck and pulled an adductor muscle in my left leg. It had been hurting pretty bad and as of last Wednesday went for a 6.5 mile run and was only able to maintain an 11:30 minute per mile pace with quite a bit of discomfort.
I spent the rest of the week resting and by Friday knew I was going to race no matter what I said or thought. The way our race series works is you have to do 8 races in order to qualify for series awards. You get points for your best 8 races; 10 for first, 9 for second, 8 for third all the way down to 2 for 9 and then you get 1 point for just showing up and competing. In addition to all this you get ¼ point for each race you do in excess of the required 8. In my division, the Masters Clydesdales, those little ¼ points can often make the difference between being series Champion and getting second place. So…I thought I’d at least go get myself a ¼ point to squirrel away for the end of the season just in case I needed it. I also wanted to race with my friends.
The John Stermer is held at the White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruses, NM and the weather was a perfect 40 degrees at race start and warmed to maybe 45 by the end. The course is an 5K out and back on a dirt road out into the desert and then a 30K bike out and back with the first 15K being a down hill grade and then back up. I started the run toward the back of the pack so I wouldn’t get in people’s way as I hobbled along. The gun went off and the race was on. I had told my son to run next to one particular guy who I knew to run around a 27 minute 5k. My son has a terrible problem of running full out and then blowing up by mile 1. I was running just a bit behind them and falling slowly back for the first few hundred yards. Then I noticed that I wasn’t falling back any longer and was gaining. My leg didn’t feel great but it was tolerable. By the time I got to the 1 mile mark I had caught my son and we had left the other racer behind. My time was 8:38; I was pretty astonished because I was really counting on running maybe a 10 minute pace, if lucky.
I told my son to pick up the pace a bit and slowly catch a guy that was maybe 100 yards ahead so he started pulling away ad I settled in to my own steady pace, until I started gaining on him again. By this time I was probably a couple hundred yards from the turn around and was starting to see some of the other Clydes that usually constitute my competition, the guys who are usually chasing me that is. We waved and cheered each other and I kept on running to the turn around and headed back in to transition. I thought I could just make out my major competition, my nemesis, Felix Hinojsa, up ahead maybe 500 yards. My leg seemed to be doing ok with just a little discomfort and I thought I would try and pick up the pace a bit. I passed my son and kept pressing on. I passed a whole slew of people and kept my eye on Felix, who I appeared to be gaining on. When I neared transition I no longer saw the guy I thought was Felix and so thought I must have been mistaken…Oh well.
There is two sharp 90 degree turns in the last 200 yards of the run into transition and I was surprised and gratified to see Felix strapping on his helmet as I rounded the last turn. I had caught him!...well, almost. I dashed over to my bike and moved through transition as fast as possible. I decided to ride my HED-3 on the front and my HED disc on the rear figuring that I would try and gain as much time through technology a possible in this race just in case I had the chance to drop a couple newbie clydes on the bike after what I thought was going to be a disastrous run.
I caught Felix on the bike in less than a mile and just blew right by. My speedometer wasn’t working so I don’t know how fast I was going but the pace felt furious. I just kept hammering away at that down hill grade and was screaming past people. It was a strain for sure. I’d say that after about 5K my legs started to feel like play dough but I thought I was beginning to develop a comfortable lead and figured I may be on my way to victory. I thought I may even be the overall winner of both the 39 & under and Master Clydes. Somewhere around 8 K Felix passed me…and not just barely inching into the lead…he passed me and had a good 20 yards on me before I could even try and respond. He was riding a Mavic disc in the back, I know because I was immediately focused on the disappointment of seeing my technological advantage equaled. Now there was nothing left to rely upon but pure power output.
I decided to try and hang onto Felix but not go for an immediate retaliation. I knew there was too many Ks left to cover. I was able to stay within 40 or 50 yards of him, a distance I was not particularly comfortable with but a distance that I did not have the legs to cut. Further ahead I saw one of the 39 & U Clydes, fellow Outlaw Cody Hanson. Felix was gaining on him quickly and then he was by. Cody fought back and hung on for maybe a quarter mile but it was not to be and then I blew by Cody and gasped a “good job” to him as I struggled on after Felix. The Ks were rolling by at what seemed like a furious pace, we were quickly running out of downhill and approaching the turn around for the up hill return. Felix kept riding like a machine and I was not closing the gap. When we hit the turn around I was maybe 20 yards behind because Felix got a little stuck behind some younger guy with poor cornering skills. I thought for sure I would be able to hold this gap and maybe close it a little on the up hill. The plan was to close within 10 yards and ride directly behind him so he could not see me, match his pace all the way to the end and then attack on the final 50 yard approach to the finish line.
Felix and I kept motoring up the hill dropping people as we went. At this point all the other Clydes were behind us and we were starting to pass folks who had covered the 5K run much faster than us. At around 20K my legs were burning like nothing I’ve experienced before, my breath was coming raged in my chest and I had developed that eye-popping tunnel vision you only get in time-trials. Felix seemed to be pedaling comfortably and was starting to pull away. My legs felt like crap, my lungs hurt; I had spit all over my right arm because I couldn’t muster the energy to clear my shoulder. I saw Felix take down one racer after another and I felt like I was just hanging on. I started thinking there was no way I would catch him, he was just riding like an animal.
Whenever I have these kinds of negative thoughts I am in the habit of immediately “punishing” myself by forcing myself to go harder for a little, which is painful but it also helps me gain some ground in these kind of desperate situations…and gain ground I did. I was now back to within 20 yards of Felix and we had about 5k to go, the problem was, there was simply nothing left in the tank and he started pulling away again. I put my head down and dug deep and was able to accelerate for a few yards but when I looked up Felix had not lost any ground. I went through this painful ritual maybe 10 more times and Felix just kept pulling away…I was completely burnt up. Felix ended up crossing the finish line a full 58 seconds ahead of me. He got me by 32 seconds on the run and 26 seconds on the bike.
In the final analysis, Felix took the #1 spot overall among the Clydes and 23rd overall. I took #2 among the Clydes and #24 overall; there were 128 participants. At this race last year I was #1 Clyde and 14th overall with a time that was 1 minute and 41 seconds faster. However, last year I was uninjured and had a month rest prior to the event. My run time was almost two minutes faster but my bike time was a few seconds faster this year over last. This year I covered the 30K in 51:08 versus 51:35 last year.
I’ll call this a good race, if unexpected. I’ll also thank Felix for being such an excellent nemesis; I wouldn’t have done it without him.