Yesterday was my debut as an age grouper in my regional race series, the South West Challenge Series. I am still Clyde legal, bouncing between 198 and 203 but had I run as a Clyde I would have taken first by about 45 minutes…I am beginning to wonder if we are a dying fast breed in the Southwest because it wasn’t that way three years ago.
Saturday’s race was the Polar Bear Triathlon, a sprint that starts with a 7 K run then a 30 K bike and finally a 400 meter swim in a heated pool. Despite taking place in 2007 this race is the first race in the 2008 series…it is always the first race of the next season though there won’t be another until mid February and things don’t really start picking up until mid-March. This is usually a well liked race because it takes place in early December when most everyone is itching too do something because their seasons ended two or three months ago and because it usually brings out many of the faster people who compete in the series because it is also the same day that series awards are handed out.
From the beginning of the race I chose a new rabbit to try and follow, a fellow Outlaw we call “Bones” who is a front of the packer and who I do a fair amount of training with. From the beginning of the run we took off together and I was able to stay with him through the initial downhill and flat but when we turned uphill he left me behind as did the rest of the lead pack of runners. I looked around quickly to see who might be near and to my surprise there was nobody near, I was in a no-mans land between the back of the front pack and the front of the middle pack. I did my best to hold my pace and just kept charging ahead. A little earlier Bones asked me if I was feeling the marathon yet and I don’t know if I gasped anything but I know I thought, “no, I’m busy feeling the 5K I ran the day before the marathon, I expect to be feeling the marathon any time now.”
As the lead pack continued to scramble up the hill and away from me I decided to just focus on my leg turnover, no good, my legs felt beat so I didn’t want to focus on that. I started to focus on my breathing, no good, I was breathing ragged and strained so I just focused on the nearest person ahead of me and tried to keep a fixed distance between us and concentrated on the thought that I would start to close the gap again once we hit the flats. Once we did hit the flats I didn’t so much start gaining as I stopped losing ground and thought that if I could just hang on until the final mile, which is mostly down hill, I could make up some ground, which I did. I don’t recall seeing Bones run in to T1 or leave it but I knew he was at least a couple hundred yards ahead and I really didn’t have any further intention to catch him on the bike I was just trying to get the fastest start to the race that I thought I might be able to handle.
Once I headed out onto the bike I was right with this guy who was clearly a cyclist but he was sure able to run hard too. I followed him out of transition and just did my best to stay on his wheel. He was fast and I thought could be my next rabbit. I followed him and was pushing hard. My quads and hip flexors were burning like crazy but they still felt like they had a little strength in them. I knew that the first 5K or so of the bike was all downhill so I would be able to let my breathing settle a little. I suddenly noticed that my rabbit was looking around like he was confused and then he did a hard U-turn, CRAP! He had missed the turn which means I had missed the turn. I did a U-turn and started hammering my way back and saw people that I had beaten on the run making the correct turn and pulling ahead. My rabbit quickly past me and pulled well ahead and was gone, there was no way I was going to follow this guy he was too fast. I just settled in to the hardest pace I thought I could manage and focused on trying to pass everyone who had slid by during my misadventure.
I was able to catch and pass everyone who had gotten by me and then I was in no-mans land again unable to see anyone ahead of me so I just rode as hard as I could. By 15K I started to see someone ahead of me and then two people and then three so I started to push a little harder and then I started to catch the tail end of the front pack. At 20K I had passed three more people and then I spied Bones just ahead. We were heading up a slight incline and so I settled in behind him to try and store up enough energy to pass and pull ahead. I was certain that if I tried to pass hit right away he would fight back and I would blow up. When we hit the 25K mark I made my move and put everything into the pass. I got by him and then started working on another guy further up ahead. I knew that Bones is really a better swimmer than I am so I wanted to put as much distance between us as I could. I finally passed one more cyclist and headed in to T2, legs completely beaten.
The last guy I passed on the bike passed me in transition and beat me to the pool. I got in right behind him but was unable to hang on his feet because at the first turn as I pushed off the wall my calves threatened to cramp, I could feel them tightening up and I had to immediately bend my feet to stretch them out. I swam as hard as I could but not being able to push off the wall is no good and I really was whipped. I was moving through the water like a barge but still no sign of Bones. I was probably about half way through the swim when I noticed someone a lane or so over wearing the solid black skinsuit of the New Mexico Outlaws…Bones, damit! I tried to swim harder but I had nothing left. I tried to push off at the next wall and was again threatened by cramping and had to stretch again. I was digging at the water and kept seeing Bones gain on me. About 2/3 of the way through the swim he went past me like I was an anchor and then a second person was right on his feet. I drug myself out of the water like a drowned rat and plowed down in a pool side chair and was glad to be done with it.
I felt pretty good because I had given it all I had and if anyone beat me there was not a single thing I could have done about it, well, I guess other than staying on the freakin course. As it turns out I added about 6 tenths of a mile to the bike so including the slow-down, turn around and accelerate maybe I added as much as a minute to my total time. It turns out that I actually won third place in my age group! I was separated by the guy in first place by…about…one…minute! C’est la vie.
I feel pretty good about having made it to the podium and think I could have done better on fresher legs but this is the thing, I felt really good about that third place award. It has been awhile since I clawed my way onto the bottom step of the podium and it was nice. This was the first race in a couple years where I actually had the pre-race butterflies you get when heading in to serious competition and that felt good too. I was also happy for the Clydesdale over 40 who was so far behind me but still got to head home with a first place medal to show off to the wife and kids.
It was a good day all in all and I am looking forward to future duels with Bones and the challenge of someday taking first in my age group at one of our humble little races here in the South West Series.
This morning I went on a nice trail run in the Sandia Mountains with fellow Outlaws, Mighty, Sluggo and Stitch…they kicked my ass too but I was happy, happy to be running on snow dusted mountains with friends and happy to be chasing, I mean really chasing, first place in some po-dunk races out here in the desert southwest.