A cannon boom started off the day at 6AM. If there was any grogginess leftover from a night of four hours with restless sleep, it was blasted out of me with that cannon, as well as a good portion of my eardrums.
I dove in and focused on keeping parallel to the guy on my right (Mario) so I didn’t have to waste energy sighting. I’d decided to line up on the outside to see if that would reduce any of the chaos that I usually experience during the first 300 meters, and that method either worked or no one was in a mood for a bloody fight for position today. I got on Mario’s feet eventually and saw that there were only four or five guys ahead of me, this being a few minutes into the swim—usually a time that I’d already have been gapped off from the front group. Aside from the first few hundred meters, it hadn’t felt too hard yet, and it never really got any worse. I made the first turn and was still in the lead pack, got through a blinding 100 meter segment that was straight into the rising sun and was still in the lead pack, and made it through the second turn and was still miraculously in the lead pack.
Looking back on the swim, I think I was helped along by a few factors: 1) As far as I know the only really strong swimmer was Andrew Starykowicz, and 2) there was a moderately strong head current from the wind, which may have kept the bunch together for the first 10 minutes. Anyways, I was on Stephen Killshaw’s feet and he got gapped with a few hundred meters to go, meaning that I had 20 odd seconds to make up in transition to get back up to the top four guys.
Stephen and I with some catching up to do.
Once on the bike I finally realized that I’d made the front group, and myself, Starykowicz, and Matt Hanson quickly left the others behind as we headed out of town. A few miles in I lost Starykowicz’s wheel on a slight downhill when a pickup truck pulled in front of him and provided a bit of a draft for a few seconds. It was all he needed to get away from us, since Matt probably weighs 140 pounds and my legs felt sluggish and unprepared for any hard efforts at that point. Matt came around me and closed the gap on a riser, but Starykowicz pulled away from us again on the next minor descent. I figured he’d get away from us eventually, and wasn’t too worried about it happening here during the first 18 miles of flatter roads. Once I saw that we could gain on him on the climbs I thought it was in our best interest to let him go and catch back up on the climbs, as opposed to flogging ourselves too much in the first half hour.
Hanson did all the pulling until the base of the first big climb, at which point I came around and set a pretty solid tempo. My plan was to just go hard and see what happened. If I dropped Hanson, good. I figured that I needed at least five minutes on him to have a chance at holding him off on the run. If he stayed with me, good. I needed help to hold Staryk’s wheel and/or to even make it all the way up to him. By the base of that climb he had around two minutes, and by the top he still had a minute on me.
I assume this is the big climb.
I ended up dropping Hanson and riding myself into no man’s land, which ended up not being ideal. I could tell my legs were not going to ever come around today looking at my power, and I had no desire to tire myself out with such a waste of energy. There wasn’t a chance I’d be able to bridge up to Starykowicz at this point, even though the next 30 miles were rolling hills, and I didn’t think I’d be able to put a bunch of time into Hanson either since he was riding strong earlier. I looked back a few times and noticed that Hanson was coming back to me, so I sat up and let him catch me.
Except it wasn’t Hanson. It was Andrew Talansky. He came around and I got on his wheel (legally obviously) and could barely contain my joy. I celebrated with a caffeinated gel that got all over my hands when I attempted to put the wrapper back in my bento box. Has a more triathlete-esque phrase ever been uttered?
This was exactly the scenario that had played out in my head the weeks leading up to the race. Stay within 90 seconds of Starykowicz on the swim: check. Conserver energy for the first half hour of flat roads: check. Attack and drop Hanson (assuming I was with him) on the big climb: check. Have Talansky with me the rest of the race to pull me into T2: check. It all seemed too good to be true. I assumed I’d probably flat or something because so far the race was working out too perfectly, aside from having flat legs.
By the turn around Starykowicz still only had 80 or so seconds on Talansky and I, and I started getting a bit nervous about ruining my opportunity to place well today by getting dropped. I suffered to stay within 10 lengths of Talansky off and on throughout the next 20 miles of rolling terrain and off and on crosswind. I forced down calories when I could, but only managed to eat 60% of my food and drink one and a half bottles. Lucky for me I’d stuffed myself with rice, chicken, and salt the day before, as well as that morning.
I kept counting down the miles, hoping that Talansky would let up on the pace eventually. There were three or four times that I almost said fuck it, this is unsustainable for me, but each time I dug a little longer and the pace would ease up momentarily. The motorcycle official was with us the entire time, which I was aware of, and I even thought of riding into his draft zone just so I could get a drafting penalty and be awarded a five minute rest. Looking down, the power wasn’t crazy high or anything, my legs just weren’t turning over well and the effort didn’t align with the output. There’s a chance that my power meter was off since I’d forgotten to calibrate it that morning-—something I’d convinced myself to believe at the start of the bike leg—but now it was about the same temperature as when I’d ridden (and calibrated) the day before, so I wasn’t buying that excuse any longer.
One more climb and we were finally on the big descent. I knew I could catch some ZZs here since I outweighed Talansky by a good 20+ pounds. But the little demon pulled away from me! We were both sitting on our top tubes, getting up to pedal furiously for a few seconds and then sitting back down on them, and he was putting bike length after bike length into me on a 55 mph descent. WTF mate.
I powered back on when it flattened out and managed to continue holding on over the few lumps that remained. With a mile to go I nearly slid out going around a 90 degree corner and realized that I had a rear flat. I assumed that was the cause of my slow descent, and breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn’t flatted sooner. I could just ride this in and worry about any potential damage to my disc at a later date.
Talansky and I came off the bike a little over a minute behind Starykowicz, with a three and a half minute gap back to Hanson who had ridden solo. The next group back was eight minutes or so, and wouldn’t be a factor in the race. The only other guy in the race that I had been worried about was Alex Libin, my recent nemesis who has beaten me by one spot in the last two races, and I found out later that he had been given a (most likely unfair) drafting violation on an uphill section. So it was just myself, Hanson, and Starky to fight out for the top three unless Talansky had found his running legs. If he does, he’ll be a top contender in most races, but for now he seems to still be struggling on the run.
The first mile of the run is my least favorite. It’s when I feel the absolute worst, and feeling that bad while knowing that there’s still over an hour of hard running to do is defeating. I focused on short strides, belly breathing, standing upright, and small pumps of the arms, all of which are completely unnatural to my preferred long-strided lope, shallow wheezing chest breaths, and 90-year-old’s posture. A bunch of people have encouraged me to change my run form over the past few years, from my previous coach Michael to my PT Christine the day I left for Idaho. But mainly Adelaide, who is always harping on me about it since it’s such a waste of energy to run with bad form.
My newfound run form did me well over the next four miles and I caught up to Starykowicz without having to kill myself. However, I deteriorated after that, as did my form. I couldn’t pull out more than 10 seconds on him, and I knew that Hanson was coming up on the both of us fast since the gap back to him was down to two minutes by the first turn around at mile 3.5. My stride lengthened and my speed dropped.
The only thing more painful for me than running is seeing pictures of me running.
Why do I always have brown liquid dribbling from my chin?
So as not to put too much pressure on myself and crack, I had an internal chat and confirmed that I was only going for 2nd place at this point, and that once Hanson did come around, which would have been inevitable even if someone had shot me from the side of the road with an amphetamine-laced blow dart, I was not to feel defeated and slow down. I needed to keep the pace up to increase my gap on Starykowicz, not worry about what Hanson was doing.
At mile seven I relinquished the lead and Hanson passed with ease. I kept the pace up for the next few miles and could still see him up ahead until I got to mile nine, at which point I started dying. At the final turn around I saw that I only had 26 seconds on Starykowicz, which seemed to take even more wind out of my rotting sails. This was going to be Raleigh all over again, where I get run down in the final miles and don’t have the strength or will power to push through.
At each corner I stole a glance over my shoulder, seeing that Starykowicz was continuing to gain back on me. My watch confirmed that I was slow. The fact that I couldn’t seem to pass one of the female pros on her first lap up ahead confirmed that I was slow. The fact that people were yelling at me to speed up confirmed that I was slow. My mind confirmed that I was slow, and worse than that: weak-willed and afraid of true pain. As the meters ticked by, I got slower and slower until I finally reached a point of anger. The mad button, located somewhere between the hypothalamus and the amygdala oblongata, had been pushed.
I let out a curse and a growl (more like a hurt moan) and took off with a little over a mile to go. Once I got back up to speed I actually felt better, and was able to push even harder. I looked back and saw that Starykowicz was nowhere to be seen. I kept pushing just in case, also knowing that if I slowed down I wouldn’t be able to get going again, and ended up putting close to a minute on him in the last mile. He later confirmed that his hamstring cramped up when he’d been just eight seconds behind me, but I’m fairly confident that my kick would have held him off regardless.
I’d post some pictures of other people if I had them. But this is triathlon, and one only care’s and talks about oneself in this sport anyways.
Matt had 2:40 on me by the end, and didn’t seem too tired at the finish line, at least compared to how I felt and most likely appeared, sprawled on the ground. Starykowicz crossed and collapsed on the carpet with me. Matt gave a short speech on the mic as Starky panted in pain, and I, on hands and knees, vomited on a spectator’s feet. He ran 1:11 something, and I had run 1:17 something. I’d like to be able to run that fast, but mainly just so I could spend six fewer minutes running.
One of the best things about racing is being pushed to a level that you would never reach on your own, and in so doing pushing others to the same. Similar to how happiness is only real when shared, according to Chris McCandles (the guy that Into The Wild was written about), I think that full effort is only achieved when shared. There’s few sensations better than going to your absolute maximum, whether you win, get second, or come in dead last.
I feel like I can realistically win a race now that I’ve been 2nd and 3rd. Whether that happens this year depends on who shows up to the races I do, and if everything goes perfectly like it did for me at this one. For now, I’ll savor this result as long as I can, because you never know when your luck will turn.