Here's a short story about how Picture A (at left) led to pictures B and C (below).
Damian and I headed out to hot and sunny Sunriver, OR, this past weekend for the Pacific Crest Long Course Triathlon (read: 1/2 iron). We'd tangled the weekend before at Xterra Solstice, and Damian was hungry to take it to me on the road. He's extremely talented and driven and has a bright future in the sport, and I'm sure he wanted to get his first big win of 2010.
Here we are at breakfast on race morning, drinking coffee and eating Puffins. We were staying in a ski/golf condo (Sunriver is a vacation community—a little like Disneyworld in its intentional directional confusion) and the race didn't start until 9 am, which felt like a blessing (later, when the temperatures rose into the 80s, it would feel more like bad planning). Amy helped us get ready, and soon we were at T1, getting ready and warmed up. I went for my usual 10 minute warmup jog and then got into the water. Everyone kept saying the water was cold, but after St. George (53 degrees), Boise (57 degrees) and Xterra Solstice (55 degrees) the water felt nice, actually. After the best start of my career last weekend I had probably the worst start, since my only clue that we were starting was the fact that every one around me started swimming. It was a small field, so no real worries, and I found myself with a good pair of feet that I held all the way around the swim. It was either slow or a little long, since we all came out of the water around 27:30. I could tell Damian was swimming on my feet the whole time—I just had this feeling. He came around me at the end when I started to get a bit tired and beat me out of the water by 9 seconds.
Out on the bike D and I put our heads down and hammered for the first twenty miles or so, just the way Cliff told me to. Amy was giving us splits out on the road and cheering us on, and it became obvious that the race was turning into a two-horse affair: we had 3 minutes at 10 miles, 6 minutes at 20, and 7 minutes as the course turned skyward to climb Mt. Batchelor. A brief note about the bike course: this is easily the most scenic and beautiful course on which I have ever competed. The road surface is amazing and you ride through glorious alpine forests, snow still hugging the trunks of trees. At around mile 27 the rolling hills turn up and you climb to the entrance of Mt. Batchelor (the entrance is at 6500 feet, the actual peak is about 3000 feet higher). The climb is about 11 miles long and was a great bit of preparation for IM Canada, where you tackle two 10-12 mile climbs over the bike course. Damian took the lead for a while, I took it back, and then he led us up the climb. I was happy to let him do that, since I knew he would be putting out more effort than I would be—you always, always want to be following up long climbs, especially if you feel you're the stronger cyclist. I knew that Damian was a stronger runner than I, and I needed to get him tired before the run. I also knew that if I tried to break away he would just sit on me and let me get tired out. With the rest of the field comfortably behind, I was happy to let him direct the pace.
At 38 miles you crest the bike course, most of Central Oregon spread out below like a crumpled ocean. I looked at my computer at this point and thought 1:40 to 38 miles? This is going to be a long bike split. Well, the course is all downhill from there, and we covered the last 20 miles of the course (it's 58 mile point-to-point) in 35 minutes, posting bike splits of 2:15:27 (me) and 2:15:35 (Damian). If you do the math, you'll see that I made up 8 seconds of the 9 second differential from the swim: we headed out onto the run 1 second apart. We'd been separated by nothing more than 10 seconds for almost two and three-quarter hours at this point. You can look at my powerfile for the bike course here.
For the first 4 miles of the run, we ran pretty much even, holding six-minute pace or just above it. I ate my first gel (of the run—I ate six on the bike) at 10 minutes and was able to ignore the aid stations by using my hand-held water bottle (I love that thing even though it's dorky. Whatever. Bryan Rhodes uses two of them). At around 4 miles Damian started to pull away and I started thinking about second place. After that, though, recrimination would set in, and I actually said to myself at one point He's 27! That means he was freshman when you were a senior! C'mon! I don't know why odd things like that come up when you're racing, but they just do.
At around mile nine or ten I started coming back to Damian a bit, and soon we were running shoulder to shoulder. I threw a few surges at him to see how he was feeling, and he covered them easily. I settled back and just ran on his shoulder. I was hurting, but I knew that he was a short course guy, this was only his fourth or fifth half-iron (I think I'm on 15 or 16), and that he was hurting, too. We ran together until mile 12. This is it, I thought. I was comforted by the fact that he hadn't attacked me at all, which is good. If you're the agressor on the run, you can probably make your opponent think you're stronger than he is. I put in a strong, hard surge and immediately felt a huge wave of nausea. I didn't hear his footsteps coming with me, though, and turning to look would have been suicide (you look scared). I just kept running hard. One minute into the mile I looked at my watch and thought only five more minutes of this. I was convinced he was only ten meters back, out of earshot but within striking distance. I kept counting minutes like lap cards in Cyclocross: four minutes left, three minutes, two...When my watch said four minutes into the mile I took a brief look back.
I couldn't see Damian. He was gone.
I didn't dare let up, though. If he had taken a few minutes to gather himself and come back I would certainly see him again. This is a guy who can run sub five-minute miles in training. I've never gotten close to a five-minute mile. But when I hit the 13 mile mark, I knew I'd won. I ended up putting about 70 seconds into Damian in the last mile, which surprised me. I think he was pretty much at the end of his rope, and I still, amazingly, had something left. Here's a video, courtesy of Amy, of my approach to the finish (it's a little loud—maybe turn down your browser).
The finish felt...well, odd. I was happy I won, but I was more happy the whole thing was over. As Andy Potts says: "It's never fun. Afterwards it's a little fun, but it's not...fun."
Soon after the finish Damian and I were both in the medical tent. I just needed to cool down a bit, but he was headed into the early stages of heat exhaustion, I think. You might be able to see the worried expression on his face.
Nice to get my first win of 2010 under my belt, and my first 1/2 iron win of my career.
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