Results (time, pace, cumulative overall place)*
Run 5K: 18:24 (5:57 min/mi) – 11
T1: 2:50 – 18
Bike 15 mi: 37:33 (22.5 mph) – 7
T2: 1:15 – 8
Run 5K: 19:05 (6:08 min/mi) – 8
Finish: 1:19:07 – 8th overall (of 110)
*Official results included T1 time with Bike and T2 with 2nd Run; above is a guess on T1 and T2.
With all things Clearwater on my mind, I had my eye on the Monster Dash Duathlon in Lowell, Massachusetts for the past several weeks. The duathlon was positioned nicely on the calendar – two weeks from my A-race – and although it would be my first ever duathlon, I knew it would serve as a great final tune-up to get me dialed in for a trip to Florida.
After a tough final training week before taper for Clearwater, I needed to wait until Saturday to see if I had race in my legs because I didn’t want to do the race on legs that felt heavy – then I would gain nothing from racing. So when Saturday finally came around, I was pleasantly surprised to find my legs not feeling fresh but certainly good enough, where I thought a final tune-up would further help get me dialed in both physically and mentally for Clearwater. This race would mark the beginning of taper proper.
Toeing the line of my first ever duathlon, I wondered aloud how hard I should take the first run. Jim, the guy next to me, a speed monger with a 1:12 half marathon in his running shoes – and a very fast looking bike racked next to mine – shed light on his strategy: “Go hard… it’s too short not to.” As soon as I realized he was right, I started cursing my social ways for spending the final pre-race minutes chatting up friends instead of warming up. The lack of foresight, I knew, was my inexperience at short distances, for I knew a proper warm up was important, especially for me, a slow starter.
As soon as the gun went off, I found myself – surprise-surprise – with sluggish legs. I tried like I could to hold pace while I watched a collection of at least 25 other runners pull ahead. As the course approached the first hill, I had already started catching some of the fast starters, and on the hill, I was able to work by for a swift pass of several. At that point I could still see the leaders up the road. I figured I was in 15th place by then. 1.5 miles in, the course took a hard right along the mighty Merrimack River, where an even mightier head wind waited. It was on this long stretch back to home where I climbed all the way up to 11th position.
As I rounded the final turn coming into Transition, I was pleasantly surprised to see the leader just getting on his bike – meaning I wasn’t that far out of the lead. Close behind was my buddy Jim. I waved encouragement to Jim. He smiled back as he curled his arm into a fist and set off on his own chase.
Time: 5K – 18:24 (5:57 min/mi) – 11
Summary: The first run was fun. The wind was tough on the long stretch back to Transition, but I was able to keep my leg turnover high and stay fairly tucked in. Since I never looked at my watch or the clock, I had no idea on my time or pacing until results came out. If you told me before the race I would average 5:57 minute miles on the first run, I would have told you that it would have did me in on the bike.
Through a chute along the outskirts of the Transition area and then a hard hairpin left back to the bike racks, I was able to see exactly who was behind me. There was nobody immediately, but 20 seconds back and more was a group of several. I knew I had to be quick in changing into Bike gear to maintain my placement, but even so, I gave it all back. Although I was fairly tidy and probably efficient only in my mind, I found myself down 9 places to about 20th overall.
Time: 2:50 – 20
Summary: Transitions suck. I’m slow. This race highlighted exactly what it is I need to work on, because being so high up in the standings and losing that many in brushing my teeth, combing my hair, and trimming my nails will keep haunting me if I ever want to pose as a Top 5 guy in the short stuff.
I couldn’t stop laughing at my pathetic slow-to-transition self. Here I was, cobbling along in my cleats, pushing my bike to the mount point, and watching guys who finished the run a minute or more behind me already on their bikes disappearing down the street.
I was laughing, but I was also motivating myself for a battle ahead. Almost as if I was testing myself, I wanted to prove my worth in my legs, not in how I get dressed.
With high winds and gusts even higher, I knew the bike would be tough. I was committed to taking the bike as hard as I could without a care for the second run. My goal was to make my legs burn, make myself question how I will run next, because I figured the first run coupled with a hard 15 mile bike would be akin to the tired feeling in the legs after, maybe, a 40 to 50 mile ride, a convenient little tune-up brick run for Clearwater.
Finally on the bike and heading directly into the wind, I pretended I was the strongest rider out there. My goal was to finish first. I knew it wouldn’t happen, but regardless, I got to work in doing my part, even if I conned myself.
Immediately I passed all the guys who passed me in Transition. I figured by then I was in, maybe, 15th place, maybe one or two notches higher. Slowly I picked off rider after rider. At one point, hammering into a nasty wind, I was amazed at my speed. Where I thought I’d be down under 20 mph, I was sitting rather comfortably and pushing quite hard at 22 mph. Occasional gusts from the side would push me over a few feet and often knock my pace low. The gusts because so frequent that I learned to stop fighting them and instead dampen them by letting the bike flow.
The middle part of the course was where the hills came. There were two or three that were enough to kill momentum and cause shift to a very low gear. I tried like might to power over them, but some were just too big.
By the middle part of the course, my legs started burning hard. I was riding mostly by myself. It was then when I started wondering how in the world I would run the second run.
Just then two guys ahead of me came into sight. I got to work. It took a mile before I picked off one guy and another mile before I got the other. I imagined I was now in 10th place, or somewhere thereabouts, where in reality, I was now squarely in 7th position. The guy in 8th hung on my shoulder as long as he could, which was also by no coincidence when I decided to drop the hammer a bit harder. Slowly I pulled away. As each hill, both down and ups, approached, I turned up effort. Flying down the long graduals and maintaining pressure on the pedals for as long as momentum would allow, and pressing hard on the hills in attempts to power over them, I watched my average pace climb from 21 all the way to 22.5 mph, where it would sit for the remainder of the ride.
A mile from Transition, still ahead of the number 8 guy and with not another athlete as far as I could see ahead, a guy with his family on the side of the road yelled further motivation my way: “7… You’re in seventh!”
Time: 14.8(?) mi: 37:33 (22.5 mph) – 7
Summary: I’m really beginning to like the bike. At times I feel very fast. Today was one of those days. Although the course was shy of 15 miles, I averaged 22.5 mph on a course filled with rolling hills in the middle – a course many said was hilly – and what I gather to be a 20 mph steady wind with gusts much higher. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the course hilly, but there were definitely two, maybe three, hills that would kill all momentum. All in all, if you subtracted Transition (T1 time was included in the Bike split), I’m willing to bet that I had the 3rd, 4th, or 5th fastest bike of the day. Which to me is impressive since my run splits weren’t quite that high. In other words, maybe I’m a better cyclist than runner.
Transition from Bike to Run #2 was a repeat of T1. I laughed at my sorry slow-to-transition self as the guy in 8th place passed me… in Transition. No worries, I told myself, I knew I’d get him and maybe one or two ahead of him. Little did I know at that point how very wrong I would be.
Time: 1:15 – 8
Sitting 100 yards squarely behind the guy in 7th place, the place that was rightfully mine, I laughed again at myself for even thinking I was going to catch this guy – let along the “several more” I promised. My legs felt fatigued and filled with lactate. They didn’t feel like moving.
But move they did. It was as if my legs were in a zone, a zone not to be messed with, and they wanted to pump.
Out of Transition and on the course, I shortened my stride until my legs felt more fluid. Not long after I was back to form and racing myself. Only, the number 7 guy was still the same distance ahead. But not for long, I coached myself. Or so I thought.
Just then I heard a familiar whir as a rider whizzed by. It was then when I realized that I would have to get used to bikes come flying by me, as the run covers the last 3 miles of the bike course. Even cooler was seeing some pretty fast guys come by. And I was already out on the run. That was cool. I felt fast. But now I had to feel light on my feet. Thus began a two mile battle for position number 7, for as far as I could see, nobody was beyond him. It would only be he and I.
To the turn point in the run course, where the course does a hard right into the wind for mile and a half stretch back home, the 7th place guy was still sitting 100 yards ahead, and still nobody ahead of him. We were neither gaining nor probably losing ground, because I knew nobody was behind me as cars kept turning after I’d pass.
Squeezing to the far right of the road so that bikes could get by, I pretended there was no wind. I shortened my stride a touch and increased cadence and effort as long as I could. When my lungs and legs burned and I felt I would slow, I changed stride again to squeeze every bit of performance out of me. I put my head down and ignored the guy in front. I knew that if I stuck to do what I could, I would catch him.
Punching into the wind yet feeling smooth and efficient, I finally picked my head up… number 7 was now 50 yards ahead. I repeated efficient form with high cadence into the wind until I closed the gap to 20 yards. But just as I knew I had him, knew that I would get him just in time for the finish, I saw him look over to a guy with his family on the side of the road. It was the same guy who had told me when I was finishing up the bike that I was in 7th place. Only this time he was telling the runner in front of me he was in 7th. A glance back by my battlemate confirmed my suspicion that I was on his ass and hunting fast. It was enough to get him to increase pace enough to hold me off for the final turn, down a 200 yard stretch, and into the parking lot for the finish chute. Good for 8th place overall.
Time: 5K – 19:05 (6:08 min/mi) – 8
Summary: The last run was fun. Just when I thought I buried myself with my first run and an all-out effort on the bike in very windy conditions, my legs came to life. I really should do more of these short events because honestly, although it hurt to hold on, these are over before you know it. And my legs, although fatigued, felt at times very fluid and efficient… not fast, but efficient.
Finish: 1:19:07 – 8th overall (of 110)
Clearwater, I am ready.
Simon Lessing… Spencer Smith… this is a public call out to let you know that the guy over your shoulder will be me. I am aiming for a win.
Still finishing… still kicking…