|Another cool shirt for a cool event...and a nice bottle and some Hammer product samples to boot:-)|
I arrived at the race site at Research Park in Huntsville, Alabama almost an hour before the 7AM race start. Finding a spot on the bike racks was a "first come, first served" activity and not knowing anything about how these events worked, I figured better be safe than sorry and show up a little early, instead. Once I arrived, I quickly found a place to "hang up" my bike. Afterwards, are started roaming the crowd to find some familiar faces. I knew there there would be at least 4 coworkers of mine at the race as well as a few running buddies as well. I managed to spot most of them for a little pre-race chat to calm the nerves. Almost all of them had either borrowed a bike, failed to train properly or were first timers like me and while I was confident in both my ability to run and my ability to "cheat" my way through the bike leg. After all, I had a decent road bike. Yes, it was from the early 1980s, and yes, there has been a lot of progress since that time, but it was actually a very light bike and it truly was a high end bike of its time, a Cinelli bike handmade in Italy and weighing in a just above 20 lbs, which was incredible for a steel frame bike. How much difference could some serious bike training coupled with a serious bike really make, right? Well, I was about to find out the hard way.
I met up with Timothy Pitts at the starting line and both of us seemed a little outside of our element. Like me, Timothy was more familiar with trail running than with road biking, but we figured we would push on the runs and see what the bike leg would hold for us. Since Timothy is a faster runner than me, I decided I would try to stay with him as long as possible to accomplish a decent time on the first run. I managed to stay with him and we both transitioned to the bike leg pretty much at the same time. When I checked my time for the first 2.5 mile run later, I was very happy to see the clock at 15:53. I added just over 50 seconds during the transition before starting the bike leg.
I remember seeing Tim grab his bike in the transition area and we both pretty much left at the exact same time again. He passed me shortly after the start of this leg before I passed him again later on, but we basically stayed pretty close to each other once again. This section was new territory for me. I didn't know what to expect. I had had a very good first leg, but how long could I hold off the real cyclists. As it turned out, not very long. Not only that, when I started to get passed, it seemed like I was literally standing still as they flew past me. And this would repeat itself multiple times over the course of 10 miles. I would pedal for a mile or so and here they would come, three at a time, passing me at close to twice my speed (my average speed was 20mph for the entire leg, so you do the math). While I handily beat some of them during the first running leg, they took back the time they lost and then some. It was quite the humbling experience, but it was still a lot of fun. I did manage to get into a couple of duels out there with a couple of other cyclists. I would pas them on the climbs and they would fly past me on the downhills until the final mile, where I was able to hold them off for the remainder of the bike leg.
I completed the bike leg in just under 30 minutes and added another 50 seconds in the second transition before the final 2.5 mile run. I was feeling pretty good until I dismounted my bike and tried to start running. What the he!!? Why are my legs so wobbly? Why can't I run faster? Why am I so exhausted? What is going on? Once again, I tried to keep Tim in my sight, but it became clear to me that I just did not have the motivation (or maybe fitness?!?) to stick with him for the entire leg. I decided to let him pull away and tried to settle in a slower pace instead. Not long after, a couple of runners tarted to pass me. I did not care, which is very unusual for me. When I reached the first water stop, I just wanted to cool off with some water and walk for a bit. So I did...I doused my head with a cup of water and grabbed two cups of Gatorade to hydrate...all while walking. Ugh, if I wanted to get this over with, I probably needed to get running again. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the first two legs of this race, but the last leg felt pretty brutal. Clearly, I had pushed just a little too hard early on. Fighting the two tri athletes earlier during the bike leg was probably not the best idea. I was sure I was paying the price for it now. But man, it sure was fun while it lasted.
I was merely able to manage what felt like a slow jog at this point. There were still a few runners passing me, but I kind of settled into a steady slow pace and I knew I could hold this for another mile or so without killing myself. Then I started hearing someone breathing behind me. I figured he or she would just pass me and I would be on my way, but it seemed he was laboring just as much as me to get this done. Since he didn't pass me and he did not fall back, I figured he'd make his move on the final stretch. I never turned around, but I could tell this would be a push to the finish. Dang, why do I get sucked into these things? I could've just let him pass me...but with less than .5 mile to go there was no way I was going to let anyone pass me without a fight. It was on! I slowly picked up the pace and he stayed with me. I knew it was a guy just by listening to his labored breathing. I also remembered that I had my age marked on my calf, so this guys must have realized that I am in his age group and he was going to move past me in the final standings. He had licked blood as they say and so had I;-) I knew there would be one last incline before the finish and that's where I would try to put the hammer down. As the road rose before us, I started to shorten my strides and pick up the pace fast. I wanted him to just say to himself, "heck no, this is stupid, why should I pick up the pace on a hill just to beat one runner? I'm not playing this game". And he did fall back a little. I kicked a little harder and when I crossed the finish line, I was just glad to be done and happy to not have been passed one more time on the final stretch. When I checked the results later, I realized that I barely beat the guy by 3 seconds. Thanks for pushing me, buddy, I truly appreciate it!
Thanks to the organizer and the team of volunteers who put on a fantastic event. I will be back next year for more fun in the sun...but better prepared for the bike leg;-)