I’ve been wanting to get back into triathlon for a while because, like many things in life, I have a foolishly grandiose idea that I would be good at it. Thoughts like these led me to my first tri experience at the Downtown triathlon a couple of years ago , a failure so epic that I sometimes still wake up screaming I’m in that damn USC pool.
My next triathlon I was so overly focused on correcting that horrific swim, that I forgot one critical thing…
I suck on the bike too.
My bike is too small (I got it secondhand from a guy who might be 5’8″) and it’s a road bike, so tri guys (and girls) routinely leave me in their dust doing about half the effort. And I’m left pedaling like a maniac behind them like Brand from Goonies.
So hey, let’s do an event that basically puts your cycling at a premium – the duathlon. Sure, there’s two parts running, but most du’s have quick run segments and a much longer cycling portion in the middle.
I wouldn’t typically have much interest in the du, but Jennifer “Tenacious J” Hill was trying to drum up participants for the Tom Hoskins duathlon several weeks ago and she encouraged me to do it.
Wait a minute… this is Jen speaking…and I have some thoughts to include here. First of all, “encouraged” is a very gentle word. I think maybe “dared” is more appropriate. “I DARE YOU to try to beat me again.” (Alex beat me at Tri the Midlands in 2012. I cried for days.)
Knowing me, she knew exactly how to sell it – the TROPHY HUNT. Yes, she filled my swollen head with thoughts that I might even be able to win this event, since it draws only a small fraction of the tri crowd, and usually a much less competitive one at that. The red-headed stepchild of the multisport world.
It’s true, duathlon doesn’t seem to interest people as much as triathlon does. Why the bad rap? Someone even asked me at the start if I was doing the du because I was afraid of the swim. Ha! All I can say is, I’ve done both, and I love both. You think running a fast mile before hopping on your bike is easier than swimming? Give it a shot.
My lust for meaningless metal trinkets knows no limits, so I was in. Time to hit the bike again. I hadn’t touched the thing in over a year. I literally had to dust it off. Since I have the patience of a 4 year old , I thought it was a fantastic idea to start off with 36 miles as fast as I could go at the Fort Jackson Awareness ride. Yeah, that sucked. I think I was sore for like a week. My legs surprisingly held up ok but damned if these regular cyclists don’t have crotches of steel. I didn’t want to sit down for days.
Sitting down is for losers! Carry on…
But I did go back to the bike every Sunday for about 6 weeks. Once a week does not a Lance Armstrong make, but hopefully it would keep me from getting shamed too bad.
Did someone mention shame? As I dutifully trained, J Hill was waging an all-out social media campaign that she was going to bring me down. I could feel the bus wheels running over me already. Alex, you are exaggerating here. I merely gave you some creative encouragement in a very public realm. J is a tri beast and is best on the bike. Hmmmm…. Maybe. But slower than I used to be. And slower than I’m going to be. It’s a rebuilding year. She completed Ironman Texas last year, and my crotch hurts just thinking about biking 112 miles. My crotch STILL hurts. Suddenly I was overcome with fear – she was going to kick my ass so bad on the bike that I wouldn’t be able to make it up on the 5k. And I transition like your grandma. Please don’t insult my grandma like that. She was definitely going to bank time there too. Dear God, what have I gotten myself into.
So with 6 bike rides and nary a transition practice, I headed to Irmo for the Battle Royale. This was lose-lose for me. The best I could do would be to beat her, and no one would think less of her – she’s a foot shorter than me and everyone knew I could beat her in a 5k. I lose, and I would never hear the end of it. This is true. I already had the t-shirts printed up. I’ll save them for next time. Jeff Brandenburg and Wes Spratt would probably create a facebook page to publicly humiliate me. Oh, and outside of my mom and maybe my wife, no one was rooting for me. Everyone wanted to see the melon headed kid with the overblown ego get taken down.
I had done the calculations. I figured Alex would beat me by 2 minutes on the first run and 4 minutes on the second run. I could gain a minute on him in Transition, so I needed to beat him by 5 minutes on the bike. My bike skillz aren’t at their best right now, and I had doubts; so I needed to see how Alex was progressing on the bike. I invited him to join me for a run-bike-run workout on the course a week before the race. I bided my time and just watched him. Have you ever seen a clown riding a tricycle? It’s like that – only bigger. Despite his non-aerodynamic head, he rode pretty well. I felt I could beat him on the bike course, but not by much – and I’d have to work pretty hard.
So I showed up an hour and a half early. I am embarrassed to say how nervous I was. So I got in your head? Exxxxxxcellent. I felt pretty good since I had taken 2 whole days off from running, which is like an eternity for an obsessive like me. I was a little worried about hydration and GI issues though, since I had been out the night before on my 16th anniversary date (one that involved a few martinis and beer). I have never met your lovely wife, but I could tell she was on my side, plying you with drinks on Race Eve. Everything seemed OK, despite the unconventional carb loading.
Lots of familiar faces – Brian Clyburn showed up for the du, which I knew would give some tough competition if J-Hill didn’t. Jennifer Reeves, Amber Todd and Cheryl Outlaw were also du-ing it. TUS teammates Luci, Jeff, Ilia, and Kris were on hand for the tri, along with the Griffins, Jennifer Tudor, Randy Hrechko, Tommy Outlaw, Patti Lowden, Missy Caughman, John Zemp, Pam Free, Laurin Long, and Lorand Batten. Tenacious had her tri peeps out and rooting her on with Lisa Powell and April Hutto. Brian Talkington and Rob Yerger were spectating.
Part I – MILE RUN
I originally was going to blast this one at full speed, but I realized that would be reeally stupid given it’s such a small part of the race. Well, poop. I was really hoping you would let your ego take hold and start out too fast. With the start I tried to target low 6 minute pace. There was a guy with a tri kit on with USA and his name on the back, so I figured this dude either had it in the bag or was completely delusional. He took off in first right away so I guess he was the real deal. Simple out and back course, but since we were going downhill practically the whole first half, the way back hurt a lot worse. Me, Clyburn and another guy hit the transition area around the same time. It ended up being a little over a mile so I had a 6:36 split (6:20 by Garmin for 1 mile). My plan was to start comfortably strong and build into it… But when they shouted “Go!” I took off like my shoes were on fire. I was ahead of Alex for 8 seconds. “I AM WINNING! I AM BEATING ALEX! I AM THE FASTEST MAN ALIVE!” Then Alex passed me, and two women passed me, and I thought, “That’s okay – I feel great and I’m going to pick them off on the bike!” Approximately 40 seconds later, my heart caught up with the work load and sent message to my muscles and my digestive system, and they all got together and had a pow-wow and decided to send a telegram to my brain that said, “You’re an idiot. You can’t run this fast. We’d really, really like to poop in these shorts now.” So I spent the rest of the first run praying I could finish the race without soiling myself. It still ended up being my fastest mile this year, which is both AWESOME and a really stupid way to start a race.
I was sucking some wind at T1 but I was so proud of myself for getting my shoes changed and gigantic helmet on pretty quick. I didn’t know if the Y was aware of J-Hill’s viral social media campaign, but we were assigned consecutive numbers and adjacent bike spots in the transition area. I may or may not have had something to do with that. I’m about to begin my awkward bike cleat jog when J comes flying in (some fast girl was trying to pass me and I COULD NOT LET HER PASS ME – turns out it was Amber Todd, whom I don’t know personally but I know she can RUN), transitioning like a well-oiled machine. Did I mention my chip leg strap came off in T1? It did, and the chip detached too. HA HA HA HA HA Still waiting for that elusive sub 1 minute transition time. (6:36 ,3rd) Notice Alex didn’t list his T1 time here. It was 1:21, in case you were wondering. Alex, were you writing a Haiku during transition or something? My times: 7:39 for leg 1 (7:26 pace), 3rd female (tied with Amber); :54 at T1 (moving me into 2nd female overall because I can change my shoes LIKE A BOSS).
Part II – 13.7 mile bike
I figure I might have a 20-30 second head start so I try to make the most of it. The mile run, despite being way slower than I had hoped, still seemed to take a lot out of me. I start crushing it pretty hard on the bike off the bat but soon back off because my legs are starting to burn and I’m accumulating an oxygen debt I can’t pay back . The way out on this course feels hillier than the way back in. Yes. Very much so. I had done the course twice in practice, but at a more relaxed pace. Now I was churning and burning, standing up in the saddle like I was in a mountain stage on the Tour. Of course, I was usually getting passed by people gliding by me in their tri bikes and probably mocking my ridiculous display. Alex wasn’t even wearing a tri top or bike jersey! He had on his blue Van on the Run tech tee! Athletes were probably shaking their heads at his disregard of the cult uniform. It’s OK. No one ever gave me points for style. Despite all the hip rocking and bobbing and weaving on the bike I figure I’m still going faster than the 18 mph I had hoped to average. And hey, still hadn’t seen J pass me. Every time someone came up behind me I was having a Tenacious panic attack though. “Don’t let her get in your head”, they said. Too late for that. Muahahahahaha I see Clyburn coming back my way and the guy must be a mile ahead of me. Guess I can forget about catching him.
After about 3 miles, I spied Alex ahead of me. The road would curve and I’d lose sight of him, then I’d crest a hill and see I’d closed the gap a bit. It was such an internal struggle: Do I hammer it and catch him and ruin my chances of a good 5k run, or do I stick to my race plan and conserve energy? I had dreamt of making The Pass and was chomping at the bit… But I’d already blown a podium spot earlier this season by visiting the Pain Cave on the bike leg and blowing up on the run.
From what I’d observed the previous weekend, I wasn’t going to be able to make up 5 minutes on Alex on the bike unless he flatted or dropped his chain – and as much as I like to win, I don’t want to beat him that way. I nixed my vood00-doll plan in the days before the race. During the bike leg, I stuck to my race plan – push hard the first couple miles, then cruise to the turn aroun. I kept inching closer to Alex but I didn’t chase. I did see the 1st female of the Du heading back, but where was the 2nd? I didn’t know that I had passed her in transition, and I don’t know her or her bike skills, so I kept my eyes peeled for her.
I finally make the turnaround at Freshly Mill Rd and I see a mini peloton of three bikes pretty close behind me but a huge gap behind them. Just when I think I’m in the clear, J suddenly appears as the third bike in that group and scares the crap out of me. She says she said some words of encouragement (I totally did!), but all I could offer her was an obscenity in return.(How rude.) I figure she’ll pass me at any second but maybe I can stay with her once that happens. With the fire officially lit under my ass, I start pedaling like a madman trying to hold her off. Fortunately the mile run has finally gotten out of my system and it feels vaguely easier on the bike now. The next several miles I’m going at 150 percent and still waiting to hear her coming up behind me. I have this paranoia that maybe she is just silently riding my tail and mocking me. (I would never.) But hey, I know she has to bank at least 3-4 minutes before the 5k so the closer I get home the better I feel. At this point, I’m calculating: although I might not actually pass Alex, I could (should!) still have a faster bike split than him. But I start seeing the gap widen. Decision time again: Chase (follow my ego) or stay steady (follow my plan)? If Alex beats me on the bike, I will BLOW A GASKET. But I also want a podium spot, and for that, I have to run. So I stick to the plan.
One major long hill about 10 miles in is actually a relief because it neutralizes the tri bikes and I can employ the freak quads to do some work. I’ve called this hill a lot of things over the years, but NEVER a “relief.” At the top of the hill I pass somebody, which I think is my one roadkill for the whole course (other than some random guy on a mountain bike that I wasn’t 100 percent sure was in the race). Once the hill is over, I completely empty the tank and burn it as hard as possible to the finish. Lorand passes me at mach 5 near the Y but I’m in disbelief I avoided getting chicked by J the whole time. (43:57, 8th, 19 mph)
I never got to make The Pass. I am heartbroken. Not only that, but Alex beat me on the bike leg by 4 seconds. I will write “4 seconds” on my hand for the next 3 months of workouts. My time: 44:01, 18.9mph, 3rd fastest female but finishing in 2nd place thanks to changing my shoes really fast at T1.
Part III – 5k run
I pull in to T2 and I’m pretty beat but now I know all I need to do is run a tempo 5k and not die to seal the win. Jumping off the bike, my legs and glutes feel like rocks though I’m able to change the shoes back pretty quick. I am so uncoordinated on the bike that I didn’t get any water from my bottle so I chug from my tervis tumbler I was using to hydrate before the race. I don’t get more than a few gulps down before Jen comes hauling ass into the zone and mocking me for sucking on my adult sippy cup in the middle of a race. Hee hee This snaps me back into reality and I awkwardly head out onto the run course. Again, Alex “forgets” to include his transition time here, like it doesn’t count. IT COUNTS. Alex: 1:01 (actually not too bad). Me? :44. Fastest female T2 in the Du. All that practice changing shoes really pays off!
Few things feel worse than trying to run after a hard cycling effort. Wait, you don’t like that feeling? It’s GREAT! I make stiff and awkward a way of life, but I’m sure I looked like the tin man out there. My laces feel like they’re coming undone so I stop and try to tie them, but then my oxygen deprived brain realizes they’re elastic and have a clamp. I’m running behind Alex and see him stop and bend over to check his elastic laces. He had just installed them 9 hours before the race, and I silently scream, “Nothing new on race day!” It’s almost a half mile before things start to loosen up some, but this is where there hill starts. A mile-long, relentless incline. And I admit, I kind of mailed it in for most that hill. Clyburn was like 5 minutes ahead of me and the lead woman wasn’t too far behind him, and I thought there was little chance of anyone else in the du field catching me at this point. Once I reached the run turnaround though, I was surprised to see Jen a lot closer than I would have liked. Oh hell no. Oh hell yes! I finally break into some sub 7 pace on the way back down, though Scott Brewer catches me and passes. I ran sub-7 pace once. See “poop my shorts” story above. I use him as a pacer the rest of the way, hanging back a few meters until we start to crest the hill near the Y entrance. With less than a half mile to go, my giant ego gets the best of me and I decide to launch into a full-on sprint all the way to the finish. (22:27, 3rd)
Holding back on the bike did help my run a good bit, and I was happy to finish strong instead of die a slow, painful death. Negative splits, baby! I knew the first female was light years ahead of me, but I didn’t know if any others were ahead of me or how far they might be behind me. I didn’t really push until the last mile, and never felt too terrible either – which means I left some out on the course. I’m a tad disappointed about that. Every race is a learning opportunity! (Sometimes I get tired of learning, though, and would really prefer to just WIN.) 5k time was 26:46, which was only 4th fastest female, but my mad transition skillz saved me enough time to snag 2nd overall female and the coveted coffee cup award (soooo much better than a plaque!). What’s the lesson here, folks? Transitions count! Oh, and MUST GET FASTER!!
So glad to be done, especially with the heat of the day really starting to fire up. Ended up 5th overall (1:15:27). Alex did really well. If he actually got a bike that fit him, and trained, he would be a force to be reckoned with. Tri kit dude (Keith Jackson) beat the du field by like 11 minutes and completed the whole thing in less than an hour. Clyburn managed 2nd overall, crushing me by 3 minutes on the bike and taking me down in the 5k to boot. First woman beat me too (Meredith Dammers) – she passed me on the bike like I was standing still and got me by almost 4 minutes. I don’t know who she is, but she is truly a beast! The 3rd place guy (Samuel Lucio) also destroyed me on the bike.
Tenacious J may have lost the Battle Royale but had a successful trophy hunt by taking 2nd overall female. She also propelled me to my fastest bike time ever, so I have to give her credit for that too. (Wait, I was propelling you? That is totally not fair. I never agreed to that. I want a du-over! Get it? Du-over? Hahahahaha) I’m hoping I can come back next year and ride faster, because I’m sure she’ll seek to have her revenge. But for now, the Electrolyte Cup is all mine.
Thank you for playing Duathlon with me! I only challenge people I don’t think I can beat, at least not easily – so you should feel flattered. But make no mistake: It’s ON. You’d better work it, SmackDonald. And for the love…. Go buy a bike.
In the tri, familiar names included Hunter Janus taking 4th overall, and Lorand Batten placing 7th, Scott Brewer 12th (he also beat me by a minute in the 5k, but I never thought of different start times). Lisa Powell took first in the 50-54. Randy Hrechko won 3rd in the 45-49. TDBS follower Jennifer Wild placed 1st in the 40-44 while TUS teammate Kris Littman-Koon took 5th in the 30-34. Mike Griffin won 2nd in the 55-59. Luci Velicu took 2nd in the 35-39 while Tommy Outlaw placed 4th in the 55-59. Patti Lowden took 2nd 65-69. John Zemp, Pam Free, Chad FShivar, Missy Caughman and Hou-Yin Chang were also finishers. Fellow du finishers included Amber Todd, Cheryl Outlaw and Jennifer Reeves. Laurin Long and Jennifer Tudor both completed their first tris – congrats guys! Overall, this was a very well done event and major thanks go out to Joe Roof, Erin Roof, Todd Heinecke and YMCA of Columbia.