Sunday, August 14, 2011

YMCA Sprint Duathlon Report - NO EXCUSES!!

It was still dark outside while I drove to Scales Lake in Boonville. The drive reminded me of the drives to the trailheads of the 14ers I had climbed in June and July. I also recalled the predawn drives to the start lines of the Leadville Silver Rush 50 (7/17) and the San Juan Solstice 50 (6/18). And those memories prompted me to ask myself if I had gone totally bonkers.

All of the descending while running those two mountain ultras left my quads weakened. Though the true condition of my quads was not noticeable in my daily routine, I discovered it after my first hard effort. That came ten days after the SR50 when I ran a fairly relaxed and even-paced 4K cross country run on the grass at USI in miserably hot conditions. The next morning I stepped out of bed and winced as pain raced from my hips to my knees. Several icings followed.

That push/pain scenario played out three more times over the next ten days as I tested my legs. I really wanted to compete in the YMCA's first duathlon, but I also wanted to avoid injury. Being a sprint Du of a mere 2K run/15 mile bike/5K run, the event required me to make a huge shift in my training from the slow ultra running pace to a faster pace with higher leg turnover while also attempting to build some cycling strength.

A little more than a week before the Y-Du I put in a test run on the course. On a hot and muggy morning I managed to cover the course in just under 65 minutes while riding the bike leg in 37:00 and running the 5K in 19:50. That trial run gave me confidence because I stayed well within myself, especially on the bike where a tailwind on the return kept me from pushing hard on the pedals in the last three miles. I was  forced to ice my sore quads 2-3 times every day for the next week. In the meantime, my right hamstring began to tighten up due to sciatic pinch. 

I wrote the Y-Du off.

With race day approaching and the school year in full swing, I resigned myself to watching the race. Yet, I still tested the legs one more time with a hilly four mile effort on the bike. Hmmmmm.

So, I questioned my sanity as I drove to the Y-Du. I hesitated at the gate. It wasn't too late to go home. My eyes ached because insomnia had kept me up for four straight nights. My tight right hamstring burned each time I pressed the gas pedal of the RAV. And those quads were likely to let me down if I pushed too hard on the pedals. I parked the RAV and sat there in the dark thinking about all of these issues. And, well, I got really mad at myself for focusing on the negative and for creating excuses. 

I convinced myself to park the bike in transition and then do everything I could to get my body and mind ready for a hard effort. I had already checked the entry list and reviewed splits from local runs and the cycling time trial series, so I knew that there was one guy, Greg, who would likely push me hard enough to find out what I was capable of.

The runs were on moderately hilly roads that contained a few short but steep ascents. I found myself trailing a group of three runners at the end of the 2K. Interestingly enough, the leader of the sprint triathlon also entered the transition with us. This excited me, because I'd always competed with the triathletes who race concurrently on the same course as the duathletes. I exited the transition and mounted Kristy on the heels of Greg and the triathlon leader.

A mile and a half later we had shuffled through our positions and the triathlon leader opened a gap on Greg and I. At mile four my legs felt too relaxed, so I decided to test Greg with a surge. A gap opened up between us on the winding and mildly rolling road, so I pressed harder and the gap increased. The move also caused the gap between me and the triathlon leader to stop growing.

Just before the turn-around at 7.5 miles, I hit what I thought was a small rock. It tinged off of the chain rings. I hate it when that happens!

The homeward bound tailwind of the previous ride was replaced race day with a headwind. By mile twelve my quads were starting to ache a little. It felt like I was pedaling through sand. Then I noticed it. Thump, thump, thump, thump . . . the back tire was low, not flat, but low enough that I could feel the valve stem contact the road. Maybe that wasn't a rock. A quick look under my armpit told me that Greg was still lingering about thirty seconds back. I pressed harder on the pedals. The triathlete began to come back to me and the gap back to Greg opened a little. NO EXCUSES!!

The applauding crowd told me that Greg was entering one end of the transition as I exited the other. I shook my head and laughed as I ran up the first steep little hill on the 5K course. Silly quads! Run!! After about a kilometer, an old buddy, Chris, rode up next to me on a mountain bike and told me that he could see Greg back behind me. Run, legs, run!

Coming out of a short patch of woods I was surprised to see the triathlon leader on the winding road ahead of me. And I was catching him - fast. Cool. But was Greg thinking the same thing while he caught up to me? I would find out after the first turn-around, which was just ahead at the top of a steep hundred meter climb. I laughed as I reminded myself how easy this would be compared to my recent mountain ascents. Shut up, quads! You're not supposed to be tight hamstring, just do what you're told!

When the triathlete circled the cone a mere ten seconds before me, I was delighted to see that he was my old friend, Barry. We have raced against each other many times over the last sixteen years and have always been fairly evenly matched. Because there is less than a three year age difference between us, we have often raced in the same wave starts.

I rounded the cone to see that Greg was not all that far behind me. In retrospect, I believe that he was further back than he appeared to be, because he was still climbing the hill. Nonetheless, I accelerated and soon pulled up next to Barry. 

We crossed back into the park and I tried to convince Barry to finish with me. I eased up a for awhile, but Barry was having none of it.  He waved me on knowing that someone was chasing me. I soon rounded the last cone and was happy to see that I had put a big gap on Greg. All I had to do was stay on my feet as I ran through the grass along the dam and the race was mine. Yeah, right! Recalling the many fresh scars from the SR50 fall caused me to focus on every footfall.

Though the time was a few minutes slower than what I believed I was capable of after my trial run and though the effort was well short of the effort I had put into my previous two du's (2010 Natls and 2009 Worlds), it was enough to satiate my competitive drive. I had, after all, ignored aching thighs, a tight hamstring, and a flat tire while racing along at an average of 92% of my maximum heart rate.

What a memorable day! The weather was moderate. In fact, it was great for mid-August, with clear skies and temps in the 70s. And I enjoyed conversations with a lot of friends, including Jeremy, Drew, Linda, Barry, Greg, Laura, Jim, Nathan, Randy, Clay, Wayne. and several others. Most of these people raced and had pretty darn good days! I am thankful to have such nice friends. It is awesome to share these experiences with like-minded people. I am also most thankful to be healthy enough to enjoy such events. (You know, such events as those when I don't crash!)

I also talked with YMCA race directors John and Barb, who put on several great races for the tri-state each year. Thanks!

I can hardly wait to wake up and ice in the morning . . .

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