On May 8th, Jocelyn and I competed in the Kinetic Half Iron in Spotsylvania Virginia. This was to be my second half of the year, three weeks removed from the New Orleans 70.3. I was a little concerned about my recovery from NOLA coming into this one, as my legs had felt pretty flat for at least 1.5-2 weeks afterward, but things started getting better with about a week to go. Jocelyn and I started the drive down to southern VA pretty late on Friday afternoon, and after the 6 or so hour drive, we got into Lake Anna State Park at about 10pm. We were staying in an extra country cabin that triathlete/swimmer friends from Erie had offered us, so we quickly laid out our gear and food for the morning and hit the hay for short night's sleep. We got up pretty early as we still had to pick up our packets and race chips, and also rack our bikes in transition. This would be the start of an interesting day for me, full of highs and lows. Jocelyn and I started with this process, and then waited in line for bathroom needs (no porta-potties?!), and then the final race preps including number affixation, tire pumping, etc. Jocelyn left my slow-ass at the car as she made her way to transition (with about 35 minutes till race start) and I proceeded to pump up my tires. Or attempt to. The front wheel went without a fight, but the rear was acting up. I had to pull my brand new (and tight!) tire off the rim with my lame tire levers, yank out the tube, loosen the nut at the top of the valve stem to then put the extender back on, to remount the tire, and then successful pumping finally with about 15 minutes till race start. I still had to get body marked, pick up an extra cap as I left mine at the car during the tire trauma, and then do everything else in transition. Luckily once I finally made it into trans, I went through my preps incredibly quick and raced down to the beach with my wetsuit in hand as I already heard them going over last minute instructions on the PA. There I briefly met up with Jocelyn and a good number of the Pittsburgh contingent down for the race, Chad, Jen, and Matt. Chad, Matt, and I exchanged hellos and pre-race pleasantries, and then it was into the water for a quick dip and a few strokes before they called us back out in advance of the start. We were going off in the race's first wave as there were no pros doing this race and all men under 35 started at 7am. At the gun we were off, and again I was using my solid bash technique and dolphin diving to get out in front. I took a wide left line to the first turn buoy as the intermediate ones did not seem to be aligned with that one, and found myself swimming all alone as I often do. There were some guys swimming out in front from what I could see, but my effort was good and I felt like I was swimming fairly fast so I just did my own thing. The rest of the swim leg my course was pretty good and I kept it steady into the finish, turning the kick on for maybe the last 200-300 meters. Getting out of the water I wasn't sure of my time, which later turned out to be a "too good to be true" 23:30 (short course), but as I was running up the beach, I heard the announcer mention both Matt and Chad's names so I new this was going to shape up to be the duel we all anticipated. We all passed closely by one another in T1 and Chad was out first, then Matt, and then myself. There was supposedly only 1 or 2 guys up the road, and then a pack of all of the aforementioned Pittsburghers plus about 7 more starting the bike all within sight of each other. There was a short out and back in the park before leaving and beginning the first of two clockwise loops around the northern half of Lake Anna. I saw Matt just behind me on the short out and back, and Chad was a little up the road, and immediately my goal was to keep him in sight because I knew that he would set a solid yet even pace, and waste no time getting down to it. I started off again with a slightly elevated HR with the swim/transition effects lingering and also the adrenaline of the start of the bike battles, but found a good rhythm with a small pack of guys that would continue to jockey for position cleanly over the next 50 miles. I passed Chad somewhere around the ten mile mark, but I would certainly see him again on the bike leg as I did another strong fellow, Iain, who was riding a Kestrel and kitted out in their gear as well. It was hard to keep a constant speed as the wind was a steady 20mph at least, gusting higher at times, and as we did the clockwise loop, it was always having different effects on us. I did keep a fairly constant effort though, with an even higher cadence than in N.O., and came much closer to nailing my hydration and nutrition perfectly. I rolled into T2 after about 2:23:15, good for a 23.5mph avg for some rolling and windy conditions.
After a ridiculously disoriented and slow transition, I was out for the run. Having not had really any spare time in transition in the morning, I didn't have a chance to rehearse my entrances and exits, and couldn't find my spot right away. Never happened to me before, and I even found myself wondering and laughing out loud at my own confusion. Chad was back out ahead and yet again my plan was to mark him and keep him in sight. The run course consisted of three loops through the park after a short out and back just out of transition, and was characterized by an uphill at the start of each lap, rolling to flat through the middle, and then a downhill section through the woods as you finished up and made your way back towards the lake. A spectator told us about a half mile in that we were running 3-4 after passing another competitor on the way up the hill, so that was definitely some ample fuel for the motivational fire. Chad and I hit the 1st mile marker at about 6:40, we ran pretty close for the next mile, and then I pulled a little ahead to move into 3rd place on the road. I was running between 6 and 6:30 pace depending on the grade, and really tried to stay present in the moment as I attempted to cruise away from my pursuers and try to catch sight of the 2nd place guy up the road. Early on my second lap, I caught sight of him up the road and went about trying to close the gap over the next 1.5 miles. Finally I caught 2nd place, Iain, at about the midway point of the lap and used a slight uphill grade to put some space between us. I got about a 10 second gap pretty quick and then just kept the pressure on. Heading into the 2nd half of this 2nd loop, I was now seeing Rob, Matt, Jocelyn, Lauren, and Mimi out on the course and this was a nice feature to be able to step outside of your own suffering for a minute, and to offer some encouragement to your friends to get through theirs.
Once starting the third lap, I was kinda racing in no man's land. From checking behind I felt like I had a pretty good grip on 2nd place, but 1st place dude was nowhere to be seen. Heading through an intersection at the mid-point of the lap, I spotted some Setup race officials on mountain bikes with radios and I asked if they had a split to the leader, and the disappointing news to come back was about 3 minutes. At that point I pretty much resigned myself to 2nd place with only 2.5 miles to go, but I took at look at my watch with 2 miles to go and when I saw 4 hours, I thought to myself that at least I could possibly PR if I could keep my pace going. So over the next 2 miles I went about eking out as much speed as I could and getting to the finish line as quickly as possible. I came across the line after a 1:22:40 run in 4:11:53 for what I thought was a clear 2nd place.
Almost immediately after crossing the line, the race director approached me and asked how I started the bike course, if I just rode right up State Park road to exit onto Lawyers Rd and I told him, "No, I first turned onto the out and back that is on the run course, turned the cones and then rode back to State Park and then out to Lawyers." I asked if some people missed that and he responded with something to the effect of "Yeah, we'll take care of it." I didn't really know what to make of that and just started talking to the winner and other competitors to come in after me, cheered Jocelyn and all of my other friends into the line, and started rehydrating and resting up, enjoying the windy but beautiful day.
As the afternoon went on and the results were posted, people started telling me that I was listed in 1st place and not 2nd. I wasn't sure what to make of this and began to think that it might have something to do with what the race director had said, but I was going to wait and see until the awards ceremony. To my surprise though, when the overall awards were announced, I was the men's winner!
It turns out that the guy that I thought had won, Mike (wearing red in the above picture, Iain in blue), had been directed right out of the park by some volunteers at the start of the bike and he thus missed the out and back segment. The race apparently penalized him for the mile he missed by adding the time (2:36) based on his average speed for the other 55 miles and that was enough to put me into first. That and my final two miles when I thought I was pushing only for a PR, but by doing so took 1:16 out of Mike's lead which was enough to put me over the top after the results adjustment. Either way, Mike was very cool about it all and showed a great deal of sportsmanship on the podium, when I probably would have been fuming about the mixup with the volunteers. This was just further example of the quality of character of most every triathlete, and is a big part of what makes this sport so great. It was a surprising but great end to a hard fought race and taught me a little bit more about my fitness and my competitors. Jocelyn ended up taking second overall for the women, taking an astounding 10 minutes out of the leading girl on the run, and just running out of real estate to take 2nd by 1:18. I know if Jocey had seen that girl at all on that third lap, it would have been over and the podium would have been rearranged for a double Ballou Skies win. Soon enough. Chad took 4th overall and 1st men's 30-34 AG, Matt took 12th overall, Mimi and Lauren 4th and 5th respectively and AG wins to go along, and Jen and Ryan also had strong races and placed very well in the W30-34 and clydesdale categories, respectively. It was a very strong showing for Pittsburgh area triathletes that day in VA and I know this bodes well for the rest of the season to come. Thanks for reading!