As most of you reading this will know, the continuation of the second half of this season has continually hinged on the result of the latest event. I have had some seriously disappointing performances, some seriously encouraging performances, and not much in between. Even with those encouraging results, I still hadn't put together a "great" day at the half iron distance in 2013. This all changed last weekend down in Mount Sterling, Ohio.
When I returned from Las Vegas, I knew that I was beginning to burn the other end of the candle. I had started my racing season with an iron distance race in early January and really hadn't taken a serious break since. Knowing this, I concentrated on the remaining events that I really wanted to do and to put a circle on the calendar when the 2013 racing season would end. The first of these events was the Deer Creek Half Iron. It is locally produced by HFP and I knew it would be a solid event, but without any major pressure. I love racing the half iron distance and I really wanted to get out there and enjoy the day.
The couple weeks leading up to Deer Creek had gone exceptionally well. I was swimming as well, if not better, than I ever have. I was riding strong, like I should. And my running was coming around with the welcome addition of some track sessions, hill repeats, and tough tempo workouts. If there was one thing that I really think was still lacking after my hip surgery, it has been my run speed. A few days prior to the race, I saw fellow RWB'er, Robin, at the pool and told her that I thought I might have a really good day. She joked about how it would, of course, come at the local event versus the much larger races I've participated in this year. A little foreshadowing, I suppose.
As luck would have it, Ohio State played one of their few home night games in school history the day before the race. As I knew I would, I stayed up and watched till the end and didn't get in bed until after midnight. Luckily I had slept late that morning, so I wasn't overly worried. The half iron distance didn't begin until 9:15, with the closing of transition at 8:30 being my true time cutoff, so I didn't have to be up too crazy early to make the 50 minute drive to Deer Creek State Park.
Kim, Jet and I arrived around 7:45 and I quickly set up my bike, grabbed my packet, and got everything into transition. I then waited patiently in the port-o-potty line followed with a very quick warm up swim. With a quick kiss from my girlfriend, it was time to start.
Like I said before, I had been swimming really well lately - at least by my personal standards. In the past, I've felt this way and then only had decent results in the open water. Taking a lesson from Vegas, I decided I wouldn't go out of my comfort zone so I could come out of the water ready to attack the bike.
My wave consisted of all the elite males, and all men 39 and under. This meant that the winner of the race would almost certainly come out of this wave. We had experienced some cooler weather leading up to the race but the water hadn't cooled drastically. The official temperature announcement was 70 degrees, but honestly I think it felt a little cooler than that - it felt great to me! I wore my proven combination of De Soto Speedtube pants and my Speedvest sleeveless top. This has continued to be the best setup for keeping me cool at race intensity, giving me full freedom of movement, and still providing the buoyancy to really help my often substandard swim form.
When instructed, we all quickly high stepped into the reservoir and I allowed the first line of swimmers to begin their dolphin dives and give a little separation before I jumped in and began to stroke away. I think I really lucked out and unknowingly put myself in a great position at the start line as the draft arrow quickly formed directly in front of me. I found some feet and defended my space like my race depended on it. There was another swimmer who stayed directly off my right shoulder and I was able to easily use him and the bubbles in front of me to minimize sighting. Somewhere on the first lap, of the two lap course, my draft buddy with the quick feet pulled up and I had open water ahead of me. Luckily, my right shoulder friend kept pushing and I immediately made the great decision to follow his little piggies. I rode his draft until my fingertips were grabbing sand. This was not only my best half iron swim (minus a down river swim at Augusta in 2010), but the best job of drafting in the water I have ever done.
I quickly ran past the guy I followed out of the water and commended him for a good swim. I hope he didn't see this as insult to injury because I said it in full seriousness, but I could see how it could rub someone the wrong way.
A race of this distance almost never goes perfectly. There are always problems. The great performances come when you deal with these problems well.
This day, my problems almost all came in transitions. This is frustrating because this is the one part of the race which really doesn't require any fitness. When I arrived to my bike, I already had my wetsuit top in my hand and I quickly discarded my bottoms. I then popped on my De Soto Skin Cooler beanie and began to put my Giro Selector on. As I grabbed the helmet, a piece of padding fell out. I grabbed it and quickly attempted to put it back in, but it wasn't happening so I threw it on the ground near my wetsuit. I then attempted to don the helmet once again and the bottom fairing came unclipped from the helmet. I took it back off to clip the fairing back in. Third time was a charm and I got the helmet on and buckled before running out of transition.
I felt like I had taken FOREVER in T1, but when looking at the results, it wasn't that bad. It definitely put a little fire in my legs when I hit the bike course in an attempt to recapture some of the lost time.
Once I got my shoes on, I quickly re-passed my swim friend as he had beaten me out of my haphazard T1. While I was still passing a good number of people, I am quite certain they were all from other distance races that were taking place simultaneously. I was in no man's land. There was an out-and-back section that only the half iron athletes took and this was my first time to see where I lined up against the others in my race. Now my challenge was to distinguish the duathletes from triathletes. From what I could tell, I was third, with first being held by professional triathlete, Jim LaMastra. Upon completing lap one of three, it seemed that the fourth place cyclist was gaining on me and that didn't disappoint me too much. I was ready to have someone to race with.
I had been riding hard, but not recklessly. I was minding my power output and trying to keep my cadence slightly lower than what I have been averaging this year. I focused on riding strong, not hard, and keeping relaxed.
Somewhere between miles 20 and 25, the fourth place rider caught up and passed me. I went with him and knew that this was what I needed to keep me on track. Obviously he had been riding faster than I was, so as long as I could keep up and pace with him, this would only help in the big picture. We quickly passed back and forth and set the understanding that we would keep each other accountable to the pace while keeping legal separation. There was no doubt that we were making up time on second place and by the third out-and-back he was less than a quarter mile ahead. I told my bike buddy at the turn around that "number two is right there" and he acknowledged, but I could tell that he was beginning to fall back ever so slightly and the rest of the work was on my shoulders. As I climbed a nasty, little blip on the elevation map, number two was within a stone's throw. On the very last climb up the dam before we reentered the park to hit T2, I caught him and made the pass. I told him that he had a good ride and I thought maybe I caught a little exhaustion in his reply. I was hopeful that I would be able to make this pass stick and keep him behind me on the run.
Not nearly as stressful as T1, but it still wasn't good... and it was my fault. Before the race when I set up my transition, I totally forgot about the ball of socks that I had placed in my pair of Zoot Ultra Kiawe. This not only meant that I had an obstruction in my shoe, but I didn't have any socks ready to slip on. I guess my mind had been in short course mode as I don't wear socks on the run for anything less than a half iron.
I made the quick decision to forget the socks and gamble on the sockless properties of these triathlon specific shoes. I knew it was risky and likely to backfire, but I couldn't bear to sit there putting on socks while watching the guy run away that I worked so hard to catch.
I exited transition alongside the rider who held second place for the majority of the ride and with my bike pacing buddy just behind. I continually asked myself "can you run to the end at this pace?" I love to race, but I couldn't be stupid. As I saw number two begin to pull away, I knew that I would certainly blow up if I tried to go with him. This potential mistake could end up costing me many more spots and it wasn't worth it. So I smartly found my pace and stuck with it. I hit mile one right at 6:55 and felt good, but knew that I might need to dial it down a touch to have my best run.
As the runner in front of me continued to pull away at an impressive pace, the runner behind me was hanging in there and not giving me any room for error. At the first turnaround 3.5 miles in, I felt like I was possibly putting a little space between myself and position four. I concentrated on my stride, relaxing each body part from my head down, and getting in nutrition at each aid station.
Finishing lap one, it was clear to me that I wouldn't catch the runner in front of me unless he blew up and that was out of my control. The good news was that I had definitely put time into the runners behind me. I had a comfortable buffer, but I knew that if I slowed it wouldn't take long for them to take it back. The worst part of the run for me was on the way back out to the turnaround on lap two. I felt like I was going to hit the wall and had a one mile split show up at a race slowest 7:22. I began double fisting Cokes and Gatorade at each aid station to prevent a blow up. I also allowed myself to slow enough at the aid stations to get it all in. Once I hit the turnaround I just told myself that each step was one step closer to home and that I wouldn't have to see that piece of the course again.
I had passed my buddy, Chris Gregg, right before I hit the turnaround as he was running back in the opposite direction. I concentrated on catching him before I made it to the finish line and he turned around to begin his second lap. At the end of the dam, right before we reentered the park, I found Chris and managed to mumble something like "good job, Chris" through my labored breathing. For the final two miles I pushed as hard as I thought was responsible knowing that if I could maintain my pace I would finish in the 4:20's. I had never been able to break 4:30 and I had the opportunity to blow that out of the water!
I came into the park full speed ahead and crossed the line at 4:25:33. I was exhausted and ecstatic. I found out that the runner in front of me had begun to suffer and only crossed the line two minutes ahead instead of the estimated seven or eight he had on me at the last turnaround. I didn't care. I knew I had put together my best performance and I had nothing left to give no matter how much he slowed.
(By the way, no blisters!)
I am not only really happy with how this day went together, but how smartly I executed. There is no doubt that I had the help of my fellow competitors on both the swim and bike, but it was within the limitations of the rules. Some look at this as taking advantage, but I think it's just smart.
I have run a faster half marathon. I have definitely rode 56 miles in less time. And with the help of a current, I have swam faster than I did at Deer Creek. But what I did at Deer Creek is put together three solid splits. When you put together three solid splits, you get a great race.
A huge thanks goes to my coach, Rich, for finding some great sessions to tune up my worn out body for this race. As always, a big shout out to all my supporters for making this race and season possible. Next, I will take on the USAT Long Course National Championship at Rev3 Anderson and then the Columbus Marathon before retiring the 2013 season.
Stay warm and race fast!