I absolutely love being short. People crack short jokes all the time. Hell there’s even a song about how I’ve got no reason to live. Don’t get me wrong, seriously, I love the jokes and the song, I’ll even dish it right back. But what people may not understand is that, while yes it limits the selection of girls I can date, I absolutely love my height. Being short is awesome.
Today I raced Luray Sprint Triathlon just outside the small town of Luray, Virginia. While my main goal was as preparation for Nationals in six days, a triathlon is a triathlon. I drove up there last night, enduring frightening thunderstorms and battering rain that slowed I-81 traffic to a crawl. But on Route 211 I drove alone in the darkness with my buddy Paulo in the backseat watching a spectacle of seemingly random beautiful fireworks explode over the hilltops. It turns out there was a festival in Luray but to me it was a relieving signal in the midst of the darkness of the Shenandoah mountains. My directions took me an odd way, on an access road in the National Park. In second gear I rolled down the steep gravel hill, waiting for a curious black bear to come out to greet me.
But sure enough I came off the deserted road and there was the race site, with probably over a hundred other people who had intentions of camping out. Paulo had slept the entire trip from Blacksburg in addition to being in a kennel earlier in the day so he was full of energy while I was about to collapse from exhaustion. I took him for a brief walk in the light drizzle and returned to establish some semblance of a livable environment in the trunk of my car. I set up my sleeping pad next to Paulo’s bed and we hunkered down to endure what ranks as one of the worst nights of my life.
Sore from having jumped off a 40 foot cliff and having tubed behind a 700HP 28 foot hoss of a boat in the Tennessee river the day before, I rolled around on my sleeping pad for hours before I finally got the first bit of sleep. Paulo was wide awake, and tried to pass the time by licking, sneezing, hacking, standing up, laying down, standing up, laying down, and repeating. In the sauna that Paulo and I created with our damp coats, I had to open the windows to get release the steam. I traded the steamy air for rain drops to my face.
I woke to the bitter sweet sound of a street sweeper cleaning the roads. Two years ago on this course I sealed the slowest bike split with a flat tire and six miles of barefoot walking on baking hot asphalt to finish the 41k bike leg in the Olympic distance race. I was extremely excited at the reduced risk of a repeat flat, but I was wide awake a mere four hours after my first bit of shut eye, and an hour and a half before I needed to be up.
Still, I turned underneath my transition towel (I forgot my sleeping bag) for another hour before I inspired myself to get ready. Even with the convenience of sleeping fifty meters from my bike rack, I was still one of the last ones out of the transition areas as they shouted “Transition’s closed, everybody out!”
With Lake Arrowhead at a borderline wetsuit legal 77 degrees, I decided to prep for swimming in the frigid Lake Champlain next weekend by donning the neoprene I hadn’t worn in months. I felt extremely strong on the swim but became a little overheated in my wetsuit. I came out in third, just meters behind the first place swimmer, my teammate Dylan Morgan. With one of my best performance yet on the leg that once kept me out of contention, I managed to lose valuable seconds to my opponents in transition and had to fight hard to pull myself back into the race.
Beginning the bike leg, with my heart threatening to beat out of my chest, I heard the announcer call out, “There’s Matias, our winner from yesterday’s Olympic distance race.” You’re kidding me. I couldn’t believe this guy was out here to do it all over again just 24 hours later.
I had heard stories about him destroying the second place guy by almost 6 minutes yesterday. Despite the fact that he was fatigued, and I was rested, I knew he was still a huge threat when I heard his name called. With barely enough time to strap into my bike shoes, I was on the first and probably biggest hill of the course. I took the left turn to look up the road and see Matias had nearly caught my teammate already. It was now or never. He was going to crush it from here on and if I didn’t jump on the pain train with him, I was going to be out of contention for the win less than a quarter into the race.
I hammered up the hill, cranking on the pedals, out of the saddle the entire way up the half mile climb. On the descent I tucked aero with my palms on my forearm rests, elbows tucked in, and coasted at over 40 miles per hour. I repeated this process until I caught him. When I caught him, I had no energy to make the pass and attempt to ride away. I knew I couldn’t just ride by and away with the race. This guy was a competitor and he would fight me despite his sore legs and tired body. I sat twenty meters behind him for a third of the bike leg, watching him turn around and look at me, startled to see anyone with him.
He pressed hard up the hills in attempt to get rid of his tail, but mile after mile, I was feeling better and better. He turned his head around frequently and I figured it made him nervous with me being there. I knew of a false flat on the back stretch of the course that is demoralizing to any cyclist. It looks like a totally flat road but pushing above 20 m.p.h. is nearly impossible. When he slowed down at the beginning of the road, I jumped and tried to ride away from him. After a mile of hammering near my limit, I looked back to see I had only gained 100 meters on him, less than ten seconds. I continued to push but another mile later, he was back with me.
I knew this race was going to come down to the run, but I figured he would have one last go on the final climb before transition. Expecting him, I kept the pace high and the pressure on him. It was then that the race really began. He, just as I had predicted, began his pass. However, I expected him to jump hard and try to surprise me. Instead, I heard the whir of his wheels slowly crank up to me. I slipped out a friendly, -we have been together for nearly an hour- kind of salutation, the first acknowledgment of each other the entire race. “Great job man,” I said as he rode up to me.
But before the congratulations was returned, looks were exchanged that I will probably never forget. It was kind of an edging me on look, like a let’s do this, kind of look. He stared me in the eyes, and I returned the gaze, equally curious as to who this guy was. He probably, just as I did, expected to have the race in the bag just by showing up. But each of us was surprised, a great surprise, by a real hardcore, well rounded competitor. All I had seen up till now was his back. But when he looked at me, and I at him, we were scanning for weakness, asking if the other was really up for the battle. After what seemed like an eternity, he responded with a polite “you too man,” and jumped again, but I responded with equal power.
We rode into transition together to cheers from hundreds of spectators. Out of transition I took back the lead that I wanted to hold till the end. But he responded and quickly caught me. At the first hill, he surged in attempt to end the race. I dropped off the pace a little to a few feet behind him, having full confidence in my ability to run downhill fast. My confidence was well worth the savings in energy. I gained the few feet and caught him and we repeated this yo-yo for each hill on the first half of the run. But at the turn around, he popped out with enough demoralizing speed that I fell off pace. I either couldn’t or didn’t want to match it. Either way, he wins. Either way, I lost to a guy who raced to a course record on a prestigiously difficult course yesterday only to race again today. He took the small gap and turned it into a big one, cruising to his second victory in two days. Today I don’t have a victory story. Matias does. After this weekend he has two of them. I’d be lying if I said I’m happy with second. But for today, I must be content.
I crossed the finish line in second with my teammate from Endorphin Fitness, Dylan Morgan, rounding out the podium for third place overall. Matias now holds the course record for both Luray triathlons, while I hold the third fastest time ever for the sprint. Returning to my introduction, I managed to set the new bike course record with pushing a mere 220 watts. To translate, your average fit male could probably push that for the same amount of time. So what made the difference for me? Why was it that a fairly average wattage could be outstanding? First off strategy played a key role. I hammered the uphills, coasted in an aero tuck on the downhills, and took the turns at speed. But mostly the reason I can go fast with such a low power is because I’m so freaking tiny. So continue with the short jokes and watch my grin stretch from ear to ear. I love short jokes.