In 2007, I finished in second, behind Otstot and Harlow.
In 2008, behind Otstot and Stiegmann.
In 2009, behind Biesecker.
At 7:01:46 a.m., my race began. My coach Michael, a much better swimmer than me would begin 15 seconds after me. We both knew before I pushed off the wall that this was going to be a hell of a race.
Everything seemed to fall into place in the week leading up to this race. It began with walking into Rowlett’s bikes on Tuesday asking for a special order set of Vittoria tubulars. It was impractical to say the least. Not only are these about the rarest mass production tires on the market and it’s days away from the race, but they are tubulars, requiring several days of preparation to merely mount the tire. Initially it seemed impossible but as Fred of Rowletts continued his phone conversation with Vittoria USA, I realized it was going to happen. The next morning, my new tires were on the rim stretching before their first coat of glue.
Additionally, my new, much lighter, much faster helmet, the Spiuk Kronos, one of the only fully finished aero helmets on the market, came the same day.
As far as gear, I was set. Everything was going to be perfect. On Saturday I took my bike out for a spin and from the first pedal stroke I could feel the supposed one mile per hour gain from my new tires.
The only doubt was in my cycling ability. Michael had beaten me by over a minute on the bike at Smithfield tri just two months ago. If everything were a repeat of Smithfield, Michael would pass me around 200 meters into the swim and I wouldn’t seem him until the race finish. I had different intentions though. This year I have taken my training to a level I previously thought would drop me into a state of depression, burn out, and overtraining. But instead this year, I have only seen positive results.
Michael did catch me on the swim on Sunday, about 75 meters from the finish. Quickly, I was on his heels drafting. We came out of the pool together but with his Usain Bolt-like sprint out of the water, he left me a full eight seconds in the rear after T2. He raced out on the bike with intentions of catching Jay Peluso early on the bike. With Michael nearly out of sight by the time my feet were secure in my shoes, I knew it was time to hammer. I needed to catch Michael to pace off him or he would continue to pull away. Out of sight out of mind, so I needed to keep him in my sight.
At about a mile and a half, I had succeeded. I was safely well out of the draft zone but close enough to judge my efforts off his pacing. He quickly looked back to discover himself in the same situation that led him to a second place finish to my teammate Ryan Peterson last year. And with that, my endorphin rush jumped and my confidence soared. I might accomplish the goal I set over five years ago, a goal at the time I had no clue was going to be so difficult. I might actually beat Michael.
But as the miles passed by, Michael was growing more and more fatigued and I knew that Jay Peluso was pulling further away and Bruce Berger from behind us was capable of putting out a 16:30 5k. So with T2 coming up I understood that I would rather get second to Michael from having hammered the last bit of the bike than second or maybe even third to a non-teammate. With that knowledge, I took over the lead and headed into T2 with a ten second advantage over Michael, a gap that would disintegrate before leaving T2.
I knew that Michael and my opposing running styles would clash on the run, but my goal was to allow as little advantage for him as possible. Michael is a rabbit, he likes to go out a faster pace than he finishes. If I on the other hand go out at 5:30 pace, my second mile will most likely be 5:30, and my last mile will be 5:30. But the advantage of being on Michael’s heels was not one that I wanted to let go easily. Even at 5:20 minute/ mile pace I fought to hang on. But at the half-mile mark, as we passed Peluso, the first and only doubt during the race crossed my mind. And while that doubt only ran through my head for a millisecond before being swept out, it was enough to let Michael get a gap.
After he had the gap, the race was won. All it took was a hint of doubt, and he ran with it. The gap was a slinky between us extending to five seconds, contracting to a couple, extending to ten seconds, contracting to six, extending to thirty and contracting to twenty-five, until finally I reeled him in the slightest bit for him to cross the line twenty seconds ahead of me.
Everything went perfect in that race and Michael is a fast dude. I gave him a race but he still stood at the peak of the podium at the end of the day. Bruce Berger took third place, closing out his race with a 16:35 5k split. I was excited about my second place finish and I always love Endorphin Fitness domination, but I can’t lie about my disappointment for yet another second place finish.
To be honest I enjoy the dissatisfaction. I love racing especially when everyone shows up in their peak. But I want to be the one on top. I’m not done improving yet and I’m not done chasing. Every single day I am excited about my continuing improvement, but the day that I am content with performance will be a boring one. So for now Michael better keep looking over his shoulder.