I looked to my left and spotted my tail looking strong coming down the hill less than a minute after me. I have enough time. He will not catch me. I paced myself out on that first mile so as to not let his confidence soar as he gained on me. My goal at this point in the race, nearly finished was damage control. I am in seventh place in a national championships, keep it that way. Damage control.
At the start line over two hours ago, my coach Michael pointed to my competition. “That is Eric Sorensen. Watch out of him. And that is Frank Febbraro. He beat Eric last year. Watch out for both those guys.” Immediately I matched the names I had been googling this past week to the faces and the jerseys of those two guys. Keep up with those guys and I maybe can do this right.
After heading out on the roads at 5:36 pace, Febbraro, Sorensen, last year’s champ, Pierre Martel, and I all hit the trails together. We cruised over the slick stones and hugged the tight turns, hammered the uphills and drifted on the downhills. My heart rate was over my supposed limitation for a race of this distance, way over. I was holding a 194 beats per minute average, a pace that should have shut me down, should have sent me to my knees vomiting. I wanted this though and if I dropped to my knees for a second my competitors would be gone.
I trotted in their footsteps, feeling the comfort and benefit of letting Sorensen do the pace work. I had recognized Martel’s stressed running form and heavy breathing and popped between him and his teammate Febbraro. I watched Febbraro’s footwork, stayed in the draft, and kept right on his heel’s.
“Hey Pierre, you still back there?,” Febbraro called to his teammate.
“Yeah he’s there, I responded.”
Less than a mile later Martel was over a hundred meters back. With him struggling this early in the race, I knew I no longer had to worry about last year’s national champion.
I exited transition in 5th place with the fastest T1 of the day. On the bike Febbraro was first to catch me, and within minutes Sorensen cruised by me. Throughout the first half of the mountain bike Sorensen and Febbraro pulled further and further away until soon I was alone.
My legs were weakening severely and I was running out of water quickly as the race continued. At the last drop of water out of my bottle I was still three miles out on the bike. The technical sections became nearly impossible with my twitchy fatigued legs but I managed to muscle through most of it. My back was arching, the blisters on my feet felt like needles, and I had to inspire myself to find the energy to stand up on my bike over the rock gardens.
I entered T2 with cramps and severe fatigue but the second run was only two miles long. Just make it to that finish line. Damage control.
But when the finish chute came in sight, my competitor’s footsteps had grown stronger. I turned around and there he was, racing up the hill that I had barely stumbled up. He passed me with two-hundred meters to go. I tried to kick and accelerate to keep up with him. I worked to get on his heels but my lead-filled legs had another less exciting idea. I finished in eighth place with no intense sprint finish. But whatever, I’m an age group national champion for the first time in my career.