I ran through it three times. And after that, I lay trying to fall asleep, running through it another dozen times. It was one of the only technical finishes to a triathlon I have ever seen. People always practice the bike course, taking the turns at speed or at minimum drive it so they know what to expect. But no one ever thinks the run will matter. I didn’t either, but I thought I better not take my chances. The year before, this exact race was seemingly going to come down to a sprint finish. Ben Bartlett caught me early in the run and we ran together for the next two miles. But not wanting to wait till the end to get the win, I sprinted past him with one mile to go to take the lead. The final sub-5 minute mile was enough to win by a mere twelve seconds.
Frequently I wonder whether my competitors are lying about their training or if they really do swim 30,000 meters, bike 300 miles and run 70 each week. My training is so far from that I cannot even compare it. Actually, looking back at my training for the last month, that is near exactly the distance I swam, biked, and ran for an entire month.
So how is it that I continue to improve at such high rates along with guys who log almost four times as many miles as me? In all honesty, I can’t even imagine training that much. It would kill me. My first reaction to hearing that guys train that much is that maybe my body would adapt. Maybe my body would learn to recover faster. But even still, I imagine that I know how to recover. I focus a lot of my time on recovery. In fact I spend almost exactly the amount of time that I spend training working to recover for the next bout.
Back in January, a race director from South Carolina proposed that we Mid-Atlantic Collegiate triathletes pitch to the NCAA triathlon as a varsity sport. When I heard about this opportunity, I was extremely excited and told the other officers of Virginia Tech triathlon team about the race. However, with weeks going by with no word on whether the race would actually happen, none of us were overly committed to keeping that day on our calendar open. But when Taylor Knight of the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Triathlon Conference (MACTC) sent me an email with a link to the race website, I immediately signed up and encouraged my teammates to do so as well. He told me of some of the other competition he was rallying and it seemed an opportunity that I definitely wanted to be a part of.
Last year I signed up for the Clermont Draft Legal Challenge with a throbbing swollen sprained ankle. I was a broken man. I needed a way to get out and test myself before Collegiate Nationals though and this was my opportunity. However, this year is different. I am in the best shape of my life, having no injuries since those ripped ligaments over a year ago.
My friends and I left Blacksburg in the first hours of spring break to drive through the night to Clermont, Florida, just outside of Orlando. We arrived at the race site to meet some of my teammates from Endorphin Fitness at 9:30 in the morning. During warm-up I could tell my body was in good shape. However, having ignored the warnings of the dozens of people warning me about my reddening back, I got the wicked sunburn that my ignorance deserved. After warm up checked into our sketchy hotel with abandoned buildings and residents that looked more like beached whales than humans and headed to grab some Chipotle lunch.
At the beginning of the bike leg, I had decided whether or not I wanted to watch the race lead ride away from me. Now, on the run, it was time to decide if I wanted to win. I had started the 5k on my own, leading the race. But Ben Bartlett from Arlington, Virginia soon caught up to me repeating what happened when I had tried to race away on the bike. While I expected and hoped to look over my shoulder and see my teammate, Ryan Peterson, he was not having one of his usual dominant days.
I looked Ben in the eyes and remembered that turning to look at your opponent meant admitting defeat. But that was not what I intended to convey. It would have been a lie. I jumped behind him and sat in the tiny amount of draft a runner can give. It was effective enough, I was able to hold his pace. Just before the turn around I tried to make a surge to take the lead and keep Bartlett from surging out of the turnaround but he wanted it more. He rounded the turnaround first and surged out of it, putting a hurt on me to stay with him.
“I can’t just walk away. I’ve got to test the waters.”
My new years resolution for 2010 was to not doing anything stupid for a long, long time.
Yesterday I sent out a dozen texts to my triathlete friends around Richmond. “Hey man if you’re home for break, want to go swimming at Huguenot at 2:45?”
Three people were dumb enough to respond yes. At 1pm, one of them bails.
And at 2:45 another bails.
But my friend and teammate Alex Burton who I have been training with and racing against since I started doing triathlons shows up at Huguenot at 2:45.
My mandatory week off from training starts today. Yesterday my season ended with a win, standing on that top step of the podium, fastest time of the day of seven-hundred plus people. I guess just recently I decided that it was time to win. I had placed second and third and fourth in so many races over the past five seasons and only first a few times in my career.
A few minutes ago I finished applying some first aid to the six nickel and quarter-size blisters on my feet. The rehab process for my mangled body begins.
Since I arrived at school I have raced every weekend. Last week finished a stretch of an exam a day for six days of classes. I knew my pace was unsustainable and now here I am with a mandatory seven days off and I am wondering what I am going to do with myself.
Last weekend I went to Alabama with a few teammates from Endorphin Fitness to race the Age Group National Championships. I placed 12th in the 20-24 age group and 36th overall.
The weekend before that I raced with the Outdoor Club in the 15th annual Roanoke Mud-run. I came in first in that.
The weekend before that I raced in Williamsburg in the Patriots Sprint triathlon. I came in first in that.
Its very glamorous on the surface and it definitely is exciting for me. But yesterday when I crossed that finish line with an athlete from Navy doing his best to chase me down, the physical stress from such a close race overwhelmed me more than the pride of another win. I was glad the season was over. I was glad that the late-season racing was done. The medics fed me with oxygen for my lungs and copious amounts of Gatorade and water for my stomach. I had stretched a peak about as far as it would go and I am tired from it.
But hearing the roar of cheers through the finishing chute that only two people in a race ever seem to hear, the first and the last place finishers, is extremely exciting. Its what I worked for all season, through coming off the A.T. emaciated, distraught, and slow, through a surprisingly high-maintenance broken thumb and two surgeries and two months of casts, and through lack of inspiration towards the end. I am so, so happy with how the end of my season went, and ecstatic that my season is over.
I could not have done all this with the help from every one of my teammates from Endorphin Fitness and Virginia Tech, especially my coach Michael Harlow. My surgeon Dr. Keith Glowacki saved my season by being the most attentive and helpful doctor I have ever met. He put me in a new waterproof cast every week to allow me to train with no reservation. I not only was able to keep my fitness up but actually got faster with my time in a cast. And not to forget, in addition to being the best fan club and sponsors any student athlete could ask for, my mom and dad and Aunts Martha and Margaret and Uncle Jimmy babysat me through my various doped and disappointed states from my injury.
Roanoke Marine Mudrun results:
Age Group Nationals results:
Giant Acorn Results:
With a second place finish at Power sprint triathlon, I proved to myself that my fitness had returned after a few pathetic early season races.
At my first race of the season, I absolutely cracked and walked most of the run. Over the winter I was taking a medicine to help me sleep that, along with Virginia Tech’s second best in the nation dining hall food, propelled me to 160 lbs. My racing weight is around 135, so I was a little chunky. In addition to the added weight, my training had taken a huge strike from my lack of excitement to train in the bitter cold. Thankfully I had time to improve my swimming in the warmth of the fitness center though.
By my second race of the season I was dropping in weight at a pound a day and my fitness was returning at a steady pace.
The rest gave my body time to adapt to four years of rigorous training though and while my fitness did completely disappear over the off-season, it seems it has come back stronger than ever. My lactate threshold rose about ten beats per minute on the bike and run. In addition to statistical improvement, I am steadily increasing compared to my reference point of Michael Harlow.
In 2006, I signed up for my first triathlon, Angel’s Race in Lynchburg, Virginia. I looked up the previous year’s results and saw a guy named Michael Harlow had won. So I set my goal high. I wanted to win my first triathlon ever. Even with preparation help from a great triathlete in the area, Suzanne Lewis, I was still a beginner triathlete. I came in twelfth and won my age group. My goal never lowered though and it remains the same: beat Michael Harlow.
My teammate, Ryan Peterson, beat him earlier in the season. With the upcoming I love the Tavern triathlon in Richmond, I will get another shot to race the man I have been chasing for years. Ryan will also be racing. My other teammate, Alex Burton, has got legs that could run us all down, but he needs to shape up in transition if that’ll happen. Michael and Ryan will swim in the lead, most likely coming out together somewhere in the top ten. Alex and I will most likely be near each other somewhere one to two minutes back on the other two after the half mile swim.
My chase will begin right out of the water when, legs providing, I reel the two in on the bike. In addition to looking up the road, I will also attempt to enlarge the gap between me and the sub-17 minute 5k runner, Alex. I will look to catch the two up the road, and make it a run race between the three of us. On his two feet, Alex’s chase will begin. Ryan, Michael, and I will all fear the loud thumping of Alex’s feet come up behind us. A short out and back stretch on part of he run course will give us a chance to see each other’s position and at that point the race will be run on pure guts. The I love the Tavern tri is sure to show who is the fastest from the Endorphin Fitness “Super Speedy team”.
Tomorrow night marks the beginning of a three day cycling event, The Kazane Working Man’s Classic. With a merchandise or cash prime on every lap, this race has attracted some of the top east coast cyclists. Racing is at 6pm at Bryan Park Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and I will attempt to rack up enough points for a category upgrade.
A half mile from the finish I passed a guy who barely mustered the question, “What age group are you in?” and upon my short breath response he exclaimed “Good!” and relaxed into his own pace again.
I spent the whole morning yesterday on the chase. And although I recently had a breakthrough at Power sprint triathlon, yesterday was not my day under the spotlight. A guy from Freeman High School gained almost two minutes on me on each leg of the race. Sadly my chase was fruitless and I never saw him.
I had a highly unusual swim in which I lost minimal time to my competitors. However, the bike leg unveiled my rusty mountain bike handling skills. My body hit the ground four times throughout the ride but with no major injuries. They simply were reminders of the fact that I had not ridden this course in this direction since last year. To add to my difficulty I had a rubbing front brake that in addition to slowing me down, squealed at me the entire ride.
With that said, Xterra is a race of problems. Nothing seems to go perfect and the person who does well is typically the one who handles those challenges the best. In road triathlons, preparation in the months and weeks and night before the race can almost always prepare a racer for the day to come. However, in Xterra, no quantity of training or preparation can completely prepare an athlete for the challenges to come during the race. Those preparations can only give the racer a false sense of readiness. Experience, patience, confidence, and perseverance outweigh the fitness which solely propels on-road triathletes to victory.
In Xterra my four years of training are useless. My only foundation is the two Xterra triathlons I have done before. The challenge, although frustrating at first, is in essence what entices me to the hellish race.
Conrad Stoltz, the winner of the Pro division this past weekend raced with a three inch open gash on his foot. He wasn’t making excuses so what is my rubbing front brake compared to that. I was almost happy that the brake rub was the worst thing that day.
My run went smooth. I made sure to pace and yet I still cramped. My kick was late though. I prefer to feel like death at the finish and with this race I simply had to much left in the tank in the last mile. I finished second in my age group but still my competitor and I both beat everyone in the 20-24 age group.
I guess after going two years straight without being beat in my age group it serves me right to be humbled this year. I’m excited for the competition. If I am in the best shape of my life and so are they, I won’t mind losing. Endorphin fitness is home growing some of the fastest juniors I have ever seen. I hope the guys share the same dream as I do and maybe one day we’ll all race alongside each other wearing red, white, and blue.