In the days leading up to the race I had told my mom that having won four for four races in Virginia would make it hard to lose again. But then I recognized, maybe not. Maybe I would be satisfied with coming in second or even third in a race. Of course, the target remains the same, but sometimes maybe another guy just has a better day. I train for first, but maybe the other guy just had the upper hand that day.
But the test to find out how second place would feel after going nearly 10 months without feeling it, I thought would rest on the result of the Colonial Beach triathlon last weekend. With a $1400 prize purse, the race was sure to attract the top competition. So when I toed the starting line on Sunday and didn’t recognize any of my top competitors, I acknowledged the high probability that a wild card had entered the race.
With one of the best swims of my life, I came out of the water in fourth, my highest placing in this leg in any triathlon I have ever done. I had only to count three guys before I would be in the lead. But that came with difficulty. These guys were quick. It took five miles to pull back the first one. And at ten miles, having ridden with a guy the same distance ahead of me to this point, I put the hammer down to reel him in quickly before the turn-around. I didn’t want to race alone.
But there was still one man left and just before the turn-around, with a lead of over two minutes, I saw Justin Riddle of King George, Virginia fly by in the opposite direction. I didn’t know who he was at the time but when I saw the enormous gap I began contemplating the thought of crossing the finish line in second. It seemed I was unable to ride away from the guy who I had just caught so instead of wasting my energy on the bike trying to pull away from him, I sat up and let him pass me again. We took turns setting the pace, obviously staying out of the draft zone in the process. But instead of fighting for first, I was accepting a near guaranteed second place, something I have never done before. I wanted to save my energy to make sure I could beat this guy on the run.
But when we rolled into T2 and the guy made an amateur move, I figured he probably wasn’t too much of a threat. I turned back at the mile mark to look down the dead straight road the run course headed out on and couldn’t even see the guy. I had done it right and come out with a second place. But there was still another goal in mind, break two hours for an olympic distance triathlon, something not many people have ever done. Most olympic distance tri’s will be won with a time over 2 hours.
At the turn around it was the same story as on the bike leg. Justin Riddle still had a monstrous lead on me. I once again contented myself with second place. But I looked down at my watch. I needed to run sub-19 for this last 5k to break two hours. My race wasn’t over yet. If I could not achieve one goal, I would at least battle for the other one. 6:08 for the fourth mile. 6:04 for the fifth mile.
But then I looked up ahead. There he was, just maybe 30 seconds up the road with a mile left to go. With the ninety-degree heat wearing on me, I had to make a decision. Did I want to bury myself that badly? Or did I want to just cruise across the finish line in second place? While the answer seems obvious now, when I was in that much pain, it took a little extra something to swing the vote in favor of more pain.
I kept hearing the cheers, “You’ve got him!”, “Looking strong!”, “Go get him buddy!”, “You’re running way faster than he is, get him!”. At one point someone saw me turn around and look behind me to check to make sure no one was doing the same surprise attack to me. I heard someone yell, “Don’t turn around, no one’s back there for a mile! Get the guy in front of you!”
People sitting out on their front porches could tell the difference in Riddle’s stride and mine. They saw that the gap had diminished since I ran by their houses the first time. “Get him! You got him!” I could see them shuffling, getting excited that the man who led the race from the gun might get chased down.
But I didn’t know. You hear all kinds of cheers out there. You can’t ever trust them. I just knew I felt crappy, and in a race, you always think the other guy feels great. But today, just as it is typically, he didn’t. At a half mile to go, I saw him turn around and look right at me. I thought the only way to win the race would be with a surprise. He had literally been by himself this entire race, and now I’m here chasing him down. I know that whenever I am in that situation, if I see the guy, the race is over. Its how I pulled out a win in Bumpass, Virginia last fall when a student at the Naval Academy nearly chased me down. So when he saw me I thought of course he would kick and I wouldn’t be able to catch him.
But the gap continued to diminish. And before I knew it, Riddle was just ahead of me. My dad, probably 300 meters from the finish sees how close it is and cheers “Get him Grayson! Get him!” And with dropping the pace down to just above 4 minute/mile I sprinted past him with 100 meters to go. I turned into the finishing chute, and with a quick turn of my head, I saw there would be no battle and I took the win. I swung my arms and shouted with excitement. It was the closest race of my life, a win by a mere 7 seconds in a race taking 1:59:40, to add to the 12 second win at Kinetic and the 8 second win at Giant Acorn.
Ever since I started this sport, Justin has been known as one of the best in Virginia. I had never beaten him. But with a huge effort for the last 5k, I pulled it off. With two-hundred dollars to take home, I had continued my streak to make it five for five, and broken two hours for an olympic distance triathlon. We’ll see if my Virginia Tech teammates hold me to my statement that I’d consider doing a half-ironman once I broke that time goal.