This week brought with it some sweet, sweet training. It also, early on Saturday morning, brought with it some sweet, sweet racing. This week was the first somewhat "hot" week of the year. On group rides we produced sweat. On runs sweat was also produced. This was somewhat foreign as it has been a long time since sweat has been seen during my workouts. It has been a while since I have been showered with sweat from someone riding in front of me on the Tuesday night ride (thankfully).
Therefore the expectation for Saturday's racing was - at the beginning of the week - that it would be the first warm race of the year (in the NC series, anyway). As the day drew closer, the forecast portended something a little less perfect: chance of thunderstorms. The percent chance of rain was relatively low, however.
Over the Mountain is somewhat more complicated from a logistical perspective due to its point-to-point nature. Swim start, T1 and T2 are all in different locations. Tim "Fergie" Ferguson and I drove up to T1 in the man-van where we picked up our packets and deposited our bikes while hob-nobbing with everyone we possibly could. Tim also discovered, for the first time, the mountain we'd have to climb once we exited the swim. I would imagine that this was a less than awesome discovery for him. Given my racing experience at this race from 2010 I knew of this monstrosity already and had psyched myself up (or out?) in anticipation of it.
After finishing we headed over to T2 to set up our run stuff and get the timing chips while parking my van and hitching a ride back to swim start with Tim's wife Kait. On the way to swim start a brief burst of strong rain wet the roads, our cars, some bodies, but NOT our spirits I tell you!! (cue dramatic music). While putting on our wetsuits the sky remained dark and somewhat foreboding but we finished our due diligence and went to warm up a bit.
In these series races I like to make sure my mood remains light. Too many people take this racing stuff WAY too seriously. It's a 2hr local race. Get over yourselves. I obviously want to do well but you best believe I can have fun doing it. So, to all those overly serious NCTS types: get over yourselves. (no I'm not thinking of anyone specific here, this is more a general message).
As the "open" crowd made it's way to swim start the beginnings of my race strategy unfolded. Here was my - obviously quite complicated - race plan:
1) Get out of the swim near the front
2) Get off the bike at or near the front
3) Run what was needed to win
Pretty heavy stuff. Leading into the race I had scoped out the competition that was signed up and in my head I had one unknown threat with whom I was concerned: Tyler Jordan. His bike and run combo at Jetton was very impressive so I knew on this tough bike/run course he'd be in good position at the end of the race. I completely underestimated Derek, however. I figured I'd catch him at some point on the bike and I knew that he wouldn't let me "go" so I'm not really sure what I was thinking. The rest of the overall top 5 were all very close together so there was a lot of underestimation going on in my "plans."
Swim - 21:23 (2nd)
The swim start was in-water and the open crowd (of maybe 20ish?) lined up on an invisible line next to a marker/buoy type thingy. The two fastest (known) swimmers in the field were Derek Kidwell and Mike Selle. I figured Derek would be first out of the water and top off the bike so to confuse everyone (or just myself) I lined up on the right side behind Mike (Derek was on the left). Right behind Mike... At the sound of the horn we all took off at an expeditious pace. After 100m or so I had moved left and latched onto Derek's feet, pushing someone else off them at the same time (I'm not sorry!). This swim course has only one turn and at the turn I was still with Derek and could sort of look back to the right and see that we had a good gap (but not a big one) on the pursuers.
Derek would occasionally speed up at times and at times it felt slow but I knew that sitting behind him was a better decision for me than trying to forge ahead myself. At worst, I'd emerge from the swim with him and less tired. At best, I would emerge from the swim with him and more tired. We continued on and with about 400m to go I looked back again and saw Selle about 25m behind us so I tapped Derek's feet and swam up beside him to try and "goad" him into increasing the pace. It seemed to work as getting back behind him proved tiring and as we finished the swim together I looked back again and saw a good gap to Selle, who was alone.
T1 - 1:48 (10th)
T1 at this race is awful as it is a continuous climb. It was raining on us as we exited so I thought to myself: "well I guess it's gonna be THAT kinda day, huh." The only improvements I could make would be to feel less like death going up the hill and getting to the bike. Wetsuit came off easily, helmet went on easily, I grabbed my bike...easily.
Bike - 1:08:44 (3rd)
Having ridden this course last Sunday I knew it pretty well. The only change from what day would be the fact that it was raining rather profusely. Derek had moved through T1 a bit quicker than me so I caught up to him and settled in to see what it felt like. After a couple of minutes I passed him and set what I felt was an appropriate pace. My visor continuously fogged but luckily the Bambino's visor is magnetic so I could just pop it off, wipe it down, and pop it back on rather easily.
The roads were very wet and the rain was coming down so it was important to focus continuously while riding. We eventually made our way to the state park and about halfway through the bike Derek came back around me going up a hill. I tend to not ride uphill as hard as some so wasn't surprised to see him make the pass.
There were times going through the state park (still raining) that I was legitimately on the edge of my comfort level. I remember one specific moment on a long, sustained downhill left hand curve (gradual) where Derek was pedaling like crazy and I was just trying to keep up and we were probably going in excess of 40mph and I was debating whether or not to tap the brakes. It's tough to explain what it feels like to be "on the edge" and in writing it sounds much lamer than it felt in real life but be that as it may - know that there were times that we were going really fast!
Once out of the park it was a little brighter due to fewer trees overhead but the weather was still less than ideal. The next couple of miles were a nice preamble to Pinnacle Rd, which contained the "penultimate" climb of the bike course. It was kind of a two-stepper and it was roughly 2ish (maybe?) minutes at VO2 power levels that wasn't too bad. Derek continued to stay in front through the end, with the only interesting moment coming at a slightly sharp left hand turn where Derek and I took the turn faster than the lead motorcycle who - unaware of his positioning - almost took Derek off the road (most of the time the moto was a good distance ahead of either myself or Derek but through town it got close a couple of times). I took out one of my feet a little early as I misjudged how close we were to the finish but other than that no big deal into T2.
T2 - :25 (1st)
Despite having what Story called a "slow looking T2" I actually had the fastest T2 out of anybody. I emerged just ahead of Derek.
Run - 37:02 (4th)
I took the first part out very hard to get an initial lead on Derek that I hoped would remain. My plan was to run as fast as I needed to in order to hang on for the win. The course was different than when I did it in 2010 but it was much more interesting this way; briefly on the main road before heading off into the subdivisions of Kings Mountain. Mile 1 came and went then mile 2 with a good bit of ups and downs and turns and volunteers and water cups. Eventually the course went out onto another "main" road and was flat then downhill then uphill to the school and the turnaround. At the turnaround I saw that I had a manageable gap on Derek and what appeared to be a good gap on everyone else although I could tell Tyler was running very fast; I guessed I had maybe :45s on him at the turnaround.
I would describe miles 3-4 and 4-5 as "lazy." I was working hard but I was overestimating the lead I had or maybe underestimating how much Tyler could take out of it each mile. I saw a lot of friends on the way back in and I was complacent. Anyway, at around mile 5 I looked back and saw Derek getting passed by Tyler and I realized that I was probably in trouble. At each turn I took a peek back and Tyler was gaining at each. It was at mile 5.75 or so that I heard him on my heels on a slight downhill. He passed me just before the bottom and on the climb back up to the main road and on the climb put some time into me. We turned back onto the main road and the finish line was only about 200m further and I did not have the gas to make a catch attempt. I knew I had second place locked up and crossed the finish line.
OA - 2:09:21 (1st)
Now, I mentioned crossing the line 2nd but #19 Tyler Jordan was assessed a two minute penalty on the bike for drafting. Whether or not he deserved it I do not know as I didn't see it personally but from what I've heard the group chasing Derek and myself had a lot of strong bikers and they were all fighting for position. When you hear about it from two different people you tend to believe it. Regardless, a penalty is a penalty and while it's not the way I would choose to win it moved Tyler into 4th place and myself into 1st.
To be honest, this race was a great example of a couple of things.
1) Racing in the rain can be very fun (this was probably the most "fun" I've had at a race this year)
2) Never underestimate local opponents
3) Actually getting better at swimming is worth it
To elaborate on number 3...
Many, many athletes have said things like: "I really tried to get better at swimming."
I call bullshit.
Derek and I had no drafting issues up front. We were by ourselves on a nice clean course all day long. The people behind us, however, all swam slower and sort of rolled up each other on the bike and were all fighting for position and the ability to be on the front. A rolling course like that + 4 very strong riders can only lead to one thing: position/drafting fouls.
Over the past 3 years I've worked very hard at swimming and the first 4 months of this year are an especially strong example of that. My time at White Lake was not indicative of my improvement but this race served as a much better marker of where I am. Had Jenny (or Jeff Murray) raced I would not have been able to hold their feet for the duration of the swim but I also would've known that they were not overall competitors (Jenny only because she is a lady and Jeff because he's such an astonishingly good swimmer). I was able to swim just as fast as I needed to in order to be on the front. I biked just as fast as I needed to in order to hop off near the front. And while I technically did not run fast enough to hold on for the win (although technically I did win...) I'm confident that in a couple of months a 35' 10k will not be fast enough to catch me with a 2' deficit off the bike...