Saturday marked the first race of my 2008 season -- the Chanoko Mountain Bike Duathlon. In my mind, it was a throw-away race -- a little exercise in dusting off the cobwebs and getting the kinks out of my duathlon routine, along with the opportunity to gauge where my early-season fitness is.
I had been focusing the past month on weight-loss, so my training included a good dose of running and resistance training, along with shorter workouts on the bike. I hadn't been on my mountain bike since November, and the rain this past week prevented me from getting on the trails to test out some new components -- not a recipe for success, but since it was an early-season race I wasn't too worried about it.
I had convinced my friend, Hans, to go race with me, and my teammate, Kim, decided to compete in the 6-mile trail run. When we arrived I saw lots of folks I know from the bay area, including Diana Garbarino, who had participated in the 2007 Tri-Flow Women's Development Racing Program that I coach.
I tried to stay focused -- get dressed, set up transition, test out the new bike components, and get in a running warm-up. It was a lot to accomplish in a short time, but we did pretty well. My running warm-up was a little too short, but I would live with it.
I need to re-create a check-list of my equipment for races. Those who've seen my car know that I've got multiples of everything stored in it (road and mountain shoes, helmets, food, water, tools, etc). But I didn't drive this weekend and I forgot a crucial piece of equipment -- my asthma inhaler. I didn't want to let that bother me, but I knew that with the cold temperatures that it would likely be a factor.
The format of the race was 2-mile run, 12-mile mountain bike, 2-mile run. I was pretty confident that I could run between 16 and 20 minutes for both runs. I had absolutely no idea what the mountain bike course held, so I couldn't really estimate my time.
As we lined up for the run, I found a spot next to Diana in the middle of the pack. I'm not the fastest runner at this point, but I also don't believe that's reason to put yourself at the back of the pack. The gun went off and away we went -- running down the beach and onto the first single-track section. I was passed by a bunch of folks, but then settled into a pace I could maintain. My breathing was a bit labored and I was making a weird, wheezing noise with each breath -- I'm sure the folks running near me thought I was going to die. I just tried to relax and keep my breathing as measured as possible.
I finished the first mile in 8:23 and the total run in 18 and change, ran to the transition area, and swapped shoes, popped on my helmet and camelbak, and headed out for the bike leg.
I felt slow and tentative. I wasn't laying it down or taking any risks like I typically do when I race. I didn't fight when someone passed me. And I didn't really try to pass slower riders ahead of me. After the first 15 minutes or so, I found myself riding alone out there, thinking that two laps in the cold rain would be way too much. But at the end of the first lap, I finally saw some other riders and my competitive spirit kicked in. I started passing riders and taking a few more risks.
The mountain bike course was a ton of fun -- swoopy single-track, some big rocks that challenged me, and a handful of really deep water-crossings each lap. The biggest challenge for me, however, were the two uphill sand pits. On the first lap I tried to ride them, but on the second lap I realized it would be faster to dismount and run.
I had no idea what place I was in, but near the end of the second lap, I saw another woman ahead. She hesitated and ran down a rocky section, so I jumped around her and didn't look back.
At the very end of the second lap, I saw three red jerseys ahead of me on the sand section. One of them was Diana. I knew she had finished the run just ahead of me, but I hadn't see her at all on the ride. So I made it my goal to catch her. As I entered the transition area to change for the run, she called out to me. When I started my run, she was at least a quarter-mile ahead. I thought to myself "I'll never be able to catch her," but decided I would try. You see, Diana is an Ironman triahthlete. She knows how to run. I'm just a hack who had been training for the past month. But I was determined to try.
As I started my run, my teammate Kim joined me on the beach, cheering me on. I tried to pick up my pace, but my wet feet were frozen and I couldn't feel them (thanks to all the water crossings on the bike). After the first half mile or so, my feet thawed out a bit and I could feel them again. Nearing mile one, I saw Diana again. It appeared that I was closing the gap. This, of course, motivated me to push just a little harder. At the water stop, I saw Diana take a cup and slow her pace. I tried to push and catch up, but I was dangling just a bit behind her. Then, I heard the rush of a runner passing me and I jumped to stick with him, thinking I would let him pull me up to her. He caught up to Diana (I think she thought it was me) and I held back to recover just a bit. Just then, Diana tuned back to look at me. I knew it was now or never, and if I wanted to pass her I would have to go now. Somehow, I was able to do it, and knew that my passing her probably defeated her just a bit so she wouldn't be able to chase me.
As we entered the final stretch, Hans and Kim were waiting for me, yelling for me to catch the men ahead of me. I really wanted to know where Diana was, and since they didn't tell me I looked back. I had a good gap but since I don't know anything about how to pace myself on the run, I wasn't going to rest on my laurels. For all I knew, Diana could sprint past me in the final section. I tried to push a little more and picked it up for the final 100 yards or so, crossing the line in 2:08. Diana came in about 10 seconds later and we hugged and laughed and congratulated each other.
Hans and Kim helped me pack up my stuff and we all got back to the cars to change into dry clothing. We went to clean the bikes and get some food just as they were starting the podium awards. I didn't think I had podiumed, but decided to stay just to support my competitors.
As they announced the women 40-49 category, they announced the 4th place finisher. Her name sounded familiar and I was certain she had finished before me. Then, they announced Diana in 3rd place. It hit Hans before it hit me that it meant I was in 2nd! Wow. I was completely shocked. The winner in our category is a woman I know who is the X-Terra world champion (and she beat me handily by a HUGE margin).
There are some cool pics here but the photographer hasn't returned my emails so I can't get copies of them:
water crossing -- epic!
sandy run-up -- brutal!
the finish -- yes, two feet off the ground
Two great lessons this weekend:
- no matter how many times you've raced, use a check-list to make sure you have all the vital equipment, clothing, and "stuff" you'll need.
- don't give up. ever. the race isn't over until you cross the line. anything can happen. I went from 4th place to 3rd in the last 2 miles of the bike and 3rd place to 2nd in the last half mile of the run.