It’s been three weeks since my Last Stand at the Incredoubleman Triathlon weekend but thanks to an aggressive business travel plan, I’ve only now been able to sit down to write about it. Well, truthfully, I did draft some notes in my journal while flying somewhere over northern New York (click HERE) last week so I’m really just getting around to actually sitting down to craft out this post specifically.
On paper, the Incredoubleman triathlon had everything I look for in a great getaway event: great location, family as well as athlete focused, a sweet swim course, a cute (yes, I said ‘cute’) gazebo finish line, beautiful countryside to cycle through (Jefferson County) and a flat (and equally picturesque) run course. Oh, and it had drones bitches.
That’s right, drones!
Kelly and I have actually cycled through these parts – Sackets Harbor in particular (click HERE) – last year on our Tour d’ Lac trip around Lake Ontario so we already knew what pretty country it was so I was excited to make this my last competition of the season, complete with family vacation with friends to boot. Kelly even found us the ideal cottage to rent right on the lake only 20 minutes away. How perfect is that?
Anyway, the plan was to compete in the Sprint competition on the Saturday and then complete the Half Iron competition on the immediately following Sunday. I had intended this to be the last ‘tough guy’ challenge of 2014. The reality however, is that I haven’t been feeling so tough. My left Achilles tendon has been acting up and I’m still getting over some soft tissue issues in my right foot so I haven’t really been able to stick to my training plan as I would have liked. However, I figured that mentally I’d still be able to suck it up and complete it successfully come hell or high water (which, if you read about our last trip through these parts – see the pics in the link above – there was an extremely good chance of this actually happening). I had originally planned that the Sprint would be a good warm up for the second day’s Half Ironman but, truthfully, I was just going to be happy to get through it all without breaking myself any further (more to come on that point later).
Day One set up
Day One started off like any other day-of-competition morning, an early wake up, equipment check, breakfast, coffee and poop before hitting the road. Of course, that’s a bit harder to do with three people including a nine-year-old girl in toe, but within 15 minutes of our planned departing time we were on the road and heading into Sackets Harbor. Not bad considering.
It was particularly cold out (5° actually – which is incredibly cold to be out biking and running immediately after being in the water) and windy and it was almost certainly going to rain judging by the menacing looking clouds on the horizon. In reality, the weather forecast for the area was calling for 100% chance of heavy showers. Goodie. Although I was keeping my cool on the outside, inside, I was mentally bracing for a very difficult day. My initial strategy was to go out fast in the swim (750m), power through the bike (24k) and then just ease into the run as to not injure myself any further knowing that I had to do it all over again tomorrow…plus 1.25k in the water, 76k on the bike plus the half marathon at the end. My nerves were quickly beginning to set in.
This is clearly my “I wonder if this race belt makes my ass look fat?” moment.
The good thing about having a nine-year-old around is that everything is so calm yet totally exciting. HRH was excited to be there and she relished helping me set up Lucille in transition and just simply being a part of the experience. When you have that kind of calm innocence around it’s easier to cope with that pre-race stress in the moments leading up to the eventual start. I was happy to walk around with hand-in-hand while doing my best to keep that calm façade for her sake. After all, how can I expect her to have fun if I can’t demonstrate the same? So I did my best to put all the stress away and tried to just enjoy sharing the experience with her, Kelly and our tag-along buddy, Doug – for whom, this would be his first triathlon experience – who was going to take pictures for us. In fact, all the pictures included in this blog as his and have kindly been made available through his ‘Great Shots‘ website.
Anyway, my ‘just enjoy yourself’ philosophy worked and within 15 minutes or so to the official swim start I cool, calm and collected. I stripped out of my warm sweats and my testicles immediately retreated into my chest (I mentioned it was cold out, right?) and I couldn’t get into my wetsuit quick enough. I even peed myself right then and there before I even got in the water and the sudden rush warmth was very welcome; gross…but welcome nonetheless. Fortunately I was on the lawn adjacent to the concrete boat ramp which was going to serve as our swim start so I didn’t have to further embarrass myself by dripping a trail of piss and shame across the entire parking lot (nobody has ever said triathlon was a glamorous sport).
Exiting the water
In keeping with my ‘go out strong’ strategy for the swim I positioned myself smack dab front and center of the pack on the boat ramp. Those in the half iron swim start hadn’t gone out too fast so I figured I might be able to keep pace with the lead swimmers in the Sprint. Now, most competitions I’ve done have some sort of siren or a pistol of some sort to signal the start of the race, namely the swim. Some events have even had cannons * or a more ‘le grandeur boom’ method of starting the race; at the Incredoubleman, a guy on the side of the boat launch counts you down: “3…2…1…GO!”
Yup, spared no expense there!
I jest. Honestly.
In fact, the easy-going way that the athletes were all launched into their days quest was simply perfect for keeping in the moment and with the spirit of the area itself; laid back and humble. I really can’t think of a better way to start the day given where we were. Anyway, we were counted off and I jumped immediately in the fray of the first four swimmers, took three strokes and…BAM!
Heel right to the face.
“Oh, pretty…stars”, I thought.
“All bid’ness”, as they say.
The next 2 nanoseconds felt like hours debating if I was okay and assessing the problem, then strategizing the next move. What pace? How was my Form? Then there were those pretty stars again, wait, what happened? And before I knew it I had snapped back into the moment and I was still…swimming. Booyah! Sure I had dropped back a bit from the other leaders but I was in fact still stroking and despite the ache in my jaw I was turning over okay; may as well go with it and continue on.
I tried to accelerate back to the lead swimmers what going out against the choppy water was rough going to I decided to salvage my own pace and settle in for a solo swim and see if anyone of them craps out from going out too fast. They didn’t but I managed to hang onto 4th position just a few seconds behind the lead three and we exited the way in close proximity to one another. My swim time (including the run into transition) was 14:22.
I’m never the epitome of a “happy racer”.
The transition area was a small field set up on the other side of the road opposite the boat ramp so I hustled over into the bike area, got dressed and hustled out still in 4th position. I did notice though that some of the lead swimmers were part of relay teams and so didn’t have to really with the whole swim-bike transition of stripping out of wetsuits and into cycling cleats, so I was happy to just be hanging onto my position.
It should be mentioned here that the water was amazingly warm compared to the chilly air and headwinds immediately upon exiting. I figured I wouldn’t be out long enough to really warrant getting all dressed up in warm cycling duds but I did make one fateful mistake in not bothering to put on socks prior to setting into my cleats. I’ll explain more on that shortly but it with a severe chill beginning to set in that I made my way out of the downtown Sackets Harbor area and out onto bike course along Smithville Rd.
Before the chills set in.
I’ve already mentioned that the headwinds were fierce and very shortly out onto the ride a slight rain began to set in. This was only the short and easy portion of the weekend but it wasn’t going to necessarily easy-going either. Now I admit to being more or a crappy weather suffer bunny so I wasn’t concerned much with the cold and whatnot but I still mentally braced myself for some hard-going. And I was right. The headwinds never – EVER - let up along the entire 24k route. Serious! I’d round a corner and just begin to think to myself “good, finally maybe I’ll get a tailwind” and then, no sir…no such luck. I’d round the corner directly into another headwind. It was just one going to be one of those kinds of rides.
As per usual, I got into a position where I was riding pretty much on my own, behind the leaders but still ahead of the main pack. I seem doomed to forever be trapped in this kind of position on the bike. Oh well, not a bad problem to have I guess. I steered back into downtown Sackets Harbor into transition in a time of 46:06 not bad given the strong winds (6th best of the day).
Here my transitioning error of not bothering to put on socks for the bike became an issue in that – unbeknownst to me while on the bike – my feet had pretty much froze into blocks of ice so that I couldn’t even feel them pounding on the pavement heading out of T2. Anyone who’s tried to run off-the-bike with frozen feet will instantly know what I’m talking about. It sucks. In fact, it wasn’t until, say, the 1.5k mark or so when I began to get any feeling back in them at all. It was pouring buckets now but my legs were turning over fairly easily so I worked on keeping a reasonable pace knowing that how hard I pushed today would no doubt govern how well the Achilles tendon on my left foot would hold up during tomorrow’s half marathon. For the time being though, it felt okay so I keep my pace steady and fished the run conservatively in 9th position overall with a time of 23:36. I was happy to have cracked the Top 10 in 9th as well as claim the 1st place in my age category, so that was cool. Plus the award coffee mugs were pretty awesome.
See how excited I am despite being so wet and cold?
I would have been even happier if it was filled with something hot.
Anyway, shortly later after scarfing down a bowl of delicious clam chowder and hot chocolate from the nearby food truck we packed up and made our way back to the cabin so I could have a warm shower and begin the damage control of stretching, refueling and looking after my feet for the next days’ more significant challenge.
Oh and, yes, I might (or may not) have blow-dried the arm pads on my aero bars as well.
Don’t judge me.
I woke a bit earlier the second morning (which was fine given I wasn’t sleeping much anyway) since we had to be on site a bit earlier being in the first wave at 8:00am. I gave myself a once over and everything seemed to be in good working order. My Achilles was tender but not in the kind of pain I’ve been experiencing in the previous weeks leading up to this events so I was hopeful.
Similar to the day before, I set up in transition first thing with HRH before heading off to get body marked (I also had a little inspiration added to my right calf to boot – see pic) and shortly afterwards into my wetsuit at the 20 minute to go mark. It was just as chilly this morning as the day before except that instead of the forecasted torrential rain later in the afternoon as it had yesterday, it was calling for the clouds to lift and for the temperatures to rise…slightly. Unfortunately, the headwinds were not going anywhere. Similarly, the water was just as gorgeous as it was the day before except that the winds had now made the water even rougher than the previous day. So while it was definitely going to be nice temperature-wise, it was certainly not going to be easy; just my kind of swim actually.
I went for a short paddle to warm up and did the prerequisite pee prior to being counted down again:
Just as I had in the Spring yesterday, I had planned to go out a bit quickly to feel everything out and make the decision from there was going to be my plan of attack for the rest of the day (I’ve never been good at following a race strategy preferring to race in the moment as the mood takes me). My initial thoughts prior to beginning was to go out hard in the swim/bike segments knowing the chances were slim that I was going to have strong half marathon to finish on. I caught the heels of the swimmer ahead of me and together we powered ahead of the main pack through the chop to the first turn around. The good thing was that we had our own race marshal in a kayak to lead us to the first buoy so I didn’t really need to sight so much as to just keep myself in the draft position on the lead swimmers feet.
About half way to the first turn around, the water got much rougher and the lead swimmer was showing no sights of backing off his pace so I made the decision to let go and reestablish my own rhythm through the waves. I was a bit disappointed at first as after watching the start yesterday morning for the half iron event I figured there was a good chance that I’d be in the lead, if not first out of the water (something that has never happened to me before). And here I was in the lead by a good stretch, but still in second behind, apparently, Aquaman as he powered through the opposing current out into the harbor. Over the course of the next 200-300m or so I watched as the lead kayak got slowly and slowly further out in front as the lead swimmer put some distance in on me.
“He’ll tire eventually”, I kept reassuring myself.
To this point, I made a note to stop stressing about how close or distant I was in proximity to the lead kayak and just focused on my own pace and relishing how good my turnover was feeling. Upon rounding the first turn around the water was suddenly calm as we had turned from swimming directly into the current to swimming along with it. Perfect. I re-sighted my kayak (and lead swimmer by proxy) and picked up my stroke with an effort to make up some time/distance.
It was on; time to reel back the leader.
I had had a discussion in the car that morning on the way to the event about what I ‘think about’ while swimming and racing; truthfully, very little. And while these post race reports might give you the impression I am constantly thinking, strategizing, assessing and whatnot, in actuality, I’m not. Although I might do all the aforementioned things at specific points during the race – albeit briefly – typically, I’m either humming to myself or singing the chorus to whatever song happens to be motivating me at the time and that song depends on the day. Some days I might be revving myself up with the classic Bill Conti ‘Going the Distance’ (click HERE), or maybe something a little more balls-to-the-wall like ‘Kickstart My Heart’ (Motley Crue), ‘Just Got Paid’ (ZZ Top) or (lately) ‘Shit Shots Counts’ (Drive-By Truckers) – and, yes, I did play each of these in the car on the way there – but today, however, it was something much more mellow and sedate despite what was currently transpiring in the water: ‘Angels’ by Robbie Williams.
Yes, I know. It’s hardly the adrenaline-inducing pump-up anthem you’d expect to listen to under the circumstances, but the song has becoming pretty meaningful t me over this year as it was one of my mom’s favorites and the song that was sang at her funeral service. So while I had picked up my pace in the water a bit, in my head I was cool, calm, relaxed and loving it.
Along the back stretch of calm water I had quickly made up some time on the lead swimmer and I could see the bubbles from his kick just up ahead of me. Maybe being first out of the water wasn’t so far-fetched and I motivated myself to try and do just that as it looked like the leader was beginning to tire. And then it happened: the leader veered off course to the left heading for another buoy intended for the shorter Sprint course.
Inside, I did this:
Sensing the moment, I quickly re-sighted the shore (they had one of those inflatable dancing guys at the finish line) and dropped the hammer. This was my chance. The next 700m or so was nearly at an all out pace as I knew I was now swimming with the current so it was definitely the ‘now or never’ moment I had waited for. In moments, the “leader” had realized his mistake I think I saw him readjust his course back towards me and the shore; I figured he was either going to try and sprint in ahead of me, or catch my draft but, either way, I was determined not to let it happen.
With 200-300m I gave everything to make sure I exited in 1st place. This has never happened before (I came close in Brockville last summer exiting the in 2nd place) and I was really eager to experience it, even if just the once. I reached the ramp with a swim time of 34:35 (not the greatest swim time of my short and unimpressive triathlon career, but not bad given the rough water for the first half), a mere 10 seconds ahead of the former leader and, together, we had put a gap on the rest of the group of about 4 minutes. We charged into transition where our bikes were racked closely together and we chit-chatted a bit while we both went through the process of what was promising to be another cold and windy ride. I avoided yesterday’s mistake and put on my socks and even rolled up some arm warmers to boot prior to leaving T1 for the transition line and out onto the bike course. By this time I had let my lead lapse to second but I was still in good shape.
In the opening 1-2 kilometers I fussed and adjusted with my kit to be comfortable, took a sip from of my water bottle and battled the immediate headwind in an attempt to catch up and establish contact with the leader whom I could see just a little further ahead up the road. Within minutes I had reestablished contact and I when I made an initial pass attempt I noticed that he already seemed rather uncomfortable. I mean, who could blame him? We were wet, cold and riding into a strong headwind – I’m sure I wasn’t the perfect picture of comfort either – but I know I tend to do perform well in uncomfortable conditions so it was definitely on like Donkey Kong in my head. Shortly thereafter, we entered a short out and back stretch along Ridge Road and I made small push to see what the response might be – and there was none – only that same look of being cold, wet and miserable.
I made the decision then and there: “I’m going”. So I channeled my inner Jens Voigt and attacked up and over the next inclineand I was gone, baby, gone; I would never see another rider over the next two and a half hours.
The next 15 minutes or so were pretty surreal. A white van had pulled up in front of me with his hazard lights on and continued to stay just ahead of me. My initial reaction was “what the fuck is this guy doing? Does he know there’s a race going on? GET OUT OF MY WAY YOU ASSHOLE!” And then I realized that this was in fact the pace car and that I was in the lead.
That was all the inspiration I needed, I lowered my head and amped up my pace even more. ‘Let’s see how long I could hang onto this lead’ I thought to myself; maybe as well enjoy it while it lasted.
The next 40-45 kilometers or so were pretty uneventful, just me riding full gas (well, as much ‘gas’ as I could muster anyway) behind the pace van as it continued to lead me through the winding rural roads of Jefferson County. I have to say that Jefferson County is ideal biking territory; lots of vast expanses of fields, meadows, farmlands, rolling hills, and just enough hills and wind to keep things interesting (passing by the ‘Painful Acres’ farm was definitely a poignant moment).
Here’s a look at the course elevation-wise:
Definitely some hills.
Lookit me; all artsy n’ shit. You might even think I was fast!
I had a, shall we say, “moment” somewhere along Cady Road where I was cresting the top of a long incline and at the top, the clouds gave way to sunlight which filled the entire valley to my right and it was gorgeous. Had I been just riding for fun, I would most certainly have stopped and reflected for bit but, as it was, I took a few quiet seconds to myself to reflect , think of my mom and dad and what was currently happening – I shed a tear (okay, maybe two) – before I refocused my composure and got back to pushing. Now there was no way I was going to give up the lead; not without a fight anyway.
If ever I get any distance out front on the bike in any other race, it’s only inevitable that at some point I will get caught. While I think I have some bike skills, they typically pale in comparison to the cycling machines that will inevitably fly past me on their $10,000 carbon fiber rocket ships. Today, however, I was feeling stronger in that I had already passed the first hour and there was still nobody in sight. I looked back periodically along long stretches of road to see who might be closing in on me and the road was always empty; completely void of activity at all in most cases. I was truly alone with nothing else to motivate me pace-wise except myself (this was in itself, a new experience for me) so when I passed Kelly, HRH and Doug who had driven out on the course to cheer me on, it was a very welcome sight indeed; so much so that it gave me new inspiration to continue riding hard despite the fatigue beginning to settle in my quads. No point in adjusting my strategy now, and it was back to the ‘go hard and build a gap into the run’ strategy I considered earlier. Whoever wanted a podium spot today was going to have to bury themselves on the run to do it. I have to say, it was fun to have the car pass by with HRH’s face beaming out the back window and although I couldn’t make out what she was saying, her ‘thumbs up’ sign of encourage was reinvigorating and gratefully appreciated. I think I may have even made a silly face for fun. Maybe…
For the next half hour or so, my carload of fan support appeared and reappeared along the route and getting those quick visuals and words of support was awesome. I was beginning to think that maybe winning this thing wasn’t so far-fetched after all, but I tried not to let myself think that far ahead as, as it typically happens, everything can and usually does happen with you least expect it. But it wasn’t going to happen without me at least giving it everything.
The next half of the bike course was uneventful as the pace car had ceased driving in front of me and the loneliness began to creep in. I focused on getting over the hills (which were significantly tougher the second time around) and fighting through the headwinds (where were getting tedious and frustrating) and with 2-3 kilometers left, I ate what was left of my Shot Blocs, sipped the remainder of my bottle, and powered back into town very spent but completely happy with my performance, as well as having ridden the top bike split of the day in 2:56:00.
Now, I will admit here that my legs now felt like lead poles. I had done everything I could to push the limits of my swim and bike and now I was paying the unfortunate price, so it was time to mentally prepare for and settle into what would inevitably be a long and painful run to the finish. I was thrilled to still be in the lead, and after a short pee break in transition (hey, at least I knew my hydration strategy was working) I let myself enjoy some of that excitement. I tucked the zip-lock baggie containing photos of my mom and dad into my tri-suit, donned by dad’s favorite ball cap and made my way out onto the run course. I was being realistic with myself in that it was very unlikely that I would be able to sustain any decent pace through the entire run, but it was also really cool to be on the receiving end of all the assorted whoops and cheers of approval from the spectators for being in the first guy.
Me…in the lead… on the run no less!
I will savor that feeling for a while, I assure you.
I would find out later, that at this point early in the run I had accumulated an overall gap on my completion off-the-bike of 12 minutes. In any other event in previous this might have been enough to cruise to the finish line but today, I knew it was a matter of seeing what would happen. My legs felt beyond tired but my feet weren’t as bad off as they had been yesterday (cold), so I was optimistic that things might not be so bad.
I tried my best to keep to a somewhat easy and comfortable pace, walking through the aid stations to rest my Achilles temporarily and – I have to say – being in the lead kinda sucks. There’s not really a lot to keep you going in the sections of the course where you’re all by yourself and you know that the others are closing in behind you. Or so this was the feeling I had at the time anyway. At the first turn around somewhere along the 6 or 7 kilometer mark, the next two athletes came into view and we exchanged quick pleasantries as we passed on another. I was also cognizant that I had started to limp slightly as my Achilles slowly began to tighten and that my competition now smelled blood. Moreover, they were running smoothly and seemingly effortlessly by comparison.
At just over the half way part while looping back in Sackets Harbor, I could see the next athlete (the person immediately behind me in the swim) closing in fast. But I was still hopefully that I still build up enough of a time gap to pull this off. Maybe.
Shortly afterwards while rounding another corner I knew that being caught was inevitable at the “safe” pace I was currently running at. So I began to have a conversation with myself about what was smarter. Was it better to push to the end and, maybe, claim the top spot of the day which would be a HUGE first for me, or was it better to keep doing what I was doing and playing it ‘safe’ in order to spare myself serious future injury, and simply allow for whatever that end result was meant to be. It was the classic ‘Emperor’s New Groove’ scene (click HERE) where both a devil and an angel appear on Kronk’s shoulders and trade arguments back and forth.
At about the 16 kilometer mark, my Achilles was really beginning to complain so at the 18 kilometer mark I made the ultimate decision to let my lead go (I guess the angel won out in the end). It was the hardest decision I think I’ve ever had to make in a competition. I got to the second-to-last aid station and did something I have never done – I stopped. I waited the 30 45 seconds or so until the other runners behind me came into view and I shook their hands as they passed by and I congratulated them for their effort. I was extremely sad and disappointed to see them take my lead, but how can I expect my nine-year-old to accept defeat graciously if I am not also capable of doing the same; that was my final rationale and I was good with it…eventually anyway.
From that point on, I walked/ran at a comfortable pace to the finish in town where I walked across the finish line hand-in-hand with HRH with a completely unimpressive run time of 2:09:51, good enough for 3rd over all.
How I felt at this point is, really, indescribable. In one way, I was disappointed not to be strong enough to push for a 1st place finish, but I was also happy to have experienced some genuine race ‘firsts’ and confident that I had ultimately made the right decision not to push myself to the breaking point. I congratulated my victors again at the finish and reveled in their telling me how much effort it had taken to actually catch me. So I guess that part of my plan anyway had worked perfectly.
So, now with all that behind me, I can actually get back to refocusing on my off season recovery and rebuilding myself back to being competitively strong once again – within limits of course (click HERE). First, however, I had a promised play date with the kid back at the cabin, steaks, a celebratory apple pie and more than a few beers to tend to; the perfect way to finish off the weekend if you ask me.
* In fact, the Incredoubleman triathlon coordinator actually had a small cannon both available and intended for this purpose. What was lacking was a conveniently available licensed operator to actually use it. The world is a funny place.