Ironman Arizona April 14 2008
It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.
This is the story of my first attempt at the Ironman distance; as usual I was unsure of my performance before race day. A lot off athletes train long and hard all winter for this race and come to bring their best show early in the triathlon season. Honestly I can not make comments like that, my training was off since the winter I maybe logged five hundred miles this whole year on the bike, and as usual my swim training before this race was a handful of swim practices a few weeks out. Was I prepared though? Sure.
The journey started on Thursday April 10 when I found out the American Airlines flight taking Christina, Mark, Kristin and I had been cancelled. My training buddy Mark Payne already had a back up plan. We rented a van and drove all night Thursday to Tempe Arizona, fifteen hours later we had arrived, on time and ready for packet pick up.
Upon arrival Mark and I settled into registration and made our rounds of things to do such as pick up the bikes, check in etc. The small college town of Tempe was booming with Energy it was electrifying. There were over two thousand hot, hairless bodies with more bling equipped bikes than the Tour De France prologue, the scenery was amazing.
Picking up myLitespeed from Tri-bike Transport
On day two, Saturday morning I woke up at 6:30 a.m. and went for a seven mile run around town to clear my head and get into my race state of mind. Plenty of things had been floating around in my head and I needed to decompress and mentally prepare. I went out for twenty minutes at an 85% pace and coasted the rest of the way to loosen things up a bit. I found a quiet place midway through the run, I sat down and reflected for a bit and considered a lot of things.
I thought about my first Triathlon on May 5th 2005, I remembered the rush and the euphoria of combining the three disciplines. Memories of the fifty plus races I had run in the last three years shot through my mind at a rapid pace, the highs and the lows, the wins and the losses. I was now here in Arizona soaking up the rays of the sun overlooking a highway. Tears streamed down my face, I had finally arrived, I decided a few years ago that the Ironman was the ultimate triathlon distance and I was determined to get there one day.
I had visions of the world championship and one day being there. I didn’t expect to achieve a Hawaii slot on this race, but I had planned to perform well and if all things went as planned, well who knows anything can happen on race day.
My pleasure and some of my deepest pains come from racing. Some races have left me on cloud nine and others have destroyed me. I have had deep religious experiences on various courses, and have lost all hope fighting for the finish. To win or to lose, there is nothing certain on race day. The course will truly decide the fate of your race. After reflecting and cleansing my mind I headed back to the hotel, a weight had been lifted and I was now ready to race.
Mark, Christina and I grabbed some food from the local Safeway and got Kristin some coffee. After we got back Mark and I headed out for the Gatorade Endurance open water practice swim. We slipped our wetsuits on and jumped in, the water was frigid at sixty five degrees, my coldest swim to date. We swam a quick out and back and were out of the water in less than fifteen minutes. Afterwards we biked through town to ensure the bikes were tip top and race ready, our hotel was located a in a kind of dodgy area and needless to say some eyebrows were raised when the locals see two guys on funky looking bikes one in all black spandex sporting an Aero helmet. After the ride I took a crash nap and later on we all headed out to dinner, Tempe has only one or two Italian restaurants, Christina made reservations and we slid right in. I did my ritualistic all I can eat meal of bread and pasta.
We headed back to the hotel after dinner; all of my race gear had been prepared earlier in the day, so all that was left to do now was sleep. I made sure to set two alarms to wake me up. I have a reoccurring dream about not waking up on time for races and I had set my phone as well as my watch to go off the next morning. My dreams would become my reality as none of them went off the next morning. I woke up naturally however and everything was copasetic. I met up with mark and we both had our Peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast and got ready. Within twenty minutes we were in the van heading to the race start.
I brought my Ipod with me, as we walked from the van which was parked on the roof of some building the tunes came on and it was literally music to my ears. The first track was Rage against the Machine’s, Bulls on parade to awaken me. I felt like a boxer going into the ring for a title fight. I was officially in the zone and ready to rumble, which was exactly where I needed to be.
Transition bags from the swim to the bike
Mark and I dropped off our special needs bags, checked our bikes and received our body markings. You could feel the energy from all the athletes and spectators; this was world class racing and today would be my day. Mark and I got our wetsuits on and eventually said goodbye to our better halves and jumped in the water. To my surprise it had warmed up and was not near as cold as the day before. Mark and I shared some words and the cannon went off. Welcome to the WASHING MACHINE! With over twenty two hundred competitors the arms were flaying the kicks were brutal and the elbows pounded your body at all angles.
The Washing Machine
The 2.4 mile swim is not exactly something I thought I could muster easily; I struggled to find room to get comfortable and work in my horrific custom strides, the infamous “Superman” and the always ridiculous “Striker” I aimed for open areas to get some room to spread out my stroke, passing people was difficult as I kept getting crowded from all angles front to back and side to side. We were swimming right into the rising sun. I thought about Christina and how she said she would never race triathlon because of the swim. The sheer violence of the swim is not for the light hearted. I constantly had to look ahead to make sure I wasn’t going to get kicked in the face killing my hydrodynamics, thus slowing me down. Swimming in the pool and being here now was a far cry. My arms felt strong and I felt that the swim was going very well. I could site the turn around coming soon. The surrounding swimmers started to veer left looking to make the U turn.
I finally made it to the turn around, we were 1.2 miles deep now the bottlenecking of bodies on the corner was tight, and again it was back to the washing machine, the return to transition would be a more mild journey, now that the race was spread out. I hung to the far left with a few other guys and was sighting well I now was able to bust out the Superman glide and was feeling strong and slippery in the water. I had feared the swim the most, but was happy with my performance so far and was on pace or at least I hoped for a respectable time.
As my arms pulled me through the water, I thought about my Bikram Yoga instructor Farky and how in class we lift our arms above our heads and place our upper arms against our ears in certain postures, I duplicated this with my stroke in order to streamline my body. I could hear his voice ring through my ears “that’s it Joey, that’s the way” in his Hungarian accent. I hadn’t swam much at all this season; I had planned to use Bikram Yoga as a tool in the water. My arms were stronger, my body was more streamlined and my breathing had reached a larger capacity, everything that I theorized that would be effective had worked in the swim, it was brilliant. I stepped out of the water in one Hour and fourteen minutes. I was roughly in 1000th place. I exited the water briskly had my wetsuit stripped off of me and ran into transition. I used the restroom then ran to transition and grabbed my bike.
Exiting transition with the bike was a little hectic; bodies were running towards the one single exit at an alarming rate. I exited without incident crossed the red mount line and then clipped in, I looked up and saw a curvaceous tunnel of screaming spectators and chaos in front of me, after my first stroke of the pedal I knew it was going to be on. My boss Steve and I had gone over with extreme scrutiny how to break down the bike portion and how to break down my fellow age groupers. I was going to progressively get faster peak in the middle and then slow it down on the way back to prepare for the run.
The bike section was 112 miles long a total of three loops, the winds had started to gust already and the heat was starting to rise. I felt I wasn’t sweating enough in the dry heat. I poured water on myself every ten miles to keep cool and fresh. I kept my tri jersey zipped up all the way and remained on the aero bars as long as possible to maintain the most aerodynamic position. I wanted every single advantage that I could take aerodynamically speaking. I spent hours prior to this race with a micrometer and a level getting the bike to its most efficient fastest position. Although daunting its against the fury of the wind and the climbs that leave you breathless that make you appreciate all the time that’s invested in proper bike fitting, every gram and every millimeter has its place and purpose.
Second loop on the bike
I had broken the cycling portion down into six different sections. The three laps had two very different scenarios, the outbound trip was taking on a headwind at full fury and the trip back to transition was assisted with a strong tail wind. I preferred the course to be set up in this manner; I worked hard on the way out and reaped the benefits on the way back to transition.
My first loop was strong going a bit against the plan I was hungry, and juiced on the moment I attacked hard against the wind and the subtle inclines. I consumed one of my cliff bars and started my usual drug regimen of sports legs and Endurolyte pills. Feeling no pain other than having to pee, I decided to dismount and relieve myself at the turn around point and grabbed some new bottles. The first lap on the return home was by far the fastest. Geared with a 54 tooth large chain ring I was holding thirty plus miles per hour with ease, a soft pedal as Mark Payne always says.
Approaching loop two and the turn around I was excited to see Christina and Kristin it’s a rarity to have support at any race so it means a lot to me when some one takes time out of their schedule for me to support my ambitions. I had started to reflect on the plan that Steve and I spoke about before I left Texas. The hill approach, progressively faster with a slow taper to prepare for the run, I started out slow and easy on the second lap. The winds had increased and I realized this was going to be tough.
While waiting in the registration tent a few days prior, Mark and I ran into Paul Bashforth, a fellow who trained with Mark at last year’s Multi-sport camp in Lake Placid. We talked shop and some strategy about this race and he gave me one little gem of advice, he said “do not fight the wind, just go with it”. I didn’t think much about that until I was out on the course; I was getting passed by other athletes now on the second loop. I kept my head down my energy was starting to drain, the subtle inclines came slow and steady and it felt like forever until the road would flatten or the wind would cease, the turn around was just nowhere in sight.
Me in the red, Payne in the pink and Paul in white at registration
This was the essential turning point of the race, this was the first time I was feeling the pain of Ironman racing. I had a plan though to revive myself, I consumed one Gu and would be stopping to get my special needs bag after the turn around. I eventually arrived to the turn around point dismounted again, urinated and refilled my bottles once again, it felt good to stretch. I was feeling a little more upbeat after the Gu solidified in my system. Five miles later I arrived to the special needs bag area. TWO FOURTY SIX!!! A young man screamed I pulled to the side of the road and the volunteer opened the bag up for me.
I had two key things in this bag to bring the zombie in me back to life. Red Bull and chocolate chip cookies from some truck stop in west Texas. Cookies and Red Bull this is my ultra marathon nutrition staple, its bullet proof and guaranteed to deliver energy. I poured the Red Bull into my water bottle, took the cookies out of the wrapper and headed on my way. The cookies tasted great and the red bull was a familiar nectar that got my blood boiling and my heart back to its race pace. Unfortunately at this point I wasn’t able to consume any real solid foods, the bars I had brought along for the ride might as well have been poison. I just could not stomach them and their consistencies.
I thought about Ryan Lauck and his one hundred mile Wasatch Run, I remember running with him in the darkness against fatigue and the cold shivers of night, he could not eat, and had no desire to. It had all started to make sense now, I had tried to feed him all night but it just wasn’t enough, endurance events like Ultra’s and the Ironman require a lot of nutritional intake. At this point in the race I was out of Gu and had no solid foods to consume. I was having trouble taking down Gatorade now as well; these key foods in their absence would be the beginning of the end.
The Red Bull had kicked in and so had the Gu it was a huge burst of caffeine in one setting coagulating in my system to release like a bomb. I looked to the sky and asked “Christina and Michael where are you?” I needed their support, their warmth and their energy. When things go wrong in race I always look for them in the clouds. Within moments my cadence had begun to rise. My tunnel vision had engaged and my heart and breath started getting erratic, this is what I refer to as “the blur”. When this happens to me, the shit hits the fan and I start popping. A glance down at my computer revealed thirty nine mile per hour pace. I was there in Arizona for this moment, the sugars started boiling in my blood, my lungs expanded and compressed like tremors under the earth’s surface. This was the interval section of the race and I knew this would last only for a moment, and it did. I slowed my pace after a mere minute and was soft pedaling with the wind at my back at a comfortable 25 MPH, a far cry from the twelve to thirteen MPH against the wind less than an hour ago.
Its moments like those that keep me coming back for more races. There is an energy that pulses through your system, when someone that you love, believes in you. That love can cultivate into an energy that surges through your body like electricity and lifts you “the blur” was the best moment of the whole race; I was closer to Michael and Christina beyond any form of physical measurement at that one moment.
I was four hours into the race and I had not seen Mark yet I wandered how he was doing and how the race was treating him. The winds howled and were relentless. I reflected on our many rides together, many centuries, some of them back to back and always with wind going against us or with us. Train how you race, and race how you train, we had talked up Arizona for months and were ready for the game. One of our most recent training rides was cut short due to a gusting 30 MPH wind, a wind so strong it blew me off the road twice in the ride.
I was on my third loop ten miles deep and I heard Mark coming, Lew Carbon wheels make a special sound that I can’t quite describe, I pulled my head up from the drops and he blew right by. I didn’t have a chance to say anything; I pedaled on against the wind. The third lap out was great, my slower pace on the second outbound lap was paying off. I had managed a 21.01 MPH average on the first lap and slowed down to a 17.99 MPH average on the second lap and was now pushing 18 MPH against the wind, I felt strong, the day was reaching its middle point and I was happy that this was my last lap.
The heat was catching up to me though, I could not stomach the Cliff bars I had brought and my special needs bag was completely depleted, my Gu supply was gone as well. I was taking in as much fruit as possible at every aid station. I had trouble swallowing Gatorade now as well as water. I was force feeding myself as I knew that proper nutritional intake was essential to successfully completing this race. I finally reached last turnaround point on lap three and decided not to stop this time.
I dropped down a few gears and started the soft pedal with the wind to my back; my energy levels were starting to drop off rapidly. The caffeine in my system had dissolved and my tank was about to empty. I lacked the power to engage full throttle on the last part of the bike course. Holding anything over 22 MPH was a struggle, my previous loop had maxed out at 39 MPH as my top speed which lasted only seconds. I had blown up several times on the bike in training but never in a race. The pace on the bike had felt comfortable and controlled. My nutrition though was not consistent with the effort. Thousands of miles had been covered in training with the same nutritional regimen yet today in the deserts of Arizona it simply was not working.
I sunk my neck and head into my collar bones, “stay aero” I said to myself we are almost home. I had been burping the whole bike ride and throwing up a little each time in my mouth. The heat was noticeable but it wasn’t anything unfamiliar to me. The distance was long and hard but again nothing out of the ordinary. The bike portion was now over I started in position 934 out of the water and was now in position 401, the hill strategy had paid off. I entered into transition a bit light headed and took my sweet time putting on my run clothes and going to the restroom.
I was done with the swim and the bike, now it was time for the real show, the marathon, I had been told all year from various athletes “it’s all about the run”, as an ultra marathoner I simply wasn’t worried, I felt dizzy but not too concerned, its only 26.2 miles. I had some great volunteers attend to me in transition and upon exiting got lubed up with sunscreen. Let’s begin the rodeo!
Mile one came soon enough on the run, I was getting my doors blown off by the hotshots who had plenty of gas in the tank around me. I wasn’t worried I needed a mile to warm up and get loose. Christina was there shooting pictures and screaming I heard nothing nor saw anything which was actually pretty bad as I desperately was looking forward to seeing her. My first mile was a 7:53 my second was 7:40 my third was 7:38 my fourth was 7:14. The negative splits were happening my stride was engaging my mind was racing and I was feeling no pain. I was taking in every bit of fluid and food I could get my hands on at each aid station.
I remember thinking “ show these people Joey, show these people how a runner does the big show” the passes felt infinite and with every stride I was getting stronger, the nauseous feelings had dissipated and now I was on fire, the course was simple basic and filled with enthusiastic cheers from the onlookers and volunteers. I was pleased thus far with the performance and happy that the race so far was a pleasant one. I completed the first lap feeling solid, the scenery was pretty good and now I only had two more loops on the run.
My eyes spotted a familiar stride on the course, Bright orange colored New balance shoes and this absurd hat which clearly belonged on a fishing trip with a 12 pack of beer. It was Payne, holding his own and just getting started on the run. I hadn’t spoken a single word all day other than “thank you” to the volunteers, we chatted for a few minutes and then we had separated. Mark looked great, stoic calm and in control of the race.
I had reached mile ten and was looking forward to approaching the half marathon point. If I could complete the first half the rest would be cake. My pace was slowing but that was expected the temperature was in the mid 90’s and I was a little under nine hours into the race. I had planned to take it easy in the second loop and let it all hang on the third. I wanted to mirror the performance that I had achieved on the bike.
I started to struggle with my run before reaching mile eleven, I told myself “you can stop once you hit the aid station, don’t start walking”. I reached mile eleven and took some seconds to get something to drink and cool off. I took a jolly rancher from a volunteer; I thought the sugar would revive me. I approached the climb up to the bridge and had lost my pace. I slowed to a walk; I figured walking the hill would be a good idea. I continued pass the climb however and was now walking onto the bridge, volunteers were cheering me on but I felt nothing.
The shit had hit the fan and I might as well been numb. The blue skies that were absent of all clouds were now an endless abyss of white nothingness. I could hear the dragging noise of rubber on hot concrete; I could not muster the energy to lift my feet any higher. I had covered 126 miles so far and now was feeling the fatigue of the distance. I had crested the halfway point on the bridge and seconds had turned into minutes. I stumbled to the side of the bridge and sat down. I just needed to rest; I felt horrible and had trouble holding my head up.
As I sat there on the side of the road two spectators came to my assistance. It was obvious that a soldier had fallen and that I was in dire need of help. These two angels poured water on me and gave me some to consume. One of them had a small fan which they used on the back of my neck, rather than feeling better though, my condition was only worsening. I began vomiting repeatedly, we sat there for about thirty minutes, one of the girls grabbed a fire dept worker and they checked me out. They transported me to the medical tent which was at the end of the bridge roughly two hundred yards away.
I was attended to by a nurse who had worked this race since its inception. He had me slowly taking in fluids as I did not want an IV drip. I was getting very cold so he placed some blankets on me; within minutes I had a hot flash and started vomiting again. I just needed to lie down and recover. I was in medical for about thirty minutes. I had stopped vomiting and had consumed two bottles of water. My heart rate had slowed down and my body had resumed somewhat of a normal capacity. I stood up and was no longer light headed. I was ready to finish this race. I checked in with the Medical director on how I should approach re entry onto the course. He then asked how I got here. I showed him where I was and said the two firefighters drove me here from the bridge. He then informed me I could not complete the race as I was transported there, whether it was two hundred yards or two feet it did not matter, it was technically outside assistance and transportation was involved and frankly that is not allowed.
I had refused the IV as I knew that was unacceptable but the transport scenario I had not considered. I figured I would just walk back to the point two hundred yards away and get it started again. The race was now over for me, it all happened so fast that initially I wasn’t that upset, I met up with Christina and Kristin and had some more fluids and eventually pizza. We waited for Mark to finish and he looked great.
While waiting though it had all started to sink in, the abominable feeling of complete failure, call it what you will but it was simply that, I could not complete the objective at hand. Hearing all the finishers cross the line as we waited for Mark could not have felt any worst or endless. The looks upon their faces were of a complete defeat, but their souls illuminated through their sweaty salt filled pours with one of an overcoming nature.
I wasn’t a quitter and damn it I wasn’t going to get shut down. But it had happened, the “what if” scenarios shot through my head left and right. I knew what had happened; the nutrition got the best of me and it’s not something I could have controlled. What had been working for the last two years in all forms of training and weather did not work today. The same nutrition that landed me a 2:15 Olympic distance time last season, had failed. The cliff bars that have carried me well over a thousand miles of running did not work today.
After having many days to reflect on the disappointing loss and a race that crippled me physically I have come to some very real conclusions. Making the most of a bad situation, my optimism is all I have sometimes. Of all the things I considered in training while preparing for the race, failure was simply not one of them. Why had it not been an option? The idea of not finishing a triathlon has never occurred to me. I have pulled out of three races now in my career thus far. Rockledge Rumble 50K November 2006, Bandera 100K January 2008 and now Ironman Arizona, a weak stomach crippled me at Rockledge. I came back the next year to win overall and set the new course record. The Bandera 100K shocked my knees and my body into painful sensations I had never felt before, avoiding injury I quit after 31 miles of running that day.
My stomach has waged many wars and won in the past, the sting of failing the Ironman has burned more than any defeat though. I came to Arizona to overcome all challenges and to finish strong; I didn’t come to Arizona to find out what my limits are. “The wall” is something you hear about in race stories; it’s the classic mile twenty of any marathon or the finishing leg of long distance triathlons. “The wall” is a debilitating state that makes the distance you have been racing very apparent to the rest of your body all at once.
So what the hell happened out there then? The usual receptors were firing off during the race but I was feeling nothing. In training I think there is always a tug of war battle with your body and your mind. If you have the heart then you don’t have the lungs, you may have the legs, but not the guts to go to that next level. The mind works in the same way, as hard as the race was my mind did not comprehend any of it, fueled by the moment and absorbed in something way beyond physical pain, I felt fatigue but nothing that was insurmountable given the circumstances.
I engross myself at every single race no matter how big or how small. My tunnel vision developed in my last Olympic race of the season in 2007, I was in pursuit of a 40 year old bad ass on a slammed Cervelo P3C, the race on the bike might as well have been just him and I. I didn’t see or register anything else on that portion of the race other than catching him.
One of the largest factors of racing that brings me back every single time, is the complete disconnect from everything that is real and apparent. The visions, the pain and the glory of punishing yourself beyond reason are more rewarding than anything. I have an alter ego when I race, everything looks different, I think different and I feel different. When the gun goes off, it’s not about work, it’s not about my relationships, it’s not about money, it’s about right now and making the most of the moment.
When I started racing three years ago, I never thought I would ever win an age group or a race especially. I didn’t have the confidence or the background to be successful at the sport. Years later I have broken many barriers, overcoming failure has been the hardest one to swallow, and every time it happens it hurts a little more as my own expectation levels have grown. I can condition my body to run harder and I can condition my mind to disregard pain while racing, but it’s my own pride that is my Achilles heal.
I never thought of losing, but now that it’ s happened, the only thing is to do it right. That’s my obligation to all the people who believe in me. We all have to take defeats in life.
I came back to RustonLouisiana for the fourth time with my best friend Bill Driegert to compete in our annual Triple Race weekend challenge. The bitter taste of failing at Ironman Arizona was still in my mouth; it was only three weeks ago that I took on a race that crushed my spirit and some of my beliefs in myself. I punished myself in training a week after Arizona as a sadistic way to cope with the disappointment and mixed emotions I had been going through. I emailed Bill a few days before he arrived to town with a Spreadsheet breaking down every race we had done in Ruston since May of 2005. The improvements simply were not there, I told Bill that will change this coming weekend.
In the three years of racing in Ruston Bill and I were anything but threatening to the lead guys, we had done well in the past, but simply not great. We had placed a few times in our age groups but never crushed the course or gave the top ten guys a scare. Last year we came into this race simply unprepared, Bill had some knee issues and I was just untrained. The three race odyssey was an Xterra off road triathlon, a 2 mile run and lastly a sprint distance road triathlon.
The equipment this year was different, inspired and heavily influenced by Bills talk of how awesome a hard tail frame was I built a bike from scratch over the winter. A carbon Specialized S works hard tail with all the trimmings of Spinergy wheels and XTR drive train. Bill had assembled an equally impressive Litespeed Pisgah with XTR wheels and a unique blend of XTR and Sram components. This year we would have no excuses for equipment failures or component reliability. We were rolling on the best choices money could buy.
The weather in Ruston was a predicted thunderstorm that would rain all night long. Flashbacks of the 2006 race fluttered through my head, a wet muddy mess and a slew of bike accidents. I went to sleep that night a little worried but realized if it was wet and muddy it was going to be like that for everyone. The race started at ten in the morning so sleeping in late was an option.
We arrived to the race site an hour early and got everything situated and setup. Bill went off to get his rear tire repaired as it was having trouble sealing and I set up in transition. I slipped on my racing flats and headed off onto the course, I wanted to check out the dirt and see what type of condition the trail was in. To my surprise the silt felt great, it had poured all night but the course was literally perfect, just enough tackiness to give perfect traction in all the corners and climbs.
I ran a little more to warm up and ran into Kyle Grieser. Kyle is the guy who usually wins this race; my first year here in Ruston Kyle won the 20-24 age group and left me to take second with a total time that was fifteen minutes behind his. I was impressed with his ability and as we came back every year Bill and I saw his progression from age group athlete to what he is now an Xterra champion and one of the few USAT Elite athletes, the man is simply a tank of fitness. We spoke for a few minutes after my warm up lap of running, he mentioned he saw I was running faster, I told him of my run training over the winter and mentioned the Ironman and my winter marathons. It was a real compliment for him to even notice my running.
It was ten more minutes until the race would officially start; I stepped out of transition and performed my Bikram Yoga breathing exercises, warming the body from the inside out I found a lot of peace between the breaths. My mind was clear my lungs were ready so I made my way down to the beach, I saw Bill warming it up in the water.
I got behind Bill at the start as always, the countdown went off and before I knew it, I was in the water swimming hard. The two loop swim course is fast short and a lot of fun. I had made it through my first loop and as I was exiting the water I saw a racer pulling his wetsuit off already on the beach. It was the weirdest thing I had seen all day. I thought “why would you use your wetsuit for only half of the swim?” I ran onto the beach and reentered the water. I was now finishing up the second loop of the swim, the competitors were spread out much more and I was able to spread my stride as long as possible.
I exited the water and immediately started stripping the wetsuit down to my waist, I saw Bill fifteen feet ahead of me running towards transition, I remember thinking how the hell did he get his wetsuit off so fast? It turns out the guy pulling off his wetsuit halfway through the swim was Bill, his zipper busted open within the first minute of the race and he swam the first lap with a busted wetsuit that acted as a literal parachute killing any form of buoyancy the suit would normally provide, its only under these circumstances that I would every rival a swim time comparable to Bill’s.
Bill and I had entered transition together however I was still pulling my wetsuit off while he grabbed his bike and left transition. I finally got the suit off and my gloves and shoes on. I left transition and was ready to play catch up. I could spot Bill about three bike positions in front of me. I passed one racer immediately on the bike and was now in pursuit of the next guy, I had quarter of a mile to reel every guy in before I would catch up to Bill. I exhausted all efforts to pass every one and right before the trail turned into single track I had finally caught up with him. I stayed with Bill for a mile or so and enjoyed the line he set on the course.
It was classic Bill Driegert riding style fluid smooth lines, the most efficient climbs and riding style that looked effortless when he raced. My breathing was still erratic from just trying to catch up to him, once my breathing had calmed I pulled up next to Bill on one of the open areas and said to him “I am going to do something very stupid” and then I went for the pass.
I wanted to ride with Bill for the whole race as I knew it would be a fast smooth ride. My ego however wanted something else, I figured I could go all out now and hope for the best and expected more than likely that Bill would catch up with me towards the middle of the race due to me either crashing or just blowing up. My mind was already racing at full throttle but now things were different, it was just me and the trail not a soul in sight to catch. The pace was hard and my body was disregarding every last bit of its recognition. The trees blurred by and the roots of the course rattled through the carbon frame to my spine. Bill had been riding like a slippery stream pass all the rocks and roots and I was riding like freight train off the tracks.
I spotted two more riders ahead of me and caught up to them I stuck to their tails for a few minutes to catch my breath and tried to take both of them out on a single turn with a clever inside pass. That plan backfired and I ended up on the forest floor after clipping my shoulder on a tree. The two quickly passed me and I jumped on the bike as fast as I could. There was another open section about 400 feet away so I made my pass at that point. Looking back perhaps I should have just waited for the open area to make my move, not on the single track.
The course was in perfect shape; I was feeling very fast on the dirt and was maximizing power and speed with an infinite amount of shifts between the middle and large gear up front. It had been a few miles now and I had not seen any other races in a while. I loved it; I wasn’t sure of my place and had not considered it at all at this point. I blew past some volunteers and heard you are in fourth place. I wasn’t sure if I heard that correctly from the volunteer so I kept pedaling on as usual.
Exiting the trees into one of the open areas I saw a glimpse of the racer who was in third place, he was about two hundred yards away from me, there simply wasn’t enough bike course for me to pull him in at this point. I was approaching the second to the last climb of the course and was starting to feel a little burn in my legs. The last half mile has the two worst climbs you will encounter all day on the course. I approached the final climb and dismounted and ran the bike all the way to the top. The bike portion had gone perfectly and I did not want to even bother trying to take on this insurmountable climb on the bike.
I crested the top jumped back on the bike and then hit the downhill, this downhill is scary fast. Top speed 33.4 MPH on loose dirt. Approaching transition I normally spin my legs out to free up some of the lactic to prepare for the run. Today I dropped the gears almost to their maximum and sprinted towards transition. I barreled into transition jumped off my bike and realized what was really happening, I was the fourth man in. There were only three bikes on the racks in front of me. I slipped on my racing flats grabbed my race belt and started hard into the run.
Upon the slow climb into the trees I spotted third place finally, the jackal I had not been able to catch on the bike was now on my radar and with every strike against the Louisiana ground I Was growing stronger and faster. It took me a few minutes but what was once far away was now two feet in front of me and now I was able to make the pass. A young built marine in his twenties who apparently could mountain bike and run like a bat out of hell.
The trail had closed back up to single track; the fear of being attacked from behind was pulsing through my head as I looked back in paranoia. I was in third place, I just needed to hold the position and keep the pace up. Not nearly as much concentration is needed on the run as is required on the bike. I felt at home on the dirt, jumping the roots and flying through all the twists and turns, it felt more like fun than work. The pace felt so good though. I was now approaching the last six hundred yards of run, the race was almost over. I began my kick early on. It felt great, so far the race had been perfect, the trees opened up to all the flags that lined the finish line and the sun was brighter than ever now with no coverage, the finish line was in sight and I felt like a million dollars passing the line. I had done it finally; I made it to the top 3 in Xterra. Kyle Grieser and Mike Carter were waiting at the finish line.
The run improvements were there, I ran the fastest run split of the day. The marine came in at fourth place about four minutes after I crossed the line, I had done it I had crushed the course. Bill came in a few minutes later and looked great. He won his age group and came in eight overall. This was such a moment for both of us, Bill shaved ten minutes off his best time out here and I shaved near fifteen minutes off my personal best. We had finally arrived. Bill and I usually landed in the top twenty, and this year we had made it to the top ten.
Bill taking the gold in 30-34
The morning work was over however a 2 mile race was going to be the evening attraction. Bill and I grabbed a small lunch and went back to the hotel and rested. A few hours later we headed back to LincolnParishPark for the six O’clock race. There were over fifty people racing the two mile race. As the minutes came down I started to get anxious, plenty of fast people showed up and I certainly have never considered myself to be a miler or even a two mile runner. I figured I would draft the lead guys then make some quick decision making towards the end.
Bill and I joked before about what our strategy was going to be for this race. I told him I would warm it up for the first twenty minutes then take it from there. We approached this race light heartedly but as soon as the race started it was all business. I ran immediately to the front to take lead. A stupid choice in my opinion as I did not want to lead but as usual my heart runs the race not my strategic thinking brain. The pace was brutal and initially the course was very flat, I tried to keep my breathing as controlled as possible. I had some competition behind me and before the first mile; I could not shake one of them off my tail. We approached this enormously steep incline and I surged as hard as I could.
The course was now running at a slight incline and my legs started to feel the fatigue of running the fastest run split earlier in the Xterra race. The turn around was ahead and that meant another ¾ of a mile was left. The competitors were now spread out; I was still in the lead and had no threats from behind now. I was being cheered on by other racers as I got closer to the lake, I was going to do it, I was going to win the race. I bombed a downhill and kicked in everything towards the finish line. I had done it again today; I won the race with a hilly two mile time of 10:59 on blasted legs. Second place came in twenty five seconds later. Bill had blasted the two mile course with a smoking 12:30 time, a 6:15 split for a guy who I would never peg as a sprinter had shocked the hell out of me.
By now what was never a considered an option had started to become a real possibility, if all went well on the next morning’s race I could win the whole series. I could become the 2008 Rustman. Bill and I spoke with a lot of the racers after the two mile run and everyone was in good spirits, it’s a great feeling to be asked “are you the guy who won”? And to get a genuine handshake from fellow competitors.
Bill and I wrapped up everything and went out to Dinner, the Corona’s tasted great and the salsa and corn tortillas were coming at us fast. Afterwards we went to the theater to watch the newly released Ironman movie. I thought this was a great idea as I wanted to have something to take my mind off of the race next morning.
We got back to the hotel and eventually hit the sack a little before midnight. My mind began evaluating what was happening and what could potentially happen the next morning. I didn’t sleep much at all and dreamt of the days races. The morning was already lurking six hours later, Bill and I got ready and we headed to the race site for our final battle. My bike was tuned lubed and ready, my legs felt stiff and it was very apparent that I had been running hard the day before. After checking everything on the bike once again I headed down to the beach, and again did my Bikram breathing and got settled on the beach front to start.
Bill in transition at Paradise Sprint road tri
Me in transition at road tri
The swim had officially started an easy six hundred yard sprint, I knew if I kept a solid line and maintained some control I could come out of the water not too far back from the stronger swimmers. I exited the water roughly in fifteenth place, now it was time to play catch up. I ran through transition, stripped the suit and grabbed the bike running out at full sprint. Once I got my shoes clipped in I starting sprinting out of the park, before we exited to the highway I had already made five passes. Tucked in and hurting I started to mash the pedals as hard as possible.
There was a plentiful amount of lactic acid building in my legs and I felt I was holding a strong pace, however didn’t feel I was performing at my best, and given this was the third race of the weekend I didn’t expect to feel fresh. Approaching the turn around on the bike I had made it to sixth overall. I spotted two more riders in front of me and slowly pulled them in one by one. I was now in fourth and ready to pull in some more positions. I reentered the park and racked my bike in transition quickly; I caught the third place guy right out of transition.
I approached the first half mile of the run and could not shake this kid off my tail from transition. We both ran down the second place guy and were now going at it head to head for second place overall. I lead for the first mile and started to loose steam immediately after passing the marker. The steep climb from yesterdays two mile race, felt a lot harder this morning and I got dropped to third place in an instance. I took thirty seconds to recover and got back on this guys tail. I was breathing on him I was so close, doing everything I could to get inside of his head; this guy simply would not break.
I surged past him before we hit the long turn around and started punishing him with what I had left in my system. That lasted all of thirty seconds; he regained position and started to pull away from me. We had a little under a mile to go and I was trying to recover as much energy as I could. The road was now sloping downhill, I saw Bill on the way back and he shouted your in third, he looked strong on the course and it was great to see he was putting the hurt on the other competitors. The lake was in sight and the finish line was getting closer, I engaged my final kick.
A volunteer shouted to the second place runner “he’s starting to kick!” My cover was blown; this young man threw on the power at the flick of a switch. I simply had nothing left now, I realized I had won the triple at this point but still did not want to give up second place overall. I ended up taking third overall, that young man was simply faster than me on the run. He beat me by seven seconds on the run; I ended up with a 17:39 5K(5:41/M).
After crossing the final finish line I realized I had done it, I won the weekend and was now the 2008 Rustman. The acknowledgment and trophies were all great things to receive from a weekend of racing but it was the moments that meant more than any title.
Bill and I came into this weekend looking for improvement and to have a good time. After Xterra we had a new found sense of confidence and managed to carry it all the way through to the end. This weekend is nothing as simple as two good friends racing annually. It’s a commitment to each other and to the spirit of racing. It’s a weekend I look forward to more than any other weekend in the year. This year we stepped up, knocked it out and were still left standing, cheers to you and I bill, let’s make next year even better.