Sunday's event was my first race back in over a year. My god, do they hurt!
It all began on Friday when Chuckie and I left Solvang en route toward Phoenix. We had rented an econo car at the local rental agency but all the affordable models were sold out. We were offered an SUV as a "free upgrade". Obviously this was not an upgrade to us with gas prices above three dollars a gallon! So we smooth-talked our way into a Toyota Prius for the price of an econo car. We were worried with all the Toyota recalls in recent weeks but as it was it worked in our favor because the gas pedal was stuck at 110 miles per hour the whole way! We got to Phoenix much sooner than expected. The problem was that the brake pedal didn't work and we flew right past the city at 110 miles per hour!
Joking aside, we pulled in at 10:30pm forgetting that we lost an hour en route due to the time zone change. Apparently Arizona doesn't believe in daylight savings. We worried that we were keeping our homestay up late by arriving so late but we were greeted with big smiles and big hugs that could only come from a loving Italian family, Saverio and Marisa. Everything they say about Italian hospitality is true times ten. (I visited Italy when I was 14 and loved it; I've always wanted to go back and here now I felt like I had). Oh, the food! But I'll get to that in due time. Chuckie and Saverio got on great because they never stopped talking!
On Saturday morning we headed to the racecourse to go and check it out. I was amazed at how brutal the run course(s) were/are. It was like an Xterra event, a true cross-country running race: sand, washes, mud, rocks, hills, creek crossing, cacti, twists, turns and the potential for perilous tumbles. I wasn't mentally prepared for this but after checking it all out I was ready to give it my best shot.
After the reconnaissance, Saverio was kind enough to setup a chiropractic appointment for me with his good friend Matt. With Matt's expertise I was able to get back on form after such an arduous drive; for whatever reason my hips and back hate long drives. Matt fixed me right up in a matter of minutes and I was excited to race the next day.
But first that evening, Saverio invited some friends from the triathlon club and Marisa cooked up a true Italian meal. I normally like to stick to my own routine prior to races (boring food!) but this was simply too good to be true. We had ten different types of olives, five different types of cheeses, red wine, bread, pasta with fresh basil and tomatoes – everything almost straight from the vine. I never knew pasta could taste this good. I've always eaten it when I was too lazy to cook something else, but this I'm telling you, was to die for! Plus it had the dual purpose of shutting up Chuckie and Salverio for once! Mind you, Saverio's friend Justin filled that role and dished out more humor and talk than Saverio and Chuck combined. His energy was contagious and a with a full belly of one of the best meals I've ever eaten, I was already a winner no matter the result the following day!
The forecast Saturday night called for rain the following morning but when I walked out at 9pm all I saw were stars. I went to bed ready for sunny skies. Lo and behold a few hours later I was awoken by a downpour and knew I would have to re-pack my race bags when I woke up for good. The race director, Brian, assured me on Saturday that we'd get rain. I tend to think positive and disregarded his outlook and focused on staying hydrated!
This was my first duathlon and Chuckie warned they hurt more than triathlons because you essentially start off with a running race and then try to jump on the bike after giving all you've had. This is something that made sense to me but I never fully understood until the gun went off. Holy moley! EVERYONE flew off! It was as though they were in a 400-meter dash. In essence, we were!
Single-track trail started half a mile after the start line and everyone wanted good position prior to it. They started the elite men and women together and the women didn't want to get stuck behind any slower men and took off faster than they probably would have alone. I almost laughed in disbelief because we went through the first mile just over 5-minutes. I was already redlining and it was about two minutes faster than any single mile I'd run yet this year! (This race signifies my first real effort in over a year and I was rudely reminded of the necessary pain in performing well. I had my doubts when I was just about in last place after the 2nd mile.)
But by the end of the 3.7-mile run I was happy to be where I was most comfortable – back in the saddle again. The rain didn't let up but we've had so much in Solvang this year that I honestly hardly noticed it. But what was shocking was the bitter cold: 48-degrees at race start. The bike course started out with some rollers but then essentially went downhill all the way to the turn-a-around. I was glad I dressed head-to-toe. Chuckie advised both Brendan Halpin (fellow athlete coached by V) and myself to dress warmly. Brendan, being a Montana boy and all, decided a singlet was enough! He'll hear about it from Chuckie soon enough, I imagine.
After the turn-around I had already picked off all but three girls: Sam McGlone (2nd place Hawaii IM finisher), Michellie Jones (multiple world champion and Hawaii Ironman Champion) and Leanda Cave (world class triathlete/Ironman Champ). I had already passed a couple other big names including Linsey Corbin, who had only recently come down to the desert to train. (Linsey is another one of those tough Montana triathletes).
With the hills during the second half of the ride I was able to make headway and catch Michellie with a few miles remaining. She stuck to me like glue but I decided not to worry about it and just race my own race. When I got back into transition I was in 3rd place with Michellie at my heels – about 35 seconds from the lead after erasing a 1-minute deficit. My shoes were now waterlogged and the rain still hadn't let up.
I had my usual terrible transition but was able to draw nearer to Michellie and keep her in sight for all the 2.7 mile run. It was single track and there was nowhere to make a pass but I couldn't catch her anyhow. Just before mile 2 we headed up a hill so steep I almost scraped my nose running up it! I made some gains but quickly lost them on the rocky descent. Michellie's long legs covered some serious ground! The last mile or so was on bitumen and loose gravel. I was frothing at the mouth and gave it everything I had. I wanted 3rd place but finished 7 seconds back of a podium spot – until I later learned that Leanda had been penalized one minute for a violation of the helmet strap in transition. So, in the end I placed 3rd overall but in my heart I know I was a 4th place finisher (or "podium perimeter" as Chuckie would say in jest). I was pleased, but knew I still have work to do.
All told, the race gave me the opportunity to get back into racing mode and clear the pipes some; it felt great!
Of course as fate would have it the sun made a strong appearance immediately after the last finisher crossed the line. Weather aside, this is a race I would HIGHLY recommend. In fact, I'm already signed up for next year and know exactly where I'll be staying beforehand! Thanks Marisa and Saverio.