Monday, July 11, 2011

Black Fly Triathlon / Lord of the Flies ...

The Black Fly Triathlon and Lord of the Flies overall competition has been on my radar since the aftermath of last years marathon injury debacle. Actually I planned on the International distance race being my debut last year but my achilles was still so inflamed that I had run nary a step since VCM. This year with my sights firmly set on triathlon I wanted to make a statement that I had arrived. Months ago before I had even registered Black Fly started advertising their race on which is the LetsRun of triathlon. I knew that there would be some incredibly fit athletes coming out of the woodwork for this exciting weekend of racing.

In the spirit of The Tour De France and stage racing in general the Black Fly Triathlon offers a unique three day stage race called the Lord of the Flies competition. The race kicks off Friday night with a four mile prologue on the streets of Waterville Valley. Saturday morning competition continues with an "International" distance triathlon. (1/4 swim, 21 bike, 5 run) Things wrap up Sunday with a sprint triathlon (1/4 swim, 15 bike, 3 run) Waterville Valley is held hostage by their lack of a lake so we swim in the man made ski pond on the town common. All three races are combined to crown The Lord of the Flies at the end of the weekend. Being such a neophyte to the sport I did not think that there would be many participants in the stage race. Much to my surprise it seemed that the majority of the participants were making the LOF into a sort of athletic vacation.

Black Fly Time Trial Friday night: I tried to chill out most of Friday and prepare for what was unquestionably going to be a difficult weekend of work. I fit in a four mile run in the late morning to avoid stale legs when the seven o'clock race time rolled around. Mary and I headed up to Waterville shortly after 4:30 on the advice of her Dad. On the way into the mountains I munched on some oatmeal and sipped a cup of Cafe Monte Alto Peruvian Dark Roast black as night. I was a tad jittery unloading and picking up my packet. Obviously everyone looked extremely fit the majority of people were packing some serious heat in the bike and carbon wheel department. Mary noticed Olympic cross-country skier Kris Freeman picking up a packet so I immediately knew that I was in for a battle. I have an absurd amount of respect for xc ski races and figured that Kris would not be there unless he thought he was in shape to win. After grabbing my packet I made some small talk with Kris about race logistics and his recent performance at Mt. Washington. Around 6:45 I headed out on a warm-up on the race course and surrounding area. The course was incredibly simple and just headed out Route 49 and back into Town Square. The first two miles was mostly downhill followed by a 180 degree turn and back. I knew the long downhill would favor a bigger athlete that could generate more power. I was hoping for something a little more technical that would display fitness and bike handling ability. I rode the course and felt confident that I would be able to minimize time gaps with anyone because of the long climb back into town. We had to line up in numerical order so given my number of 119 and fifteen seconds between every rider I had a long wait in the corral. My wireless computer went completely haywire in line with the hundreds of different wireless signals and frequencies. My only hope was that once I was out of Town Square that I would be able to have accurate mph numbers. As I rode up to the line to get clipped in and held, I thanked the volunteers for their awesome effort. Much to my surprise they told me that I was the first person to thank them all night. They were so grateful that they said that I was going to get the hardest push of the night! Out of the gate I went right to work. Making the 90 degree turn out of town square I sprinted as hard as I could on the horns before settling into my aero position. I knew in the first minute of the ride that I was on and locked in. On the slight uphill out of town I was cruising at 26 mph and had already passed three races. The downhill was a blur and I flew into the turnaround with absolutely no regard for the warning to slow down. I am very confident in my ability to judge turns at speed so I waited to the last nano second to get on the brakes. One of the race directors was working the turn and went nuts during my turn. He was so stoked that I was able to carry as much speed as I did through a 180. I went to work right away on the uphill. I know that I had given away a lot of time on the way down and knew that every second would count heading into the weekend. I made great power up the hill and never broke aero form. The last 600-meters is downhill with two separate 90 degree turns. I came into the first turn wicked hot and an was in the process of passing another races. I only had about an inch of pavement left on my right side before disaster would have struck. I hit the 90 heading into the finish even harder, even feeling the fabric of the safety banner brush against my right arm. I got on the breaks hard after the line and was awash in a sea of lactic acid. I rode right through the chute and out onto a cool down. I knew that recovery was going to be as important as the races. I had no clue how I had stacked up but was very pleased with my effort. I knew that I left it all out there and that whatever the result that I had to be happy. I have never done anything remotely explosive on the TT bike so this was a very new feeling. My race landed my 10th in 10:51. I was less than a minute behind the winner Tyler Wren who is a sponsored pro on the UCI continental circuit. I was fifty-one seconds behind the first person in the LOF and headed into the weekend fifth overall. We jetted home asap so I could catch a late dinner of brown rice before heading off to bed to be back at it for 4:30 the next morning.

Black Fly Tri International Saturday: Out of bed I felt great with apparently no residual traces of the previous night. I fueled up and was out the door before six with Mary in tow. Setting up my transition I already felt in the zone. My training has been going so well that I knew that I was in store for a big day. I significantly shortened my warm-up from the Mooseman from three miles to a single mile. I felt great and was really jittery with excitement. Training is training but when the payoff comes I always want to jump out of my skin! At the start I bolted down the hill and into the water. Obviously the swim is still my weakness and I again found myself not being as aggressive as I know I could have been. I was passing people and being passed at the same time. In the final straight I got excited and knew that my time was just around the corner. Out of the water and up the bank I ran toward the wetsuit strippers and got my suit off faster than even. I sprinted to The Vulture and went to work. I got my helmet, shoes, and glasses on super fast and took the time to take a big hit of watered down Hammer Gel. Running out of T1 I knew that I had drastically improved on my previous race. Again heading out of town I knew that I was having a good day on the bike. I killed it all the way to the valley floor and attacked the first serious hill of the course. I was passing riders the whole way but as I approached half way I noticed one rider that I was not catching so I worked even harder. On this riders backside he had USA and his last name Piper so I figured he must be a someone in the sport. Through the technical lower part of the course I managed to destroy the gap and by them time we headed back onto Route 49 for the climb back into town I was ahead. I think I charged a little to hard again early in the bike leg and payed later on in the ride. I went back and forth with the Piper kid. (He's 20 but that seems young) He got a slight gap up the last hill but I was purposely gearing up for the run. On the fly I decided to take my feet out of my shoes for the first time ever heading into T2. It worked like a dream and I had an excellent dismount into the transition. Bike racked, flats on more Hammer Gel and I was gone. By the time I was out of the chute I knew that everyone was in trouble. I was flying and could barley feel the ride in my legs. Given that I averaged 23.5 mph I was only further emboldened with the knowledge that my training has been spot on. Onto the road I saw Mary, Paul and Kathy going nuts which got me even more excited. Every step I took I kept telling myself that I was putting more time into my GC rivals. The run course of the International race is not a walk in the park. Following a flat first mile we had to climb all the way to the turnaround. Thanks to my recent hill work I demolished the climb. As I approached the turnaround I started seeing races coming back down and only counted six out front. Given that I had started 119th I had a major flash back to The Circle Triathlon last fall. After the turn I stayed in hot pursuit and got even more stoked! In that moment I decided that I was as happy as I had ever been in an athletic competition. At the same time Pearl Jam Alive started blasting in my head which made everything even better. Back into town I saw Mary and the gang one last time so I started kicking like the end of a road race. Apparently people don't usually have a whole lot left after these races so the crowd went nuts. Across the line my mind was such a flutter with so many incredible emotions. I was so high on endorphins that I could have lifted a car off a trapped child. The other racers already in the chute looked at me with a detached sort of curiosity and wonderment. Who the hell was that guy and how was he running so fast. I had to take a few minutes to myself down on the dock to get calmed down before interacting with anyone. Even as I write this I'm sweating thinking about the emotion! Seeing Mary and Paul was the highlight of my day. They know how hard I've been working and where I came from after the accident so it was perfect getting to share my joy with them! (Thanks guys!) To make a long story short heading into the next race recap I finished second overall to a guy just racing the International. The guy put up a huge number on the bike that cancelled out my run so he essentially beat me with a better swim. In the GC I managed a two minute swing over Andrew Clemence that landed me with a fifty-five second lead heading into the sprint. I spent the rest of Saturday trying to maximize my recovery know that it would be the difference maker.

Black Fly Triathlon Sprint Sunday: I woke up at 4:30 and was immediately overwhelmed with a sense of fatigue. I told myself that on the third day everyone was tired. My breakfast was terrible and my awesome dark roast left me feeling jittery and unsettled. For the first time ever I felt a tiny amount of weight racing triathlon. I was the leader, was I going to fold under a cloud of fatigue and my own doubt or was I going to endure and finish what I had started? I did everything the exact same as Saturday morning and as I waited to start the swim I managed to get in the zone. I locked it in my head that I was going to swim harder and leave it all on the bike course. I knew that no matter what happened that I would be able to crank a three mile run at the end like so many endless mind numbing miles before. Into the swim I executed my plan to perfection. I was swimming much harder and not letting myself get lulled into the toxic rhythm of Saturday. Out of the water and into T1 again everything was perfect. Onto the bike I noticed Mary in the field and as I cranked away at full wattage I blew her a kiss. Out on the bike everything was in slow motion from Saturday. I was riding as hard as I possible could but I just was not going as fast. For some stupid reason this made me think about a multitude of things that were beyond my control. How were the guys behind me in the GC riding? Was I falling behind? Finally I got pissed at myself and told my stupid brain to shut the hell up and I got to work. Up the hill with the knowledge that my power was down I used my brain for a more positive activity, thinking. I knew up the hill that my fatigue was causing my diaphragm to tighten so my muscles were not getting as much oxygen as the day before. I adjusted by getting off the aero bars and onto the horns. At the same time I slid way back on the saddle and let my femurs act as longer lever to give me a better mechanical advantage up the climb. I fought every foot of the climb back into town and turned myself inside out. Sweat, snot, and tears were running down my face all at the same time making some sort of alchemists dream potion for hard work. Into the last turn I again removed my shoes and had an incredible dismount. Mary caught it on video and I'll try to post if because it looked pretty sweet. Into T2 my back wheel hit the curb funny and as I was running my bike the back end launched into the air. I managed to get things under control and carried along with the task as hand. I had some trouble with my left shoe but still managed a fast transition. Onto the road I was tired but running with the sort of desperation that consumes every athlete in pursuit of of victory. Again I knew that I was blowing up the race but it was coming at a tremendous cost. I had to have faith in my training and know that I was going to make it to the end. I tried calling up Alive again in my brain but it was not the same. Some notes in the solo were wrong and Eddie's voice did not have the same feeling as the previous day. The last mile I ran as hard as I could and left every single calorie of energy in that valley. Into the chute and across the line and it was over. I again retreated to the dock but today it was to hide my bodies shattered energy level. I had no idea what had happened with the GC and came to the conclusion that I did not really care. There was no possible way that I could have tried any harder for a single second of all three races. I was demolished and living in a unencumbered state of athletic bliss. I had been to the very edge and sat there for three days wondering what would happen if I crept even a centimeter further into the abyss of my own exertion. The four dimensions were swirling around one and other trying to make sense of what seemed senseless; Nirvana.

Once the results were in I was hit with the news that I had picked up the win in the sprint and locked up the overall. Somewhere in the thirty minutes after the race the chains that had been holding me for so long had dissolved into oblivion. I have been daydreaming for months about winning my first triathlon and the feeling of accomplishment that would wash over me like a wave. For some reason I did not feel any of the feelings that I was sure would be present. Somehow in my mind the pursuit has become the quest and winning races seems secondary to exposing everything in this strange new endeavor. I love what I am doing right now more than I have loved any athletic quest in some time. My abusive long term relationship with running seems to have finally led me up a path and left me somewhere where I am ok with myself. Carpe diem.

Back in reality the awards were super cool and I got a ton of maple syrup and an awesome new touchscreen Timex watch for my weekend of work. Everybody was incredible at this race from the directors to the crews on the road. I am so thankful to everyone that was able to make this race into everything I hoped it would be. I will try to post some of Mary's videos later in the week.




  1. Congrats Mark, that's an awesome recap. Glad you're having so much fun with it and the success is no surprise.

  2. Thanks Bob. Keeping things fresh is key. Good luck at Stow this weekend.