We arrived in Ashland Friday afternoon and after unloading The Vulture I decided to do a recon run on the course and see what kind of numbers I was capable of producing. More than anything I was psyched because I felt great on the training ride. My legs were producing power for the first time in weeks and I was riding at speeds that I have not seen since Surry. I really wanted to experiment with the course so I decided to make an all out attack on the hills of Mt. Chocura. I felt great for the duration of the training ride and managed a 22.3 mph average which given the hills felt mildly impressive. Following the ride I headed right out with Mary for a five mile run around Ashland. My legs felt like bricks on the run from hammering the climbs so I started thinking about my strategy for Sunday morning. I decided that giving away some time on the uphills and spinning a low gear in the saddle would leave me fresher for the flats of the final quarter of the bike leg and mostly flat run leg. At dinner Friday night I predicted that a 21.8 mph average would be the key to winning the race.
Sunday morning I was up early for a pretty standard pre-race breakfast and mug of coffee. I packed up and rode down to the race shortly before 7:00. Set-up was a breeze and I scoped out a few athletes that I thought would present a challenge. The Circle organizes their start waves based on when you enter so there were a couple of athletes in the first two waves that would make for interesting carrots. I was in the third wave so I was four minutes down on the first wave and two minutes down on the second wave. There was one particular athlete in the second wave that I was dead set on catching and destroying. He was one of these young triathlon guys that just stinks of arrogance with his USA uniform, visor, and Hed Wheels. Not that I am motivated by anger but I wanted nothing more than to light this guy up!
At the start of the swim I felt great and managed to remember everything that I have been working on in the pool. As the waves were starting I found myself feeling unbelievably nervous. I figured that since I had been feeling so terrible that I would let myself feel a little uneasy hearing into the challenge. I was itching to start so I could figure out if I was finally feeling better. At the horn and into my dolphin dive I got right to work and started harder than I typically do in a race. I could tell instantly that I was one of the better swimmers in the wave and set to finding a clear path around the 400-meter course. I swam really wide lines to avoid the crowd of the other waves and felt great and felt that I was having a super swim. As I turned for the shore I made my only mistake of the swim leg. I misheard which side of the last buoy to swim around so I took a terribly inefficient line the last straight. My best guess is that my mistake cost me twenty seconds but in hindsight I had clear water the whole way to shore. I beached in 6:56 which was a full minute and a half faster than last year so I was off to a good start. Running to the transition I had an amusing thought. At this point in the race with the way the waves are structured I was just a face in the crowd. Hundreds of athletes of all ability levels were coming and going out of the water as I was set to get to work on the bike.
Grabbing The Vulture off the rack I was itching to get to work. I love the prospect of a difficult bike leg and the challenge that it presents. Heading out of the transition I slipped on the pavement but quickly recovered and I was off. Passing Mary I said my favorite line from Step Brothers so she would know that I was on a good day. In the early rollers of the course I felt solid and was already catching a lot of other racers. I was feeling great which was such a pleasant and mildly unexpected surprise! At the base of the first major climb I rode on the aero bars until I was ready to drop down to the small chain ring. I instantly got to work on my plan of spinning up the climbs in the saddle thus saving my legs. Spinning is great but it put my heart rate through the roof and I was looking forward to cresting the first climb as soon as possible. Following a short false flat on top of the climb the course plunges down a long steady descent of freshly paved winding country road that is perfect for speed. I peaked down before the road tilted upward and noticed that I riding forty miles per hour. I was putting a lot of effort into relaxing my breathing and exhaling as much C02 as possible heading into the second climb which is a two part climb that would take eight to ten minutes. The second half of the climb is Bridge of Flowers steep which on a time trial bike is torture. Cresting that climb there was a rider fifty meter in front of me which made me a little nervous heading into the fastest most technical descent on the entire course. Starting to drop I committed to staying on the aero bars and ignoring the two flag men cautioning me to slow down. I dared a quick glance at the computer and saw forty-eight miles per hour which made me nervous and invigorated in the same instant. Onto the flats again I flashed by the rider ahead of me in the blink of an eye. Onto Winona I had my only mental lapse of the day. Finishing off yet another climb I somehow zoned out and lost my rhythm for a few seconds. When I came to I even thought that my rear break was rubbing because I was going so slow. I rebounded fast and made quick work of the last serious climb. I kept to the plan and went to work hammering the flats back into Ashland. Turing onto Thompson Street I could see a rider up ahead and figured that I must be approaching the front of the race. I was super aggressive the last mile of the bike leg and took significant time out of the distant figure who ended up being Mr. condescending, USA, visor guy. Off the bike I stole one last look at the computer and noticed 21.8 as my average speed, right on the plan. I rode 33:05 which was thirty to thirty-five seconds slower than the top guys but I gave that time away on purpose with my plan of spinning up the climbs. I'm pretty confident that had I really thrown down that I could have ridden sub 32:00. T2 was my best transition of my short triathlon career taking a mere eighteen seconds. Visor guy was heading out a few seconds ahead of me so I was extra fired up. Out of the transition I started running as fast as I could which I figured to be about 4:40 mile pace. I knew my plan had worked and that I was in for a fast run leg. I made quick work of visor guy and had a clear road ahead. Suddenly Alive chimed in again like earlier in the summer and all was well in my world. I had a great visual in my head of telescoping away from everyone putting multiple seconds into the field with every stride. Due to construction on the course we had to make an odd detour across a dam on some trails. I figure that it added about thirty to forty seconds to the course from last years race. Crossing the dam a volunteer was holding up two finger telling me that there was still one more athlete up the road. I asked the next volunteer about the gap and he said that it was close to a mile. I had an instant of panic but quickly went back to work killing it with every stride. Even with the doubt I knew that nobody was beating me. Judging from my watch I was on pace to go significantly under fifty- six minutes which would signify a five minute improvement in a year. Nevertheless I drove for home with a fire that my recent issues had tried unsuccessfully to extinguish. Into the crowd and across the line I stopped my watch at 55:38 which given recent circumstances I was thrilled with. My plan had worked to perfection and I managed to execute a great race from start to finish.
Reflecting on the race I was thrilled to bounce back and race up to my potential one last time. My swim and ride were both significantly faster and despite the "longer" run course I was faster there as well. I also destroyed my goal of breaking one hour which I had been thinking about the previous couple of weeks. More than anything however I was excited to feel like myself. I felt strong and in control the entire race which was a huge departure from the past three weeks when I have felt weak and unable to produce any sort of power on demand. Hopefully this race will signify my body turning a corner heading into the fall racing season which is still to be determined at this point.