In October of 2010 I joined some friends on a relay team for the Pinnacle Challenge in Newport, New Hampshire. That year was significant on many levels most notably, it was my first year of multi-sport racing. I was still weeks away from owning my first time-trial bike but I knew that I would one day complete the Pinnacle solo in a course record time.
Fast forward two years and my goal was finally realized. For those not familiar with the Pinnacle Challenge it follows a very unique format. The race is a dual duathlon consisting of a five mile road run, six mile technical mountain bike ride, a fourteen mile TT, and a three point eight mile trail run. Given my strength on the run and TT bike the race seems like a no brainer for a body smashing success.
I woke up Sunday morning and was greeted by a deluge of rain! Coupled with the epically wet conditions the temperature was hovering at a steady forty-one degrees. Unquestionably less than ideal conditions for my sinewy frame. Loading my bikes my hands were already frigid and I had serious doubts about success. I had to man up and go regardless of the conditions because I had been claiming all year that I could challenge Team Four-Runners for the overall title. Grudgingly I headed out in the gloom and fog to Newport to check another race of my list.
Check-in was a snap at the race because I was the second person in the parking lot leaving me ample time to set-up my transition. For some reason I was under the impression that the temperature was going to climb dramatically as the sun rose but as I was setting up that delusion evaporated with what little body heat I had remaining from the car ride. Knowing that there was rain in the forecast I had the foresight to pack a large contractor bag to place over my transition towel, shoes, and race fuel. When everything was set I headed out on the road for a ten minute warm-up. There was palpable tension in the air between myself and team Four-Runners. The race was so localized that it really didn’t seem like anyone else was there prior to the start.
At the gun I was aggressive off the line. I knew that Greg Hammett was less than two weeks removed from a marathon so I was very curious to see what he was capable of. I knew that Greg knew that I needed to be careful so he took the race out faster than he typically would have for a five miler on stale legs. I fought every urge that I had to race and I settled into rhythm with my former high school teammate Neal Graves. It was really awesome racing with Neal for the first time in over a decade. I was filled with nostalgia clipping along at a crisp 5:10 per mile pace. Neal and I went back and forth literally hundreds of time over the course of two years in the later part of my high school career. It was so fun to have a decade of perspective to make all of those memories even better. Mile markers were nonexistent on the course so I was racing entirely on feel. It was so hard watching Greg up the road knowing that it was to much of a risk to try and run stride for stride with him. On the way back to the transition I had to fight to hold back. I caught myself racing a few times but I quickly managed to settle back into an appropriate pace. Temperature wise I felt great on the run. The rain was not a factor and my core temperature was high enough that I was contemplating shedding my arm warmers for the remainder of the race. Into the transition crossing the line in 26:03 the announcer was very surprised to see an individual in second place. I calmly made my way to my rack and prepared for the second leg.
The transition was very frustrating because as I was getting to my equipment George Adams was already pedaling away toward the woods. While getting into my trusty Sidi shoes from 1995 I took extra time to take in some nutrition. Out of the transition and on to the mountain bike course I immediately felt good and was ready to enact my plan of riding tempo up the mountain and then screaming down the hill while taking as many risks as possible. Entering the woods the second place team’s mountain bike rider past me like I was standing still en-route to the fastest split of the day. On the first section of aggressive single track my plan quickly came into question. Everything on the course was dangerously slippery and every time I attempted an aggressive line I either fell or nearly fell. In the second mile I somehow managed to get a large branch tangled in my back wheel. Knowing the history of mechanical failures in this race I decided that it was in my best interest to stop and remove the branch before continuing on my way. At that point I really locked into having fun on The Demon. Literally from that point on I had an ear to ear smile on the mountain bike. The Pinnacle course is without question a technical riders course. Years in the woods of Goose Pond make for fantastic test preparation but even that is no comparison for Pinnacle. As I rode over the summit I dared a quick glance to my right to soak in a tiny glimpse of the fog obscured vista. All week long I had been thinking of Elijah and how much he would have loved this race. He has been slipping into my thoughts a lot lately as I fall deeper and deeper into the multi-sport lifestyle. Past the summit these feelings manifested outwardly in a joyous primal scream (RIPECB). Onto the single track decent the adrenaline of the race mixed with the pure unfettered joy of racing took over. Suddenly I was alone on the course. Suddenly it wasn’t about beating anyone or any team. I was alone pushing against every urge in my body in the pursuit of sadistic self-satisfaction and inner revelation. I rocked the last downhill section and emerged onto the field without any idea of where I stood in the race. Whatever the result of the mountain bike leg I had had an experience on so many levels that made me happy and proud.
Into the transition for the second time the announcers excitement continued to grow. I quickly made my way to my towel again and followed the same procedure as I prepared to wreak havoc on The Vulture. I fueled well again but I had the startling realization that I had forgotten to put an electrolyte tablet in my aero bottle when I prepared my bike in the parking lot. Out of the transition I was very surprised at how great I felt as I settled into position. I was mildly concerned about the electrolyte tablet and the fact that after a half a mile that I was already getting cold. I had two hundred calories on board and thirty-two ounces of water so I figured I could managed. For the first two miles of the bike leg I had no idea of my standing in the race. That quickly changed a few minutes later when I saw a bike up the road. Judging from the position I knew that it was Josh and I immediately got fired up and caught in the moment. Third Eye by Tool was raging in my head which made the moment even better. I was making great power and with every pedal stroke it seemed like I got significantly closer to Josh. In the first third of the TT I managed to take back the two minutes that I had lost the first two legs and was back into second overall. The Pinnacle road bike course feature a fairly significant climb just prior to the half way point. I had to smirk as I started the ascent because the first place team had come into my view for the first time. Unfortunately on the climb my fear of cramps came into focus. My hamstrings were starting to cramp for the first time in my life and I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about that. I eased my effort level over the summit of the climb and tried to take in as many deep breaths as possible. I had been redlining for eighty straight minutes in forty-three degree wet conditions without any electrolytes. Cramps were inevitable! On the next uphill section I took a calculated risk and jumped out of the saddle and hammered twenty or so revolutions. My lower back was tight from the mountain bike leg and that tightness seemed to be cramping my hamstrings. I got back in the saddle and focused on ratcheting back my effort level ever so slightly with the knowledge that I technical trail run was in my immediate future. Back onto route ten I was really starting to feel the effort. I gritted and ground out every last revolution trying to get back to my racing flats. I ended up averaging twenty-three and a half miles per hour for the road TT. Given the severity the climb it was easily a twenty-four and a half mile effort. After the TT I was cooked!
Into the transition I heard the announcer mention the possibility of a sub two hour individual effort which shot my adrenaline through the ceiling. I took extra time to fuel as my rack neighbor unclipped my helmet. Out of the transition the effort was apparent and the effect of the temperature and rain were clearly coming into focus. My feet felt like casters on the bottom of a piano because of the lack of blood flow for the last hour. I knew that I would be fine but I was in the hurt box on every level. Into the wood my hamstrings cramped for the first time and I became interested like a spectator at what was going to happen next. I was out of my head for a few minutes watching myself struggle up the ski jump wondering how it would all work out. Onto the single track the situation continued a rapid decent and I had to stop and stretch my right hamstring on a tree. I was laughing a sick sinister laughter at the absurdity of my current predicament. Was a seventy-five cent electrolyte tablet going to cost me the whole race? After about forty seconds I started up the trail again only to get hit with the same cramp in my left hamstring. Laugh, stretch, wonder, repeat. I walked a few strides and took some deep breaths before resuming my run. It is so easy to give up when your breaking down badly on the race course. Everything hurt so bad and literally every step I took my body was trying to stop me in my tracks with debilitating cramps. It was that old saying that is repeated over and over again in my head. Pain is pain. Once you accept that it is there you can learn to deal with its effects. Really I had felt the same for the last hour so what was another fifteen minutes going to cost me in the long run? I was at the junction where I was going to have to decide to attack the rope climb or go up the side trail. I have always said that if I did the race on my own that I would opt for the the rope climb to be hardcore. In the back of my mind I knew that if I attempted the rope climb that my legs had the potential to totally lock up leaving me to walk the remainder of the race. Fortunately because of the wet conditions the rope was not an option and I safely made my way to the summit. Once things leveled out I took it easy for another few minutes knowing that there was a chance that I would need to summon an effort to race Fyffe the last couple of miles. Once I was on the decent I was amazed that my legs seemed to loosen up and allow me to race. I started to attack the decent and was having the same rocking time that I had on the mountain bike leg. Amazingly I managed to stave off more cramping and I was able to get back to a typical race pace. I rocketed the final downhill and emerged onto the field and summoned a fighting finish. I still had the idea in my head that I was going to have to sprint with Justin so I threw every last ounce of effort into getting to the finish. Across the line and into the chute I let out a big “Woooooooooooooooooo” to cap off the race. The last two hours of effort smashed my body all at once and I felt physically ill. The satisfaction of the effort was washing over my body in a frenzy of misfiring nerve synapses and flashing warning lights. After a few minutes I tried to gather my belongs but my hamstrings were so destroyed that I couldn’t even bend over to pick up a shirt.
In total the race ended up taking two hours three minutes and fifty-five seconds. I’m certain that if I would have had the electrolyte table that I would have ridden the second half of the TT faster and rocked the run. I know that sub two hours is possible under the right conditions but unfortunately it will have to wait a few years. Apparently the Pinnacle Challenge in its current form is going away until further notice. This is such a uniquely challenging event and I hate to see it disappear.
I’m going to chill out for a couple of weeks to let things bounce back. The reality of the day was that this was a marathon effort. Two days after the race I still feel like I was beaten by a gang of club toting thugs while blindfolded in a sack. Also I’m going to put The Vulture away for awhile and get back to slow miles on The Soloist.
Time for some yard work!