The 2014 racing season is finally over for me. After what seemed like a never ending gap between HyVee and Oceanside, I was finally able to toe the line again this past weekend at the Lifetime Series Finale in Oceanside, CA. Going into the race the goals were very simple. Win the race, and beat Ben. Winning the race is obvious. As Herm Edwards so eloquently put it, “You play to win the game.” This race however, had a subplot, or a goal 1B if you will that involved winning the overall Lifetime Fitness Series Title for the 3rd year in a row. For me to do that it was simple, beat Ben, and you win. Lose to Ben and he win’s.
On the one hand I felt lucky to still be mathematically in contention after my flat in NYC and my course mishap in Chicago I thought my chances of a 3-peat were dashed. Luckily, for me there are double points at the finale, and because of that winning was still possible.
I was coming into the race feeling really good about my fitness and where I was at swimming, and cycling, but my real improvements in training had been coming on the run recently. Running has always been my achilles when it comes to winning races and throughout this season I was training great, but had yet to see the results during a race. I knew with so many ITU guys in the field, and with Ben running so well as of late, this race was going to come down to the run. The bike course sets up really well for the peleton to ride together so putting 3 minutes into the guys wasn’t going to happen. I was going to have to do this as a true triathlon. No weakness’s, all 3 sports needing to be on point.
The swim went as expected with Tommy Zafares taking the lead early, and while I wished I had been able to stay on his feet a bit longer and pull the group around a little less, I was feeling strong and comfortable throughout the chilly non-wetsuit swim. I had a good T1 and lead the group out in pursuit of Tommy who was 45 seconds or so up the road. As we got out onto the highway I was feeling strong and already putting some time into the boys, while I closed my gap to the lead.
After the two laps on the highway I had 45 seconds to Ben, and another 10 or so so Hunter, Gomes, Joe, and the few others. As is always the case more is better so I tried to really keep the pressure on as we headed back into Oceanside and up and down South Pacific. As I said the road was super narrow, which tends to allow groups to form and the officials have a hard time doing anything about it, so every time I saw the group I just tried to add a little more time. As I headed into T2, I knew the lead was solid, but certainly not something that would last if I didn’t have a great run as well.
The saying goes, “you swim and ride for show, and run for dough,” and on Sunday that was for sure the case. The run was two loops, with u-turns at each end, providing plenty of feedback as to gaps and how guys were feeling. That’s always a double edged sword though, because while its nice to know, I generally prefer the out of sight, out of mind courses where guys can’t get that extra motivation from knowing they are closing a gap.
I was feeling solid, and running well, and maintained the lead until 4 or so miles when I was caught by Joe Maloy, who is fast becoming the best ITU athlete America has. I wasn’t able to match his pace, so I continued to focus on my race and keep stepping off the distance to the finish. At about 5 miles Hunter went by me, and although I wasn’t able to match the pace I did up my tempo a bit and try and stay with him for as long as I could. Then it happened…Ben caught me right before the final u-turn at 5 some miles. CRAP!!!!
This is not how this was supposed to be going. I knew I was running well, I knew I hadn’t slowed down, but he had still reeled in the 45 seconds I had and was starting to pull away from me. I jumped on his feet and tried to match the pace, but immediately was mentally struggling to push on when I was already hurting so much. Honestly, I thought it was over. Historically, if I get caught I’m done, and my mind just concedes. I knew I was running stronger and better than I ever have and as the gap got up to about 10 feet I forced myself to dig for one more surge to get back to his feet.
At the time it was more an exercise in mental toughness, but as I surged I realized I was actually moving back up on him. As we got to the 6mi mark I was within a couple feet, and I looked over his shoulder and I could see my Mom up ahead on the side of the road cheering. Its funny how its your parents who can cheer you on to great things when you are a kid, and apparently that doesn’t change when you grow up. Seeing my Mom was the final shot of adrenaline I needed to play my cards and try and sprint around Ben. We could see the finish and had about 300 meters to go and I thought that was my best chance to surprise him. I went around as hard as I could, and for 200 yards did what we do in practice, and suffered.
As I finally took a glance over my shoulder in anticipation of having to try and kick again I realized he wasn’t there. I had broken him, and was able to enjoy the last few feet with some primal screaming and fist pumping. I guess thats my thing. Looking back on 3 major wins of mine, St Anthony’s in 2010, US Open in 2012, and Oceanside 2014, I have great photo’s of me belting a battle cry and flexing my ever shrinking endurance athlete arms.
I did it. I finally was able to re-pass another athlete in a huge race with a lot on the line. Maybe my running really is finally coming around!
To finish this off I need to say a couple thanks to the people that helped me accomplish another great year of racing. First and foremost thanks to my amazing wife and family that have always supported me in everything I do. Thanks to my coaches Neal and Grant @Apexcoaching for keeping me focused and on the right path. Finally, thanks to Erin Carson @ecfitboulder, for making me stronger and keeping me injury free, and to Dr Stephen Melis @steveproactive, for keeping the body in working order!
I have too many amazing sponsors to mention here but I will be doing another post soon highlighting both my sponsors and exactly which of their respective products that I use to achieve my best results!
Now its time for some much needed rest and recover, lots of family time, and a few extra beers!