If you live in the southern one third of the U.S., you get to enjoy some pretty nice winter weather. If you live in the upper two thirds of the U.S., you know the misery of trying to train for multisport races from November through March. It can be horrible. Yes, with the all cool equipment and gadgets now available, you can train fairly well if you love sitting on your bike staring at a device or TV for hours on end. Having a National Championship race the first weekend of April is very early in the year for those in the upper two thirds of the country and yes, I’m one of those lucky people!
The difference in my fitness level and race sharpness each year from late March to say, August or September, is massive. Top fitness, ideal race weight and feeling like I’m in race shape (vs. “good”shape) well, those just don’t happen when winter is ending.
But, we hopped in our car to head for South Carolina to race in the non-drafting, sprint distance, National Championship Duathlon, a run-bike-run race. It would be fairly short and very fast. A 3.1 mile first run, followed by a 12 mile bike and then a final 1.8 mile run would be the challenge. Those distances aren’t challenging. The challenge would be to get to the finish line as fast as possible, beating as many there as possible. My goal? To get there first.
I knew I wasn’t in top form…not even close…not compared to the end of the summer, but I was ready to do my best and see what happened.
Race morning was cold. Very cold. Like 38 degrees kind of cold with a north wind. Yes, there was a race that morning, but it wasn’t mine. Mine was at 1:00 p.m. when it had warmed up to 50 degrees which was ideal. After setting up my bike and transition area and a good warmup of jogging, stretching, drills and pick-ups, I headed with Jen towards the starting line and she went up the hill to get some good pics.
I was in the third wave – age 50 and up men. A final pre-race pic or two and we were ready! We lined up and waited out the last few minutes.
Just after the start, we headed up the hill right past Jen. My goal was to get up the hill and recover from the craziness of a fast group start, then settle into a pace I could hold for the initial 5K.
I was running with a friend from Omaha, Paul, and we paced each other nicely for the first mile, though we both knew that a sub-6:20 per mile pace was too quick. The course was a two-loop oval with 180-degree turnarounds at the ends of the oval. After a mile, a guy started to run by me and I saw a 63 (his age) written on his leg. Uh-oh! Ok, game on. I thought, “I canNOT let this guy get away.
I didn’t know what place(s) we were in. I knew it had to be in the front or close to the front of our age group. Twice he started to pull away from me and I refused to let him go. Man, he was turning me inside-out and the race was only in it’s first phase. I dug as deeply as I dared and it was just enough to stay on his shoulder as we headed towards the transition from the run to the bike.
I’ve always tried to have the fastest transitions, getting in and out as fast as possible. I think I had the third fastest combined transitions in my age group this race. There had been one athlete in our group who had beaten the guy I ran with and me to T1 by 25 seconds. But, very early in the bike, I’d passed him not knowing what place I was in or noticing him. All I knew was that IF I had a chance of winning the national championship it was going to happen on the bike. The LAST thing I wanted to do was to have to duke it out with some speedy runner on the second run.
So, I took off and rode as fast I could over that 12 mile, fairly hilly course. I had great confidence in my bike and I rode my heart out. Six miles of the course were actually on an interstate that had been closed just for the race. So cool. As I reached that point and started down the entrance ramp, I told myself, “Interstates are made for speed, so let’s GO!” I focused…really concentrated on great cycling technique. The interstate portion was basically one big downhill then up, then turn around and head down, then back up to the road that brought us back to the race site. That road was my last chance to give it everything I had and I laid it all out for those final three miles. I still had no idea what place I was in. I did know that no one had passed me on the bike. I came into T2 and ran, pushing my bike as quickly as possible to my spot on the rack. I racked my bike and struggled just a bit getting my shoes on. Rats! Took off heading back up to the main road where the first run had been. Honestly, I felt like garbage.
Jen was waiting at the top and as I ran by her she said, “You’re ahead by a minute, but don’t you DARE back off!” She had the race app that shows where the athletes are in real-time as the race unfolds. I was hurting. Bad. Legs felt like dead stumps of wood. Seriously, I was done. “Burned” all the “matches” I had on the first run and bike. But, the second run is only the equivalent of seven laps around a track. Only seven! So, I measured it mentally and figured I had two laps worth of running north, then 180 degree turn and three more laps back and down a hill. Then the final 180 degree turn and the last two laps back to the park entrance leading down to the finish line.
At the first 180 degree turn I saw several guys who looked like they were in my age group coming… I figured if I could hold my pace and if my muscles didn’t cramp up or tighten I might hold the lead. Just after that first turn with about one and a half miles to go, a gal ran by me. What a great runner. She made it look easy. So, I decided to not let her get away from me. Pick up the pace. Stay behind her and let her pull me along. That would force my pace to stay high.
Running that last mile or so, I couldn’t help but think, “Man, if I can just push a bit more, I’ll have my third national championship!” I truly was spent, but it’s amazing how that thought I just mentioned motivates!! Drive! Push! Dig deep! Only one track “lap” left! You’ve got this!!
I made the final turn down a hill into the park, then a 90 degree turn and 50 ft. to the finish line. I crossed it as they announced my name. I waited for something like, “Congratulations, Lincoln! You’re first in the 60-64 age group!” They’d done that at triathlon nationals last August…but nothing. What did that mean?
I bend over for quite a while as I was lightheaded. The finish line volunteers were great giving me time to recover a bit, taking my timing chip off, putting a finishers award around my neck and giving me a bottle of water. As I walked out of the finish chute, I saw another guy with “60” on his leg! What? Did he come in after I’d finished or did he beat me? No idea. Jen came down and I asked her if I won? She said yes…she thought…was pretty sure…the app had quit working! We got in the results line where they print out your time and place finish. It wasn’t working. The Wi-Fi for the whole race area was slowed to a crawl and not giving anyone any information. Grrrrrr… Worried. Jen was sure (almost) that I’d won. Hung with a couple of other Cornhuskers, Tom W. and Paul B. as we waited...
Well, after over an hour the results finally came up and yes, Jen was right. Of course. I should never doubt her. She called me Doubting Thomas. Ha. THAT was one tough race where I did what I’ve coined, “raced beyond my training.” That’s when you’re racing faster than your training has prepared you. Sometimes we have to do that. Sometimes in doing so, we blow up, crash and burn. Sometimes, we somehow hold it together to the end and finish faster than we should have.
This was the case for me. The results said I’d averaged 6:17 per mile in the first 5K. I’d averaged over 23 mph on the bike and averaged a 6:19 pace for the second run. No way I was in shape to do that. But, Nationals (or anyone’s “A” race”) can pull something out of us we didn’t think was there. Motivation. It’s all about motivation. Being in the hunt for a national championship? That’ll pull something out!
What fun to go to the awards ceremony and receive some cool stuff for being the Grand Master (Over 60) Champ and again for winning the 60-64 age group.
This race unfolded perfectly with that guy I had to stay with on the first run. Then, giving about 98% on the bike, knowing that IF I won, it would happen on the bike. Finally, having that gal run by me on the second run was perfect to pace me to a faster run than if I’d been alone. Sometimes races go great. Sometimes they fall apart like a Jenga game. This one came together perfectly.
I’m so thankful for the companies for whom I’m an Ambassador. They’ve helped me with wonderful products, encouragement and motivation. Lots of family and friends were praying that I’d have a good race and do my best with my body cooperating fully with the effort. I’m thankful to the Lord that those things happened. I’m thankful for Jen who made the long road trip with me and listened to all my pre-race doubting. She did the course recon with me and got a lay of the land so she knew exactly where to be to get great pics and give the right encouragement!
Finally, there were a lot of dogs at this race. Jen took as many pics of dogs as she did the race. Ha! This upside-down bulldog is a pic of how I felt at the end. Yep. Dog tired!! But grateful beyond words!
I think of my friend Jamie Whitmore, World Champion triathlete and Olympic Gold Medal cyclist and her motto for racing: "By God's strength. For God's glory." Yes! I was raised with a strong faith and an old hymn we used to sing in church was, "Take my life and let it be, consecrated Lord to thee." About a week before the race, a line from this hymn stuck in my mind and became my theme. "Take my feet and let them be, swift and beautiful for thee, swift and beautiful for thee." Amen!