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Lake Logan Half – Race Report

The inaugural Lake Logan Half was a great race on so many levels. That sentence could be the end of this race report but I’ll write a little more, I suppose.

While looking for a good tune-up race for Ironman Chattanooga, SetUp Events announced that they would host a half ironman-distance race in Canton, N.C., about 8 weeks before IMChoo. Perfect. I signed up. The other option was Toughman Alabama 6 weeks before Choo, but 70.3 miles in Mid-August in Alabama didn’t sound like much fun, so I headed to the mountains of Western N.C. Smart choice.

I’ll keep it somewhat brief. My goal was a solid all-around race, with good nutrition and a negative-split on the run. I almost did it. Missed the negative split by :19.

I drove up the night before with coach Chance and met with friend/training partner, Tad, who is also doing IMChoo.

This is Tad. He likes smiling. Smiling is his favorite.
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Tad booked a sweet two-bed place (for the 3 of us) in a bed-and-breakfast located about 20 mins from the race site. It was classy. I was appreciative of his accommodations-locating skills. Chance and I brought our own pillows so we wouldn’t be confused by other pillows we might find in the room. (Planes, Trains and Automobiles reference.)
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Race morning arrived. I rubbed myself down with some anti-chafing products.

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The lake was beautiful.

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My swim was less than beautiful. Nice alligator-eyes technique though…

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My swim disappointed me. Chance will never let me borrow his TYR Freak of Nature wetsuit again. I’m not worthy. But my abs look pretty solid in it.

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The last part of the swim ended in the stream which feeds the lake. The water temperature was already a brisk 67F and dropped about 10 degrees as soon as you swam under a bridge and into the stream. It was refreshing, but still very cold. I survived it by sucking up buttercups.

Jump out of the water, run to transition, grab a couple bites of food I had set aside in T1, grab the bike and run out.
photo 1 (5)This would be my first time race in the new Fusion Speedsuit. I loved it. For part of my nutrition, I blended some UCAN and a banana and put it in a gel flask. The flask fit perfectly in the side thigh pocket of the speedsuit. I wanted to chug one flask down before heading out on the bike and then take one with me, but I couldn’t find the other flask. UGH. (I would later find it under the wetsuit I had discarded.)

As I ran out of T1, Chance (fully aware that I was annoyed by my mediocre swim) had some key words of wisdom. “Don’t try to catch everybody in the first 5 miles!” Noted. Off I went.

photo 4My goal for the bike leg was to finish with an avg HR of 155. I almost nailed it… 157 was my final average. I was happy with the bike effort. I even managed to snag a Strava KOM on a descent, showing #SuperGeorge Darden who the boss was!

This is George.

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photo 1He crushed everybody and won the race by 10 mins, almost breaking the 4-hr mark in the process. He’s a crazy-fast, unassuming school teacher and new father of twins to boot! He ran 5:55 pace. Oh, he also ran a 2:58 marathon at Ironman Wisconsin last year… 5th fastest run overall, including the pros. He’s not normal… moving on.

While on the bike, I passed Tad – who had a great swim – at about Mile 15 or so. I got a shout-out from super-friendly Candace from Augusta, and saw Tara “Bull” Owens. (pictured below)photo 5For much of the bike portion, I swapped pacing duties with a 39-year-old guy in a Big Sexy Racing kit. We were a pretty good tag team, keeping our distance to be sure not to draft, but allowing each other to take turns setting the pace. I came into T2 just :10 seconds ahead of him.

Coming off the bike, I knew I had been smart enough to leave some in the tank for the run. But had I taken in enough nutrition on the bike to get through the run? To be safe, I grabbed a couple of small bites of nutrition (almond butter and banana cut into bite-sized pieces on a rolled-up tortilla shell) in T2 and off I went.

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The run was 2 loops out and back. You went up a slight incline (about 3%) on the way out and back down it on the way back. It was good to have some local knowledge (i.e. a coach who ran the entire course while we were all out on the bike) . “Don’t go too hard on the way out, you will pay for it on the second lap!” Noted.

I was careful about my pacing, but had a feeling I might be able to run about :15 faster per mile than the original race plan we had discussed…  so I gave it a go. If I was wrong, I would get an earful. I planned not to be wrong.

Halfway through, I still felt pretty strong going up the hill. At the turnaround, it was “easy street” with a slight descent all the way to the finish line.
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Finished with a 1:31:21 (7:25/mile) run and a 4:31:08 overall time. (Truth be told, the course was short.) Still, I was happy with my race. Everything but the swim…  I crossed the line 15th overall out of 317 male finishers, good enough for 3rd place in the highly-competitive “old man” 40-44 AG. My first half-ironman distance podium. (I won the 40-44 AG at Mountain Madness Half 2 years ago, but the swim had been canceled.) Still, I was a happy camper.

As I said at the start, there were a lot of great things about this race. The venue, the course, the results… I’d love to toe the line again next year. But the best part of the entire trip BY FAR was stopping at a killer BBQ joint on the way home, stuffing ourselves full of ribs and then topping it off with a Dairy Queen Blizzard.  My kind of post-race nutrition plan…

 

 

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Tri The Parks Blalock Lakes Sprint – race report

This past weekend marked the first race of my 2014 season. I figured that’s worth at least a brief race report.

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The Tri The Parks triathlon series is a well-known, long-standing set of races in Georgia. TriBlueSky does a GREAT job with the races and the May 31 Blalock Lakes sprint, the 2nd race in the series, was no exception. The course is very fair, but still challenging for all levels of racers.  The 15-mile bike is mostly rolling hills, allowing you to go fast on flat sections and descents and keep a steady pace on the uphills.

The 600M swim takes place in a small lake in the middle of a neighborhood. The water temp was 80F on race day (no wetsuit).

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The bike course does one loop on the open roads surrounding the area. There were a few turns, but everything was well-marked and the volunteers (thank you!) did a great job of making sure you knew when a turn was approaching. (I may or may not have a history of making wrong  turns in races).

The run course is an out-and-back over the rolling hills of the neighborhood. The best way to describe the course is “honest”. It makes you work for it. If you are willing to dig deep and do the work, you can make up ground on your competitors. If you slack off and let the hills get to you, you’ll quickly be caught or passed by others.

I was fortunate to be able to do this race with some great friends and teammates on the All3Sports Race Team. This is a top-notch group of athletes supported by one of the industry’s top triathlon shops. All3Sports also sponsors the race series and is on site to support ALL athletes, not just those who race as part of the team, during the Tri The Parks races.

Now for the actual race. Quick background… I’ve done an Ironman-distance triathlon before, qualified for the Boston Marathon and completed numerous half ironman-distance races before, but I had never done a sprint-distance tri. As somebody who likes to race, not just “finish”, I knew the translation of the term “sprint” was “PAIN!” How much pain was I willing to endure?

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(Photo: Beau Bearden)

Looking around, I knew there were some fast dudes in my age group (40-44). I would have to be ready to go right from the gun if I had any chance of a podium spot. My swim has improved, but I haven’t done an open-water swim in a LONG time. It showed. I went HARD for the first 100M of the swim and then had hoped to be able to settle into a rhythm. No such luck. I hung near the front of the pack for a bit, but eventually began to drop off. Every time I looked up, there seemed to be more green swim caps in front of me. I felt like I needed to cough up something stuck in my throat and kept drifting slightly off-line. By the time I reached the 2nd buoy and made the turn to head for home, I was FINALLY able to start feeling good and began passing some people.

SWIM TIME: 12:11 (7/32 in AG)

With a less-than-stellar swim, transition times were going to be critical. I wore a TYR Torque Elite swim skin over my tri suit. I reached back and yanked on the zipper as I exited the water, stripped it off, put my helmet on, grabbed the bike and ran out of T1. My shoes were already clipped in with a rubber band keeping them in position for a quick mount. (Maybe I could have saved a few seconds without the swim skin, but it felt fast in the water. Plus, I bought it so I was going to use it!)

SWIM-TO-BIKE TRANSITION: 00:43.5 (7/32 in AG)

The bike was a bit uneventful. With a big week of training still in my legs heading into the race, the legs felt a bit sluggish at times. I was hoping to average 23mph, but lost some momentum on some small climbs and finished with a 22.4 mph/avg. One other unexpected issue was my rear derailleur. I couldn’t get it to shift down into the smallest ring in the back, costing me some speed on the fastest sections of the course. (Note to self: take bike to All3Sports before every race for a quick tune-up.)

BIKE TIME: 00:39:22.5 (6/32 in AG)

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(Photo: Beau Bearden)

Looking to make up some more time in T2, I slipped my feet out of my shoes as I approached the bike finish, threw my right leg over the saddle and cruised to the dismount line on top of my shoes with both legs on the left side of the bike. (I see pros do it this way so I know I must have looked super-cool and awesome.) As long as I didn’t do a face-plant when dismounting, all would be good. I approached the line and jumped off… I stayed upright. Bonus.

Ran into transition, racked the bike, slipped on my shoes (Yankz/Lock Laces are the key to fast bike-to-run transitions). Also, don’t bother with socks. It’s just 3.1 miles. Deal with it.

BIKE-TO-RUN TRANSITION: 00:23.4 (2/32 in AG) Only super-speedy Dan Arnett – pictured below – was faster.

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On to the run… this is where the pain comes in. I’d been doing a lot of speed work in run training lately with my coach, Chance Regina of AVC Endurance.

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He has pushed me to do some runs that I didn’t think I was capable of. It was time to see if it would pay off. Before the race, we had both agreed that a “good day” meant that I would be able to average 6:30/mile or better. A “bad day” would have been 6:45/mile or worse. (Over the previous three weeks, we had done a series of 90-minute runs together with 6×1-mile repeats @6:20/mile in the middle of the run. On the most recent one, we averaged 6:14/mile over the 6 repeats. None of those runs were off of the bike on a hilly course though… the jury was still out.)

Never having run the course before, all I knew was that it had some rolling hills. I was prepared for this and knew that if I kept it steady up the hills, crested them with a few hard strides and then let the legs roll out as I went down the hills, I’d be fine. That was the plan.

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10376166_10204205905252625_9156283342038990588_n(Photos: Beau Bearden)

This is where I discovered the good and bad part about a sprint tri. The good: it’s ONLY 3.1 miles. The bad: it’s a HARD 3.1 miles. If it doesn’t hurt when you run a 5k, you’re doing it wrong. I just kept telling myself “it will be over in 20 minutes. Push hard!”

The run starts out going up a few small uphill sections. Ouch. After the first mile, the legs came around and I was able to settle into a decent pace. On the way out, I saw several familiar faces heading back to the finish, but I wasn’t sure what place I was in. I knew I’d be close to the podium. Once I hit the turnaround, it was good to know that there was only about 1.5 miles to go. Time to push. I began passing people, including one guy in my AG. I knew once he saw the “43” on my calf as I passed, he would be coming after me. I kept waiting to hear his footsteps fade into the distance. As long as I could still hear them, I knew I had to bury myself. (sure enough, after the finish… he told me he was trying hard to chase me down.) I was pleased I was able to hold him off.

I dug deep and pushed hard over the closing 1/2 mile for a 19:49 run. (6:22 avg). This was by far the best part of the day. I had put in a lot of work on my run and it paid off. Like I said, it’s an honest course. If you put in an honest effort, you’ll be rewarded.

RUN TIME: 19:49.5 (2/32 in AG) — A 5k PR – I haven’t run many 5ks either.)

Now the bad news. Thanks to my awful swim, I was 4th in the 40-44 AG by :19. No podium for me. Lesson learned.

FINISH TIME: 1:12:30.6 (18/344 overall 4/32 AG)

After the race, I got to hang out with friends and others on the All3 team. A good time was had by all. Next up: Tri The Parks Blalock Lakes – Olympic distance on June 21.

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Mountain Madness Half Iron Race Report

The Mountain Madness Half Iron Triathlon is a Zone5Events production. The name of the race company is all you need to know. They push things to the extreme. One of the race directors told me this via Twitter before the event —  “if we could find a way to put a hill in the swim, we would.

With the race-day temperature in the low 50s and a driving rain storm soaking the Atlanta area (and most of the Southeast U.S.) for several days leading up to the race, this was destined to be an epic event. Unfortunately, the rain stopped briefly before the race, producing a think fog on the lake. In the true spirit of the event, one of the race directors actually said — “it might seem weird saying this, but it would be better if it started to rain again.”

This was the lake the night before… peaceful.
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The 7 am start time came and went. After two 30-minute delays it was clear that the fog wasn’t going to go anywhere and the swim was canceled for safety reasons. This was the correct call as the first buoy, less than 100 yards from shore, wasn’t visible.

In addition, due to the amount of rain in the area, the 56-mile bike leg had to be shortened to 48 miles, eliminating the 6-mile Fort Mountain “King of the Mountain” climb that attracts many athletes to the event. Again, this was the correct call for safety reasons. While most competitors who had done the race in the past said the descent wasn’t very technical, a lot of others were expressing concerns.

Instead of the swim, the race began with a time-trail bike start. I had never been involved with a time-trial start before. It was pretty cool. I felt like Lance Armstrong or Alberto Contador or Frank Schleck… oh wait, forget that part. Looking at the picture of me in my helmet, I look more like Marvin the Martian from Bugs Bunny.
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Riders took turns going off in five-second intervals. A volunteer held you up by the back of your seat and the starter counted down… 5,4,3,2,1 GO!

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PHOTO CREDIT: davemphotography.com

Without the 6-mile climb up Ft. Mountain, I wasn’t expecting the bike leg to be too difficult.

Here’s a video of the climb and descent up Fort Mountain, complete with some mighty fine banjo pickin’.

Mother Nature and my bike had different ideas though. Soon after I pedaled away from North Georgia’s version of a Tour de France time-trial starting chute, the rain began to come down… it never stopped. Then I hit Mile 22 and my rear derailleur shifter decided to break. Awesome. Oh, and I was stuck in the smallest cog. Sweet! Oh, and there’s a 3-mile climb near the finish. Super-fantastic!

I pulled over several times and tried to get it to move up just one precious little gear. No such luck. It kept slipping back down. I’m not a bike mechanic, so fixing this was not really an option. I had to gut it out. As others cruised by, spinning a fast cadence in an easy gear, I was out of the saddle slowly churning my way up the hills. Eventually, as the hills got steeper, I had to dismount and push the bike on several occasions.

HONESTY ALERT: If  a race official had approached me at this point — as I was walking my broken bike up a mountain during a cold, driving rain storm while dreading the half marathon that still awaited me — and asked if I wanted a lift, I would have jumped at it and called it a day. I’m happy to say, that never happened.

At one point, an older competitor passed me — as I was walking my broken bike up a mountain during a cold, driving rain storm while dreading the half marathon that still awaited me.  (Oh, had I already mention that whiny part of the story?)  Moments later, the slope decreased ever-so-slightly and I was able to mount up again. About 1/2 mile later I passed the guy who had cruised past me. I quietly celebrated this small victory with a smile only I knew existed.  

Slowly, I made my way back to T2.

MMT2PHOTO CREDIT: davemphotography.com

As soon as I saw the lead runner –#SuperGeorge Darden — run past me in the other direction, it hit me: “Oh crap, I have to run now!” And just for more fun, the first 1/4 mile of the run goes straight up a really steep hill. In fact, there’s hardly a single flat section over the entire 13.1 miles of the run course.   

As you can see, it was a lot of “fun” running up the hill at the start. (Note the rarely seen and hard-to-duplicate uphill “floater” pic.)
MMuphillPHOTO CREDIT: davemphotography.com

Thanks to my 2:29 bike/walk split, I was out of contention in the overall standings and figured my only saving grace would be to dig deep and have a decent run. Maybe, just maybe, I could claw my way back to a respectable finish. I somehow managed the trudge my way up and down the hills for a 1:36 run, putting me atop the 40-44 Old Guy podium. (It was a small field.)

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This race was my first-ever Zone5Events race. And although it wasn’t pretty, the race directors made some tough decisions with difficult course conditions and managed to stage a pretty good day of racing. Kudos to Beau Bearden and his crew for a job well done! I will be back next year.

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Jacksonville Bank Marathon

Managing Race Expectations/Injury

After spending this past race season focusing exclusively on triathlons, I decided it was time for me to return to my marathon roots and entered the Jacksonville Bank Marathon. This was never on my original 2012 race calendar, but I added it as a season-ending treat to myself when a friend asked me to join him on race day.

This decision presented a bit of a challenge.

While I had maintained a relatively high-level of training since the 2011 Ironman Florida race, I hadn’t run 26.2 miles since that November day in Panama City Beach. He asked me to run with him about 7 weeks before the race date. If I was going to run it, I needed to have a goal, I figured. I decided that I might as well shoot for sub-3:15 to snag another Boston Marathon qualifying time in case I decided to head to Hopkinton in 2013.

Unfortunately, my body had other plans, specifically my right calf. I have battled a bit of a nagging calf strain since a bike crash about two years ago. The crash has led to scar tissue in the calf muscles. I have treated it with ART massage on occasion when it acts up, which is what it decided to do about 2 weeks before the race. As a result, I needed to adjust my expectations.

My sub-3:15 goal (in truth, I was hoping for a sub-3:10 time), went out the window. Instead, I decided to run alongside my friend as he went for a sub-3:30 time. In the spirit of full disclosure, this plan was against the advice of my coach. He, as well as another coach I have great respect for, both told me to leave my running shoes at home so I wouldn’t be tempted to run.

However, in the week leading up to the race (after an ART * session), my calf started to feel better. I asked the ART therapist for his thoughts about whether I should run the marathon. The injury wasn’t severe and he didn’t advise me against running. I also spoke with my coach about it on an almost-daily basis. He instructed me to run easy for 30 minutes every other day to test it out. He still told me not to run the marathon. This is where it gets a bit messy. I’m very hard-headed. I’m also a competitor. How was I possibly supposed to drive 6 hours to Jacksonville and NOT run? This is like sending a drug addict to a crack house and telling him to abstain.

I’m hard-headed, but I’m not stupid. Leading up to the race, I told my running partner that if I felt even the slightest bit of pain in my calf, I would walk off the course, no questions asked, and he should be mentally prepared for me to do so. It didn’t matter to me if the pain popped up at Mile 1 or Mile 25.

Considering that this race was just a late-season bonus and I no longer had a BQ as a target, I had to find a way to keep myself honest and stick to my plan. To do so, I left my timing chip in the hotel room. I didn’t care what my time would be and I didn’t want to force myself to try to finish.

The Jacksonville Marathon is 3 races in 1. There is a 5k, a half marathon and a full 26.2. This gave me several options. If I felt an issue, I could quit after the 5k. I could also quit after the half. But, as I said, it didn’t matter where I was on the course, at the slightest sign of pain I was prepared to call it a day.

Fast forward to the race…

RACE PLAN:

To run a 3:30 marathon, you have to average 8:00 min/mile. Our race plan was simple: For the first 10 miles, we planned to run 8min/mile. For the second 10 miles, we would drop it down to 7:45 per mile. This would give us an average of about 7:52 per mile. For the final 10k, the plan would change to “every man for himself.”
(NOTE: If you ever run a marathon with a friend, make sure you discuss your race plan before the starting gun goes off so you are both on the same page. If one runner is feeling good and the other runner is hurting, is it ok to leave the slower runner behind? Will you feel guilty about leaving your friend? Does the suffering friend expect you to stick with him/her no matter what? We both decided that if one of us was feeling better than the other, he should leave the other behind. No hard feelings.)

FUELING PLAN:
A marathon is not a 140.6-mile Ironman, but it is not to be taken lightly despite its shorter distance. Improper fueling will lead to a very long, miserable day. Running in Florida in December is a lot different than running in Florida in August. Yes, the heat wasn’t going to be much of a factor, but that didn’t mean I didn’t need to pay attention to fueling.

A coaching friend of mine, has become an advocate of the slow-burning “SuperStarch” found in Generation UCan * products. I plan to try the products, but have yet to do so. Therefore, I stuck to the golden rule of racing: DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING ON RACE DAY. As a result, here was my plan:

PRE-RACE:
5 am: Begin drinking 16-ounce water bottle with two NUUN * tablets for sodium. (I have suffered from cramping in other races due to sodium loss. I didn’t expect to sweat a lot in this race, but I still wanted to supplement my sodium to be safe.)
5:30 am: Banana and 1/2 bagel. Small cup of coffee for caffeine and “GI cleansing.” You know the drill…
6:30 am: One Tri Berry GU *

RACE PLAN
7 am: START
7:45: One GU and one salt tab. (I repeated the GU and salt tab mixture every 45 minutes, with the final GU and salt tab coming at the 3:00 mark of the race.)
My liquid intake plan was simple: Grab one cup of electrolyte drink at each aid station (the stations were set up every 2 miles.) Typically, I only take a small sip of electrolytes at each aid station. I didn’t run with a bottle or Fuel Belt of any kind.
NOTE: This GU/salt plan has worked for me in each marathon I have run (other than my first, during which I cramped badly in my hamstrings and learned a lot about sodium loss.)  Over time, I have come to believe that there are better fueling options out there (i.e. less reliance on sugar/caffeine). However, I have yet to test these options in training, so I decided to stick with what has worked in the past.

With solid race and fueling plans in place, the actual marathon was relatively uneventful. We ticked off one steady mile after another and averaged 7:51/mile through the 20-mile mark (one second ahead of our actual plan.) The course is incredibly flat with a low elevation of 2 feet and high of 109 feet (a bridge overpass). As a result of the flat terrain, my legs felt fine and I had absolutely no issue with my calf. When we reached Mile 20, I was ready to push the pace a little over the final 10k. I looked at my race partner and asked…  “so… you ready to go?” He said he would give it his best shot to stay with me. I knew I had plenty left in the tank and was hoping to be his rabbit over the closing miles.

Mile 21 clocked in at 7:29.
At this point, there was a woman in her 30s I kept swapping places with. Each time I passed her, she would surge and pass me again. This went on for quite a bit. I found it kind of funny. I kept the same pace, but she kept fading and then surging. Either she was messing with me, or she was struggling to hang on. (I have to admit… as this was going on, I would occasionally run just off of her left shoulder so she could see my shadow. It was my way of amusing myself late in the race. She might not have found it so amusing, but at least she knew I was there.)

Mile 22 clocked in at 7:12. I officially dropped the “surging” woman from my shadow.

With 4.2 miles to go, I began to feel the impact of not running more than 18 miles at one time over the past 13 months. I was fit, but 26.2 miles is a lot different than 18 miles. A marathon is never to be taken lightly. Maybe I didn’t have as much left in the tank as I thought.
Mile 23: 7:31
Mile 24: 7:37
Running sub-7:30 miles became harder at this point, and rather than push myself to the limit and risk injury, I backed off the pace for the closing 2.2 miles with no regrets.
Mile 25: 7:59
Mile 26: 8:12

I crossed the line at 3:25:37 and started to keep an eye out for my running partner.
He came in at 3:32. While he missed his 3:30 time goal, he said he was happy with his result and grateful for the 20-mile escort.

Another marathon in the books. Another lesson learned. If you are battling an injury, be smart. Listen to all advice, see a doctor (preferably one with a running background) weigh the factors and make a smart decision. You have to be willing to listen to the signs your body is giving you, without regret. If that means sacrificing a time goal or walking off the course, accept your fate and live to run another day.

While my coach and others might disagree with my decision to run, I am the only know who truly knows what I was feeling on race day. Backing off my original time goal and making a pre-race plan to DNF at the first sign of pain was a compromise I was willing to live with. In the end, I wouldn’t change a thing.

* NOTE: I have no affiliation with any products mentioned in this report and receive no promotional support of any kind.

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Rev3 Maine Race (Road Trip) Report

Not since college have I gone on a road trip like the one I took to the Revolution3 triathlon in Old Orchard Beach, Maine on Aug. 26. To put it simply, it was an insane idea that involved two middle-aged men (me and a friend we shall call “Slayer”), almost 3,000 miles of driving, 70.3 miles of racing, two containers filled with ashes (my mom, his dad) very little sleep and two VERY understanding wives.

Whilst (proper English) I could write a LOT about this trip, I think it would be best told through pictures.

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Our chariot! The rental Suburban. She used a LOT of gas, but what a luxurious ride. The Alt Nation and Lithium channels on XM/Sirius got lots of use.

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Gas…

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When you buy gas at BJ’s, you are only able to get $100 worth, apparently.

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Our first stop was Philadelphia to see Slayer’s mom and stepdad.

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After driving for almost 12 hours to get to Philly, we sat in 90 minutes of traffic when we were just 20 miles away from our destination. There was a Phillies’ game about to start, causing the traffic delays. Let’s Go Mets!

As we pulled into town, for some reason we decided to jam to live Phish. It sounded a little something like this… only a LOT louder.

They hardly recognized their baby boy. They recently moved out of the suburbs and made the bold move of moving into the City of Brotherly Love. They had a fantastic place near Society Hill. Great area.
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They were so happy to see him… they gave him an Eagles’ pillow pet. He cuddled with it. It was sweet.
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Along the way to Philly, we saw lots of interesting things at rest stops.
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We peed a lot in the woods…

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I think we preferred the woods. At our first bathroom stop, just across the South Carolina border, a short, Hispanic woman hid behind the corner of the building and jumped out to scare me when I walked out of the bathroom. She thought I was her husband, apparently. I almost decked her.

We stopped in Delaware … and passed wet wipes under the stall. It was awkward. Slayer saw Jim Harbaugh walk out the rest area and get in some pimp mobile while I was getting a skinny caramel latte at Starbucks. I drink girl coffee drinks.

We passed lots of historic stuff in D.C.

Such as a street sign for a big airport…

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And a phallic looking monument…

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Slayer sneezed. It was gross.

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In Philly, his mom’s new place is near many of the city’s historic landmarks

Like this guy on the pedestal…

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And this Italian guy… he was a stallion, we were told.

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There was a cool bell. It had big crack in it. Crack is whack!

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We went to dinner. I got a beet salad. Beets are good for you.
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Slayer also had a salad. It was greener than mine. It had apples, too.

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Then he ate these… they weren’t very tasty.
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This became a very common sight. Slayer’s bladder is apparently very small. To fend off the urge to pee, he grabs himself … a lot.

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For some reason, taking photos of each other urinating became a theme during the trip.

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The drive from Philly to Maine sucked. Mostly because I made the rookie mistake of taking 95 and going over the George Washington Bridge.

I should have gone up 287 and across the Tappan Zee Bridge.
There was a cyclist going across the GWB. I was jealous.


Along the way, I got introduced to new music. Arctic Monkeys, Libertines, Kaiser Chiefs, Alabama Shakes… all good stuff.

This one of my faves… Ruby by the Kaiser Chiefs

In between pee stops, beef jerky feasts and musical interludes, Slayer and I chatted about life, hopes, dreams, training efforts and improving his horrendous swim.

We also talked a bit about the other reason we were making the trip to Maine. My mom (who passed away last year) is from the Pine State. Slayer’s dad loved Maine, specifically Thunder Hole in Bar Harbor.  He passed away a couple of years ago. The two of us had plans to say a final “good-bye” to our parents.

But how? I had a family burial ceremony for my mom’s ashes scheduled on Saturday morning. I also planned to spread a separate container of her ashes at a lake or in the ocean.

As we closed in on Maine, the big man and I discussed how he wanted to go about saying his final good-bye to his dad – Max. Max was a fighter. He died while sitting in the No. 1 spot on the list for a new lung. That was no small deal. Being over 60, he had to get himself into shape before they would ever consider an experimental transplant. He started at 280 pounds. They told him he had to get to 180. He busted his ass… He even went swimming while wearing oxygen. That’s  serious work. He weighed 179 when he died.  I met Slayer for the first time shortly after his dad passed.

After talking for a while, we decided that the ocean was the best place. We would be getting to Old Orchard Beach close to sunset. After we checked in, we planned to go for a swim to test out the water. He would say “good-bye” during the swim.

Once this was decided, Slayer showed his softer side and put on Champagne Supernova – an Oasis song that for some reason reminds him of his dad’s last days.

After being in the car for 20 hours over 2 days, this moment was pretty deep and emotional. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hit me, too. But Slayer was a blubbering mess. “Pass the beef jerky, dude!”

Phew…  now that that’s over. Let’s do this!

We pulled into Old Orchard Beach.
Saw some friends.

Then it was time to get in the water.

In the middle of the swim, we paused about 500 yards out from the shore. The sun was going down. Slayer pulled a small canister filled with his dad’s ashes out from under his wetsuit, said a few things and then emptied the canister into the ocean. Then we finished the swim. Slayer contemplated life after the swim.

For the weekend, we stayed at my uncle’s house in Auburn, Maine, about 45 minutes north of Old Orchard Beach.

He has bitchin’ cars.

It’s an awesome house right on a beautiful lake. “A slice of heaven,” Slayer called it.

We went for a brief swim Saturday morning before heading to my mom’s cemetery service.

My sister and I were joined by family and friends as we said good bye to our mom at a small service.


Before heading down to Old Orchard Beach to check our bikes in, Slayer had a little business he had to get taken care of.

In-grown toenails hurt…

He got an up-close view of her at work, violating patient-pedicurist privilege.  

And then they danced…

Meanwhile, David Hasselhoff was serving “IcedHoffee” nearby.

With Slayer’s toenails feeling better, we drove to the race site. Soon after we arrived, we met a guy in a parking lot and chatted with him about his new S-Works Shiv. About 15 minutes later, he came running back into the parking lot yelling that his bike was JUST stolen while he was at registration. We got a description of the guy and took off after him. Here we are talking to the guy with our serious cop faces on.


After about 30 minutes, we gave up our search. The cops later found the guy and the bike. He had tried to sell it to a local market for $200. The bike was worth about $6,000-$7,000, I figure. To Rev3’s credit, they were prepared to loan the guy a bike for the race and allow him to keep it for a few weeks if they couldn’t track down his bike.

After a short run, we checked our bikes into transition.

Slayer’s bike is parked here —————>

And then went to dinner in the Old Port section of Portland. Slayer ate lobstah!

RACE MORNING finally arrived. After Slayer spent 30 minutes cleaning out his inner demons, we drove down to the race site. My dad, stepmom and other family members all came down.


This was the first year for Rev3 in Maine and it was a GREAT venue. It was also my first Rev3 race. I can’t say enough good things about it. Great location, great course and very family friendly.

Our pre-race conversations led us to believe I would come out of the water first and hit the bike with a 5-6 minute lead. Then, Slayer would likely catch me on the bike at some point. Then, hopefully we could run together and have a rarely seen sprint finish. (There’s a reason it’s rarely seen. Things don’t often go as planned.)

Moments before the start, our Alabama friend Kristin Deaton tracked us down on the beach for a pic.
Just as expected, I came out of the water with a 5:39 lead.
SWIM TIME: 35:36
RANK: 16/61 in 40-44 AG.

Major props to Maria Thrash and Matthew Rose at Dynamo Multisport for helping me improve my swim.
It was a LONG run to transition. Slayer, sprinting like a madman, picked up 44 seconds on me.

I hit the bike course aware that he would be coming after me FULL GAS, blatantly ignoring the advice of his coach. How long could I hold him off was the only question. This was a legit course. Long flat sections, some rollers, a few downhills and a couple short, steep climbs. It had a little bit of everything, but wasn’t over-the-top difficult. The worst part of the ride came at Mile 40. This 5-6 mile stretch of road was a disaster. Lots of chewed up sections and potholes. Other than that, it was pretty smooth.

A short, steep climb at Mile 43 smacked you in the face. I think this is where I lost some momentum and Slayer began to close the gap. At Mile 46 I threw my chain on the outside. I tried to get it back on while riding. Just as I was about to dismount, I slow-pedaled and managed to get it back on… I hit the gas again, but the damage had been done.

Right at the moment I passed the Mile 50 marker, Slayer quietly rolled up on my left. I did a double take… “SON OF A #&%X!”

As he rolled past me… wait… what’s this? Oh, it’s a train of guys sucking his wheel. What a crock! There were 3-4 of them… blatant cheaters. I won’t name names but there’s a guy from Quebec who started the bike 6th in the 20-24 AG and then moved up to 2nd… I wonder why you faded with a 2:07 run?  Perhaps you weren’t used to riding so hard on the bike? It’s hard to keep up with Slayer even when you are drafting, eh? Jussayin…

After arriving into T2 at the exact same time, we hit the run course… Slayer took off first with a 9-second lead. I fumbled in T2 because some guy threw his wetsuit all over our section. I had to move it in order to rack my bike. I also went one row too far and had to backtrack. Stupid mistake.
BIKE TIME: 2:31:30 (22.18 mph)
RANK: 8/61 in 40-44 AG

As we exited T2, I quickly discovered two things…
1. My two-month layoff from running due to injuries had finally caught up to me.
2. Running a half marathon a week earlier at 7:13 pace wasn’t very smart. (But I did take 1st in the 40-44 AG in that race… so I’ve got that going for me.)
I didn’t have the legs to catch up to Slayer.  I could see him up ahead, but my legs wouldn’t go. It didn’t help that he took off full speed knowing that I would likely be easing into it. (Not to self: don’t talk race strategy to your “opponents” before the race.)

He briefly hesitated and waved for me to catch up and run with him… then his race instincts kicked in and he took off. Smart man. I wouldn’t have waited for him…

The run course began with a brief uphill section out of town (we ran part of it the day before to get familiar with it). At the 1 mile mark, my bladder was going to explode and quickly jumped into a port-a-potty. I knew if I didn’t do this, it would hold me back. Unlike the French guy Slayer said he saw later on the run, I wasn’t willing to “whip it out” and pee in front of me while running. So far, as a guy with French-Canadian heritage, I’m embarrassed by the actions of the Francophones.

The majority of the run course takes place on the scenic Eastern Trail. It was beautiful.

When we reached the turnaround, I took a quick split and Slayer was at least 3 minutes ahead of me. With him picking up his pace as I struggled, I knew it was game over. The good news is, the Grim Reaper plowed through the field on his way back to Old Orchard Beach. Can you imagine being passed by a 44-year-old 6-foot-4 guy throwing down sub 7s late in the race?! Then as he passes you, you look down to see THIS!

Before the race, we joked with my nieces that they would run through the finish chute with the first guy to arrive.
Sure enough, Slayer stole my nieces. You can see one of them on the left looking back as if to say… “Where’s uncle Mike!?”

Here I come girls… 9:21 later.

RUN TIME: 1:46:12 (8:06/mile)

RANK: 7/61 in 40-44 AG

BTW, getting a free finish line photo from Rev3 is a GREAT touch.

After the race, I went to get a quick ART massage. Then we went to the pier to grab some more lobster rolls!

Slayer drank beer… two at a time.

Then it was time for the awards. Because the top 2 guys in 40-44 were the top 2 overall male finishers (yes, 40-44 is a STACKED Age Group) Slayer got bumped from 3rd to 1st in 40-44. (I finished 7th and got bumped up to 5th).

He likes to make his mark during the awards ceremonies by smashing water bottles (It’s a long story).  He stole one of my nieces to join him on the stage. There was a smattering of applause.

On our last night back at the lake house, we went on a sunset cruise. It was lovely.

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Healing Seems to be the Hardest Word

“Stop racing stupid!” were the words I needed to hear.

I didn’t like hearing them, but somebody needed to say it.

Here are the details of my ugly race season so far:
 
* Left calf injury impacts training for Boston Marathon
* Develop what I think is a shin splint in left leg one week before Boston
* Decide to run marathon anyways (It’s BOSTON!)
* Shin splint turns out to be a nasty infection (Cellulitis bacteria
* Take antibiotics for 2 weeks to clear infection
* Decide to race first Olympic tri of the season on half-healed leg
* Gimp my way through race in pain
* Go for 11-mile run 5 days later and strain right calf
* Decide to race second Olympic tri of the season 9 days later
* Gimp my way through race in more pain
* End up in emergency room day after race with vertigo! 

Does this guy look like he’s having fun?

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After all of this, I was still thinking it would be fine for me to race my third tri of the season on June 2. (Note to self: send father monthly check to repay him for my college education. Clearly, it didn’t pay off)

A few days later, a conversation with friend/coach reveals just how stupid I’m being. As a way to keep me from hurting myself more, he instructs me not to swim, bike or run until June 1. So far, I am 8 days into my hiatus. I have 5 more days to go. I’m losing my mind. But when you don’t have much of a brain to work with, that’s not too hard. Hopefully I’m just losing the dumb parts.

Begrudgingly, I crossed my next two races off of my list and have re-focused myself on the big prize — Rev3 half in Maine on Aug. 26. I have plenty of time to rest, recover and rebuild my base. The goal is to have a great race and have fun doing it… PAIN-FREE. What a novel concept.
 

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Which way to the finish line!?

Saturday’s Tri For The Kids Olympic Triathlon in Rome, Ga. was a race I had signed up for last year. However, tornadoes devastated much of the Southern U.S. shortly before the race was to be held. Organizers made the right decision and canceled the 2011 race and deferred entries to this year.

Flash forward 12 months and I made the 90-minute drive to Rome excited to race in my first tri since Ironman Florida in November. Yes, it had been exactly SIX months since my last tri. In between, I had run several road races, including the Boston Marathon, but not a single tri.

First, I had to remember what to pack. Once I got everything organized, I was ready to get down to business.

This race was definitely “small town” with fewer than 100 competitors registered. This was a HUGE change of pace from the 2,600 people who lined up on the beach at Ironman Florida. The volunteers at packet pickup were very friendly and helpful. Turns out, some of those volunteers would also be racing.

SWIM:
The swim down the Etowah River (aka Etowah “rapids”) was fast… I mean, REALLY fast. A couple days before the race, the Army Corps of Engineers had released water from nearby Lake Allatoona producing a strong current. As soon as you hit the water, you were headed downstream. It was actually hard to make sure you didn’t drift off course. There were plenty of kayakers and canoes to keep you going in the right direction and make sure you were safe. However, a couple large trees in the river created some issues. One racer I know of slammed face-first into a tree and another guy was briefly caught up in some branches of a tree. Dangerous stuff. (After the race, I suggested to the race director that next year they should make sure to have a kayaker positioned by the large trees, if possible in future races.)

“After the third bridge, get to the right,” were the last words I heard as I entered the water. With the current so strong, if you missed the swim exit area, you would have to try to swim upstream to get out. That would be bad, to say the least.

While I have been swimming with some really fast people at Dynamo Multisport, I’m by no means a fast swimmer… except on this day. 13:38 for 1,500 meters is ridiculous. I had the 8th fastest swim time of the day, which is also ridiculous in its own right. (Truth is, I felt very comfortable on the swim and settled into a very nice, steady rhythm after the first 250 yards or so.)

SWIM EXIT:
Coming in to this race, I had battled two separate issues with my left leg. First, I had a nagging calf strain that just wouldn’t go away. Finally, a couple weeks ago it went away. Second, I had somehow developed a lower leg infection right before Boston. With the help of some serious antibiotics, that  finally went away, too. I was pumped to be racing without an injury for the first time in a long time.

Wrong.

As I reached the dock to exit the swim, the two male volunteers were obviously used to lifting much heavier guys out of the water. They yanked my 150-pound body up so hard that I SLAMMED my left thigh into the dock. HOLY CRAP that hurt. One of the other racers suffered a big cut on his knee when he was yanked out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for all of the volunteers, but I will make a mental note on my next “dock exit” to lift myself out.

My bruised thigh bothered me for the rest of the race. Two days later, it’s black and blue and still hurting. (Wow, what a sissy boy I am.)

T1:
After limping my way up the hill to get to bike transition, I have a bit of a hard time getting my wetsuit off, as usual.  Helmet on, sunglasses on, threw my Garmin 305 watch in the back pocket of my top (I planned to wear it for the run and wanted to save time in T2. I strapped it on my wrist as I rode.) My shoes were clipped in, with the left shoe latched to the rear wheel’s skewer with a rubber band. This kept my shoes from flopping around as I saddled up with a death-defying “flying mount.” It’s always a crowd-pleaser. T1 time: 1:45… blah.

BIKE:
My plan coming into the race (not knowing how my calf injury would hold up) was to hammer the bike and try to hold on for the run. This might not have been the smartest strategy, but that’s what I was going with.

The course was a good mixture of rolling hills with some harder-than-expected climbs. I had hoped to average about 23-24 mph, but there were more hills than I expected. (According to my Garmin, there was 543 feet of elevation gained over the 25 miles). In the end, I clocked a 22.5 mph average for a 1:06:40 bike split. Reached a high speed of 39.37 mph on Lap 4 (My Garmin 500 intervals are set for 5 miles each, so this was miles 15-20). My last lap (miles 20-25) was my fastest with a 23.5 mph average pace.  Other than the winning relay team, I had the fastest individual bike split of the day. That’s a first for me! Psyched.

For this race, I removed the water bottle holder on the Blue Triad SL frame and taped the Vittoria Pit Stop tubular tire sealant canister under my seat. I only carried one water bottle, mounted between the aero bars. My goal was to be as aero as possible. Next on my shopping list… my very own aero helmet. All the cool kids seem to have one.

While on the course, I scared several little children on the side of the road with my WOOOOOHOOOOOO! screams as I rode past, I made sure to “lick the lens” by sticking my tongue out (Gene Simmons-style) at the on-course photographer and gave a shout out to a few Army guys I saw out on a run.

At the half way turnaround, I counted the bikes that passed me in the other direction. There was the lead guy (he was FLYIN!) from a relay team, then there was an Asian guy I saw earlier in the morning in the Transition area and next up was a guy named Brett from The Sport Factory, a tri club near my house. I met Brett for the first time before the race. He was a nice guy, but like me, he was 41. Looking around, I knew he would be my only AG competition and we would both likely be in the running for the overall podium, too.

Holy crap, I was in 3rd overall! (Yes, it was a small race, but 3rd is still 3rd)

After turning around, I started riding back towards the pack. I saw Brian (an All3Sports teammate) hot on my wheels. Uh oh, this is going to be a run to the finish… and my running form was in VERY bad shape.

The best part of the bike course was the last mile. When you turn on to Shorter Ave., they had the entire right lane coned off for the race… Knowing I was nearing the finish, I decided to drop the hammer and race the cars down the final stretch. A couple of little kids in car seats in the back of thair parents’ car were staring at me as I screamed “WOOOOOHOOOOO!” at them. If you can’t have fun, why race? Right?

The bike finish came up so fast, I almost forgot to unstrap from my shoes. Crossed the line, raced to my rack, hooked the bike on, slapped on the socks, running shoes and visor… and like a prom dress, I was off!  (This is the moment when something else hits me. This was going to be my very first run off the bike since IM Florida six months ago. Doh! Training is overrated…sort of)

T2: 36 seconds (Tied for 4th fastest. Much better than T1.)

RUN:
OUCH! Oh no, this is going to suck!

My dock-slammed quad was screaming at me every time my left foot hit the ground. Time to adjust the game plan. This was going to be a survival run. I was just happy to be racing again (yeah, sure… keep telling yourself that.)

“I wanna go FAAAAAST,” Brian yells Ricky Bobby-style as he passes me within the first mile of the run course.

I try to tell him about my dock mishap to let him know why I was moving at a snails pace. He pretended to listen (I think), but kept running away from me. I expected other people to pass me soon. When nobody else did, I realized that Brian was now in third. That was MY third place spot and I wanted it back! (Mile 1 was 7:34)

Screw this noise… pain is a state of mind.

I never let Brian out of my sight and slowly begin to reel him back. 7:30, 7:17, 6:58… When I caught up to him, I decided to mess with him a little and just run right behind him to see if he would ever turn around. Finally he did. This was a fun race, so I decided to run alongside Brian for awhile rather than drop him (I also didn’t want to make him feel bad for getting caught by an old guy like me. I’m a team player… remember that part for later)

In the distance, we both can see Brett. He’s coming back to us quicker than I had expected. A short distance later, Brett starts walking…

Screw you Brian, I’m taking off…

I catch Brett and quickly realize why he’s walking. WE’RE ALL LOST! There were no signs and no volunteers to point us in the right direction. (There was a mix up earlier in the run and we got pointed in the wrong direction by a volunteer.) Brett thinks we should go to the right through a parking lot and back to the trail along the river. Just then, a volunteer pulls up in a van and tells us to go straight. I wait with Brett as Brian takes off… Son of a %&*@$#!

We reach a MAJOR intersection with about 8 lanes of traffic. Crazy. Brian makes it across but Brett and I have to wait for the light to change. I actually had to hit the “push button to cross street” button. It was kind of funny… but not really.

“Wait for me,” I yell to Brian. (I never thought he would stop, but it was worth a try. He slows for a  brief second and then continues on.)

Damn, I knew I should have passed him when I had a chance.  That’s the last time I play Mr. Nice Guy. Haha.

After Brett and I cross the street, I try to chase Brian (my former friend) down, but he’s too far gone. The finish area is a nice long downhill road so I let it all hang out. When I cross the line, the only person I see is Brian. He’s first!

What the heck happened to the other guy? I’m second? Huh?

Brett crosses in third, then another guy comes across in 4th, then the original race leader comes flying around a corner on the OTHER SIDE of the finish line, crosses the line and slams a water bottle to the ground. He was MAD.

“I got lost!” (Yeah, welcome to the club buddy.)

“I’m never coming back here! I need to speak to the race director!”

He was fuming. I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out, but I knew he deserved to be first. I also knew that sometimes these things happen and that’s just the way it is.

In the end, we all got together and spoke with the race directors and told them how the order should be. The other guy got first (rightfully so), Brian second and I was third.

(Premature photo shoot below. BTW, nice cell phone clipped to the waist Brian. Not very aero.)

RUN TIME: 45:39 (7:19/mile) 5th fastest run time overall

This run hurt, mostly because of my sore quad, but I’m pretty happy with it considering it had been 6 months since my last brick run and I had some serious leg issues to deal with between Ironman and now.

The winners all walked away with cool a hand-painted plate (pitured above at the the top.) A very nice touch.

While there were some issues with this race, I plan to return again next year. After all, I need a matching dish so my wife and I can dine together!

Race #1 of 2012 is in the books.

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