Today’s race location was 90 minutes from my home, meaning I had to get up and leave quite early. Fortunately, the race temps were in the 60s at the start, and it was in the 70s when we finished. There was low humidity, but by 9 am, there was a wind blowing against the direction we were biking. The first 5k run was, for lack of a better description, a trip from the transition area, up and down some hills to some railroad tracks, and back. It was hilly, with mixed terrain that included asphalt, concrete, gravel, and even some sand. There were only two or three of us who put substantial effort into the run….or so it seemed, as we all knew that the bike route (new for this year) was hilly and on uneven road surfaces, and we all needed to save energy for the ride and the 10k run that comes immediately after the bike ride. Transition 1 included a 5 second mistake. I left transition with one cycling shoe still in the pedal and one of my running shoes still on my right foot. Once I realized what I had done, I took my running shoe off and dropped it on the side of the course, right outside of transition, praying that it would be there when I came back an hour later. When I left, I confirmed that there was only one person ahead of me on the course, but I couldn’t see him. He was long gone! On this ride, I brought more than enough food and drink to make sure that I would be fueled and hydrated when I came back to transition. I was able to get into the aero bars, and never left for more than a few minutes, combined. Hills were manageable by either gearing down or standing up to climb as fast I could. There were course problems, though, as we got further away from transition before the designated turn around, the quality of the road degraded. Smooth asphalt was replaced with rough asphalt. Rough asphalt was replaced with asphalt with loose aggregates on top. The last turn before getting back on the main road back to required slowing to ensuring no wiping out. The bike course looked like the outline of a large kitchen spoon. Ride down the handle, around the edge of the spoon, then back down the handle. As I approached this final turn before heading back, I got goose bumps. As I turned and began back down the spoon’s handle and pedaled into the wind, I was more than 15 miles into a 24 mile ride, and there were a lot of people still less than 10 miles into the race, coming towards me. I was really competing on the bike, for the first time. I was literally miles ahead of most of the competitors. To make sure that I enjoyed the race, I made it a point to yell out, “you can do it!” with anyone coming towards me who would make eye contact. Don’t know what they did for them, but it was great for me to think about someone other than myself. It kept my mind off of the oncoming wind, and I focused on being grateful for returning to smooth asphalt. About a mile or two before transition two, I got passed. After the race was over, I spoke with the rider of that bike, a long time cyclist named Greg from Chapel Hill, and he was kind enough to share with me how he was able to pass me. I appreciated his candor so much, that I got a race photographer to take a photo of us, for my memory. Apparently, once we made the turn towards home, he saw me and he shared that he had me in his sights for 7 miles of riding, according to his bicycle’s computer. He shared that he could not gain any ground on me when I was in my aero bars. However, he said my cadence changed when I tried to hydrate or when I climbed hills. He especially liked it when I stood up in the saddle, as he could remain in his aero bars and shift using his thumbs and keep his cadence. He later showed me some features on his bike that I would need to get to make these cycling errors go away. He suggested that I need aero bars that allow me to click through gears and I need better access to water and probably ought to practice drinking while I am on a trainer to make sure that I don’t drop cadence when I need a drink. Huh? Practice drinking water? Really? Yet, if my drinking water in a goofball manner allows him to pass me, I need to learn how to drink, “non goofy.” He also showed me some of the features of his bike, and told stories about his efforts at the Time Trial Nationals over the years. He claimed that he finished between 15-30 overall nationally, and when I played back his anecdotes that he couldn’t make any time on me when I was in my aero bars, it reinforced to me that I can get better, AND I am better. There were two triathletes ahead of me when I entered Transition 2, as well as Greg. That said, I left transition before them, with a pocket full of gels, a full 5 to 15 seconds ahead of all of them. Before I entered transition, I mapped out exactly what I would do to make up some time. Pick up missing shoe was the most important thing I would do..assuming my shoe was still there. Immediately following that with helmet and sunglass removal. Then, grab some processed sugar gels, turn and run. I left transition in 2nd overall, and stayed there, although both of those triathlete guys passed me quickly out of T2. The final 10K was all that and a bag of chips. Lots of hills on mixed surfaces, but the race organizers gave us a choice of water or Gatorade every mile, and I alternated between the two. At each mile marker, I ate a gel and turned to look at the approaching competition. I remained strong as we left the railroad track area and began the final mile back to the finish line. Despite it being nearly all uphill, it was a non-event, as one of the race officials came back on a bike and told me that he would escort me to the finish line. When we entered the steepest section of the final run, he yelled out to me that there were 250 yards to go, with a quick pair of left turns before hitting the finish line. Even though 250 yards is a long way out to apply finish line sprints, I had enough energy in my body to give it a try. There was one younger man who was trying to pace me, but when I picked up my pace, he didn’t try to pursue. When I was 25 yards from the finish, the finish line announcer called out my name and home town over the PA system, with “coming in 2nd overall,” at the start of his announcement. I was overjoyed. There was a photographer about 10 yards beyond the finish line, and I pointed at her and I jumped up into a cannonball position when I crossed the finish line. When I landed, I asked her if she got the photo. When she said no, I turned back to look at who might be on the course about to come in behind me. There was no one preparing to cross, so I asked the finish line official if I could do the finish line again to get a better photo, and he said, OK, if I took my chip off first. Before I knew it, someone was taking off my chip for me, and I did a finish line jump again. Look forward to seeing that photo. I have never come in early enough in a race to be able to get immediately on the message table. I asked the therapist if he could rub me down, specifically my right calf, as it was hurting after all those hills. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I haven’t worked on anybody yet.” Again, a subtle reminder that I really did come in really high in the ranks. I asked the official what I got for coming in 2nd. He didn’t know, so he called over someone and she looked down at some paper and announced, “an apple pie.” Really? I would need to wait around over an hour and a half for a pie? Nah. After 15 minutes with Greg and a photo, I headed back to the truck to drive home. That was the last Duathlon opportunity of the year that I know of. I have a conviction that my future gains on the bike will need to include a more advanced aero system and hydration practice. Greg convinced me that a better bike just for doing these sorts of events needs to be on short list of to do items. If someone had told me five years ago that competitive racing would be in my future and that I would do it all while running a successful business, organizing events at a scout troop, leading a Life Group at my church and caring for my home and family, I would say, “no way.” Yet here I am doing that, doing it well, and loving it. I even have time to write this blog!