Nothing beats ending on a high-point. The accomplishment satisfies us, while the anticipation of topping it motivates us for next time.
Last weekend I capped my 2016 triathlon season at Lifetime Maple Grove. It wasn’t the original plan – that was to race the Chicago triathlon with my sister. Instead, I opted for a more local option, avoiding the massive participant field and congested course that is Chicago. (Thank you Maple Grove Cycling!)
Maple Grove featured its own challenges though, like the overwhelming love that Minnesota’s “state bird” affectionately showed me. Known to most as mosquitos, these annoying pests left my arms, legs, and back looking more like I came down with a case of chicken pox.
The weather forecast for race day included lots of clouds, moderate temperatures, and a strong possibility for rain and storms. Thankfully the thunder and lightning held off, and the worst of the rain arrived after the race, just in time to drench all of us attending the awards ceremony.
But I don’t mind the rain. In fact, I actually love training and racing in the rain. My wife even admits it’s an odd irony that I tend to perform my best when the conditions are their worst. Like several years ago, I ran a personal best half-marathon at the New Jersey shore in the middle of a nor’easter.
I raced the sprint-distance and approached the day purely as a fun race – no expectations. I achieved my main goals of the year when I qualified for World’s in Omaha for both olympic- and sprint-distance, so anything else was just a bonus.
But, coming off a pretty solid sprint in Omaha, including a 5k personal best, and healing ribs (still not back to normal, though), I figured I had a chance for a decent time. Not to mention, I love the course at Maple Grove and ran a PR there last year.
Unlike many of my races this year, I wasn’t in the first wave. So, a fair amount of waiting around beforehand, and more time to accumulate mosquito bites.
When I entered the water at the start of my wave, I faced a minefield of swimmers ahead of me. A 750-meter swim becomes a lot more challenging when you need to constantly site, and weave in-between other athletes. My only goal was to not swim over anyone.
Overall, it was an okay swim. The 71-degree water temperature and wetsuit legal swim were both nice changes after Omaha. But, my time wasn’t as fast as I wanted, a bit slower than in previous races this year. Though, it was still good for 11th fastest.
On the bike, the rain started to come down, not heavily, but enough to slicken the road surfaces. About a mile into the bike a Cervelo P5 overtook me. I knew this was the wheel I wanted to stay on. So, my strategy on the bike became as simple as shadowing this one guy. We consistently passed athletes from earlier swim waves, and slowly made our way through the field.
Overall, a pretty uneventful bike, though a bit slower than normal with the wet surfaces. Aside from negotiating turns, and remaining upright, pretty much status quo.
I’m not sure why, but I had a feeling that if I came into T2 with the guy I shadowed I’d be able to take him on the run.
He entered transition about 100 meters ahead of me. We exited transition in lockstep.
You don’t run more than 20 seconds before you’re greeted by a short, steep hill. It’s the only uphill until the final half mile, which features two back-to-back small inclines, before a sharp downhill into the finish.
I charged the hill, disregarding the aid station at the top. I opened up a small gap and didn’t look back. Once on the flat, I pushed the pace. I wanted to give myself a little buffer earlier on, taking advantage of the flats and downhills before the two hills at the end.
The rain continued. So did my high. I have no idea, but there’s something amazing about running in the rain. I block out any sensation of pain or fatigue and just go for it.
I opened up a solid gap, but couldn’t tell exactly how much. Maybe 100 meters? I also didn’t know when he started the swim, and what kind of gap he overcame earlier. So, like any good short-course triathlete or 5k runner, I emptied the tank.
I attacked the final two hills and flat-out sprinted the final quarter mile.
Not long after I crossed the finish line my fellow competitor crossed the line as well. We shook hands, commending each other on a great effort.
It was a few seconds off my 5k PR from Omaha, but I didn’t miss it by much. And my 18:01 was the fastest run split.
I didn’t quite create a big enough gap on the run to win, but my overall time of 1:00:49 was good for 2nd place overall.
Not a bad way to cap off an amazing year.