I drove down to Florida (from Maryland) on Friday. A long 12.5 hours later (thank you book on disc!), I arrived at my dad's house in The Villages. He's about 90 minutes north of Haines City (the race site) so it was an easy choice for lodging. Maybe not as close as I'd prefer, but close enough and the price was right. Talked with my dad for a bit and started unpacking and finally headed to bed around 11. A bit late, but without the family along, there was no worrying about getting woken up too early. Of course it meant little as I was still up before 7:00, but all in all, I had a good night's sleep.
Saturday I had a decent breakfast and did a quick 25 minute ride or so around my dad's neighborhood. The bike seemed to be working as expected and gears were changing very well (thank you to Travis from Just Riding Along Bicyles for the quick tuneup on Friday morning before I headed out (needed a couple adjustments for my new, sick, custom Wattie Ink. Reynolds wheels (72/90 aero for those interested). Everything seemed to be in order and I was feeling good. A quick shower and then we headed down to Haines City. A quick look over the event timetable let me know that I couldn't rack my bike until 2:00 so nothing to pack and an easy trip down to check-in.
Rolled down, checked in, quick check of the swim course and transition area, and we headed back home. After getting home, I went for an easy swim and then a lazy afternoon snoozing/watching the Masters. We then went for an early dinner (Italian...go figure), back home, pack the car, and in bed before 9. Hurry up to get to bed in order to lay awake most of the night. How I manage to perform with so little sleep is beyond me, but I've done it before and I'll do it again...
I set the alarm for a bit after 3:00 but was out of bed and in the shower before 3:00. I quickly downed Personal Best Nutrition's breakfast cocktail of Infinit MUD plus half a flask of EFS Kona Mocha Liquid Gel. I have ZERO appeitite pre-race so liquid nutrition makes things easy for me. I followed that up with some coffee and a banana...and a bagel I munched on in transition pre-race (oh and a bottle of 2 scoops EFS and 1 scoop First Endurance PreRace). I drove down to Haines City and easily found a spot a block away from the park. Got the bike out of the car, pumped the tires one last time, and pushed my way into transition past all the people getting body-marked - this turned out to be a GREAT move as after I racked my bike and walked out of transition to use the bathroom, I found a lovely young lady with no one to mark. The line for marking ended up being about 100 meters long (probably the one thing that wasn't done very well at the race pre/during/post).
As is always the case, the two hours I had after getting to the race quickly flew by and it was time to get the wetsuit on (yes! Wetsuit legal!). I found/met some Wattie teammates and we chatted for a bit (some of these guys killed it! 3 podiums if I recall correctly (out of 6 racing I believe...)! I then hit the bathroom one more time and as is my custom, I was last in the water for my wave.
SWIM: 32:47, 1:41/100m, 22nd AG
I found my way to the front of the line quickly and tried to relax for the 2 minutes I had before the gun. We had a pretty big group in my wave (40-44 A-K) and I'm always amazed at how many guys start so far off the straightest line. My assumption is these are guys that aren't strong swimmers and prefer not to get into the mess. The gun went off and I had a clean line. Very little contact. I was quickly towards the front of my group and just tried to swim fairly relaxed and let my swim experience take over (I'm sure I lean WAY too much on this and there's no excuse for me not to be faster other than swimming more and making sure I actually get my swim workouts in!). The swim course is advertised as an "M" shape as in "M-Dot" and they attempt to use this as a marketing strategy I guess. All this does is make the turns a cluster-fuck. With only four minutes between waves, those of us out front quickly hit the previous wave (before the first turn). This would continue throughout the swim as I swam on, I would see new colored caps. The turns were hectic and crowded, but I worked my way around them fairly easily. I made the final turn and headed for home. A few dolphin dives near the finish and up and running out of the water. I was thinking I'd be around 30 minutes, but was a bit disappointed to see 32 and change on the watch. A couple minutes behind what I was hoping for, but not too concerned. I had a bit of trouble finding my wetsuit strap so that became a bit frustrating, but eventually found it and started stripping it off (no wetsuit strippers) before I got to my bike. I moved slower than I wanted in transition (2:46), but eventually got my wetsuit off, gels in pockets, and moved out of transition. As I arrived at transition I had a great fan in attendance...my dad! I knew he'd be there, but I figured he wouldn't make it in time for the swim. He gave me a shout of encouragement and I was off with my bike.
BIKE: 2:38:13, 21.24 mph, dropped 30 spots to 52nd in AG
As I took off on my bike, it took me a bit to get my shoes on, but nothing that really slowed me down. Getting out onto the course, there were quite a few turns so not too much of a chance to start cruising right away, but before long, I was down and aero and started cranking. I was hoping for a sub 2:35 on the bike and during the first half of the ride it seemed as though this could be a possibility. The first 20-25 miles I was cruising at a good clip and knocking the miles off quickly. I have my Garmin setup for five minute splits and I was hitting these in about 13:30 give or take. From mile 35-45, these laps turned into the low 15 minutes. I was losing time. Hills, headwind, and perhaps not pushing it hard enough in training started to take it's toll. I started cramping a bit towards the end of the ride so I popped a S-Cap. I think that helped a bit and before long, I was heading home and into transition. Just as we ended the bike, Wattie Teammate Andrew Hibbitt came flying by. He crushed the bike and he told me his goal was to catch me. Mission accomplished. We headed into transition, feet were out of shoes, hit dismount line, and ran to my rack. Waiting there was my dad again with a nice pick me up. Bike up, helmet off, shoes on, run nutrition, hat, Garmin, and GO! T2 time 2:01. Not too bad and my dad was impressed as he gave me a "great transition" as I headed out. Highlight of the bike, I got to watch a bald eagle fly above me for a minute. It was maybe 20 feet overhead. Seriously one of the coolest things I've ever seen.
Bike nutrition: 1 EFS liquid shot flask, 1 PowerBar Gel (mocha 2X caffeine), salt tab (should have taken probably 2 more), water, and a few swigs of Perform at the aid stations.
RUN: 1:43:08, 7:52/mile, moved up 14 spots to finish 38 in AG
As I ran out of transition, I realized I left my heart rate monitor on. I hate running with it and I knew this run would be tough so didn't want to keep anything that would affect me in any way on. I pulled it off and dropped it over the side of the fence near a tree to hopefully know where to get it post race (and it was there after...a little dirty, but there). I got my Garmin on (I really need to upgrade to the 910 XT so I don't have to keep doing this...) and was running under 7:30 pace. This is normal to run faster than I plan for the first mile. I felt pretty good and rolled on. As you leave the park, you have to run up a hill. Oh...this is the hill I heard about? No problem. Ran up and over and back down easily and ran on. A couple turns later I realize that no, that was not the hill, so this must be the hill. Definitely bigger than the first, but I've seen worse. Up and over this hill and I'm thinking to myself that hill wasn't too bad, but shortly thereafter, we hit the big hill. It was definitely bigger than I expected. It hurt, but I made it up without walking and ran on. I tried to hit every aid station for water, perform, ice, and after a few miles, Coke. After the hills, I knew the run was going to suck. It felt hard. And it was getting hot. Not as hot as Eagleman has been in the past, but considering I ran the week before in 38 degree weather, 84/85 is HOT. I did my best to dump ice down my shorts, top, and in my hat and this seemed to help keep me from overheating too bad. The course is a three loop course and after the first loop, I hit the mat in about 33 minutes. Decent pace, IF I can keep it up. Unfortunately, despite cheers from my dad, and fellow Wattie's Colleen and Bryan, I was hitting the wall in lap 2. It sucked. I knew the hills were coming and I was hurting. I started getting some coke and was hoping this would pick me up. I got the hills out of the way, still running, so at the very least I knew I only had those one more time. I tried to let gravity do it's work on the back sides and tried to keep the pace up. Lap 2 I was averaging over 8 minute miles so I was not where I wanted or needed to be for my goals. After the swim and bike, my big goal was out the window, but my sub 5 goal was still alive. It wasn't a given, but it was still there. Towards the end of lap 2, my head started playing games with me though. I began having negative thoughts. You can't do it...you won't hit your goal...you don't have it in you today...that type of thing. I was letting it get to me and figured maybe I don't have it today. I can walk the hills the final lap. I'll still probably PR, even if I don't hit my goal. A quick pick me up from my dad who reminded me he had a cold beer waiting for me at the finish really helped. The cheering certainly helped and soon, I went into the tank, and thought about what my boy/coach/teammate Flanny had said to me... He told me there will be times where I'll be in a bad place mentally and that's where I needed to dig and find a way to turn my shit around. And you know what? I did that. I fucking dug deep. I had to if I was even going to have a chance. I know sub 5:00 isn't super fast, but it was a big goal for me. I told myself to get over that last set of hills, assess where I am, and figure out a plan to make it happen. So lap 3 starts and the pace isn't great. I'm not mentally where I need to be yet, but I'm getting there. One hill at a time. First hill is easy...hell, it's not really a hill, let's be honest, but in my mind it was the first of 3. Each progressively tougher than the last. One down, two to go. Next one...this sucks, but passing a shit load of people who are all walking. Good mental boost. I'm running, they're not. You've got this. One at a time. Second hill done. Hill three...keep going. Once again, tons of walkers, and the mental boost is much needed. Running strong-ish. Hill three DONE. HILLS DONE. Downhill from here. What are you made of Owen? I pulled out all of the stops. I thought about my wife and daughters following along online. They knew it'd be close, I knew it would be close. With about three miles left I knew I needed to average about an 8 minute mile to get there. I still wasn't sure I could do it. Two miles left...still just needed about 8 minutes per (and I KNEW I'd make up some ground in the last mile/half mile/quarter mile. Mile 12...one mile to go. You've got this. I ran about a 7:15 the final mile...turned towards the finish through the chute and BOOM! I did it. Hell, with plenty of time to spare! 4:58:55. I'll take it! I thought I was MUCH closer to 5:00 than I ended up being. Nonetheless, I'm glad I was able to pick it up (just realized miles 11 and 12 were not great as I look at my splits...yuck).
Big thanks to all of my sponsors and supporters! First my girls and my wife! I couldn't do any of this without them and I want to be an inspiration to my little ones and show them that if they want to do something, they should go for it. My wife is always an inspiration. She just hit a huge goal of hers at the Shamrock Marathon - breaking 3:00- and she beat that by over a minute too. She TRULY kicks ass. My dad, for the lodging, food, support, and BEER!
Sean Watkins and Wattie Ink! I feel privelaged to be part of something so awesome yet not worthy based on the caliber of all the other athletes on the team! There are some SERIOUSLY fast people on this team. They all kick ass though! Each and every one of them and I was lucky enough to meet a few of them this weekend in person for the first time. Colleen and Bryan especially...just supporting all of us racing. It was awesome having you all out there.
Team sponsors: Reynolds kick ass wheels! PowerBar, awesome nutrition! ISM, my ass feels great post-race! Speedfil, I stayed aero almost the whole race! And the rest of our sponsors who help keep this team running smoothly!
And finally thanks to Flanny, Wattie Teammate and Head Coach at Central Virginia Endurance/Black Dragon Racing for helping me get ready to race!
Brian at Personal Best Nutrition for great customer service and helping me make sure I get any nutritional/race day needs taken care of in time. And Travis from JRABS for helping this non-mechanical dummy keep his bike running smoothly on race day!
So what's next? Eagleman, June 8, 2014. See you there!