When the bulk of the fitness training you do revolves around a particular sport--triathlon for me--you tend to answer a lot of questions about the well-known events that feature that sport. In this case, Ironman.
Have you done one?
Are you going to do one?
And, in my case, why not?
I haven't done one and don't plan to. I've done two half-Ironman distance races, and they were two of the three worst days I've experienced in my life. No joke. It was horrible. But I do love the sport. I love to feel myself get faster in the pool, look at my wattage on a Computrainer and see it improve over time, and more than anything, I love to see my pace get better and better as I log more miles with my feet.
The truth is, while I love doing the things that comprise triathlon, I do the training because I want to climb mountains more efficiently. That's it. I choose these things because I know them and I enjoy them, and they do ultimately help me work toward my goals.
So, I train with a bunch of people who are all training for the next big race they have signed up for. They all ask me when I plan to do another big one, and I always just say that's not the goal. It's fine, and we all get along quite well.
But once each year, one race takes place that I love to use as a test to my mental toughness and physical improvement. It's the Churchill County Parks and Recreation Department's super low-key Dust Devil Sprint Triathlon in Fallon.
I first ran this race in 2011, and felt pretty good about it. I did it with a friend and he smoked me. The next two years were the years I did the half-Ironman distance races, so I focused on them and they might have even been held within a week or two of this race, so I didn't consider doing it again. Then, I got into climbing and hiking, so I spent the summers working on that. In 2014, I worked on Mount Whitney. In 2015, I was focused on Mount Rainier. My 2016 life was consumed by Denali, which was a travesty that I will rectify.
After blowing it on Denali, I was really mad at myself. I got home in late June and had just failed a huge and important to me endeavor (my bailout day was the other of the three worst days of my life). I needed something to refocus my energy. A few of my training buddies were going to do the Fallon race, and it was about six weeks away, so I figured I could use that to regain a little confidence. I wanted to make sure I was still capable of finishing something that's generally hard and do it in a way that made me feel like I had actually accomplished a real thing.
I went out that year and ran the race angry. I pushed every bit of it harder than I would ever have normally push din a race. I tend to save myself too often, which is a problem in a shorter race. There just isn't much to save yourself for, and you don't get all that stored energy back, so you might as well go for it. I did, and hit a PR for myself. I was pretty happy, won my age group, and was able to justify my work to myself, which was why I was there that day. I even had a decent time racing against one guy who was with me the whole way and I eventually beat during the run. He had been in my lane in the pool and was with me for most of the bike and through the second transition. The run is what I view as your closing speed. If you can do all of that other stuff, then still run well, you're fit. I did it that day.
As the next year rolled around, I thought I should go out and try to beat that PR and purposefully push myself as hard as I could possibly push. Again, this race is basically just working out for a little over an hour, which is not a lot when you actively train 10+ hours each week (which is really not that much). As someone who routinely swims a workout of 2500+ yards, a 525 yard leg in a pool is nothing. It's a few minutes. I could push that as hard as my body could go, then get on my bike and be completely fine because that swim isn't much of an effort. The bike is always harder for me. I am not a strong cyclist at all. But pushing that really hard shouldn't kill me for the run, which I know I am capable of. How fast I could run, though, would be a test.
I did those things and ultimately was disappointed. I missed that PR time by nine seconds. I was slower by a few seconds in each of the three legs, but made up time with faster transitions. I think I went sockless in 2017, which shaves time off a transition for a mostly casual racer like me. The elites all do it. The race felt good, though. I was happy when I crossed the line and didn't even realize how close I was until I got home. I did get beat in my age group, though, which bummed me out.
So, this year came along, and I probably would have passed the race up if I hadn't gotten the flyer in the mail a few weeks ago. I hadn't ridden my bike outside except for one time this year. I wasn't really prepared to race, but I was in the best shape I've been in for as long as I can track. I was in better shape and lighter than the year I went to Denali, which is a huge reason I'm still angry about that. I figured I had to keep it going now and see what I could do at that race. I sent my entry in with a check because there were no additional fees like there were online. I got back a hand-written receipt, which rules. I announced that I was actually going to do a race to all my training buddies, and they were excited for me. I got a text or two wishing me luck the day before. I was happy and feeling good about this.
Race day is always a weird one for me. I am excited because I know I can do the race, and I'm in pretty good shape for it, but I still hate it. I'm definitely not alone in this, but the number of times I consider just bailing out before the start is mind boggling. It's all I think about as I get my bike racked and set out my towel, socks that I may or may not wear, put on sunscreen, and drink about three liters of water to get ready.
This year was even different for me in the actual race. The swim portion is in a 25 yard pool with six available lanes. In the past, we swam three to a lane and circled, with staggered starts fifteen seconds apart. And usually there are multiple waves. One wave begins, and another 20 minutes later. I have always been in the first wave, so I didn't have to sit around waiting for others to finish. I even started first in my lane each time, so I was always leaving at the very start. This year, there were two in each lane, they asked us to split, and we started together and swam side-by-side the entire time. That's all fine. But I was in the second wave. It just gave me more time to think about how horrible this would all be.
When you sign up, you have to put down a time that you think it'll take you to swim 500 yards. I have a pretty good idea all the time what I can swim, and generally can beat that time, so I put a conservative number down. They pair you with someone else around that time so you aren't running into each other (more important for the circle swimming) every few laps. From what I could tell on the starting grid, all the faster people were put in Wave 2. This is good for the race. It gives people who are going to be slower in the pool a chance to get out in front of the faster racers and makes for a more fun environment on the course. In 2017 I was first out of the water and never saw anyone again on the course. I like seeing other people out there. Plus, with the faster people all together in Wave 2, there would be a real race among that group, possibly for the overall win.
The swim was good for me. I felt a bit of anxiety in the first couple of laps and that might have slowed me down because I never really got a strong rhythm. I was swimming well, but not able to hit the next gear and cut a few seconds off of each lap. However, my overall fitness made up for it this time. I was first out of the water and based on my quick glance at the clock, had beaten my best swim time in this race by over 30 seconds. I also heard a woman come out ofter me and get upset that she wasn't first. That's a decent thing to hear when you're racing in your own mind.
Transition 1 went just fine. I went no socks because I was feeling like I could use the time. The race just isn't long enough to have that affect you too much, so in the interest of speed, I made that minor call.
Out of transition, my legs were heavy. Lacking any outdoor riding basically all year was going to hurt. I could push, but there's just a difference on the road versus on a trainer. This was going to hurt. But I went for it like I had planned. About five miles into the ride, I got smoked by a guy I had heard talking about his Ironmans he'd done. He blew by me and got about 100 feet ahead, then just slowed down a chilled for a while. I couldn't figure it out. He had pretty much cruised by me with little effort on his Time Trial bike, which all things being equal, should have crushed me. But he hung back and kept looking over his shoulder at me as I labored to keep up. We hit a turn about halfway through to head back, and I knew we were on the only portion of the course that's just barely a slight downhill. So I stood and decided to pass him and maybe get in his head a bit by making it look effortless.
I got by him and put some distance between us. About a mile and a half later, we started passing the Wave 1 riders. A spread out group of them was in my sights and I started working to pick them off. At about 12 miles, the same dude flew by me again. At the very least, by this point we didn't have enough road left for him to put serious distance between us, so I figured I would be fine and could work to catch him on the run. Then, with him about 100 feet ahead of me, we came to a left turn. There was a guy stopping traffic there, but not really directing us, and the guy ahead of me missed the turn. I was yelling "left, left!" when I saw that he wasn't intending to make the turn, and there were signs and road markings, but he missed it. He had to turn around, which gave me the lead back and I rode into transition about 20 seconds ahead of him.
I'm pretty slow in transitions compared to seasoned triathletes. I can't take my feet out of my shoes while on the bike and I don't wear quick-tie laces on my running shoes, so things take a little bit of time there. That guy beat me out of transition by about ten seconds, which over the course of three miles isn't much to make up. A quarter of a mile in I went by him and could tell he wouldn't be giving me much trouble. Over the course fo the run I was getting updates from my watch each mile. I was feeling sort of slow, but running about as fast as I could have expected to hold. My legs started out numb from the grind of the bike--a constant hard push for 40+ minutes isn't something I'm really used to--but I was able to get it together at around a half mile into the run.
There's a nice water station just past the first mile marker. You pass that same station just after two miles as well. It's a great guide for the race. I don't take water for short distances like this, but I love being able to mark my spot and gauge how hard to push by that water station. I passed it up and made my way to the highway for a brief stretch, then though the fairgrounds and back to the water station. Passing the water station the second time tells me that I'm a little more than a half mile to go. I looked at my watch here and was sitting at 73 minutes overall. My PR was 79 minutes and change. With a half mile remaining, I was going to crush my PR. I turned the corner and wrapped around the outfield of the softball fields there, and hit the home stretch. It's impossible to not speed up here, but I tried to keep myself from passing out at the end or getting hurt for being dumb, so I slowed myself a bit. I crossed the finish line at 1:16:37 on my watch, which was three whole minutes better than the 2016 time. I had crushed my own personal best.
That was enough for me on this one. I cleaned my gear up and grabbed some lunch while waiting for the awards ceremony. The lunch at this race is some barbecued chicken that they make right there. It's a quirky little touch that this race has over every other race I've done. It's just a cool little local competition that I'm happy to support and be a part of each year that I do it.
As soon as everyone had finished the race, they began handing out age group awards. With each age group, they announced the time of the winner. I was handed my medal for first place in the 40-44 age group, and no one before that had beaten my official time of 1:16:40. There were a few veterans of the race that I recognized in the older groups, but none beat that time. I had won the overall race, which I had never done in anything as far as I could remember.
I'll take that.
The race has gotten smaller every year I've been in it. I hope that doesn't mean it's close to going away. I seem to remember that it began as part of a summer program for locals to train with the Parks and Rec. department and the race was the culmination of that program. It doesn't seem to be that anymore, as far as I can tell. But a lot of the same people show up every year to do their thing. That's the type of race I appreciate the most. It's small, there aren't too many alpha bros hanging around (there are a couple, but, you know, beating them is always pretty awesome), and when it's over, a few people hang out, most just go home. I'm not into the festival thing that surrounds races, so this is right in my wheelhouse.
As for my own future, I'll keep doing this race for as long as I am training and it's around. This year (winning doesn't hurt) solidified that for me.
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