Despite all of the stuff going on aside from the race I made it to the event with enough time to get in a jog and some easy swimming to warm up and recon the course. The park where the event is staged is a beautiful area just above a huge dam and along the american river...there are lots of trees and the water is cool and clean. We lucked out and the weather had cooled down as the day before it had been 107 degrees in Folsom. The sun was rising directly above the far end of the swim course which made seeing the far turn buoy a little tough so I floated around a bit and strategised some cues to get a good line. I had been talking with Joel Wilson, one of the foremost experts in the world on open water swimming, earlier in the week about moderating my effort in the swim portion as I have been feeling like my heart and lungs are always so strained after exiting the water and my plan was to set more of a controlled pace throughout the swim regardless of what everyone else was doing.
At the start everyone was spread really wide so I got to get up to speed in open water which was really nice and there were some underwater lines that ran paralel to the course so for a little while sighting wasn't really necessary. There was a group of people that were staying much closer to shore than I but I kept faith in my strategy and line, which ended up being a good plan because those people ended up swinging really wide to the first turn and lost a good amount of time in the extra distance. I spent the entire swim alone and out front which is always a good feeling and even though I was tired it is always a boost to be leading an event. The water was the perfect temperature and the swim was fairly long which made for a great test of my pacing and it was nice to be alone.
I exited the water and peeked back to see if anyone was right on my heals but it looked like I had a good gap. Through transition smoothly and with a bit of a lead I kept myself calm and allowed myself to build into a rhythm on the bike; I have a tendency to really hit the gas hard right away and since I was feeling tired I wanted to make sure I was keep my energy expenditure steady. The roads used for the course were in great condition and I set my mind to using the first few miles to build up to a strong but smooth pace. The first third of the bike course has a rolling uphill tendency so the speed was not all that high but I let things play out and got my effort up to what felt like a good solid pace. The wind was beginning to pick up and as we got out to the moe exposed and remote roads there was a steady head and cross wind for much of the middle section of the bike course. Around mile eight or so an unfamiliar figure passed me who I later found out was local athlete and coach Mike White of Folsom Lake Multisport. At the time I was blown away because I knew that he had already put at least a minute if not two into me and I thought I might not be riding all that well. It turns out Mike is a beast on the bike and crushed everyone.
Sometimes it is really nice to have someone ahead of you on the bike, especially if that person is faster than you are, because you can keep an eye on them and you know if you are holding pace with them then you are doing well. This was my strategy for the rest of the bike to just keep Mike from pulling away and it was a challenge to say the least...at times I was grinding my hardest gear and at others spinning it out just to keep pace with him. No one else caught us but on the out-and-back section of the course there were plenty of strong guys within a few minutes of us so there was no letting up. Mike kept the pace high all the way back to transition and we went through together...I told him that he had put in a great ride and he said something to the effect of not being able to hang for the run. This was a bit of a relief but you never really know what people are capable of and there were fast runners back in the field so I did not hesitate to punch it from the start.
I had a great run several weeks ago and I tried to channel the feeling I experienced that day as I accelerated up to pace. The American River Trail on which the run was held is beautiful and snakes along the shoreline through trees and bushes remaining well sheltered from the sun and the cool breeze of the day made for perfect running conditions.The course undulated more than I had expected with a few rises in the road along the way. I backed way off on the hills to ensure I did not pop myself and then let my legs accelerate down the other side. I felt like I was running well and after the turn around it was more than a minute to the first chaser. It is always a good feeling to have a cushion and for some reason it makes it easier for me to perform my best when there is less pressure.
I kept as hard and steady a pace as I possibly could going and just kept counting down distane and time as I went to keep myself motivated. I was really wrecked when I finished and thankfully there was a nice resting area just past the finish with cold towels and lounge-chairs to flop on. Many of my teammates finished in the top ten and came in not long after me. It was great to see them all performing so well, especially since I get so few opportunities to race or train with them.
It was a good, tough race and I was glad to do so well under less than optimal conditions. It was great to have all the super strong guys out there on course keeping me motivated. As always USA Productions put on a great event and even though the travel was such a nightmare I am glad I made the trip. I am pumped that the venue was so nice and I definitely plan on returning here for races in the future. Thanks to all the volunteers and other athletes for being a part of such a fun and inspiring community!