Or, the story of my weekend in Luray.
Last week I was feeling pretty beat, and in general haven't been handling things very well lately. I am beyond tired, I'm annoyed at my fitness, disappointed in my results and more than anything, really, really banged up. Not that I would wish my injuries on anyone, but I sometimes wish everyone could experience a week's worth of these workouts with my worthless knee. As a result of all these things, I didn't do much last week. Very light week in the pool, only getting in twice for very short workouts, and only running two days during the week for a miniscule 7 miles each time. On the bike, it was also fairly short, with the highlight coming from Wednesday's longer ride (50+) riding up from my house to Oregon Ridge (20ish) to meet Alyssa, then riding the Wednesday Night Ride route. In all, it was quite a dissimilar week from last year as I led up to Luray, when it was my first race in 13 months. I remember going into that week excited, albeit nervous, to race again, and then got a scare when on Wednesday of that week my PT jacked my knee so hard that I didn't think I'd be able to race. That time, I managed to miraculously feel better on race morning, and had one of my better races, relative to my fitness, of the past few years. I had swam a 25:52 in the non-wetsuit swim, rode a 1:14:12 on my road bike and ran 39:49 for the 10k on just 6 weeks of running and riding.
This year my ambitions were slightly higher, expecting to ride at least 6 minutes faster (I've ridden 1:08:12 on the course before) and I figured I would, at worst, swim and run about the same. If I took out 6 minutes, that would have put me around 2:16 and I felt like that would be good enough for a top 10 finish, and with two weeks to go before IM Louisville, I'd be pleased with that.
Friday: Alyssa and I roll out from Baltimore around 4:30 and make it to Luray around 3 hours later. The highlight of the trip was drinking a huge thing of Arizona Green Tea, then hitting some minor traffic near Harper's Ferry and having to squirm and wiggle in the car to hold in my bladder until we could get to a bathroom. The lowlight was on Route 340, when we approached a vehicular accident, which I guessed was a motorcycle going over the rail on a curvy descent, before we got there. I was right, unfortunately, and as we saw the mangled bike and the officer wheeling out some distance, I figured he must have perished. This was confirmed later by Pat, who had gone through right after it happened and the M.E. was placing the white sheet over the deceased. This was supposed to be the road we were going to be riding on on Sunday's ride, which we immediately nixed.
The cabin we were staying in was a different one from last year, and the owner of the house was really harping on making sure we had 4WD to get up to the crib. Thinking that it was probably just a steep, dirt driveway we didn't think much of it, until the other guys (Andy aka Chicken Tender Runner, Ben, Zero and Pat were already there) confirmed that it was, in fact, non-passable for their cars. Alyssa has 4WD on the Tracker, so we felt fortunate we did not have to walk the half mile up the super steep climb as the other guys did. They managed to get halfway up the road or so, but had to walk the rest. Dinner was a pretty tasty yet simple pasta with meat sauce made by yours truly, and then we hit the sack pretty early (after seeing a little black bear waltz through our backyard). The view from the cabin was insane, and in general the cabin was quite nice.
Saturday: Arrive at transition and start getting ourselves together. My bike has been throwing some tantrums lately and it did not feel like accepting air into the tires, so I brought it over to Race Day Tech. He helped out, and I got myself situated in transition. Over the years I have gotten the amount of stuff I bring down to quite a small level for these distance races. Bike, helmet, sunglasses (both on the bike); flats on the ground with race number; shoes clipped into bike. That's it. The water had cooled down but it was still non-wetsuit, so all of us put on our pretty little speedsuits again and got into the 78ish degree water. The swim course had changed slightly from years' past and looked really stupid. As the gun sounded for our wave (the first one), we got out predictably quick. Not really much jostling, but something felt off as I swam towards the first buoy. My HR skyrocketed and I started thinking too much, about everything - life, why am I swimming so terrible, I should just stop - and then I wanted to stop swimming at the buoy and just breast stroke for a minute. I decided against it, slowed down for a second and lengthened my stroke, and took a few deep breaths and seemed to calm down.
I seemed to be, at the very least, steadily moving up through the field, giving me the false impression of swimming decent. I thought I took the right line at one point but I think it lost me a few seconds, and then we got to the far end of the swamp and turned back into the middle of it. I still felt okay, but didn't really feel like swimming much anymore, so I was glad to be done. Only towards the end did someone from the next wave (3min back) catch up to me, so I felt like I had done at least a little better than the last couple of swims. Later, this was confirmed to not be true, as I swam 26:28. This is the same time I swam at NJ a few weeks ago, which was in 90 degree water on a 90 degree day, where I was swimming into a blinding sun and generally felt like death. Comparing a few of the other swims would lead me to believe the course was at least a little bit long, and I wouldn't normally say that but I think it was this time. I was a staggering 3:50 back to Pat (last year I had at least kept it to 1:40, but this year he is swimming much better) and 2:45 to Z, and about 2:30 back of CTR. I'm disappointed with my swimming still, but it's too late to fix it before next weekend, so I just have to deal.
In transition I ran along the beach, on the grass and up the dangerous steps into the bike area, and ran out with my bike. Nothing special in T1, but I got onto the bike and people were immediately glad to see me because I was once again racing in the NEON GREEN SPEEDO and no shirt. I was quickly dubbed "Speedo Guy" by the announcer and received considerable applause.
Onto the bike. The bike course is flat for a quarter mile but then you turn left up a fairly steep, quarter mile+ long hill. I felt strong riding up it, passing one or two dudes immediately, but something was wrong with my bike. It was making an awful scratching noise and I felt like I was pedaling through molasses. I rolled down the other side of the hill and pulled over to check out the problem. Aha. The rear brake was rubbing against the rim, someone had closed the little thing - I always leave it open because for some reason it is not able to be closed and spin freely. I figured maybe the race day tech guy had done it when he was helping with the wheels. No big deal, I'll get on my way and be fine. Only it wasn't. Not even close. The sound was still just as bad, and I was going NOWHERE. I don't get passed by people on the bike. I especially don't get passed by people who are older than 40 (generally, there are a few dudes I know who are pretty sweet at riding bikes and will pass me). Now I'm real mad. I stop again at the top of this other steep little hill around 5 miles in and notice that the wheel is just not spinning at all. In fact, it's not even centered properly. I honestly don't know how I hadn't crashed out. So I think I fix it, but in reality, I hadn't done anything. For 26.2 miles I rode on this non-functioning bike and got passed all the way. Somehow I still managed to pass people going uphill, but I was getting burned on downhills. And the sound was real bad. I finally pull into T2, again to raucous applause, but had ridden a beyond disappointing 1:15:36. I was so angry I wanted to throw my piece of shit brand new bike into the lake. Never in my life have I had a mechanical that has prevented me from riding, especially not one that just appeared out of nowhere. Andy had passed me on the bike, making up the 6 minute head start I had, and I was just like fuck it.
T2 at this point was of no consequence, so I went out onto the run and decided I'd rather just keep the effort even. Truly my only motivation now was to make sure that Ben didn't pass me, which was a real threat. I had no watch again (getting old) and just ran. The course was different this year, instead of two loops on the shitty rolling road it was one loop (out and back). Half of it was paved - the first 1.5 and last 1.5 - and the middle part was on gravel, dirt and rocks. Not very comfortable in the flats, but I managed. Here is where I first glimpsed Mighty Matias, some 6 minutes ahead of second place, and Z was in 5th on the road, followed shortly by Pat. They appeared to be having good races. CTR was next up, making up his 6 minute stagger. At the turnaround I was rolling the slower dudes ahead, but then as I trudged up the rocky hill, I saw Ben, FLYING. Yikes. With no clue how fast or slow I was running, but guessing that Ben was running in the 5:40 range, I realized I better be running at least a minute per mile faster than he is or I'm going to be caught.
I decided to not look back at all, until .2 to go, when I gave a quick glimpse and made sure he wasn't there. I strided across the line in 2:24:36 - like 2 minutes slower than last year - for 24th place. My run time was 39:56, which, all things considered, wasn't too bad. It was the 15th fastest run of the day and only 7 seconds slower than last year, when I felt like I was going very fast. And, compared to some of the other runs, was pretty decent. It was also, sadly, my fastest 10k off the bike this year, with probably the least amount of effort (other than Rumpus, where I was literally jogging).
Andy had ended up finishing 7th, a few seconds ahead of Z who was 8th, and Pat was 9th. A great day for our little gang of buttcrushers. Ben was 30th, on the heels of an admittedly weak swim, a solid bike and a great run (4th, 36:50). Page County is no joke man. Then it was Alyssa's turn, who probably turned out her best performance ever, finishing 2nd to Katie Gage Davison-soon-to-be-Palavecino. Alyssa swam 2 minutes faster than last year, ran 2 minutes faster than last year and rode a mind-blowing 10 minutes faster. Her bike split was better than mine, and was 2nd among women. Insane. At least everyone else did well.
When we got into transition and examined my bike, we saw that I had completely fucked up my wheel. Brand new Zipp 808s. They look like they are structurally okay, which I will confirm tomorrow at the bike shop, but they look messed up now. I was a sad boy. More disturbing was how they got that way, and that was in fact a non-centered wheel which was rubbing (or whatever gerundive is worse than rubbing) against the chainstay. The wheel barely moved at all, which is no wonder why I didn't move at all. When you've had the 3rd best split of the day at this race before and then you have the 63rd best, something clearly is wrong. Aerobically I didn't feel too bad off the bike, which is why I think I ran "okay" but my legs were shredded from pushing pedals and going nowhere. Then I started thinking, how long has it been a problem and I haven't noticed? I put the wheels on at Eagleman, and I had trouble with them that day. It was fine at Eagleman though, I know that. I then didn't ride the bike again until Randolph last month, and it seemed fine that day, but I remember thinking at NJ that something didn't feel right and I wonder if it got knocked out of sorts around that time. Either way, it didn't make the sound it did on Saturday, so I just didn't notice it I guess if it was a problem.
Ben and I were the only ones who didn't get awards, which was sad, but we went and got lunch and made the best of our day. We got back to the cabin and had to haul a ton of groceries up the hill - foolish Ben was concerned about the watermelon (which we did not even eat) and the beer, so he was pretty wiped by the time he got up to the top. We then feasted on red meat while watching Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and Dinner For Schmucks. Classic Luray weekend. Zero also helped figure out my wheel situation so I could at least ride on Sunday morning.
Sunday: After going to bed pretty early Saturday night we were up early to ride on Sunday. The weather was iffy at best, and looked like we might get rained out of our planned Skyline Drive ride. But, it seemed okay, so we went. We drove down to town and started there with 5 miles steadily uphill before the 4 mile serious climb to Skyline Drive. It was epic. Fog, drops of rain, and with my wheel markedly improved, I felt awesome. I set a furious tempo to the top and felt great doing it, even though I hate riding that bike. I no longer trust that bike, and more than anything it hurts my knee, which makes me think my position is not solid on there because I feel cramped. I hate climbing on it too. We get to Skyline and have to pay $8 to ride on it, and the woman was definitely trying to dissuade us from riding there due to the fog. Fortunately, the fog cleared up after a few more miles of uphill and we enjoyed some scenic views from many thousand feet above sea level.
Andy and Pat were riding a little less and then running off the bike, so they turned around at 20 miles. Ben was hellbent on getting to 80 on the day (never having ridden more than 70 miles I felt this was ambitious, particularly the day after a race and being on Skyline Drive), and me, Zero and Alyssa were staggered along the road. We had Alyssa turn around a few minutes before Z and I did, and then we got right back into the climbs. Ben had gone a little further out on his own, taking off, and then somehow got back in front of us, so he acted as my carrot up the climbs. By the 3 mile climb back up to our day's high point at 3385ft, I knew I would catch him. I got him with a mile to go and rode up to the top super comfortably. I was loving it. Those are definitely my types of climbs. From there, it was actually a nice little trip back downhill into Luray, so it was pretty quick, and we needed to add a little time. By the end of the 4 hours I was no longer wishing to ride my bike, and then we chomped on some McDonald's. After that it was time to get back to the cabin and make our way home.
It was one of those weekends, a disappointing race but a fun weekend overall. It was great to hang out with CTR, who we have never really hung out with much before, and always great to see Ben, even though he has to endure my old man jokes. We were pretty tired upon returning to Baltimore, and yesterday I took pretty easy with just a 7 mile run. Today was just a little bit of a swim. Tomorrow heading to the track to race a 5000m, and as long as I can get my bike squared away with its necessary fixes, I'm going to do the Church Creek 40k TT on Saturday out near the Eagleman course. I wasn't going to do it, but this weekend left a bad taste of no confidence in my mouth, and I want to ride that bike again well before heading to Louisville next week. For the week it was pretty light at just 24 miles on 3 runs, something minimal like 6500 in the water and then maybe 130 miles on the bike. This week will be just a little more than that and then next week slightly more chill.
Race day is almost here, and I'm hoping for weather like we've been having. The high today here was 86 degrees I think, and it felt almost cool. As long as it isn't above that next Sunday I think I'll be alright.
In summation, things I won't get fooled again by:
1. When someone down there says you need 4WD to get there, they probably mean it, and we're probably going to be walking up and down some gnarly hills.
2. My bike. It better not fool me again into thinking that it operates properly when it CLEARLY does not.
3. Skyline Drive is hard. Especially on tri bikes, the day after a race. I like Luray, and the Luray weekend. Maybe next year it will be Saturday race followed by spelunking or something non-training related.
Great job to my Team CYB teammates this weekend!