Today was the first race of the year for me at the Desert Classic Duathlon in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. The race is in its 21st year and TriSports.com was the sponsor for this year. I was excited to race again since taking a 2-month break from racing while transitioning into my job in Arizona and building my training volume for the upcoming season. While this duathlon is a “local” race without a prize purse, I knew there would be some good competition considering the huge amount of stud athletes in the area that could show up.
The week of the race was forecasting rain, strong winds, and temperatures unusually cold for the area. This didn’t bother me much as I figured that I was likely more accustomed to this than others in the area who are used to warm, dry conditions. I decided to pretty much train straight through this event and kept my training volume relatively high the week preceding the race. I got off work slightly early Friday night and managed to make it home around midnight after fighting the strong winds all the way. After preparing my equipment and everything else for the race, I finally got to bed around 1 am for my 4 hours of sleep. Luckily, I did not have any issues waking up to my alarm, and after eating my bowl of steel cut oatmeal I headed out for the race site.
I was one of the earlier people to arrive on site and there was no rain falling yet. It didn’t take me long to get set up and soon I was left with nothing to do except begin warming up and make the occasional port-a-john stop. I talked with the few people I knew there and eventually, the National Anthem was sung (with crowd support after a speaker malfunction) and the mountain bike duathletes began. Shortly after the 5k runners took off and then it was time for the road duathletes to line up. Almost on cue, it began to start raining just as we were lining up. After a few minutes of standing around, we were given the start countdown and we were off!
The one person I had spotted that I knew for sure would be a strong competitor from the start was Ben Kanute (Rio 2016 Olympian and otherwise quick dude). I didn’t recognize anybody else but knew that any one of these athletes could be a stud Pro and I would have no idea. As we began I slotted in right behind Ben expecting him to set a plenty fast enough pace. I quickly found myself wanting to speed up a bit and decided to make the bold move of taking the lead. I knew it likely would not last but managed to hold it for the first half mile at what I would call a semi-conservative pace (for a 5k at least). The course was on a hard packed trail littered with rocks and a ton of short, punchy climbs. Most of the uphill elevation was in the first mile before beginning a gradual descent. Ben had gained about a 10-second lead heading into the second mile which held steady for the next couple miles. The pace was quick but at no point did I believe I was over-exerting myself or burning any matches. In the last mile I noticed my left shoe getting a bit loose but simply reminded myself to tighten it before the next run and I would be fine (this is foreshadowing, it wasn’t fine).
I got to my bike as Ben was leaving with his. One of the volunteers reminded me to be careful on the bike, particularly where the mountain bikers crossed and I took a mental note. After running past the mount line I had some issues getting my feet into my shoes and getting going. It’s apparent I need to work on transitions as Ben was pretty far up the road by the time I began getting to work. The bike course was 2 out and back loops of 11.5 miles each. The first half of each stretch was uphill for a few miles before beginning descending. I had trouble getting into a rhythm to start with on the rough roads as the rain started coming down harder. As a began picking up speed after the uphills I was careful on some of the more winding roads. I frequently coasted the turns to ensure I didn’t crash in my first race of the season.
At the beginning of the second lap, I was informed by race owner Brett Stewart that I was about 1:20 down from Ben. I noticed that I still had a sizeable lead over the chasers behind us as well. I kept the pace similar to what I had done the first lap but tried to do a better job of bike handling. This was a bit difficult as we began to pass other racers and I generally aired on the side of caution. Eventually, I sped down the last descent and made the turn for the second transition. I had some issues taking my feet out of my shoes on the bike as my abdomen decided to begin cramping up whenever I bent down. I made it back to my spot in transition successfully when the real adventure began!
After putting on my right shoe I noticed the damage to my left shoe was worse than I thought. The laces on the shoe were beginning to unravel. I made the quick decision to go for it anyways and put the shoe on and attempted to tighten down what I could. In retrospect, I probably should have taken the time to put on my Hokas sitting just a foot away. Too late. The first mile wasn’t too bad despite the trails getting much slicker since it was primarily uphill. As I kept going, the laces began to simply fall apart.I adapted my gait to keep the shoe on my foot but was still much slower. This was super frustrating since my legs felt great! Entering the third mile the ground got much muddier and my shoe was on the verge of flying off any second. I stopped to assess if anything was fixable, but it was a hopeless cause. I tested running without it but soon put it back on as more rocks started popping up. With maybe a third of a mile to go, I gave up, removed the shoe, and ran it in with the dirty shoe in hand. I occasionally looked back to ensure nobody was coming from behind, but it seemed I had a sizeable gap.
I came in about 5 minutes behind Ben and 5 minutes ahead of Jesse Vondracek (Pro triathlete residing in Tucson). My second run ended up only being just over a couple minutes slower than the first despite the shoe issues and essentially trotting in the last mile. It got pretty cold as we waited for awards but I made a bunch of new friends from the Phoenix/Tucson area. While this may not have been the most pleasant or perfectly executed race, I was pretty happy with the results given the circumstances. My next race will be the half distance Toughman Arizona triathlon in exactly one month. That race will make for a good tune up as I face a stacked Pro field at Oceanside 70.3.
In other news, Rebekah arrives tonight to visit for a couple days! I’m super excited as I haven’t seen her in over a month now. We talk every day at least once a day but being apart has likely been the worst part of living in Arizona so far. Time to crunch a month’s worth of fun into a couple days!
Extra side note. Malcolm McGuire who finished 4th Overall in the road duathlon proposed to his now fiancé later that day. Congrats!