After Ironman Tulsa I seemed to recover fairly quickly, and went about making an aggressive race schedule for the next month or two. Just two weeks (13 days specifically) after racing in Tulsa, I decided to race the Deuce’s Wild Half Distance triathlon in Show Low, Arizona. This is a race that I’d heard stories of from my coach Jesse Vondracek, and I had been curious about it in the past since I knew Show Low would be a great location for a tri. With the Professional Triathlete Association adding a $15,000 prize purse to the race, I pulled the trigger on a fun weekend of racing with possibility of a good paycheck!
With a coworker offering to take my Friday work shift (thanks Chelsea!), I was able to head out in the morning for the 7.5 hour drive to Show Low, AZ. It was a scenic but rather uneventful drive and I actually showed up TOO early and had to wait until packet pickup started at 1pm to get into the park at Fool’s Hollow Lake. While hanging out in the park I met up with coach Jesse and other Pro’s Marj Stamer, Ben Deal, and Summer Deal. We all went on a quick swim to check out the course before heading over for the pre-race athlete briefing.
It was pretty apparent that the Pro race was going to be quite small as only 5 girls and 4 guys were present at the Pro athlete briefing. This took some pressure off knowing that I was almost guaranteed a paycheck with my race result, but also made for an interesting dynamic with only a few other guys who’s strengths and weaknesses I knew pretty well. Specifically, Jesse Vondracek and Pedro Gomes I have gone back and forth with in the past few years depending on the race and who was having a good or bad day. Ben Deal has been recovering from Covid over the past months, but is young and could always play into the race dynamics on race day. Either way, I was excited and felt ready for a good day of racing on Saturday.
A early 3:30am wake-up call didn’t feel great, but I hopped on the trainer to get a quick 20 minute spin in to get the body moving. I often feel better doing this, but larger races often make this impossible with earlier bike check-ins. We got to the race site with plenty of time, and the atmosphere was very casual with the sun rising as we went down to set everything up. After getting all set up, I slammed a BASE gel and headed down to the water for a short warm up before everyone got lined up for the 5:55am start.
It was a “mass” start with the 4 guys going off first, followed by the 5 women a minute after. For probably the first time ever in a Pro race, nobody crept forward or jumped the gun, and everybody started legally and at the same time! I had positioned myself to the left of the group and had a decent start in clean water. Jostling for position as we started swimming was interesting as generally nobody likely wanted to give the others a free ride. Eventually, Ben and Jesse pulled away a bit, while Pedro and I swam off to the side of each other taking slightly different lines.
We curved around the shore and out to the first turn buoy where things remained about the same. In the long stretch from the first to the second turn buoy, Pedro slowly gained some ground ahead of me. Particularly when I noticed that the line I was taking nearly led me head first into a group of rocks. The water level in the lake has been extremely low recently, so it wasn’t uncommon for us to see weeds and sticks sticking up from the bottom, but I had nearly swam into some quite large rocks sticking out a bit from the shore! I quickly corrected and continued on with about half the swim to go to limit too much damage to the rest of the guys. Unfortunately, after rounding the second turn buoy I took another line which wasn’t ideal, and nearly went into the wrong channel before the one leading to our swim exit. I was able to correct it once again, but had likely taken another line that added time. The disappointing part was that I was swimming exactly where I wanted to, it just happened to be not the quickest line to get to the finish!
As I finally made my way into the correct swim exit, I saw that Pedro was maybe a minute ahead so not too much time had been lost. I came out of the water feeling like I hadn’t expended too much energy and was ready to hammer the bike. I had an okay transition and got started on the roughest section of the course exiting the park with a ton of expansion joints. I quickly saw one of Jesse’s bottles on the side of the road which must have ejected on one of the may bumps. 2 seconds later as I hit the next bump, but flat kit storage container completely flew off spewing everything onto the road. After a second or two of internal conflict, I turned around to grab what I could. I somewhat gingerly laid my bike on the ground to grab what I could, throw it in the container, and re-attach it to my bike. I then jumped back on and tried to get back up to speed as quick as possible and carried on with a now even BIGGER deficit. My file later showed that I had been stopped for about 30 seconds, so I would guesstimate up to 60 seconds had been lost with turning around and trying to regain speed after the fact.
Once I exited the park and got onto smoother pavement, I quickly got into a rhythm and got to work. It didn’t take long for me to see Ben and Pedro up the road, and I could tell I was making good progress on them. I caught Ben a little over 10 miles into the ride and kept the pass steady, as I correctly assumed he wouldn’t have the desire to go with me at the speed I was carrying. Pedro had gotten a little further up the road and I nearly closed the gap around mile 15 of the ride. As we started up a hill and were approaching an aid station, I put in a surge to make the pass. I continued to surge hard into the following downhill and even pressed on over the next roller. I knew Pedro would be motivated to not let me get up the road, so I tried to immediately establish a gap. When I eventually peeked back, I saw I had been successful, but didn’t back off too much as I still wasn’t able to see Jesse up the road.
At around mile 35 during a long slightly downhill stretch I was finally able to spot Jesse in the distance. I worked hard to close the gap, an got him within about 30 seconds by mile 45 after we had hit some uphills with headwinds coming back into Show Low. Power was starting to come harder and harder and I wasn’t able to close the gap despite seeing him right there the whole time. I came into transition without ejecting anything this time, and felt decent starting the run. But not as fresh as I would have hoped. Though that is probably to be expected after a hard swim and ride at an altitude of 6,500 feet! Though even with the mishaps, I was able to manage a bike course record of 2:12:03 with a normalized power of 280 watts. So not terrible at least.
In the first few miles, I was able to spot Jesse 30-45 seconds up the trail. The course was a mix of trails, roads, hills, and even some stairs which made for a uniquely challenging experience. I continued to keep working hard trying to reel Jesse in, but that 30 second gap just never diminished! At the halfway point I really started feeling the effects of the altitude and likely dehydration setting in from surging past aid stations on the bike. I had been slamming fluids on the run to catch up, but I was definitely paying the price now. I could tell Pedro was suffering even worse behind me and I had a very sizable gap to him and Ben. But Jesse started to pull away as my pace slowed and became nearly a death march. I was able to maintain something resembling a decent pace on the flats and down hills, but was crushed on the many large uphills on the course. I pushed hard in the final miles to keep the gap from widening too far, and ended up crossing the line in 4:10:58. What would have been a 6 minute course record, ended up being 4 minutes behind Jesse who had defended his prior Deuceman title!
This race ended up being exactly what I needed. While I certainly would have liked to take the W, I took away a number of things that I need to work on to have better races later in the season. Specifically with fueling, hydration, and making sure nothing is capable of falling off my bike! I was able to make the trip back home to Grand Junction later in the day after hanging out at the race site for awhile. Next up is the AlphaWin Half Triathlon at Highline State Park in Grand Junction this weekend. I intend to fine tune things here before going for broke at Des Moines 70.3 just 8 days after against some big names. In the mean time it will be some more hard work and even harder recovery to see what is possible!