This wasn't a big race, mind you. A local sprint. But a great event that's been held for 20-plus years in Harriman State Park in New York. Hills, hills, and more hills on the bike. I'd raced some of these events in the past, and had some great Age-Group wins. Due to a few changes to the bike course (now longer by four miles) I really didn't know what to expect from this race. I'd been training well, and was feeling fit, so I thought at least I might have a good AG placing.
There were three waves at the start - and I was in wave two. We started out on the swim and I really felt good. Was moving well and when I hit T1 I knew I was in a good position to go into the bike.
Now, I have to admit that the race organizers made a few interesting decisions that impacted race strategy. First, all caps were the same color - regardless of wave. Second, waves were by bib number and not age grouping. And third, body marking did not include an age designation on your calf. All of these added up to make it very difficult to gauge where you were on the course in relation to others. I suppose, if you verified the race number on someones bike you could determine what wave they were in, but it was very difficult to determine where you were positioned in relation to overall leaders or those in your age group. There was also a Duathlon aspect to this event, and with no distinction between the two events it added more confusion out on the course in regards to your overall position.
So, onto the bike. And the hills. Cut to heading into the turnaround section and I'm keeping contact with two athletes in front of me who I think, at the time, are the only two in front of me. That's quickly dispelled by seeing someone tearing down the other direction after the turnaround. No worries, I'm still in a better position than I anticipated. Making the turn provided the fortunate opportunity to take advantage of some rolling downhill sections and I tried to make up some time. About 2 miles from the final turn towards the transition area an ambulance came past and I soon rolled by one of the competitors ahead of me that had crashed badly. The roads weren't in the best of conditions and I can only imagine what happened. A quick glance showed road-rash all down the right side of his upper body.
A long slog uphill for a few miles back to T2. I came in, had a pretty nice transition, and was headed out. For some reason one of the folks ahead of me wasn't that far off and looked to be moving slowly on the run. I gathered him in after a few minutes, but still had no idea if he was a Duathlete, in my wave, or what age group. As I approached a turnaround point on the run - which wasn't feeling good at all by the way - I saw that there were three athletes ahead of me. I made an assumption about one of them (the cycling jersey he was wearing, perhaps) being in the Duathlon, but the other two I had no idea what wave they were in. Looking at their bib numbers didn't seem to register with me at the time as I was concentrating on the pain in my legs.
I couldn't pull any close to runners ahead of me and a few glances behind showed that I had put some distance on the person behind me. All clear. I came to the final stretch, finally felt my legs come around, and finished strong. Now it was time to wait and see how I placed. Worst case it was a third or fourth overall - which would be a very sweet result.
Come to find that I'd been chasing people in wave one ahead of me. I had three minutes in hand due to the wave offset - guess I should have checked the bib numbers. And, the individual who was first across the line apparently cut the bike course short via an early, wrong, turn and he was removed from the results.
When they announced the overall mens winner I was shocked to hear my name called. When I went up to accept the plaque I had to ask "….are you sure? There were a couple guys ahead of me!" They said yes, and still I asked "….but really? I mean, you're sure?!" Laughter ensued and in a stunned daze walked off to some applause and well wishes.
A crazy, surreal, finish to my morning - and while it involved a couple unfortunate incidents (a crash and a disqualification) I am still pretty damn excited over the result.