This past Sunday I raced in the Dannon Duathlon at Grenelefe. The race consisted of a 5k run, a 30k bike, and another 5k run. I finished as the 17th professional man out of 19, and 28th overall out of around 300.
This was my first duathlon in nine years. In 1992, when I was in college, I raced in a duathlon near Tallahassee. That race was my fourth multisport race ever. I distinctly remember going out too fast in the first mile, then walking near the end of the first 5k and wondering how I was going to manage to ride a bike afterwards.
Luckily, that duathlon only had a ten-mile bike, followed by a final 2 kilometer run, and I managed to take second in the 20-24 age group. But as I drove home from the race site, my quads cramping and my shin splints throbbing, I remember thinking to myself, "I'm never going to do that again."
My first duathlon was very painful, as well as frustrating. If you've ever done a duathlon, then maybe you understand the feeling of having your legs beat up from the first run. In a triathlon your legs are pretty fresh coming out of the swim. Not so at these races. Unless you practice run-bike transitions, the bike ride is really tough. That 1992 race was an exercise in frustration. I knew I was strong enough to go fast, but couldn't go anywhere.
Well, nine years is a long time. It's long enough to forget the frustration of dying in the first run, and it's long enough to forget about being passed by three women on the bike.
It's also long enough to become a slightly better athlete.
Now, believe me, I didn't go into the Dannon race this past Sunday expecting a whole lot. My plan was to run fast (but not all out) in the first 5k, push the 30k bike ride, and then give it whatever I had left in the last 5k. I really only gave myself one goal: To catch at least one guy on the bike.
My unspoken goal: Don't get beat by any women.
Maybe you think I'm joking. I'm not. Some of these ladies are very fast. It's not uncommon for me to get beat by 1 or 2 women at the local running races I participate in, so when you consider a national duathlon series race, it's a real possibility. The ladies racing on Sunday were some of the best the US has to offer.
I'm happy to report that I beat all the women (without sticking tacks in their tires, either!)
But let me tell you about my race. I lined up with the professional men at 7:27 and we waited for the final announcements and the singing of the National Anthem. I felt a little silly lining up with the likes of Greg Watson and Paul Sklar (two of the best US duathletes). Those guys make a living winning races all over the country. Then there were local studs like Dave Picciano and Alec Rukosuev, both phenomenal runners (and excellent triathletes, to boot).
One of the ESM regulars, John Reeback, who was at the race, and, incidentally, beat me by two minutes, said it best:
"What the heck were you thinking, Marty? You're a swimmer. Those big shoulders of yours are nothing but drag in a race like this."
He had a point. If there was a lake in front of us, chances are there was only one guy at the starting line capable of beating me out of the water. As it was, I was going to be running behind the whole way.
But there's one thing my Dad taught me when I was younger. He always said, "If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best." My Dad is a competitive tennis player, and was a professional soccer player in his native Hungary before he emigrated to the United States. He's never been one to shy away from a challenge, and he instilled in me the same competitive streak.
It comes down to one thing - If you don't line up with the big dogs, you never have the chance to beat the big dogs.
So at 7:30 the gun went off, and after 100 yards I was the last place guy. As Emeril Lagasse might say, "Bam!"
Running in last place is something I've honestly never experienced in a triathlon. The swim always gives me a good lead and I spend the rest of the morning trying to hold it. Sunday's duathlon was what I expected it to be, a humbling experience.
And I really had a pretty good race, all things considered. I turned in a PR for the first 5k without killing myself, and that's a second 5k PR in as many months. That's a sign of good things to come.
I would have been happier with a faster bike split. Like I said, that first run puts a hurtin' on your legs. But after the first few miles I got it together and was able to reel in two pros in the last 5 miles (I also passed one guy in the first mile). That was my only goal for the race - catch one person on the bike. I caught three. Mission accomplished. End of story.
Not yet. I still had another 5k to run. And that went pretty well too. I ran out of the transition and didn't feel bad. In fact, I felt pretty good. I kept a quick tempo and finished with a smile on my face, as my father, sister, and girlfriend were all there to cheer me on and tell me good job.
I always say I like to win, but hey, you know what? Sometimes you don't have to win the race to be a winner.