Atomic Man 2011

This race was a real surprise for me. I had no idea what to expect in this race; the bike leg was much farther than I have gone in training with any effort above very low base pace, however I had a good Platte Half and ran a 5k last week at a pretty good pace for me, so I could do well, or could flop, no idea… As I arrived in NM, the weather was great; mid 50’s to 60’s and sunny. My bike had been doing some ghost shifting and skipping, so I overhauled it with new cables and a new chain. On my shake down ride, which was a course recon ride as well (planning with extra time has been bypassed by life a lot lately) – I discovered the drivetrain issues were even worse. If I put any power into the pedals, the chain would skip quite harshly. I double checked the derailleur hanger alignment along with the alignment of both derailleurs, chain line, etc and couldn’t find anything wrong other than a very worn cassette without a spare one with me. I went on with the ride and spent most of it adjusting the cable tension to minimize the issue. I was able to get it to the point that I was able to ride without the chain skipping, however if I got out of the saddle or tried to accelerate hard at all, it would skip – no worries, the bike leg of a duathlon needs to be kept even without sprinting anyway, so it would just force me to ride smoothly. (I had no other choice either, as I forgot my spare parts and had no time to head to a store to get new parts).
As the night before started to close in, I checked the weather report. I found out that the expected high was ~38F and it was supposed to snow 2-4inches at altitudes above 7000 feet; which is exactly where I was. Good thing I brought along extra clothes for a ride up into the mountains that I was thinking about doing.

Race day comes and I screw up my breakfast, so I find some more nutrition to finish it off and head over to the race site, about an hour later than I wanted, and setup my transition area as everyone else was listening to the pre-race meeting. The race organizers announced that the weather on the upper plateau was a bit too questionable, so the long course bike leg was switched to a double loop of the short course. I was semi bummed as I was looking forward to the longer course, but at least I knew the course well from two previous races and riding it for my shakedown ride.
As I lined up for the first run, I realized that I hadn’t checked my tire pressure pre race, I had set it the previous day when it was 30F warmer and I was running latex tubes that leak down much faster than “standard” butyl tubes – just one of those days; however none of it was getting to me thankfully. Everything was pretty much the way it was going to be and no sense in stressing about it.
The first run started out a bit fast, but I settled in at a comfortable pace within the first quarter mile and just listened to my body rather than going off of my Garmin for pacing. The run course was a 2 loop course with each loop at roughly a 5k.  The initial part was downhill with a great view of the Sangre de Cristos above Santa Fe and then the course turned uphill to overlook the Pajarito Acres area of White Rock, NM and then gave a great view of the Jemez before turning downhill again to head back to the starting part of the loop.

Several months ago, I went out on the route and fell in love with the views, which is when I decided that this year I was actually going to stop saying I was going to do the fat man race, and actually do it (little boy is the short course version held the same day).  On that run, I figured out how to let my body run with gravity on the downhills and actually conserve energy while running faster, so I was able to go up the uphill without losing much pace at all and even out the overall effort, thereby running with a higher average pace (at least in theory) – I kept this in mind for the race, and it worked very well for me.  I ended up with a near personal best 10k time to start out the duathlon.

The first transition, T1, was my longest transition ever – completely changed my mind on the gear I wanted to be wearing for my bike leg and was transferring gels and such from wind vest to jersey etc while in transition. Once I was finally on my bike, or at least trying, the chain started to skip really bad; I literally couldn’t turn the cranks over without it skipping most of the way.  On my second attempt, it actually jumped the chain rings and derailed in the front, forcing me back off the bike so I could put the chain back on.  At this point, someone that had done the short course and was done already took pity on me and gave me a push, which was very needed as I think I would have otherwise had to run up the entire hill out of transition before getting on my bike. It wasn’t the best way to start the bike leg, but it was a start and I was going. As I turned onto state highway 4 and started to settle into my TT position, I thought I was having something brush against my calves, so I kept looking for loose clothing etc to try and figure out what was going on.  I eventually realized that I was having muscle cramps, though luckily they never seized the muscle, they just floated around the muscle and would cause really weird and sometimes mildly painful sensations.  If I kept a really really smooth pedal stroke and paid very close attention to pedaling full circles, then the cramps were quite manageable. I was almost able to forget about them and fully focus on the race while on the flats, on the hills though, the cramps would threaten to seize the muscles right about the same time my chain would start skipping, making the entire thing almost comical.  After some trial and error in my position and pedaling technique, I figured out how to minimize both the skipping and the cramping so I could better concentrate on the race.  Upon reaching the first turn around point and turning sharply to head back the way I came, I realized that my tires were a lot more squirmy than usual – oh yea, my tire pressure wasn’t where it was supposed to be (I’d later check it and find it to be around 70psi where as my “normal” race pressure for the tires, wheels, tubes combo I was running is closer to 110-120psi).  Eh, just another thing that I couldn’t do much about then. The downhill sections were a blast, on several of them I was maxing out my ability to pedal, so I would just deep tuck and enjoy the decent and then try to shift correctly before I needed to and carry my momentum up the next hill – all in all quite enjoyable.  On the second loop of the bike, the wind picked up quite a bit making the hill climbs even more tough as it was into the wind for the climbs; however this also meant that the downhills and the final slight uphill towards the end of the course, we had tailwinds!  Those downhills were quite fun as I was ripping along around 50mph tucked into my bike and having a blast.

As I approached the last part of the bike leg, I remembered to undo my shoes so I could pull my feet out and dismount my bike in my socks to cut down on my transition time. Getting my feet out nearly caused my calf muscles to seize up on me, and I had my first “negative” thought of the race; though it was really more comical to me.  I had realized my body was pretty cooked from my efforts so far and if my calves seized fully on me at the dismount, that I’d probably have a great crash and then I wouldn’t have to continue with the second run; however, I quickly realized that was a dumb idea as crashing wasn’t fun and I’d still finish the race anyway.  I ended up having a great dismount without losing much momentum and ran into transition.  I couldn’t feel my feet as I was running, which was unnerving to say the least, but that’s what I get for racing in near freezing weather without my cold weather wool socks.

My t2 went much better and I was out on the final run in about a minute.  The run started out ok, however after the first water station; the cramps came back. This time though, they didn’t isolate themselves to my calves and started to check out parts of the quads and hamstrings.  As before, they never seized the muscles, so I somewhat ignored them and did my best to run as efficiently as I could.   As I rounded the downhill corner to start back up the hill, my body hit the wall hard;  Full on bonk including shaking, blurred vision, upset stomach, feeling of no energy left….  I’m pretty sure it was due to muscle exhaustion as at this point I had been racing longer than any of my previous races or training sessions in a couple years.  I knew it wasn’t nutrition or hydration caused as I had ate and drank quite a bit on the bike trying to mitigate the cramps.  At this point I started breaking the race down in much smaller chunks of getting to the next corner etc.  My next “negative” thought came along about a quarter mile after I started to bonk when I saw a trail that I knew heading off of the course.  I knew I could take the trail and cut my run almost in half without anyone ever knowing; however I knew that I would know and that was what mattered.  So I told myself to suck it up and finish the race.  The funny part about both this and the previous thought, was it was very much the “voice on the shoulder” conversation as it was going on, I wasn’t actually taking it serious and I wasn’t having a negative attitude of any sort.  Normally I have to do battle with some mental negativity, but I never really did with this race despite many opportunities to do so.

As the run went on, the fatigue and cramps were taking their toll and then the too much sugar in the stomach as I tried to eat my way out to the cramps hit and my gut was full on rolling around – I ended up walking 2-3 times for 5-10yrds on the uphills where my heart rate was spiked even though I was going at a very slow recovery pace and all I could do was walk to keep from puking.  Even then, I was looking around and very much enjoying being where I was which was making me laugh at myself – absolutely enjoying it, yet about to puke….

When I finally got back to the finish line area, I saw my dad and Hillary along with our daughters cheering me on.  I was completely exhausted, but determined to finish strong.  Hill jumped in to run with me a bit and helped me dig a little deeper on my way to the finish.  Once I got there, I was elated about my race.   I didn’t care what place I had come in as I knew very well that I had given it absolutely my best I had that day and left it all out there – most races I come away from feeling like it was just a hard workout and not a race, but not this one, I earned my finish time and absolutely enjoyed the heck out of it!

I went into the race really wanting to podium – I had looked at the previous year’s times and paces and knew that I had a good shot at third place; yes there were only 4 of us in our clydesdale division, but I knew I would have to fight hard.  As the results came out, I saw where my name was – 1st place!!!!  holy cow, I did not expect that at all.  I was elated that I had raced such a good race for me that day, but honestly didn’t expect to be any higher than third.  First was beyond expectations in so many ways.  Not only that, but I got first because of my runs!  Normally, I do very well due to my bike leg (still wasn’t shabby at 19th overall), but my runs usually lose me places as others pass me – not today, I put 10minutes into my closest competition all with my runs!  Even now, several days later, I can’t believe that it was my runs that sealed it for me – especially with how slow the second run was.   All the things that went wrong for me, all the rookie mistakes I made, and yet I raced the hardest I have ever raced and got first – beyond expectations!

I was reminded of many of the things I need to do getting ready for a race and in a race by this – however the biggest take away for me was the lack of stress attitude.  I was happy to be out and racing, happy to be able to race, happy to be alive – and through it all I just accepted each “setback” for what it was and didn’t let it get me down, just evaluated if I needed to change what I was doing or somehow needed to address it and then kept going; a bit of the old “iceman” attitude, but with a lot more smiling and love of life.  That’s what I needed and will focus on keeping.


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