Mountain Man Triathlon has always been special to me, as the Olympic distance was my first triathlon back in 2007. In 2011 and 2012, I did the “Flagstaff Feats of Fortitude Challenge” by racing Big Brothers Big Sisters half marathon on Saturday and Mountain Man Olympic on Sunday. By having the fastest combined time for both races those two years, I was granted free entry into both races the following years. I had never raced the half ironman distance at Mountain Man, and that particular distance is more suited to me than the Olympic. This year, considering the fact that I’d be moving out of state soon, I opted to forfeit my free entry into Saturday’s half marathon. I wanted to enter and focus on, in the back of my mind, winning Mountain Man Half Iron on Sunday. It would be so awesome to go out with a win on the home turf!
Confidence going into this race was so-so: I was in the thick of preparing for the Ironman World Championship, and I had some heavy training to do before and after this race. I knew I wouldn’t be the most rested on race day. Race week looked like this:
Monday: 90min ride with 4×4:00 tempo + 18mi brick run in 2:12
Tuesday: 5hr ride including Mountain Man bike course, 101mi; 4000m swim
Wednesday: 8mi run with 3×8:00 tempo, 52:53; 2500m swim
Thursday: 1:04 (25.9mi) ride on the race wheels with a total of 24min at tempo + 3mi brick run @ base in 18:01(this is where I said to myself, ‘WTF?’ due to the speed, considering the week so far)
Friday: 1500m swim
Saturday: 2.5mi run @ base, .5mi easy, 19:18
Despite a very short taper, I had great energy coming to this race. I saw it as a celebration of Flagstaff and I was really excited to race more “my” distance in such familiar territory with many friends there racing and spectating.
Swimming had been going well and I was anxious to see if it would show in the open water. Brian and Adam Folts would be racing, and I knew they’d be among the competition for the overall, not to mention any studs whom I didn’t know that may randomly show up. Brian’s swim, in particular, has improved a lot over the last 18mo or so, and was the primary reason I lost to him at April’s Leadman 125. Before the start, I decided I’d line up at the front and try to get on Brian’s feet if I could. From the gun, I went out very hard (for being at 7,000ft elevation!) and my plan worked perfectly – I was swimming with both Brian and Adam to the first turn.
After rounding the first buoy, Brian took the lead followed by Adam, and then me. I paid VERY close attention to where Brian was to make sure no gaps formed between him and Adam. One started to open up and I immediately passed Adam and got on Brian’s feet, and Adam got on mine. It stayed this way the remainder of the swim with two other guys from our wave up ahead. We got out of the water in the low 31s, a new personal best, and by far the closest I’ve ever been to the front at the beginning of the race: 4th out of the water. I had a solid transition and was onto the bike in 2nd overall.
I passed the only person I knew of who was ahead of me less than a mile into the bike. Holy crap, this is weird already leading. I am not in the least bit used to swimming in the top 10 overall and this was a drastic change from my typical “chase all day” races. I had an unusually large gap to the Folts brothers a few miles into the bike but I certainly didn’t expect to stay up there alone. I wondered if Adam and Brian would work together to catch me (at a legal distance of one another, of course, but it helps to trade the lead and have someone with you out there) and how things would unfold then. I just knew I’d be seeing at least one of them again. As I approached the top of “the steps,” a series of three climbs that I’ve ridden dozens of times, I heard someone starting to close the gap behind me. After a quick glance, I saw it was Brian. He didn’t pass me, though, and I continued with my current effort into the next downhill. I made the right turn to start the first loop around Mormon Lake and glanced back less than two miles after the steps and he wasn’t even close anymore. I definitely didn’t expect that. I was having a blast leading the race with nothing but open road ahead of me, with my home-field advantage and positive vibes pushing me along. I stayed relatively comfortable and steady effort-wise, glancing back again right before turning back onto Lake Mary Rd: No one in sight.
This was the 19 mile mark and we had a 6 mile (round-trip) out-and-back before making another loop around Mormon Lake. There was still a nagging worry in the back of my head that maybe a super-swimmer whom I had missed was still ahead of me, so the out-and-back was a perfect opportunity to make sure I was correct about leading. I got to the turnaround and hadn’t seen a single person going the other direction. Booyah. Next, I got to see what the gap was like to second overall and you know I checked my watch at the turn to see *exactly* what that gap would be. Unfortunately since I’m writing this a few months after the race, I don’t recall what it was but I know I was certainly happy about it and I’m confident it was at least two minutes.
The average speed so far was hovering in the low 24s, which I was very happy with, but I was sure to keep myself from getting too excited because the next stretch had a lot of gradual climbing and the last six miles or so of the race tend to have a headwind. After riding the course on Tuesday, I knew I would be happy with riding a 2:25 bike split, an average speed in the low 23mph range. I eventually got to the Olympic bike turnaround and was alarmed to see several riders before that who appeared to be in the race but continuing well past their turnaround…I’m surprised I didn’t hear more about that afterward…I continued onto the second lap, which didn’t include the out-and-back on Lake Mary Rd this time and it was basically uneventful besides now having the company of some other half iron racers who were on their first lap. I was excited to turn back onto Lake Mary Rd because it meant I was now headed for home. I couldn’t believe the Folts bros hadn’t made an appearance, and I was pretty sure now that I’d officially be first off the bike (which would be a first for me). I also couldn’t believe the average speed so far was right at 24mph.
I had my last climb followed by the long descent down the steps and I knew the next north-bound stretch would be fast and then I expected the headwind to begin as we turned west/northwest about six miles from home. It turned out there was indeed a headwind, but really not all that bad. I felt fantastic, had ridden within my fitness, and I was absolutely stoked to be leading. Thoughts gradually turned to the run, which is my strength and didn’t cause a great deal of anxiety, but I did remind myself that this win is far from clinched. A half marathon off a 56 mile bike is no joke, and I didn’t know how much of an effect the 7,000ft altitude would have.
My average speed dropped a tenth, maybe two-tenths of a mile-per-hour on that headwind stretch and I could not believe I was about to hop off the bike with a 2:20:XX bike split! On this course!
When I was in transition, a friend of mine who had done a relay said something like, “There’s plenty of time to get him!” WHAT!? To get who? This blew my mind – I told him I’m in the lead and he seemed confused. Now I certainly was…Either way, I was still *pretty* confident I was leading and he must have been mistaken that there was a half iron guy ahead of me. That, or it was a relay racer.
The run started pretty smoothly with a 6:05 first mile while I tried to get comfortable. The first mile off the bike is always uncomfortable, but usually faster than I expect (this was). It’s just a matter of your legs figuring out what the heck is going on. When I made the turn to start the climb up toward Marshall Lake, another friend of mine working an aid station made another comment indicating there was someone else ahead. I chalked it up to him having no way of knowing if anyone was ahead of me because all of the Olympic racers were turning onto this road too. Still, the anxiety was building that there might be someone up there.
I stayed compact, steady, and light during the one mile climb to the turnaround. With all of the Olympic racers, I had no idea if any of them could be in the half iron race, but I’d officially know after the bottom of the hill where the Oly racers go left and half iron goes right. The descent is unfortunately too steep to really “let it go,” and my heart rate dropped big time while I held back on the way down. This mile (the 4th) ended up being just a second faster than my first mile, despite being completely downhill. I got to the junction at the bottom where half iron split from Oly and sure enough, my aid station friend said the guy who’s leading is X minutes ahead. WTF. This doesn’t make sense. It has to be a relay. There’s no way anyone could have been leading by over six miles, only 19 miles into the bike (the out and back where I learned I was leading). That would mean that, at 25mph, the lead rider already had a near 15-minute lead only 19 miles into the bike. I figured he (hopefully) unintentionally didn’t do the out-and-back section of the bike course. The rational side of me knew something must be up, but I was still incredibly worried. Especially after being so confident for so much of this race.
Just looking at my heart rate graph for this run, you can see this is when I went to work on catching this guy. I recall the gap to him sounded daunting but I drew confidence from knowing the run is my strength and I wanted to make this my race. This section of the course is pretty wide open and I hoped I’d be able to see him soon. Finally, somewhere around six miles (turnaround is at 8), I caught a glimpse of a runner up ahead and prayed it was him. I quickly got close enough that I could pick landmarks that we would run by and I could figure out my time gap and how fast I was closing. This turned out to be a tad silly, as I could tell visually that I was gaining ground plenty fast enough to get him before the finish, and I ended up passing him at about 7.5 miles. He gave me an odd round of applause as I passed him and I told him I don’t know how I didn’t see him on the bike. He didn’t reply.
Either way, I was definitely now leading the race – I was achieving my goal of taking the win here in this place I had grown incredibly fond of. The next several miles were relatively uneventful outside of lacking the drive to bring it home hard. I saw I had a gap of over 5 minutes to Brian Folts, who as far as I was concerned was in second, and I was just taking it in and enjoying myself.
I crossed the line a good six minutes under where I thought I’d finish, 4:19:03, and much to my surprise, I had lowered the course record by over nine minutes – I was absolutely elated! This win really meant a lot and it was a truly magical day that I will never forget. I will miss you, Flagstaff!
Swim – 31:26
Bike – 2:20:06
Run – 1:24:56
Thank you to the Racelab posse who showed up in full force and especially my coach, Bettina for playing a huge part in getting me here!
Regarding the fellow who was ahead of me until 7 miles into the run, I only know he was disqualified. He finished in “2nd” overall and I know the Folts brothers, who were the next two finishers behind him, were also baffled about where he came from. The most logical explanation is that he didn’t do the six mile out-and-back on the bike, and I certainly hope it wasn’t intentional.