Blunder & Success at Challenge Miami

“How long will it take for them to catch me?” That was the question running through my head a quarter mile into the bike leg of Saturday’s Sprint Distance Duathlon race at Challenge Miami. I don’t ask myself that question in a race but on this day I made a colossal blunder that cost dearly. Here I will share my experience at the inaugural Miami Challenge race at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. This new triathlon race series by Challenge Family is delivering unique race experiences on NASCAR tracks with the first being Challenge Daytona in 2018.

This sprint distance duathlon consisted of a 1 mile run – 12 mile bike – 5k run. Heading into the race I felt confident about my run capability and knew my bike was going to be the question mark. This is simply due to where I am in my training schedule. I am coming off run season so I have the training load to run well. For the bike I just started increasing volume and intensity from taking some time off so it has a long way to go to be back at 100%.

I drove to Miami Friday afternoon with Lauren and Dylan Nolan. Dylan was racing the Mixed-Relay Sprint Triathlon a few minutes after my start time Saturday morning and he was completing the run portion. When we arrived at the speedway for packet pick-up the professional ladies were finishing their race and the professional men had just started. The top professionals in the world were there…so cool! There was a different feel entering the track than most races that’s for sure. This was a similar feel to Challenge Daytona where Dylan and I teamed up for a relay in December. It really hit me at that moment I was racing the next day in a duathlon with my last solo race coming in late October.

We picked up our packets and checked out the grounds. I was now in race mode mentally but a bit frustrated. When we got back to the hotel Lauren asked if I was ok. I told her I was a bit conflicted as the plan for this race was my first tune-up leading to the national championships in late May. I knew my bike would be a work in progress but with the feel of what we just left at the track it felt like it was a big race and I wasn’t ready. It instantly put an edge in my head I needed. I knew I would need to race a bit pissed off to make up for the lack of cycling fitness and see what happened. I got myself back in the mindset for the initial intention of the race and that was to gage where I needed work over the next two months and get back to duathlon racing again. All was good but I wanted to keep that edgy…pissed off feel for the race. I knew that would help.

When we arrived Saturday morning I was preparing my transition area where the bike was mounted. When I was putting water into my water bottle cage that is part of the bike unit I noticed it was leaking. I had erroneously put the unit on incorrectly so it wasn’t sealed right. I had to take it apart losing most of the electrolyte drink I loaded in. When I went to fasten it back in I used too much force and broke off a part that would ensure proper alignment so I knew that would be a potential issue during the race…if it came apart. I did have extra fluids I kept on the ground in transition just in case so that worked out well to reload the bike unit.

Shortly thereafter I took a few audio notes with things I needed to improve on in preparation. Little did I know the biggest noteworthy message was yet to come. I completed my warm-up and I was dialed in mentally. I had the edge and race plan ready to go. When I walked up to the start line I was soaked with sweat. The humidity was back in a big way and it was warm at our 7:31 AM start. My goal was to run a 6:00 first one mile run.

The horn went off and I quickly tucked behind a gentleman who darted out but then he pulled away from me after about a hundred yards. At about a quarter mile I pulled back even and passed him but I could hear and feel a group right on my heels the remainder of the first run leading into transition. I led coming in at a 6:00 pace and felt good. There were four of us together now in a lead pack that I could see coming out of transition. We were stacked leaving transition and I was fourth. I quickly hopped on the bike and went around the three now leading .1 miles into the 12 mile bike course. This is where the colossal blunder became evident.

On this bike, there are two chain rings in the front, a big and small ring each. The big one is used to pedal harder. I start races coming out of transition in the small ring simply to get momentum going. In flat races like this I would typically be in the small ring for .1 mile, again simply to get on the bike to get going and then switch into the hard ring for the remainder of the race. When I went to change gears in the front ring the electronic shifter didn’t respond. I tried again and again to no avail. I realized the electronic shifter battery had to be dead. I charged them the day before but something must had gone wrong in the process. Now it was time to figure out what to do next…

I was now a quarter mile into a 12 mile bike portion without the ability to deliver maximum power. I was still inside the speedway track at this point before heading outside the grounds after about a mile. I hung on to the lead inside simply by the turns required to make making it tough to fully open up the power yet. When I got outside the track I thought to myself how I could keep it together knowing they would be passing me at any point quickly. I told myself that every little thing I did mattered even more now including taking turns more aggressively, ensuring angles were optimized and I began dropping a gear in the back and adding it back in continuously to simulate a mini-pickup of resistance the remainder of the ride.

I got to mile two, then three and they hadn’t passed me yet… I was continuing to wonder but kept my focus and additionally picked up my pedaling cadence. I knew I was raising my heart rate very high by spinning faster with the lack of power capability but I had to do it or fall out of contention. At mile four was the first time I could see where the competition was as we did the first of a couple u-turns. I maybe had a 10-15 second lead on the 2nd and 3rd place gentlemen and maybe 25 seconds on 4th place. Heading back towards the speedway and then beyond it we were going into the wind so that actually helped me as it increased resistance and made me pedal a bit harder but then we came to a u-turn heading back towards the speedway. This was with about a two mile straight-away with tailwind. On most race days that would be awesome but on this day it was horrific. I was pedaling as fast as I could and the bike just couldn’t produce any more power in the small ring.

I thought this was certainly the time they would pass me as I lost an estimated four miles per hour pace that I could generate on that two mile stretch. Somehow making the right turn after that stretch I was still leading. Now heading back into a bit of a headwind I pedaled as hard as I could back under the track entering the speedway infield. The feeling I had now was to sprint through as aggressively as I could to transition knowing my heart rate was so high I probably gassed myself for the final run but it was the gamble I chose and now to see if I could hold them off.

I had a great dismount off the bike, smooth transition, and headed out for the final 5k run consisting of two loops on the speedway track. Running on the track was a really cool experience other than I was in hell at the moment…ha. I settled into a rhythm about a half mile in. I was hoping I didn’t use up all my energy on what I had to do on the bike. After one loop I was still in the lead and I was listening for spectators cheering behind me to gage how far behind they were. This was an advantage of being out on the course first as on the first lap we were the first racers out for the day so I knew whatever I heard behind me on the first lap was my race competitors.

On the second run lap we were mixing in with competitors entering the track from the duathlon and triathlon races. I knew what the three gentlemen looked like so I was able to take one final look to see where they were with about a 1/2 mile left when we veered into the infield for about 100 meters and a u-turn to get back on to the track. When I made the u-turn I estimated I had about a 25-30 second lead on 2nd place and maybe another 20 seconds on 3rd place.

With a half-mile left I knew it would be difficult for them to make up the time but I wasn’t pulling off the pedal by any stretch. I wasn’t going to let this one get away now. I pushed and pushed and the bike who escorted me around the track let me go as I approached the super cool red carpet runway with about 200 meters left. At about 100 meters I looked back and I was clear…I was winning the race. As I went through the finish line I felt so pumped I fought through the chaos of the bike mishap to figure it out. I fought, figured it out, and didn’t let go.

I ended up winning by only 22 seconds and 43 seconds separated the first three competitors. Reflecting quickly my race execution was very good. I have several things to clean up in my preparation prior to the race and it’s the small things. They add up… With the bike I thought I was being extra prepared by charging my shifters the day before the race. The charge should last several months. Somehow it drained the battery and I didn’t test shifting in the front ring as the bike was in the low gear set-up to start the race. As a result I now have a new line item on my pre-race checklist. Two days later I’m still troubleshooting the charging unit…not working as of yet…

After clearing the finish I found Lauren for a quick celebration as Dylan was on the track finishing his race. He came whipping through the finish line with the 2nd fastest 5k time of the day of 539 racers in the sprint triathlon…wow!!! He was disappointed in his time but after discussing what it was like out there with the heat and two u-turns it made sense we would all be a bit slower on the run. By the time we were running on the track, it was hot, humid and with little air flow inside the stadium. I felt like I was baking on the track during the second run loop.

We celebrated together and had fun posing for lots of pictures. This was a memorable race for sure. I have a long way to go to be national championship ready but this was a great gage to see where I was from a fitness level. I was dialed in mentally and it felt great to race a duathlon again!

Couple of take-aways from this race:

  • Treat race preparation like the race…attention to detail and test equipment to it’s fullest
  • Remind yourself of the intention you set for the race. Where does it fit in the grand scheme of your plan?
  • I say this all the time…just know that something WILL go wrong during each race. Know that and know that you have to figure it out. No race ever goes perfect or if it does I haven’t experienced it.
  • If you are racing for the competition side of it, make sure you are enjoying yourself through the process too. I am proud to say I do this well. I surround myself with great energy people, love training, love everything about a race day or weekend, and have a blast doing it. When the horn goes off however, I’m all business and I love that too!
  • Learn from your mistakes and don’t beat yourself up too much. Always learn and get better…

– Add Health to Your Life

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