First, let me say that this is one of my favorite races of the year and I’m already looking forward to next year’s race. The race would probably be considered a sprint duathlon – consisting of a 5K (3.1-mile) run, a 16.7-mile bike ride, and then finishing with a 2.2-mile run. The first run is flat and runs along the shore of Lake Linville, the ride is through the rolling hills of Rockcastle County with a couple of pretty tough climbs thrown in for good measure, and the last run is along the opposite shore of Lake Linville.
My race strategy for the initial 5K was simple – find one of the Bullen brothers and try to keep him in sight for as long as possible. It worked out just as I had planned: just as one of them faded into the distance, another one blew by me with a few hundred yards to go to the finish. They guaranteed me a good starting time on the first leg of the race.
On a side note, Dwain Harris queried me after the race if I had done any bird watching along the way. As an avid birder it’s just not something you can turn off – especially if you have memorized about 200 bird songs. Many of my training rides and runs with Dwain have involved discussions of different Kentucky species that we have heard along the way. My initial response to Dwain’s question was “No,” but then I remembered that I saw an Osprey flying over Lake Linville in the morning sun during the 5K leg and remarked to a couple of guys who had been running with me for a half-mile or so, “Hey look, there goes an Osprey.” Dwain wasn’t surprised when I told him one of the guys just ignored me and the other gave me a strange look and drifted over to the other side of the road. Note to self – not a good idea to point out local flora and fauna during a race – especially if you’re mixed in with the serious running crowd.
At the end of the 5K leg, I made my way into the transition area. Some of the more experienced duathletes already had their shoes attached to their bikes and held level with small rubber bands, so they ran out of transition in their socks, mounted their bikes like trick pony riders, and tore off down the road while simultaneously fastening their shoe straps. I had actually bookmarked a video on YouTube that had demonstrated this procedure but decided that if I attempted this maneuver without practice on race day I would have probably taken out the race clock, injured a small dog, and face-planted into a muddy ditch. I quickly decided that sitting down was the best way to get into my riding shoes.
Here is where my dance with the guy in the orange riding jersey begins. We probably passed each other about 5 times on the ride. He was clearly a better climber than I was and would pass me on the uphill sections, and I was clearly faster on the descents due to the Earth’s gravitational pull on a more massive object. He was probably 50 yards or so in front of me as we pulled into the transition area to don our running shoes for the final 2-mile run. My legs felt like rubber for the first 200 yards or so but I eventually settled into a good pace that turned out to be the exact same pace as…..you guessed it….the guy in the orange jersey. I ran about 75 feet behind him for most of the run and had almost resigned myself to finish in that position.
With about a quarter mile to go, however, I decided to unleash my secret weapon – but first a little background information. The night before, I had programmed a song playlist into my Sansa Clip mp3 player. There were five songs with the appropriate beat to keep me on pace, such as Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” and the appropriate “I Ran” by Flock of Seagulls. My coup de grâce was AC-DC’s “Back in Black” – with a beat so fast it could only be sustained for 200 yards or so and was only to be deployed on an as-needed basis at the end of the race. So here I was, swapping positions with, or staring at the back of, the guy in the orange jersey for almost 20 miles. Should I just drift into the finish or make one final sprint? It turns out the decision was made for me as I looked behind me one last time to see a guy in gray closing fast on both of us. I quickly called upon AC/DC, and the classic opening guitar riffs quickly carried me past the guy in orange and on to the finish line.
I didn’t make my dream time of 1 hour 33 minutes but I was close enough at 1 hour 35 minutes. I was able to take a full 9 minutes off last year’s time and there’s always next year to shoot for the 1:33…….or maybe 1:32. This was the only race I have ever competed in twice and I hope to run it for many more years to come.
Overall, I can’t say enough about all the people and sponsors who make these races possible. These races can only happen through hours and hours of planning, coordination, organization, and dedication to detail. I contributed a very small part by helping Dwain collect the race signs and pull the tape markers off the roads after the race but hope to do more in the future. My hat goes off to all the wonderful people who make the Rockcastle Countywide Stride Series of races a reality.