This race was held in Walla Walla Washington… capital of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion. So what better name than ‘Onion Man?’ Now I have to say that when I do a race, I always think about what it will look like on my resume at the end of the season. And there really is nothing that sounds quite as prestigious as Onion Man. One better might be the ‘Mother’s Day Triathlon.’ Not a lot of kids celebrating Mother’s Day doing a race… or the Easter Triathlon. I have done both those races however :) But Onion Man was one fine race. The staff was ready, professional, and timely. We got good swag and the awards were solid… even cash prizes! I will always go to an event that is run well and you can count on the volunteers to do a good job, and they did.
Normally this race will attract some pretty good competition. This year did not disappoint. Returning champion, and professional, Michael Gordon was there to defend his title. He is from Walla Walla so it seems appropriate. I love racing against Michael because he is such a champion in so many ways. This is the guy who ran one of the fastest run splits at IM Cda and even broke his foot with 4 miles to go… and then he keeps running… amazing. I think I spend more time talking with Michael and his family than I do racing the events we are commonly at. He is such a good guy and phenomenal athlete. Unfortunately he has been plagued with some injuries stemming from his heroic run at IM Cda. But he is back and recovering. I tell Jessi that if I lose a race, I like to lose it to good people. I smile when Michael goes by me… no hostile feelings. He is a good guy, and a guy you like to see do well. Anyway, also at the race was Jeff Smith. Jeff has won this race a coupled times or has been in the top 2. He was 2nd overall at X-Terra Nationals last year. The guy can ride and is a great competitor.
The morning started off a tad ‘damp.’ Some might even say very wet. I call it liquid gold and it brings a smile to my face race morning. That being the sound of rain… love it! When I poked my head out the hotel room door and saw the unforcasted rain falling, I knew the Gods were with me. I woke up Jessi with a smile on my face and said, “guess what… it’s raining!” She shares my excitement with these conditions. I know, kind of sick.
We rolled into the race site and got a great parking spot right in front of the port-a-potties. Again, a good sign. We went to transition and got our bikes right up in the front row that was uncommonly available. Another good sign. The bikes that were on the other side were fellow Tri Fusion members. And another good sign. Should we just end the day now? It’s just too good. Then, after 4 good things, I noticed my disk wheel was not holding air. Crap! I will leave those details out, but I will say that I put on my Bontrager Aeolus 6.5 instead. I knew it held air. Not a big deal. I did want to ride my disk since this course looked to be fast. Not bad choices to have in wheels, great and great. Not a bad predicament. I ran into Michael with about 20 minutes to go before the race. He looked like he was not racing, but he was. He was just a slower mover than me. Which up until now, I did not think existed. We chatted for a bit as I put on my B70 Helix. He did not seem to feel too rushed. Then again, he was donning the ‘stripe.’ (known as the number 1, i.e. returning champion). They even made the announcement that Michael Gordon was here as well as Jeff Smith. No mention of Roger Thompson though. That was fine.
I lined up for the swim and said hello to some friends from the triathlon world that I had not seen for a bit. Then I meandered over to what looked like to be a good spot. The start of this race was about 100 yards wide, which is nice for the most part. But you never really know who you are next to. The countdown began and I started my watch with 10 seconds to go…
We were off. There was no visibility in this water, just brown. I bounced off a few people and had a couple swim over my back and the back of my legs. Seemed kind of early for that, but they were relatively ‘behind’ me. I continued a pretty aggressive pace and kept the first turn buoy in sight and swam as straight as possible. There was no one to my right or left, but that did not mean that people were not super close or funneling in. That time would come when we hit the first buoy. I kept going and was first to the turn. I swam across the backside and no one passed. I swam back to the start (2 lap swim) and made the turn. I looked back and could see someone about 8 seconds behind. But I could not tell if there was someone right on my feet. I kept swimming steady and figured if there was a pure swimmer here they should pass now. But none did. I made it to the first turn again and tried to get a look back. I saw that people were swimming behind, but could not tell how far. Once I hit the last turn I glanced and saw that someone was about 10 seconds or so. I swam the last stretch a little harder and focused on the ramp. Just needed to get to the ramp and to my bike. I started to go over what I wanted to do in T1. I think I was set. I was near the ramp and felt my hands hit the ground. I stood up and ran up the ramp. I was in 1st. What? I was the first out of the water? I heard a voice yell, “Nice job Jeff.” Jeff? I am Roger. Oh well, I have bigger fish to fry than misidentifications. I got to my Trek TTX and my B70 suit came right off. I strapped on my Rudy Project helmet and glasses and was now on the bike. There was a team rider that snuck in front of me right out of transition, but that was short lived.
Now it was about getting out of sight. I needed to get going fast and take control of this bike. The first ½ mile has about 5 speed bumps that you need to pay attention to. I managed to weave my way around them or bunny-hop them. Once I was through those, I was off. The roads were wet, there was a little rain coming down, and things could not be more perfect… maybe a little side wind? I knew people would be chasing hard and the motorcycle would be the carrot. I rode aggressively out since it was a slight uphill the whole way. The water on the roadway was pooling and I was doing my best to find the smoothest and shortest line I could. I was producing a consistent power output but wanted to get to that turnaround. I was watching my computer and was watching the miles tick by. I got to 12.2 and still did not see the turn. I think it was a total of a ½ mile long, no big deal. I made the turn, hit my lap button, and was headed back. I wanted to get an idea as to how far ahead I was. I quickly got up to 29+mph… again, a bit faster back. I saw that Jeff and Michael were about 3 minutes back. I knew I would not be able to continue to increase the gap with the easier stretch (slightly downhill and tailwind) as I did on the way out. And since I did not have my disk, I knew I needed to be as aero as possible not to give up too much. I was really impressed with how fast it was going back. I was wondering if I would run out of gearing. I did a couple times, but that was due to down hills. Finally I got to the turn to the park and started the gradual uphill to transition. I again had to navigate the speed bumps, but that was much easier at a slower speed. Since I was the first one in off the bike, I was also the first one to try out the carpet covered plywood planks they set up going into transition. The planks worked fine. I jumped off my bike, racked it, effortlessly threw on my Zoot shoes, and was off.
The run was more problematic than any of the legs due to the rain. The first, and last, mile was on a dirt walking trail that was mostly a clay material. So when you were running on it, the clay stuck to your shoes and just started to stack up on the bottom. I actually shuffled my feet every 50 strides to sluff off the surplus of mud. I just hoped I would not cramp doing this. Finally I was off the muddy trail and was on gravel and eventually paved bike trail. I hit mile one feeling good and I did not look at my watch, or my HR. I did not want to know. I wanted to run this off of ‘feel.’ I was running a great steady pace, but needed to run with a purpose. I did not know how far behind the other two guys were. I got to the 3 mile marker and figured the turnaround should be coming soon. I finally saw it. This was the first time I took a split on my watch. I wanted to know how much of a lead I was working with. I ran, ran, and ran some more. Still, no one. Then I saw Michael. He looked like he was dancing down the trail and I felt like I was pulling an ox cart. But now I would know. I glanced at my watch and saw 1:45… which doubled would be 3:30. That was still a pretty solid lead. I passed mile 4 and knew I had just over 2 to go. I felt secure, but it was Michael Gordon and if anyone could close that gap, he could. So I kept running with fear. But I knew I would have to come unglued to lose that lead. I got through the tougher up hills of the run and was back on the muddy trail. I knew I had about 1 mile to go… 6 minutes is all. Nothing different from tough intervals done in training. I ran and acknowledged other athletes that were running towards me and giving them what little cheer I could. I mostly pointed and nodded. I got on to the final stretch of grass… never fun to run on at the end. I saw the crowd and timing mats and was happy to finish. I knew that I had a good lead, but until you cross that line, you never really know.
Michael came in second and Jeff was third. Both great athletes that had solid performances. After the race I think Michael, his mom, and I chatted for about 2 hours. We may have been the last 2 to get our post race meal. Kind of ironic… first to finish, last to eat. I think I was last in getting my bike out of transition as well.
I know I had a pretty decent race. I had a few problems, but easy fixes. But just like all races, I am out there doing it, but there are many that have helped to get me there and allow me to focus on my performance. Big thanks to:
TIMEX for all that they do for me and the sport of triathlon. They keep me on time and looking good. (www.timex.com)
Blue seventy for getting me into the fastest and most comfortable wetsuit in the world that earned me the fastest swim split. (www.blueseventy.com)
Trek, Bontrager, and Profile Design for their bikes, wheels, and aero equipment. Without the gap I was able to earn the bike, I would have been run down. (www.trekbikes.com)
PowerBar for all my fueling needs before, during and after. (www.powerbar.com)
Rudy Project for keeping my melon safe and my eyes protected and looking good. (www.rudyproject.com)
Fitness Fanatics for helping me with all my triathlon needs… and then some. (www.fitfanatics.com)
Ben Harper at Zoot Sports for turning me on to the multisport specific shoe line. (www.zootsports.com)
Wicked Fast Sports for helping stay recovered and race ready. (www.recover-ease.com)
And of course my lovely wife Jessi and daughter Emma who have been there cheering me along even when they are racing. I appreciate them everyday and I feel so lucky to have their support and encouragement. Jessi had a great race too finishing 2nd in her age group and 6th overall. It was a good day.