Not everything went right today, but the important stuff did.
The race started right on time, and Brian Fleischmann and I were lined up right along the far left side of the deep water start. I was hoping we would start early since they had us lined up in 14 degree water over two minutes before the gun (and since I was number one I had an extra two minutes in the water at least). For all my nervousness about a deep water start I discovered there was nothing to worry about. I pulled away from the line quickly and met up with Tommy Zafaras (also coached by Victor Plata) around 150m into the swim. He’s fast, so I stuck on his feet until the second buoy. At that point I started having trouble following his line, and I decided it was time to push the pace anyway. I took the lead (thought apparently I was swimming a line that looked like a seismometer reading) and never looked back.
I was first out the water, and was surprised that the group behind me was strung out and I didn’t recognize anyone. I started off on the bike slowly, putting on my shoes and hoping somebody would catch up to work with me. I didn’t want to let up too much because I figured if people had to work to get up to me it would weed out anyone without the firepower to do so. One guy finally caught up, though when he did and I tuned on the gas he lasted less than half the lap before falling back.
From there I turned the 25 seconds I had out the water on the main group into 45 seconds by the end of the 3rd lap, then gave up 15 seconds and finished my solo 40k bike ride about 30 seconds up on a group of 11 that had been working to catch me. I ran like I was being hunted, eleven wolves drooling for the taste of victory if they could catch me. After the first lap (of 3) I had 27 seconds left.
On the sidelines Victor was encouraging me, “you look better than all of those guys! You’re not giving up any time! You won’t give up any time!!” Next to him was my college friend Brandon Basso yelling, “Ben! You look like a runner!!!”
Both helped. I put my head down and a lap later I had 35 seconds over the next runner, but I could see that Steve Sexton had made a move and was running away from the rest of his pack. At the final turn around Steve had closed the gap back to 27 seconds, but with only 1500 meters to go I was starting to think about the finish. I had to snap myself back into the race twice in that final stretch, reminding myself to focus on the moment, “C’mon Ben!” I told myself. “It’s not over yet, endure it.”
And I did. I arrived at finish chute with time to spare, strutted up to the line and grabbing the ribbon with the pride of a lion. This is my first win in an ITU race. Heck, it’s my first win at a legitimate pro race! And I did it the hard way! Solo for 51 kilometers!! I don’t know if it was guts or stupidity (maybe both) but it worked. My parents were there to watch, Victor was there to watch, Tracy and Brandon and Christine and Kelly all made it out to watch me race… it was so exciting! I love having friends and family there for me, and it’s even better when I get to give them a show.
As for the little things: my bike showed up from Reno this morning (huh?) but the only way to get it before the race was to ask my parents to pick it up. Then I sliced my finger nearly to the bone on a metal part of the case. (after being charged both ways I’m realizing this case was a mistake. I’ll have to go back to my homemade no-charge bike case v2.0 – which really doesn’t get charged.) Later on I struggled to get out urine so long that Victor and my dad had yo pack the bike (I haven’t looked inside yet…), and by the time awards were given out my dad was waving his watch at me trying to cut my speech short. I had to ask my mom to drive like road warrior to the Oakland airport in order to get me there at 4:57 for a 5:45 flight back to Denver. I checked in within a minute of the cutoff time, then found a CO2 cartridge in my backpack and was given secondary screening because I gave it to TSA rather than chancing it through the bag scanner. I still made it to the gate, though it wasn’t until I took my seat I felt like the race was finally over. Woohoo!