I got down to Rockford early on Saturday to check out some of the course and to save myself the drive on Sunday.  When Mary and I got there we were fairly impressed with the location of the event.  The lake for the swim was nice, if not a bit weedy, but nice.  Mary had to do her long bike ride on Saturday so we rode together for a bit on the first few miles of the course, rode back to the transition area for my bike ride.  She headed back out to do the full 56 mile route (to get about 80 for the day) and I followed her in the car to keep her company in a new area and to see the course for myself.  After that we went to the hotel and got checked in and then headed to the race directors house for the Slowtwitch get together.

The swim start was a bit chaotic, and unfair.  The race staff did not do a good job of ensuring a fair mass start.  Ultimately it didn’t matter.  I slogged my way into the lead by the first bouy and played some games with a couple of guys trying to convince them to “pull”, but they simply weren’t swimming fast enough for my taste – so I jumped in front and pulled them.

The swim was great except for two things, the north side of the triangle was full of weeds, thick nasty clinging weeds – and I had the pleasure of being the first through them.  It wasn’t nearly as bad on the second loop, but still disgusting.  On the second loop, I swam past the first turn bouy by about 5 yards and fell back into the lead group, but again without me setting the pace they swam to slow.

The last interesting was coming in to finish.  At the pre-race meeting they said start a third lap, and then take a right around the small orange bouy.  I was the only person in the entire race to follow those directions.  Pissed me off.

Time: 26:48
OA/AG: 2nd/1st

Like at Lake Mills, I was the first person out of transition and on the road – this time though I had a sweet set of HED3’s that I borrowed from jwm on TNO (Thanks Jeff!).  For the first 3 or 4 miles I got to follow behind the referee on a motorcycle.  Just cruising along.  Then he broke off once we got off the main roads to go cruise and keep the slow swimmers honest and off my back 🙂

Anyways the first 10 miles or so of the course were super easy, I was riding by my race plan trying to keep my heart rate under control my LT, and was doing a pretty good job of it spending most of the first half in the 155-57 range.  For me that’s hammering.  I decided to ride that hard because I knew that based on the crowd that showed up for this race I had a 10%-15% chance of winning the thing, but knew it depended on my weak leg – the bike.  As a result I just planned to ride as hard as I could and cross my fingers that my early season base would carry me through the run.

Around mile 24, I finally lost the lead to Blake Becker and Chris Riekert (who ended up getting a drafting penalty).  When they went by I latched on about 7 meters back to try and legally get some draft, but the instant I broke my focus on staying with them they were gone.

I reached the turn around in ~1:12 – grabbed some nutrition and headed back.  I ran into the 4th place person about 90 seconds out of the turn around, which meant I was up about 3 minutes on him.  He ended up passing me at around mile 45, but I managed to keep him in my sights until we got off the bike.

Observing my HR during the bike leg I was hammering hard at 155ish for most of the first half, but the second half my HR really started to fade.  Looking at the even splits, and considering the wicked headwind we faced on the way back in, it’s interesting that at the end of the bike my HR was in more what I would consider my Ironman HR range…

Time: 2:24:44 (6 minute PR)
OA/AG: 7th/1st

I started the run in 4th, and was determined catch the guy that had passed me at the end of the bike and finish the race in at least 3rd. I figured that Blake was probably about 4 minutes in front of me and would run ~1:25 – considering I figured the best I could muster was ~1:25 I put thoughts of him out of my mind and focused on the minute or so I had to make up on 3rd place.

The run course at Rockman comes out of transition with a nice downhill, then a uphill, then a downhill, and then 2 or 3 miles of nice rollers.  Just peachy for transitioning to running from a blazing fast bike.  To top it off my left hamstring and hip were screaming bloody murder and getting revenge for the punishment I put them through on the bike.

Despite the leg issues, and the hills I settled into my pace/effort.  I was running at around 155 bpm on the flats and hills and high 140’s on the downhills.  The first aid station was about 20 minutes into the run, it also marked the point where you turned on to the park path the lead to the first of two out and backs on the course.

The folks at the aid station said I was about 5 minutes back of 1st, and about 45 seconds from third.  As I headed into the out and back, I came across Blake, Chris, and Mark (Carey).  Blake was easily 5-6 minutes in front of me, Chris was 3 and Mark was right around 1 minute.  A little frustrated that I hadn’t close the gap to third at all, but happy I hadn’t lost anything I slogged on.

Around mile six (44 minutes into my run) I passed Chris walking through the third aid station, not who I was expecting to catch but good enough to put me in third place.

After that aid station the run turned on to a long, straight service road that is best described as “rustic” – I enjoyed that stretch a lot.  I kept pulling a Normann and checking behind me to see where Chris was.  Chris noticed and yelled back – “Dude I’m blown, just run.”  Not knowing where second place was up the road, I focused on keeping my heart rate and pace even and seeing if I could fight my way into second.

At the second out and back, Blake was now about 8 minutes in front of me, and second was about 90 seconds to 2 minutes in front of me.  This out and back was probably the most challenging section of the course with two (I think) big hills on the way in and on the way out.  I didn’t time it perfectly but I estimated that second place was about 90 seconds in front of me – I was losing ground.  On my way out of the out and back I saw 4th (Chris) and 5th place coming in.  I had about 90 seconds on Chris, and about 3 minutes on 5th.

As I climbed out of the out and back I started to struggle keeping my heart rate up, I really worked on fighting to keep it up, but it and my pace kept dropping.  About 3 minutes past the out and back I exploded.  I was dead and exhausted, but I wanted to hold onto 3rd place badly, so I forced myself to keep going. 

As I started to recognize landmarks as showing I was nearing the finish I looked behind me to see if anyone was coming up on me, to my horror the guy who had been 5th at the out and back was gaining on me.  I kept glancing back every 45 seconds or so and he just kept creeping up on me reeling me in.

I had no hope that he was going to suddenly die and fall off, I knew he was going to catch me and I was going to have to fight for this finish and lay it out.

As I crossed the finish line, Mary told me that I looked tired when I finish.  To be honest I don’t think I could have run another 10 feet.

In the end 24 seconds is all that seperated 3rd place and 4th place.

Time: 1:30:41
OA/AG: 13th/2nd

Finish Time: 4:24:20 (just under a 4 minute PR)
OA/AG: 3rd/1st

I was really happy with this race overall, it was a tough bike and run course (I didn’t mention the hills on the bike, but there was a good stretch of some nasties). My run was a little slow compared to my previous PR half, Spirit of Racine 2006, but in the end it’s about the time at the finish and the individual splits count for very little. I am proud of the race I put together and for holding it together just long enough to keep 3rd by 24 seconds!