August 22, 2009
I've always said I'd rather lose by half an hour than half a minute. When I get crushed, I
just shrug and admit that the other person is better than me. When I lose a close one, I
torture myself thinking about all the ways I could have saved a few seconds here and
there to reverse the result. Last year I lost the Berryman 12-hour Duathlon by just three
minutes and I've spent a lot of time since thinking about how that could have
been fixed. Making it worse is the fact that the answer is not hard to find: late in the race
when things got tough, I simply gave up and shuffled through a miserable last lap rather
than fighting to stay on pace. So, it was with a bit more determination than usual that I set
out for this year's event.
I arrive at Berryman Campground an hour ahead of the 7AM start. The sky is completely
clear and the temps are unseasonably cool. I'm told the course has been changed due to
storm damage to the trail earlier in the year. However, the lengths and format remain the
essentially the same. We'll run clockwise on the Berryman trail for a few miles before
catching a jeep track back to the main gravel road for a loop of just under 5 miles. Then
we ride the trail in the opposite direction on the bikes, again getting back via jeep track
and road for a 13 mile loop. Do one of each and you've completed a lap. Only full laps
count and you can't start another one after 6PM.
I still think starting on the bike is objectively the best strategy, but I also have to admit
that it didn't work out too well for me last year. Thus, I decide to start with a run loop
like just about everybody else. After some last minute instructions from the race director,
he plays the national anthem. This is standard procedure for events put on by Bonk Hard
Racing and I usually like to sing along with some gusto, but today my voice is weak and
quivering. It appears I'm even more nervous than I thought.
Fortunately, it's nothing that a few miles of easy running can't fix. Despite settling into a
deliberately slow pace, I find myself leading the front group. We haven't been on trail for
much more than 10 minutes when the half-gallon of fluids I've already taken in today
catch up with me. I'm happy to step off the trail to take care of that because it means
somebody else gets the honor of clearing all the spider webs off the trail (I had already
run through a dozen). I run the remainder of the trail alone, passing a few who drop off
the pace. Once on the jeep track, I can see the four remaining in the lead pack, about 30
seconds up the road. Everybody's being quite sensible this year; perhaps the memory of
last year's scorching afternoon temps are still in people's minds.
Like most people who do traditional on-road multisport events (where seconds in
transition can matter), my transitions are generally pretty quick by adventure race
standards. Today is no exception, and I'm second out on the bike behind Kevin Poirier. I
catch him after a few minutes, but he's moving fine, so I'm in no rush to get by. Whereas
the course change took most of the tough climbs out of the run, we now have to deal with
those same climbs (and corresponding descents) on the bikes. On the first technical
descent, Dathan Atchison catches and passes both of us and wastes no time putting a gap
on us going up the next climb. As with all endurance events, it's not about going really
fast, it's about going reasonably fast without using too much energy. However, I have to
concede that he looks awfully smooth riding off over the horizon. No worries, if he can
hold that for 12 hours, he'll win. Otherwise, he'll be back. Either way, I need to stick to
my own race.
Kevin and I ride more or less together for another few miles at which point the trail
becomes less rocky and more flowing hardpack. As this plays more to my strengths, I lift
the pace a bit and soon I'm alone. I get to the end of the singletrack in just under an hour
and manage to resist the temptation to hammer the gravel road back to the transition. It's
still way too early for big efforts. I get to the transition just after 9AM and am told that
Dathan left 3 minutes ago. That's about what I expected; it's a significant gap, but
nothing to panic over. I change shoes, grab some food and water, and am off running in
under 2 minutes.
Now comfortably into the effort, I run this lap a bit quicker, getting back at 9:45 with
Dathan still in transition. While he's still out onto the bike a minute ahead of me, the
contact serves some value. While it's a huge mistake to push too hard to stay with an
early leader, if you can keep it close while staying within yourself, the leader might be
pressured into a pace error himself. I don't know if Dathan is prone to such mistakes but,
if he is, the bait has been set.
The second bike leg also goes smoothly and slightly faster than the first. My only concern
is that I start feeling hungry and it's waaaaay too early in the race to be feeling that. Back
at transition, I decide to down something more substantial than my usual race food and
dig into the leftover pizza that I had brought in my cooler. Heading out onto the trail with
a slice of Dewey's in my hand earns me some heckling from the race crew, but cold pizza
never went down so easy.
I finish the third run just as Dathan is leaving on the bike. Again, I'm happy the contact
has been made. I'm also happy to note that, while he's certainly not folding, he's not
putting me away, either. A couple things are now obvious to me: 1) the race will be won
by the person who stays out of trouble and 2) this is going to be a six-lap effort, so there
will be plenty of opportunities for trouble.
While the lap 3 bike is a minute slower than lap 2, it feels better from an output
perspective. I'm more relaxed in the rocky sections and getting up the climbs without so
much burn in the thighs. It's not that I mind a good burn (this would be a rather strange
avocation for one who does), it's just that any big effort in the first half of a race is
experienced twice: once when it happens and again later in the race when your body
reminds you how foolish you were. I get back right at 1PM, still trailing Dathan by a
couple minutes. So far, our laps have been a model of consistency. The question is: who
will hold the pace the longest?
That question gets answered a lot sooner than I expect. Halfway into the run, I spot
Dathan's bright yellow jersey on the trail ahead. He's still moving, but his stride looks a
whole lot different than it did on lap 1. It's clear that he's not going to be running fast
again today. We exchange pleasantries as I pass. I'm back in the lead for the first time
since mile 2.
The pace is still feeling good, no doubt helped by the fact that we've had some clouds roll
in to keep the temperature in check. My thought is that I should hold onto the pace for
another lap to consolidate the lead, then back off a bit on lap 5 so I have something left
for lap 6. I try not to entertain the thought that lap 6 might not be needed: if I pin too
much on that, it could be very hard to get motivated if it turns out to be required.
At the end of the lap, I catch Jeff Sona who's in second place in the six-hour (that field
started at 9AM, so this is his third and final lap). He's been embroiled in his own
dogfight with Brian Roggeveen. Brian's been turning in scorching run times, but Jeff has
been closing back up on the bike. The gap is currently a hefty 20 minutes, but the race is
During the next bike leg, I pass the bulk of the 6-hour field (on their second lap).
Everybody demonstrates good trail etiquette and I lose very little time getting by. I get
back just after 3PM and just behind Brian who has clearly not enjoyed his third bike loop.
Jeff arrives shortly to hear that he's missed the win by only 2 minutes. I guess this will be
his year to torture himself. Of course, he has the consolation that his wife, Carrie, won the
women's 6 hour.
I'm still OK, but the pace is beginning to tell. I dial it back just a bit and finish the fifth
run in 48 minutes, about four minutes slower than my previous laps. At the transition,
Jeff presents me with my pack (which had run dry, so he put in another couple pounds of
water) and the information that Dathan started the run 15 minutes behind me. Kevin is in
third, but hasn't finished his fourth bike leg yet.
I continue my strategy of taking this lap easy, even though it is increasingly looking like
five laps will do it. Back at the transition at 5:20 (the time is important), I'm asked if I'll
be going out on lap 6. It's tempting to call it a day, but after last year I'm leaving nothing
to chance. If Dathan makes the cutoff and decides to continue, I don't want to have legs
that have sat around turning to stone for 30 minutes. I quickly change shoes and prepare
to head out.
You'd think that I'd have tried just about everything in 25 years of endurance racing, but
for whatever reason, I've never drank a soda during a race. It's not that I don't drink
soda; I probably drink way too much. I've just always worried that it might upset my
stomach in a race. However, my stomach is already feeling pretty bad and the can in the
cooler looks awfully good. Violating the cardinal rule of not trying something in
competition that you haven't proven in training, I grab it, figuring that even if it doesn't
help, I can probably bring it back up easy enough. In fact, it's like a miracle drug. My
stomach immediately settles and I not only get the whole soda down, I'm able to eat
another slice of pizza, too. Thrilled with that discovery, I head out for my sixth run.
There's just one problem, and it's potentially a biggie: I didn't bring my light. There are
still a couple hours of daylight left and even at the easy pace I'm using, I'll be back well
before sunset, but the rules are the rules. If you start a segment after 5PM, you need to
have your lights. It would be a weenie protest for sure, but if Dathan decides to finish a
sixth lap, he could get mine thrown out. This all dawns on me halfway through the run, so
turning around isn't really an option. I just have to finish it up and hope that either
nobody notices or that Dathan calls it quits at five.
I get back at 6:15; after cutoff for starting another lap. I'm told that Dathan has gone out.
I shrug and start over to the bike (hoping nobody has noticed that there's no light in my
jersey pocket). The crowd (or what passes for a crowd at an endurance event) is clearly
disappointed with this workmanlike reaction and I'm quickly told that Dathan is, in fact,
sitting under the shelter enjoying the post race refreshments and I should probably join
Since I didn't do the bike, I don't get official credit for the last run, but I'm fine with that
because it was technically illegal and the split time isn't anything that I'd particularly
care to have published in the official results. Still, I'm glad I actually ran it because it
brings the run distance up past 26.2. As much as I like long runs, exceeding marathon
distance is something I only do a few times a year and it makes the day even more
At the awards ceremony, there is universal consensus that this year's course was an
improvement over previous years. And, of course, the weather could not possibly have
been better. Just another fantastic race put on by Bonk Hard. They might want to screw
one up one of these days before expectations get out of control.