Since I haven’t raced in over a month, I was looking for an event that would not only be a tough test, but also a good test of my mental stamina. Since work has been a buzz and I was working on several projects, I looked at the schedule and came across the Bandits Challenge International Distance Triathlon. Its been part of the SetUp Events series for a while and has been described as one of the toughest courses in this distance in the U.S. Reading the course description ( ) and you can image why: a steep hill climb right out of transition, a majority of hills on the looped 28 mile course, and then a punishing 6.2 mile run where you have to do UP and DOWN a steep hill not once, but twice! The only thing placid about the course is the swim right off a dam. Damn! That sounded like a good test of fitness and mental resolve. Most importantly, it would add an emotional component to the game plan as it fell on Father’s Day weekend.

Gina and I haven’t been away together since January and that doesn’t really count since we went to NY for my Dad’s funeral. Since then we have been local in race selection (and included that 50K win in February that I dedicated to my Dad), and we were in need of some time away from our work, even if just for a day. So we both took the day on Friday and after a nice easy morning far from a typical workday, we left for Wilkesboro, a short 90 miles northwest of Charlotte. We got to the Holiday Inn before noon and an easy check-in, and right to a local diner for brunch. A small town feel but where you’d be hard pressed to find a sidewalk? Right back to the hotel and ahhhh some chill time. We both relaxed, did some reading and tube watching for a few hours before going to the packet pickup and checking out the race start area. To our surprise, and delight, everything was 10 minutes away and on one road! No directions needed and no need for a pre 5am wake up. The YMCA was nice in that it had an outdoor mini water pool park and was tucked away from the main road. On the way to the W. Kerr Scott Dam, we passed a Shell gas station and a Dixie Donuts right next to it. Whoa. Keep that in mind. Not only for a gas up on the way home, but also to check out that donut shop. The Dam was nice and the whole location was perfect for parking, spectator viewing, but the only thing I got to see was the water and the hill out of transition that was described. It didn’t seem like a hill, since walking up it, employing a “snake” route on the bike would be fine. The water was calm, wetsuit legal at a ripe 76 degrees. Satisfied with our recon, we headed back to the hotel, with a quick stop at Walmart.

We got some basics for race day, and Gina snapped a fold-up lawn chair. A quick snack and back lounging at the hotel. The weather was soooo comfortable. Slight breeze and in the upper 70′s. Can’t beat it. Mentally, it was great to recharge and focus on the race, get everything set and prepare. We headed out to Ruby Tuesday’s which was across the street by the Walmart (couldn’t walk, no crosswalk), for a nice dinner. So we thought. Well, the appetizer was great, but Gina was really ticked at the sangria. We ordered a glass each and it was mostly ice, chopped fruit, and according to Gina (and I confirmed), very little alcohol. Then our entree was nothing more than a side dish really and Gina was REALLY disappointed then. I had to agree as we didn’t expect it from a Ruby’s, but we took our blows and made a bee line out. We made amends but buying a small pint each of frozen yogurt and brownies and finishing dessert in the room. Nothing like lying in a HInn bed the night before a race, but can be an issue getting the right room temperature with the AC. We were comfy though, and ready for a long day.

We got up at 5am to do our normal get ready routine: I aquaphored every part of me, donned my Polar, topped off with my new AAA gear (and thanks to Alejandro – with CARBONE on the back), and checked out and in the car by 5:45. We also were disappointed we wouldn’t get to have the free breakfast, but more on how we compensated later. We stopped at Dixie’s for the Ironsherpa’s java fix and that’s where we eyed our post-race order. Sausage donuts? Blueberry glazed, Red Velvet? Man, this was actually a very popular family run business and successful here in Wilkesboro! Some people were already eating the donuts, but we got her java only for now (I don’t drink java on race morning).  We got there in plenty of time to rack up the Black Widow, walk around, and loosen up.There were about 200 racers ready to challenge the course. In transition, I was set up right next to Herb Brown, a 75 yr old triathlete who can more than hold his own. I’ve known him for the time we’ve been in Charlotte and he’s a pleasure to talk to. Guy still does an Ironman a year. I considered it good fortune. Imagine, this guy got almost 35 yrs on me! We met some other locals, including fellow Kahuna Kathy Rink (aka ICE)who is venturing now into triathlons. Plenty of Triple Threat Racing team folks and was good to see the Charlotte Running logo on many jerseys. Around 6:45, it was time to wetsuit up and get ready to roll. I was wave 3. I kissed G, gave a hug and said this was for our Pops.

Once the 2 waves went off, my group of 20 entered waist deep in the water. It was time to zone out. I bobbed around and the water felt great. Eyes on the bouys. My mind channeled for a moment to say a quick prayer for my Pops. Three deep breaths.

As the air horn sounded, I just jetted. All out, Bruce Lee kicking, arms churning for a good minute. I wanted as much daylight in the water and no one to be near me. I WANTED to catch the wave in front (each wave 3 minutes apart). The water was soooo smooth, at first I though my left shoulder was an issue from the quick start, but I got comfortable, and had plenty of reason to expect a good swim. Sighting was a snap. No issue on the turns and I was soon in the wake of the wave ahead of me. No crowds to be concerned with. Coming back to shore, I was warmed up, my mind was already sharped as I was all Breathe, stroke, pull, repeat. Let’s do this. After negotiating a rough exit of rocks at the shore, I was out fo the water in 25:15.

It was good run to the transition area from the water, but off came the wetsuit in a snap and onto the Black Widow. G had great shots and viewing (see photos section) and a quick cheer, off I go in a small gear to hit the hill. The snake deal worked as it wasn’t much of a clim, but a good one to start off. From there, it was get into a good spin and feel out the roads. I had all measurables accounted for with my CS600 telling me heartrate and cadence, and my RS800cx detailing for now (since its my run gauge), heartrate and time. The hills were deceptive right from the beginning. Gradual, some steep, but all handled with a range of smart gearing and patience. Unlike some courses, you don’t get the screaming downhills after such climbs. It was a 28 mile loop around the Resevoir which meant checking 5 mile markers on the roads, drinking when needed, and well, dealing with it. I expected some passers as I hit the 10 mile mark, but no one. I was actually catching a few folks, mainly when it was hilly. My rate was managed and steady. My legs felt good. My mind all in as with such scenic calm roads, no traffic, plenty of cows, i allowed me to take moments to channel the energy from knowing this day was for my Pops, as this year will be, but having some “quiet time” speaking with him. Sure my heartrate was almost 140-150, but it was all good. The Black Widow was humming along nicely. I took “relief” once, and needed to. For the next 20 miles, I had one guy who was in my sight. I passed him plenty on the hilly sections, then he would pull ahead when he had some flats. I knew he was 29 based on his leg number (age) and that was it. He actually had a nice section of road where he pulled ahead enough for me to just keep him in sight, but as we crossed 20 miles, then 25, it got hilly back to the Dam entrance. He started to play the ol’  “ok, you pass me on the hill, then I pass you down, and slow down as soon as I do” game. Screw that kid, not with me. I’m ready to run away. So I played, until we hit the 23 mile mark. On a nice gradual stretch, I kept it in my big gear and smoked it. See ya.

I didn’t bother slowing down at that point. I churned across the dam and eased up as I came back DOWN that hill into transition. Gina later said there were no wipeouts but a few people almost walked going up it. Off the BW and into transiton for a quick change. Clocked 19.5+ mph for the 28 miles and was pleased with the effort on that course. Now time to hammer. Out you go on a small dirt trail around transition as you make your way back to the hill. Pump the arms here up and over. Not bad. I can handle that one. Now its pacman time. No remorse. With all cyclinders clicking, emotionally it was time to let Pops run the show. First mile just over 6 minutes. But I am thinking ok, I know its a 2 lap run, so is the dam the only hill? Well coming back to what I thought would be the end of the loop, they send you off to the right and DOWN this steep hill. No joke, you could literally go fast enough to lose control and roll down it if you didn’t mind getting cut and bruised. Knowing I had to come up THIS HILL 2x was a small reality hit. This took you down into another parking lot where the 2 mile mark was, which I hit under 6 minutes. Ok, lets get this sucka of a hill. I ran the tangent, tip–toed it. Pump arms. Yo that was serious. I wanted to see how much time that cost me. I hit the 3 mile mark just across the dam turnaround – under 6 minutes. I was charged. Now I had the long stretch to regroup again for one more lap. I saw ICE and well, used her as a target to catch up to. She was just getting to her first lap. Knowing I was balls to the walls at this point, I felt I could jack it up for the remaining 2 miles once I hit the 4 mile mark. Still under 6 per. I used the water stops to throw water on me to cool. It was more humid than hot, but wasn’t an issue. In fact I was fueled on one gel and a few sips of my drink. I drew my energy from within now, and was on a mission to just hammer. This hill was mine the second time. DOWN it I went, more controlled than the first. I was closing in on ICE too. Once I hit that turn, it was hill then the finish. The support crew at the TOP of the hill was great in cheering everyone on. I took the same plan. Tanget, tip-toe, pump. My heart rate was over 170. Move your tail sucka! At the top, I used the stretch across the Dam to suck-a up a kick. I passed ICE as she made her way for lap 2, I just steam rolled DOWN the hill to the finish. Dude, you got this! G was front and center at the finish chute. DONE with a time of 2:31, finishing the 6.2 miles in 36:42, a 5:55 pace. Good for 10th overall and 2nd in my age group!!!!I even posted the fastest run split overall!!!! I hugged and kissed G even though I was sweaty and soaked. For Pops!

I needed to jog for 5 minutes to cool down and do a body check. No pains. I also took the time to say a nice thank you for the day’s race. Another great test, another connect to the inner self. I contemplated taking a dip in the water again, since we were staying till the end at 11:30, but settled on some water-over-the-head dumping and rehydrating with H2Overdrive mix. G and I recapped, walked around, I stretched out, and we were able to see ICE finish (she won her age group). We talked to some racers and passed the time by sitting in the grass, even saw Herb Brown finish strong. It was also good to breathe in the air and just, even for a few moments, cherish the Pop memories that got me through the event over again. By the time awards came around, we were ready to bolt. The X was all packed up and ready to roll out, it performing well thanks now to the AAA free tune-ups/car care we get as part of being on the Team AAA Carolinas. Also big thanks to Molly Almquist at AlmquistMassage for the assessment a few weeks ago, which pointed out some key areas to work on.

Swim 1m: 25:15     /  Bike 28 miles: 1:26  /   Run 6.2 miles; 36:42     Time: 2:31                   10th Overall  /  2nd Age Group 35-39                    Run Split Ranked #1

On the way out of the park, we stopped at the Shell to gas up and hit Dixie Donuts. I got java, a dozen of the best donuts the have (blueberry cake/maple frosted!) and we got 2 sausage donuts for when we got home. As a finisher of the race, I got a free choice and got an apple fritter! THANK YOU!!! Gotta hit this joint if in Wilkesboro! I sipped the java and donut (after the MetRx of course) and we were home no traffic issues by 2pm.  We had iced java, the sausage donuts, and some hazelnut/pb banana sandwiches. Basically its a small sausage patty that’s been donutted? by a plain cake. So on the outside it looks like a plain no-hole donut, but take a bite, and its a sausage sandwich!!!!! Awesome. Yo, and they coat the donut with maple frosting.

We had some down time before church to recharge before church and then a leftover dinner with REAL sangria!!!!!! We toasted both of our Pops on their day and were done by 10pm. Amen.

So with all input from this race going under the microscope for the next few weeks before my next sprint tri in July and I will be taking the opportunity to partner with Karhu for 2 local 5K’s : Summer Breeze on June 23rd and the Firecracker on July 3rd, and ………………… well, lets wait for the next “race” reports. Hint..Hint….  Grrrrrrrrr…………..


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