MICHAEL LOVATO | Professional Triathlete

 

PART BEAR. PART MAN. ALL AMERICAN

 

Steelhead 70.3

Date: 8/14/11

Location: Benton Harbor, MI

Rank: 3rd

Time: 3:20.16

My plan for delivering a race report for last weekend’s race was to wait until all the dust had settled.  And what I mean by dust settling is that I thought I’d wait until the soreness in my legs had dissipated.  It turns out that soreness from a flat-out, swim-cancelled, TT-start duathlon lasts about five days.  And while the soreness in my calves was gone by Wednesday, my quad pain lingered a bit later.  Until Thursday evening to be exact.  But before I was certain that I was pain free and ready to write the recap, I had to test out the legs with an nice run today on dirt trails. This morning’s run went pretty well, and by midway through the endeavor, every last bit of stale lactic acid had been flushed; my glutes were happy, the hip flexors springy: time to write.

My Steelhead duathlon commenced about 30 or 35 minutes late, partly due to the scheduled delay, and partly due to my later starting time. With bib number 3, I was positioned third to last in the starting house. (Sadly Ziebart and Co. did not have time to construct an actual Le Tour Style start house complete with ramp, nor did the timers count down backwards in French.) Regardless, there was enough nervous energy flowing about the transition area that our time trial felt fancy and fun.

During the extra wait time, I did what any red-blooded, hearty-appetite-having, male triathlete would do: I munched on a hefty portion of an 1100-calorie Carol’s Cookie (chocolate chip). This handy snack, which was packed conveniently in my transition pack, served two purposes: 1) I was able to top off my fuel stores, since my pre-race breakie had not accommodated for the delayed start, and 2) it helped me pass the time while sitting on the asphalt.

During my warm-up, I chose to embrace the new format of racing, rather than to stew over the lost opportunity to swim (high winds on Lake Michigan forced the cancellation). My hope with this event had been to test myself on swim-bike-run, and to make honest use of all this darn swim training I’ve been doing this season. Without that opportunity, I chose to focus on the positive: in all my years of racing, I had never encountered this type of race scenario.  I was about to do something completely novel!

Go-time came rather quickly, and once I dispatched the envy I felt of Rev3 Racing Teammate Chris McDonald cleverly warming up on his CycleOps trainer, I  was ready to roll.  Cinco, cuatro, tres, dos, uno, I was off (Spanish voice in my head took over for the lack of French timers… ).

I pedaled the first five minutes WAY too hard, and I thought – due to my quick split-taking calculations – that I was taking time out of Chris, who started ahead of me.  Mere minutes later, my quick split-taking calculations told me that McDonald was, in fact, taking back that time and putting more and more into me.  How the hell was I supposed to keep up this effort?!

By mile 14, I had finally seen a bit of progress, and I had reeled in a lone rider: Maxim Kriat.  Just prior to catching the Ukrainian, I was caught by a very fast-moving Matty Reed.  Damn.   If he’s with me, he’s 30 seconds in front of me.  Double damn.

Over the course of the next 12 or 14 miles, I rode as hard as I possibly could ride.  Knowing that I was riding near Matty kept me highly motivated. I wanted badly to drop him, as I knew he had that 30-second lead on me.  He clearly wanted to drop me, and he kept equal pressure on his pedals.  Neither one of us could make a gap stick, and soon enough we found ourselves reeling in Chris McDonald.

At that point, our efforts seemed only to turn up a notch.  Now Chris tried to drop me, I tried to drop Matty, and Matty tried to drop Chris.  Our pace only strung out the line, and before we knew it, we had caught another two riders.  While neither of us tried to effectively communicate with one another – our sound-proof aero helmets would have prevented it anyway – we all knew that each of us was riding to the limit.  Despite the pace, nobody relented, and we each rode into T2 with small 10-second gaps on one another: Blake Becker, Chris McDonald next, I was close behind, and next in was Reed.  It was time for a foot race!

I quickly determined that my only chance was to get out and get away, however, Matt didn’t seem to like that plan, nor did Chris, for that matter.  Chris set a tough tempo straight away. And by 600 or 800 meters in, Matty had closed to my shoulder.  This was going to be a long half marathon! Again, with this darn time trial format, on my shoulder was actually 30 seconds in front of me. Time to attack!

We rounded the first corner, and we faced the first tough climb (of three). It was as good a time as any, so I pushed ahead, hoping to put some time into Matty.  By that time I had caught up to Chris, so my little gap to Matty didn’t give me much relief: I was still in a dogfight.  Chris latched on as I passed, so I figured I had better keep the pressure on.

While the three of us were racing very hard against one another, I knew that up the road there could be any number of scenarios unfolding. There were several great athletes in the field, and for all we knew, we were battling it out for positions sixth through eighth.  My goal was to keep the effort as high as I could sustain, continuing to use those around me in an effort to get to the line as fast as possible.  The most notable difference with this type of racing was that every time I caught an athlete with a higher number, I considered him a temporary ally, or someone who could push me along to a faster finish.

By mile four, my short-lived lead over Matty had come to and end. He was back on my shoulder. I attempted to rally him to the cause: I urged him to run with me so the two of us could catch whomever was running further down the road.  But somehow I managed to create yet another gap on Matty. A guy like Reed does not stay down long, so I took advantage again, and kept the pedal to the metal.  I ran the  next nine miles mostly alone. Overtaking some higher numbers afforded me the chance to have short lived company.  This company helped keep me moving, and it added a touch to my high levels of motivation.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of ten miles, I noticed that Chris and Matt were linked up, and that they were coming back on me very hard.  Gulp.

By the final two-mile stretch, I knew my chances of beating Chris were good, after all, I still had that 30-second cushion.  But the odds were not looking so good for holding off Matty.  He was closing, and despite my better efforts, I could not keep that half minute in my pocket.

Rounding the final turn and heading into the finish straight (like a Grand Prix motor car), I put forth my best sprint finish. I grimaced with the pain, yet I embraced the feeling. I knew I had not won the race, but I had given everything I had in an attempt to do so.  Matty crossed seven seconds later, which meant he beat me by 23 seconds.  We quickly found out that Tom Lowe of the UK had come across the line “virtually” 19 seconds in front of Reed.  We had a closely bunched podium, despite what the crowd might have seen.

At the end of the day, I had  a great time out in Benton Harbor/ St. Joe’s.  Steelhead 70.3 (or the consequent Duathlon version of it) is a great event. I was very pleased with my performance, and I know that my preparation for Kona is right on track. To be running and riding with some of the best athletes in the sport always gives me a charge, and this day was no different.  While we did not get to have head-to-head battles with all of the incredible athletes who toed the line, each of us gave what I can only assume is 100% of what we had in our tanks, and that is what racing is all about.

I was proud of my teammate Chris McDonald for taking down fourth place with a gutsy show across the board; I was honored to be racing a true champ like Matty Reed; and I was fired up to represent Team Lovato with a third place finish – keeping par with my amazing wife Amanda, whose 3rd place at Boulder the week before inspired me to fight all the way to the end.

Thanks to all my amazing sponsors who keep me fit, fast, and looking good on course!

Onward and upward!

Numbers Nerds: here is my ride data – NP 320 watts, ave speed 26.93 mph, 2397 KJ.

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