Mitch was once again quick out of transition, with Mike and I following about 100 meters behind. I dropped my salt tabs and stopped to grab them and Mike took off to catch Mitch. My legs felt solid and by the ½ mile point I had bridged the gap up to them. The sun was on us though – it felt like a direct ray was hitting me. I was an ant being burned through a magnifying glass. And even though my legs felt good, I could feel my internal temperature rising. I hate this feeling. I know it all too well from Hawaii. It sounds as though I’m terrible in the heat, but for a bigger guy, I’m really not that bad once I’m acclimated. I’ve used the word acclimate quite a bit in these race reports which should indicate the importance of this.
The three of us ran together towards the Buccaneer Resort where the run goes off-road and you hit the main hills, before heading back into town, turning around, then doing this out and back lollipop again. We had been racing neck and neck and neck all day, and the three of us knew that we were bringing out the best in one another. Mitch said “Best of luck guys, let’s hope there are three slots” as we headed into the Buccaneer. The pace was slow. I felt my legs were easily capable of a 1:25, however, I also knew too well the effects of the heat. And as expected, even though the pace was slow, I was showing signs of not being able to handle the temperature. I still had a good sweat going, but my skin felt on fire and the pressure in my head was beginning to build, as if my brain was being squeezed by a vice. I was looking at the ocean on this beautiful course and I was so tempted to run down and dive in. I could feel my gate shortening and my foot lift decreasing with each stride as my body went on a mission, diverting blood flow from my working muscles and sending it to my organs/skin for cooling. The stride no longer feels fluid – in fact, it’s anything but fluid. The simple task of placing one foot in front of the other becomes extremely painful. Through the aid stations, I dump water on myself, chew ice, sip coke, pound saltstick capsules, and dump more water on myself.
Then, I see Lisa. When I’m having a great race and feeling strong, I love seeing Lisa on the course. Just the opposite though when I’m in a bad way. I don’t like to see the worried look on her face – I hate seeing her in any angst. In 2009 in Hawaii, I was experiencing a very similar situation during the run and she looked panicked. Well, not this time. She and Jen were cheering away as the three of us ran by around mile three. But the sun kept beating down, and just before mile four, I had to let them go. This crushed me mentally, but I was so overcooked. I stopped to pee quickly behind a palm tree, and then walked up the steep hill on the golf course in the buccaneer. Lisa appeared again and I turned to her and said “Sorry Lis, I laid it all out there. I’m frying.” Instead of her reacting very sympathetic and consoling me during my small moment of self-pity, she said “You can still do this! You get to the top of that hill and you start running again – YOU HEAR ME!!” I responded with “I need some shade!” and just then, and I know this sounds like bs but it’s the honest truth, some clouds moved in. I crested the hill and Lisa yelled again “START RUNNING!” And I did. I kept running back towards the turnaround in town, and I was awaiting the contention of athletes to come pouring by me now, but they weren’t. In fact, I was moving quite slow, but I was still picking off some runners. Now I’m not going to lie and say I felt good. In fact, it was just the opposite. Every step hurt, and I had a splitting headache. I remember thinking to myself “who the fuck do I think I am that I can come down here to this climate off our winter and race? A dumb mother fucker, that’s who.” Sorry for my English, but just relaying the truth here.
As I approached the turnaround, I saw Mitch and Mike together still, coming back out for loop two, and they weren’t that far ahead. But they were still running solidly, and I was at my red line. I now just tried to stay at this pace and hoped that one of them, if not both, would falter. But they didn’t. Listen, I know this sounds dramatic but when you are in this world of hurt, it’s easy to think to yourself “I still have seven miles left to run!” and unless you have been there, you can’t comprehend how bad it does hurt. I remember reading an article about Mark Allen where he mentions he can pin point two distinct times where he went a bit too deep into his well and could almost sense somehow that he did some eternal, molecular or metabolic damage. I try to stay present and I count my foot strikes and think of music. Anything to numb the mind.
Running through the Buccaneer on the second loop, if I had had a room key on me, I would have ran inside and taken a cold shower probably. I have to hand it to the volunteers – they were amazing. Around Mile 10, I was asking for coke and the volunteer missed the hand off and dropped the cup. He yelled “keep going, I got you!” and turned back towards the aid station. About ¼ mile later, he comes sprinting through the fairway on the golf course towards me with a full can of coke and a cup of ice!
Now at this point, I was just trying to hold onto third. I was exiting the Buccaneer on the second lap, and with two miles left to go, no one seemed to be coming. After racing side by side by side through most of the day, I was hoping to just cruise in. I had now accepted my third place. But with around one mile to go, I hear foot steps right on me. I could see peripherally a guy dressed in white clinging to my left shoulder. He wouldn’t come up next to me, and he wouldn’t pass. As we went through the last aid station, I slowed to almost a stop to check out his calf, where our age is written, and sure enough, he’s in my age group. And I’m back to racing! He slows as well and stays tucked right behind me. As you enter town, you come within 100 meters of the finish, before this cruel course that constantly seems as though it’s playing a joke on you takes you away from it on a ½ mile loop through town, finishing on a straightaway lined with spectators. My buddy here just sat content on my back as I set the pace through town. Now I’m talking to myself again in the third person which means you know I’m wasted; “Be patient Eric! Don’t get anxious. Let him make the first move. Hold until that cross walk (maybe 70 meters out from the finish line). Don’t go yet, hold, hold, hold…”. Then, I can feel him start to move quickly around me and I leap forward and start my mad sprint as though I hadn’t been racing at all for 4 hours 45 minutes. He and I are going all out, heads back, chests out, arms pumping, and the spectators are loving it! I manage to gap him and end up crossing the line two seconds in front of him.
The two of us bent over and exhausted at the finish line, I said to him “Man, great finish!” and he responded “Que? Mi Englis nots o goot.” This guy was from South America and a previous amateur world champion, so this was a small consolation after losing the first two spots.