I had to document the events of this week’s Winding Trails Summer Tri Series race. I don’t often write about individual weekly training races, but last Tuesday’s race was amazing. Over the years, I have used the various weekly series races including Winding Trails, the Lake Terramuggus Triathlon Series, the Bolton Summer XC Series, Wickham Park Summer XC Series, Rentschler Field Criterium, and Wompatuck State Park Circuit Race to build fitness and hone skills while “shaking out the legs” after a long day of work.
The big races are usually on the weekends, but I’ve found the weeknight series races to be just as competitive and even more enjoyable. The entry fees are lower and the camaraderie level is high. The Winding Trails series has become one of my favorites. Since 2009, I’ve done it 27 times. I have that course dialed in.
Each year, there are 10 races in the series. In 2014, I did the first race and then had to stop because of my foot injury. If I were still a hockey player, I would only say, “a lower body injury.” I missed the remaining nine events, but Debbie got the off-road triathlon bug and did five of them. So, coming in to 2015, I made the series one of my main objectives. I finished tied for second in 2013 and wanted to have a strong 2015 comeback with the overall title in mind. The scoring is based on eight races, so to finish in the top three, you can only afford to miss two. I skipped the race two weeks ago when I did the Pat Griskus Triathlon on Wednesday night instead. I needed to save my legs for that A race.
In the end, it is just a Tuesday night “scrimmage,” but I take them seriously. The competition is solid for a local event and I like seeing the same folks every week. The staff and volunteers are excellent. This week was race number six. Debbie had done all five, but skipped this week because she is at the Speedgoat Trail Running Festival this weekend, and like Griskus was for me, Speedgoat is an important race for her. Our son was at camp and our daughter stayed with Debbie, so I went alone.
I drove straight from Sterling Machine in Lynn, Massachusetts, arriving in Farmington at 5:50 P.M., only 25 minutes before the start. I was stuck in the usual nasty Route 4 traffic. With all the stop and go, I was able change in the car. After registration, I placed my gear in transition, and did a short warm-up.
The weather looked to be the best of the year. Every Tuesday has been marked by heat, humidity, and thunderstorms. It was warm and a bit muggy, but I thought it would be a dry race. Wow, I was wrong. We started at 6:15 in Lake Dunning. I didn’t see it, but after the race, several people told me that as we were diving into the water, a bolt of lightning appeared in the distance. I didn’t have the best swim. I wandered to the right towards the buoy line and wasted some valuable strokes. Then, when I was working my way back to the left, I kept bumping into another guy. Thankfully, I was disguised in my wetsuit and goggles. I was frustrated but also embarrassed. I eventually got past him.
I had trouble removing my wetsuit. I always remove it in the water because I put my mountain bike shoes on at the beach and then run the ¼ mile to transition. It got hung up on my timing chip, which was comical. Photographer Chris Moore caught the moment perfectly. Even he admitted that he was scared off by what was to come!
I picked up some spots on the way to transition and started the mountain bike leg with about eight guys in front of me. I quickly passed three of them, and then picked up a couple more. I was locked in after a week without racing and hammered the first few miles. We were in thick woods, but I did notice that the sky had darkened. I was wearing dark lenses and wished I had worn clear instead.
I worked my way up to fourth by the third mile, with a strong rider tailing me the whole time. I couldn’t tell who he was. The top three of Jon Arellano, Roberto Diniro, and Ken Schulz were in a group riding close together. Jon and Roberto, the two “Yaleies” were slightly ahead of Ken. I know that because they have “Yale” on the back of their shorts. As I passed, Ken confirmed that there was no one ahead of them, but I still had this other guy hot on my tail.
I caught up to Jon and Roberto and surged past on the sandy hill before the four mile mark. I still didn’t hear thunder, but it was dark and breezy. I never looked back. Recently, I’ve purposely avoided looking back. I wasn’t worried if they were hanging on. I just went as hard as I could, taking every corner with as much speed as possible. I nearly crashed in the sandy right hand corner before the left over the bridge. I’m pretty sure that the guy who tailed me the entire time was the one who stuck with me all the way to transition. He was pressing me hard when I took that corner hot. After I recovered, he said, “Whoa, I’m good” or something like that to signify that he wasn’t trying to pass me. I got a look at him in the last 100 meters of the course as I reached down to undo the Velcro straps and get out of my shoes. He opted to keep his while I chose to dismount barefoot. I would have to drop him on the run.
I was a little confused coming out of transition. We were rubbing elbows and I quickly pushed ahead. I thought I had a good gap, but never bothered to look back. I was startled when 1,200 meters into the run, I had company. It was Jon. He closed the distance that I built up in the last mile of the bike leg. He and I went stride for stride for a while. He sat on me until the steep downhill. At that point, he blew by me. I never let him get more than two seconds ahead.
The wind picked up, leaves and branches were falling on the ground, and I swear I saw hail. Then, it started to pour. It was so dark that I put my sunglasses on my head. Then the rain got heavier and the thunder and lightning went crazy. It was right over our head. I didn’t have a second to worry about all the other racers. I was in a dogfight on this run. As the rain got heavier and heavier, it was as if buckets were being poured on our heads. My sunglasses were going to blow off, so I held them in my hand.
Jon doggedly pushed the pace and all I could do was hang on. My contacts were starting to wash out of my eyes, so I pulled my ball cap down tightly to keep the rain out. When we got to the last big hill with less than a mile to go, I figured I would jump him and see if he could hang on. I knew that if I couldn’t break him, that I would be forced to wait for a sprint. The trail was flooded with inches of water eroding the soil. It was ankle-deep in spots.
I pulled up along side and he wouldn’t let me pass. He wanted it as badly as I did. I love this kind of racing, and even better, it was Tuesday night! I backed off and tucked in behind him again. He led me all the way over the footbridge and around the final bend. Normally there are folks watching, but it was deserted. I passed him on the left, kicked it hard, and thought I had it. I couldn’t see a thing. It was raining so hard. I saw the line and someone (maybe Sharon McHale like usual) was holding the ropes to separate those transitioning from bike to run from the finish. I went for the wrong timing mat before making a jerky last second adjustment to get across the right finish line. I got him just before the line.
Usually, there is a big crowd, but all the people were huddled under the pavilion. Everyone was soaked to the bone. It was unbelievable how hard the rain was coming down. Jon paced me to my fastest run of the year and second fastest total time, but the results were wasted. The organizers made the right call. Less than 1/3rd of the competitors were able to finish, so they are not counting the results. I heard that only your best seven races will count towards the overall results. I learned after the race that the second wave was delayed by 15 minutes and combined with the third wave. That bolt of lightning as we entered the water was real. The delay and the timing of the storm hitting during the wave two/three bike leg made for a mess. Most of them were stopped after the bike and never started the run. As far as I know, everyone was safe. We were just wet. Those conditions can be dangerous, especially when they catch you by surprise, but when it works out OK, it makes for a great story.
I was happy to finish. I grabbed my bike and also huddled under one of the pavilions. I was wild-eyed as if I had seen a ghost. Those were some of the most intense weather conditions I’ve ever competed in and to top it off, with a fierce battle raging while the storm was raging. I loved every moment of it. The results are a little messed up, or I’m confused. Kudos to Dave Arnold and his team for hanging in there. Their timing gear got drenched. I don’t think Joel Emmendorfer was between us. He and I had a battle the week before, but I’m pretty certain that it was Jon and me fighting it out on the run. Who knows? With the weather the way it was, the whole thing could have been a dream.