This was my third year doing this race but this year, unlike others, I had a friend to head up to the race site with me. As I mentioned yesterday, Lindsey Jerdonek was down for the race so I had come company to leave my place in Winter Park at 4:15 AM to head down to Disney for the 6:20 AM start time. Upon arrival we were herded into the parking lot and onto the shuttle bus and soon enough we were at the race site.
Because my bike was already there, preparations were minimal and I was nice and relaxed as I was getting ready for the race. Pretty soon I was standing on the beach in the dark with all the other male pros listening to race director and man of many talents Tom Ziebart sing the National Anthem. (BTW, I was much more happy to listen to the anthem standing on the edge of the lake as opposed to having to float in the 55 degree water like we had to do in California...)
The gun was off and we were sprinting into the water. The beach start was a bit of a shock to the system as it seems they are a rarity now. In fact the last time I did a beach start was this race a year ago. Anyway, because of that I felt a bit strange running into the water and it took me a while to remember what I needed to do which probably resulted in a pretty poor starting position. Once we started swimming though I was pretty confident I was in the front pack so that was good enough for me. Because we werent allowed to wear wetsuits, I was in the pointzero 3 and it was feeling great. Once again I settled in on some feet and had a relatively uneventful swim. A few times I moved to the outside to make sure the group was staying together but for the most part I was content to stay in the pack as I knew I wouldnt have been able to swim away from anyone.
As we came out of the water I was around 12 th at the back of the first pack feeling good. A decent (but looong ) transition and I was out on the bike. Right away I had to watch a few guys slowly pull away from me as I knew I wouldnt be able to maintain the power necessary to stay with them for the whole race. So I just settled into my desired wattage and started cranking. A couple miles into the ride Courtney Ogden passed me and I was a bit worried that he would be the first in a line of many. (Surprisingly enough though he was the only guy to pass on the bike!)
Unfortunately about 3 or 4 miles into the ride my left piriformis started hurting and my whole left leg got really numb. It was really weird... anytime I slowed down or stood up my leg would get that feeling like it was "asleep". This made for a painful ride but I just stared at my PT and was determined not to let BIGZACH catch me. I saw him at an out and back just before 25 miles and it gave me some motivation to really focus on the ride and block out the pain and try to hold him off. It worked and as I mentioned before, I finished the ride in the same position that I had started as in addition to being passed by Courtney Ogden, I actually passed TJTollakson. (As an aside he mustve been feeling bad as he can certainly destroy me on a good day but he was clearly having some problems and had to withdraw.)
Finally the bike was over and it was time to run. Usually this is a good thing for me but today I was worried as my piriformis was really hurting. After throwing on my shoes, I started to run out of transition and I thought I was going to fall over. The only other time I had felt this bad off the bike was Hawaii... and that was 112 mile ride with my seat too high. Regardless of this as soon as I left transition I was totally focused on just running with good form and stride rate and I decided I would let the speed take care of itself. After a couple of the early out and backs, I realized that as long as I ran nice and easy I could get by with a good-but-not-great run and maintain my position. Additionally, the next guy was so far ahead that even if I did have a great run, it likely would not have helped any. Quite simply, 10-15 sec a mile just wasnt worth the risk of blowing up later in the race.
So after a mile and a half or so I started feeling semi-normal and got into a decent rhythm, running between 5:55 and 6:05 min miles, depending on the terrain. While the uneven ground consisting of roots and sand was quite unfriendly in a few spots, the weather was the best we could have asked for as it was overcast and even sprinkling a few times. Back to the race and I just kept clicking off the miles and got a nice boost when I saw Craig Alexander in a golf being driven back to transition. His dropping out in addition to a pass of a walking Victor Z meant I was now in the 8 th place... Thats right, in the money! Finally I was finishing up the longest last 0.1 miles ever and the announcer was proclaiming, "In eight place, Andrew Hodges from Huntsville, AL..." as I came across the line in 4:11. Not a great time, as it turns out the bike and run were both long so the time is a bit irrelevant.
Overall I was really pleased with the result. Mentally the race had been quite difficult as it was basically a time trial from the time I started the bike and my piriformis had been killing me so I was really happy to finish with a good placing.
In addition to the money, I also found out at the awards that I got a Clearwater spot as none of the guys ahead of me claimed theirs. Additionally, I may also be on the team for ITULD worlds in Holland at the end of August as the top 2 Americans at this race were supposed to have qualified. However I still need to hear back from USAT so we'll see what the situation is with that. I'd be really excited to go as it is 4k-120k-30k which is great because it favors swimmers and runners a bit more.