Hey reader, nice to see you again! I’ve had a busy spring, what with all the shirking of responsibilities and neglecting this blog. That stuff is hard work.
Anyway, the Grizzly Triathlon is a great excuse to start telling the world (or at least whoever finds their way to this corner of the internet) some of this year’s stories.
It really has been an eventful spring. Normally, the Grizzly Tri is my season opener. As far as triathlon is concerned, this year was no different, but I have decided to occupy myself also this year with these quaint little races that involve only one discipline. How novel.
So, with a 5k, a 7-miler, a 10k, and two bike races under my belt this year, I had so far recorded two wins, two second places, and a third place finish after suffering a flat tire. Turns out racing one discipline at a time is a lot of fun. I have plans to do a lot more of that this summer, but it was certainly nice to get back to racing tri this weekend. The atmosphere that surrounds the Grizzly Tri, also known as the Montana World Championships, is hard to beat.
Once again this year, the weather cooperated and we all knew it would be a fast day. Sizing up the competition before the race, I had no clue what to expect. The mainstays of this race over the last few years were back. Matt Seeley, Andy Drobeck, Kory Burgess. Dan Mazza has been seeing rapid improvement and would be a force to be reckoned with. Evan Eck likewise had a good season last year and it would be interesting to see what kind of times he would lay down. Brendan Halpin made his annual pilgrimage from Tucson just in time for the Grizzly once again. And some 22 year old punk named Dylan from Bozeman put down 11 flat for his swim seed time. Was he any good on the bike and the run? We’d find out soon enough.
I took out the swim like a bat out of hell. Pacing be damned. My first 100 was 1:03. That was probably a mistake, but to be honest I continued to feel strong even as I settled into a more reasonable pace. I was sharing a lane with Matt, which was great because I knew we would be somewhat close in the overall race, and the swim, being early season and in the pool, was the only opportunity I had to put any real time into him. My strategy for the Griz is generally to just go as fast as I can until I either blow up or get to the finish line. My goal for the swim was to break 12 minutes, and I went through the halfway point at 5:45. Too fast, but once again, pacing be damned. I managed to come out of the pool in 11:47, good enough for second out of the water in the elite heat and a 33 second PR. Dan came into transition about 10 seconds behind me, with Sentinel High School’s Ryan Mason hot on his heels. Dylan was about 35 seconds ahead of me. I still didn’t know if he was any good on the bike.
I think I expended a little more energy in the swim than I have in past years, so it took me a couple miles to get my bike legs under me. I knew I was being chased by some very fast cyclists in Andy, Matt, and Kory, and I would have to hold onto the advantage I had gained in the swim for as long as possible. I got to East Missoula and Kory came whizzing by me more quickly than I would have liked. Turned out he had also cut 30 seconds off his swim time and put himself in a much more favorable position early in the race.
When we got to the turnaround, I knew Dylan was the real deal. Not only had he held his lead, but he had actually gained a few seconds on the entire field. Dan was still about 10 seconds back from me, with Matt right behind him. I dug deep, determined to hold them off as long as I could. Andy was a ways back after a disappointing swim. Dan passed me right before the freeway underpass about 2 miles from the bike finish. Matt passed both of us. I re-passed Dan to keep Matt within striking distance, and the three of us went through the narrow, winding part of the course together, coming off the bike within 10 seconds of each other.
The gap up to Dylan when we went onto the run course was 1:50. Too much. Kory had roughly 35 seconds on us, and he is a strong runner. He would have to blow up for any of the three of us to catch him. I still wasn’t sure where Andy was, but I knew he was somewhere back there and would have the fastest run split of the day. The race for third place was on. Matt started onto the run course first, with me hot on his heels and Dan on mine. We are all generally very close when it comes to run splits, so it would come down to who had the most guts and the best legs on the day. About half a mile in, Matt threw in a surge. I tried to hang and couldn’t pull it off. I could feel my shoulders tensing up and my form heading south quickly, but I could also hear Dan’s footsteps and breathing, so I did everything I could to keep it together. Eventually the footsteps started to fade. I powered up the infamous hill, glancing back at the top to see Dan still only about ten strides back.
Time for a risky strategy: breakneck speed on the downhill singletrack. Also, I opted to race in road shoes this year, instead of trail shoes like the last two years. They definitely helped me feel lighter on my feet, but now was the time to see how they would handle a high-speed downhill. They did great. 30 flailing seconds later, I had doubled the gap and Dan was no longer in contact. I passed the turnaround and still didn’t know where Andy was. He had recorded the day’s fastest bike split and was on his way to the fastest run, but the gap from the swim was so big that I suspected I may be able to hold him off. I focused on Matt up in front of me and my own form and breathing, trying to pick up the pace for the home stretch. I dug deep and it hurt. I couldn’t catch Matt, but I did hold on to my position and cross the line in 4th place. Andy passed Dan and pulled himself up to an uncomfortably close 15 seconds behind me.
My final finish time was 1:00:20, still 20 seconds short of the one-hour goal that has been eluding me for the last several years, but a 17 second PR on the course. Dylan pulled off the win in 58:24, a blazing fast time considering he was alone for the whole race. Maybe he’s not just some punk kid after all. I’m looking forward to chasing him, and the rest of the crew, around some courses later on in the summer.
Once again, congratulations to all the participants, organizers, and volunteers. The Grizzly Tri continues to be one of my favorite races every year.