Josh Billings still ranks as one of my favorite events of the year. This year i am coming back from a second place ironman finish to challenge winner Josh Flanagan. Josh had won last year by 9 minutes over me. My goal was to close in on Josh this year and if I'm lucky enough, pass him.
Training in the summer was a bit inconsistent. Dealing with a sciatic nerve problem in my right butt check had limited my kayak training. I made at least 6 modifications to my seat before ripping all the hardware out and replacing with a Bumfortable foam seat. I would still get the dreaded "dead leg", but it at least it held off longer with the Bumfortable. In addition to the seat, I was starting off my first year as a full time high school teacher preparing several curriculums never have taught. As labor day rolled in, training just about ceased. Otherwise, the running and biking where going well.
My secret weapon was missing this year as well. My all star support person, and wife, was working an art show the same day. I will have to fend for myself. Having a support person for the Josh, though not necessary, saves valuable racing time.
It was a beautiful day in Great Barrington, but the mood quickly changed just as the race got going. The first leg, the bike portion, is a mass start involving group riding, drafting, and peloton positioning. 425 riders left the start in a sprint, averaging close to 30mph. At the first turn, bike wheels hit and several riders went down. I was able to keep to the outside of the crash and avoid collision. Tensions grew as riders where begin to yell out to other riders to "hold their line". Holding line means to keep your bike in a straight line. If you want to pass, you need to wait!
Racing got more ugly in the next 4 miles. The first hill spread up riders into "pelotons", groups of riders that bunch close together and work with each other to draft and improve overall speed. I missed the first peolton but got into the second. After summiting the first hill we began the first downhill. Cruising around 35-40 mph a cyclist trying to move ahead left his "line" and clipped another cyclists front wheel. They were about 4 bikes to the left of me. The clipped cyclist's wheels began to wobble and then the bike and rider went airborne. There was a sort of front-somersault motion before the cyclist landed hard on his head/neck shoulders...hard to say from where I was. What i can say though, is that i never want to hear the sounds that that cyclist's body made with the pavement ever again. There was nothing I could do to help, if i tapped my brakes to stop, i would most certainly cause a crash with the riders behind me. The folks behind would have to help.
For the rest of ride all the cyclists where on edge. Still, 2 water bottles where dropped in the group. I have never been so vocal in a group to hold lines and pay attention.
Due to the cautious riding, time was loston the ride portion, but i would quickly make up time in the kayak portion. Josh Flanagan and newcomer Mike Galoob where well ahead of me by now. I was able to pass Mike on the first lap and then caught up to Josh on the second lap.After passing Josh, i made a point to yell out a friendly but competitive "Hey Josh" to let him know that I was in the lead now...i do believe i heard an "Oh Shit". I still had to pull ahead as far as possible as Josh has been known to hammer the run. Little did i know Mike Galoob was matching my kayak pace pretty well and keeping me in sight.
The Josh Billings run has always been brutal on my legs. In the past i ve struggled to get to speed and this year was no different. I was trying to keep a 6:35 pace, but even that was difficult. Not before long Mike Galoob passed me with an astounding pace. No big deal, my goal was to beat Flanagan anyways and there was no sight of him yet. The at about mile 4 I spotted him about 200 yds behind. I picked up the pace as best as i could. The last mile is essentially all uphill and I was cramping like hell. Flanagan got right behind and passed me with about 1/2 mile left to go. I tried, but couldn't match his pace. Josh finished 30 seconds ahead of me.
In spite of the scary bike ride, Josh Billings turned to be an awesome race for the ironman kayak division. Out of the 425 teams (most of the 425 are formed in TEAMS of 3), Mike Galoob finished 24th, Josh Flanagan 27th, and myself 28th. Two minutes and 15 seconds separated 1st to 3rd!
Place Team Name Final Time Bike Rank/Split Kayak Rank/Split Run Rank/Split
24 Mike Galoob 2:45:44 59 1:14:34 38 52:04 27 39:06
B: Mike Galoob K: Mike Galoob R: Mike Galoob
27 NUUN 2:47:30 22 1:10:46 78 56:36 35 40:08 B: Josh Flanagan K: Josh Flanagan R: Josh Flanagan 28 Fast as a Slug 2:48:00 70 1:14:52 25 50:18 66 42:50 B: John McCarthy K: John McCarthy R: John McCarthy