It was a sunny day in Middle Tennessee for my race on Center Hill Reservoir yesterday. The reservoir is part of the Cumberland River system: it was formed by the construction of a dam on the Caney Fork River near Smithville.
I arrived at the race site a couple of hours ahead of the noon start time and prepared for a rematch of my USCA Nationals race back on August 12: the distance for yesterday's race was approximately the same, and Scott Cummins of Louisville, with whom I'd matched wits for most of the USCA race, was registered.
Even the course layout was similar to the one we raced on up in Massachusetts: from the starting line we would paddle a few miles to a buoy turn, then paddle back past the starting line and continue a couple of miles to another buoy turn, and then come back and finish at the same place we'd started.
I was determined not to repeat the mistake I'd made at the USCAs, where I'd pushed the pace too hard in the first half of the race and paid dearly for it in the second half. And so once I'd sprinted off the line to put some distance on most of the field, I settled into a comfortable wake-riding pack with Cummins and Ted Burnell of Chattanooga.
We cruised along for several miles before Scott started throwing in some sprints to try to break up the pack. I covered each of his moves, but eventually we opened a gap on Ted. For the next half-hour or so I did my gentlemanly duty and took the lead from time to time, but I was careful to spend my share of time on Scott's wake. I was hoping he might be getting tired from the sprinting he had done earlier and maybe I could make a breakaway move in the late stages of the race. Meanwhile, Ted held his position just a few boatlengths behind us.
As the course brought us back by the start/finish line, it appeared that my chance had arrived sooner than I'd expected, as Scott suddenly fell off the pace. Years of racing with Scott have taught me that he is not a guy who gives up easily, and I couldn't quite believe the race was falling into my hands like this, but I began to surge to press the advantage. As we passed the start/finish line we supposedly had four miles still to go, so I knew I couldn't go too whole-hog with the surges. But it was hard not to say to myself "This race is mine, baby. All mine."
The race wasn't all mine. I glanced back and saw Scott moving back up onto my stern wake. The story, as Scott would tell me after the race, was that Scott had dropped back with Ted hoping that he could ride Ted's wake as Ted worked to reel me in. Ted didn't give chase, however, and Scott decided he needed to sprint back up onto my wake.
As soon as I realized I had not, in fact, broken Scott, I knew the race would come down to the last mile, if not the last hundred meters. By this time I was plenty tired myself and knew I would have to conserve what little energy I had left. I slowed way down and almost forced Scott to take a couple of shifts in the lead. In doing so, I allowed Ted to rejoin our pack.
I took the lead into the last buoy turn--two miles from the finish--and after rounding the buoy I stole a glance over my shoulder to see if I'd achieved a gap on Scott and Ted... and I almost ended up in the water. My motor control in my core muscles was failing and it took a solid brace to keep my boat upright. I decided to keep the pace slow until we came within sight of the finish line.
That moment finally arrived as we rounded a bend and saw the finish buoys less than 800 meters in the distance. I threw in a surge to see how much my competitors had left; they responded well and I backed off a bit. Then, with maybe 200 meters left, I knew it was time to put up or shut up. I began to sprint but Scott's bow stayed right there off my right hip. I let him take the lead, hoping to ride his port-side wake as long as I could before letting it rip for a photo-finish victory. With 50 meters to go, I let it rip... but Scott held fast and I couldn't move my bow ahead of his. I was running on fumes and my body was screaming Concede! Concede! My brain almost obeyed, but with 15 meters left I decided to dig in one last time. But I couldn't climb out of the trough of Scott's wake and his bow beat mine across the line by inches. The results would show a 0.29-second margin--one hour, 56 minutes, 53.81 seconds for Scott and 1:56:54.10 for me--and that sounds about right, I guess, although I don't know how the timing could have been that precise without any electronic eyes in place or anything like that. Let's just say it was a tight finish. Ted held on to take third place just six seconds back.
Myrlene Marsa led all females with a time of 2:20:07.65. She lives a few miles outside Chattanooga in Rising Fawn, Georgia.
Scott recorded the total distance at about 13.4 miles on his G.P.S. device. My time was almost identical to my time at the USCAs, at which the distance was reportedly just over 13 miles. In that race I had died with about two miles to go, whereas in this race I had paced myself much better and had something left at the end, if only just barely. My legs throbbed like jelly in that last mad dash to the finish.
The results are posted here. You have to click on "Results" at the top of the page, and then when you get the "Select an Event" menu, choose "14 Mile." Scott is listed as William Cummins.
I'm tired and sore today but generally feeling good about how yesterday turned out. It's easy to be disappointed when you've fallen just short of winning, but I honestly don't think there was anything I could have done to produce a better outcome. As the ever-gracious Scott said afterward, "We can chalk this one up as a tie."
Read more from Elmore Holmes at: http://mytrainingblogbyelmore.blogspot.com/