Kyle Damon Recaps his First Full distance win at HITS Hunter Mountain
Photo credit: ESI/HITS
Just as the colors began to change in the Hudson Valley, HITS Triathlon Series returned to Hunter Mountain for its second mountain-top race of the 2012 season. Kent "Kyle" Damon powered to the first Full distance victory of his career in a time of 11:31:20 and was welcomed to the line by a surprise visit from family members, including brother and popular Hollywood icon Matt Damon. Here is Kyle's race report...
After flying to Vancouver last month for what was to be my final ironman and then getting sidelined by a virus, what follows is an account of Plan B: a small USAT sanctioned event, The Hunter Mountain Iron distance race in the Catskills, NY.
Knowing nothing about this course, I went early to scout the conditions; Lori was to follow on race day. Recon revealed the most relentless collection of hills I'd ever seen on a race course, especially the marathon. Lori called shortly thereafter to report that a bout of vertigo would keep her from driving out (she's ok). This last ironman quest had been such a resource vacuum, I was unwilling to ask anyone for more help. So, I went it alone.
It was a "mass" start of just over a hundred (half of whom were doing the 70.3). I exited in fourth place (1:01 split) to 47 degree temps and wind, calling for leg, toe, and arm warmers. T1 was, to quote Romney, "inelegant".
I passed one guy shivering violently as we descended from North Lake, then another. After an hour I passed the lead swimmer (a guy that had just swam the English Channel) putting me in the shocking and intoxicating position of first.
Unpredicted rain began, fog rolled in and the winds increased. With poor visibility I misjudged a frost heave and suffered my second lifetime bike crash. The impact left contusions, blood, road rash, and tested my helmet. After crude diagnostics of body and bike I got back in the saddle, albeit less intoxicated.
Shortly thereafter, a Captain America look-alike (I later learned "Alex", age 27, thrives in hills and owns a 70.3 PR 10' faster than mine) blew by at the base of a ten mile climb. Having tasted life at the front, I increased my output to keep him in sight. This tactic proved unsustainable, as did my fleeting identity as race leader. Soon the sun appeared, and with it a fortuitous mental rebound. Absent any friends or family, I pulled over, stashed my drenched layers under a rock, and began to deliver consistent power (compliments of Coach Smyers) through the backside of Hunter Mountain.
Entering T2 however, a glance at Alex running out proved discouraging. He looked fierce. I'd trained for Canada's course, and thus had no prep for running hills. Furthermore, my hip was barking from the crash. I found a stride just as the #3 guy biked in. Running down from North Lake I saw Alex ahead and passed him to re-take the overall lead.
The run was a 2x out-n-back course, offering us regular status reports on our volatile 1-2-3 positions. At the halfway point the hurt escalated and the following checkpoint revealed two things: The #3 guy had fallen off and Alex was eating into my lead.
What followed makes this my all-time favorite ironman story. Mile 18 was the only half-mile stretch without a hill. I used the flat to try'n maintain my margin, but I was cracking, now fearing footsteps behind me. At this most critical point in the race, I thought I was hallucinating. I saw what appeared to be my brother ahead, arms raised. I then saw my nieces, sister-in-law, then my wife. (Matt had planned this surprise intervention, which included sending a car to drive Lori to the Catskills.) There they all were in full view, yelling "You're in first place!!!…Go! Go! Go!"
Never in my life; I was out-of-body, riddled with gratitude, love and pain. I kissed Lori and turned a mental corner. I was going to end this ironman saga with nothing left except my family at the finish line. I forged the next 8 ugly miles on heart, not just mine. At mile 25, I dared my first glance back... Nothing. I could hear the hum of the megaphone across the lake ahead. Then the words became clear, as did a reality I hadn't truly envisioned until now, "…And here comes our iron distance winner, Kyle Damon!". I won.
It wasn't pretty. The field was small and the time of eleven and a half hours was an hour off my PR. But that was the most grit and wattage I've ever put down, and the most thoroughly moving race experience of my life. Alex and I shared our perspectives on the day at the awards ceremony and I hope I never see him again.