Saturday was my third ITU continental cup and second this year at the Dallas Pan American Cup. This race is one of only three continental cups in the US in 2012, so there was basically no choice in whether I should attend or not, regardless of the warnings I got about racing in Dallas in June. The conditions will be hot for everyone, right?
I left Simi Valley on Thursday with both my mom and dad. I’m so lucky to have such supportive parents that are so interested in what I am doing. They have no background of any kind in triathlon, but because I’m getting involved in it, they are too. They still ask, “so are you riding your road bike or the black one at this race?” (i.e. draft legal and non-draft) but they are picking it up pretty well for a couple of old folks. We got in pretty late on Thursday night and went straight to bed. We stayed at the race site hotel which was very convenient as our rooms overlooked the swim course and the transition area was in the hotel parking lot.
Friday I did the pre-race thing, riding the course, meeting up with some of the newest Collegiate Recruitment Program recruits and swimming. I went for a short, two mile shakeout run later in the day before attending the pro meeting.
Saturday had a slow start as we didn’t race until 2:45 pm. I had a couple bowls of cereal while I watched the F1 and Elite Development Races’ (EDR) swims. Chris Baird joined me around 10:30 after he dropped off his girlfriend at the race site for the women’s pro race at 12:00. We sat around in the room for a while before grabbing some turkey sandwiches and eventually making it down to the athlete’s lounge. After checking in and setting up our??transitions, the former D1 runners went out for a quick warm up jog.
It was already well over 90 degrees, so we didn’t go too long. Then it was off to the swim start to get a swim warm up in. I did one complete loop (750m) and checked what landmarks to sight off of as I turned around each buoy.
ITU racing is much more formal than most triathlons. Before we got in the water for the deep-water start, they lined us up according to our ranking and introduced us one by one. It is quite nerve-racking waiting for your name to be called so you can jump in the water and find a spot on the starting line. I was just behind fellow Collegiate Recruit Kalen Darling, who is one of the fastest swimmers in USA Triathlon, so I lined up next to him thinking I could follow his feet for the beginning of the swim.
39th in 19:31 (2:11 behind the fastest)
Well I was right about Kalen being the fastest swimmer. Unfortunately, as the race started, I was not able to get on his feet and just got mixed up in the washing machine. Luckily, I didn’t get beat up too bad — no kicks or punches to the head this time. After rounding the first buoy about 300m in, I could see there was a group ahead of me, but they continued to pull away from me throughout the swim. I exited the water right behind Ahmed Zaher of Egypt (who helped put on the race and is apparently 48 years old! Not a good sign…) and could see the last of the main pack rolling out of transition as I came in.
Immediately after the race I thought my swim was pretty much a failure. I had been working so hard at it, and it still wasn’t good enough. After looking a little closer, it actually was a pretty good swim for me. Comparing my swim times with the seven guys that raced here and at Myrtle Beach, I was 1:01 faster this time. Kalen beat me by 3:31 in Myrtle Beach and only 2:10 this time. In Myrtle Beach I was way off the back of the stragglers of the main pack; this time I was one of the stragglers. Progress.
:53 (:07 behind the fastest)
As I entered T1 it confirmed that I was well behind most of the field — there weren’t many bikes left. I had a fairly smooth transition and was on my way onto the bike. My T1 time was just about in the middle of the field, which is OK, but I’m leaving time on the table and I can do better.
3rd in 1:01:59 (:26 behind the fastest)
Before the race I opted to put on my shorty aero bars, and I’m glad I did. After I hopped on the bike, I hammered for a minute or so before sitting on someone’s wheel while I got my feet in my shoes. I quickly caught up to Taylor Reid of Canada and we did a great job working together. Through the first three laps or so we were flying by guys left and right. A few of them would try to jump on the train, but they weren’t able to hold our wheel. The course was very flat and straight with two 180 degree turns at either end of the course. This allowed us to continually mark our progress.
Up front, a large group of about 20 guys had formed. About a minute back there was a smaller group of about six working together. When Taylor and I caught that group, we immediately went to the front and did most of the work. It was clear that this group was a bit stronger than the riders we had passed on the first couple laps and we decided to get in their pace line. I was told a couple of times I was pulling “too hard” and I was splitting up the group. I felt like we weren’t going hard enough and, frankly, felt like we didn’t need those guys if they weren’t going to pull their weight.
The wind was really picking up at this point and, combined with the 97 degree heat, made for unmotivated riders in the lead group. Each lap we were given the time gap to the big pack and each lap the time came down. After hearing each update it was extremely motivating and guys in the group would yell encouragement to each other. “We’re eating them up!” one guy yelled. We eventually got the lead group in our sights and decided that everyone just needed to take one more hard pull. We caught them just as we started the 7th lap. I think I may have let out a loud yelp out of sheer excitement.
I thought I should just sit in for the rest of the ride and get ready for the run. I was amazed at how slow these guys were going, especially into the head wind, and just kind of worked my way up through the pack. I was fourth or fifth wheel as people started taking their shoes off in preparation for the start of the run. A few guys passed me just before the dismount, but was still happy with where I was at, about 11th or 12th in the pack.
:44 (:07 behind the fastest)
Running into transition with a big group of guys was a new experience for me. There was a lot more going on than I am used to. I racked my bike, got everything in my bucket, shoes on and out of transition without any collisions with the other guys.
6th in 37:09 (2:25 behind the fastest)
I started the run in 14th place behind a group of familiar names. I was so excited to be in the mix for the first time in an ITU race heading into the run! I was running behind Barret Brandon, Kevin Collington, William Huffman, Derek Oskutis… several guys with a lot more experience than me. The heat was pretty??oppressive, so I decided to tuck in behind these guys for a bit. My goal heading into the race was top-15, so I was in perfect position.
The run course was setup identical to the bike course with no shade and two 180’s per lap where there were aid stations. At each turn around I grabbed a bottle of water, splashed a bit in my mouth, threw most of it on my chest and poured the rest on my head. The run was basically a race from aid station to aid station, trying to get through those few minutes in between as comfortably as possible. Each time I got water, I could tell my pace picked up while my body got a respite from the baking heat.
After a mile or so I felt the group I was running with was going a bit too slow, so I slowly pulled away behind Alex Hinton of Canada. I knew this would be a race of attrition, so I didn’t want to push it too hard, and in fact, this was probably one of the easiest 10k’s I’ve ever raced because I spent so much of it holding myself back. By the fourth and final lap however, I was hurting and I was happy to see I had a big gap behind me. I tried to surge with 1 km to go, but my hamstring started to ball up just that little bit and I thought, ‘Take it easy. Don’t blow this.’ ??I finally stumbled across the line in 6th place, my best placing in an ITU race by 11 spots!
6th in 2:00:21, 2:25 behind 1st
After the race I was completely wrecked. The heat had cooked me and I spent the rest of the day and night with the worst case of tempo tummy. Of course, it was all worth it. While I was doing a lot of moaning and groaning, I was grinning like and idiot inside. I really wanted to have a good race here as a sort of validation that I am headed down a successful path and I am not completely crazy.
This race has me more motivated than ever to continue to work on my swim. I was lucky that I had a good group to work with on the bike and that the front group was unmotivated to ride fast in the wind and heat. When I got out on the run I was aware of that and told myself I had to take advantage of this opportunity, because I don’t know when the next time I will come off the bike in the main pack. With a better swim, I can make sure that this happens more often. Right now I am a very competitive triathlete, but I’m one-dimensional. I can only race well at one type of race, and to ensure that I’m successful at all levels in this sport, I need to be able to adapt to different race situations. The best way to do that is with a better swim.
A little update on my world ranking on the ITU Points list… I gained 135.44 points for my finish which moved me up 135 places to 238th. I moved up 10 places among Americans to 22nd. These points will be important when I try to move up from Continental Cup racing to the World Cup, and eventually World Triathlon Series, level.
I want to thank my mom and dad for continuing to support me; Barb Lindquist for all her help with the Collegiate Recruitment Program; USAT and their partnership with Rudy Project, TYR, Zipp and Blue Bicycles for all the great products they have given me; my coach Ian Murray and TTS; and finally the race officials and volunteers for putting on a great event — while I was racing and having fun they were being scorched by the sun.
Finally, a closing by Mike Spracklin of Rowing Canada (credit Andrew Russell for posting this video on his blog). It sums up where I am at right now very well.
The best form of motivation is progress. If you see that doing the work that you are doing progresses you, than you’re motivated to keep doing it.