As with the previous days in Taiwan, I woke up race morning quite early. At around 3 or 4:00 am I had a little snack and then laid around until 6:00. Before I left for Taiwan, Barb Lindquist told me a story that her swim coach told her years ago. After a poor night’s sleep, Barb’s coach told her, “You’re too good of a swimmer to let some lost sleep affect your race.” Now I’m certainly not too good of a swimmer, but I knew I was well prepared for this race and didn’t worry about a couple of hours of sleep I may have missed.??Dustin McLarty and I headed to the breakfast buffet, which opened at 5:00 for the race instead of the usual 7:00. I had a fried egg over-medium, a bunch of toast, and some frosted flakes. The rest of the morning was spent packing our things and cheering for the women outside our hotel as they began the bike.
The race was set to begin at 10:30, so at 9:15 I headed down to transition with the rest of Team USA. After being sent all over the race venue, we eventually found the athlete’s lounge and were able to check in. I was able to set up my transition and finished up at 9:50. Swim warm up was 9:45-10:15, and since I did not have a chance to swim the course the day before, it was important to swim an entire lap. The course included a pontoon start and a straight out and back around one buoy. I quickly dropped off my things at the athlete’s lounge and jumped in the river. By this time the wind had really picked up and there was quite a bit of chop when heading back in after the turnaround buoy. There was also a noticeable current pulling from right-to-left heading out.
33rd in 20:56 (2:15 behind the fastest)
I was ranked 7th going into the race, so I was able to line up pretty much anywhere I liked. Since there was a bit of a current, I went over to the right side and picked a spot about 15 spaces from the end. The plan was to have Dustin McClarty (#15) and Kalen Darling (#18) to line up next to me. They were far and away the quickest swimmers in the field and were planning a two-man breakaway. They were both lined up to my left, so I knew after 25m or so there would be an opening to my left that I could swim in with clean water.
I had a good reaction to the gun and the plan with Dustin and Kalen worked great. It was probably the smoothest start I have had at an ITU race. At the turnaround buoy it got much more crowded and I just tried to stay on the feet in front of me as we came into the chop. Just before exiting lap 1, I saw fellow American Chris Braden to my right. Chris is not know for his swim necessarily, but I know he has made the main bike pack before, so I thought I was in a good spot. We raced around the pontoon and jumped back in. The second lap had much less contact as things had strung out a lot more. Coming around the final buoy there was one guy ahead (Martin Novak CZE) and I did a good job of latching on his feet. Unfortunately, he was gapped ahead and we came out of the water alone.
In hindsight, I probably should have followed Chris after the first lap and tried to stay on his feet. I knew he was capable of being a main pack swimmer and may have been able to stay on his feet. Still, I am actually pretty happy with this swim(although I wasn’t during and shortly after the race). I was in a good position after the first lap, which is more I can say about my previous ITU races. I also did a good job of sticking on feet in front of me — I just chose the wrong feet.
10th in 1:35 (:05 behind the fastest)
The run to transition was quite long, over 300m, so there was some hope that I could bridge up to the main pack and get in the bike pack. As I came into transition I saw that terrible sight, empty bike racks and the trail end of the pack mounting their bikes. There was one more guy in transition, Luke Watson of Great Britain, giving me some hope that we could bridge up together.
28th in 1:05:09 (2:13 behind the fastest)
I sprinted with my feet on top of my shoes to bridge up to the British athlete. After maybe 600m, I got in his draft and was able to get my shoes on. After making a sharp turn, I took a pull into the headwind. It was clear that he was not going to be strong enough to bridge up, so I took off on my own. The pack would be able to ride much faster than me solo, so I had a very small window to catch them. I was never able to get the time under 45 seconds, and would slowly lose time to the bunch throughout the 40 km.
Riding solo in that wind and heat was really tough. I drank two bottles and had a GU out there, but was still on the limit nearly the whole ride. Thanks to my new ENVE SES 3.4 Clincher and Team USA mechanic, my bike rode very smooth and I was actually able to close the time gap to the guys that began the bike at the front of the bike pack.
After looking at the results, the last guy to make the bike pack swam 20 seconds faster than me, and after T1, was only 18 seconds ahead. If I had swam 15-20 seconds faster, I am certain I would have made the front pack and would have come off the bike more than 80 seconds quicker, with likely a lot more left in my legs. Draft legal racing can be harsh.
32nd in :30 (:06 behind the fastest)
I was feeling pretty cooked after that bike ride, so that is why my transition wasn’t the best. Heading out on the run my legs weren’t feeling all that great, but I knew in these conditions there would definitely be guys fading.
5th in 35:06 (1:57 behind the fastest)
The run course was flat straight out and back on a bike path. There were trees lining the path, but they offered no shade under the noon sun. Less than a kilometer in there were guys already coming back to me. Around that point I got in a decent rhythm and kept focusing on the guy ahead. Unfortunately we began lapping athletes coming off the bike on the 2nd (of 4) laps and after that point it was very difficult to tell where I was in the field. I was able to continue to move through the field, passing Kalen to become the 2nd American, and finish strong to pass a few more guys in the last kilometer.
11th in 2:03:18 (3:21 behind the fastest)
Initial thoughts were to cool off! The heat index apparently had reached 105?? F, and after a swim in 87??, we were all well-done. Once my body recovered a bit, I became pretty disappointed with how the race turned out. I came in ranked 7th, and was hoping for a top-8 here, and only finished 11th. It was pretty clear that my swim put me in a??deficit??that was too big to overcome, once again.
A few hours later, after going over the results and speaking with some of my teammates and coaches, I had a more positive look at the race. Sure I missed the main pack on the swim, but from the swim exit on, I had a great race. I didn’t lose too much time on the bike in harsh conditions and still managed to put together a solid run to help Team USA. My swim was actually the closest I have ever been to making the main pack, which is a huge improvement for me.
Finally, I considered the trip as a whole and not just the results at the end of the race. It was my first international experience and I learned a lot. If I get to the level that I want to achieve in this sport, this trip will be the first of many. This was also just my 4th ITU race. At this point it is important to keep racing and gaining experience, regardless of what kind of shape I may be in.
In the end we tied with South Africa for 3rd place, but lost the podium position on a tie break. A little disappointing, but I think all five of the men that traveled were thrilled with the experience we were given and will no doubt have a special bond from our five days spent together in Taiwan.
Congratulations to the women’s team for finishing 1st! Very excited for Kaitlin Shiver, Jessica Broderick and Julie Rechel. I also want to thank the Team USA support staff Steve Kelley, Brent Hamula, Jennifer Hutchison and Brian Hughes. They did a great job and made the trip easy for us athletes.