I am currently in Terminal 5 of London???s Heathrow airport as I sit down to finally write this race report. As there is no free wifi available here, by the time this is posted I will be safely back home in California. This trip began on Thursday the 13th, and has taken me through three states and five different countries on two continents, completing the first half of my season-ending racing extravaganza, known as the ???PD World Tour.???
Before I go into the details of my trip to Europe for Duathlon World Championships, I need to wrap up my thoughts on USA Elite Nationals at the Buffalo ITU Pan American Cup from a week ago. Duathlon Worlds had some of the very best multisport athletes competing, but Buffalo was a much bigger race for me for a few reasons.
My parents and I took off for Buffallo, NY on Thursday and got into town late that night after a quick stop in Baltimore. Once we got to our hotel room I went straight to bed and decided to worry about setting up the bike in the morning.
After a delicious breakfast at the hotel restaurant, I got my things together and headed to the course. It was fairly windy and not fairly cool. Nearly every race I have done this season, with the exception of the Desert Classic Duathlon in March and Escape from Alcatraz in June, has been quite warm. In the warmer conditions it seems like a lot of the guys without a running background really blow up on the run, which is helpful when you are chasing from behind. Still, I wasn???t too worried about any lost advantage and welcomed the different conditions.
I rode a few laps of the bike course first and then got in a short swim. The bike course was very flat with about 90% on very smooth roads and the remaining 10% was still not too bad. The water was quite choppy and appeared to be too warm for wetsuits. One of these days I will get a wetsuit legal ITU swim, and I will be ready for it!
Shortly after the course recon I went to the athlete briefing. Pour on the nerves. The athlete briefing is always when I first start to feel pre-race butterflies. Seeing all your competition for the first time and going through all the race maps and procedures suddenly makes it seem so real. Yes, you really are racing tomorrow.
For dinner we decided to head just 20 miles north to Canada to see Niagara Falls with Brianna Blanchard and her dad. What an amazing site! A storm had rolled into the area, bringing rain and some more wind with it, but it cleared up shortly after we got to the falls. I found the water, and the good company, to be both soothing and distracting, and felt ready to go for the big race.
Like most ITU races, the start time was in the afternoon at 2:00. I had the best night of sleep I had had all week, snoozing 10+ hours. After an omelet and gathering all my things together, it was approaching noon and time to head over to the course. The sky was dark grey, and the wind persisted, but the rain had held off all morning and wouldn???t be an issue the rest of the day.
Because of the cooler temperatures, I chose to warm up a little more than I usually do. Before most triathlons my warm up on land is limited to a light jog and a few drills. This time I hopped on my bike for 10 minutes or so before checking in and then jogged around with Dan Feeney and Justin Roeder before we were allowed to get in the water for swim warm ups. Justin was making his elite debut, and coming from a D1 running background like myself, I felt compelled to give him a few pointers. I am still no expert ??? I certainly don???t have all the answers ??? but I was in his shoes less than a year ago and I could relate to the feelings and emotions he was feeling.
The wind was holding steady around 20 mph, bringing goosebumps to my wet skin after the ???warm up.??? I dried off with a towel and put a jacket on, but was still shivering as I waited for my start number to be called. Some of the athletes warmed up in a wetsuit, despite the race being above the 20??C threshold, just to be sure they would stay warm. This seems like a great idea, and I considered doing this, but I didn???t want to feel faster in the warm up than I would during the race. Maybe I am overthinking this and putting too much emphasis on ???feel??? for the water? Certainly something to consider next time there are cooler temperatures for a non-wetsuit swim.
Once ???#18 Jason Pedersen??? was announced on the PA, I jogged down to the pontoon and found my way to the rightmost available spot. I ended getting a great place with Kevin McDowell to my left (a strong swimmer) and Kaleb VanOrt two spots over to my right. Directly right of my starting position was a cleat that was marked off, giving me and Kaleb some extra space once we dove in.
34th in 20:34, 1:21 behind the fastest
I got a good start and found clean, open water for at least 15 strokes. Things were already shaping up much better than Kelowna, despite not being able to see too far ahead thanks to the big chop. In fact, the chop was much bigger than I had anticipated. It was really throwing me around, so I focused on a quick turnover and finding some feet to help me break some of these waves. A few meters to my right there was a strong pack that I knew contained all the race favorites, but they were going too quick and were already too far ahead for me to bridge up. I was beginning to worry that I had missed out once again and was in for another solo swim, but as I neared the first turn buoy, the pack slowed considerably and I was able to latch on around the next buoy and comfortably stay on some feet as we turned back for the end of lap 1.
Coming out of the water I saw Dan Feeney was right ahead of me, and ahead of him was a string of guys. You???re not going solo today! My mom yelled that I was 50??? off the leaders as I charged back in for the 2nd lap. Dan, unfortunately, had a poor dive back into the water, slowing a bit. I knew I had to stay aggressive and couldn???t wait so I went around him. A small gap opened up. This is your race! Close that gap! My coach Ian Murray had prepped me mentally for these situations where you have to give it all you got, well beyond a sustainable effort. If you don???t seize those opportunities, the race is lost, and it doesn???t really matter how much you saved in the tank. The rest of that lap I did whatever I had to to stay on those feet.
Coming out of the water and into T2 it was more strung out than I was hoping. I knew I needed a quick transition and would have to go ???hairy hard??? (more on that term to come in my next blog???) once I mounted the bike to bridge up to a group. Still, I was really pleased with the swim. After losing 50??? to the leaders on the first lap, I was able to limit my losses to 31??? on the 2nd. I was able to draft throughout the swim and never found myself isolated. Overall, a huge improvement over Kelowna.
21st in 1:02:11, 2:03 behind the fastest
Out on the bike I went to work, getting my feet in my shoes quickly, and went around the guy that I had followed in the swim (sorry, bud). The course had a number of 90 degree turns and two 180???s per lap, giving me opportunities to see up the road and judge how far back I was. There was a group of about 8 or 9 guys 25??? ahead forming, giving me a target to aim for. On the first couple laps the gap opened up to 30-35???, but then I began to reel them in. Each lap I got more and more people cheering for me. As much as it sucks to ride solo in draft legal races, it is great to have people watching get behind you and show some appreciation for the effort you are making. It definitely helps keep you motivated while chasing.
Finally, about 5 laps in I think, I bridged up to the group! After time trialing the last 100 km???s or so of my ITU races, just catching any pack at all was a victory. I took this opportunity to drink some fluids, take a Gu and rest a bit on the back of the pack. That lasted about two minutes. I felt the pace was slowing. My aspirations for this race were further up the road. I didn???t want to just race those in that pack; I wanted to give myself a chance to catch a few of the guys in the packs up ahead. It seems not everyone at the continental cup level shares my aspirations and they are content to just sit in and not do any work. To Hell with them, I said, and back into the wind I went. Seeing another motivated rider made a difference to a few guys, and four of us shared most of the work for the rest of the bike.
7th in 33:20, 1:36 behind the fastest
In terms of race execution, T2 is where I made my biggest mistake. I made an effort to work the final kilometer or so of the bike to get into transition at the front of my group. I got my feet out of my shoes without any trouble, got out of the saddle and sprinted to create a small gap, and was first off the bike. Racked my bike, helmet off, shoes on, and that’s when I noticed a problem. While setting up transition before the race, I often put Body Glide or Aquaphor on the inside of my shoes so they slip on a little better. I had put a tube of Aquaphor in my right shoe so that I wouldn’t forget to put in on before the race. Not only did I not use the Aquaphor, I actually left the tube in my right shoe! When I slipped my right foot in, my toes jammed into the tube. Oh shit. I actually thought about just running with it in the shoe for a moment, but that was a terrible idea. I took off the shoe, threw the tube in my transition box, and then put the shoe back on. All that took just enough time for everyone in the group to pass me.
I gave up free time with that rookie mistake, but what I was most upset about was letting Canadian Alexander Hinton go. From past races I knew Alexander was a great runner, and wanted to try to stick on his back in the windy conditions. By the time I got out of T2, he had a bit of a gap that I was never able to close.
Instead, I slowly worked my way through the group on the first lap until I caught another Canadian. There was a short ~200m section with a stiff headwind, so I tucked in behind him. Apparently he wasn’t too happy with me drafting, so he made a sharp turn off to the left side, putting me back into the wind. I slowly veered left to get back into his draft. Just as I got behind him, he cut hard right. I slowly went to the right. He went left. This continued for the entire stretch. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen in my running career! Here we are in like 22nd place, just 3km into a 10km run, with the leaders gaining more and more time on us with each step. I couldn’t believe he would bother trying to shake me at this point in the race. We have bigger fish to fry! As we made a right turn, the wind became more of a crosswind, so I moved up onto his side. That’s when a strange situation became, well, kind of awkward…
As I ran up on his side, he actually reached over, grabbed the string of the zipper on the back of my suit, and unzipped it! He unzipped my suit! What the hell?! I couldn’t believe what was going on! He said something like, “It will help cool you off.” So now after??literally going out of his way to not allow me to draft off him, he wants to help me? And remember, I started this race shivering! Keeping cool was not really my biggest worry. I said, “let’s just work together,” and went by him. Shortly after, he fell back, and I returned my focus back to the race.
This video shows our little drafting battle thanks to a great sequence of photos my dad took.
For the remainder of the race I tried to pick off guys from the two packs up ahead. Most of the guys up ahead were running fairly well, and the gap coming off the bike was just too much to make up. In the final 100m or so, I was able to sprint past one last guy and finish in 17th place.
17th in 1:57:31, 4:47 behind the fastest
I came into this race ranked 18th, so I ended up placing one spot higher than that which is always good, but I had higher expectations. Taking out international competition, I was 10th best American at my first elite national championship, which sounds pretty good, especially considering I was only 5th at age group nationals a year ago. However, there were some very talented Americans that skipped this race that would have bumped me further back had they shown up. I did show some improvements here, especially in the swim, but I am still not quite cutting it at this level.
As far as points go, I scored the same number of points I did back in March in Clermont with a 17th place finish there. Unfortunately, ITU only counts three Continental Cup races on the points list. Since this was my fourth Continental Cup, I needed to place 16th or higher to improve my ranking. Maxing out on races to score is a good problem to have. I have shown some good consistency in my first professional season, and I am proud of that.
As always thanks to mom and dad and to my wheel sponsor ENVE!