A few weeks ago now, I was in Canada for my second ever international race. Like my trip to Taiwan, I traveled alone without my usual support crew of mom and dad. This time, however, there was no team USA support to make sure things went smoothly. Over the next few years I am sure this will begin to become commonplace and I looked forward to the new experience.
Because the pre-race briefing was held two days out from the race, I decided to fly up to Kelowna, BC on Thursday August 16th. I went for an hour run through town after arriving, had dinner at some Italian food chain restaurant I had never heard of, and set up my bike. Most of the stress associated with triathlons, especially when flying, comes from the bike and all the possible things that could go wrong or be forgotten. Even though I still had a couple days before my race, I wanted to make sure everything was good to go so I could have a restful night’s sleep.
On Friday I went for my usual pre-race fartlek from my hotel in the morning. After a couple very easy days, I wanted to get in some good efforts to be sure the engine was still burning hot. I headed over to the race site, snapped a couple pictures, and jumped in Lake Okanagan to check out the swim venue. The water was really nice, around 72?? F, which unfortunately meant the race would be non-wetsuit. I picked up Dustin McLarty from the airport, who would be staying in the hotel with me, and we biked to the race briefing together after he got his bike set up.
When the start list was posted on ITU’s website, I noticed there was an error in my start number. I was assigned #23, but should have been #10. Numbers are assigned based on a ranking that each athlete earns by accumulating points at previous races. Your start number dictates which order you get to pick your starting position. So #1 gets first pick, #2 second pick, and so forth. Since I am a relatively weak swimmer, I would like to start next to fast swimmers and try to stay on their feet for as long as possible. With a start number of 23 I wouldn’t have much choice on starting position and would basically be stuck with whatever’s left. I brought this up with the referees and technical delegate at the race briefing and they said, “Sorry, it’s too late to do anything about it. Don’t worry about it and just race.” Basically, tough luck.
I wasn’t about to let this affect my race, but I wanted to know how such an error occurs and make sure that it never happens again. Athletes literally travel the globe for these rankings, any and all perks that come with them need to be honored. If it made no difference where you get to line up on the start line, then why don’t they just assign starting positions randomly?
Friday night I ate dinner with Dustin at a nice restaurant close to our hotel called Milestones. I had the best meatloaf I have ever had, which I wasn’t expecting. I always thought of meatloaf as an All-American food (which for some reason gets a bad rap), but maybe that is just me being an ignorant American. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meatloaf turns out it has European origins…) One thing I noticed, as did the rest of the Americans I spent time with on the trip, were the??waitresses. To say Kelowna has ‘talent’ is an understatement. Every single waitress I saw was arguably cute, and definitely above their typical American counterparts. (Don’t worry, Mo, I took home zero phone numbers. I’m about 80% sure that the waitress at Milestones thought Dustin and I were together — “not that there’s anything wrong with it!” )
Saturday I got together with a few fellow Americans that I have met from previous races to go through typical pre race routines. I swam with Chris Braden, Jessica Broderick, Sam Holmes and Dustin. We then went out on the bike and rode a couple laps of the course. Later in the evening we ate an awesome Italian restaurant in downtown Kelowna called Mimi’s. We were debating between Mimi’s and another restaurant, and I made the final call for Mimi’s. Of course, I was swayed by my Farmor’s memory (my late paternal grandmother was named Mimi). Any reminder of her is comforting.
ITU race days take me back to college track meets where you wait all day in a hotel till it is finally time to race. I got pumped up to race with some Dirty Dancing on the t.v., sipped water and Powerade, and nibbled on food. Finally it was time, and Dustin and I rode the ~4 miles to transition.
27th in 20:42 (2:42 behind the fastest)
Because of my poor starting position, I started in the middle of the field. The water’s edge had a slight bend to it so those on the right side had a slightly shorter distance to the first left-hand turn buoy. When the gun sounded, everyone took a couple steps and then dove in. Chaos ensued, as it always does, but I feel like I let it get to me more than I did in my last two races. Most of the way to the first turn buoy I couldn’t see a thing up ahead, just lots of splashing. In that position you just have to assume that everyone ahead is going the right direction and try to stick on their feet.
Coming around the buoy there were some feet just ahead. I told myself to not let them go, but for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to hang on and I saw the race swim away from me, literally. I had clean water the rest of the swim, since I was so far behind! Some guy would occasionally touch my toes, which was my only indication that I wasn’t in last.
I have made a commitment to swimming and it is frustrating to have races like this. Do I need to commit even more? Perhaps. It is hard to say. Maybe time, not more intensity and more yardage, is what I need? Just as one doesn’t see the rewards of running 100-mile weeks after just a few weeks, I’m hoping I have yet to see the rewards of all the swimming I have done in the last few months.
15th in 1:05:53 (2:34 behind fastest)
The bike course was 6 laps with a 650m hill with sections reaching 8% grade. For a normal ride, that wouldn’t be worth mentioning, but when you’re racing up it six different times, it??definitely??shakes things up. I’ve always thought I was a pretty good climber on the bike, so I was excited to see how I stacked up on the hill. Now that I came out of the swim with such a deficit, I hoped that some of the riders up ahead would get dropped by the pack and allow me to catch them.
That’s exactly how things played out for the first two or three laps, but after that, I saw no one. Unlike most of the ITU races I have done previous, here there were no 180 degree turns to??gauge??how far behind I was. Still, I put my head down, told myself “professionals don’t give up” and continued to attack the hill on each lap. Finally, on the sixth time up the hill, I could just barely see the tail end of the chase pack. The distance was too far to make up with just a few kilometers left, but at least I knew I was holding a manageable gap. I knew I could close that gap on the 10k run on most of the guys up there.
4th in 33:42 (0:55 behind fastest)
Coming out of T2 there was a quick, sharp left hand turn and then through the first water station. I was stunned to see some guys barely moving through that area–I had already made up the one minute+ gap on these athletes. It was clear some of these guys rode above their heads on the bike to stay with the pack, and I was looking to capitalize on that.
I looked ahead and saw a string of athletes. I still had no idea what place I was in (looking at the results after the race, I was 23rd off the bike) so I just looked ahead and picked them off one at a time. I felt great for the first 2.5km lap, but shortly after I felt a little twinge in my hamstring. I have had this issue before, and I think it is from riding so hard, especially with that hill. Each time it would start to pulse, I let up a bit and tried to smooth out my stride. There were a couple of times where I thought to myself, ‘you aren’t even running hard!’ I would try to pick up the pace, then my hamstring would say, “not so fast!”
As I ran by the finish line with one lap to go, I heard the announcer say, “We should see our winners in the next few minutes.” Alarms went off in my head! At every race I do I am always looking to score points, which requires a top-20 place at Continental Cups like this one. At his point I was pretty sure I had run my way up into the top 20, so I was good there, but there is another rule that says you must be within 5% of the winner’s time to earn those points. I fell victim to this rule in Myrtle Beach last October in my first professional race, where I finished 20th, but too far outside the time cut off (missed that one by 5 seconds!).
Knowing all that, and hearing the winners only had a few minutes till they finished, I did some quick calculations. If their finishing time is 2 hours, I need to be within 6 minutes. They were going to be somewhere around 1:55, so I knew I would need to be well inside of that threshold. I don’t do ITU races with a watch, so I wasn’t sure how long each lap took, but I assumed it was somewhere around 8 minutes. I knew it was going to be close!
In the words of Paul Sherwen , “I threw caution to the wind” and decided to just go for it and risk a full on hamstring cramp. If I didn’t finish within the time cutoff, at this point I could care less whether I finished 10th or 30th. Fortunately, the last lap was my best yet and I was able to finish strong in 12th place in 2:02:02.
After looking at the results, the time cut off ended up being 2:02:10. I had just made it by 8 seconds!
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this race. I don’t think my swim was indicative of where my swim is at right now, and I aim to prove that at my next race. I rode and ran strong, although the cramping is a little worrisome. I’m happy that I had the presence of mind throughout the race to make the correct decisions tactically so that I would have my best performance (e.g. not hanging with the slower riders that I caught) and to sneak under the 5% cut off. With those points, I moved up the ITU points list to my highest World and national ranking yet, 232nd overall and 17th best American.
In addition to the race, I had a great time in my first adventure to Canada. Kelowna is gorgeous, and I plan to come back to this race every chance I get!
Thanks to ENVE wheels and Blue bikes for putting me on a great machine. The ENVE wheels look so slick with the blue side-wall race tires and I got a number of compliments from other pros on them. Thanks to USA Triathlon for all the help this year, especially Barb Lindquist and the Collegiate Recruitment Program. Also a big thank you to mom and dad. I couldn’t be doing this without their support and I am grateful for it everyday.