364 days prior to last Sunday, I raced the ITU Cancun World Cup, finishing 44th. It was my first World Cup and I was probably in a little over my head at the time. Fast forward back to this Sunday, and I was just a few miles southeast on the small island of Cozumel, once again racing a world cup. The training I have put in leading up to this weekend’s race was so much better than last year’s, so it would seem that I would surely have a much better race, right? Well a wise man once said…
Nobody is “due” for a good race. You need to earn it. Always.
??? Paulo Sousa (@pstriathlon) November 27, 2011
The field was very strong, with an unusually high number of Europeans racing for a late season world cup in the Caribbean, including 2013 World Champion and Olympic Silver medalist Javier Gomez from Spain.
I was ranked way down at number 40, but knew that if I could make the main pack, than I would have a great opportunity to surprise some people. That’s easier said than done, as I have only caught the leaders once in my entire ITU career and this was probably the deepest field I have competed in yet. I had a few things going in my favor, however, that made me think this was possible, and I promised myself I would try to take advantage of those things.
The first thing I had going for me here was that the race was a sprint distance. With only a 750 m swim, there just isn’t enough time for the real fast swimmers to get much of a gap (usually). On top of that, the quality of the field meant that there weren’t going to be guys going out way over their heads the first 200 m and then completely blowing up, losing the feet in front of them, and letting a gap open up.
After the swim warm up, I asked Tommy Zaferes if he noticed much of a current. He said there was one going from right-to-left (out to the ocean). Once I finally got called, I found a good spot that was pretty far to the right. The first turn buoy was way out there at 470 m, so I figured if I just concentrated on swimming on feet, the current + the navigation of the guys ahead of me would get me to a reasonably good spot.
Once we dove in, I did a great job of staying in the moment. Looking back at races where I have had poor swims, I realize that I wasn’t focused on the task right in front of me. I sometimes think about how hard the effort feels or how slow I must be swimming. On this day, I was hyper-focused on??feet and didn’t let the physical contact or negative thoughts distract me.
When you free yourself from dwelling on outside pressures or expectations, when you are focused on the step in front of you and know that you will continue to be a valuable human being regardless of numerical outcomes, worry is less likely to intrude on and disrupt your performance or your life.
–??In Pursuit of Excellenceby Terry Orlick
Looking at the splits, you can see I was still pretty far back in the group, in the last 1/6th of the field or so. But like I had hoped, there were no gaps ahead and the overall time behind was manageable. I ran into transition knowing that the race was right in front of me.
In addition to the short swim and quality of field, the third thing in my favor was the heat and humidity. When it is really warm, guys seem to worry more about the run and are not willing to put in the same effort on the bike. The front group will ride at a conservative pace, allowing more motivated packs behind the opportunity to catch up.
After a very tricky bike mount on some very slippery concrete, I found myself in a group of strong cyclists, including Ritchie Nicholls from Great Britain, Gregor Buchholz from Germany and Kaleb Vanort from USA. At the end of one lap we were told the gap was just over 20 seconds to the back of the lead pack. In these situations I rarely drift too far back from the first three or four positions in the group, but on this day I was already feeling the heat and took about half a lap near the back. The guys ahead pressed on, and by the end of the second lap it was clear we were going to catch the lead bunch.
Once joining the group, I had some moments where I felt like I was just chilling in the peleton. It was nice to put in barely any effort, but even on this non-technical course, it was pretty nerve racking being in the middle of 50 or so guys. I made an effort to get at or near the front going into both of the two 180-degree turns on each lap. There were a number of crashes there, so that was a good tactical move.
What was not??a good tactical move, however, was drifting from the front to the back of the pack on the stretch from the last 180 to T2. I don’t have much experience coming into T2 in such a large group, and that lack of experience showed. I was nervous taking my feet out of my shoes in the bunch, and lost my position as a result.
Coming into T2 was crazy with people and bikes all over the place. Some guys run past their rack and then had to turnaround and swim upstream like a salmon, adding to the confusion. I have heard of the importance of being at the front coming into T2 before, but now I have been there and will know to do better next time.
I felt decent starting the run and right away I began passing guys up ahead. ITU racing is infamous for guys flying out of T2 and then falling apart later on the run. By the first turnaround, I had moved up to about 30th place. I caught up to Steffen Justus from Germany and tried to sit on his heels. We came around halfway of the run just inside the top-20. I thought back to track sessions and workouts at Lake Miramar where I just try to hang onto Joe Maloy for as long as I can. I stayed right with Justus until about 1 km to go where he seemed to find another gear that I didn’t have. I was still moving through the field, and with 400 m or so to go, I moved passed Ivan Tutukin from Russia and Gabor Faldum from Hungary, putting me into 13th place. The finish line was beyond the turnaround point we used after the first lap, but how much further passed I wasn’t really sure. As we got onto the carpet, Tutukin rallied and came around me with Mark Buckingham from Great Britain (who had apparently been running just behind me the whole way), both nipping me at the line. A few hours after the race I was a little upset that I had lost those two spots right at the end, but then I remembered the way I felt crossing the finish line (and bending over to throw up), and I was satisfied with the fight I put in.
15th in 54:06, 0:40 behind winner (Javier Gomez)
Finishing 15th at a world cup at this point in my career is huge. I jumped up 53 places on the ITU points list and am now ranked 154th in the world (9th American). The race played to my strengths really well, and I’m happy I was there to take advantage of the opportunity.??Like I mentioned in my PATCO race report, this swim doesn’t show I-have-arrived or anything like that. I’m happy that I executed well in the swim, but it’s pretty clear that I simply need to become a faster swimmer to have consistent results. This race showed good progress, but also highlighted some of the things I need to do better. My next opportunity to do that is this next weekend at the ITU San Juan Pan American Cup.