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  • Nancy ITU Duathlon World Championships

    Posted on October 9th, 2012

    After my race in Buffalo, I flew to Boston to stay with fellow professional triathletes Chris Baird and Brianna Blanchard for a few days. I had never been to Massachusetts before and I was anxious to see why my mom raves about it. She began racing the Boston marathon in 2004 and pretty much became a Boston fan overnight. She even cheers for the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics now. 2013 will be her sixth edition of the Boston marathon, which will be extra special with my sister Jaclyn joining my mom for her first time! Basically, Boston has turned into a destination for the Pedersen’s.

    Chris and Brianna have a great apartment in an old building in the financial district. I went riding in some of the suburbs of town and went running along the Charleston river, through Cambridge and onto Harvard???s campus. While Chris was grinding away at work, I went with Brianna to MIT for a couple of swims. I got to see a bit of the city as I walked to the ???shipping dack at the John Hancack building by Capley pack??? to try to intercept two UPS packages with our Duathlon Worlds uniforms that wasn???t scheduled for delivery until after our departure for the airport. I found the shipping dock at the John Hancock building by Copley park without too much trouble and grabbed our packages.

    Boston struck me as a very clean city, especially compared to other big US cities I have been to like Los Angeles and New York. The city is very young and active thanks to all the universities and paths along the river. While I am in no rush to move there and see what the winter months have to offer, I can see why Chris and Brianna like it (as well as my mom) and appreciate their hospitality.

    I had some great meals in France. This oversized crouton with canned tuna was not one of them.

    On Tuesday night, Chris and I began our journey to Nancy, France. Flying to Europe from the East coast is so much easier, and I would be reminded of this when I returned on my non-stop flight from London to Los Angeles. A six hour flight had us in London???s Heathrow airport on Wednesday morning where we boarded a plane to Luxembourg. Once in Luxembourg, Team USA coach Jim Vance picked us up and we drove a couple hours south to Nancy. We arrived around 1 pm, and weren???t scheduled to do any training until 5, so Chris and I went for a walk to try to find something to eat. We found a market and picked up a few snacks, including the delicious spread called Speculoos. At first we were disappointed when we discovered it wasn???t peanut butter. After spreading it on a couple cookies, however, we forgot about the peanut butter and began a dialogue on why this stuff doesn???t exist in the US!

    First look at the race venue in Stanislaus Square, Nancy, France.

    Over the next few days we got to see quite a bit of the city. The necessity to always be searching for places to ride or run (or swim) can be a pain, but it affords you plenty of opportunities to explore. I get to see miles and miles of these foreign places that I would not have seen otherwise, which is certainly one of the perks of being a professional triathlete.

    Chris and I grew very close in France. In fact, we only slept about 6″ from one another!

    In addition to the sights, we often see more of the culture as well. On Thursday, I walked to a local pool with one of the elite American female athletes??? boyfriend. At the front desk of the pool, we each paid 3.80 euros and showed our swim cap and bathing suits ??? men must wear brief or square-cut style ???Speedo??? to swim. Thank goodness I don???t go anywhere without mine! We then went to the coed changing room, which was a bank of cubicle-like stations with a door on one side for entry and a door on the other side to exit to the pool. I entered the cubicle and latched the ENTER door close. I turned around and found the EXIT door was open, so I closed that one and latched it shut. Just as I did that, I saw the ENTER door swung back open. Must have not closed it properly. I moved to the ENTER door and latched it shut. Now the EXIT door swung open! I realized the latches on both doors were linked, to prevent people from leaving the cubicle out one door and leaving the other side locked, which is smart. However, because the doors naturally swing open, this also prevents people from successfully closing and locking both doors without a 7-foot wingspan. Being the clever engineer that I am, I improvised by closing one door with my right foot, closing the other door with my left hand and latching it with my right hand, all while balancing on my left foot. I felt like there must have been a hidden camera on me with a French audience watching, laughing and saying, ???Stupid American!??? After stretching both my mind and body in the changing room, I rinsed off in the shower and headed to the pool. In the hallway between the showers and the pool, there was a 5m section sunken 15cm or so with a puddle of water that you had to walk through. I shook my head, bewildered, and thought, ???It???s all part of the experience, Russ.??? Finally, we made it to the pool! It was a very nice, white-tiled pool with four lanes FILLED with people doing breast stroke! I ended up getting a crappy 1500m workout in, which was ok as I wasn???t expecting to get in any swimming in France.

    Stanislaus Square in the distance.

    The race took place in the beautiful, ornate Stanislaus square, surrounded by old buildings with exquisite fa??ade, black iron fences with gold leaf trim, and polished cobblestone. The run course went through an adjacent park, which was flat with lots of sharp turns. The bike course had a small hill on it to bring you up to an elevated highway and had some very technical sections coming by transition. The men’s elite race wasn’t scheduled to go off until late afternoon when the park and square were completely packed with spectators and age group athletes waiting one more day for their chance to race.

    I made an effort to do more of a warm up than I typically do for a triathlon. I got in a good 20 minute run and a short 3 minute tempo before heading over to the starting area. The final 15-20 minutes were a bit confusing, not knowing exactly where I needed to be. As a result I think I spent too much time standing around. My heart rate had come down considerably and I think I was just a little too relaxed.

    Run #1

    30th in 32:43, 1:39 behind the fastest

    At team meetings before the race, Coach Jim Vance made it clear that he would give one guy the green light to try to run with the leaders and make the front pack. The rest of the team would try to stick together and work as a group on the bike to move their way up. I was the one chosen to go for it. I was excited at the opportunity and felt like I had nothing to lose here.

    Photo: Janos M. Schmidt /ITU Media

    Because duathlon is more of a fringe sport even than triathlon, most competitors came into this race with no ranking. Outside of the first dozen or so athletes, starting positions were given at random. I randomly received number 58 out of 59, but didn’t think this would matter much because it isn’t a mass-swim start — it’s just another mass-run start like I have done hundreds of times before. I was wrong, however. For some reason the start line was quite narrow, and only fit maybe a dozen athletes across. By the time my number was called to the start line, it was already 4-men deep!

    When the race started, I immediately began to work my way up. It felt much like a cross country race, which made me feel pretty comfortable. Only now, I was trying to get myself near the front. I did a lot of weaving and dodging guys to work my way up, and after one 2.5km lap, I was in a pretty good spot, maybe 15th or 20th place and 4 or 5 seconds off the lead. The quick start soon caught up with me, and within another 800m I saw a gap ahead starting to form. As I went by Coach Jim, he yelled, “You gotta decide now! Either go with them or ease up.” It was sound advice and in hindsight it was definitely one of those important moments that happen in every race that effect the outcome. Considering there was a 40k bike and 5k run left after the conclusion of this 10k, I decided to ease up. I just didn’t have it in me to go with that front group on that day.

    USA Teammate Dan Hedgecock passed me soon after. By 5k I was a little worried that my aggressive strategy was already catching up with me. At the 180 degree turn around halfway, I saw Ryan Giuliano and Josh Merrick weren’t too far behind. Once they caught me, I focused on staying with them and took a little comfort in knowing that I would have them, at the very least, to work with on the bike.

    Bike

    33rd in 54:59, 3:03 behind the fastest

    As planned, Josh, Ryan and I got going on the bike and starting working together right away. There were some real studs behind us, and soon a group of five guys or so caught us. This group was led by two Belgians and a big Russian guy. I got in the rotation with them and we were all working well together. The group ahead was coming back to us. I was working pretty hard, but nothing that didn’t feel unsustainable, especially when I was able to sit in for three to four pulls. That’s a lot more rest than I ‘m used to!

    About halfway through the bike, my calves were beginning to pulse a little bit coming in and out of some of the sharp corners. Pulses turned into small cramps. On the 5th or so lap, just as we were headed towards the elevated highway, my right calf completely seized. My foot was completely flexed with my heel being pushed all the way up. I tried to force my weight onto my foot and drop my heel down to stretch the cramped muscle, but it just wouldn’t let go. While all this was happening, I stopped pedaling and was coasting. The bunch went around me and left me behind. Eventually I was able to get a normal pedal stroke going again and I settled into a less intense time trial effort. Any chance at a good performance went out the window. The group that I was riding with bridged up to Dan Hedgecock’s pack less than a lap later, showing me once again how big of an effect small lapses can have at this level of racing.

    Eventually I bridged up to Josh, who had also been dropped by the bunch. We rode together for the last lap and went into T2 as just the two of us.

    Run #2

    30th in 17:23, 2:11 behind the fastest

    I was a little timid to get the run started after those bad cramps on the bike. In the past when I have suffered with cramps, it has always been on the run and never on the bike. The huge gap ahead didn’t help much, and I quickly settled into a pedestrian pace. I kept turning over mediocre kilometer splits, one after another, until a Spanish guy caught me. With about 800m to go, he opened a small gap on me and I began to feel even more sorry for myself. We made our last turn, and at about 400m left, I finally told myself to “SACK UP” and threw in a surge. The Spaniard was hurting too, and barely made an effort to go with me. I had a spectacular finishing kick to seal the deal on a 31st place finish.

    Overall

    31st in 1:46:38, 5:58 behind 1st

    31st is clearly not where I had hoped to finish. Even without the cramping on the bike, I was not ready to compete with the top guys in this race. Coming from a competitive running background, the whole experience was a little eye opening. The top ITU guys can run, and I’m not going to be able to compete with them if I’m not focused on being a better runner. I don’t regret coming on this trip — I think I learned a lot — but I know that I won’t be returning to Duathlon Worlds unless I know I am ready to roll a fast 10k, and I have the mileage in my legs to keep going after.

    With that said, I wouldn’t change my training prior to this event. I am focused on becoming a better triathlete, and right now, that means swimming faster. I need consistent, hard work in the pool, and I’m glad I didn’t let this race derail my focus on that.

    Dan Feeney being fed a post race dessert by a French waitress in a German restaurant.

    After the race, Coach Jim Vance told me that I was one of the athletes that he would like to compete in Sunday’s mixed team relay. The relay format includes two females and two males all completing a 2km run-8km bike-1km run course. The order is female-male-femal-male, and I was picked to be the first male to go for Team USA. D’Ann Arthur led the team off, but couldn’t finish due to some injuries incurred from a bike crash in her individual race, so I never got the hand-off to start. This event sounded like a lot of fun, and I hope I get an opportunity to do one of these mixed relays at a duathlon or triathlon in the future.

    The rest of the trip was basically a lot of travel. Driving from Nancy to Luxembourg; flying to Heathrow; flying to Los Angeles; driving back to Simi Valley. I got to meet Andreas Raelert in the international terminal while we waited for our bikes to be delivered. He was headed to Westlake to do some pre-Kona training. Very nice guy and it was cool to meet him.

    Finally, some thank you’s. Big thank you to ENVE for helping me get to France for this race. Thank you for supporting my professional career thus far. Also, thanks to USA Triathlon for selecting me for this race. Jim Vance did a great job in teaching me the in’s and out’s of duathlon. I had a couple of opportunities to talk to him about training and coaching in general, and I appreciate his solicited advice. And of course, no trip would be possible without my great parents. This time, my dad gets a special mention because he had to battle the 405 traffic solo and came to LAX to pick me up. (Mom was out of town on business, otherwise I am sure she would have come too!)

    Results

  • Buffalo ITU Pan American Cup – USAT Elite Nationals

    Posted on September 25th, 2012

    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.

    Apple cinnamon pancakes were an excellent choice.

    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.

    Brianna and I at Niagara Falls (photo: Erik Pedersen)

    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.

    Trying to keep warm before being called to the start line. (photo: Laura Pedersen)

    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.

    Everyone looking chilly on the start line. (photo: Erik Pedersen)

    Swim

    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.

    Bike

    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.

    Run

    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.

    Zipped (photo: Erik Pedersen)

    Unzipped (photo: Erik Pedersen)

    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.

    Overall

    17th in 1:57:31, 4:47 behind the fastest

    Photo: Erik Pedersen

    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.

    Photo: Erik Pedersen

    Results

    As always thanks to mom and dad and to my wheel sponsor ENVE!