My first professional race. In any sport. I always assumed it would be on a track or road race, not jumping into muddy water. Saturday night before the race I went to bed anxious. Sunday night after the race I went to bed with a smile. Sunday was a dream come true.
I arrived at the race site just after 7:30 am. The women’s race began at 7:30, and the original instructions to the men were to check in your bikes in transition before the women started. At the briefing on Saturday night, many of the more experienced men voiced there opinions of arriving 2.5 hours before their race began with several loud grumbles.
“How much time do you normally show up before a race?” the ITU official asked. “Two hours?”
“75 minutes,” one guy replied. To my surprise the official caved in quite easy. He said we could check our bikes into transition anytime before the 9:00 swim warm up began as long as we watched out for the women as they rode through transition during their race.
Since this was my first race I didn’t want to see how far I could bend the rules, so I showed up while the women were in the water and finished before the leaders got to T1. I was shocked to see guys nonchalantly rolling up at 8:45. Maybe this is normal? I guess professional triathletes are used to getting their way.
At about 9:00 I did a short jog with fellow Collegiate Recruit Dan Feeney. We ran down the run course and it was fun to see and a cheer for some of the women that are also in the program. At 9:20 we jumped into the water to get in a swim warm up. When I watched the pro race in San Francisco back in July I noticed how much more of a warm up they do than I had seen in an age group race. I tried to follow the trend and spent a good 15 minutes swimming and getting a feel for the pontoon dive start. The water temperature was 73F, making it a non wetsuit legal swim. DANG IT!
Twenty minutes before the race was to begin they close the warm up. It was already pretty windy at this time, and not too warm, so most of the athletes put on jackets and pants to keep warm. Just before the race starts they do introductions with the top ranked guys getting a little bio. Where you start on the start line is your choice, but top ranked athletes get first pick. I was #58 out of 65 numbers (34 total) so I just picked the first spot that was open.
I stood there for what felt like an eternity. To top it off, they played pretty much the most intimidating music I have ever heard. Still, I was super pumped to get started and see where I stacked up with these guys. Here’s a video of the intros and the start of the swim…
28th in 21:26, 3:33 behind the fastest
I dove into the washing machine and tried not to get too banged up. I was quickly spit out the back and was swimming at the back of the large pack. The first turn buoy was about 170m out. Being at the back of the pack already it wasn’t too messy, which was nice. We took a left and swam downstream for about 200m. Then we took two rights and swam back upstream. Somewhere during that section I lost the feet of the swimmer I was drafting on, and ended up swimming the rest of the race alone.
The course was two 750m laps so we had to come out on the dock run around the corner and dive back in. I think this makes for more entertaining spectating and it beaks it up for the athletes. You can see this in the video above.
The rest of the swim I felt pretty good and made sure to keep telling myself to go faster. You are in a pro race now! I came out of the swim with a large gap ahead of me and one guy, Rusty Pruden, a few seconds behind me.
26th in :18, :05 behind the fastest
“What are the two most common penalties in ITU racing?”
“Not putting your cap and goggles into your basket.”
“And mounting the bike too early or dismounting too late.”
This was the conversation my coach Ian Murray and I had the day before the race. So as I exited the swim and came into transition, I was focused on getting my cap and goggles in the basket and mounting after the mount line. It never occurred to me that I needed to put on my helmet! As I grabbed my bike, in hot pursuit of the riders ahead, Rusty yelled, “Helmet Jason!” to me. No you didn’t. Yes I did. Forgot to put on my helmet before grabbing my bike. What a rookie.
23rd in 56:16, 1:22 behind the fastest
Rusty and I quickly grouped up and went to work. We were both doing about half the work and started catching a few riders. As we caught riders, the group began to swell. At first this was great, I thought, because we were all doing less work. There was a nasty headwind for half the lap that really zapped your legs if you were leading into it for too long. As we got closer to the end of the bike leg, our group had become about 9 riders, and people stopped working together.
I was so concerned that we were losing time to the front group that I found myself near the front. As we headed back toward transition on our final lap, I got stuck in the front battling the nasty headwind. To add insult to injury, when I finally decided to take my feet out of my shoes, the whole pack went around me and, just like in the swim, I was shot out the back. Although I was with a decent sized pack, I was effectively last in the race at that point.
29th (out of 29) in :25, :11 behind the fastest
Last in T2. My transitions are awful, apparently. Not much to say here except for that I should be faster.
11th in 35:10, 2:29 behind the fastest
I ran through most of the group fairly quickly and had my sights on Sean Jefferson (a sub 4 minute miler from Indiana University). About 3k into the race, just as I had caught Sean, I started to feel a pulsing in my left hamstring. I tried to keep my stride nice and smooth, but couldn’t keep my pace up without my hamstring cramping. I slowed down, stopped and stretched a bit, and tried to pick it back up. Sean had opened up a large gap in that time. I looked behind me and saw James Bales running just behind me. I decided to run a bit easier with him for a while.
During the bike leg I noticed that “58” was listed on the white board at the “penalty box.” Because of my helmet mishap coming out of T1 I had been given a 15″ penalty. Race officials wrote my number on the board indicating that I had to serve the penalty at some point during the run.
Before the race Ian and I had talked about if I do get a penalty to serve it before my last lap. I was still running with James when I took my 15″ penalty after the third lap. I stretched my hamstring, and when the time was up, took off. I was able to catch him with about 300m to go. There was a decent downhill heading into the finish, so I thought I would just hang behind him and try to make a quick move just before the line. I was worried if I went too soon my hamstring would cramp again and wouldn’t be able to continue kicking. I started to coast down the hill pretty good and was opening up a gap on him without pressing too hard. I decided to keep pushing and set my eyes on Nathan White. I was kicking pretty hard and really closing the gap, but ran out of real estate.
I finished in 20th place in 1:53:35, 5:42 behind 2008 Olympian Jarrod Shoemaker. I was really happy to hear that I was 20th because top 20 earns ITU points which are important in moving up to more competitive races in the future. I read the rules more carefully and realized that you have to be top 20 and within 5% of the winner’s time. 5% off of Jarrod’s time is 1:53:30, 5 seconds faster than I finished.
Regardless, it was a successful first race. What Ian and I wanted to get out of this race was to get a benchmark of my swim, get draft legal pack riding experience on the bike, and to experience the hoorah of ITU racing before I head into the off season. With this race under my belt, I will be ready to get after it in my first ITU race next season without experiencing all the first-time-jitters.
This was my last race of the season, and I will have a season recap up this weekend or next week.