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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!)