Race Report: ITU Standard World Championships (Edmonton, AB, CAN)

20x30-ETAS1049

 

The Summary:

After biking myself into position to make a run at top ten, I froze in transition two and clocked a transition time of 8:00+ minutes, effectively ending my day. I sucked up my pride and limped on numb feet to a respectable run for the USA on the front of the kit and my parents in the stands. I’m very grateful for the overall experience, results be damned.

Swim: 24:08. Still not good. I was able to find clean water but I just didn’t have the pop to hang with the front groups.

Bike: 59:56. A top 15 bike split set me up to do damage on the run. Cold temps, bouncing back from the swim and setting the tone for drafting competitors upped the pace.

Transition 2: 08:21. More than 6 minutes longer than the field average. I hit the racks and could not take off my helmet due to clawed hands, my abdomen cramped and swelled, and I could not put my feet into my shoes, ultimately breaking the lock-laces and running in loose shoes.

Run: 35:06. After nearly dropping out and knowing my day was over, I turned in the third fastest run time. National pride and the support of my parents got me across the line.

The Story:

Back in early March, I got an email from USAT:

Your high (USAT) score qualifies you to be considered for a Team USA slot at the 2014 ITU Short Course (Olympic) Triathlon World Championships on September 1, 2014 in Edmonton, Canada. If you would like to be considered, please reply to this email by Friday, March 14, 2014. By March 21 the list will be reviewed and the two athletes in each age group (per distance) with the highest overall rankings score will be awarded the slots.

Given my national division ranking was 14th, I figured I’d have a good shot at being selected, so I emailed. And as you’d guess, I was selected.

Thing is, the day I got the email, I was also happy to have run 1 mile at full body weight. So, I wasn’t quite sure what my health status would be for the season. But I figured it’d be a great event and the Olympic distance is short and fast.

As it would turn out, the season went quite well after I returned to health and I qualified for the Ironman 70.3 Worlds in Mont Tremblant in Quebec, which was to be six days after this ITU World Championship. So, stop one of World Championship Tour de Canada 2015:

Edmonton!

Pre-race: World Class Events

20140828_173939

Teams from all over the globe gathering for the parade of nations

I met my parents in the Edmonton airport and instantly noticed the worldly vibe, as folks in their country’s warm-ups packed baggage claim. This was the case throughout the city for our stay in Edmonton and it was really cool. The Japanese team stayed at our hotel, the British team stayed at the USA headquarters hotel and even going to dinner was like a mixer. The Parade of Nations was a really great experience which culminated at the town center complete with flyover and speeches.

20140831_130247-EFFECTS

Jonny Brownlee leading the chase group

I was really excited to watch the men and women’s ITU Grand Finale the days prior. Seeing Olympic medalists put down absurdly fast times in the final race of the year was inspiring. I love that type of racing – swim to get in the group on the bike, tactical and fast group riding, blazing fast runs. It made me wish even more that this style of racing was more available to amateurs.

20140830_124238Edmonton was an alright town and they were great hosts. One of my favorite parts were the trails down along the river banks, which were great for running and casual riding. Still, by race day, I think we were all ready to stop living the downtown hotel life and hit the start line.

 

 

Race morning:

It was dark and downtown was still as my parents and I left the hotel. Athletes would take the light rail to the race start and on the platform, the UN of triathlon gathered. While I was comforted by being with my folks, I didn’t speak much as I sat quietly on the train, focused, listening to my music. I am not a fan of the craziness of race morning and listening to all of the Type A banter that fills the air. I was very at peace and ready to race, and Tycho fit the bill:

As we got to the transition there was a gate that had yet to open and folks piled in line. Think Disney World five minutes before it opened. This served the purpose of official check in and, as ITU does, official uniform inspection. It was when I got out of my sweats for the first time that I realized just how cold it was out. It couldn’t have been much more than 40 degrees.

After getting set up and changed into my wetsuite, I put sandals on so my feet wouldn’t touch the frigid ground. I stood in a “bullpen” of sorts with my wave, before being led out by bag pipe to start line.

Swim:

The platform lined the beach’s shore and all of the athletes lined the edge shoulder to shoulder – unlike other races where you could be the 15th guy back from the front. And like everything else in an ITU race, the start was very official with line judges who signify athlete readiness and, with no countdown, a gun sounded.

20x30-ETAY0251Everyone dove into water like the platform was a spring board. Though it was an aggressive start, it wasn’t nearly as intensely physical as Milwaukee, likely due to the controlled start. The water nice as they’d dredged the lake, lined the bottom and refilled/chlorinated the water.

I felt on pace with the group I should have been with for the first 500 meters. I then started to feel that I was falling back. The good news is I fell back and by 1K I was with the group I would finish to 1.5K with, did not fall back any further.

I got out of the water and was actually feeling pretty good, in control. I knew I was back but the energy of the race made it easy to get after it.

Transition 1:

It hadn’t gotten any warmer. I had just gotten out of the water, only to transition to my bike with nothing but shoes and a helmet. Because of ITU regulations, you cannot wear a piece of kit that is not approved by your federation. I had also learned that whatever you put on for the bike, had to stay on during the run.

Bike:

Off I went, knowing I was cold, but figuring I could pedal hard to overcome it. And pedal hard I did.

20x30-ETBB1023In the first five miles I was passing folks at a blazing speed and watts higher than I would consider sane. I could feel myself shivering at times however and I also wanted to clear some of the traffic.

Either It began to work or I began to go number, because by ten miles I was shivering less and racing more. By now there were a cast of guys from different countries that were pushing each other – namely Great Britain, Canada, Australia and Brazil. The bike course was deceivingly hilly and I really forced the issue on the hills, which seemed to work.

I finished the first loop feeling strong and headed out to lap 2, which was the “Brazilian Lap.” For much of lap 2, a Brazilian guy that I was playing a bit of cat and mouse with decided he was just going to sit on my wheel and draft illegally. I’d seen him doing this to someone during lap 1 and it frustrated me then. So when I’d pass him after he’d surge by and sit and chill in front of me and he’d suck onto my wheel. I was definitely pissed. A Canadian guy even rode up to me after one of his faux-passes and said, “Just burry that dude, he’s been riding your ass all day.”

So that’s what I did, I passed hard and as I did I slapped my right butt cheek and said, “Let’s go.” He was good for one catch and pass but I spent the last 3 miles with him comfortably behind me after my final pass.

Transition 2:

20x30-ETBB0295As my bare feet hit the cold wet grass in T2, I noticed how numb they were with each step I took. It became evident when I got to my rack and I couldn’t use my clawed hands to get my helmet off, that I may be in trouble.

Finally I used my teeth to get it off. That’s when I noticed my abdomen was swollen outward and I started cramping massively. I gave out a yell and pressed my stomach in to counteract the cramp. I don’t know if it stopped before I ignored it to put my shoes on, proved impossible.

Both my hands and my feet were completely frozen. I literally could not put my foot in my shoes. Volunteers suggested I run back and forth, which did not work. I tried to run out of transition with my shoes in my hands, but the officials stopped me. Finally, I broke the lock-laces that held my shoes together, opened the shoes as wide as they could go and put my feet in. This took six minutes. I knew my race was over.

Self convincing:

20x30-ETAT1790It was heartbreaking to realize my race was over before it even really started. As a runner, I make my race on the third leg. As I struggled in transition, I watched all of the guys I’d worked so hard to pass on the bike come in, get their shoes and leave. In a sub two hour race, 6 minutes is a damning eternity.

As I ran out of the long transition and past the grandstand, where my parents sat, my teeth were chattering and I could barely stay upright on feet that felt like stumps. In any other Olympic distance race, I’d have dropped, no questions asked.. The risk would not have been worth the reward, and the subpar result would not have been what I came to do.

But I knew I was racing for something greater. I was there to represent team USA and I knew that meant I had to fight and finish. I also knew my parents would be proud to see me cross that finish line no matter where I finished. And finally, I knew I wanted it – the whole experience was fantastic and I wanted it to feel complete.

So I gave it a half a mile. If after half a mile I was still limping along and my teeth were still chattering, I’d quit, because at that point, it probably wasn’t safe. And like magic, just before the half mile mark, my stride started to become fluid and the chattering subsided. Now it was time to run as fast as I could.

The Run:

20x30-ETAT1795Shortly after regaining feeling in my feet, we hit a trail. This was perfect for me to get a rhythm without such unforgiving impact. I passed quite a few people and was as strong as I could be for 10K. The course was a bit stoic, as athletes all ran seriously and swiftly, spectators were few and far between, and race music was non-existent. All business in Edmonton.

I ran with such purpose, disregarding splits and focused on “as hard as you can.” My second lap went better than my first and on the final stretch, which was up a grade, I was doing serious work passing everyone I could. I kicked as strongly as I could down the iconic blue ITU carpet, passing guys until the last step.

20x30-ETAY3151

Final note:

Although the race didn’t go as planned, I was so thankful for the opportunity to do this race. It will be in Chicago next year and I’m definitely doing it again. It’s a unique experience for athletes and I’m happy to have raced. I was also stoked on the support from my folks and that they are happy to see me race regardless of how well I do.

Next stop was Bamf in the Canadian Rockies for a few days of R&R before I flew cross country to Mont-Tremblant, Ontario for the Ironman 70.3 World Series. Onward, Canadian adventure!

Race Report: 2014 USAT Age Group Nationals, Milwaukee

I’ve always wanted to give Nationals a crack. Short, fast race in a competitive field – it sure fits the bill. But given that it usually involves a cross-country flight, it just never happened. When Vinny told me he was thinking about doing it in Milwaukee this year, I thought, sure, why not?

And of course we had a Brewers game and a night on the town lined up for afterwards, so if nothing else we’d get to see for ourselves why Milwaukee was known as brewtown. The race went fine, but before and after was a circus.

Brewers Stadium

Panoramic view of the incredible Miller Park. And Vince’s face.

Exec Summary:

61st overall, 15th AG

Swim00:23:25; 735th  Roughest, most physical “washing machine-esque” swim I’ve ever done. “Commit to the swim,” was the advice from M2 – swim hard early to keep on the group.

Bike00:59:02; 96th  After spending the first five miles hoping to get a flat because I felt zero energy, I snapped to and had a great ride.

Run00:33:44; 7th  Vinny and I hit T2 together and it was go time. Per usual, I ran down as much of the field as I could to overcome a very meh swim.

Pre-race: When SWA lost my bike for a day:

The age-old tri-geek debate of flying with or paying to ship your bike bit me in the butt at this race. I opted to save money and fly with it, on a direct flight. Southwest managed to not get my bike on my plane and wasn’t able to tell me where it was for about 24 hours. Did I mention it was a direct flight?

These guys had me ready to roll on a beuty - PRsix with Di2.

These guys had me ready to roll on a beuty – PRsix with Di2.

Slowtwitch came to my aid and I worked with the guys at the Quintaroo tent to get fitted on a sick Di2 PRsix. Alas, my bike arrived at the 11th hour and I was able to race on my own ride.

But lack of sleep due to being on the phone and dreams of my Peggy never coming back to me had me in a regrettable headspace that I had to bounce back from.

Race Song:

Vince fired up some Deadmau5 before the race. Sounds good to me! Let’s roll.

The Swim:

Photo credits: Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District

Photo credits: Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District

The group waded and waited at the pier in a cove on the Lake Michigan shore. Vince and I got ourselves into a spot that would allow us to hop onto the group with a concentrated hard effort without getting too swallowed up. That was the plan anyways.

This was, hands down, the most intense swim I’ve ever done in a triathlon. I’ve swam at other championship races, but there must have been a particular air of competitive drive for this one because no one was giving an inch. In fact, guys were straight up aggressive, and I was getting pretty beat up, swallowing a good amount of water – more on that later.

But if I’ve ever learned a thing in triathlon racing, it’s that not being calm is the worst response you can have in a rough swim. So despite constant clubbing over the head and a rocketing heart rate, I swam like I was the only one there, standing my ground and breathing as normally as possible.

On the turn around, I made the error of targeting the wrong buoy line. It wasn’t hard to do given the colors and placement, and Vince did the same thing.

He exited the water a minute before I did and as is the case, the chase to the rest of the race was on for me as I got out and saw the clock.

The Bike:

In a race where every second matters, I was a bit peeved when a guy in front of me opted for a flying mount, only to fly over his handle bars. It was as bad as the YouTube videos, and caused me to get off my bike, step around, and remount.

Snapping out of it

Snapping out of it

As I got out onto the out of the first out and back, I just wasn’t feeling it. I told myself that I would snap to at the turnaround and – after watching another guy crash in front of me at said turnaround – couldn’t shake life into my legs. Not exactly the situation you want to find yourself in at Nationals after giving up big time on the swim.

At mile 5 I snapped into it however and really started to cook. We climbed the highway bridge out of downtown, which was actually a significant sustained climb. After a fast descent, I found myself playing cat and mouse with a strong rider – within legal distance, of course. As we made the turnaround to come back in to town, I put down a couple of strong surges. I was really feeling it now, and the final one proved to be too much for my new friend to keep pace.

Milwaukee 1st, 2nd half power

My normalized power was 4% higher on the second half of the bike than the first. I drove the final climb and flew back to transition in a respectable 59:02, which I was happy with after a slow start.

The Run:

Vin and I hit the racks together, time to do work.

Vin and I hit the racks together, time to do work.

I hit the rack and new that it was time to fly. I’d ridden off the minute that Vince put on me in the swim and as I ran out of transition, yelled at him to “come on!” But he was still holding his bike and wasn’t able to find his rack. Someone had thrown their wetsuit over his shoes. Huge bummer and it cost him time/leaving with me.

Hoping he’d catch up to me in a second or two, I jetted out of transition. The first part of the run is flat along the water and I pushed the pace, catching guys early. Though Vince was 20-30 seconds behind, it always feels like we’re running together, so after the turnaround I picked up the pace again, hoping he’d try to close.

Giving the USA kit and wind-styled hair a spin before worlds.

Giving the USA kit and wind-styled hair a spin before worlds.

After getting up to the main road off the water, I settled into a quick pace. For the first time in recent memory, I heard a pair of feet keep pace after passing. I continued my hard pass, but this guy was able to hang. Heading into the next turnaround, I put a surge on and dropped him.

At about 1.5mi left I had a gut check. One or two brief moments of “less-than-awesome” sensations can make it harder to keep pace. But that’s when you bank on experience, miles, and positive thinking to get you through even faster. I became even stronger, passing supporters with signs – half a mile, quarter mile, 200 meters. Finally I was able to go up on the toes down the chute and cross the line hard.

The Finish:

I was happy with how the race went considering a very rough swim and a delayed charge on the bike. But I thought for sure I had come in under 2 hours and I was actually surprised to find out I was at 2:00:13. I raced better than that and was looking forward to a sub-2 hour time. Vince crossed the line and we embraced – he was definitely bummed the transition mix-up cost him a better result.

Post-race: Out in Milwaukee, in to the ER:

Grilled cheese for me and cheese curds for Vin. Baseball in Wisconsin!

Grilled cheese for me and cheese curds for Vin. Baseball in Wisconsin!

3 complimentary beverages at the end of the Miller brewery tour. Perfect recovery.

3 complimentary beverages at the end of the Miller brewery tour. Perfect recovery.

Sorry to disappoint, the fun night out was not related to the ER trip. We did have a lot of fun in Milwaukee including a tour of the Miller Factory, a brewers game, and hitting up the bars downtown (there’s a theme there). It was so fun and worth the trip to Milwaukee alone – GREAT town!

However we weren’t feeling so hot when we landed in SF, and knew that it couldn’t have been from the previous night’s festivities. Turns out that we – and many others – suffered from swallowing something in the Lake Michigan water. We got sick. Really sick. After getting sick in front of my building after going to buy gingerale, I knew I had to go in. At 10pm on a Sunday, the ER it was.

Not sure what can be done to avoid things like this – open water is tricky – but I was out for the better part of a week. Definitely not a good situation to find yourself in regardless, but especially when you have a two week block before two world championship races coming up.

Summary:

Despite all of the pre and post-race drama, I consider the race a success and Milwaukee was a blast. The race was perfect timing to kick off the two week block before ITU and 70.3 Worlds. All I had to do was recover from the water bug and I was on my way.

Race Report: Vineman 2014

Dwayne The Rock JohnsonThis was the one. The rock and the roll. The We Will Rock You. The Bee Bop and the Rock Steady. All of the Rock. The race where it all came together and showed glimpses of what kind of triathlete I can be. The shift from “coming back” to racing hard.

With this race, I punched my ticket to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mont Tremblant, Quebec. Though I’ll be racing the ITU World Championship in Edmonton, Alberta six says earlier, I had to take the qualifying slot. It felt too right after this race and the Tour de Canada will be long, but not impossible.

And what would Vineman be without Pops V. being there for support?! In fact, it was a pretty stellar race weekend all around – Vince’s folks got a place on the river and we stayed with them and AD for a relaxing home base. Nothing like a home cooked meal the night before a race to top off the tanks.

Executive Summary:

  • Dramatic race that involved a catch at mile 10.9 of the run and a 2 mile kick to the finish
  • My best Ironman 70.3 result to date:
    • 4:15, PR
    • 3rd Amateur
    • 1st Age Group
    • Amateur run prime
    • Personal fastest 70.3 bike split
  • Swim was passable, but fell off the goal pace after show portion of river zapped energy
  • Began the bike feeling wonky, but settled in and worked a very solid split through traffic to set myself up for a good race
  • Hit the run with Vinny, and took off to chase down 1st AG, punctuated by a 2 mile kick

Race Song:

My dad and I listened to the National on the way up to the race and it was a really fun drive. So this song was playing in my head during the bike portion especially. The National is awesome, they are from Ohio and this is a good tune for a chill, but uptempo vibe. What else could you ask for?

Swim:

Rough waters into T1, don"t faint

Rough waters into T1, don”t faint

Russian River is shallow enough to stand in most areas and mild in temperature. This usually means a pretty cohesive wave start, as sighting is as easy as it can get. The gun went off and my goal was to stay on Vince’s feet and come into transition with him. He started to pull away – he’s swimming really well right now – and I fell in with another group.

We made the turn and as we came back, the water bottomed out. I began dolphin diving because I thought that would be quicker than scraping rocks. This used too much energy so went back to the swim.

As we came into the final 200 meters, it really started to get congested with all of the waves ahead of us. This seemed to liven up the guys in my group, as it started to get rough. One guy in particular was straight swimming on top of me. I tried to keep my cool and get away from him, but the heart rate sky rocketed.

Swim Result: 30:57, 19th AG, 142nd OA

Transition 1:

I got out essentially gasping for bread and really felt off going to my bike. As I took the bike off the rack and began to run away I began to go dark and had to stop and collect myself. I ran my bike up the hill and slowly got on the bike, not sure what to expect.

Bike:

After starting timidly, I was able to turn the dial up a bit. Nick Giometti and I cut our way through many, many (many) people from previous waves. Unfortunately, I had my “On your left!” callout on speed dial.

Traffic aside, I was feeling great and keeping the foot on the gas. Half way through, I checked in on the numbers and I felt I was able to get stronger for the second half. Always Screenshot 2014-11-06 22.02.51a beautiful thing when that happens.

M2 had me spend the previous two weeks doing specific extended efforts and detailed long rides, as well as pedaling exercises to increase efficiency. I found myself referencing this – especially the pedaling efficiency drills – to keep power smooth and steady.

My good vibes and quick pace got majorly squashed however as I hit the roughly 1 mile long No Pass Zone coming into Transition 2. I felt the full weight of being in the last wave. It seemed some folks at the end of previous waves were content to sit up and (literally) not pedal as they coasted in. Passing here was grounds for disqualification, so all I could do was “coach” folks (took every ounce of strength to not have a jerkface tone) that the race was not over and we needed to keep it rolling. I knew I was having a great race and had the potential for podium. But here I sat, not pedaling the last mile of the bike.

Bike Result 2:21:26, 4th AG, 32nd OA

Transition 2:

After tiptoeing like a running back through the folks getting off their bike, I saw Vince running in with his bike ahead of me. I hit the rack a few seconds after he did and as I put my shoes on, he yelled out for me to pick it up and come with. He was out probably 15 seconds before me and I sprinted out to catch him.

Run:

Screenshot 2014-11-06 22.03.12I ran the first mile in 5:34 as I caught up to Vince and he had to tell me to dial it back as I was still in “catch up” mode. And off we ran together, like we had so many times before on the roads, trails and track, picking off people one by one. We kept checking in with each other, “5:43s, cool it;” “6:12s, pick it up;” “hit that shade;” “pace this hill.” It was awesome, and our pipe dream for every race we do together. We were cruising.

It was HOT. We were hitting the aid stations hard – water over head, ice down shorts. We hit the SFTri aid station together and it was nice to see familiar faces as we barked “Water, Coke! Water, Coke!” And then at La Crema Vineyard, as Viva Pink energetically manned (womanned?) the aid station, we again made our preferences very clear.

Screenshot 2014-11-06 22.44.45La Crema is one of my favorite parts of the course, because it reminds me of a cross country race: soft dirt trail around the perimeter of the vineyard, spattered with tree cover. I mentioned something about the pace and got my first lukewarm response from Vince and knew that I was driving at least for the moment.

We made it back onto the road and as we went for the turnaround at mile 8, we saw Bradley from team Every Man Jack coming the opposite way. I knew Brad was a strong athlete and that there couldn’t have been anyone in front of him. I also knew that I was going to catch him, as long as each of us continued running as we were. A major if, because in that heat, who knows when the wheels could come off. But I was feeling great, considering, so I pointed him out to Vince, who at this point was a step behind and I got no response.

This is when I knew I was going to finish the run without Vince. With new energy I surged into the turn around, and saw Vince three seconds behind. I gave him the wave, the same wave he gave to me out of transition, and got the thumbs up in return. Damn it. I wanted to continue crushing this run with Vince, but I knew I was on my own.

Mile 9. Lock and load.

Mile 9. Lock and load.

I locked in and the chase was on. Again, I bulldozed through the SFTri aid station, “Water, Coke! Water, Coke!” Only Bradley wasn’t the first guy from my age group that I passed. I didn’t realize it, but Ezra Becker (M25-29) was between us. As I passed him, he said “Go get ‘em…” to which I gave a response of agreement, which may or may not have been English.

Ten seconds is how far Bradley was ahead of me at mile 10 and it took some serious self-awareness to not go for it all at once. “Still 5K left, no need to get it all now.” As it turns out, it wasn’t that easy anyways, because though I was running faster, Bradley was still running well. At mile 10.9, I finally settled in behind Bradley. And an internal dialogue occurred over about four seconds:

“If I go now, I have to kick for 2.1 miles… Ouch. Do I have that? Would it be safer to run with him a bit and kick later?”

“But what if he has some crazy 400m kick that I don’t know about and punches me out at the end?”

“At this speed, I’m not convinced we won’t get caught by someone behind us…”

And it was this last one that sealed the deal. I took a breath, stepped aside and punched it. The longest kick of my life was on.

The final two miles were 35 seconds faster than the two miles before them.

The final two miles were 35 seconds faster than the two miles before them.

Screenshot 2014-11-06 22.03.45After I made it down the hill and was about a mile away from the finish, I had a moment where I thought, “Move made, settle down and finish.” But I that passed immediately as something told me I had the chance for a special overall result. And so I continued and was fueled by the crowd that lined the return back to the finish.

As I made the turn into the chute, I was up on the toes as there was no pain, there was no exhaustion, only joy and a healthy dose of Heem that comes with a race well run. I zipped up the M2 kit before crossing the line, got a big welcome from the man, Eric Gilsenan, who loves M2, and broke the tape.

Run result 1:19:07, 1st AG, 8th OA

Overall result 4:15:15, 1st AG, 16th OA

What I learned:

I proved to myself that I can push the bike and still run hard. This was a big takeaway. I also now know that I race faster when I’m actually racing – that is, racing with and against others. I’ve always known this, but it really materialized.

It’s important to always be racing against something or someone, even internally, to have your best result.

I feel like I managed hydration and nutrition well with GU Brew, GU gels, Picky Bar and water/coke.

Finally I learned that I have the potential to be a pretty solid triathlete! I’ve always had this as a goal, but this race was affirming for the possibility.

Thanks:

Thanks to my family and friends for the support, it means the world. M2 for his guidance and the M2 community for the training atmosphere. GU for the goods to keep me going. All the volunteers and the Vineman crew for putting on a great race every year.

Onward – rock!