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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

One thought on “Race Report: ITU Standard World Championships (Edmonton, AB, CAN)

  1. Mike, what you did that day took both guts and courage. You displayed championship levels of both. It was a proud day for our family and our country. On behalf of both, thanks Mike for the unrelenting effort in Edmonton.

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