It was eleven months ago that I sat in the only shade I could find in a Henderson, Nevada parking lot, behind the stage where I would eventually claim my award for winning my division at Ironman 70.3 Silverman. It was really hot and it was sunny – shocking – and the grill that was making the post race barbecue seemed to find the only wind in Henderson as it plumed it’s warm meaty exhaust in our faces.
Why were my mom and I sitting here instead of heading back to Vegas to spend time with my cousins? Because for one reason or another this is what people at triathlons do. But also because I had one of my best races to date, finishing 9th overall including pros and I was awaiting the opportunity to claim my slot to race the world’s best in Zell Am See, Austria the following year. Weeks earlier I’d just raced 2014 Worlds in Mont Tremblant, Quebec and I said that was enough travel for me and that I’d skip Austria. Amazing how a convincing performance can change your perspective.
Almost a full year later, I stood again in the exposed sun, this time at the water’s edge in Zell Am See about to start the race. A lot had happened in eleven months, and though I knew that injuries prevented me from reaching the start line in the type of shape I envisioned in Henderson last October, I had fully embraced the journey and was ready to rock.
Besides, this was the World Championship, where everyone has a story and the race waits for no one.
A quick word about the course: it was astoundingly beautiful. If you have two and a half minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching this awesome race preview video.
The Swim – 1.2mi (29:37)
This swim was set up perfectly for me. Lake, not ocean: check. Comfortable, but still wetsuite legal temperature: check. Simple course layout: check.
The cannon went off and the washing machine started. Championship races are always intense because everyone is good and no one wants to give up ground. I stayed calm, took the kicks to the face and began to swim my race. Sighting was a breeze with buouys every 100m and I built the effort to the turn around, where I found myself ahead of the group that I was swimming with after a few nifty buouy moves I learned at a Boost swimming camp in Tahoe.
At first I was alone because of said nifty moves. But then I realized there was a little current pushing me away from the buouys, so I fixed my sighting and latched back on. The current seemed to make the last 400m take much longer than I hoped. The end result was a fairly well executed line, with a bit of trailing off for a pedestrian swim by my standards.
The Bike – 56mi (2:30:50 – incl. time penalty)
Transition was very long, but extremely efficient and well layed out. I passed about ten guys on the run with our bikes. After riding the course a handful of times before the race, I knew the first mile through the neighborhoods was where I needed to get my shoes on and focus on drinking.
After making it through the narrow country road intact, I went to work through Brück and was feeling good early. Then we hit highway 311, and the draft party started. Not unlike Vegas or Mont Tremblant in years prior, the displays of drafting were shameless. All I could do is make sure I was the right distance from the train. Then a referee rolled by. I took a mental note that no penalties were given. Interesting. Still, I put down 650 watts to pass the whole train and free myself of the worry.
As I hit the bottom of THE climb that defines the bike course (see elevation chart above), I saw David Wild from the Oakland Tri Club. “Lotta cheaters out here today,” I said to him, with which he agreed. About five minutes after that exchange, the train rolled up and before I knew it, we were riding the climb together. This is not uncommon for climbs in a race. It’s really tough to keep distance at such low speeds and the reality is no one is going to benefit on a hill like we were climbing anyways.
A different referee rolled up this time and I took that as my cue to again pass the whole lot of them. However this time when I swung out to pass she said, “You did not let enough time pass after being overtaken, Blue card.”
Did that just happen? Was I just given a drafting penalty for finding myself in a group and trying to get out of it to avoid a drafting penalty?
I knew pleading my case was useless, so after biting my bottom lip (hard) and accepting reality, I put my head down and rode like a bat out of hell. I passed guys like they were going backwards. And when I hit the top, I attacked the insanely steep and techinical downhill – where one descends 1,000ft in 2 miles. And when I hit the flats after that, I kept the speed up. I cornered the turns that I’d stuided and crested rollers with purpose. I knew the only chance I had at a result even close to decent was to ride hard and hope I’d run enough miles to survive a decent run.
As we re-entered Zell Am See at mile 35, the crowds were amazing. I had the less exciting reception of big, bright yellow tent where I would dismount my bike, report my blue card and sit for five minutes. The timeout box for triathletes. I tried to stretch, eat and drink to keep my mind off the stark reality that all the work that I’d done was dissipating, but as entire pelotons of 20+ riders rolled by drafting at 30mph, frankly, I was steamed.
The ladies counted down and I hopped on my bike and slammed away. It was truly a mental battle to stay focused and not think about how one person and their questionable call had turned my race on its head. Further more, once I hit highway 168 I was right back in the drafting madness after working so hard to get out of it, so finding a rhythm was impossible. It was at that moment where I reminded myself that no one could control how this race ended but me. Every time I thought of anything but my effort, I immediately reminded myself of this. My objective for the last ten miles was to ride as consistently as I could, without getting another drafting penalty, and finally get off this bike and onto the run.
The run – 13.1mi (1:27:51)
I hit the long transition and sprinted out to the run course. I realized imediately I was screwed. I felt slow right off the bat. I turned in a 6:26, 32 seconds slower than my first mile at Muncie.
I’ll be honest, for a second I wanted to quit. My mind was still reeling from the penalty, I was slow, everything hurt and I was light headed. But I remembered why I was doing this. Because it was fun and I wanted to be there. And I remembered that my grandma works so hard to rehab her leg just so she can get her daily walks in. And just…sh*t’s tough, man. It’s only 12 miles. Just freakin do it.
After the pep talk, I committed to the run even though it was not going to be to my standards. The first thing I had to do was get fluids. I simply did not put enough in my body during the bike. I was too focused after the penalty on riding as fast as possible and avoiding drafting that I did not take in enough fluids or calories during the bike leg to set up a good run. So at the first aid station, I stopped fully and scarfed a buffet of Coke and Powerade as I poured multiple glasses of water over my head.
I went through the raucous crowds in the cobblestones of Zell Am See like a zombie. It was truly a struggle through 10K as I struggled to stay within a whole minute of my goal pace. And then, all of the Coke, ice and water seemed to rejuvinate me a bit and I could again run with purpose. By the time I hit downtown Zell Am See again, I was a different person. On the second loop, I was passing many of the guys who I watched zoom by from the penalty tent. And that felt great.
In the last two miles I was moving faster than I had all day and as I passed the final guy from my division I would get before the finish line, I blew through the aid station so as not to waste a single moment. I was in so much pain, but all I could do was smile for the last half a mile.
The crowd’s energy on the cobblestone roads was amazing. The day had been a sufferfest. We were in the freakin’ Alps racing triathlon! And I didn’t let a crap hand dealt to me ruin the day. I ran my fastest mile of the day and crossed the roaring finish line with something between a smile and a grimmace from ear to ear.
Result – 70.3mi (4:36:57, 224th Overall, 42nd Age Group, 6th American Amateur)
Between the hysteria of the finish line and the line for alcohol free beer for recovery (only in Europe!), I peeled off into an old wood and stone doorway and put my head against the door. I didn’t know if I was going to pass out, or cry, or barf, or all three at the same time, but all I knew was that I hurt. Everywhere.
I definitely gave everything to this race. This was my “A” race for the year. I got there early, trained on the course, the works. And I loved every minute of it; I’d take none of it back. Two weeks prior I was literally bleeding on the side of the road. I felt fortunate to start, fortunate to finish and like I gave myself the best chance to succeed and even though the race took a turn for the unforeseen. I loved the journey, learned a lot, including that I can ride really hard in a race, probably even without a blue card (not that I’ve ever heard from teammate or coaches before…).
– Sep 19: ITU World Championship (Olymic) – Chicago
Another World Championship race! I’ll be racing for Team USA in Chicago at the Worlds for the Olympic distance triathlon, which is shorter, fast and furious at (hopefully) less than two hours.
– Oct 4: Ironman 70.3 Silverman – Las Vegas/Henderson
We come full circle. Back to the course in Henderson, Nevada where this whole journey started. I’ll be happy to toe the line at this hot, hilly, desert course and see where this season wraps up!
A HUGE thanks to everyone that supported me during my go at Austria. It really means a lot and was a huge motivator for me to finish strong. Thanks to Team Every Man Jack. The support from the team was great and it was a pleasure racing with the guys in Zell. All of the sponsors, which you can see on the Mike Likes tab. A particularly large shoutout to Sports Basement and Felt, who turned around my wrecked bike in 48 hours! And a final, special shoutout to Meredith Kessler, for being there every step of the way from side of the road bloodied to start line.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for updates!