USAT Collegiate Nationals 2014 // Draft-Legal Sprint // Testing 1-2-3

First finish line since May 2013

First finish line since May 2013

“Something deep inside – keeps my faith alive.”

After an 10 month hiatus due to a stubborn knee injury (ITBS that I believe shifted into some nasty hamstring tendonitis)– I jumped into the draft legal sprint at Collegiate Nationals. The race was certainly a premature return to racing and I knew that. I raced because I felt the need to make the trip to support my team (Purdue Triathlon) in Tempe and see if I still have that competitive drive.

To be clear – this next part is not excuse, it is explanation of where I am in the recovery process and why I was pleased with my performance. Training has been minimal as I struggled with my injury. I went into the race on Friday with less than 200mi on the bike since August and less than 20mi of running since May (those don’t even hit the weekly mileages that are necessary to compete at the elite level). I even struggled to swim some weeks the last few months because pushing off the walls hurt. The 5k run at the end was my longest run since this injury latched itself to my knee.

Though I showed improvement in spurts, with different PTs and ideas – I did give up for a while on getting better. Looking for an internship for the summer and having a senior design and senior lab at the same time made for some long nights in February that did not help in that department (and will lead to more long nights in these upcoming weeks). There were times that I gave up on my daily recovery techniques, which weren’t really moving me forward anyhow. I started thinking of how to live with chronic knee pain at age 22.

However, I had luck at the end of March to work with local therapist Misty Bercerra down in Clermont while on spring break. She found that I was having major issues not with my IT Band (as I had last summer), but a large muscle deep in my hamstring that was pulling on my knee. Thirty minutes after working with her I was able to go for a 4 hour bike ride pain free. I even went for a short jog. It is clear to me that the reason why my knee has continued hurting is because my IT Band issues were essentially cleared up, but I was still having pain from tightness in my hamstring. This problem probably occurred while training through the ITBS last summer. My knee is certainly sore after the race, but I am getting  weekly treatments that are cleaning up the hamstring and slowly releasing my knee.

To talk about the race itself – I am out of shape and it showed. Plain and simple. Draft legal racing is not a forgiving style of triathlon. Part of the reason why I have been chasing that avenue the last two years is because of that. It is not the Ironman style individual pursuit to the finish line. Your competitors can be your allies and opponents at different points in the race. You have to gut it out at times to stay in the game, for example to stay within a bike pack when the pace gets rough or bust out of the swim to bike transition to avoid getting gapped.

I got to the first buoy on the 750m swim course completely clean for once (thanks to some good positioning and a new strategy), in front of approximately 70 other athletes and then was quickly swallowed due to fatigue. I still managed to be 5th out of the water in front of a large pack that was mostly left behind in transition. I then had to dig to hold on as the lead pack formed around me. It was clear early on this was not the day that I would stay with the lead pack. My legs and lungs were not in the shape you need to stay up front in these draft legal courses, and burned each time the pace was pushed. By then end of it I fell out of two different bike groups. When I got to the run I went for a smooth and controlled jog as to not push my knee too hard, and crossed the finish line happy. That was the first finish line I crossed since May and it meant a lot to me.

Since I did not come up through the junior elite ranks, draft legal racing is still newer to me. Each time I have raced it I have pieced together another part of the puzzle on how to race them – which is tough in a race that can unfold so many different ways. Draft legal races change rapidly and I’m still learning how to reel people in and work intelligently. Being out of shape, I pushed myself tactically to put myself in the best position possible at all times, and corner aggressively in the front. Although my power is down, most of my bike training has been drills and as a result my handling skill are developing well.

I am happy with how I performed because I found that I can still dig deep to hold on when it hurts. In fact I still love to dig deep, to test that limit of where the lungs and legs feel like they will explode, even if that happens earlier than it should. That is one of the things I was worried about even with the knee recovery going well.

There will definitely be time between now and my next race. I need to focus on school and digging out my hamstring before I build back into full training. This race gave me faith that I can come back stronger than I was if I trust my body and put in the hours (and unfortunately dollars) to recover. This summer I plan to spend some extra time riding as I build back into it. That includes looking to jump in with a cycling team by where I will be working (I’ll be on the west side of Houston for this summer). I am looking at tentative triathlon races in August if the recovery continues to go this well.

Thanks to everyone who supports me out there. I’m glad to come out of the dark and see that my friends are racing well and hope to join them soon. Stay tuned – I may not back yet, but I am coming.

Post Season 2013

“Keep on dreaming even if it breaks your heart.” -Eli Young Band

Getting back to it. (Compliments of Andy Jessop)

It has been awhile since I have posted here. If you followed me in the past, I hope you excuse my late follow up; I intentionally neglected the triathlon world for a while. I needed some time to discover the part of me that is not a competitive athlete and that has been more challenging than I ever thought. It took months of digging to find out I needed a serious overhaul in certain aspects of my life that I have always been able to escape by walking out the door and ramping up my heart rate.

I’ll start this off by explaining what put an early end to my first professional season. As I mentioned in my last post back in May, I had an issue with my knee (IT Band Syndrome and a splash of “Stop Messing with Me Syndrome”) after racing 5150 Kansas in May – but it did not stop there. I took some time off running, got into physical therapy, and was confident I would get back on the start line in time for the following ITU event in Edmonton. I was just beginning to see promising results in myself; I was not ready to stop.

Edmonton was three weeks after I did some more damage to my knee in Kansas, and I still could not walk without pain. With a week to go and a seriously botched attempt to run again, I was forced to remove myself from the start line of that race. Still, I felt that I would see enough finish lines this year. I was wrong. By the end of the season I would pull out of seven races.

While in PT during June and July, I kept my spirits high. I tried to push back the thoughts of failure, the thoughts of how I sacrificed a full time engineering job to race full time only to see neither. I increased my cycling and swimming volume rapidly and kept pushing my limits in both. I may have actually hit my best swimming fitness ever. I planned a comeback at a race almost every weekend in July. I kept believing that I was almost pain free and essentially set deadlines for my recovery. Reality came crashing down on me when I found that I could no longer bike without pain and walking hurt bad enough to limit my daily movement. By the end of July even swimming was painful. I saw another specialist in August after an MRI and found I had inflammation in my hamstring that was preventing a full recovery. That was when I finally realized my season was over –I needed to stop fighting my body. No more looking at race schedules, no more planning. Just rest.

Although a part of me knew I was making bad decisions, I continued to push my recovery. I desperately wanted to be back to normal –to train and race full throttle. This was a pretty emotional time, even though it was not the most severe injury. I had been dealing with the obnoxious pain in my knee for three months at this point, and would for two more. The physical pain certainly did not feel good, but the killer was the constant reminder that I was broken, and my dreams were fading away, with every step of every day. It really started to wear me down. I woke up in the morning, and my first step gave a sharp reminder that today was not the day I would be able to train. I started feeling a little like the fictional Dr. House, and it was all too often that a good mood would leave as I carefully maneuvered down a set of stairs.

In August I was prescribed nothing as my treatment. Nothing. I never realized how hard nothing would be. I was sedentary for the first time in my life, and I am in awe that some people continuously live like that –they are missing out on life itself. I hit twelve pounds over race weight at the peak, and have never felt so physically inept. It’s almost ironic that to deal with my problems I always have used intense exercise, so it was beyond frustrating to have my coping mechanism taken from me. I eventually began lifting upper body to stay sane.

Though it has been tough these last few months, there are a few silver linings in this season. First off and most importantly, I realize now that no matter what happens in the next year, or next couple years, I will be out there grinding until I am thrown in a nursing home. Being an athlete is not something that will ever leave me. It is encoded into my brain and revealed on my skin.

I have a year before I graduate as a Chemical Engineer from Purdue, and that means I may find myself with a real, full-time job soon. Previously, I thought that I would have to choose between a life as a poor athlete or as an engineer. However, I did qualify as a USAT Elite while I was working full time at an oil refinery with only two paid vacation days (one of which was taken so I could show up the day before my first Ironman in Texas – don’t ask how I managed that). I’ll gladly take the stress of 16 hour training+work days over being out of shape without thinking twice. I have made sacrifices that make even me blush as a student/athlete/employee, and a full time job certainly won’t change my stride.

Also, after gaining some weight due to low training loads I had to start looking into my diet more closely. I discovered some interesting, and healthy, methods via the book Race Weight by Matt Fitzgerald that gets me close to race weight without much training or drastic race week restrictions. In 2014 I’ll be able to use an optimized diet for more efficient training and faster racing.

The last thing I want to mention is I got a chance to do some part-time coaching this summer as a result of my injury. As the Vice President of Purdue Triathlon, I had already enjoyed working with new athletes and giving my insights. Having the chance to be in a formal coaching setting was even more rewarding than I had anticipated, and I hope to do more this upcoming summer.

What am I doing now? I am getting back into shape, slowly but surely. It is going to be a long road back with some major changes in my training strategy, but I can barely keep the excitement under control. I am three weeks into running, and I wake up on my running days like a kid on Christmas. I began swimming again after a month off, and I am starting to get the feel for the water back. I see through looking at other athletes blogs (Purdue Alumni Andrew Starykowicz, Jordan Rapp, and Jesse Thomas) that coming back from injuries magnitudes worse than my own is not only possible – but can lead you to coming back stronger than before.

Training after my injuries has reminded me why I do this; because I don’t know if I would be able to live without it. Every workout hits the reset button for me when life gets tough. For a limited time every day I am free to simply feel the air in my lungs and the blood pumping through my veins.

Thanks to all my friends and family that have helped keep my hopes high over the last few months.

 

Live to Fight Another Day

“Overcome every obstacle”

The knee issue I had in Kansas is proving to be need some more attention. Although it remains a minor injury, I need to take a full step back, get some professional help, and re-evaluate some goals. It is certainly tough to admit that my normal training load hurts, but I learned the hard way last year that messing with a minor injury can let it dig into a whole season.

That being said, I have pulled out of ITU Pan American Cup- Dallas and may not compete again until later this year.  I will come back and race once I have come back to full training.

In this time I will not merely be sitting around. I have increased my swimming significantly and will continue to push my limits, both mentally and physically, in the water. On top of that I have been doing my research – looking at athlete and race profiles, learning as much as I can about cycling and bike maintenance, I even got my USA Cycling Level 3 Coaching License.

Being an Elite License holder, and therefore deemed “professional”, I have taken this sport as my job. Being injured means my job is more complicated than before, since you don’t get paid for last place, nor do you get paid to sit at home with an ice pack. Although this could make me feel like a broken race horse, I have made sure that my self worth does not rest solely in what my body can do.

It’s a long season, I still have plenty of fight left in me. Stay active, stay safe out there.

5150- Kansas

This was a tough day for me, so I am keeping this post short to keep my head in the game for ITU Dallas June 1st.

I drove the eight hour trip knowing that I was rolling the dice on a minor knee injury I got after a hard training session a day after Knoxville. I had not actually run in a week and a half but was hoping Dr. Race Day would see me through the finish line, and if necessary I could walk it in with my head up so long as I put myself out there on the swim and bike.

Race started looking grim for me when they cancelled the swim due to bad weather, a major blow to my race given my strength there. I kept my head together and just tried to concentrate on hitting the bike hard and praying things worked out on the run.

Bike went pretty poorly for me, something I am for now attesting to some bad equipment modifications I made right before the race. After getting off my bike, I felt immediate pain when I ran at race pace. It appeared I rolled snake eyes for the day between the impromptu duathlon and knee issue. I made the decision to walk/slow jog to the finish given where I was in the race off the bike, and my desire not to repeat last year and turn a minor injury chronic. This was really hard mentally to let happen, since it was a two loop course and I was lapped by both the pro men and female wave. Could I have ran through the pain to hit 6:30s and gotten 1-3 place higher? Probably. Would it have been good for me long term? I know this is not true. Enough pros had dropped out of the race I actually gained a surprising number of series points for DFL.

All focus now on Dallas in two weeks, and making sure I heal this knee up completely before restarting any training or racing. There will be other 5150 events that I can attend to continue to try for the points necessary for the championship (Hy-Vee), there will always be obstacles and I will always climb over them.

Rev 3 – Knoxville // Through Pouring Rain

SAM_0967

Transition was thankfully inside

I’m pretty sure I saw rain from the time I left Purdue on Friday until I came back Sunday night. I was able to both take advantage of, and be slightly hindered, by the conditions of the race. This was a test of rapid adaptation: something I am pretty good at but still need more experience in.

Just for a little background, this Olympic Distance non-draft race was the season opener for the Rev 3 series, which has a mix of half-iron and olympic distance races. I will also be competing in their Wisconsin race in August, and Branson in September or Florida if school allows. Knoxville itself is a beautiful city, with plenty of industrial history that can be seen from the canal and aged bridges above it. The area is plenty hilly, something that I was excited for being a smaller athlete.

I had finals the week between St. Anthony’s and this race, and finished my last one Friday at 4pm then jumped in my car and drove the 7 hours down to crash at a hotel nearby late that night. Although coming off a race in Florida and finals had been pretty stressful, I was relieved to have school done for the next three weeks (taking a light 4 week summer class) and only have a race on my mind.

Saturday I had some issues with warm up, due to both motivation and the conditions. The rain and late night made getting in a good bike warm up pretty difficult, and the water being 59 degrees made it pretty hard to spend the time I needed to get my bearings. The “I’m sure I’ll have someone to follow” idea only works for so long, something I have to own up to. I did actually feel great in the water and was accompanied by two personal kayaks as I found myself alone in the water for most of the short warm up. All in all, it was a pretty uneventful day besides making a few new friends in the pro meeting and around the expo. I put my bike into the transition which was luckily in a parking garage, which meant it offered some protection from the elements.

Race morning was accompanied with steady, unforgiving rain and cold (55F). These were certainly the worst conditions I have ever raced in, but I was excited because this was a day that gave opportunity to a wildcard like me. I just needed to adapt, perform, and let the conditions take out a few of my competitors for me without being a casualty myself. Being a small guy I do really well in hot conditions but not as much in cold, but I prepared for this well because it appeared I was the only one that didn’t end up shivering too much out there.

Swim Course 1.5km (~.9mi)

The swim course was in a canal with a fairly strong current. You can tell by the insanely fast swim splits. We were sent against this current for the first fifth or so of the race and then sailed the rest of the way home through some of the bridges. Early in the race I sat on the feet of some of the lead pack, so I didn’t have to fight the current alone, and broke off on the last third to try and reach T1 with some time on those with stronger cycling legs than me. However, I had not spent enough time in the river to realize I was sighting pretty far from the actual swim exit. I found this out when I breathed to my right and saw someone getting out on the swim exit pier about 25m away from me. I pushed over there and got out with Kyle Leto in 4th position.

Bike Course 40km (~25 mi)

The bike course was very hilly, and dangerously slick. I was hoping that as a welter weight I could use this to my advantage, as this would make the descents slow and the climbs much more valuable. I was going out strong but pretty early I went down a sketchy hill and my water bottle took flight right in front of a race marshal; if had not gone to retrieve would have been a one minute penalty. I slid to a stop with my wheels locked, still upright which was a success in itself, and went back up the hill to find my bottle. In the future I will be strapping my bottles down with more than a small rubber band. I lost a lot of avoidable time here. Pushing this out of my mind I pursued my competition, smashing my way up the two significant climbs and every uphill, since the descents were so slick it would be stupid to try to do anything other than stay upright and prepare to slam the brakes (and hopefully not the pavement). Considering the conditions that made for some interesting physics problems (hydroplaning on a bicycle was new to me), I had a pretty solid bike for where I am at this season.

Run Course 10km (6.2mi)

On the run course I was able to tell that the cold had not damaged my spirit, but it had done a number on my body. My calves and Achille’s, places I tend to baby, were extremely cold and tight. Knowing that I went out the first mile pretty slow in the hopes of letting them warm up before really hitting it. I may have gone a little too slow, because the last half of the race (after another short detour off course…) I felt like I was running out of miles to catch the people just in front of me. At the end I was able to push it out and grab 12th place.

Full Results

I was a little disappointed with my final run time and placing, but 34:15 was not too bad for me and I know I had the right performance, just did not have the proper race specific prep (previewing the course thoroughly for one, and strapping down my bike gear for the bumps). I was encouraged to see that I have become the competitor that I had once feared: a performer. Regardless of the cold, wind, rain and mistakes I made -I stayed focused on the guys in front of me and making the right decisions to chase them down as best as I could on that day. This race makes me focused and ready for my next race, 5150-Kansas in two weeks time.

My season has only just begun, and I know it will only get better with every experience, I definitely am learning to deal with and even enjoy the struggle of travel, training, and racing in short time frames which is something that came with my step up to the professional field.

Thanks for reading, and I hope everyone is starting to enjoy the spring weather we are getting up north! Stay active, stay safe and please stop by and check out one of the companies that keep me going.

St. Anthony’s Tri // Playing with the “Big” Big Dogs

Manatee and dolphins chilling around the swim exit Friday.

This weekend I had my first non-draft race of the season. I competed in two draft legal ITU sanctioned races in March and although I started, I had an unfortunate end to my draft legal sprint race at Collegiate Nationals two weeks prior. Non-drafting races such as St. Anthony’s will likely dominate the rest of my season (besides ITU-Dallas June 1st) since the US has been pretty reluctant to move away from the Ironman/non-draft style of racing to take on the “new” European style biking -flying around N. America/Europe to find the closest ITU races does not make sense for me at this point in my career.

St. Anthony’s has always been a very fast race, but this year it got bumped to another level. They called this race the “who’s who” of triathlons. There were big international names from not only the Olympic distance non-draft circuit, but also the Ironman circuit and even a substantial showing from the ITU circuit. This strong field was drawn here for two reasons: a fairly large prize purse ($65,000), and because St. Anthony’s is part of the 5150 Series. This series has a championship called Hy-Vee US Championships which has one of the largest prize purses in the world, and pays out deep. The only catch is you have to qualify for Hy-Vee, by ranking in the top 30 in the 5150/70.3 circuit. Ranking is based on total points earned at races, which are given based on the size of the race and placing at the race.

Travel to this race really started early in the week, as I was punching through homework very early and organizing getting some last minute gear. This upcoming week is finals, so I had a final project and some studying I had to do so that I would stay on track to earning a degree before I headed out. On Thursday I made the two hour trek home to Chicago from Purdue. There I visited the Bike Shop Glen Ellyn and picked up a sick new road bike for my ITU races (I’m on carbon now folks!) and was able to demo some Zipp wheels for my next two races. I don’t know what I would do without the help I have gotten from Rich and Drew at the bike shop over the last year, certainly would not have working brakes…

The Mad Dog Triathlon crew and friends took amazing care of myself and the other pros all weekend. Southern hospitality was taken to another level while I was down there. I was able to really enjoy myself all weekend and ended up almost stress free considering the far away race.

It was hard at times not to get caught gawking at some of my competition while I was down there. Although I am usually pretty good at staying focused on myself, I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that I was with some of the people I had, and still do, admire in the sport. Sitting in that pro meeting Saturday sure made me excited to race. So did getting out of Indiana weather and swimming with some nice marine life in warm water.

Race morning was earlier than any this year by about an hour (alarm at 4:30am), so I was somewhat surprised at how ready to go I was. I got prepped and headed over to transition, warmed up, set-up, and was able to have a few words on the way to the swim start with Ben Kanute, another young Chicago born pro triathlete, which helped calm the pre-race nerves.

Course Maps

Swim 1.5km / Bike 40km / Run 10k

The swim start was somewhat comical. The field of ~45 men crept forward about 30 yards forward of the start as we were floating in the water waiting for the start. Although they pushed us back, I think almost everyone started swimming when the announcer’s countdown got to four. This swim was by far the cleanest one I have had this year. Probably because being non-draft, it is not as crucial to gain seconds in the swim to make a bike pack. I was able to keep myself on people’s feet and use them to sight for the most part. My shoulder has recently completely healed up, with some chiropractic help, so I felt pretty solid in the water and never felt like I was out of my comfort zone. The swim was pretty choppy, enough that they shortened it to ~700m for the amateurs.  (19:31, 13th)

I got out of the water in the mix and felt pretty good about where I was, made some pretty strong passes in T1 so I could hit the mount line without too many frantic athletes around me. Lately I seem to find myself very strong in T1, maybe that is a sign I am not pushing the swim hard enough or simply that I find running after a swim a pretty comfortable switch up and saw the importance of pushing there after missing the lead bike pack in Clermont.

The bike was not a good showing for me. Even though it was almost a completely flat course with nice smooth roads and hardly any turns, I had a pretty slow split for me. I knew going into it that I would have to stay in control and really handle the mental game of having people blow past you, but this was worse than I had prepared for. At first it was actually inspiring, I saw some of the big names passing me around 4mi into the bike leg, when I had expected guys like them to be out of the water in front of me. However, by about halfway through I was pretty much biking alone. This made it tough to stay in the game when you are like me and feed off side by side competition. 1:01 (24.1mph)

Rolling into T2 I had a few guys near me that I used to pace myself. I was really hoping to see myself run well, since I have been putting a lot of time in my run this year and wasn’t able to see it at nationals. Even though I didn’t exactly split it well (5:09 first mile, then 5:20, 5:20, 5:40 and didn’t see after that), I still was able to pull off a faster run than I put down in Sarasota and hit a 33:15 (5:22 pace/mi).

Full Splits

After the race I was able to enjoy some time in the Florida sun and recover really well before I had to fly out. I went to awards to support those who had done well and reflected on the race. Although my overall place was a little disappointing (30th) I know that is mostly because of the struggle I had on the bike, which was much weaker than I was at the end of last season. I have confidence with some extra time and good weather up north I will get my biking legs back and then some. I am happy with my swim and where it put me given the ease at which I went through it, and honestly my run has continued to make me wonder if I was designed a runner all these years. Last year’s nagging injury happened because of a major change in my technique, but that change along with some different training this year has already taken me past the fastest I ever thought I could run; I am almost 30s/mi faster in my 10k than I was at any point last year, and that is after only four months of healthy training.

A special thank you to my host family, John and Tracy Graham, for giving me a place to stay and Carolyn Kiper and her helpers who made arrangements for myself and the entire pro field all week. I certainly see myself coming back next year because I had a blast all weekend.

Now it’s time for me to start studying for my final at 8am tomorrow (Crystallography and Quantum Mechanics… should be a piece of cake). Stay active, stay safe, and please show my sponsors some love.

USAT Collegiate Nationals 2013 // A Taste

from hayley3

Lap 3 of 4

Some races don’t fall together like you planned. This one was certainly one of those, but I am taking the positives from this race and pushing all doubts out the window.

I flew out to Tempe, AZ with Purdue Triathlon to compete in the draft legal sprint race on Friday, and support them during the non-draft Olympic distance race on Saturday (due to my lack of collegiate race participation in 2012, I did not earn a spot for Saturday – a risk I took to pursue my elite card and deal with a nagging injury last season). This race is always a blast because the majority of my friends in the sport are in the collegiate circuit. There’s nothing better than walking aimlessly at a race site knowing you’ll run into an old friend.

I should admit that going into this race, a bit of misfortune and poor focus on my part led to many overlooked details. First thing was coming into the race with a minor contusion to my lat/shoulder from a bike race I crashed at two weeks prior. During that crit I was pushed down near the front and ended up with enough tires into my back that I couldn’t lift my arm for a couple days;  I didn’t help it by putting off seeing a trainer. Going into this race I had not actually swam at race intensity and only got in one practice where I did a significant amount of freestyle rather than kick and breastroke.

Another thing I lacked in this race was focus on my equipment. After that crash I no longer trusted my road bike (“Trusty Rusty” has seen the pavement one too many times) and the short time frame kept me from getting a new one before the race. Luckily I was able to borrow a super slick carbon road bike from one of Purdue Triathlon’s members, Klay Simmons, who was competing in the race on Saturday and has pretty much the same measurements as myself. On top of that, I was counting on it being wetsuit illegal after looking at water temperatures the week prior -so the announcement one hour prior to my start that it would be legal led to a small scramble, and I owe Nick D’Amico a huge thanks for booking it to our hotel and throwing me his (after I was already borrowing his helmet… and ended up borrowing his bike for the team relay on Saturday). But hey, it wouldn’t be nationals if I didn’t have an injury and someone else’s bike days before the race. I like to keep things interesting.

I found myself on the start line, after some last minute therapy from my coach, Jason Bunch, having no idea if a bad hit to my lat would put me out, or if I would swim like a log regardless. When the horn blew I found it to be a nice change of pace from the swim starts in Clermont and Sarasota, and I mostly stayed out of trouble until one of my road rash scabs got slashed off. Maybe it was a bit of blood rage, or a wake up call, but that put me back in it. On the second loop of the 750m swim course I just thought about bridging gaps and smashing through people. About 100m from the swim out I found myself with only three people in front of me. “Alright, this is going better than expected, should be able to have some fun”.

I got out of the water and crossed the mat second, had a great T1, and found myself on the wheel of Ben Kanute. With his direction we were able to work together to gain a substantial lead that lasted two laps before Luke Farkas and Dorin Peters caught us. Our group of four ended up with ~45s on the next pack going into our last lap. With only a 5k run, it seemed that my first national podium, at the first collegiate draft legal race, was right there in front of me.

After a slight disappointment at both Clermont and Sarasota, I felt like this race was going great. I was finally in the group I belonged with. Once more, I was a kid doing race efforts on a fully carbon bike (coming from aluminum…) for the first time and got to enjoy feeling a bike respond positively to some decent power being put into it. Not to mention that was probably the sickest bike courses I have even raced on. On the last lap however, I did not take a bump going into the back loop de loop with grace, and the result was a pinch flat.

I stayed upright and managed to get off the road safely, which I should be thankful for considering my crash two weeks prior. I was so astonished at what happened I did not even consider a way to finish, watching the podium ride away didn’t exactly make me feel warm and fuzzy. Neither did listening to the announcer give race updates from just across the water, to hear my pack duke it out on the run as I sat on the curb closing my eyes to picture what it would be like to still be in the fight even if I lost.

After this race I spent some time remembering my favorite quote, one I say out loud during the tough days of training. This quote seems to have more meaning as my journey continues:

“This is the part where life demands you make a lifelong commitment. This is the part where life demands you make a vow, come hell or high water, that you’re willing to pay the price. The full fare where you earn your spot with effort, with sweat, with blood, with tears.”

Saturday I spent the day supporting my teammates and friends as they raced the non-draft race, which was fun despite the brutal heat out there. I give props to all the athletes that pushed through for a spectacular finish. Later that day I raced the team relay, which was super sprint format and actually loads of fun. Managed to throw down the fastest run split by four seconds, which despite being possibly the only one competing with fresh legs, I’ll still take it as a positive given the motivation I had at that point. Another positive was that being last I was able to run through the finish, which after having the first two DNFs in my life happen in a short two week span, this was a nice reminder of the power of that line.

A special thanks to everyone who gave me a text or call on Friday when I needed it, and those who approached me at the race. I am using this small taste of what I know I can do to motivate me as I get ready for the stacked field at 5150- St. Anthony’s on April 28th.

Stay active. Don’t ever show them fear. PrayForBoston.

ITU Pan American Cup- Sarasota // Take a Seat Buddy

Keeping my head up

Keeping my head up

This one was a tough one, but I am nothing if not resilient. In short, I was told to take a seat today.

After Clermont the previous weekend, I was ready to get back in and see if I could fix some minor mistakes that cost me a few places. In the week between I was practicing open water swimming daily and got very comfortable with my stroke. I also went through transitions to make sure I did not end up with the slowest T1 again. That certainly showed in my race and gave me confidence, however, there were other issues that will take more than just a week of technical practice.

Sarasota was an easy two hours west of where I was staying in Clermont with Purdue Triathlon (Spring Break trip), and two of them came to help me out at the race and with the long drive back to Indiana. Upon arriving at the race site, I could tell this venue will be world class in the near future. Nathan Benderson Park is an island dredged in a small lake and designed to be good enough for a World Cup (the next level of elite competition in the ITU circuit). For this race, there was still construction that mildly affected some athletes (a few more flats than normal or than I would expect next year).

The course was pretty neat, especially the swim. As in Clermont, the ITU draft legal format was spectator friendly by having the 1500m/ 40k / 10k course over a two loop 750m swim course, eight loop ~5k bike course, and four loop 2.5k run. The swim was a pontoon start, and circled back behind the pontoon where athletes would run up a ramp and dive off to start the second loop. I found this to be pretty neat and really fun, reminded me of in and outs from back in my swimming days. The bike course was pretty much an out and back with only some hard corners going through transition and a 180 turn. The run itself was the same as the bike, just run on the road and turn around come back.

Course

Going into the race I felt much more relaxed than I did going into Clermont. I had stopped coughing up flem about two days earlier so I was much more confident in my physical abilities, and knew that I could swim up with the first pack and based on Clermont, felt like the bike would be just fine. Getting to the start line I was excited to see if I could make this one turn out differently.

My swim start was not great, the pontoon was moved violently as 40 athletes jumped off it at the same time, but by the first turn I was in a much better position than in Clermont (my result there gave me a lower seed in this race and therefore better start position). I concentrated on staying out of trouble, and hanging with what I thought was the lead pack. I was still knee deep in bar fight around the corners, but after Clermont this was quite an improvement. Going into the second loop I was in good position to assure that I would take off with the lead pack, but in staying relaxed it appears I slipped back just a few too many places. Running into T1 I on the tail end on the group that would make up the lead and after a very solid T1 (much better than in Clermont), there was a small gap that I just could not hit. Not a great feeling to just barely miss, but I got ready to jump into the next pack.

I was greeted quickly by a small group that included Khasar and other strong cyclists. The five of us worked together fairly well, but some of the surges put on where above myself as a cyclist. Around lap 3 I was gapped in transition and was not able to hold on.

I was picked up by the second, and last, group chasing. This group was very big and disorganized. There were lots of messy surges and pushes. Somewhere around three laps to go we caught the group I had been dropped from. Pulls got shorter and harder, and I seemed to find myself pulling in front of someone who would make a surge on me (not quite an attack, but I think they knew I was someone they might break over time).Even so, I never skipped a pull, that is not me. I would rather pull until I break so my competitors know I will work than be known as for sitting in and have them try to break me in the future. Just before the start of the last lap, I found myself in a bad position and was popped off myself. This was the third time a gap opened I could not bridge. Survival mode: begin.

I saw someone in front of me who also got dropped, and went up to work with them. This person looked pretty stressed and didn’t respond when I asked if they were alright (I didn’t want to work with someone who was going to take me out…), took a chance and pulled them for a bit then made a motion for them to do some work for me. Coming into T2 I was just hoping to finish the run like a man and keep my head up. I had just been told to take a seat and let the big boys play, that’s not a great feeling.

Starting the run I felt alright, mentally broken and parts of my legs were pretty beat up from trying to hold onto the pack. But I was able to work into the run and actually started enjoying myself. Here I was, racing professionally in beautiful Florida over my Spring Break, learning how to race this new format and feeling that with more experience this could be the place for me. A year earlier an Achilles’ injury made me wonder if I could ever be a good runner, after having plantar fasciitis the year before, and put my dreams of making it to this level seem distant. I got a good song playing in my head (Thrift Shop of course, with Macklemore tickets next weekend anything else would be absurd), and started building. I didn’t know how far ahead the group was, but by the finish I had passed quite a few of them. Looking at the results I had the shocker of seeing my fastest 10k ever by far, 33:41 which was a faster than the pace I went in Clermont the week before. Final place was 23rd (EDIT: DNF status was removed by the race director, there was a glitch in the system).

Pretty obvious that I need to start getting out there on my bike more. It was hard with the weather up north, riding outside in the cold always ends up getting me sick and riding on the trainer won’t help me sit in a pace line more efficiently, but I know with winter breaking and some work with my coach, fitness on the bike will come. I have some time before my next race, Collegiate Nationals on April 15/16, to get some.

Thanks to my family, friends, and sponsors who support me. A special thanks to Trevor and Dan for being at the race and helping me make this drive home. Time to get back to the grind.

ITU Pan American Cup- Clermont // First Pro Race

With my coach, Jason Bunch

Post race with my coach, Jason Bunch from Training Bible

Ended up having a little bit of down time during my stay here in Clermont with the Purdue Triclub, so rather than look at any of my homework, I decided to write a little about my first pro race last Saturday.

Traveling to Clermont, Florida took effort and caffeine. I was able to get out of some classes so I could drive the 15hr ride solo on Thursday. At the end of that doozy of a drive, which included hauling multiple bikes and gear for the following week and a flat tire, I crashed at my hotel in Clermont at 1am Friday morning.

Friday I went to the race course to meet up with my coach, Jason Bunch, and was able to warm up with TriJuniors. Being my first draft legal race, there was a lot for me to soak in from the course layout, and tactics that may be used. I started to realize that this was going to be my first rodeo, and thought about what getting bucked off this horse could mean… being with other athletes helps to keep these thoughts at bay so I was happy to just be around people.

The course was very different that that of a “normal” triathlon. For one thing, the bike and run were multiple short loops. ITU does a very good job of making races spectator friendly and keeping it exciting by having the whole race revolve around transition. The bike course was 4 loops of 5km that had a few tight turns in it and a 180 turn around, the run was 2 short loops of 2.5km. All extremely flat. The swim start was ankle to waist deep (your start slot is based on your status with ITU, which having none I got more towards the waist deep spot) in the shallows of Lake Louisa; the course continued around a simple 750m loop and finished with a long run through shallow water and then on a sandy beach run to T1.

Going in my plan was simple. Swim like I always do, get out of the water with the lead pack, hang on for dear life in the bike (something I thought would be my biggest challenge), and then give the run anything I had left. I knew where the bike was going to be tough and where it was going to be easy to hang in there. My plan took a little detour in the water.

It was when I got to the start line that I started to let my nerves get the best of me. Here I was, in my first pro race in a cut throat format, knee deep in water while more than half the field had it only to their ankles (5′-7″ gave me quite a disadvantage for this start…). When the gun went off, I started running through the water and got decent positioning. However, when I started dolphin diving in the mid level water I lost a lot of ground on the athletes who were still running. I started red lining it for the first 100m and found myself surrounded by a pack of strong swimmers. This was new.

In the past I had always had it pretty easy. I was in a pack for the first 100m of a swim or so, then dropped all but maybe 1 or 2 athletes that I could generally leave behind and swim open water solo. This was my first rookie mistake: assuming pros swim like amateurs. I found myself in a furry of arms and legs. Then I suddenly found my second mistake, which was more or less just a reality of my first race of the year: I was pretty rusty on open water swimming. My sighting wasn’t up to par, and I was paying for it by get smashed and beat by the field. I actually was choked by a swimmer that had enough of me (in looking back at the drunken line I was holding, maybe I deserved it a little), and that put me off my game. I started to go into survival mode.

On the way back to shore, I swam off to the side to avoid anymore commotion, adding distance to my swim, but I found myself blowing past the same athletes that were kicking and pushing me. Running through the water into T1 I was surprised by my exhaustion, and found my lungs having trouble, something I am for now attesting to a small cold I am getting over. Usually I would find myself running past athletes struggling to get into T1, here I was barely trailing behind the lead pack and loosing ground.

My T1 was one of the slowest in the field. For a normal race this would mean a few added seconds to a race time. Here, in a draft legal format, it meant missing the lead pack. I mounted my bike well (just learned how to do a flying mount a month ago, was happy I managed to nail it in a race) and found a pack to work with. This was a nice surprise, I missed the lead pack but ended up with the chase.

A few Americans and Canadians were in my pack, and we worked together to hold off the third group and get closer to the lead. Although the bike was the part of the race I was nervous about, I found myself in good position for the corners and 180 turn around (there was a large surge after every turn around, a tactic to drop weak links) and doing my share of pulling. I actually joked with a fellow American at one point asking “How many laps is this?” (although in reality I did not know the answer, 4 laps of 5k or 5 laps of 4k). Going into T2 I was less than relaxed, but was ready to start running.

Off the bike I pushed through the run keeping track of one of the Canadians I saw running out of T2. I held onto this guy, seeing he was struggling, and ticked him off early. However, through the rest of the run I went back and forth with this guy, and by concentrating on just racing him, I was able to pass some of those from the chase pack I worked with. As an amateur you learn to race “your race”, here in the pro field I was ready to play the man. My lungs burned through this run, but I pushed to keep the pressure on this one guy, and coming into the finish I tried to make a move which was countered by a strong kick on his part.

I finished in 19th place (of 43) in my first race of the season, first professional race, first draft legal race. I am going to call this a success because although my performance was not what I was hoping for, I made adjustments and learned more than I had expected from this race. For starters, I learned that transitions are many times more valuable than I had thought, that I need a refresher on open water swimming, and that I need to give my lungs some extra TLC before Sarasota next weekend. This is an intense race format, and after doing one and analyzing my many mistakes, I find myself hungry to try get at it again.

This upcoming Saturday it is back to the trenches with a full Olympic distance race at the ITU Pan American Cup- Sarasota.

Thanks to everyone who supports me through this journey. Look for my next post over the weekend.

Spring Break Race Preview- ITU Clermont and Sarasota

I am a week away from spring break, a week away from nice Florida weather, and also a week away from my pro debut. To say I am excited would be only part of the story.

Over the week of spring break I will be training with Purdue Triathlon, competing in my first two professional races, and hopefully getting to enjoy weather that doesn’t include sleet. Only a 16 hour drive and a couple of classes to get there.

My pro races will be the two draft legal ITU-Pan American Cups in Clermont and Sarasota, Florida. This is a new level of competition and format for me, however it is one I should be able to adapt to quickly. Draft legal racing allows drafting on the bike leg, therefore making it vital to have a strong swim in order to make the lead pack, and even more vital to have a stronger run than those in the pack you roll into T2 with. Clermont is a sprint (750m, 20km, 5km) and Sarasota is an Olympic (1.5km, 40km, 10km) distance race; both will put me on the start line next to Olympians and pros from the US, Canada, and Mexico. There is a final Pan American Cup in Dallas, TX which I plan to attend in June. Pro Start List Clermont Race Website

After these two ITU races my next race will be Collegiate Nationals in Tempe, AZ. I will be competing in the draft legal sprint race and the mixed team relay. Over the rest of the season I plan to compete in the 5150 Series for a spot at the series finale, as well as doing Lifetime Series races and collegiate racing. Specific races from each series are still up in the air and will be based on the points I need and travel costs. My Schedule will be updated as my race calendar becomes more concrete.

Training up until now has been really uplifting. I have been able to string together weeks of consistent run training, and feel as though I am not only healthy this season (which after last season is a blessing) but running faster than ever before. My recent FTP test has shown a huge improvement over where I was last year, and my swimming makes me feel as though I can call myself a swimmer again, maybe even get back to that 16:23 mile I had when I was 15…

I want to take a moment to thank all of my 2013 sponsors, new and old alike. Please visit my sponsor page to check them out, and don’t forget to follow me on twitter for the latest from my races in Florida. My next blog will likely be at the conclusion of spring break and include a race report from each race.