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.