By Pro Triathlete Alex
Alex Libin is one of our sponsored pro athletes this season. He grew up in Urbandale/West Des Moines, Iowa and now lives in the Iowa City area. He discovered triathlon in 2007, started getting serious about it 2010, and has turned pro just this year to take advantage of his final year of eligibility to race U23. We'll get a full bio of him put together, but right now we are excited to bring you his first race report. Check back again next week as he is racing again this weekend! And yes, we are jealous he's spending the week training in an outdoor pool in sunny Florida.
Traveling for me is usually not an issue, and as a I woke up the morning of my flight to Clermont I felt like I had nothing but time to kill and get ready until my 2:10 p.m. flight. The day before, I got my bike all set up and ready to race at Kyle's Bikes (the brick-and-mortar half of Kyle's Bikes/Discount Tri Supply). I had disassembled my bike and packed all my stuff into my Ruster Sports Hen House bag. So I lazily ate breakfast, showered, and collected what I wanted in my carry-on bag onto the kitchen table. I could hear my phone blowing up downstairs over and over again. But no worries, why would someone be in a panic to call me right now?
I finally walk downstairs and look at my phone. Craig has called and texted me a whole bunch of times to see how close I am to the airport… but why? It's only 9:15. Then it dawns on me that when I was looking at my itinerary I was being dyslexic. 2:10 p.m. is my arrival time, and 10:35 a.m. is my departure time!! I spent a few seconds screaming at my empty house about my own stupidity and then kicked into overdrive. I threw on clothes, chucked the Hen House into the car, and swept all of the contents of the kitchen table into my backpack. On the drive to the airport, I called my mom to explain the situation and to have her come to the airport so she could pick up my car later in the day.
Somehow I made it with 20 minutes to spare before boarding. My adrenaline was through the roof, but luckily the airport wasn't busy and I was able to get checked in and through security very quickly. I even had time to organize the contents of my bag. Hopefully this would be the only crazy part of my trip… We arrived in Florida two days before the race and had a pretty laid back time finding our hotel outside of Clermont.
Day Before the Race
The day before the race we got a chance to check out the race venue. It was a bit of a drive (50 min) to get to the race site from our hotel. The site itself was in the awesome Lake Louisa State Park. The course was an out and back climbing 150 ft in 2.5 km, so basically flat but just uphill enough to be noticed. The road was in great condition, and it twisted through the trees as you went to and from transition. Sometimes it would block the wind and other times it would create a wind tunnel that would blow you over. I had a good session of leg openers and practicing my transitions. Being stuck in the snow and cold of Iowa over the winter, I hadn't really had much of a chance to practice my transitions or perform a lot of brick workouts. So those were two things I was feeling a little worried about, but happy to get a better hold of, the day before the race.
The swim course had an in-water start 50 m off the beach. After the swim, we had to run 50 m through sand and then another 200 m on a boardwalk to get to the transition. But the interesting thing was that the shallow depth of the water at the start meant we could still run/leap the first 50 m or so. The water's depth would change too, meaning you'd have to stop running because it got too deep, and then after you'd dive in you'd have to start running again because it'd be too shallow. So it was going to be an interesting dash into the water and a critical, tough run up into T1. Water temp was 60° F so it was going to be a wetsuit swim: Ugh.
Race morning started for me at 7:00 a.m. It's nice having the race start at 11:30 a.m. I got to the race course around 8:30 and didn't really know what to do with myself. I may have started to warm up too early, but I was at a loss for what to do with all this extra time. Rookie mistakes. I borrowed a random trainer to spin on the bike for a bit. Then I got checked in and got my transition set up with out any issues. Down to the race start I went. The water was a bit choppy with one-foot swells greeting us.
Not having any ITU points to my name yet, I had a later start position. So I put myself to the far left of the start line and got ready to rock. I knew the swim was going to be an aggressive fight, but when the horn went off I found myself on the back foot. Leaping through the water to fight for position with the pushing and shoving is not quite what I was ready for. Already I was bleeding critical positions. Once we got swimming, I tried to insert myself into the pack but kept finding myself on the left edge sucking in a lot waves and getting pushed back by the water. As we hit the swim turnaround I was still in the middle of the race and happy to finally turn around and be out of the waves. I was still having trouble finding someone's feet to hang onto. Now with the waves coming in slightly behind us, I began to realize too late that I was on the wrong side again. People were swimming past me and I was being dropped back. Getting up to run to the beach was one of the most disheartening sights for me. I was at the back of a long line of racers and this race was already getting away from me. This is not where I wanted to be, my race was over after 10 min.
I got to transition to see that there were only a few other bikes left in transition besides mine. This was not good. All I could think about was how I was going to be lapped out of my first race. The closest bike pack was within striking distance, though. They had a gap of 20-30 seconds on me. In the first 3-4 minutes of my bike leg I averaged 27 mph just to catch them. This includes running with my bike to the mount line, getting my feet into my shoes, climbing the slight 150 ft incline to the turn around, and whipping around a tight 180 degree turn. This hammering effort left me beat, but I knew that I had to make something of my race and I was really happy to have bridged that gap. After a bit of recovery I got to work with a few others in the pack. There were about 8-10 of us originally in the pack, with about half of us putting in some work to catch the next pack.
Although the course wasn't very technical, there was a series of tight corners to maneuver through on every lap when we passed transition. I put myself on the front of this section and built a 5-10 second gap on the rest of the field just by taking the corners faster. But this didn't gain me much, because I wasn't willing to put in another very hard effort to bridge the 60 second gap to the lead pack. Eventually the race played out with two bike packs. The leaders' pack of 25 or so and then our pack 90 seconds down with another 25-ish racers. Our pack ended up having too much dead weight to be an efficient time trial machine, and on the last lap many where simply looking at each other and coasting to get ready for the run. I moved myself to the front to get ready for what was going to be a hectic transition.
I was in and out in about 22 seconds. My legs felt like jello and my stomach was very unhappy with me. This was probably due to the hard effort on the bike, a lack of brick training leading up to this race, and not really knowing how to fuel myself for a race that started so late into the day. I was bleeding spots in the first mile of the run. After that I began to feel stronger and stronger. My legs picked up and I began to remember what it's like to hurt in a race again. I began to pass other competitors and started to enjoy myself. I wish I would've had splits for my two run laps because I am convinced that I did the second lap at least a full minute faster than the first lap.
Overall, I placed 28th out of 47 starters. I was hoping for a top 20 spot to earn a few ITU points, but I really shot myself in the foot with how I performed in the swim. My swim time was slow, and my run time was nothing to brag about either. I expect more out of myself, but luckily it's very early in the year and it's good to get the kinks out now. Although my result was poor, I was very happy with how I handled the race as it unfolded. Mentally, it shoots you down to be so far behind at the start, and that can be the most dangerous thing that happens. But I was able to muster some strength and make something out of my race. Check out the full results on allsportsevents.com.
This Saturday is the Sarasota Pan Am Cup, a full Olympic distance race. Hopefully things go better for me there.
For the next week I will be staying at a great home stay and training in beautiful Bradenton, FL. I will be spending plenty of time in the pool and doing a few more bricks. Focusing on training and relaxing should give me a great boost leading into Sarasota. Race season is in full swing and I can't wait for more!