by Pro Triathlete Alex
The Dallas ITU Pan American Cup was an A race for me. Being the U23 National Championship and having a trip to U23 worlds on the line, a lot was at stake. There were several contenders for the title and the trip. Although I didn’t consider myself a favorite, I was at least a dark horse to watch for. I think.
The three weeks prior to this race were a wet blur. I had really upped my time and intensity in the pool. Two-hour swim sets became the norm and I was determined to not be left behind anymore! (I went to Kansas 5150 hoping to get a chance to see if I’d improved, but due to bad weather the swim there was cancelled.) I was down to only 2-3 bike rides per week. Allowing me to really increase my run mileage too. Coming into this race I had a big block of training and I was itching to show something for it.
It was great to get through a much needed taper before race week. Finally the soreness and heaviness were leaving my body. Replacing them was some freshness, a happier mood, and a spring in my step. To make things even sweeter, I had raced the Dallas EDR in 2012, so I knew the area already. That really eased my mind the days before the race.
Finding a cheap, direct flight meant that Kelli could come with. It’s always great to have her with me at a race. We spent a lot of time just chilling in the hotel room the day before the race, this was probably one of the most laid back pre-race experiences I’ve ever had. Bad television, Kelli, and a comfy bed. Perfect.
Shake out and swim recon all went very smoothly. The swim was only open for an hour, so it was a good chance to eye up all of the competition. I was feeling fit and fast; really I was just itching to get the race started!
Our hotel was on the bike course, so everything was really easy to get to. In addition to the Dallas ITU Pan American Cup there was also a F1 race going on for 12–17 year olds, so it was great to interact with some of the younger Z3 kids and feed off of their excitement. We took over the hotel lobby and turned it into a bike shop.
I woke up around 3:45 a.m. to pee, and Kelli made the joke that for some races this is when the wakeup alarm is going off. ITU racing is awesome in so many ways… I got out of bed at 7:15 a.m. I had a little snack and went out for a morning shake up jog. Running around a little helped wake up my body and get things moving. I was able to check out the race course setup and cheer on some of the younger girls who were racing early in the day. It was overcast, hot, humid, and windy. A great day for some racing!
After eating breakfast I had about an hour of just hanging out and thinking about the goals for the day.
- Get out of the swim with a pack… any pack
- Focus on a lighter swim kick and a faster arm turnover
- Don’t over work on the bike
- Build through the run
- Hydrate on the bike and keep cool on the run
Race Day for Dallas ITU Pan American Cup
Around 10:00 a.m. I finally rolled down towards the race site to do my real warm up. I ditched my stuff at the Z3 camp and got familiarized with the local area. A short jog followed and I was feeling pretty good. I wanted to get into the transition area early to maximize the amount of time I could spend warming up in the water. Good thing I did because our start time got pushed up 25 minutes. Instead of noon were we now starting at 11:35 a.m. to try and avoid an impending storm. Even better for me because I had a 5:10 p.m. flight to catch after the race!
Lining up for the start I felt confident and excited. This is my craft and I intended to soak in every minute of it. Not only did I want to smash myself in the race but I was eager to show off all the hard training I had done. The horn went off and I had a smooth dive into the water. The pace was quick but by keeping my kick more relaxed I avoided spiking my heart rate and going into immediate oxygen debt like I have done in the past. I had a surprisingly smooth and open first 150 m, but just when that thought crossed my mind I began to get swum over, elbowed, pulled down, and boxed in. Finally the real race had begun. I wasn’t struggling too badly, but I was losing positions at a critical moment. A group began to form off the front with a string of swimmers behind. I was somewhere in that string.
As we started lap two, I saw that our string of swimmers was falling off pace. It was now or never and I put in a hard effort to see if I could catch the lead group before the next turn. Unfortunately, I couldn’t close the gap and was instead watching as 10 seconds turned into 30, 45, etc. Luckily though, I was at the lead of the second group. Needing to recover from my previous effort, I forced my way onto someone else’s feet and became content with being at the front of the second group for the swim exit. In retrospect, I should’ve kept pushing the pace in the swim to thin out our bike pack and keep the gap to the leaders manageable.
I awkwardly hit the exit stairs and lost a couple seconds trying to scamper to the top. I bled more time trying to let my heart rate to come down a bit in the long run into T1. Transition was not blazing fast but no major hiccups either.
Mounting the bike, I was solidly in the second bike pack of 12ish. Freaking sweet! Our pack tried to quickly get to work, but as would be the story for the entire 40 k ride, we were not getting it done. A cool race moment: Manny Huerta was in my bike pack and I had the brief thought of how awesome it is to be riding next to an Olympian during the race and listen to him yell at everyone to try and get them organized.
The lead group split into two and on the third lap of eight we gobbled up those that had fallen off the lead groups pace. Now our pack of 25ish riders was trying to chase a hard riding and motivated group of 9. Our group had too much dead weight and too many guys would attack off the front instead of just pulling through smoothly. The gap to the lead 9 kept growing and growing. Our group began to lose motivation because the winners were way up the road, but I really needed to be as close to the other U23 guys as possible to maybe have a chance of running someone down. So I kept myself towards the front and tried to get in solid pulls when possible.
There was one really bad wreck about halfway through the ride. It happened right at the front, I think a couple guys crossed wheels and one of them went down hard onto his shoulder. I got a front row seat as his body and bike slid on the road in front of me. I was caught between the edge of the road and the pack. Luckily I was able to slam onto my brakes enough to squeeze by and then catch back onto the group quickly. Unluckily, that dude has some serious road rash all over and was going to be in a world of hurt.
I tried to chill myself out even more on the last two laps of the bike. Our group had lost just about all motivation to even ride hard by then. There was a big surge coming into the dismount line, which was grey duct tape on concrete and caught me a little off guard. Instead of leading the group into T2, I was caught in the middle of it. With such a big group trying to run bikes through such a tiny area, some blocking was happening and there was nothing I could do by then. I bled more time and made the mistake of taking two steps past my transition spot and almost racking my bike backwards. I caught myself before messing up that badly, got my shoes on quick and was out the gate. Most of the group ran by me within the first 400 meters. I had a very unsettled feeling in my stomach and just needed a bit of time to get into my grove. It was hot, 90 degrees, and super humid. The sun had come out and I kept telling myself that all of these guys were going to just blow up.
The run course was a little strange. It was five laps, instead of the regular four with a basic 180 degree turnaround at each end. 100 yards before the turnarounds were the aid stations. So for every 2km lap we would have access to 4 aid stations. At every station I would grab 1, 2 and sometimes even 3 bottles of icy goodness. The feeling of frosty bliss would last with me for a few strides and then I would return to reality and the oven that I was actually running in. This was my first time running in anything over 80 degrees for the year. It was hot and I was blowing up constantly. The other guys were feeling it too though, and I began to reel people back. With a lap to go I was sitting in 13th place with 10th place (and a paycheck!) in sight. I kept pushing the gas pedal desperately trying to surge up to the 10th place guy. I was able to get around one and then another, but the final guy stayed out in front the entire time. I closed down the gap but I couldn’t close the deal. I ended up finishing 6 seconds out of the top ten, the money, and the press release.
Ready for the Next One
Overall I was very pleased with my performance at the Dallas ITU Pan American Cup. I accomplished many of my pre-race goals and gave my swim confidence a huge boost for the future. I was finally a factor in a draft legal race. Surprisingly though, my run wasn’t quite where it usually is. Maybe due to the heat, or maybe my run legs just weren’t there on the day. For me this whole race was just proof that my training is going in the right direction and that all the work is paying off. Bit by bit, I’m experiencing progress. This was my best performance in a professional race to date. Next up is the Edmonton World Cup!
As always, thanks for reading and happy training to all!