By Pro Triathlete Alex
After having a great week training and chasing Strava segment KOMs in Bradenton, Florida it was time to get back to business. I had a great week riding through the gated golf course communities and finding gators in just about every little pond. Every training session out here was like training in a safari.
We checked out the race course the weekend before the race, or at least we tried to check it out. Nathan Benderson Park is right off I-75 and meant to be the premier location for regatta races. This may be true, but it will take at least another year of construction before the park is up to par. We could only drive up to the far side of the park because the roads through the park (the same roads we would be racing on) were closed and still under construction. The whole place was just a big pile of dirt. Guess I better make sure I've got a spare wheel set in the pits and I'm going to be extra careful to keep my mouth shut during the swim. The water looks very milky and grainy from all the construction residue.
After last week's lack luster performance, I was very eager to prove to myself that I was better than that. I was excited that this race would be a full Olympic distance because I feel like I do better as the distance gets a little longer, especially this early in the season. This race is also a U23 Worlds qualifying race. Meaning that the first American across the line who is U23 gets a ticket to the U23 World Championship in London in early September, not that I think that's something in my reach yet. Overall, I was feeling much less nervous about this race. All the kinks got worked out last weekend and now it was simply time to perform!
For all the construction going on around the race site, the venue was actually pretty awesome. During my prerace shake out the day before, sod was being laid down in some places and fresh cement was still being poured on the road. Although several water trucks sprayed all the road surfaces, there was still a fair amount of debris to watch out for: debris that could bring you down in a corner and/or ruin your day with a flat.
The 8 lap bike and 4 lap run courses were very simple out and back loops with a 180 degree turn at one side and a loop through transition on the other. The swim was going to be two 750 m loops with a diving dock start and an interesting climb back up onto the dock between laps. Never done that before, so it should be awesome! Prerace meeting went without a hitch and was very quick. My parents stopped in Sarasota on their drive to their Miami vacation. It was great to be able to get some dinner with the family before getting to bed for the race.
Race Day: Saturday, March 16, 2013
Woke up race morning feeling tight. My whole body just felt uncomfortable and it’s not the feeling you want to have the morning of the race. I tried to not think much of it. After all, I did still have 4 hours before my race to get loosened up. So I got to work with the foam rollers and did a little morning shake out after my breakfast. It was still pretty early and I had some time to just sit back and chill before riding my bike over to the race site. Our hotel was basically across the street from the race venue so I had a quick ride over to the race course. Nothing makes me feel more awesome than when I have a chance to ride my bike to a race, even if it is just across the street. Something about riding to the race with everything I need for the day on my back just makes me feel bad ass. Maybe it’s just me.
This time around I didn’t start warming up super early for the race. I kept things simple and did a 15–20 minute jog with a few building efforts mixed in. I got checked in for the race, set up my transition, and got ready to don the wetsuit yet again. I made one last run to the bathroom, during which some of my breakfast decided to come back up in a big puke heave. I’m still not sure what all of that was about. But it’s never good when you watch your race fuel come back out of you. I got into the water and splashed around for a solid 15 minutes or so, again doing a few efforts to prep myself for the intensity of the swim to come. I felt pretty good in the water and thought that I did a good job of getting my wetsuit on correctly and fully.
Soon it was time to line up on the dock. I started more or less in the middle of the lineup this time around. For our race there’s not much warning when things will start, once the call up is over there is a sudden ‘On your marks!” then immediately the horn. The horn went off, and I was still squashing my goggles hard onto my face as I was diving off. Despite that, I had a great dive. I got far off the dock and had clean water for the start of my swim. The higher seeded racers to my left slowly passed by me as I swam for all I was worth to stay with the pack. I got knocked around a decent amount: elbow to face, getting swam over, pretty basic stuff when everyone is fighting for position. I found a good spot somewhere in the middle back third of the swim pack and was feeling pretty comfortable doing a hard effort swim.
As we closed out the first loop I got swam over pretty bad a few times and lost a bit of contact. From there I just could not close the gap back up. I clambered up onto the dock, took three fast steps and dove off again. The sudden up and down made me feel like I was about to pass out. I spent some time in no man’s land chasing down the pack but to no avail. Eventually I teamed up with another racer who had been on my feet, and we finished the swim basically together. At least I would have someone to work on the bike with this time around. I had a decent swim time of 20:25. Although decent for me, it’s not nearly fast enough to cut it in ITU racing.
I ran into transition quick. This time there was a very short sprint into T1, so short that I barely even had time to get the top half of my wetsuit off before getting to my bike. I slipped out of the wetsuit and took off with my GBR racing compatriot. The guy was Scottish so it was a bit of a struggle for me to get what he was saying sometimes, but I understood the words ‘go’ and ‘faster.’ We started the out and back loop into a strong headwind. My legs felt awful in the first three laps or so of the bike. I did what I could to help out, because the bike leaders were far enough ahead that we were in danger of being lapped out.
We picked off a couple of stragglers and eventually caught up to a group of 4 riders. However, they weren’t very helpful to our cause so we dropped most of them. I ended up riding the last 4–5 laps of the bike course with a Canadian and the Scotsman. With only three of us to take pulls into the headwind, we were losing time on each lap. We worked well together, but there just weren't enough of us to share the workload and to give enough rest between pulls. As we came out of transition to start our last lap, the lead bike pack was rolling in, if we didn’t beat them to the run turn around point our day would be over. One of my major goals is always to at least finish the race, and that was very questionable at this point. All three of us realized what was going and we pushed hard. Turning to go back to transition, we were in a mad sprint with a tail wind because we could see the runners coming up to the run turn around point. We made it with seconds to spare, blowing through the run turn around just as the runners were slowing up to come around it. Although this meant we were now in last place, we were at least going to have a chance to finish the race. Even with the windy conditions and the smaller group, we managed to hold a 25.2 mph average for the 38.5 k bike course.
T2 was fast and smooth; I was in and out with no problem. I was getting super thirsty toward the end of the bike, the kind of thirst that comes with dehydration and seemingly can’t be satisfied with any amount of water. So I was happy to start dumping bottles of water on my head as we went through the run transition. My legs felt much better starting the run this week compared to last week, no jello legs feeling, but I could tell that I was really tight. My stride just didn’t feel fluid and my muscles wouldn’t respond to me when I would try and hit the gas. It’s not that my breathing rate or work load felt very high, I simply couldn’t push as hard as I wanted to. It felt like all I could muster was a tempo pace run. Eventually I got lapped by the race leaders, but since I was already on the run, I could at the very least continue my race to the finish. My run split was ok for me at 34:49. Nothing to be excited about, but I felt like it was much slower than that, so that must mean something good is going to happen at the next race.
Full results can be found on triathlon.org. The week of back to back draft legal races has taught me plenty of lessons. The biggest one being that if I even want to be moderately competitive at this style of racing I need to really step up my swimming, in both refining my technique and just swimming more yards overall. I’m confident that I could hold my own in any bike pack, but the issue is getting into a bike pack in the first place. Right now I’m just a newbie who is barely even finishing these races. But it’s all a journey, and with some work I hope that things continue to grow from here, because they definitely can’t get much worse!
After the race we got a chance to watch the Cigar City Crit in downtown Tampa. Next I’m off to Tuscon, Arizona for a week long Z3 training trip. So follow me on Strava to check out the cool stuff we will be doing!