by Pro Triathlete Alex
I had signed up for St. A’s (4/28/2013) at the beginning of April. I have always heard about what an incredible race this is, and I really wanted to be a part of it. This year the pro field was ridiculously stacked. With big money and even bigger qualifying points for Hy-Vee, everybody wants a piece of the action. The race organizers even put together a cool list showing everyone’s accomplishments. For me to even be on the starting line with guys of this caliber was reason enough to sign up. I’d have front row tickets to a brutal triathlon throw down!
After a successful Collegiate Nats, I had high hopes for what I could potentially do in St. A’s. Those plans got a little derailed though, as my ankle sprain was much worse than I thought and what was supposed to be a few days of no running turned into basically two weeks of zero intensity in all three sports. Turns out the ankle is a critical joint in swimming and I even struggled to put pressure on the bike pedals during rides. A few days before St. A’s I was finally able to run again, and the day before the race I could even manage to take right turns pain free.
So although I hadn’t really done much training going into the race, the plane tickets were already paid for and, at least structurally speaking, there was nothing damaged anymore… just some residual swelling.
My girlfriend Kelli, my friend Justin Metzler (and Trihawk teammate), and I were able to all do this trip together. It was great to finally have Kelli come along for a race. She puts up with a lot of things from me doing triathlon and is extremely helpful to me in my training, so it’s great to have her come with to share the race experience and have her help on the trip. Justin hooked us up with an amazing homestay about an hour from the race site in Siesta Key. Huge thanks to Rick and Essie for putting us up and being amazing hosts!!
The regular pre-race shake-out went fairly smoothly, and my ankle was holding up pretty well. I was stoked to get at in the race, and was sitting in a pretty good spot mentally. I was excited to relish the experience and had no heavy performance pressure on my shoulders, it was going to be a race to attack and see what happens. I knew that I was probably lacking some fitness, but on the plus side I have probably never been fresher for a race!
The pro meeting before the race for me was like sneaking into a celebrity party. Everywhere I looked there were my idols that I watched on TV, read about in magazines, studied on the internet, and tried to interact with on twitter. It was an awesome experience to be in the same area as so much triathlon talent. I even got a chance to use my Russian and chat up the Vasiliev brothers!
Being an hour from the race site we had to be up at 4 a.m. to get where we needed to be in time. Luckily, with the help of Ryan Frederickson, I got a VIP parking pass the day before… my first ever pro perk! This meant we could park right next to the transition zone and could actually sleep easy knowing we didn’t have to search for parking downtown/far away. I got in a short warm up ride and had Kelli meet me at transition with all my stuff—I love having my Sherpa around! I was feeling pretty good on the bike even though the wind was pushing me around some. Setting up transition was an incredible experience, I got to be on the other side of a wall I has always looked over with envy. My spot was right next to Hunter Kemper. I even got to loan him some rubber bands! Little did I know this would be the highlight of my race…
I spent a little too long in line for the bathroom and got to the swim start with only 5 minutes left to warm up. Not ideal, but it happens. I quickly hopped in and splashed around, realizing that the wind was making for some serious chop. We lined up shortly after and I got myself ready for what I knew would be a really tough swim.
The cannon went off and I let myself get comfortable on the tail end of the group. Not more than 100 meters into the swim I took a hard kick to my temple. It temporarily stunned and disoriented me, and after a few more strokes I found myself not only off the back of the group but also way off to the left. I pushed hard to close the gap but the group just slowly pulled away from me. I got a little upset with myself because I felt that had I been in the swim draft I would have been in the mix with the group.
This, however, would be the least of my issues. For the first half of the swim we swam parallel to the shore and then turned out into the bay for a 750m rectangular detour before coming back to the shore wall for the swim exit. This left turn is where things really came apart for me. The swim went directly into the swells which were much bigger now.
Lack of intensity coming into the race led to some twinging cramps in my legs. To make matters worse, I was being thrown all around in the water and started taking in lots of hydrating electrolyte-packed salt water (hopeful that would balance out the cramps!). Most of the time I couldn’t even see the buoys. To navigate the several-foot-high swells, I had to stop swimming a few times and take a couple of breast strokes just to figure out where I was. You know things aren't going well when the kayak volunteer asks you if everything is ok... I made things harder on myself by going off course swimming a lot of extra yards.
I came out of the water with the lead women... who started 3 minutes behind me. I got into transition and all I could think about was how happy I was that there were a few other bikes still hanging. I ended up swimming a 23:36 split, almost a full 5 min behind the leaders. The swim conditions ended up being so bad that the amateurs’ swim course got cut in half.
Hopping onto the bike I was excited to finally be able to lay down some power and make up a lot of lost ground. But I quickly began to realize that the swim was going to continue to cause me problems long after I got out of the water. Getting into my aero position was a struggle because of how water logged my stomach was from chugging down so much salt water. To make matters worse, my aero position puts my mouth below my stomach... making heaves of puke come without warning.
I was duking it out on bike with the lead women between heaves and by halfway through the bike I was at least able to anticipate the heaves early enough that I didn’t always puke on myself. Nothing seemed to settle my stomach down. I would try sitting up and stretching my gut hoping that some of the nutrition I was taking in would work its way down and get absorbed. Around mile 15 or so of the bike I finally started to come around a little bit. My legs relaxed and I finally had some positive thoughts floating around in my head. I got the good mojo I needed to hit it hard on the run.
Starting the run was an incredibly miserable experience. My legs felt like rotten tree trunks and any stomach issues that I was beginning to feel dissipate on the bike came roaring back at me. I was still just leading Alicia Kaye, who was leading the women’s race, at the start of the run. It was kind of funny (in a sad way) to have everyone yell “Go girl!” and “First female, you rock!” as I would run by. Alicia gave me some pro advice and told me that I would run faster if I got out of the gutter and onto the street. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it totally worked! Once I got out of the gutter I gained some distance on her and was running my own race.
I began to push myself hard knowing that having a decent run split was my only chance of redeeming myself in this race. I tried to keep my cadence high and to focus on leaning for speed. This more or less worked and I was able to maintain a fairly similar pace throughout the whole 10k. I took on some Gatorade at aid stations, swishing it in and out of my mouth, trying to trick my brain into thinking that sugar was coming to the rescue and at the same time not upsetting my stomach anymore. This must have worked because I ended up negative splitting the run and crossing the finish line in a little under two hours.
I knew this race was probably not going to be a top time, but I was still hoping for something better than what I got. And yes, I did end up getting chicked by the top two female finishers. Full results on RaceResults 360. Knowing that my fitness was a little below where it would have otherwise been made the initial disappointment easier to handle.
However, as I had more time to think about all that happened the more upset I got. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you start to ask yourself what could’ve been. But it’s all over now and it is time to get the progress to start flowing again. I have some time until my next race at the beginning of June, until then I will be doing a major swim focus. I’m done starting races on my back foot and it’s time to tap some of my extra potential. But first, I’ll be taking a few days completely off to allow for the swelling in my ankle to entirely go away.
Like always thanks for reading and hopefully I can bring you some good news on the next post!
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