December 22, 2011

Reality Check: My New Found Focus

After finding out I got on the start list for our regional championships race in La Paz, Argentina, I was really excited to set up my 2012 schedule based around traveling the world to get Olympic points and climbing the ITU (International Triathlon Union) ranks in hopes of trying my hand at the 2012 Olympics. After I finished making travel arrangements for this incredibly complicated trip, I went on a run with my training partner (and mentor), two time Olympic medalist Bevan Docherty, and we had a long conversation about the situation. The workout began with me telling Bevan about the La Paz trip and my plans for the year, and ended with me having received a solid dose of “Papa Doc” reality. The long run of the week turned into a conversation about the long run of my career, and with this hard hitting truth I cancelled my trip to Argentina, modified my race schedule, and have reevaluated myself as a triathlete. Instead of flopping my way to the top, I will now be developing my way to the top.
When I originally made my plans for 2012 I was getting a little bit too excited about racing bigger races. I wanted to get to the top level as fast as I could. I looked at the races that would help me do that, and told myself “I’m ready, let’s do this!” without considering anything else. I have the backing of my amazing sponsors: Family Cycling Center, Run Revolution, BlueSeventy, Rudy Project, Santa Cruz Built, PowerBar, and recent addition the incredibly kind hearted Diaa Nour, who are giving me the opportunity to make Triathlon a career! But just because they are the best, doesn’t mean that I am the best – I have a long way to go!
Thus begins the reality. Bevan has a favorite quote that really stuck in my mind, he said “First you train to train, then you train to race, then you train to win” and he noted that I was skipping the train to train part and going straight into the train to race phase. I was getting ready to spend time, energy, money, and life to try and force myself to the top of the ranks instead of developing myself as a triathlete and letting the rise come naturally. He said “Don’t get me wrong, you’re a talented athlete, but you’re not mature enough in this sport to race at the highest level yet. 2016 Olympics is a legitimate goal, but you need to start right now in developing yourself at the level that fits your abilities”. I am only just now learning what type of training my body responds well to. I’m only just now learning what it’s like to travel across the world and race my best. I am only just now learning what it’s like to be a true triathlete... and this is just the beginning.
2016 is going to be the only thought on my mind for the next 4 years. I am going to train and make all my racing and life decisions on preparing myself for qualifying for that Olympic team. With a strong team of supporters behind me I’m confident this goal can become a reality. I’m really excited about this new approach of letting my rise to the top come naturally by learning and getting stronger one step at a time instead of skipping steps and forcing a wanted outcome.

December 9, 2011

Tommy's Story: How I Got To Where I Am

There is a large number of Professional Triathletes in the world, who all train very hard, and who all race extremely well. They all come from different backgrounds, different locations, and each one has a different story about how they got to where they are today. Here is my story…

Athletically, I grew up in Santa Cruz as an “S Dude” - Skateboarding, Surfing, and Swimming.
I stopped skateboarding and surfing when I started getting serious about my swimming career and I got a chance to see the benefits of that at the Jr National Championships in 2004 when I won 3 events and qualified for the Olympic Trials. After that meet I decided I wanted to really focus on swimming and see where it could take me. In 2006 my 200m fly was ranked 4th in the USA, 39th in the world, and I was one of only 5 Americans to break 2:00 in that event (the top ranked swimmer was… what’s his name?? Oh yeah, Michael Phelps). 2006 was also the year I took a job working at Safeway, so I was balancing training full time and working random produce shifts, including a solid block of midnight to 9am shifts. After 2 hard years of dedicated training with the focus of my athletic life being on the 2008 Olympic trials it came to a screeching halt. A few weeks out from the Olympic trials I got a gnarly form of sinusitis that blocked my sinuses so bad I couldn’t put my head under water. It completely screwed up the 3 weeks of training leading up to the trials, and not to mention while I was there trying to race I still couldn’t put my head under water without feeling like my head was going to explode. I couldn’t take any medication for it because everything is illegal on the Anti Doping list – I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.

That concluded my career as a swimmer and I officially retired from USA swimming. The end of that was the beginning of my coaching career. I decided to continue my job at Safeway and coach for the Cabrillo Threshers, the same team I grew up swimming on. I didn’t do any training for a month after my retirement and finally decided to buy a bike (the first bike I’ve ever bought) so I could ride to work, stay fit, and possibly do a triathlon. There was a local Olympic distance race that I decided to make my first attempt at a triathlon. I hadn’t done any training, I just bought a bike the week before the race, and my mom bought me my first pair of running shoes I have ever owned 2 days before the race. I did the swim in the 55 degree pacific ocean without a wetsuit and had no clue what I was doing. I ended up finishing 10th overall out of 1,000+ competitors and thought, “hey that was fun, see you all next year”. 

So from there I went on to just riding my bike everywhere. No formal training, just riding about 15-20 miles a day, never swimming, and running like two times a week. I signed up for two local sprint races the next year and ended up getting second in one and winning the other (although I ended up getting disqualified for going off course in the second race because I still had no clue how triathlons worked). A month later I was back at the race where my tri career had begun, but after the disqualification mishap I had done some research and got more psyched on triathlon then I had been previously. I ended up getting an article written about me and how I had a chance to win this race and decided to take it a little bit more seriously. I borrowed a wetsuit, bought a tri bike, and ran and swam a few more times than normal.

Race day came and I ended up leading the swim out and was 2 min ahead of the next competitor. I was the only person out on the bike course and I was following the lead vehicle (which happened to be a van with no windows) and a cop thought that the vehicle was a pedestrian van and he stepped out into the middle of the street to stop it. I couldn’t see this happening, so I was just head down charging. I looked up and the van was coming to a screeching halt! I didn’t have time to do anything except swerve. I ended up crashing into the back of the van going about 29mph and that ended my day but simultaneously started a new career path for me.

After my crash I called the one person who I knew would know what to do - triathlon Olympian from Santa Cruz, Victor Plata. Victor and I had gone out to lunch after my first triathlon which was exactly a year before my accident. He told me that I had the potential to be a highly ranked professional triathlete and wanted to coach me. I told him “Thanks but no thanks” I didn’t want to get back into an athletic career after I had just spent 16 years of my life dedicated to sport. He told me “ok, but whenever you change your mind let me know!” After the accident, I decided to change my mind.

I started a partnership with Victor at the end of 2009 in hopes of making a name for myself in the triathlon world. Around the same time I got hooked up with a man named Brent Allen who knows the inside and out of the triathlon business world, and who has an incredible heart for helping people. After we had a meeting, I decided to call it quits at Safeway and focus on working with Victor to make this new career choice a reality.

I trained for 5 months (from November 2009 to March of 2010) and then competed in my fourth race ever, an Elite Development Race in Clermont, Florida. It was an Elite license qualifier where pros get to race with amateurs and the top two amateurs get their pro cards. I ended up finishing as the second amateur and earned my elite license – surprisingly, my career was starting smoothly… or so I thought.

Fast forward to December, 2011 where I’ve experienced basically every race scenario possible: Food poisoning, crashes, bike being totaled by the airlines, doing an extra lap on the bike, small concussion from getting kicked in the swim, bogus penalties, disqualification, bike mechanicals, and the list goes on, but despite all those things, I still got to experience victory by winning The San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz and the Triathlon at Pacific Grove!
So after all these things, my career is finally starting to pan out and run its own course; largely in part to a huge opportunity I have been lucky enough to be a part of. This opportunity comes in the form of a famous Kiwi, two time Olympic triathlon medalist Bevan Docherty, who moved to Santa Cruz to live and train. Out of all the sports I could have chosen, and out of all the places the world’s top triathlete could have moved, I chose triathlon and he moved 10 minutes away from me. Since May I have been training with Bevan and this has taken my career to the next level in a very short amount of time. The skills and strength I am acquiring from just being in this environment are astounding! I’m excited to move forward into 2012 with this amazing training partner and see what is in store for my future.

So now you have a quick recap of the last few years, and hopefully you will continue to follow me and my “choose your own adventure” life.

November 20, 2011

First World Cup

Without going into too much confusing detail about ITU points and qualification criteria, after my performance in Myrtle Beach I got the opportunity to race in the final ITU World Cup of the season in Auckland, New Zealand. I was really excited about the trip because I was traveling and staying with my training partner Bevan Docherty (who is a 2 time Olympic medalist and an icon in NZ) and so not only was I going to have a solid race mate, I had a famous tour guide driving me everywhere. I got a chance to experience the life of a major celebrity by being his side kick all week. The second day there I went with Bevan to different press conferences, sponsors, meetings, and to a major radio station where he had an interview. I thought I was just going to sit and watch, but I got to be on the radio as “Bevan’s American training partner” with my “awesome American accent!” Every day there, after I got my training in, Bevan would take me to an amazing NZ bakery, or show me places he used to live. So as you can tell, this trip started off fantastic…
Enter Bummertown, population Tommy Zaferes. On day 3 I woke up with no energy, a really bad sore throat, blocked sinuses, and a cough. I tried to relax and take it easy because we were 2 days out from the race, and I kept telling myself “it’s all mental, you’ll be fine by race day”. I actually got some okay training in, but the sickness lingered. The second player in this lamesauce equation will manifest later in the story, but for now, let’s get to race day.
The Race:
I had a good start to the swim, and was 4th at the first buoy. I got a gnarly kick in the face and my cap came off and my goggles got shoved in my eyes. I literally crawled over people to the outside, flipped on my back, took my goggles off and re adjusted them and put them back on and ended up exiting the water around 20th. I got on the bike in the perfect spot, I was right next to Bevan and he rode up next to me and was like “Let’s do this!” When we got to the first climb I was leading our group (which at the time was the chase group, about 30 seconds down from the lead pack) up the hill when I switched from my big ring to my small ring and my chain came all the way off. I shifted into my big ring again to try and get the chain back on the cogs, but my chain was totally jammed. I stopped on the side of the road and put the chain back on then it was like Tour de France style, people from the crowd came out and push started me back up the steep climb. I absolutely maxed myself out trying to get back into the group I had just gotten dropped from, but I didn’t make it and so I was left riding alone with a redlined heart rate. I was trying to recover but there are 3 climbs on every lap so the short, fast, downhill sections don’t let you recover. I ended up getting swept up by the second chase group (which lucky for me had the #1 seed Laurant Vidal from France) and thought “ok, just hold on to this group and they will bridge up to the front group” So I rode at the back of that group until the climb when I switched from big to small, and sure enough it was déjà vu. My Chain was off again and I found myself hammering to try to get back into that group. At this point I had zero energy and just got dropped and dropped off every group until finally on lap 7, about 2 blocks away from transition, the official’s motorcycle came around and pulled in front of me “You’re lapped, you have to get off the course, sorry”.  The first place guy on the bike (the eventual winner, my buddy, and Bevans best friend, Kris Gemmell) was a full lap ahead, so for safety purposes the racers who are being lapped are disqualified and are not allowed to finish the race.
Since I wasn’t able to finish, I didn’t get any points, and I didn’t get anything accomplished that will help me on my path to the 2012 Olympics. So now it’s back to the drawing board, back to a whole new plan for 2012, and a new revived focus for the 2016 Olympics!

October 25, 2011

US Nationals

After my win at Pac Grove, I was stoked to be traveling to Buffalo, NY with my training buddy Dylan McNiece for the USAT Elite National Championships. I was feeling really good leading up to this race and after looking at the start list I was confident I had a chance to place very well overall. This trip was awesome, the people I got to hang out with were awesome, and I had a blast! Everything about the trip was incredible except for one thing - my race.
I had a very low number starting this race and so I got a bad starting position on the dock. When the gun went off I ended up flopping into the water and getting dived on. The start of the swim to the first buoy was 350m away, but I still got pummeled and caught inside the buoy. At the first buoy I was in about 40th position and around the second buoy I got a heel straight to my forehead that put a solid shock through my whole body. I ended up shaking it off by talking to myself “It’s going to be ok, you can make it through this. Just stay calm!” and working my way up to about 12th at the end of the first lap. When I re-entered the water for the second 750m lap, I swam myself into 4th position by the turnaround buoy, and that’s where I stayed until the exit.
When I exited the water I was about 15 seconds down from the two leaders, Dustin Mclarty, and Jon Bird from Canada. I exited the water with 3x Olympian Hunter Kemper and a trail of about 40 other guys. On the fast run to transition I helped an Australian competitor unzip his race suit which he couldn’t get undone before transition – that made me feel like a hero before getting on the bike.
I had the fastest transition of the day and was on the bike 3rd about 6 seconds down from the leaders. I put my head down and charged. The plan was to hammer the first section of the bike and get a breakaway of 6-8 guys that would put a lot of time on the chase pack so we could have as much of a gap as possible before starting the run. It worked. The first part of the bike was so fast only 7 people out of the 65 on the start list were able to make the breakaway group (The groups avg speed on the first lap was 30.3mph, and this course had four 90 degree turns and two 180 turnarounds!). About halfway through lap one I was going to put my foot in my shoe, and I completely missed my shoe. I thought I just had glassy vision because I had water in my eyes and didn’t think twice. I caught back up to the pack and finally got my feet in both shoes. At this point I was in the back of the pack of 7 guys but it looked like there was 55 guys in front of me. I was starting to get dizzy, my vision was very cloudy, and I was getting a massive headache. At the turnaround to begin lap two I just pulled into transition completely confused. My adrenaline had died and the effects from getting a heel to the noggin were starting to take their toll. The next thing I knew there were two people holding my bike and another person holding me as I slowly “fell” off my bike. Thanks to the people holding me they just lowered me to the ground and unclipped me from my bike. I ended up laying there with the paramedics for about 15 min until I could get up and walk to the medical tent.
Turns out I had a minor concussion but nothing permanent. It was another case of bum luck, but I’m glad I had the smarts to call it a day when I did. There will be more races, and more chances to prove myself - today just wasn’t my day.

October 23, 2011

Galveston 5150

After a solid race at Myrtle Beach I decided to extend my season three more races. I added two non-drafting races, and one more draft legal ITU event. I was excited because the two non-drafting races were points qualifiers towards next years Hyvee (Hyvee is triathlons only $1 million prize purse race. They take your top three races and only allow the top 25 point earning, and 5 discretionary, competitors on the start line - so getting two solid points finishes this year would be a huge advantage for me leading into next year).
After I registered and got my flights all sorted for both 5150 races, they ended up cancelling the series finale in Clearwater, Florida which was annoying for a couple reasons. One, I already bought my tickets to Florida, and two, this made Galveston an even more important race to do well at. Just a small bump in the road though.
The Race
The swim was a very mellow deep water start. We were all spread out fairly well at the beginning so when the gun went off there wasn’t any fighting or getting kicked and trampled. My training buddy Dylan McNeice was off like a shot. I quickly got on his feet and swam behind him until the first buoy. After the first buoy I thought he’d want me to pull for a bit so I swam up next to him to take the lead. When I was even with him we ended up swimming stroke for stroke for about 50m. I wasn’t able to pass him so I ended up just slowing down and slotting in behind him again and just stayed there until the exit. Since I didn’t have a swim bonus for this race, there was no need to be first out of the water so I spent the entire swim trying to conserve as much energy as possible. When I exited the water I felt amazing! I felt like I had just loosened up a bit, not just raced an open water mile. I had one of the fastest T1 of the day and was on the bike first.
I have spent the last 2 weeks riding A LOT more than normal. For non-drafting races the bike is much more important than in an ITU race. Because I have been hammering myself on my TT bike, and because of my conservative swim, I ended up leading the bike all the way to the 12.4mi turnaround point. Olympian Matt Reed was 30 seconds down on me out of the water, and finally caught me on the bike at the turnaround. After the turn around I felt really good and was able to ride side by side with Matt all the way to mile 20. By this point we had a solid 1.5 minute gap on the rest of the field, and were riding strong enough to put even more time on them by the end of the ride. I was thinking to myself, “this is perfect, this is exactly where I need to be right now” then all of the sudden an official on a motorcycle rides up next to us and points at me and says “STAND DOWN! 1 MIN PENALTY!” I yelled back “Are you serious? I’m more then 2m away!” “PULL OVER!” was the response. So I pulled over to the side of the road, unclipped both my feet and stood there until he came over. “For 22 seconds you were a little less than 2m apart from Mr. Reed!” (The “drafting zone” for USAT Pro events is 2m, which means that you must be at least 2m to the right or left of the competitor in front of you) I responded “There’s no way! Matt was next to the cones in the center of the road, and I was next to the bike line, that’s a full LANE apart, not less than 6.5 feet! Plus, there was a massive cross wind which I was taking! Also, if I was within 2m of Matt, that means he was within 2m of me, how come he didn’t get a penalty?” “Mr. Reed’s wheel was in front of yours when we came up on you, so it was your infraction.” VERY FRUSTRATING! When you get a penalty, the clock doesn’t start until both your feet are on the ground, so not only do you have to slow down and pull over safely before the clock even starts, after the minute is up, you have to clip back in and start from scratch (which sucks big time if you forget to change out of your second biggest gear, which I did!) Surprisingly, for the whole time I was standing down and getting started again, no one passed me on the bike! I was stoked, but then realized what a big lead I just lost.
So now Matt was out of sight, my legs were stiff from standing there, my adrenaline and momentum were gone, I had to put a lot of extra effort into getting back up to speed again, and I was mentally out of it from being so frustrated – not a good combination in the middle of a race.
Jordan Jones (who had the fastest bike split of the day) passed me with about 3 miles to go and I didn’t even try to ride with him. I rode my own “cruise plus” pace back to T2 and started the run in 3rd. Because of the pace I set coming back to transition I was caught by the chase pack of about 4 other guys, so they all started the run within a few seconds of me. I was passed by Chris Foster almost immediately and just watched him go by. I didn’t even react. I was seriously so Livid about the penalty that I literally couldn’t get myself to suffer on the run. I didn’t want to battle those guys and kill myself for a 2nd or 3rd place finish. At that point, I hate to say it, but I basically wussed out and decided I was going to get 4th. I ran, not raced, the first of two laps until Derek Oskutis caught me and then I ran with him the rest of the race. I just wanted to zone out until the run was over. Having him there was a huge help! I just ran right behind him until about the last 800m or so then decided I was going to go. I negative split my 5k’s by going a 17:05/16:48. When I finished I wasn’t even breathing hard, I could have done another lap on the run if I wanted. I am pretty disappointed in myself for finishing the race that way; it’s not a good example of what a professional should do, or what I would coach any of my kids to do.
What I learned from this race is that the mental aspect is just as important as being in good shape. This race was a great indicator of how far my fitness has come, and how much I need to improve mentally and emotionally.

October 9, 2011

Elite Series Finale

After my “vacation with a kick in the head” at nationals, I was ready to prove myself at an Olympic points race once and for all. To catch you up on my luck I’ve had, here’s the order of events that have occurred at all the important races I’ve been to: Food poisoning, bike getting totaled by the airlines, rear wheel blowout, extra lap on the bike, and kicked in the head. So now it was time for some redemption at the Elite Draft Legal Series Finale in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
From the beginning of this race I knew I had a slight advantage because it was a non-wetsuit, current swim which played majorly to the benefit yours truly! Before the race I chatted with 3x Olympian Hunter Kemper about having a breakaway of just us two on the bike, so going into the race my plan A was to ride very hard, get a good size gap on the chase pack, and try to survive on the run. My plan B was to just relax on the bike and try to outrun everyone who might be in the lead pack. I ended up having to ad lib mid race and go with plan C.
The swim started perfectly for me. I had a fantastic dive and was in the lead from 5 seconds into the race. After the first lap Hunter and I had a 30 second gap on everyone, and after the second lap we had a full minute! I honestly was swimming extremely smooth; my HR probably never went over 160 the whole time. Because of this efficient swim I was able to have an awesome transition and get out onto the bike course with a good size gap over Hunter. I got my feet in my shoes quicker and smoother than I ever have and kept taking peeks back to see if hunter was on my wheel. Once he was on my wheel and he got his feet in his shoes we were off. We worked together extremely well the first lap and were stoked to see that we had a minute lead over the chase pack of 13 guys.
Coming down the hill that leads to transition, we had a strong tail wind that was allowing us to be riding a little over 35mph. We were about to finish our first lap (there was 8 laps, and it takes about 7min each lap) and start our second lap when the unpredictability monster reared its ugly head. I was leading with Hunter right on my wheel when a triathlete, who had JUST finished the swim portion, ran into transition RIGHT in front of us. All I had time to do was yell “HEYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!” as loud as I could and swerve. Hunter wasn’t able to react fast enough and he ran straight into the guy causing Hunter to go flying through the air with his bike. I looked back and saw the aftermath and yelled at the top of my lungs “NO WAY DID THAT JUST HAPPEN, NO WAY!” immediately I had to regroup and move onto plan B.
I decided it wouldn’t be smart to ride solo for the next 7 laps with a group of 13 people behind me so I soft peddled until the chase group caught me (which wasn’t for another lap and a half). By the time they caught me my HR was about 110 and I was feeling amazing. When I joined the group I pushed the pace and our group got about a minute lead of the 2nd chase group. I attacked the group about 800m before transition and was able to enter T2 with no one around me. I kinda bogged my T2 and even though I had a slight lead I ended up being 3rd out of transition.
The first lap of the run there was a group of about 8 of us, then the 2nd lap it was whittled down to 4 then the 3rd lap it was just 3 of us. On the final lap it was just two of us, me and Olympian Jarrod Shoemaker (who runs a 14:08 5k). He finally gapped me with 800m to go and ended up cruising in for the victory about 5 seconds ahead of me. 2nd place was a fantastic finish for me, and probably my best performance of the season. My name is now on the map in the draft legal world, and I finally have some ITU points! After having the fastest swim, being one of the strongest on the bike, and having the 3rd fastest run of the day, I’m beginning to establish myself as a “Triathlete” not a swimmer who does triathlons!

September 10, 2011

Pac Grove

Coming off my victory at The San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz I felt great mentally and physically. Because of this boost I was able to put in two of the best weeks of training I’ve ever had and was really excited about how my body was going to react to the workouts I had done leading up to the Triathlon at Pacific Grove.
PG is a lot more nerve racking then Alcatraz because PG is a draft legal race (where the cyclists can work together in packs) and therefore has a lot more to do with tactics as opposed to the non-drafting, every man for himself, style of racing. For a couple weeks my mind was going crazy trying to envision different scenarios that could play out in the race so that I would be prepared for everything. Because of this mental preparation I was able to control my thoughts during the race and make solid decisions without even thinking twice.
I knew the “swim” was going to be ridiculous because of the kelp fields, which takes the advantage away from the stronger swimmers and evens the field out from the start. It’s basically a race of who is the most efficient seaweed navigator. There is a section from the last buoy to the swim exit where you can actually swim, so that was my only chance to spread the field out. I picked up the pace in the last 200m and lead the swim out. I had the fastest T1 and hammered the first section of the bike.
I was hoping that a few people would bridge up to me and we could have a nice little breakaway, but it turned into me riding off the front by myself for a couple miles and finally just slow pedaling and waiting for the chase pack to catch me. When they finally caught me there was a pack of 6 guys I was able to join and we worked together extremely well. We put about 3 minutes on the next group of guys which was more than enough to be able to out run anyone from that group, so now what I needed to prepare for was running with guys from my pack. I was feeling really good on the bike, so I tried to push the pace fairly hard out of the corners and make some of the other guys put some effort in their legs to stay with the group. I surged a bit toward T2 and was first off the bike.
I had a solid T2 and was off on the run course out in front. I wanted to get as big of a gap as I could before I settled into my pace and got caught by the faster runners (yeah, I was mentally prepared to be caught). Surprisingly I didn’t get caught until the first turnaround on the 3 loop run course and when I did I was happy to find out it was only two others (Steve Sexton and John Dahlz) from our group of seven. I dropped behind Steve and let him lead the pace for the next two laps and just watched and listened to him and JD to get an idea of how they were feeling. I honestly thought that the three of us were going to sprint it out at the end, but at the last aid station just before the last turnaround they both yelled “water!” and I knew I had to go right then. I surged immediately and at the turn around I saw I had a small gap. I kept pushing the pace and ended up holding them both off until the finish.
This was definitely another great race experience and another little boost that will hopefully carry on through Nationals in Buffalo in two weeks. Big thanks to all my SPONSORS!!

August 21, 2011

1st Pro Win

Leading up to the 2nd Annual San Francisco Triathlon at Alcatraz I had been racing and training fairly strong with some solid times and results. After looking over the start list I was pretty confident that if I raced like I did last weekend I was going to secure a top ten finish at this notable race. Securing a victory or even a podium finish never even crossed my mind.
From the start of the race where everyone dove off the ferry next to Alcatraz Island the race played majorly to my benefit. The swim was choppy with a strong head current and even though my entire athletic background is swimming and I was wearing the best wetsuit in triathlon, the Blueseventy Helix, it was still a very challenging swim. In May, when the swim was a tail current, I swam the same 1.5 mile distance in just over 20 minutes - this time my swim split (which was fastest on the day) was 31:06! I think this particular swim took a lot of energy from most of the competitors because our group of 5 (Dustin Mclarty, John Flannagan, John Kenny, and Brian Fleischmann) that had swam all together the majority of the way, had between 2-3 minutes on the next group of elites (Brian Rhodes, John Dhalz, Kyle Leto, Brian Lavelle, Ethan Brown…) and even more of a gap on some of the strongest runners.
This year the race organizers couldn’t get a permit to build a portable stair set out of the harbor, so we had to exit on the opposite side of the St. Francis Yacht Club and run 1,000 meters (freezing and bare-foot) from the swim exit to transition. The run took about 5 minutes and once I got onto the bike I was hoping to ride strong enough throughout the 25 mile, extremely hilly, technically challenging course that I would not get passed by more than 9 people before the run. I ended up riding stronger than I thought and I was only passed by one person; race favorite Brian Fleischmann, who had a little over a minute lead on me off the bike. Even though I had the 11th fastest bike on the day, I am very happy I rode the way I did. I rode my own race, I didn’t go too hard too early and I didn’t destroy myself over the course. I believe because of my fairly conservative ride I was able to get off the bike and run with the freshest legs out of the 22 racing pros.
I had great transitions at this race, the fastest T1 and T2 on the day, so when I started the run I could see Fleischmann on the straight-away right out of transition. At the top of the first hill (which is about 3 miles into the 7 mile run) he only had 30 seconds on me, so I was definitely cutting into his lead and at this point the race victory was a possibility in my mind. The run course is twisty and hilly with a section of soft sand beach running and a giant “sand ladder” (that goes up the side of a cliff back to the road) that most of the pros walk up. It’s seriously BRUTAL, you just think of a happy place for the 2 minutes it takes you to get back to the road.
Just before the sand ladder, Fleischmann made a wrong turn and lost about 20 seconds and a lot of adrenaline, so now he wasn’t just an imaginary target in front of me, I could actually see him right in front of me. When we got down the final stair set and onto the final 2 mile flat section, Fleischmann had 17 seconds on me. I made up those 17 seconds just when we reached the 1 mile to go mark. I ran just behind him for about 100 meters deciding what to do. I was watching how he was running and listening to how he was breathing and decided to attack early and see if I could drop him before the finish instead of waiting for a sprint finish. I went around him and went strong enough so that I could drop him but not so strong I wouldn’t be able to sprint if he was on my feet. I didn’t look back until the final 100 meters and when I looked back I couldn’t even see him. It worked! I looked forward and saw the finish banner (which before this day I had only seen on TV and in my day dreams) and with the fastest run on the day got to jog through the crowd high-fiving people and enjoy my victory.
Thanks so much to Family Cycling Center, SC Skate and Surf Shop, BlueSeventy, Rudy Project, PowerBar, and Run Revolution for all your support. This victory could not have happened without you!