May 29, 2012

ITU Madrid: Debut WTS

After the Olympic trials race at WTS San Diego, lots of things changed for the US Men. What this means for me (in a nutshell) is that a spot opened up for WTS Madrid. Since I have been living and training in France, USAT gave me the opportunity to have the available slot. Even though the WTS level of racing is much higher than the level I am currently at, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to see how I stack up against the best in the world.

Since I was a substitute, I was number 66 which was the 2nd to last number on the start line (at ITU races you get to choose your starting position based on your number). Being one of the last guys I didn’t get to choose where I went and got stuck right in the middle of the field. Luckily the two men I was in between were not that great in the water and I was able to be free and clear all the way until the first buoy.  When the field came together at the first buoy I was slammed right in the middle of the top 10 and was bracing myself for getting crushed around the buoy. To my surprise I barely even touched another person. We all went around the buoy in a very formal fashion! I couldn’t believe it! After that first buoy it started to string out a bit and I made sure to have good positioning leading into the lap two. On the second lap I was being very cautious about how hard I was swimming and where I was positioning myself. I found myself right next to Johnny Brownlee after the second turn buoy and decided I’d be safe there and just swam right next to him the rest of the swim.

I exited the water in 5th and had a solid transition and was in 2nd by the time I got my feet in my shoes. The bike course is uphill for the first 2.5k with a steep 800m climb right out of transition, then downhill the second 2.5k and you do this loop eight times. I couldn’t believe how fast the pace was the first time up the hill! Somehow I managed to stay with the lead group and was able to ride the entire first lap with the breakaway of 10 men. On the second time up the hill I positioned myself at the front of the group leading into the climb so that by the time I got to the top I could afford to drop back nine places and still be on the back of the pack. But at the halfway point of the steep section the pace was too high for me. I did everything in my power to stay with the group but could not hold on. My body was numb from head to toe as I was out of the saddle trying desperately to get on the last persons wheel. After that effort I was completely shot. My body was useless. I was giving everything to stay with any chase group that came by, but after exhausting ALL my energy I kept getting popped off the back of each group. I was not able to recover, it was just effort after effort after effort then finally, after getting dropped off 3 chase groups, the large final chase group of about 20 men came through and I was able to jump on that train. Once I had about a minute to catch my breath, drink some fluid, and get in a rhythm with that group I was fine. The last 4 laps of the bike ride were extremely easy. That chase group ended up catching the first chase group by lap 8 and I was able to enter T2 with the entire field (except for the breakaway of 9 who had a 2:00 gap by this time).

My claim to fame at this race is that I had the fastest T2 of the day! But that was definitely it. I ran solid and came back at the end and passed quite a few people but ended up finishing 42nd. Not only was this my debut WTS race, it is one of the hardest courses in the series, and was the final Olympic qualification race. So after that combination I can’t be too bummed about the race.

If I hadn’t tried to stay with the lead group on the bike and just been satisfied sitting in with any of the chase groups I probably could have run about 2 min faster, but as Jono Hall would say “that’s not putting your head in the lions mouth”. Every race I do for the next couple years is to learn and to develop myself. I played my cards by trying to stay with that group and am now a stronger, more confident athlete because of that risk. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change the way I raced. I dove into the unknown not knowing what to expect, and now having raced at the highest level with the best guys in the world, I am definitely more privy to where I need to be and what I’m going to have to do to be competitive at that level.

May 22, 2012

Dunkurque French Grand Prix

I finally got to experience my first true French Grand Prix! The weather was really cold and windy but thankfully not hectic enough to cancel the race. I came into the race expecting it to be crazy fast, but it was even faster and technical than what I imagined! During the race I was thinking “I’m gonna die!!!” But then was able to smile and have fun when the realization hit me that this is the EXACT reason why I’m here.

The swim was a fast 750m “point to point” layout. We had a 180 degree turn buoy about 100 meters from the start which made position and early speed essential. The plan was for me and my team mate Raoul Shaw, who swims an amazing 14:52 pool 1500m (for speed reference my best 1500m pool time is 15:49), to swim extremely hard and try to get away on the bike. In the women’s event a girl soloed out of the water to a minute lead into T2, so after watching that we decided to try that approach on the very technical five lap bike course. Even though we line up according to team ranking, and we had excellent positioning, I still got ruined around the buoy. I was top 10 at the first buoy but was about 15th-20th after the buoy. Once we hit the long straight away heading to the swim exit I took a few sighting strokes and noticed Raoul was already about 25m off the front of everyone! There was one other athlete in between the large main group and Raoul and once I was able to compose myself and see where everyone was it was go time. I attacked our swim pack like it was a cycling race, I went about 10m to the left and made a strong 200m surge to make sure I wasn’t going to drag the rest of the field up to the lead swimmers. To my surprise it worked and I was able to bridge up to the 2nd athlete by the last buoy and then exit the water in 2nd and about 15 seconds behind Raoul and 10 seconds ahead of the main field.

I had a very good transition and was onto the chase of getting up to Raoul so that we could work together. Luckily the athlete I bridged up to in the swim was an extremely strong cyclist and after I slowed a bit for him we were able to work together and got up to Raoul about ¾ of the way through the first lap. After the first lap we had 15 seconds on a chase pack of about 30 men which contained the majority of the heavy hitters. After the 2nd lap we only had 10 seconds, but we were still holding to our plan hoping the chase pack would let us go, but they wouldn’t have it and by lap 3 we were one lead group. It was a good thing we were going hairy hard for the first few laps though, because the lead group which used to be 30 men was now down to about 15. The extremely fast chase caused half of pack to get popped off the back and gave us better positioning going into T2.

Since our pack wasn’t gigantic and everyone knew what they were doing we had a very smooth entrance to transition (I was expecting it to be like a Mexican continental cup where there are no rules and everyone is going nuts to get into T2 without following unspoken safety protocol). I racked my bike and got my shoes on fine, but my hands were so cold I couldn’t undo my helmet. It took me quite a while to finally get it undone and I was finally off having lost about 4-5 unnecessary seconds.
The run was a two lap, flat but pretty technical 5.3k run. I went out really fast and bridged up to some fast runners and was in 7th after lap one, but after the first lap I realized if I kept running with these guys I wouldn’t be able to recover or walk for about a week. I decided to back off slightly and just lock into a solid pace for the second lap to make sure I was going to be able to train properly for Mardid WTS the next weekend. I ended up getting passed by quite a few more guys from our pack and from the chase pack and finished in 13th.

It was an awesome experience and I know after a few more of these races I will be ready to handle most ITU races no problem. Project development is ago!

May 9, 2012

Andora, Italy Sprint Tri

After Sables d’olonne we had another long day of travel and I ended up not getting any training in. What this meant was that I had from Tuesday-Saturday to get as “in shape” as I could for the Andora Sprint Triathlon in Italy. I was very nervous about racing for a few reasons, but mainly because I got hammered on the Tuesday training session. Leading up to this week I had only gotten 23 hours of training in over the last 16 days – normally that’s how much quality training I get in 6 days. So here I was with no food, no car, no internet, no phone, and worst of all no fitness… Great.

Luckily on Wednesday a team mate took me shopping and I got caught up on sleep, unpacked, and got to breathe a bit. Each day I could feel my fitness coming back and I was getting more and more excited about racing. After 5 hard sessions and 18 hours of training I was feeling much stronger physically and more confident mentally on our 2 hour drive from St Raphael, France to Andora, Italy.
The Race: (There are so many details I wish I could share, but that would make this post extremely long. So here are the basics of what happened)

The start was a very chilly 11-12c degree ocean swim with strong currents and hectic wind chop the entire way. I got to debut my new 2012 BlueSeventy Helix which kept me warm and comfortable and helped me to exit the water first. The rough conditions broke things up a bit and I was able to get out on the bike with one other team mate and a random Italian guy who was just sitting in. Around one of the corners I threw in a big effort and my team mate and I were able to drop him. We put our heads down and drilled it for about 5k and I finally looked back and there was another team mate bridging up. I slowed the pace a bit and he caught on at around 7k and the three of us went to town and worked together extremely well in the very windy conditions and after 20k ended up putting 1:30 on the rest of the field. About 1k from T2 there is a very sharp downhill 180 degree turn that goes through this extremely small bike tunnel (about the size of a doorway that goes under a road) and I was in 3rd position going into this turn and due to where I positioned myself I wasn’t able to make it into the tunnel and ended up running straight into the wall. I didn’t crash hard, but I did go down and ended up losing the other two guys and about 15-20 seconds. Luckily I was only 1k from T2 so I just soloed it in and transitioned as quickly as possible. The run was a 2 lap flat course where you could see where the other runners were very easily, so when I started the run I had both of the leaders in sight. I slowly built my effort until I had passed the 2nd place guy, and was running right next to the leader at about 2.5k. We then ran together the rest of the race and once we got to the finishing chute I knew position was very important so I surged just a bit to make sure I had the lead heading around the 90 degree turn into the final 50m sprint for the line. Luckily it worked and I was able to out sprint my team mate Karl Shaw for the win. Our breakaway buddy held on for 3rd place too which made it an awesome day for St. Raphael Triathlon Club.

Sables D’olonne: First French Grand Prix

After just one day in St Raphael I was all packed up and ready to go at 2am for Sables d’olonne, our first Grand Prix race of the season. We took the team van to the airport and had a nice little flight from the south up to the north. Sadly when we got there it was raining, windy, and cold – weather I definitely didn’t pack for. Once we got there we picked up three rental cars, met a few other people who are on our team (representing Russia, Italy, and UK) at a train station, and drove the hour from the airport/train station to Sables d’olonne.

This Grand Prix had two parts:
1) At 5pm (the same day we were traveling) we had a super sprint team time trial.
2) The next day we had the actual Grand Prix (just a regular 750m-20k-5k sprint tri)
The team TT was awesome, and wasn’t like anything I have ever raced before. It was a 400m swim, 10k bike, and a 3k run which you had to complete with your five person team. At the start they send each team off in one minute intervals so there is no fighting in the swim or working together on the bike with other teams. At each transition, you couldn’t start the next discipline until you had your entire team present, so after the swim and bike the race official stops you at the line until the entire team is there then they let you go. At the end of the race your team’s time is the first three people across the line, but the first and third runners from the team have to be within 10m of each other at the finish - which makes for very interesting tactics. Out on the run the faster runners will actually push the slower runners along to make the overall time faster. As it turned out my team mate, Dmitry Polyansky (who is currently ranked 2nd in the world), ended up giving me shoves the entire 2nd lap which was kinda embarrassing, but at the same time totally awesome! Our team had a good swim, an average bike, and a solid run to finish in 4th place (we missed the podium by less than 2 seconds) out of 14 teams.

The next day we woke up to pouring rain and howling winds that were easily over 100k an hour. The ocean was a washing machine and even with my surfing/beachgoing/lifeguarding experience and swimming background I would not have even come close to going in the water for any reason! After changing the location, canceling the bike, talking to all the coaches and managers, the race directors wisely decided to cancel the race. I was bummed I didn’t get to experience my first true Grand Prix, but at the same time I’m sure 75% of the field would have died if they had tried to race.


It’s taken me a little while, but I am now fully settled in my new home in Saint-Raphael, France! Between traveling, training, racing, eating, jet lag, and no internet or phone, it has been hard for me to keep up with anything let alone blog posts. Things have finally mellowed out a bit, plus I have a recovery day and full stomach, so get your reading glasses out stat!

I’ve never been much of a traveler, in fact, I hate traveling. I never get excited about going new places, seeing new things, or being in new environments. For some people it is a life-long dream to be able to see the world, but for me, I’m just here for the competitions and developing myself as a professional triathlete. I have taken a few pictures though, so hopefully with the next couple blogs and photos you can live vicariously through me and enjoy this experience as well.

So after my Mazatlan (Mexico) race, I came home to Santa Cruz for two days to get a little bit of training in and finish getting ready for my 10 week European adventure. Surprisingly I got everything handled that needed to be taken care of and before I knew it I was on my way. After a long 10hr flight from San Francisco to London (sitting next to an annoying drunk dude) I had to run (with my express pass in hand) through the terminal to get to my gate on time. Not only did I have an extremely short layover, our SFO flight was delayed. Long story short I was literally three minutes late to the gate and missed my flight and had to wait in line for an hour to get another flight which wasn’t for another two hours and that flight also got delayed over an hour. I had to use the “pay per minute” internet at the airport to be able to email the guy who was picking me up in Nice and corrected my arrival time from 6 pm to 10pm. We ended up getting back to my house at about 1130pm, and in France, everything closes at about 8pm. At this point, I have been traveling for about 18hrs, I’m starving and have no food, I have no internet or phone (or charger to charge my ipod or computer), I don’t speak any French, and I’m all by myself. I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t even unpack, I just climbed in bed (which didn’t have any sheets or pillow cases or anything) and went to sleep.

The next day I woke up extremely early and was wide awake because jet lag is a female dog. I unpacked everything except my bike (because we were leaving at 3am the very next day to fly to a race), went for a run, and then waited until 8am when the little market next to where I live opened. At 8 I bought some food and got ready to hitch a ride to the pool (which is about 7-8k away) with some non-English speaking people I was told to meet. That was interesting and a pretty funny experience, but we made it to the pool and luckily there are a couple brothers, Karl and Raoul Shaw, on the Grand Prix team who are completely bi-lingual (French/English) which made things much better. We had a nice easy 3k swim (because we were racing the next day in Sables d’olonne) and right after the swim when I got home I ate the rest of my food, packed for the race, and got in bed with an alarm set for 2am (Sables d’olonne race report).

Everyone at St. Raphael Tri club has been awesome and helped me out a lot. There have been quite a few misunderstandings already, but the pros outweigh the cons and after a week I am getting in the rhythm of things.

Not a very exciting post, but an update as to where I am at as of now. Stay tuned for race reports.