February 26, 2013

2013 Update and First Race: Brazil Fast Triathlon

At the end of last year I was offered an incredible opportunity to train with world renowned Triathlon Coach Joel Filliol and be part of his exclusive 5 man ITU Super-Squad. Without question, choosing to leave my life in Santa Cruz to train with Canadian National Champion Kyle Jones, USA National Champion Jarrod Shoemaker, 2009 Junior World Champ Mario Mola (from Spain), and South African National Champion Richard Murray, under Joel’s guidance, is the best career opportunity I could have ever gotten! This change came at the perfect time too, as Bevan Docherty and Paul Matthews (my previous training buddies in SC) are both focused on the 70.3 and Iron distances now. Being part of an ITU squad is essential to prepare me to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, and being part of the greatest ITU squad in the world is not only an amazing honor, it’s lighting the path for my triathlon future!

I got to see the benefits of this fairy tale unfold at my first race of the season - the Fast Triathlon in Brazil. The Fast Triathlon is a special event where Brazil invites only three athletes from five different countries (this year it was France, Argentina, Columbia, South Africa, and USA; team USA was Kevin Collington, Chris Foster, and I) to compete in three rounds of a super-sprint triathlon (250m swim – 4k bike – 1k run) with about 15 min rest in-between rounds. Each athlete gets points for their finish position in each round and at the end of all three rounds the points are added up and whichever country has the most points is the winner.

The Race:
When  Chris, Kevin, and I got to the race site in the morning I couldn’t believe my eyes – massive waves at the beach! The days leading up to the race the ocean had been absolutely flat, so when I saw consistent head-high barreling (very surfable) sets coming through I almost put a party hat on and started blowing a kazoo. Not only is this an advantage for me as I have background in Lifeguard competitions, and surfing, but with the big waves it means they had to put the buoys out further which makes the swim longer. There could not have been a more perfect race set up for me!

Round 1:
Before the race start Chris noticed that there was a large sand bar about 50m to the right of the start that would allow us to run out faster and use the currents to our advantage. So when the horn went off that’s exactly what we did. We ran really far up the beach instead of straight out and it worked perfectly. I swam pretty hard and had a major gap already by the first buoy, and as I rounded the last buoy I saw lines of a big set coming in. I had been studying the waves in the morning so I knew that to catch a wave I would have to be in perfect position, so I was swimming a lot of backstroke and watching how the waves were rolling in. After quite a few back strokes and reading the waves I ended up stopping in the water for a bit, then sprinting almost 20m parallel to the beach to get in position. Luckily I got to the shoulder of the wave (instead of trying to catch the gnarly, pitching, face of the wave) just in time and was able to body-surf the wave all the way back to shore. When I came out of the water I was about 100m away from the swim exit gantry, but I looked out and saw I had almost a minute on the rest of the competition so the little extra run was definitely worth it. I started hammering immediately when I got on my bike to start the first of six laps, but because of the gap out of the water, I ended up starting my second lap of the bike when the 2nd and 3rd place athletes were just getting started. I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen because according to the rules lapped athletes are supposed to be pulled from the course, but since I had already lapped the entire field that would mean I would be the only person racing and that would ruin “the show” (the race is broadcast live on the biggest TV station in Brazil). Luckily everyone kept riding, but none of the other athletes knew I had already done a lap. I ended up riding through almost the entire field again by the end (lapping a few athletes multiple times, including a couple Olympians) and so when I took my shoes off to hit T2 a French Athlete and the 2012 Junior World Champ from South Africa both just followed me in. When I saw this happening I yelled to them “you guys skipped a lap” but they didn’t stop running. Even with the confusion and a couple fellas missing a lap on the bike, I was still able to cross the line first. When everyone had finished, and after about 15 minutes of discussion, the officials decided to DQ everyone except for me, and told us that the 2nd round they were going to enforce the “Lapped athletes get pulled from the course” rule.

Round 2:
Before the start of the second round, the race director and TV Producer took me aside and told me “please go slower so that athletes don’t get lapped and to help maintain a better race to watch”. So the second round I just swam straight towards shore instead of trying to catch a wave all the way in. I decided if I caught a wave, good, but I won’t go out of my way to do so. Luckily there was a Brazilian who was able to swim with me and we exited the water fairly close together which made the crowd go wild. About five athletes ended up getting lapped on the bike in this round, but no laps were skipped! After a solid ride and a fast run off the bike I was able to grab the victory for the second time.

Round 3:
Again I was instructed to swim/ride slower, and when I got out of the water there was a Brazilian and an Argentinian with me. Only two people got lapped this time and I came into T2 with the Argentinian. When I went to put my bike in the rack, my team-mates helmet was blocking the wheel hole (Turns out poor Kevin got crashed out by another athlete and was in the medical tent getting his sprained wrist taped and that’s why his helmet was on the ground and not his head). I struggled to get my bike into the rack and ended up losing about 6 seconds and had to run pretty hard to catch the Argentinian, but I was able to catch and pass him and cross the line first for the third time in three rounds.

Even though Kevin got crashed out, Chris was able to score enough points to get team USA to the victory over Brazil and South Africa. This was the first time in 8 years that a country other than Brazil has won. This was also the first time since 2005 that an American has won all three rounds (the previous American to do so was Olympian Andy Potts).  After the race the director and producer were incredibly thankful for what I did in keeping the race exciting.

This was definitely one of the strangest race experiences I’ve ever had, but it felt great to start the season off with a win and to see that my fitness has improved exponentially over the last few months. 


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