August 28, 2013

ITU Karlovy Vary

Because I’ve had a below average season so far, I decided to skip out on WTS Stockholm and race ITU Karlovy Vary, CZE (a lower level European cup) to get my feet back under me and gain some confidence leading into the long end of my season. I was able to travel with one of my squad mates, Vendula Frintova, who is from the Czech Republic which made for a much better trip. Despite the positives leading up to the race, I ended up coming home with another notch in my negative experience belt.

On Friday when we got to Karlovy Vary I ended up getting a sore throat and my sinuses were all clogged up. I didn’t think too much of it and went on with my normal pre-race preparations. On Saturday I ended up sleeping almost the entire day and was questioning if I was going to even race the next day. As the day went on I was feeling slightly better so I figured I would make the call the next day. On Sunday I woke up and was still pretty sick, but the same progression that happened on Saturday repeated itself and luckily my race wasn’t until 3pm so I felt better and better leading up to the race start.

When we lined up on the pontoon the rain started to fall, and at this point the water was well below non-wetsuit temperature but the call had been made and we were doing a non-wetsuit swim. To add to the cold water temperature, the air decided to cool off to a nice 12c/53f degrees with the wind picking up quite nicely – Not the most ideal race conditions.

The race course is really unique and challenging when the weather is perfect, so with the worst conditions possible (besides snow) this race was going to be extremely tough. The course has a three lap swim, then a 5k cycle from the lake to the town center; Once you get into town, you do seven very technical and hilly (21% hill at one point) bike laps. When you come into T2 you have to run down stairs with your bike and then on the run there are also more stairs, hills, and cobbles you have to navigate. 

From the dive I felt pretty beat, and I couldn’t really get going because of how cold it was, but I still had a solid swim and a gap of about 15 seconds out of the water. Once onto the bike I rode strong but comfortable. My goal was to ride solo all the way to the town center and hopefully the chasing athletes would shed some slower riders and by the time they bridged up to me we would have a strong group to work with. I was taking every turn extremely cautious because even though the rain was falling, it wasn’t pouring, it was just enough to get all the oil on the streets to come up to tire level. I made it to the town center and then about 75% through the first lap of the course before a chase group of about six caught me. Once they did I was like “Alright let’s go”. An Australian pulled through, then a German, then no one, so I filled the gap and went back to the front. At this point we were going down a nice steep decent with a 180 turn at the bottom. As the speed picked up I knew I was going to have to start braking much earlier than normal and so I yelled to the group “watch!” and gave them the slowdown signal with my hand. Right after that I started to brake and nothing was happening. 

There was a combination of things that were making this situation worse and worse. The first was that it was so cold I couldn’t feel my hands (I wasn’t even able to even shift into my big ring on the descent), and the second was that with all the rain my brake pads weren’t gripping on my race wheels at all. So coming into the turn I was squeezing my brakes as hard as I could but not slowing down. I tried to make the turn but it was going to be impossible. I hit the ground hard and slid into the barrier. I tried to stand up and get back on my bike but I couldn’t stand up because of my hip was pretty destroyed. Day over. Luckily I didn’t break anything or crash anyone else out, but quite a few other people crashed as well and came away with some broken bones. The day was chaos. Only 39 men out of the 75 on the start list finished the race. Guys were crashing on every corner (even a couple guys crashed on the corner that is only 500m out of transition, and guys were falling on the run course as well!).

Being sick and crashing is a pretty negative experience, but the positive I will try to take from this race is that it will make most other races much easier mentally and physically.

August 18, 2013

ITU Tiszy World Cup

The Tiszuavaros World Cup in Hungary is a slightly different format from normal ITU triathlons. It’s a two day event where you race a Semi-Final sprint distance (750m Swim-20k Bike-5k Run) race on Saturday, and if you qualify, you race the final (another sprint distance race) on Sunday. Not only do you have to come in top seven out of a 25 man heat to qualify for finals, you have to race as efficient as possible to be able to perform well two days in a row.

Out of the four heats, I got a very lucky heat draw that was full of a solid amount of strong swimmers. This was perfect because it was our chance to swim hard and get a breakaway on the bike. The benefit of this is that if we swam and rode really hard, the gap we could get to the chase group would allow us to cruise on the run, thus giving us the opportunity to qualify for finals and not have to waste too much energy. 

Things could not have gone more perfectly. A group of six of us had a small gap of eight seconds out of the water, and everyone worked super hard on the bike without missing a turn and we turned that gap into 1:30 entering T2. We all ran somewhat hard for the first K and once our group was established on the run we all ran together making jokes with each other until the finish. The best part about the entire group qualifying for the final meant that we would all have the opportunity to repeat the same tactic on Finals day.

The next day I was actually pretty tired. Even though we got to cruise the semi’s run, we still rode really hard and that took its toll on my legs. The final wasn’t until 5pm so I had the entire day to rest and get psyched up. Even though I went through all my normal preparations I still hit the start line felling pretty sluggish, but once the race started, it was business as usual.

Since this was the more important race of the weekend, I was ready to drill the swim and get a bigger gap out of the water to make sure we could get a group away again. After lap two of the three lap swim I took a peek back and saw I had a few meter gap to the 2nd swimmer. This wasn’t a good thing because I wanted to be able to drag the front pack with me out of the water, but with no one in my draft, if I swam faster it wouldn’t benefit anyone. I ended up cruising the last lap but still ended up out on the bike with a small gap to a chase group of eight others. I rode pretty hard for the first lap because I wanted them to have to ride hard to catch me and make sure we maintained a gap to the chasers. The group caught me towards the end of the first lap (there were eight laps of 2.5K), and when they did catch me I was happy to see they were all committed and ready to ride. We had a 30 second gap to the chase group that had all the super star runners, and we kept that gap for the first six laps. After that we kept pushing the pace and the chase group backed off a bit and allowed us to get a 50 second gap on them leading into T2.

This is where my race fell apart. I destroyed myself to be at the front into transition, but it all came crashing down when I put my bike in the rack and the rack wouldn’t hold my bike up. My bike ended up falling over three times (and I ended up just leaving it on the ground, and luckily didn't get a penalty) while I was trying to put my shoes on and I ended up losing between 8-10 seconds in transition. 

I was the last one out of T2 and had no one to run with. I tried to pace myself well, but I was in a very frustrated mindset. I ended up running alright, but I got passed by about seven people from the chase group and finished 16th. I would have liked a top 10, and honestly if I hadn’t gotten choked up in T2 I could have gotten one. 

Even though this race wasn’t a 100% success, it was still a great learning experience. It was also a good indication that my body has recovered from everything and I’m back on track to have a solid end of the season.