After having done my first WTC/Ironman event this year, this summer I’ve also raced two local races in Virginia: Culpeper International (Olympic) and the Luray Sprint. Both of these races mean a lot to me. Culpeper was my fourth race ever when I started doing tris in 2014 and it is also where I had my first big breakthrough performance, including my first taste of coming first off the bike. I raced Luray for the first time last year and it is one of the few local races that award a prize purse in an open/elite division which attracts a very competitive group of athletes.
During my WTC/Ironman race I felt the allure and began to appreciate why so many people feel so attracted by these events. The moment you step into the expo you can certainly feel a different type of vibe fueled by anxious competitors ready to kill it. I definitely enjoyed that very first experience and will most likely seek out other WTC/Ironman events to compete in the future – I will not shy away from the stiff competition, no way! Yet, to me, nothing replaces the feeling of a warm embrace when you bump into one of your fellow masters swim mates as you rack your bike in transition or just noticed that your cycling buddy from the regular group ride decided to finally try their first triathlon. Somehow the registration table and transition truly becomes a welcoming and friendly community space.
As Irma and I continue to make triathlon a part of our lives and lifestyle, we feel very strongly in our continued support for these local events. First, we fully appreciate the relaxed, family friendly environment. When the shortest race can last over an hour long, it is comforting to know that the race venue is held in a place where kids can play or that the race organizers make it a point to have entertainment for kids and family. Second, for almost every local race, we can get up the morning of and drive up two hours at most to the venue. Even though it requires losing a bit more sleep, it is a more affordable option than having to pay for lodging costs for multiple nights. And last but not least, they are affordable! While the costs in this sport can easily accumulate between equipment and travel, finding races with affordable registration fees is another way to reduce costs.
The summer is always a juggling act when it comes to training and racing as the family schedule and commitments take over as it does for many of us. A big part of the training is just finding creative ways to not lose a lot of fitness and staying mentally fresh. With this mindset and, as personal as the Culpeper race is to me, Coach Greg and I agreed that this race would serve as a “training race” which meant that I would maintain the same training load without much rest. The morning of the race I was feeling very relaxed. When we showed up to the venue we learned that the bike course had been shorted to 16 miles due to a rainstorm the night before. I didn’t give it too much thought to this last minute change but did tell Irma that maybe I should try to swim a little bit harder. As this was a “training race” I also decided not to wear an aero helmet or put myself in a “racing mode” mindset.
As the gun went off, one strong swimmer took the lead. I didn’t hesitate right away to get on his feet and as I noticed that he was taking a wider line off the first buoy I decided to take my own line but also swim a bit harder. As I noticed I was making a bit of separation, I slowed down the pace as I was already thinking about the bike leg. After the tough Eagleman swim, I was happy to come out of the water this time with readiness for the bike. I had done this course two years in a row now and was painfully familiar with the rolling hills. I decided not to care about my power numbers in the bike computer and just go by feel with an emphasis on carrying good speed and finding a good rhythm in the legs cadence. Throughout the bike leg I felt really good and unlike two years ago when I didn’t even know how to dismount properly off the bike, this time I had my best flying dismount coming off an uphill. My first year at Culpeper I came first off the bike and four guys passed me on the run. Last year I came in third off the bike and only one guy passed me. This year, I came in first off the bike again but I really didn’t care or paid attention at who might come down chasing. Knowing how hilly the run is, I just focused on trying to get my legs going and not over do the first half of the 10K run. For the first half of the run I was feeling really good and was able to find a relaxed rhythm to climb up the hills but by the 4th hill climb I started to notice the legs getting heavy. At the second to last turnaround, I could tell the second place guy was highly motivated to chase me as the gap I had on him kept getting closer and closer. I kept trying to find ways to motive myself to dig deep but I couldn’t find that mental fortitude. By the last mile, the chasing runner passed me and I felt a bit deflated that I couldn’t have enough running legs to get me the first overall place. Still, looking at my previous past results I still improved my run split by almost a minute from last year and by several minutes from the 2014 race. In the end, I was very happy with having put a strong performance and testing out the “training race” option.
In contrast to Culpeper, the Luray Sprint was a race I had been targeting as an “A” race. Perhaps a bit premature to my development in the sport but last year I raced in the open/elite wave and I truly enjoyed that experience and the level of competitiveness. This year I wanted to come back for that same thrilling experience and was in the mindset that I could perhaps have another breakthrough performance this season. In the end I was humbled yet again with the level of competition and my higher-than-expected ambitions were put in place.
The swim went really quick and having John Kenny, former US Open Water team member and one of the best elite swimmers in the pro-field meant that I had a big incentive to try to stay as close to him as I could. For the first half of the swim I was able to be near John’s feet but as he made the turn for the last buoy he took off and I decided not to burn all of my matches in the swim. At that very point the guy swimming right behind me passed and I did wonder whether I should’ve tried to stay with John for those extra 20-30 seconds.
Onto the bike I had probably one of my worst mounting moments. I nearly missed the saddle when I jumped on the bike and couldn’t get my feet on the shoes and almost went into the side of the road. Looking back I feel like I tried very hard to have the urgency of the transition but this urgency doesn’t help me to nail the details. It also reminded me to practice the transitions a bit more for the shorter races. Having successfully gotten my shoes strapped I was still in third place and had a good look at the first two guys ahead of me. Having experience the bike leg and how hard these guys rode last year I knew that at some point I would be passed on the bike. For the last few weeks I had been mentally preparing to respond to the passing attack and when the first guy came I actually did do a decent job staying at a legal position and not letting him go too far ahead. But when the second guy and eventual winner passed me I hesitated for a moment. I was able to stay again very close to him but at some point he made a strong move and pulled away. For the second year in a row I’ve now witnessed how different this type of racing can get. Failing to commit to covering a surge can leave you back in the dust and in “no man’s land.” For the last 10 minutes I pretty much felt flat and couldn’t find the next higher gear I can usually tap into during my training rides and that left me a bit frustrated.
Unlike any of my previous races, I decided not to wear a GPS watch for the run. For this race I wanted to test if by going purely on feel and focusing on form I could put out a better running effort. It turned that I had just about the same effort I did last year. Three more guys passed me on the run this year and every time each one passed me I could feel my confidence withering. Towards the end I just wanted the race to finish. I finished tired but more so mentally flattened. I really wanted that race to be “the” race of the season. When I went to see Irma, Isa and my mom who was in town for the race, I could tell that they felt really happy and proud of my effort. While I wasn’t able to put the performance I wanted there and then, I did take a moment to be grateful to have the opportunity of having them support me and be crazy enough to get up at 4am (or 3am if you ask Irma!) and want to be there for me. I am definitely very lucky to have such a supporting family.
Interestingly, one of the “objective” yardsticks Coach Greg and I use every now and then to measure my progress is USA Triathlon’s Race Score. This year’s Luray score was two points higher than last year which denotes both a faster race this year in the overall field but also a better performance for myself. Therefore, even though in my mind I didn’t have the race I wanted to have, I ultimately did have a better race and performance than last year which again reminds me of the importance of properly framing races and goals in a healthy mindset. With these lessons learned, my two last races of the season are coming up next month and I am very happy to be feeling full of energy and good vibes.