Sunday was surreal. I’m hoping I can portray how the emotions felt, but I’m not sure I’m enough of a poet. I’m also a little tired today after a bit of a celebration last night that included lots of dancing to an American cover band in an Irish pub in the red light district of Hamburg with some of the greatest USA teammates I could have asked for. (It also involved being locked inside the stairwell of a hotel for over an hour, but that part of the story doesn’t add to the positive theme I’m trying to create.)
6:35am I arrive in transition. The Colorado boys (Mike, Dave, Matt and Evan) are already there joking around, which helped to keep me relaxed.
7:40am The announcer sends off the 16-19 year old wave and lets my wave into the water for warm up. I swim out and back a couple of times, and I feel fine. Relaxed, ready. How I feel isn’t really even a factor at this point, however, because I had decided weeks ago that I was going to have the race of my life no matter how I felt on race morning.
7:49 – We’re hanging onto the start rope. 107 men ready to pound each other competing for an open bit of water. I was on the far right of the field hoping ot escape from the starting turmoil.
The timer goes off. For once I have an early lead over the people around me. Somebody grabs my heal (accident I”m sure) and I kick somebody’s face (also an accident). Soon the feild has spread out even wider than the start. I”m leading a small group on the right, and to my left is a larger group of about eight or nine.
The swim course started on a 70m wide pontoon, then went out into the lake without any markers to guide us. We were then funneled through small 15m wide archways under two bridges. By the time we came together for the bridge I had left my pack and joined the now five other swimmers in the next group up. Soon five had shrunk to two, and the second guy was starting to fade. I knew I could hold the pace on my own, but I wasn’t sure if I would be going any faster in the lead so I hopped on the leader’s feet and the two of us left everyone else behind.
After the bridges there were two buoys to swim around, then we went back under the bridges, then the course would spread out again before funneling into a final bridge.
I have to admit, I have a bit of an ego with the swim. I had the swim prime in Lausanne last year, and I wanted to repeat that. The only difference is that last year I was a minute ahead of the pack, so when I was in a six man pack at half way I had to make the choice to give up on the swim prime in favor of racing smart.
I stayed on the the leaders feet until we were in the middle of the open stretch, at which point I realized he was fading quickly. The third guy had fallen off but it looked like he was gaining again. I took the lead, and held it. I suppose racing smart was the right choice because I ended up with the swim prime for the day anyway.
I ran through transition. Exiting the water there were stairs, so as I ran toward my bike I was sure my heart rate was at it’s max, and holding. I told myself that there was very little chance of my hear actually exploding out of my chest, and it seemed to help. Not that my heart rate went down, but once I stopped worrying about blood coming out of my ears I felt better.
I hopped on my bike and went to slide my feet into the shoes.
That’s when I realized the velcro was closed on my shoes.. I’m an idiot. Luckily the beginning of the 40k bike course was downhill, so I was able to open my shoes and get them on while coasting.
I felt like I was going fast without burning myself up. It’s hard to explain. I knew I didn’t need to push harder, because my effort was there, but my legs didn’t have the burn that I’m used to. The ride just felt smooth.
At the end of the first lap a 30 year old heading onto the course came by me really fast. It was just the white rabbit I needed. I did my best to follow him. Pass him within 15 seconds, drop back within 15, all the non-drafting rules we have drilled into our heads, but in the final 10k after seeing a pack behind us of about 20 riders (fully drafting), I looked behind me to see that I had an additional 6 pulling a draft off my wheel. WTF?
I finished the bike in 58 minutes, which was the second fastest split of the day. Needless to say, I was still in the lead.
I had about a minute on the next man in my wave. I didn’t know that of course until the 5k turnaround. I had been passing Juniors and AWAD (Athletes With A Disability) athletes all morning, but pretty close behind me was a Kiwi who looked like he was charging.
So was I. My plan for the run was to go fast the first half and race the second. Somehow, just like the bike, I was able to push like I normally do without the pain and fatigue. I just felt good, so at the turnaround I turned it up a notch. I starting imagining people in front of me, and picturing the finish shoot.
With 1k left I kicked in the afterburners. Sprinting by USAT’s Tim Yount and Jeff Dyrek I heard them telling me not to back off. “This is for Overall! Every second counts!”
Fumbling to get my partially ripped number right side up in my final strides I cruised across in a final time of 1:57:16. It was an age group win, but it would be two hours before the rest of the age groups would finish, so I had to wait to know my overall place. The kiwi’s was 69 seconds back, and as it turned out, we were the top two athletes of the day.
OK, so it was an ideal race. The coolest things about it were the team spirit from the other USA athletes, and the fact taht for once I felt completely prepared for a race. I knew that I had put in the work, so all I had to do was race. It’s nice when that works out, right?
6pm – USAT put on a ceremony for the USA athletes. They recognized each of the athletes, and it was pretty amazing to hear how many athletes made a podium. Jesse Thomas, who was 2nd at USA Nationals, had a less than perfect race, but still manged 6th overall. Chuck Sloan, 3rd at Nationals, also felt a bit off, and was 14th overall (4th in 30-34). We also had about 20 podium finished in the AWAD divisions (You have to be impressed when you ride by somebody pedaling with their arms and keeping up with athletes on bikes.)
8pm – I forgot my ticket to the awards ceremony. They weren’t going to let me in, so I just stood there and staired at the guards (I was really just confused what to do) until a mob of angry American athletes persuaded them to let me in. Of course, once they did let me in, I got about 6 people to come with. Classic.
I guess my overwhelming emotion in relief. I knew I was capable of winning the race. I knew I had done everything I needed to do to be prepared. Putting it together doesn’t always happen though, so when it did… wow. There’s no real word for it. You work hard for something, you get it.
Then I watched the pros race, and realized that in twelve hours that would be me. Not that I was going to be a pro racing in the World Championships, but as of September 3rd my elite license is now effective. No more age group races, no more amateur world titles. (I’m not even ranked in USAT’s annual rankings for this year). It’s like\ graduating from high school and realizing you’re about to be a freshman again.