My fever is gone and I’m feeling much better today. Whatever illness I had was nothing 19 hours in bed couldn’t fix!
The Seoul Asia Cup had a strong field. I normally don’t look at starts lists, and frankly don’t care, but since I was rooming with the slightly OCD Chris Tremonte, I had no choice but to hear detailed descriptions of the race’s favorites, Simon Thompson of Australia, and Dimitry Gaag of Kazakhstan, and several others that were on Chris’s radar. I found it humorous that while I prepared for the race by learning Korean phrases and reading about the culture, most of the other athletes (who claim not to have any free time) had looked at the start list in depth and somehow found time to analyze the field.
The swim was two laps, with a pontoon start. This was my first pontoon start, which was exciting. When the horn went off I watched everyone dive in. I don’t know if it was fear of diving that close to people, or if I was just caught off guard by the starting horn, but when I hit the water I was already at the feet of the men next to me. I dolphin kicked about 10 times and came up ahead of the field, then continued to sprint for a lead. The field was 50 men wide and the first turn was about 300 meters away. The pace was incredibly fast, but soon three Vs immerged. I was leading a pack near the center, with another group forming on my left and the largest on the right.
Here’s the really strange part of the swim: there were lane lines connecting the turn buoys. No citing needed. As such, the three packs quite suddenly rammed into each other as the group to the left merged into my group, which was already merging into the group on the right. Since there was no place for people on the lane line to go, the swim turned to chaos as athletes were shoved into the yellow rope.
After the first turn I was on the feat f the leaders, and in 3rd or 4th position. Then I hit the lane line, which ripped off my cap. I’m glad my hair is not that long because I was able to keep going, and barely lost ground. A small gap started to open in front of me and as we rounded the second turn I had to kick hard to get away from the aggressive tapping of the swimmers behind me. I was just about able to close the gap when I hit the lane line again, this time losing my goggle straps. I flipped onto my back and was able to get my goggles back on, but was now in the middle of a large group of swimmers and not with the leaders. Pressed against the lane line it was impossible to find open water, so I sat on the feet of the swimmers in front of me and just hoped they would catch back on to the leaders. The pace for the first lap was extreme, and when we ran across the pontoon and dove back in for a second lap there was a significant lap between the four or five people surrounding me and the leaders. I was swimming agressively, and fighting for space, so as not to be shoved into the lane line again. Unfortunately, two of the guys near me were people I know, Steve Sexton (from Berkeley) and Andrew Curtayne (runner up at AG World last year), so I got an earful after the race about slapping hands and otherwise being an ass.
Despite how horrible I felt the swim had gone, I exited the water and had my all-time-best T1, which put me into the lead bike pack. I was in such disbelief that it actually took me a lap to realize there was nobody in front of us. I sat in and did very little work on the bike. The corners were plentiful, but none were particularly difficult. I was able to sit in the middle of the pack without needing to sprint too much out of turns to stay on a wheel. I was in a pack with Thompson and Gaag, and thanks to Tremonte’s ramblings I figured they were strong runners. There was a small attempt at a breakaway on the second lap, but it failed. The rest of the six laps were pretty uneventful.
Into T2, I managed one of my slower transitions. I came in toward the back of the pack, and was already on my own when I left transition. A little weary of the humidity, I ran conservatively and tried to enjoy myself. I figured I would rather finish with something left and build confidence than to find myself in the hospital again.
After the first lap I began building my pace, as I saw Sexton a few positions behind me. At the end of the third lap Steve was biting my heals as we lapped Chris Tremonte and started the final 2.5 km lap. I didn’t look back, and began to run faster. I felt great, and was cheering for the other Americans all the way up until the final sprint. I came in at 13th place, and the top American. Sexton was just behind me, but the gap had increased of the final lap to 22 seconds. Thompson took first followed by Gaag. This is my top finish at an ITU race, and definitely a confidence builder that I was able to race well in humidity. I know I will have better runs in the future and I’m looking forward to really testing my limits again.
After the race I went to cool down in the river, and while I was standing with the other American athletes on the pontoon a man approached us and asked if we would be willing to swim with the Mayor of Seoul. We agreed. I saw an opportunity to use one of the Korean phrases I had learned for the trip and I asked the mayor (I’m sure I mispronounced it) what his name was. "My name? I am O-se-hoon. I am related to your future president, see our names both start with ‘O’! – O-ba-ma, O-se-hoon!" I thought this was humorous, but the smile on the mayor’s face made it quite obvious that there was something about this joke that was missing in the translation.