Last Saturday was the OKC Pan-Am Championships. The US has not hosted this race in several years, so it was no surprise to see all the USA Triathlon representatives bubbling with excitement before the race. Itâ€™s quite an advantage to the country which hosts, because the continental championships is worth 400 points â€“ twice that of a regular continental cup â€“ and can significantly help athletes to bump their world rankings.
I was excited for the race too. It was my first â€˜Aâ€™ race of the year, and I tend to do well when I take the time to fully rest and prepare for a race. Iâ€™m not sure Iâ€™ve done a full-on taper since the Hamburg AG Championships in 2007.
The weather was cooperating as well, when I arrived in Oklahoma City it was nearly 90 degrees and humid, but a series of violent thunderstorms (the tornado warning sirens were even going off) cooled it down so that on race day it was a comfortable 68 degrees.
Really, the only thing that made me nervous was the late 4pm start time. Iâ€™ve never raced so late in the day and I wasnâ€™t sure how to eat beforehand, or what to do. It turned out to be easy â€“ I ate a normal breakfast, a small lunch with a few Clif Bar snacks during the day, and plenty of Nuun treated water. That, combined with plenty of laying around, and by the time I started warming up I was feeling better than I would for an early race.
But enough of the prerace chatter, hereâ€™s the meat:
The swim start was off a rowing dock, which is meant to be very close to the water in order to support up to 8 men getting into a low-lying rowing shell. There were 65 men starting, and the edge of the dock was completely submerged. The closest swimmers to me were Hunter Kemper and Brian Fleischmann to my left. Matt Reed was way over in the leftmost position. I had some idea that I could get away in the initial sprint and try to avoid the melee that would ensue with such a large field. This, however, proved to be a pipe dream. I made it about two feet in front of my nearest competitors at the start before the men to my right started moving left (trying to get on the feet of Brian and Hunter Iâ€™m sure). When they swam over me it sucked me right back into the kicking, slapping and general battery of the main pack. I struggled for about 100 meters before finding myself in somewhat clear water to the far left.
We were to swim under a train bridge, with about six support columns and about three options for which passage to swim under. Nearly everyone took the middle, so I went left to avoid the collisions. This proved to work well, except the man to my left was not keen on staying there and he started punching to herd me over. At the first buoy I was somewhere around 10th to arrive. I was still to the far left, so I had to dive under and grab the anchor line to get around. The second buoy was a little less chaotic, and after we rounded it a gap formed behind me. To my right was Matt Reed, and Hunter had somehow made it through the craziness to the front of the pack. I couldnâ€™t identify anyone else, but the pack was about 10 men. For the second half of the swim the pace slowed to a casual splash around the river, up until the final sprint.
Transition was unnecessarily long. We had to run to the far end, run through transition to grab bikes, then turn around and run the length of transition again with our bikes. This all took about 40 seconds (39 was the fastest transition) and was enough time to create a separation from the people behind me. Kemper, Reed, and Tim O’Donnell made it out with the swim leader, Andrew McCarthy (from Canada), then Fleischmann, Steve Sexton, Matt Chrabot and I mounted our bikes close behind. Fleishmann lost his chain on the mount somehow, fell off his saddle and high centered on the top tube (ouch!), then he swerved causing Sexton to lose a shoe. Chrabot and I narrowly escaped the situation and quickly caught on to Kemper, Reed and McCarthy, passing Oâ€™Donnell, who was struggling with getting his shoe on. Matt C went back for Tim, knowing that his firepower on the bike would help us stay away, and brought Leo Chacon up with him as well.
The first lap of the bike Matty Reed, McCarthy, and Chacon all refused to pull. It was a bit unusual because Reed is normally dominant on the bike. Kemper was rallying us to pull through, though he did skip a few pulls (he and Reed were mainly racing each other from the start, so Kemper had no reason to pull if Reed wasnâ€™t). The pace line was almost entirely run by Chrabot, Oâ€™Donnell, Kemper and myself. At the first of 8 turnarounds (four laps, out and back) we only had about 15 seconds on the first of three chase groups, and by the second turnaround it was 20 seconds at most. The second lap Reed pulled a couple times, and even Chacon started to work. McCarthy tried his best, but he was hanging on for dear life. By the 20km point we had about 40 seconds, which is when Matty Reed decided to fully join in, which meant Hunter would also stop skipping turns and everything started flowing smoothly. From then on there was a continuous pace line of six (Chacon got a flat), and our lead grew exponentially to nearly 3 minutes by the end of the 40km cycling leg. The three chase packs eventually became one pack of 50, which meant the first riders of that pack hit transition nearly 30 seconds ahead of the back of their pack.
My goal on the run was to stay with Hunter as long as possible. I have never had any speed out of T2, and in the past Iâ€™ve had to hunt people down in the second 5k. I managed to stay on the heels of Hunter and Tim for about a kilometer before the pace became too much to sustain. Matt Chrabot went out with Matt Reed at a blistering pace, but started falling back around the same time as me. On the way back I saw that the chase pack was about a half mile behind me, lead by Ethan Brown. Victor Plata (my coach) was running around 10th position with Kevin Collington (which is still in the money), but as I ran by, Victor stopped, cheered for me, then continued to run, now in 15th place. Chrabotâ€™s initial surge got him nearly 40 seconds on me by the 3km mark, which stayed about the same until the last lap, by which time he was solidly in 4th position, and I was solidly in 5th. Victor continued to stop and cheer me on at every passing, and on the final lap he actually stopped at the turnaround to wait, gave me a time gap, then told me to cruise it in easy because I had a large gap over Ethan, and was out of range for 4th. I tried my best to slow it down, but itâ€™s hard to have faith that those guys wonâ€™t catch you (I found out later that Victor was running 10m behind me so he could give me fair warning if Ethan did bridge the gap), and during a race there seems only to be race speed and walking. So I could have gone slower, as shown in the 80 second lead I still had over Ethan by the end, where I finished in fifth place.
This is my best ITU finish to date, which is really exciting. It also moved me up to 78th in the ITU World Rankings. Unfortunately, Tim Oâ€™Donnell also moved up significantly, and he passed me to earn the coveted spot of 8th American. This likely means I will not be able to race the Washington DC World Championship Series event next month.