Saturday was my second round of World Championship Series Triathlon. Bolstered with the confidence of someone able to swim ride and run alone for a draft-legal Pan-American Cup win a week earlier, I approached the start line with an undeniably brilliant race plan. I would swim to the front, drive the pace so as to string out the rest of the field, then ride away from the bunch in a small breakaway, and run to a finish that would make Slowtwitchers* raise their eyebrows in awe. Why would I even need a contingency plan for such a bold, and unbeatable strategy? I was so content and sure that my nerves before the race, normally quivering with anticipation, were calm as a sunflower in Kansas.
When reality sunk in I was three feet underwater near the first turn buoy. In an instant my thoughts had turned from the race to survival. I hadn’t had a dry breath in nearly 20 seconds and as 65 men swam over me I didn’t seem to have much of a chance at breathing again soon. I found myself near the back of the swim pack – a place I have very little experience with – and was quite unhappy about it. The clear water and non-combative attitudes I have experienced at the front of other big races seemed mythical in comparison to the brutal battering, blatant grabbing, and completely unnecessary aggression of the mid-pack swim.I would like very much to never be there again. A few days ago I was violently angry with the way people around me were swimming. It was unnecessary, it hurt, and it slowed down everyone involved. Now, I’ve just resolved that it’s worth swimming faster in the future. Easier said that done, but if I’m feeling off, I’ll have to remember Hamburg.
I exited the water with a small gap in front of me. I was with Mark Fretta from the USA, and Beavan Docherty of New Zealand, among others. We caught the group in front of us in a lap, then caught the leaders by the third lap. Yes, I was in the second chase group – without a contingency plan. Half way through the bike Mark Fretta was riding in front and slowing the pace. Nobody seemed to want to go around him and he looked as though he was expecting someone to break away. So I did. I got away and nobody followed. I was hoping someone would bridge up, but they just let me take the television cameras and go. I got lots of television time, but after a little more than a lap I was sucked back into a frenzy of counterattacks. A lap later Fretta took off on his own solo breakaway and I blocked for him as best I could. He quickly gained 30 seconds on us with a lap to go, then lost 10 seconds as the pack jockeyed for position.
I started the run a third of the way back in a pack of everyone. Within a lap I caught up to Mark, and lost contact with 45 men from my bike pack. Over the next lap I stopped being passed, and by the 5k I started bringing back some of the men who had blown a gasket in front of me. I finished in 41st place, and ran 32 minutes 42 seconds on the German Certified 10km run (they lengthened the course this year after being criticized for having a short run in previous years). I was 3 minutes slower than the winner, Javier Gomez.
Certainly I had hoped for a better finish. I had hoped for a career day, and I had hoped that I would run well below 32 minutes. I believe I’m capable of that, and I would love to prove it. Unfortunately, my day in Hamburg was not that day for me. If I use my swim as a barometer for my overall performance compared to my potential, then I was clearly having an off day. That said, I was bold on the bike, given my circumstances, and while it didn’t pay off, I’m glad I was willing to take the chance. It was fun to be in a solo break at a WCS race. Suicidal? Yes. But fun!
*Slowtwitchers, or STers are the community of people that follow and comment on, almost obsessively, the going-ons of the triathlon world through a community forum hosted at slowtwitch.com