I was really worried about getting a good start to the swim in London yesterday. It seemed to me that the first 300m of the swim had the potential to make or break my race, and I was probably right. Unfortunately, I broke my race before the gun went off.
When the race officially started I was flying though the air. I have no idea what was going through my head, I just remember being so focused on getting out fast that when they said “take your marks” it didn’t occur to me that I should wait for a horn before diving whole heartedly into the Serpentine and sprinting for the first buoy. I clearly remember pushing off the dock and seeing everyone else holding back, thinking, “oh crap, that’s going to be a penalty”, then hearing the start horn just before I hit the water. It was only a fraction of a second, but it felt like I was suspended in time.
A false start is rewarded with a 15s penalty. There are times when it seems worthwhile to get the 1s advantage on the way to the first turn buoy, but 15 seconds is quite a while when you realize it only takes two seconds for a break to form out of the first transition
Knowing that I would have 15 extra seconds in transition I decided to push the swim extra hard. I lead for 500 meters, then realized I probably wouldn’t be able to hold that same pace for another 1000 meters. I hopped onto some feet in a tight front pack and relaxed. Swimming with the leaders is never hard once you’re there, and since we were swimming three or more across it was was like riding an escalator, the water just carried me.
In transition the official didn’t seem to expect me there so soon. I stopped and he didn’t start the watch. He looked flustered. I said, “go, c’mon, start the watch, I’m here.” He fumbled around for a moment then started the stop watch around his neck. It was probably four or five seconds after I had arrived and stopped moving, and he made sure to count all the way down to zero. The concentration of adrenaline running through my veins was so high that each second took an eternity. Between each number I felt like I could have swum an entire extra lap of the course, but I obediently stood there gaping at him, wondering if he was taunting me with the slow pace of my 15 second penalty.
The first lap of the bike I rode like Andy Schleck. I closed the nearly 20 seconds (due to the late start of the 15s penalty) in about 3 km. I was riding with Stuart Hayes, who is an excellent cyclist, but when I told him to pull through, he tried and failed. Looking back at my Garmin 705 / SRM power data, I can see that I was riding really really fast. It was four minutes until I caught the leaders. Stuart, who ended up in 8th at the end of the day, thanked me after the race, and complimented my bike strength, which is a small consolation after what happened right after I bridged up to the leaders.
At the end of the first 5km lap Alister Brownlee was riding like a chucklehead. He swerved onto someone’s wheel, took out Peter Croes front wheel, and knocked him to the ground. Peter was laying to the right of his bike. To the left were a bunch of cones and people. I knew I had nowhere to go, and had yet another slow motion moment as I tried to break, knowing that it wasn’t about preventing the crash so much as make it less painful when I hit the ground.
As far as crashes go, it was not bad. I have a few scrapes and bruised hip, but my frequent crashing has helped me learn to crash lightly. I got back up, fixed the chain, started riding hard again, then realized that I didn’t have another monster bridge in my legs. I had also lost my water bottle and was left with only strongly mixed Powerbar Endurance and gels. I waited for the chase pack and helped them to close the 40 seconds they had between them and the leaders. At that point I was in a pack of about 55 men, and things got sketchy on the narrow, poorly coned course. I stayed out of trouble and conserved energy. Every time I saw a familiar face I asked for some water, but all I got were more sugary drink mixes.
We came off the bike and I felt pretty good starting the run. I was sure this would be a good run for me, though with the quality of field I wasn’t sure what result that would provide. I ran right behind Matt Chrabot for the first mile, which is great for me since he normally goes out really fast, while I normally come back in the second 5 kilometers. After that I started feeling much worse. Over the second mile I slowed considerably and started dropping back. I was told by a spectator that I was in 48th place, just before two more people passed me. My stomach was cramping from all the sugar and the lack of fluids, and pretty soon I was struggling to breath. After a kilometer of shallow breathing and ascending pace I realized that my day was not going to get better. I saw Kevin Collington and one of the coaches at the turn around half way through the run and I stopped, explained that I couldn’t breath, then joined them on the other side of the fence.
The DNF never feels good. You have to question whether you could have continued, if it was worth finishing, what you could have done to avoid getting yourself to the point of dropping out. For me, it all goes back to my false start. Had I not done that I wouldn’t have been in a dangerous position when the crash happened (I don’t normally ride boxed in in the back of a pack), I wouldn’t have lost my bottle, I would have been helping the lead pack extend their lead, rather than the chase pack, and I probably would have had a decent run. That said, I didn’t have a lot of fight in me for this one. When my stomach and diaphragm tightened up and stopped me from breathing I felt happy to have an excuse. Perhaps it would have been different if I were running for 15th or 20th or even a 30th place finish, but making myself hurt that bad for a 50th place after everything else that had gone wrong… I just didn’t have the fight.