My first pro world champs was another big learning experience. For the first time this year I arrived at a race prepared both mentally and physically, and yet I still made a few minor mistakes that likely had very little effect on the final score.
The weather was delightfully crummy. It was pouring on the ride down to the race sight, and the two separate transition areas meant we had to place our running shoes out in the rain a full two hours before the start of the race. At the race site the rain eased up as we sat in the muddy, soggy, cold athlete’s lounge waiting for the race start, and by the time we started Budapest was sopping wet, but the rain had stopped. (Despite the crummy weather, this city is the most beautiful I’ve ever been to.)
The swim was cold, and probably shorter than 1500 meters. On the opening stretch I couldn’t seem to get my sprint going. I was in good position going into the first turn buoy, but certainly not great. I went the long way around for a change, and was surprised at how much less fight there was by not trying to cut the buoy. Still, the cold water kept getting in my lungs and I found myself panic breathing as we rounded the second set of buoys and headed back to shore. I have no idea where I was in the swim, but I knew I wasn’t swimming very fast, and I was having no trouble at all staying put where I was. It always amazes me how much water gets pulled in these races, but it’s clearly why “poor” swimmers (I use the term loosely, everyone in these races is a step above the average pro triathlete) are able to stay right in the mix with guys like Javier Gomez and the Russian squad of super swimmers. I excited the water and was struggling with my wetsuit going into T1. I’m not sure what I did differently, but my Blue Seventy Helix, which normally pops right off, seemed suctioned to my skin. Perhaps it was my choice of mineral oil, rather than the canola oil I normally use for lubrication, but regardless I found myself trapped in a virtual straight jacket of neoprene with my hands and feet too cold to feel what I was doing. I tripped next to my bike, knocked over three bikes, including my own, and finished removing my wetsuit in the prone position. It probably looked like a turtle on his back as I lay there frantically tugging at my suit and squirming in the mud (thankfully there was carpet over the deep muddy grass) trying to get back to my feet. By the time I found my helmet and sunglasses and pulled my bike back up I was a full 20 seconds slower through transition than my counterparts. A false start would have cost less time (and would have let my hands thaw out a bit) – I will remember that for next time.
I was in the first chase pack when I finally started pedaling. I wasn’t too worried because my group had some big guns in it who know how to fight. By the end of the first lap we caught the lead group, and I jumped to the front.
I should take a moment to talk about this bike course, which was certainly not the safest of triathlon courses. It was beautiful – with the landmarks of Budapest looming over every inch of the course – but the road was soaked, littered with invisible potholes and bumps and some quite visible but unavoidable railroad tracks and white paint. From T1 we headed up to the grandstands about 5km away. From there we did a reverse clover leaf under a bridge into a long flat straightaway, which was the only safe part of the course. Then a 180 degree turn, a short but bumpy straightaway, a chicane over some carpet covered railroad tracks (which were extremely slick), another chicane, then a really bumpy section of road before the transition area.
In the first lap I saw Tim Don laying on the ground beside a wrecked bike. The second lap there was an ambulance there and as we passed another person went down in the exact spot where Tim had been laying. I narrowly escaped to the right, and Javier went to the left, where his shoulder scraped the ambulance. Luckily, we both kept the rubber down.
There were lots of crashes. Matt Chrabot had gone up the road and was riding solo for most of the bike leg, though I didn’t know this until about two hours after the race had finished. Luckily, the spectators thought I was blocking. The announcers also caught me laughing near the end of the bike and thought that we were telling jokes in the front. That was false. I was laughing because of some unnecessary profanity being used. That same person has called me this four letter word before, and it just seems uncalled for in a professional field. Since I wasn’t the target this time, I just laughed it off – which was caught on camera.
I had great position going into T2. The best I’ve had at a WCS race, and it was awesome to be out on the run course with the leaders. That lasted about 50meters, as I just couldn’t seem to get my heart rate up. It felt like jet lag, and I’ll blame the late arrival time. I hope that was all it was. I will say that wet shoes were not the problem. My K-Swiss Kruuz went through the wet and puddles and drained the water out without any problems at all. Not a single blister or hot spot after the wettest run of my career!
I ran my way to 42nd place, which was off my goal of a top 30, but as the second American (3rd if you count the soon-to-be American Greg Bennet) I’m happy that I was able to stay strong in such a tough field. Strategically, I think I had a nearly perfect race. I just need to figure out my wetsuit removal and travel itinerary for next time.