First off if you’ve never been to Penticton British Columbia then I suggest you go. It is absolutely beautiful. A pristine lake and hundreds of vineyards along the mountains make for a gorgeous scene. But I digress. This is about my race – the 2017 ITU Aquathlon World Championship.
Let me back up about six weeks to the beginning of July. I was out for a pretty routine training run in the middle of the afternoon. I think it was a quick 30 or 40 minute one. I felt great entire run. Was light on my feet, had great posture, kept a pretty solid pace the entire time. I came back, mowed the lawn, showered and then my wife and I hopped in the car to drive three hours to Washington DC for a concert. Walking from the car to the venue I noticed my hip was a little tight but I brushed it off as probably just tight from sitting down. I drank a beer or two and no longer felt it so I thought I was great. The next day I had a speed workout scheduled with some repeat 400s and quickly learned that my hip was not OK. Diagnosis: tendinitis. So as you can imagine, that sucks for a month and a half leading up to world championship race that you have been training for the entire year. The injury alone cut my weekly run mileage by about 3/4.
After weeks of beating myself up about the injury I realized there was nothing I can do (with the help of my wife telling me there was nothing I can do). So we left on a Tuesday with my wife, my son (who is 15 months old), my father, and my mother to embark on a 24 hour excursion across the country to a little place up north called Penticton. Three flights and a 12 hour overnight layover in Seattle later, and we finally arrived at our destination on Wednesday afternoon.
We took the shuttle from the one terminal, mom-and-pop-style airport to the hotel where Team USA was staying. After we checked in we walked about a mile from the hotel to the beach for the team pictures followed by the parade of nations. I have never done something like this and to be frank I thought the parade of nations was going to be a little cheesy. But I was happily wrong. Seeing so many multi sport athletes coming from all over the world to represent their country in competition was pretty spectacular. The USA team was large and strong like always. Spectators and families lined the streets with signs flags and cheers.
The next morning I got up around 5:30am, grabbed my stuff without waking up my wife or son, and walked to the beach for a swim of the course as the sun rose over the mountains. I saw a few people out and about but the streets were primarily empty until I got to beach. The beach was beaming with athletes from all over the world just biting at the chance to get in the water.
Tim Horton’s coffee shop had a barge that you could swim out to and get coffee. There were kayakers and coaches on paddle boards with people everywhere practicing dolphin dives, sighting, and strokes. I practiced for about an hour swimming around buoys, working on my sighting, and yes just to fit in I did a bunch of dolphin dives. After that I came back to the hotel, had breakfast with my family and had a pretty relaxing day. That night for dinner I had my ritual pre-race beer and hung out in the hotel room. Surprisingly I had absolutely no nerves leading into the race or the night before. I actually slept like a champ.
OK so let’s talk about race day. Alarm went off around 5 AM and I got up and turned the cheap hotel room coffee maker on. The race was going to kick off at 8 AM and with the pre-race swim warm up I knew I had enough time. While the coffee maker sputtered out liquid gold, I got all my gear organized, and got my son and my wife up. Once the coffee was done I grabbed the cup and my wife, son, and I left to start walking. Once again, I’m not exactly sure why but I had absolutely no nerves at this point. Usually on race day I’m quiet, nervous, and focused but today I was chatty and lazy.
We finally made it down to the beach where the race is kicking off and quickly shuffled over to the transition area so I could lay out my stuff for the run. Mind you, I have never been to a race of this magnitude before so seeing a transition area with hundreds of organized bins in row after row was a bit intimidating. But at the same time it made me extremely proud to be there. No matter what happened during the race or how slow I went I had at least made it. All the work that I had done leading up to it was rewarded.
I laid out my gear in the order that I like to put them on after the swim. Typically after the swim I like to take off the wetsuit, put on the race bib, then my shoes, then grab my watch and put that on while I’m running out of the transition. So I got it all laid out, left the transition area and met back up with my wife and son who were joined by my parents at that point. By this time we didn’t have much time left before the race so I had to put on my wetsuit and head for the practice area. I warmed up for about 15 minutes in the water before I heard the horn go off which meant it was time to organize at the starting line. Since my age group was the first to go off I had to jog from the warm-up area to the corral where all the athletes in my wave were. Looking back on it I think the jog actually might’ve helped me warm up a little bit more. Anyways I joined my wave and found a couple of guys that I knew from previous races. We made small talk as we anxiously awaited the green light to move to the starting line.
As you can see from the video above I still wasn’t nervous. When they gave us the green light to walk to the starting line I took it a little too literally and actually walked while everyone else nervously jogged. To be honest I don’t even remember toeing the starting line, where I was, or who I was standing next to. I just remember that gun going off, me running into the water and dolphin jumping numerous times to try and get ahead of as many people as possible. It pretty much went like this:
- Dive headfirst to the lake floor
- Grip the bottom and pull my knees forward
- Push off through the surface
- In mid-air dive back down and repeat
I managed to get ahead of a pretty good amount of people doing that but there were still a lot of racers that were obviously better at this type of thing.
The start of any multisport swim is usually a sprint to try to get in the lead pack and this one was no different. Except normally I am used to people who don’t do this type of thing very often and that was not the case with this race. Athletes from totally different countries were using each other to box people out and I happened to be on the receiving end of this more than once. Getting around the situation isn’t easy and it expends a lot of energy as you sprint around three or four people. However, I kept my heart rate low, wasn’t nervous, kept my form consistent and kept going.
The 1km swim went by pretty quickly as everyone in the water took their own lines towards land on the final stretch. I exited the water 8th overall I believe and 1st in my age group. I’m a good swimmer but a terrible wetsuit swimmer and considering the issues I had with getting blocked out I’ll take the position I was in.
Easily the worst part of my entire repertoire is my transitions. I am always extremely slow in transitions but somehow I was able to put together my fastest one yet at this race. I am going to chalk it up to not being nervous like I normally am in transition. For some reason I was still extremely calm the entire time. I grabbed my watch for the last piece of my gear and set off to try and hold on. By general standards I am a pretty good runner. However, at the world stage and with an injury I knew it would be a struggle to hold on. Normally I would be in the 5:30/mile range but I knew in this race it would be hard for me to even hold under 6 minute pace.
The first mile was a blur. As we left the transition area the main strip was packed on either side of patriotic citizens from countries all over the world. Cheers and yells rang through your ears and your eyes were flooded with the various colors of waving flags. I passed the older age-groupers and before the half way turn I felt that I may actually pull off a win. Then I made the turn.
The best and worst part of a race is when there is a turn in the course where you reverse direction and go the opposite way you were just going. It gives you a chance to see how far your competition is. It also gives you a chance to see how fast your competition is going. When you are on cloud 9 half way through a World Championship race the last thing you want to see on a turn is a hard charging Frenchman and Brazilian catching up to you. Finally, the nerves hit me.
I tried to push and immediately felt my hip deny my attempted surge. So I kept the same pace and hoped they wouldn’t catch me. They ultimately did and passed me with about a mile left. With nearly a quarter mile left I decided that I couldn’t end this race with regrets so I put the pedal to the medal and sprinted as fast as my body would let me. I started to see the Brazilian get closer and closer but thanks to a last surge from him I ultimately missed passing him by a few seconds. I got 3rd. The bronze.
Although I ultimately wanted to finish first and would have been in contention if not for the injury, I was pleased with my performance.
I literally gave that race everything I had. Life is always going to give you setbacks which is a nice reminder that it isn’t always about the outcome – It’s about the journey.