In July, I raced my first professional triathlon, which also happened to be my 4th ever triathlon. It was contested using the draft legal format, which meant that racers could draft one another and work together while on the bike. This makes the swim section of the race extremely important. To make the lead pack of riders, you must be out of the water with the front pack. The draft legal format is the one contested in the Olympics. This is the style of racing I am currently training for and am focused towards. I was able to do my first draft legal Continental Cup in Long Beach, California on July 18th. I placed 33rd, right in the middle of the field. This is where I thought I would be, given my ability level and set of skills at the time of the race. Learning to swim fast enough to make a pack and to be able to bike hard and still run well off the bike are skills I'm working on daily.
With that being said, the best way to improve my skills is by getting firsthand race experience. During this era of Covid, this has been a bit challenging. Races are scarce, start lines fill quickly, and cancellation of races are all too common. After Long Beach, I sat down with my coach, Sara Mclarty, and tried to figure out what the rest of my 2021 season looked like, keeping in mind my full-time course load at the University of Florida.
At first, we tried to submit my name for a Continental Cup in Barcelona, Spain. I did not make the start list for this race. Next, we looked at a local race opportunity, the St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg, Florida. This was a non-draft Olympic distance triathlon. I was really looking forward to this race because my family is from Pinellas county, and I have many ties to this area. This is as close to a home race as it'll ever get. Unfortunately, this race had to be postponed to May of 2022 due to the rise in Covid cases in the area. Finally, we settled on Ironman 70.3 Augusta. We thought this race would be perfect for me because the 1.2 mile swim is down a current in the Savannah River. Augusta is also an easy travel trip from Gainesville. After all the waiting and guessing of where I was going to race next, I finally had an answer.
A few weeks later, I finally arrived in Augusta, Georgia. The morning of the race, I woke up around 4 A.M., and got to transition to set everything up around 5:15 A.M. While getting my bike ready to race, I realized I had forgotten my two pre-made bottles of electrolytes in my hotel room fridge. I quickly called my mom, who was still at the hotel, to retrieve them and hurry to the course. Race anxiety was kicking in and I was afraid she wasn’t going to get to me in time before I had to head to the start, which was over a mile away. Fueling properly during this long of a race is essential and I needed those bottles if I wanted to finish the race, let alone perform well. After waiting for what seemed like forever, I finally received the two bottles with the help of my coach and family and placed them on my bike. I then left transition on foot for an easy 1.2 mile run up along the river to the swim start. The water temperature that morning was measuring at 71.6/71.7 degrees Fahrenheit and PRO wetsuit legal temperature is 71.5, so the race ended up not being wetsuit legal. This was unfortunate for me, because as a weaker swimmer, I benefit quite a bit when racing in a wetsuit. Plus, 71 degree water is pretty damn cold (something a Florida guy like me isn’t used to).
The gun sounded promptly at 7 A.M. for the 1.2-mile swim. It was an in-water start with one hand having to be touching the dock. I got out well in the beginning stages of the swim and found myself swimming with a pack. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel too smooth in my stroke and couldn't find a great feel for the water. The swim altogether went decent; it was neither spectacular nor poor. I came out of the water a minute and 35 seconds down from the swim leader, a time gap I was happy with.
Leading into the race, the bike portion was the part I was most confident in. You would think my run would be the leg of the race I would be banking on the most because of my background in track and cross country, but at that point in time it had not been at the forefront of my training agenda. All my focus had been going towards swimming and biking, the two sports that I’ve done for less than 18 months. I honestly had no clue what to expect out of my run, but I was expecting to really do some damage on the bike and bring back valuable time over the course of the ride.
With all that being said, my bike leg let me down big time. I split 2:09:59 for the hilly 56-mile bike, averaging 25.8 mph. My legs felt great and I averaged 331 watts, which was right at my goal of 330. Weighing about 163 pounds on race morning and pushing that much power, I should have been able to bike with anyone, but I got out-biked by nearly 5 minutes. After talking with my coaches and analyzing my bike form, it came down to aerodynamics rather than power output. My time-trial position isn't what it should be. I'll definitely be looking into that later this year to hopefully gain some free time and speed.
Getting off of the bike in transition 2, I felt better than I thought I would. Exiting T2, I heard I was in 12th place, so I got to work. I went out much harder than I should have with a 4:54 1st mile, but when you’re in 12th place, you don’t have much of a choice. I went through 5k in 15:34 and proceeded to go through 10k in 31:40, at 5:05 mile pace. Up to this mark, I was sitting in 9th place and feeling strong, but at 10k I began slowing down and was beginning to hurt. It was getting warm out, and my body started to feel to effects. 8 miles in, I was able to move myself into 5th position. Quickly after moving into 5th, I went into damage control, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and not cramping up too bad.
I ended up crossing the line in 5th place with a time of 3:43:59. I was the 2nd American and ran the second fastest half marathon in 1:09:08. It felt so great to finally cross that finish line. Looking back, I’m shocked I was able to run so quickly, especially with how hard I went out. Now that I'm aware of my current run fitness, I plan to run the first 10k a tad smarter, in hopes of not blowing up as much in the latter part of the race, and hopefully running even faster. My run performance also excites me because it shows I'm learning how to better run off the bike. For reference, when I raced in Long Beach in July, I ran a 15:50 5k off the bike. Hopefully this will bode well for the three draft legal races I have coming up.
Thank you for reading!
Swim: 1.2 miles
Bike: 56 miles
Max Speed: 42.7mph
Normalized Power: 334w
Run: 13.10 miles
Pace: 5:16 per mile
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