Racing on the Road: Weeks 1 & 2

Posted on October 31, 2011


The second week of October marked the beginning of my “crazy year-end racing extravaganza”. This involves four races on four different continents AND a two-week altitude camp in the span of just six weeks. On October 9th I raced the USAT Elite Series Finale in Myrtle Beach, SC, then the following week I flew across the globe to race my first World Cup of the year in Tongyeong, South Korea. Upon my return from Korea, I had two days at home before flying out to Colorado Springs for a two-week camp with the goal of acclimating to the altitude in preparation for the November 6th Guatape, Columbia World Cup, which sits at 6,600 ft. After this I have seven lovely days back in Lowell, MA before flying to the Auckland, New Zealand World Cup, my final race of the season, on November 20th. Sounds relaxing, huh? With all the travel during this six week block it will be a challenge to stay healthy and adjust to the different time zones, never mind the training I’ll need to get in. Nevertheless, the racing extravaganza has begun, and I’m a bit less than halfway through it all. I’m pleased to report that it has gotten off to a successful start. Below are the race reports from my first two weeks on the road.

ITU Myrtle Beach Pan American Cup (USAT Elite Series Finale)

After a poor performance in Buffalo, I learned from my mistake of not resting enough on race week. I was sure to take extra recovery going into Myrtle. This strategy paid off and I got to the starting line feeling fresh and ready to race. The field wasn’t quite as stacked as Buffalo, but it was a competitive Continental Cup nonetheless with several strong foreigners as well as the usual suspects from the US.

When the starting horn blasted the 40-man field dove off the pontoon and into the chilly but non-wetsuit legal water (21C ~ 72F). In my first few strokes I got tangled up with a couple guys and lost some key positioning. Before I knew it there was a wall of guys in front of me and there was nothing I could do but get on a pair of feet and prepare to be aggressive at the first buoy. The first turn buoy was only about 150m ahead, so it was mayhem as the whole field arrived there virtually at the same time. I was able to navigate the chaos well and improved my position. When things strung out and settled down there were three guys – Kemper, Zafares, and Darling – off the front. Brian Lamar and Peter Bajai (HUN) led the chase pack, and I sat comfortably on their feet. This is where I stayed for the rest of the swim. I felt like I could’ve pushed the pace of this chase pack a bit more, but it made more sense for me to stay in the draft and conserve my energy rather than hammer at the front for a few extra seconds.

Coming out of t1 I was at the head of the chase group. It was a relatively big pack of about 20 guys. We were a bit slow to get organized, but once we did we rotated through the paceline pretty efficiently for the most part. To our surprise, at the end of lap one we saw Hunter Kemper lying on the ground all scraped up next to his bike. Apparently there was an athlete coming into t1 from the swim just as Kemper was coming through the transition area as he completed the first lap of the bike. They collided and Kemper crashed hard. Poor guy. Hunter most likely would’ve won had he not crashed… Nevertheless, the race went on and our pack swallowed up the other who guys who had broken away on the swim. I stayed in the pack, took my pulls, but the pace wasn’t too high and I found the bike to be pretty comfortable. (Below is a video of Hunter’s crash)

Our group entered t2 about 90 seconds up on the second pack, which included superstar runner Kaleb Van Ort. I hoped that this 90 seconds would be enough for me to hold him off. As I ran out of t2 I did not feel good. I struggled in the first few hundred meters. A big lead pack was forming and I got the sense that the race was slipping away. I sprinted up to that pack. I still felt awful but I was just hoping that the pace would settle down or would at least feel easier if I got in the pack. That’s what happened. I was able to put myself in the mix and regain my composure a bit. Coming through lap one (of four) there were about eight or nine of us altogether. Shortly after this first lap Shoemaker, Zafares, and Wangel (SWE) were able to break away and string out the field a little bit. I ended up in the second group with Sharpe (CAN), the guy who beat me by ten seconds this past July in San Francisco, and Gluschenko (UKR). I went through periods of feeling okay and periods where I felt like I was on the verge of getting dropped. Gluscheko would frequently throw in surges. Sharpe would respond immediately but it would take me a while to slowly work my way back up to them. I continued to run with these guys for the next couple laps. Starting the bell lap, Gluschenko took off again. Sharpe went after him and I slowly began chasing them down. Then, quite randomly, I began to feel really good! I chased down Gluschenko and began to raise the pace myself. It was too much for Sharpe to handle, and he dropped back. I also noticed Van Ort closing in, but I had enough of a lead that I was pretty sure we’d be able to hold him off. Now, I raced Gluschenko last year at the Seoul WCS race, and I know he’s got a monster finishing kick, so I really tried to press the pace hard to drop him. I continued hammering, but to my discontent the Ukranian was able to stay right on my shoulder, and with 200 meters to go he sprinted past me and completely lit me up. Gluschenko hit the line three seconds before me. I held on for fifth place. In the end I was only 25 seconds down from the lead, so it had been a tightly contested race where every second counted. My fifth place finish scored me enough points to take fifth place overall in the USAT Elite Series, earning me a nice bonus. A solid performance and nice rebound from Buffalo!

Me and Gluschenko, the Ukrainian that outsprinted me!

ITU Tongyeong, Korea World Cup

Fast forward just five days and I’m on another starting line, this time in Tongyeong, Korea (a fishing village that smells like fish all the time). Despite the five flights and 40 hours of travel in between Myrtle Beach and this race, I was able to quickly adjust to the time change and felt fresh on race day. The travel over to Korea was made easier with Barrett Brandon, the seasoned veteran when it comes to Asian travel, and World Cup rookie Greg Billington. We stayed at a decent hotel in downtown Tongyeong and were able to find suitable sustenance at the “Paris Baguette” cafe.

Paris Baguette: Our refuge from authentic Korean food.

Anyway, back to the race. I was the 20th ranked athlete, and I knew that a top-20 finish would be a solid result. Even though the women’s race, three hours earlier, was a wetsuit swim, the ITU officials ruled that the water temp had risen above 20C, so that meant no wetsuits for the gents. This was kind of a last minute curveball as everyone was expecting a neoprene-aided swim. As a strong swimmer I didn’t mind the change. The race got underway and I got out to a fast but comfortable start. With the Russian super-swimmer Polyanksy Brothers lined up to the right of me, I began to veer over in that direction in the hopes of getting on a pair of fast feet. I had the inside line coming into the first buoy and I was able to navigate the chaos well and move up a bit. As we completed the first lap I found myself in the middle of the lead pack. We exited the water, ran along the pontoon, and dove back in for our second lap. At this point I made a tactical error. Instead of diving in directly behind the guys in front of me, I dove a bit to the outside because things were bunched up. When I started swimming again I was outside of the draft, and someone had filled the spot directly next to me. I wasted a lot of energy fighting for positioning with the bro to my right, and I wasn’t getting much of a draft, so that was more energy expended (darn!). I lost some very key positioning on this second lap and exited the swim at the tail end of the lead pack.

Out onto the bike I began a mad anaerobic scramble to get my butt in that lead bike pack. The Russians were driving the pace at the front, and I could see the pack forming a couple hundred meters ahead. I bridged up to some stragglers; Wolfe (GBR) and McMaster (AUS). The three of us were then caught by Lescure (FRA). But even the four of us working together as hard as we could were no match for a motivated 20 man train, and we just lost time to that lead group. At this point I was thinking to myself “There goes the race”. I readjusted my race plan and realized the best thing to do was to hammer the bike and attempt to minimize our losses to the front pack, do my best to run down a few stragglers from the front pack and pick up a few ITU points if possible.

You can tell from our faces that we worked HARD to bridge up.

The bike course was a hilly five laps. We continued riding as hard as we could for the first lap and a half. Lescure and I were the strongest riders in our group and dropped the other two a couple times. On the second lap it became apparent that we were going to be reeled in by the pack behind us. At this point we sat up and tried to recover a bit. When we were swallowed up I glanced around and took some human inventory. I realized I was now joined by the other Americans but, more importantly, there were Belgians. The Belgians are known for their strength on the bike, and with a host of other solid Europeans in this chase group I began to realize that we might not be out of contention just yet. The Belgians drove the paceline at the front and the rest of the group did a good job working with them. We made up some time on the lead group on the third lap. As we realized we were closing in on them our motivation level rose. We crushed the fourth lap and were closing in fast. Just before the start of the final lap, on the long decent into transition, we bridged up and became one large, ~40+ man pack. I couldn’t believe it. I was right back in the race! I finally was able to recover a bit on the final lap. I took my gel and plenty of fluids in preparation for the run.

I came off the bike towards the back of our group. I definitely felt the first four laps of the bike in my legs, but I went out hard anyway in an attempt to get into a fast group. I began passing people quickly and was in 20-something place midway through the first of four laps. Starting the second lap I had run my way into 18th place. I was feeling okay and running in the back of a group containing 12-18th places. Then, without warning, my stomach began to revolt. I think I took my gel too late in the bike, and it began to come back up (and it also brought sharp stomach pains). I slowed down a tiny bit and lost contact with the group. Then I started puking. A lot. I had to pull over and stop for a few seconds and just get it all out. It wasn’t pretty. I began jogging along again but dry heaving at the same time. Guys were flying by me. It was a demoralizing feeling. A few groups went by me and by the time I started the third lap I was in 30th place and once again watching the race slip away. BUT, in another dramatic turn of events, my stomach problems went away just as fast as they arrived, and I found my self running again, but not just running — running fast! I began flying by all the guys that had passed me. At this point I didn’t know what this up-and-down race had in store for me, but I knew that I was currently on an “up”, and I was going to take full advantage of it. By the start of the bell lap, I was back in 19th, basically the same position I was in before my stomach revolted. I was closing in on a Kiwi, James Elvery, but just fell a few seconds short of catching him before the finish line. 19th place.

I thought that I was capable of finishing in the 15-20th range in a competitive World Cup such as this one. Given all the adversity and bad luck I encountered in this race, I am very satisfied with 19th place. Also, this race improved my ranking on the ITU points list from the 8th to the 5th-ranked American, a very important step in getting to the starting line at Olympic Trials. Things are on track, and hopefully I can produce two more consistent finishes at the remaining World Cups of the season.

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