Racing on the Road: Weeks 3 – 5

Posted on November 9, 2011

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The view from the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs

As I stated in my last blog post, the next couple weeks on the road were a two-week training block in Colorado Springs, CO. The goal here was to get a solid block of altitude training in before racing the Guatape, Colombia World Cup (altitude: 6,600 ft). I got out to the Springs on Wednesday, October 19th and proceeded to hammer out two very solid weeks of training, some of the best I’ve had all year, even despite the altitude.

Both Wednesdays that I was in Colorado I awoke to snow!

I had an awesome setup in Colorado. I stayed with my friends Dan and Heather. Dan is an old high school buddy of mine and he recently moved to the Springs with his fiancé Heather. They were kind enough to give me a spare bedroom to crash in. In the mornings I swam at the Olympic Training Center, my former home in 2007. It was great to train with the guys in the resident program at the OTC along with all the other ITU guys that were in town. I was pushed hard in the water my Brian Fleischman, Matt Chrabot, and Mark Fretta. On Saturdays I got to do my favorite workout of the week, the Colorado Springs group ride that leaves from the Starbucks downtown and hammers for two to three hours East and South of the Springs. This ride is full of pro mountain bikers, pro triathletes, hardcore roadies, and I even had the to opportunity to bump elbows with a Tour de France rider, Danny Pate, of HTC Columbia. Even in his “fat and out of shape phase” that guy is STRONG. I made a couple friends but more importantly got the legs ridden off me by some fast dudes. In the endurance community there only seems to be one degree of separation between people: pretty much everyone I met on the group ride I would have a bunch of mutual friends with. On my strength days I would ride up Goldcamp hill multiple times at a low cadence, and I also had the opportunity to do some fast, crit-style riding in the Garden of the Gods. I did most of my running on the gravel trails in Monument Valley Park. It was a solid two weeks, and I felt that I accomplished all my objectives and was ready for Guatape.

ITU Guatape, Colombia World Cup

Guatape, Colombia. The land of lakes, mountains, and mudslides.

Guatape, Colombia is the second to last stop on the 2011 World Cup circuit. While it is a very beautiful place it is difficult to get to, and the weather is extremely unpredictable. I flew from Denver to Houston to Panama to Medellin, Colombia, the closest airport to Guatape. The hour-long bus ride to the hotel was a roller coaster ride over sharp turns, steep hills and nonstop bumps. I made it to the hotel safely with a bunch of other triathletes around 1 AM on Thursday night.

Previewing the bike course in the days leading up to the race I knew I was in for a HARD race. There were steep, long climbs with very technical, windy descents. It was currently slated to be a non-wetsuit swim, and the run had a solid hill on each lap. This was a course where you couldn’t afford to have any weaknesses. I felt all of these things were an advantage to me, especially when you threw in the altitude. However, on race morning we awoke to pouring rain, and it had been raining for most of the night. The girls’ race was supposed to go off at 7 AM, but it was delayed one hour. We later learned that massive landslides were plaguing the area. Ten people had even been killed and dozens more were trapped nearby. The landslides had literally washed away the road on which we were supposed to bike. The ITU ultimately made a decision to shorten the race into a sprint (750m/20k/5k) because the bike course was obstructed and we had to turn around much earlier that originally planned. This effectively cut out the harder, more technical sections on the bike. The rain had cooled the water down to 19.5 Celsius – it was now wetsuit legal. Slowly I saw everything that worked to my advantage be overturned! It was now a wetsuit-legal sprint triathlon with only one medium hill on the bike course. There was nothing I could do but re-focus and mentally prepare for an even faster and more intense race.

I was the 29th ranked athlete on the starting line. The ITU officials blasted the starting horn and we dove into lake and began sprinting. I had a good opening 200 meters, but after that it was just a physical brawl. My swim cap was ripped off as I navigated through the sea of flailing bodies. Each turn buoy was brutal with guys trying to swim over me, and I had to be on the lookout for rouge punches and kicks. I knew I was farther back in the group than I needed to be by the time we hit the halfway point, but with a wall of bodies in every direction there wasn’t a whole lot I could do. To add to the madness, I was completely redlining. Even with the altitude acclimation I had done I had trouble breathing on the swim. I was wicked happy to finally hit land at the end of the one-lap swim. The sprint to t1, 600 meters away, was equally as painful. I got off my wetsuit and onto my bike as fast as I could and went about chasing down the lead pack.

I got out on the bike and could see the lead pack forming up head. I began working like mad to get myself there. I began having visions of Tongyeong where I was so close to making that lead pack off of the swim but just fell short. I wasn’t going to let that happen again. I bridged up to a Ukrainian and a Colombian, rested on their wheels for a few seconds, then began taking a massive pull at the front. I was closing in on the lead pack. We hit the medium-sized hill that brought us up to the 180-degree turn back to transition. I looked over my shoulder and yelled for someone to pull through, but no one was back there. I had ridden the other two off my wheel. I went back to work and kept gaining ground on the front group. Finally, as we got to the 180-turn, the 30+ man pack had to slow considerably, and I was able to latch onto the back. We were making this turnaround on a very narrow road, and as the pack bunched up and slammed on the brakes I saw Jarrod unfortunately get squeezed out to the side and pushed into the gutter where his wheels slid out front under him.

As I came out of this turn the pack had an accordion effect and spread out as the lead guys hammered on the front. I found myself chasing at maximum effort just to stay in the back of the pack. I had to go hard about 75% of the way back to transition before I was comfortably in the draft again. The course was four laps of this out and back. I barely had time to catch my breath before we hit the technical turns near transition where the pack would spread out again. Again, I chased as hard as I could to stay in it, had a very short rest before we hit the next turnaround, and repeated this process over and over. In a big bike group within a sprint race I knew it was absolutely essential to be in the front of the pack coming off of the bike if I wanted any chance at a strong finish, but I was in this vicious cycle of all-out sprinting with minimal recovery, and each time I got back in the draft I didn’t have enough physical capital left to attempt to improve my position. As we neared the end of the bike my legs were pretty toasted from all the sprinting. I moved up a few spots but was more or less still in the back. We entered t2 and I prepared for a painful run.

Getting off of the bike in the back of the pack, not where I wanted to be. (Photo courtesy of L. Jerdonek)

I began the run at the tail end of the lead pack and immediately felt like I was stuck in a low gear.  I was able to pick off a couple guys, but I mainly concentrated on holding it together and trying not to let anyone from the second bike pack run me down. I finished the first of two laps and wasn’t feeling much better. Basically since the start of the swim I felt like I had just been hanging on for dear life the whole time. Any race strategy or plan I had gave way to “JUST DON’T GET DROPPED!”. Finally with a little over 1k to go my legs had recovered a bit and for the first time all day I felt like I could race. I picked off about a half dozen guys in the final few minutes of the run, moving up to 24th place by the time I hit the finish line.

This wasn’t a stellar race but it was another consistent finish. Every spot matters, especially with the competition so tightly bunched in this important pre-Olympic year. With eight other Americans in the race I was happy to protect my rank as the 5th American on the ITU points list. I now have one week back at home before heading out to New Zealand for my final race of the year. The motivation levels are still high, and I’m focused on ending the year on a high note.

The biggest tourist attraction in Guatape was this giant, 200 meter high rock. Only 800 steps to the top… Amazing views.

 

The view from the top of the Guatape rock with some of the American crew.

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