Tough...really tough. Not just talking about the race itself, but bringing myself to write about it. The goal to compete in the 70.3 World Championships began mid season in 2014. I had finally seemed to ‘figure out’ how to race the distance and had a lot of success throughout the 2014 season in each 70.3 that I did. Unfortunately, I had other commitments and was unable to race the championships in 2014, so I had penciled in 2015 as the year I was going to give it a go. The 2015 70.3 World Championships were held in a small, vibrant, European city of Zell am See in Austria. Regardless of the race venue, I was all in and ready to give this one race all I had.
Prior to the race itself, I’ll give a little run down of what went down. First off, the season was going just as I had wanted it to. I finally had a big break through in July at Muncie 70.3 by cracking the 4-hour barrier for the first time. I knew post-race that I still had more in me as my run split was still minutes off of what I know I can run and have done. During the remainder of the month, I made it a focus to work on some run speed, especially off of hard bike workouts. It was near the end of July that the negative came in. I didn’t tell many people as I wanted to stay optimistic and not talk about an injury. While doing some house chores and cleaning up, I was rushing around and ran right into the metal knob of our bike trainers. It hit me square in the center of my knee. I immediately was brought down to the ground in pain. I gave it a few minutes and shook it off, not thinking much about it. Over the next two weeks post knee bang, I continued to train hard and long. I had some knee tenderness, but nothing that seemed to inhibit my workouts, so I kept plugging along. It was then on the last weekend of July that I went out and did an 18 mile run. My knee barked at me the entire run and upon completion, I wasn’t even able to bend my leg. Being stubborn and refusing to acknowledge the fact that I was hurt, I went out to try and get in a 115 mile ride the following day. Three miles into the ride, I knew my day was over. I was unable to push down on the pedals of my bike and was forced to ride my bike back to the car with one leg. I sat in disbelief for a while as all of the others in my group carried on and road the day away.
At that point, I made a decision. I gave myself one more week to try and let the knee heal. But after that point, I was going to run even if there was pain. It was my key race and regardless of the outcome (placing poorly or coming out of it even more injured), I was going to do all I could to have the race of my life.
Now one week out before the race- I had a glimmer of hope. I planned on heading out and running 6 miles even if there was pain. I figured if there was pain, I wanted to see what it felt like and what I would have to deal with on race day. Somehow, the knee pain was minimal and almost to the point of non-existence. I made it 9.2 miles averaging 5:45 pace...and I knew I was ready. Officially for the month of August, I had got in 16 miles of running- 9.2 of which came from that one run.
Race morning was different. Different in that we were to start at around 11am. So there was no waking up at 3am or scrambling around trying to make my way over in the darkness. Rather, I woke up without an alarm, took my time packing bottles, and getting ready to race. The downside- weather forecast called for record temperatures in the low to mid 90s. So we would be racing right in the heat of the day.
INTENSE! I somehow forgot that I’m still not at the swim level that I ought to be at to compete at a world championship event. I had become accustomed to being near the front in most local races that I do and had no trouble lining up front and center. Well, I did the same here and was at the front of the large age group wave of over 300 testosterone-filled men. The gun went off and I was swallowed...immediately. Panic set in, I was gasping for air, swallowing water, and just trying to keep my head from being dunked under. I had no place to go. The athletes in front of me were kicking me in the head while the athletes behind me were swimming over the top of me. My heart rate soared and I really thought my race was over.
Now, I have had this happen before. The best thing to do is relax and forget about competing. Don’t worry about how many people are going past you. Find any open water you can and get breathing back into control. Hyperventilating in open water is no bueno. Once I was able to find a sliver of open water, I got rolling again and started to make up some ground on those up ahead. It never really thinned out much though as it was just a constant stream of athletes in front and behind me. It really got tough as I neared the end and was catching slower swimmers from the wave before. Just as I was about 200 meters from shore, one of those slower swimmers got me right in the right eye with a solid kick. What a disaster of a swim. But I exited and came out with a respectable 28 minute 1.2 mile swim
From the start, I kept my watts under control. I was rolling through the field well and was moving up by quite a few positions. It was then that I actually was getting confident and had a feeling I could have a great day as it was still early into the ride. I made it to the start of the climb, put the bike into an easy gear, and rode steady watts crawling along at speeds as slow as 7mph at times. The climb was to take about 45 minutes to get up, with the finish having a 1.5 mile stretch of 15% grade. Nobody really gained or lost position going up, rather every one was grinding along. I was able to move up a few spots, but also had a a group of 4 riders go past me near the end. Once up at the top, it was time to go down. I sure was glad that I had rode this downhill two times prior to race day as it was HAIRY! But with some confidence and knowing where the rough sections were, I had one of the fastest descents of the day including the pros and even topped out at 60mph.
Hitting the bottom, it was now about half way through the ride. Here is where things got interesting. I rolled up on a group about 40 people deep. All were riding much closer than they should be. I moved through the field and got to the front only to have the riders latch on and follow my pace. After a few miles, one guy decided to repass me. He went around and pulled right in front of me. And bam- within 2 seconds the moto was there, blew a whistle, and showed me a blue penalty card. Now confused, even more frustrated, and not quite sure what to think or do, I tried to push it aside and regroup. I slowed down, let the large group roll ahead, and thought of what I needed to do. I told myself that the best thing is to not give up. I worked too hard and knew that my run can put me back into a good position if it all came together.
Head down, I started hammering away on the bike again. Then I started to noticed that my front tire felt a bit squishy. It was bottoming out as I could feel the rim hitting pavement on any little bump. But I was still rolling at 24-26 mph and passing a lot of other riders, so figured it wasn’t too bad.......until there was a turn. I took the corner hard, lost all control as the tire gave out, and I was skidding along the pavement and into the curb. First thing- I got back onto the bike as fast as I could. Only problem, my chain was looped and in knots. I wasn’t able to get them out. Luckily a bystander that saw it all happen took notice, ran over, and helped get the knots out. I squeezed the front tire and figured it still had about 40lbs of pressure. I only had about 8 miles to go so figured I would just try to ride it out.
Riding a nearly flat front tire, I was back rolling along. As I hit a small hill, I tried to shift and nothing happened. My shifting was done and out. Awesome---everything that could go wrong on the bike had gone wrong---a penalty, a flat tire, a crash, and then a mechanical. Plug along I did being stuck in my hardest gear, pedaling around 50rpms, and taking each corner as slow as I could. Somehow I made it to the end of the bike...but not before serving my penalty in the tent. It was a disaster in there. Lots of athletes having no clue what was going on. I signed in, looked at my watch and had no clue when I could leave. The officials were speaking and yelling German. I just wanted to pack my bags and go home. What an eventful bike.
1st Overall American amateur
8th Overall in 30-34 age group
34th Overall amateur
If you told me that I was the first American amateur after all that had happened, I would’ve never believed it. But I guess that is what can happen when you give it your best go and don’t let the uncontrollable dictate your race. Of course I wanted more and had lofty goals coming in, but I cannot be disappointed with pushing through all of the negative and coming out where I did. The drive will push me to continue to improve especially as I lead into the Ironman World Championships and finishing off the season on a high note!
Thanks for all of the support especially my team EGO p/b Sammy’s Bikes as I would’ve never been able to make the trip out to Austria without their support. They really have taken care of me this year and have helped make me the athlete that I am today. Thank you as well to PowerBar for fueling the fire and getting me through these grueling endurance events and as well as Saucony for providing the kicks to keep me running strong and fast day in and day out.