I took a quick trip down to Miami to finish up my triathlon season, got to reconnect with some old friends from high school, and came back a national champion! Between my friends’ help, my wife’s support at home with the kids, sponsor support, and years of hoarded airline miles from work travel, I was incredibly fortunate to be able to do this race and two day trip at almost no cost. Getting to the point of being able to do this kind of thing wasn’t easy, and I’m thankful every day for my family, friends, and teammates who stuck with me and helped me get there.
The race itself seemed to be one mishap after another (possibly due to getting bib 666?!): I nearly started the race without my timing chip, swam off course on the swim (surprise!), wrecked on the bike, took a slight wrong turn on the run while battling the effects of what may have been a concussion from the bike wreck, then found out after the race that I had apparently registered for the wrong category. Things mostly came together, though, and I ended up finishing 3rd overall (2nd after a DQ due to a course error), 1st amateur, and I *think* top American regardless of amateur status. The race was the amateur USAT Long Course National Championship, so I came away as the overall national champion. Not all the nation’s best amateur talent was at this race, so the title is a little bit hollow, but it’s still an awesome way to wrap up the triathlon season.
The timing of the race was pretty awful: 4 weeks after the climax of my triathlon season at Kona and less than a week before my wife’s sister’s wedding in North Carolina. One of my remaining goals in triathlon was to race for Team USA, though, and going to this race was the only assured way of qualifying for next year’s ITU Long Course World Championship. So I attempted to maintain at least a bit of my Kona fitness for a month, and flew down to Miami early in the morning the day before the race.
When I left DC it was 18 degrees. When I arrived in Miami it was in the 80s, and of course humid. There was no time to acclimate the way I had done before Kona. My old Oak Ridge High School Cross Country teammate Chris Parks picked me up from the airport and we went straight down to get checked in. He was racing as well, and I was looking forward to being on a course with him for the first time in almost 15 years. As if the sudden change in weather hadn’t already made me think I would be racing in hell, I ended up with bib number 666. I always assumed there were certain numbers they skipped like 13 and 666, but I guess not at this race!
Once everything was ready we drove back to his place. He actually lives with someone else I used to share the course with: Chris Perry, who went to Farragut High School, our old nemesis. He’s also a triathlete, but was sitting this race out and instead him and Chris’s girlfriend Kristin were making us some pretty incredible signs to cheer us on.
After a quick dinner and some sleep we were headed back down to the race less than 24 hours after I left DC.
After Kona, and my forced realization of the inescapable disadvantage that swimming puts me at, I signed up for Masters swimming. I actually started swimming with other people, and once a week there’s an actual coach there who tells me what I’m horrible at. I had been to two practices already, so I fully expected to be effortlessly cruising through the water at the front of the pack. In all seriousness I did feel I had made some noticeable improvements and hoped that I might at least shave a minute or so off my last time at that distance.
Unfortunately the race turned out not to be wetsuit legal, a race morning call. So I slipped on my swimskin and headed to the start. As I approached it, I realized that I didn’t have my timing chip on! I had two minutes until transition closed. I sprinted barefoot back to transition, hoping I had left it there. I frantically dug through my gear and found it. Back to the start! I had to keep running during the national anthem, at the national championship, on Veteran’s Day weekend. I was an awful person. But then again, I did have the mark of the beast plastered on both of my arms.
Now that I had gotten in some nice warm-up strides, I was good to go. We took off into the water and the usual strategy of trying not to get kicked in the face instinctively kicked in. I lost focus on things I had been working on, and went back to flailing around trying to at least move forward while drowning. It was a two loop course, and by the time I reached the end of the first loop I was largely by myself already with no one to draft off of.
Other than a start buoy, the buoys were all the same color. With the sun right in my face and no one else around as a reference, I sighted a buoy and took off towards it. I wasn’t entirely sure what had happened until looking at my Garmin track after the race, but I had picked out a buoy on the other side of the course and swam all the way across to it. If Barkley involved marine navigation I would have failed miserably. Every single time.
I finally came out of the water in 35:14, about 2 minutes slower than my last race at that distance and also about 2 minutes slower than my Kona pace, which was twice the distance and in the ocean. I was over 10 minutes off the leader, who moved almost 50% faster than me in the water.
The bike course was pancake flat, but it turned out to be a pretty windy day, with gusts of 20+ mph. The course was two loops, going against the wind for the latter parts of each loop when we were most fatigued and it was strongest (winds usually pick up from the morning into the afternoon). I generally look at anything bad as a potential advantage for me, though, and I took off in my usual position trying to regain time lost on the swim.
I laid out a nice consistent effort, steadily moving up through the field. I was playing it a bit conservative since I knew I wasn’t in the kind of shape I was going into Kona.
The problem with multi-loop bike courses is the inevitable congestion on the second loop. And at this race it wasn’t just the people who were still on the first loop, it was also people from the other races that were going on, including an Olympic distance race. I managed to navigate the traffic fairly well, though, and I was starting to calculate what I would need to do on the run.
I had been doing well with my nutrition: a few servings of Perpeteum, extra endurolytes for the heat, and gels to fill any gaps. With just 7 miles left, I looked down for a split second to grab a final gel from my nutrition storage. I looked back up and saw a bike in front of me coming to a sudden stop as a truck had started to turn. I reached for my brakes and swerved, but it was too late. I managed to avoid the worst case scenario of plowing right into the other bike, but I clipped him with my left side and went down. I hit the asphalt as my bike skidded forward and I believe may have actually hit the truck.
I quickly got to my feet and grabbed my bike as the traffic officer and others, including I believe the driver of the truck, asked if I was alright. I insisted I was fine and hopped back in the saddle and tried to clip in. After continually responding that no, I did not need EMS, I let out one last frustrated forceful “NO” as I started to move forward again. Immediately hearing myself and feeling awful, I at least followed up with a “thank you.” If anyone happens to know the officer who was at the intersection of Tennessee Rd and Silver Palm Dr, tell him I’m sorry and thank you very much for helping…
My bike seemed to still be working, despite going down on the drive side. As for me, the worst of it seemed to be on my hip, forearm, and finger. I could hardly move my index finger, but I suspected it wasn’t broken. My forearm was extremely tender right where it rested on my aerobar pad, and I ended up doing the rest of the bike with nearly all of my weight on my left arm. This lasted a bit longer than I anticipated, as the bike course in previous years had only been about 54 miles but this year it turned out to be the full 56.
I made it back to transition and hopped off my bike, putting in a 2:18:19, which I thought was respectable and put myself in position for what I thought would be a strong run. It turned out to be the 3rd fastest bike split of the day, with the top one coming from Kona bike course record holder Cameron Wurf.
As soon as I took off on the run things didn’t feel right. At first I thought maybe it was the heat and humidity and my lack of acclimation. I was woozy, and nauseous. My legs were working fine but every step forward felt like I was going to hurl and/or fall over. It wasn’t until after the race, when I continued to feel bad for hours, that I realized I was probably suffering the after effects of a mild concussion.
I backed off until I felt the probability of *actually* hurling or falling over were fairly low. A few miles into the run I saw another one of my high school teammates, Adam Felde, who had come out with his family to support us. I tried to ask him what place I was in, and what my margins in front of me and behind me were. For I think the first time ever, I really wanted him to just tell me the margins were huge. If he did, I was going to dial it back further. The tracker hadn’t been working well for him, though, so he didn’t know for sure.
I just continued along, one mile at a time. I never did manage to get any nutrition down, and that gel I had been reaching for when I wrecked on the bike turned out to be the last calories I would get during the race. Near the end of the first loop I ran a bit past a turn before suddenly realizing my mistake and getting back on course. Near the end of my second loop I got a bit of a boost from seeing Chris and actually felt fairly strong the last few miles. I came in at 1:25:58, which turned out to be the fastest run of the day. I definitely had not made up as much ground as I had planned on, though, and still had no idea how I had placed. They didn’t even announce my name when I crossed the finish line.
Fortunately when I came across the line I was able to make my way to the post-race food and after a little while get down some fluids and pizza. I’ve found that no matter how bad I feel, whether running or just sitting around and sick, I can almost always eat pizza. Thank you Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you brain-washed me so well that my sub-conscious love of pizza can overpower any actual conscious problem. Then there was a food truck there that had “The World’s Best Flavored Fries!” I mean, how could I not? They were the world’s best.
I also took the time to inspect my body and equipment to try to reconstruct how I went down on my bike. I don’t recall actually hitting my head, but there was a slight scrape on my helmet and my neck was pretty sore. My original assessment that my forearm, hip, and finger (not broken, just scraped and jammed) took the brunt of it were correct, but I also had a significant impact to the side of my right knee and a bruised rib as well. I now have a tear in the kit on my right side to match the one on my left from 2017 Ironman Syracuse 70.3.
It appears that after landing I rolled to my back, picking up some road rash on the back of my ribs, before coming all the way around to get a nice hit on my left knee. Those will all heal, and fortunately the damage to my bike appears to be cosmetic: some scrapes on my seat, handlebars, pedals, etc. I’m actually pretty fortunate that I slid and rolled the way I did to dissipate the energy of the wreck. If that much force had been directed into a single point of impact I probably would not have gotten back up without something bent horribly in the wrong direction. And hey, I’m now 2 for 2 on wins of some sort when I’ve wrecked during the bike! New strategy for next year? Haha, I think I would maybe need some better bike equipment sponsor deals.
Eventually we got my results: 3rd overall and the top amateur! Cameron Wurf (1st) is Australian and Yunior Rosete (2nd) is Cuban but resides in the US. I’m not sure which country Rosete represents when racing, but depending on that I was top American regardless of amateur status. We waited around for hours for the awards ceremony before I was finally called up for the overall awards. I found it odd that they would put me together with the pros, but I happily went up and accepted my stuffed animal prize. Getting to share the podium with Cameron Wurf was also pretty awesome, and I got to chat with him for a while afterwards. He’s a great guy and I look forward to seeing what he can do next year.
I found out a few days after the race that he ended up getting DQ’d due to an error on the bike course. I imagine that’s easy to do when you’re that far in front, and I’m pretty confident he would have beaten me anyway. I actually would have rather he not get DQ’d so that I’m not kicking myself for not getting the win. 😉 He was out of reach; Yunior Rosete (2nd place) was not. I seem to continually find myself just out of reach of something. Although I guess that’s part of the beauty of sport: unless you win a world championship *something* will always be just out of reach to keep pushing you forward.
Then, it was time to wait for the actual amateur national championship awards. I was confused that they hadn’t done an overall amateur category, but assumed they must just be going by age group like Ironman does. Then they came to M30-34, and my name was not called. I looked around and grabbed the nearest USAT person I could to ask what was going on.
Long story short, I had registered for the “open” division as other races have encouraged and in some cases even compelled me to do. This race’s own website says the division is for “Fast or Competitive Age Group Male and Female racers.” Generally this division goes off in the first wave and is separated into its own overall awards category. It exists primarily for two reasons: to allow people of the same ability to enjoy competing directly against each other regardless of age group, and to minimize the added danger from having faster cyclists out on the course grouped with everyone else (which of course doesn’t matter when it’s a multi-loop course). In any case, I felt morally obligated to sign up for that division, as it’s where I belong.
At this race they didn’t have an overall category for amateurs, though. Despite the fact that I still went off in the same wave as everyone else in my age group, they also eliminated me from the age group results. Then this article even lists someone from an age group division as the overall winner (not Wurf, Rosete, or myself). As far as USAT was concerned, I might as well have bandited the race.
Fortunately, the officials who were there were extremely helpful and recognized how ridiculous the situation was. I never did get to go back on top of the podium, but I did at least get a National Champion jersey and medal. In the end, I know what I did and how I finished so, whatever. I earned those awards and I’m going to proudly wear the jersey and display the medal.
The only remaining issue is that I technically didn’t qualify for Team USA, the sole reason I did this race. The USAT officials who were at the race are trying to get things worked out, and I may qualify anyway through year end rankings. Silly me for thinking qualifying would be based on race results rather than paperwork skills. Apparently I forgot the cover sheet on my TPS report. I could go on for quite a while about the absurdity of qualifying for different events in triathlon and the separation of age groups, pros (elites), and fast non-pros (elite non-elites). That could be its own blog post, though, and it probably actually will be at some point. The tl;dr of that one will be that I wish they would just do things like most running races do.
After the race we grabbed dinner and met back up with Adam, for a mini high school reunion. It was great to catch up with this whole crew, and I’m really hoping I’ll get to head to the world championship next year with Chris. Oh, and the food was pretty delicious too.
Less than two days after leaving, I was back on a plane heading home. Having my friends with me at the race was great, but I was excited to get back and enjoy the results with the support that’s been there for me all along. I’ve also gotta say, I’m excited that triathlon season is over. It was a great year, but I (and my family) need the break. I’m ready to get back mostly on the trails where I belong and recharge for one last season of serious triathlon.