This past weekend has been a pretty big step for me. After so much hard work, I was finally able to achieve my first victory on the professional circuit. I knew it was possible, and I just needed a race where everything would finally come together for me.
I arrived in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, at which point I experienced the scariest cab ride of my life. Pitch black, going down some real sketchy streets, and a driver who didn’t have any clue of where to go. The times she stopped the car, opened the door, got out and started running were a little worrisome. All in all, it was quite the experience, but we ended up getting where we needed to go all in one piece. I’ll just have a funny story to tell at the dinner table the rest of my life.
The rest of the week leading up to the race was a bit of a struggle. It was incredibly hot and humid so staying hydrated was an issue. No matter how much I drank I couldn’t seem to catch up until about the day before the race. There was talk of changing the race because of the heat with even the water temperature around 90 degrees F. Luckily, we got to race an honest, normal distance Olympic race.
The men’s race started at 2pm which meant just sitting in the air conditioning and running through all possible scenarios in my head. I was able to get out to watch the beginning and end of the women’s race, where I got to see Bria finish 3rd. It was a huge step forward for her that we all saw coming, so I was ecstatic leading up to my race. It was much deserved success for her.
To begin my race, I had a not so great start. It was a beach start with a run in, and this is an area where I can definitely improve. I selected a slot on the right side since it seemed closer to the first buoy even though it was a left turn. However, with the bad start, I got pinched off to the outside around the entire first lap of the swim. This is just a tactical error that made the swim a lot harder for me than it needed to be. After one loop I saw I was right on the back of the lead pack and just needed to hold position and I would be in a perfect spot. I exited the water to the back of the pack that had begun to string out a little bit.
Onto the bike, and I started hitting it as hard as I could. I saw a big group forming just ahead and needed to chase onto it. It took me a little bit since they were also in a straight line hitting it as hard as they could to catch a couple guys off the front. I caught them just before they caught the couple up front. This was encouraging as I was able to chase down the group as they were chasing hard in just a few minutes. It meant that I wasn’t lucky to be at the front of the race. I executed well enough to put myself there and in a position that I could win. The pace stayed high for a little bit, but the group was big enough that nobody wanted to do any work so by the 3rd lap of 5, we were moving at a crawl. I was ok with this since even though I know I am strong on the bike, I was confident that I would be able to out run anybody. I spent the rest of the time focusing on my nutrition and keeping myself out of trouble.
Heading out for the run, I knew the biggest battle wasn’t going to be us competing against each other. It was going to be who could fall apart the least in the heat. So contrary to my normal style and reputation, I went out conservative. I felt as though I was running true tempo pace, and most of the pack was running a pretty similar speed. After about a K though, everybody’s initial punch out of transition started to go away, and paces began to slow. My tempo now started to move me way up the field. I got to the leaders a little before 2k into the run. A couple of them tried to match my pace, but I knew they were really struggling and would fall off. They did pretty quickly and I was in the clear. I pulled about 5 seconds on Jarrod by the end of the first lap. At this point, I knew it was my race to lose. I just had to conserve my energy correctly and try to stay relaxed. A little into the second lap I was screaming to myself in my head, “You’re leading an ITU race!” You always picture it in your mind, and then when it’s actually happening it’s like you’re not sure what to do. I told myself to just keep a nice tempo for the next 2 laps and then have a little extra for the final lap. By the last lap I had a descent lead that I knew I’d only lose if I really started to falter, but the heat started hitting me harder and harder. With about 1k to go I was incredibly dizzy and couldn’t really see straight. I was trying to pick it up at the end, but I’m sure it was looking pretty awful. I would collapse before I would let myself slow down and lose this. Luckily I was still running decently and it was enough to grab the win.
I wish I could have savored the experience of running down the finish chute for my first win, but to be honest, I don’t really remember it that much. I was so hot and dizzy that is all a little hazy from that last turn until after I was sitting in the tent with medical for a little bit. I was throwing up a little bit and was really not in good shape. I wasn't all with it. It trended a little like, oh I should call my parents, throw up, oh my gosh I can't believe I won, throw up, I need ice, vision gone, wow it's hot, throw up. You get the picture. After they got me cooled down a bit, I was ok.
The podium was really great. It is an amazing feeling to know that you are standing up there and the National Anthem is being played for you. My goal was to try to soak Bria with as much champagne (or sparkling cider in this case) as I possibly could. It never tastes as sweet as it does when it’s running down your sweaty, gross head on the podium. So much hard work goes into this, and in comparison, the reward is so short and sweet, but it is sure worth every single moment. To finally have a race win is really something special. I know it isn’t the biggest race, but it is a stepping stone to greater things where everybody needs to start. I've got a great team around me who has brought me a long way, and we know there is still much more to come.
Up next, I’m in Cartagena, Colombia for a race on October 18 where I would love to have a similar result, but I know I need to once again focus on everything I can in order to have a great race. Stay tuned, and wish me luck!!!