USAT Duathlon National Championships
In 2017 I accidentally won my first duathlon. Some time after that I got an email from USA Triathlon inviting me to the 2018 Duathlon National Championships in Greenville, SC. There are a couple things that, if you’ve followed me on the blog or social media, you’ll already know. First, I like to start the race season early and second, I’m a huge pansy when it comes to cold swims. I decided, then, that kicking off 2018 with a duathlon sounded like a fun change of pace. There were three options for races over the weekend, an ITU style draft legal sprint on Saturday, a non-draft (TT) sprint and finally the non-draft standard distance on Sunday. I signed up for both the draft legal and non-draft sprint races.
Until this weekend I had never raced a draft legal multisport event. Actually I had never raced a draft legal ANYTHING. I’ve ridden in plenty of pace lines and done some aggressive draft riding with my friends and on group rides but I’ve never done it in a race setting. I was very excited to see how that played out on race day. See, the thing about a draft race (especially a draft DU) is that it is a runners race and I’ve never considered myself a runner. My strong area has always been the bike and being able to draft really makes it all about that last run. I strategized before the race that my best chance was to go out on run 1 and try to find a pack running just above my “comfort zone” to pull me along to get me to the bike. Then, I would find a strong group to work with on the bike (ideally containing guys NOT in my age group) and go all out on the last run. Now, that would have worked well if I was ONLY racing Saturday, BUT with a race on Sunday I had to think about tactics there as well. Still, with a slot on Team USA on the line and a chance to compete in on the world stage on the line, I had to give it my all.
Now, a quick aside about Team USA and worlds: USAT assigns slots on Team USA by placement AFTER the age up rule is applied. I skimmed over that last bit upon reading the qualification process and it made for a little bit of a whirlwind of emotions after day 1…. More on that later.
I woke up Saturday to less-than-ideal weather conditions. 50 degree ambient temps and rain greeted me on race morning. I was a little apprehensive about the draft race in rain. I don’t doubt my bike handling but I do question everyone else’s. Pure cyclists have long regarded multisport athletes (triathletes in particular) as… well… lacking in the bike handling department and in some cases with good reason. I knew I would have to be extra vigilant so as to avoid hitting the deck if things hit the fan racing in tight quarters.
Here’s the part of the report where I’d normally talk about my morning routine, but since all of you have (hopefully) read one of my reports before, we’ll skip it. Just suffice it to say I woke up, ate Cherry Pop Tarts, pooped, went to the race site, set up my transition, did a warm up and got to the starting line as planned. There, now on to the race:
Both sprint races consisted of a 5k run, 18k bike and a final 2.85k run to the finish. Tension was high in the start corral. I was in the first wave to go off. There was a light drizzle and it was cold but there were a surprising amount of spectators there. The energy was high and on the horn it was like getting shot out of a cannon. It was a slight down hill for a few meters before a sharp right and little climb out of the park before turning onto the highway for two laps. I looked at my watch after hitting the road to see we were running a 5:15 pace. I KNEW that wouldn’t work for me so I backed off to mid 6, a pace I could hold. I there was a slight break in the pack and I found myself just trying to hold the tail end of the lead group of 20-30 guys. I was feeling strong and the miles ticked by pretty quickly. My legs were still quite happy when I made the turn off the road back into the park to head to transition. My rack spot was garbage and located near run in/out meaning I had to either run in socks or my bike shoes ALL THE WAY to the other side of transition twice. I opted to run in my bike shoes because I don’t do flying mounts. Transition was quick, and I clopped my way to bike out. On the bike course I pretty quickly caught up to a guy who seemed to have a clue. “Let’s work!”, he yelled. “10 second pulls!”, I replied. We had a great chemistry immediately and worked quickly to move up the field. There were three laps of the bike course and before long we caught up to another small group. They joined our little party but became a bit of a aggravation as the day went on. My friend and I encouraged them to work but they either didn’t know how or weren’t interested. We tried several times to get away from them but they were strong riders and we just couldn’t shake them. This kept up all the way back to T2. Thankfully, we all made it safely back and it was time for the last push. On the way out of T2 my thumb caught my bib and ripped it off my belt. I opted to go back the few steps to get it over chancing a penalty for not having it on the run. It cost me a few seconds but in the end it wouldn’t be enough to change the outcome. The legs were heavy out of T2 but they cooperated pretty well. I was holding pace in the low 7’s and staying pretty “happy” there. Run 2 was one lap of the same run course from earlier. I pushed hard and very shortly I was rounding the final corner and hitting the red carpet for the final kick to the finish. I crossed the line in 1:03:29. Good enough for 10th in my AG and a slot on Team USA… so I thought....
Remember when I said the slots go to top 10 AFTER age ups…. Well that was the bit I glossed over. In the excitement of the day I was sure I had a slot if the times held but I wouldn’t find out for sure until 6pm at the awards ceremony. That gave me all day to stew on it. I tried not to get my hopes up but I just couldn’t help it a bit. The afternoon was spent napping, watching movies and just generally trying to rest up. Before heading to the awards ceremony the wife had a short run to do so I went to the hotel gym with her. I spun my legs out on the gym bike and did a little stretching and yoga in attempts to get my legs ready for day 2. Upon arriving at the host hotel for awards (we stayed further out at a less expensive hotel), I checked the Team USA list. I found myself in 11th, one spot out. I was in disbelief. Disappointment washed over me. I knew there was still a chance of roll down but that didn’t matter. To me, that was a consolation prize. My wife reminded me that there was another chance tomorrow. She was right.
My race Sunday was in the afternoon with my wave going off at just after 1pm. That morning, though, the Standard Distance race was underway early and with several friends competing, we wanted to get there and cheer. We arrived in time to see all our friends as they came off the bike and headed out to run 2. It wasn’t raining, but it was cold and everyone looked frozen coming off the bike. I was really hoping it would warm up before my race.
By around 11, it was time to get ready so I trekked back to the car to eat and get the bike. Lunch was, you guessed it, 2 Cherry Pop Tarts. Hey, if it ain’t broke…
I got my (backup) kit on. I had to go to the backup as my only Podium kit was WAY to wet and smelly to wear again. Our new team kits hadn’t arrived and before I left and I only have 1 Podium kit that wasn’t covered in XTERRA dirt so I had to default the spare kit.
Honestly, my plan was basically the same for the race as it was on day 1 other than on the bike. Since today was a TT the bike plan revolved around going as hard as I could to set up the second run. Run 1 was good, a bit slower than yesterday but that was to be expected on tired legs. On the bike I was moving well. The legs were ok but I was down a bit on power. I was trying to stay around 220-230 watts but I just didn’t have that much in there. Still, I made up a ton of time on the bike and set myself up nicely for run 2. I came out onto the run course feeling, well, great honestly. The legs, while fatigued, were turning over with relative ease and my pace was in the low 7’s for mile 1. Heading into the last bit of the run I found some more speed in the legs and made a great final push for the line. I crossed in 1:04:45, a bit slower than Saturday but still good enough for 10th in the AG.
Now, for the non draft race, there were only 8 spots allocated for Team USA. However, age ups still had to be tallied AND qualifiers from yesterday’s race had to be removed so I still had a chance. We packed up our things and headed to the host hotel to meet up with our friends (and my coach) Lana and her husband, Chris who both raced in the morning’s Standard Distance event. We still had some time before awards and Team USA announcements so we made a quick field trip to a local Thai joint for some grub. Chris had done a bit of maths and by his calculations I looked good for the quali. Still, after yesterday, I didn’t want to get my hopes up. It wasn’t until they revealed the lists that I was able to find myself… in 7th. I had done it. After a rollercoaster weekend of emotions and two races in two days I had accomplished a goal I didn’t even really know I had.
Looking back over my performances in both races I’m very pleased with where I am in my training and I’m hoping to build on this fitness as the season progresses. I was very thankful to have my wife there supporting me and it was great having so many great friends to share these experiences with. As always, this individual sport takes a village and I’m forever grateful to Kevin and my Podium Racing teammates for supporting me, Lana for her guidance and direction, Patrick for helping to make me a stronger and more stable athlete, Dr. Talley at Healthsource Chiropractic for keeping me performing in top condition, Jason at ORR Carbon Wheels for keeping me rolling fast, Gerry and the crew at Cedar Bluff Cycles for keeping all my bikes in top shape, Stoke Signal Socks for keeping my feets happy and my co-workers at Harper Audi for all they do while I’m out gallivanting and racing. Lastly, thanks again to my wife and my family for being the best support and fan club I could ever ask for.
Next up, I’ll be trying my hand at some bike racing. I’ll be flying the Podium flag at the Oak Ridge Velo Classic Road Race and TT next weekend! Until then...