It was a testament to my performance earlier in the year to even receive a chance to be in this race, and for that I am immensely proud and thankful. At the end of the qualifying period, I was ranked 92nd on the 70.3 points list, but due to other commitments, injuries, travel, etc., many decided to pass on their slot, so the 49th slot ended up rolling down to yours truly. I was already committed to racing the Patriots Half in Williamsburg that weekend, but as Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) once said, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.” So I reset my goals for that weekend and got on with it.
I kept the lead up to the race as normal as any other race. It was nice going into a race with absolutely no pressure by anyone other than myself. As I was ranked basically last in the field, every person I beat would be a huge feather in my cap.
I knew that although I had been working well on my swim, I was in for quite the uphill battle when it came to the start of this race. Usually there are a few guys who go off the front, perhaps even a small lead pack depending on the quality of the field, and I am able and consistently ready to join what I would consider the second pack out in the water. Every once in a while the stars will align and I’ll make the main group. Well in this race, the main group consisted of guys who would ALL be off the front in some of these smaller races. So I had identified a few guys without a swimming pedigree who I could potentially group up with if I couldn’t hang on the coattails of the main group. And sure enough, that was the case. We started with a dive off a pontoon (which was a first for me) and while it made me a little nervous not knowing how diving off of a pontoon with 40 other guys would be, it turned out not too bad. I came up to pretty clean water right away and immediately worked to get into a draft and hang there as long as possible. Unfortunately I had to start on basically the far left side of the line, so I didn’t have as big of a wake to follow as some others who started closer to the middle (although I may not have had to deal with as much melee, either, so who knows). Either way, by the end of the first 300m I found myself in dead last with one other swimmer. I was happy I had company, and I was intent on keeping our pace strong throughout to limit the time to the field. What was advertised as an upstream swim turned out to be mainly a regular swim since the current was all but non-existent. There were a couple of swimmers that had hung on a little longer to the pack but had since been dispatched, so the two of us focused on gathering up the remains. As we picked up swimmers, the task became a little easier, as we had now a group of six sharing the pace making. It seemed that everyone was keen on limiting the bleeding, so we all worked, even dropping one guy in our group off the back with a few hundred to go.
Coming out of the water just over 28 minutes was an average swim for me. I had lost just about four minutes to the front two and about three minutes to the large group that came out of the water. That is standard for me, and against such a strong swim field, I was actually pretty encouraged. I was even more encouraged when I realized that coming out of the water with me were Sebastian Kienle, Jesse Thomas and Trevor Wurtele. I figured I would probably let Kienle go, but I was prepared to ride with the other two strong cyclists in an effort to bridge the gaps.
The first five miles of the course were fairly uneventful. I didn’t pop my bottle off my bike, which has become pretty standard practice in downtown Chattanooga over the past three years. I kept contact with the group and made it to Lookout Mountain feeling good and ready to work. Strategically, I made a pretty big error here. While most of the courses I race are relatively flat or rolling, I only use a large chain ring on my bike. It simplifies things, drops my bike weight, and makes me marginally more aero. Well, for whatever reason, I decided to keep using only a front chain ring, so I approached Lookout Mountain with a 54-28 as my smallest gear combination. Now I will say I did make it up the climb, and I felt pretty darn good doing so, but realistically, holding a cadence of 65 for close to 15-20 minutes @ 320 watts was not doing my legs any favors.
Anyways, I stayed with the group on the plateau section of Lookout Mountain. Right at the end, a car pulled up beside me, decided to slot in between me and the guy up ahead of me, and then proceeded to just sit behind that rider. It just so happened this occurred at the left hand turn right before the long fast downhill. So the group of 4 got on their merry way, and I basically had to stop at the intersection so as not to get run over by this guy. Of course he decided to go down the mountain as well, and of course he decided to only drive at like 35 mph, so I’m sitting up, stuck behind this car freewheeling downhill. Eventually I had enough space and passed the guy on the inside, got up to 45 mph or so and tried to re-catch the group I had just been with minutes before. It took me probably 15 miles to finally get back with the group. When I did rejoin, they had picked up another 4-5 guys who had fallen back off their pace with the faster swim group. So with 10 riders strong, we maneuvered through Chickamauga and back to the main highway. Once we hit the highway, Jesse Thomas put in a big push at the front and the group splintered all over the place. I was at the back, so attentively I moved around the guys that couldn’t hang and made the final selection of five coming back into T2 with Jesse Thomas, Trevor Wurtele, Mario de Elias, and Antoine J. Desroches. Some of you may have read Jesse Thomas’ race report, and unlike Jesse who was supremely disappointed in his bike ride, I was pretty pleased with mine. I averaged 286 watts (.87 IF) and that was about 10 watts greater than any 70.3 I had completed this year. So while my ride certainly wasn’t perfect in all ways, I was happy with my effort, and pleased that I got off the bike with a group to run with.
Legs didn’t feel super (probably thanks to Lookout Mountain) but nutrition had been good, so all in all I was ready to run. The five of us spread out pretty quickly, and unfortunately I was the second one to get popped off the group only about a half mile into the run.
I kept the other three in sight about 20 seconds up on me, and kept working to hold the gaps small. Around mile 3, de Elias started coming back to me, so over the next 2 miles I really focused to reeling him in. He wasn’t running slowly, so once I caught him I figured I would have an ally to work with for a while. I passed him and immediately a gap formed, but about a half mile later he re-passed me and put in a pretty heavy surge that I couldn’t sustain. In the meantime, we both caught Wurtele.
With seven miles remaining, I had de Elias about 10 seconds out in front of me, trying to close down the gap he had created. We started getting mixed up in the age group race, and by the end of the second loop, de Elias had put another 10 seconds of so into me. As we turned to the finish, I noticed he had just passed a fading athlete, but by that time it was too late, and I came into the finish chute 26th.
I had a hard time dealing with this race. On one hand, I earned the right to race, and it was an opportunity not many professionals in the sport get to have. On the other, I might as well have been in a totally separate race, as I was never in contention from about the first 300m of the swim on. It was a solid race, not an exceptional one, and although I performed pretty well, it’s been hard for me to stay really motivated on the run when I know that the race is 10+ minutes ahead of me. The best runs I’ve had over the past two years have been Eagleman 2016 (finished 2nd Overall), Chattanooga 70.3 2017 (finished 2nd overall), and Eagleman 2017 (4th overall). When I’m actually racing for something that’s meaningful to me, I can bring it up another level. When it’s the difference between 26th and 23rd overall, it’s much more difficult to destroy myself. Getting out on the run and realizing that I would need to run basically a 1:10 just to move into 10th is a tough pill to swallow. So psychologically I am going to have to work on that, as my swim will more than likely always be subpar compared to the very top swimmers, and my bike will still put me into T2 with a deficit. If I want to get the best out of myself, I need to be able to turn it on no matter how the race is going and no matter how far down I may be.