Collegiate nationals 2017

Breaking the finishing tape 2 days in a row is an experience I do not think I will forget

Breaking the finishing tape 2 days in a row is an experience I do not think I will forget

My last collegiate triathlon and my first national title. Collegiate nationals 2017 was a bit of a wild ride, but it is an experience I will treasure for a long time. 

Here are a few highlights:

Congrats on CU Triathlon for keeping the combined streak alive #8straight

CU Triathlon team- 8 straight combined team titles.

CU Triathlon team- 8 straight combined team titles.

Great races by the other guys on the podiums: Nick Noone, Sean Harrington, Chris Douglas, Ernie Mantell, and draft legal: Josh Fowler and Colin Chartier. It was awesome racing you all plus the many others crushing it all weekend and keeping it fast!

CU Triathlon girls team: congrats on the national title! It was especially memorable to share this with my girlfriend, Melissa, racing in her first nationals race.

Coming into this race, I knew I had a bit of a target on my back as I was second in the draft legal race last year and 5th in the non- draft. Furthermore, since I am a graduate student, there is a fair bit of apprehension about me racing. I will simply say that at CU Boulder, you do not casually race for the triathlon team especially at nationals-- rather it demands being an integral member of the team. It is, in fact, because the team requires us to be contributing members all year long that I race for CU. When I joined the team in the fall of 2015 as I started my PhD at CU Boulder, I did not imagine how passionate I would feel about the CU triathlon team and how it would become indestinguishable from the team environment I had missed out when the University of Delaware cut its team while I was there. There is simply nothing quite like racing for a team that you spend countless hours training with.

On to the races.

Image from USA Triathlon- CIMAGES. Start of men's non-draft race.

Image from USA Triathlon- CIMAGES. Start of men's non-draft race.

The anticipation before the draft legal race is palpable and the excitement you feel waiting to be introduced rivals any other race in which I have taken part. I got to pick my spot on the pontoon, and went far left. This ended up being a fairly bad decision as the first turn bouy was further right than I expected. I came out of the swim in 9:00 about 45 seconds down to the leaders lead by the stellar swimmer, Eli Pugh. I was concerned but motivated to ride hard.

Images from Troy Winslow- thank you!

Images from Troy Winslow- thank you!

I knew we would have to hammer the bike and with other strong riders in the chase like Chris Douglas, we were able to bridge to the leaders on the 3rd lap. The last 2 laps I tried to stay near the front without burning too many matches.

400m into the run with Josh Fowler, Eli Pugh, Timmy Winslow, Graham Pimentel, and Chris Douglas in the frame.

400m into the run with Josh Fowler, Eli Pugh, Timmy Winslow, Graham Pimentel, and Chris Douglas in the frame.

Once on the run, I made sure to build into the first 1k as I usually race best with a more conservative start. I made my way into 1st by the end of 1k and tried to maintain fast but smooth running to the finish as I knew the race the following day would be painful. I ran controlled and crossing the finish line first on that day was thrilling.

Around 2.5 km into the run. I had build a 10 second lead by this point. 

Around 2.5 km into the run. I had build a 10 second lead by this point. 

The Olympic distance non-draft race was actually the race I was more excited for. I put in a winter with a lot of hard trainer sessions. From January to April, my goal was to improve my power numbers, and I really saw a difference. I did two trainer workouts/week and usually some intervals on my long ride. This brought my best 2 x 20 minute trainer sessions to 315 average watts, which was markedly improved from years past, where I struggled to do 285 prior to St. George for the same workout about 1 year ago.

Courtesy of super Buff, Jesse Frank. 1/2 way through the bike. Bike file here: https://www.strava.com/activities/953698949

Courtesy of super Buff, Jesse Frank. 1/2 way through the bike. Bike file here: https://www.strava.com/activities/953698949

The non draft race went exactly according to a plan Nick Noone and I came up with after Havasu (with the exception of our third teammate, Timmy Winslow who had a mechanical early on the bike). Nick and I swam together exiting around 15th and 1:30 down from super swimmer Eli Pugh. After 6 miles of hammering averaging 330 until the far turn around, Nick and I took the lead. We traded leading and trailing by 15 meters or so. We wanted to really hammer the bike like we knew we could and maintain an extra legal distance between riders to prevent any suspicions. I ended up averaging 300 watts for the ride- and I am 67.5 kg, so about 4.4 W/kg. I knew I could run well off this and had reserve if need be. Big shout out to Chris Douglas and Ernie for bridging up. That was a monster effort!

We got off the bike with Chris Douglas (Georgia Tech), Ernie Mantell (ASU), and Gordon Williams (UCSD). I employed a similar strategy on the run and built for 1k before trying to race. I felt strong in this race but my legs were starting to show signs of fatigue from the previous day's effort. At the turnaround near 3.5 miles, I had about 20 seconds on my teammate, Nick Noone, who had another 20 seconds on third. I was ecstatic as Nick and I going 1-2 was something we considered possible albeit difficult for the past year. The rest of the run was focusing on holding off any charges and getting across the line first, in 1:54:50.

 

The drama

If you have made it this far, I am amazed! The following should be the most interesting and only drama filled part of the read, hopefully you enjoy. I welcome any constructive comments. 

I do not want to be a bad sport, or seem jaded but the events that followed the men's olympic distance race were, at best, unfortunate and, at worst, biased. My bike was racked the wrong direction i.e. with the seat facing away from me. This "infraction" penalized me 2 minutes, brought me to 5th place, and left me pretty pissed and feeling unfairly targeted (more on that below). A similar sentiment was echoed from some on the men's podium and a few others on social media. I truly appreciated the other guys who backed me up (meant a lot to everyone that reached out), and at the end of the day, I take responsibility for not knowing this rule. 

I do believe the crux of this issue is that rules like this and their current methods of enforcement are bad for the sport. When I asked the lead official, J Ritterbeck, why I was penalized but over 50 other bikes in transition were not penalized despite being racked the same way (some as close as 1 rack away), he said the officials "could not police this rule for everyone". This is unacceptable to only enforce a rule for a few people. If you want to enforce a rule, it must be fairly and unbiasedly enforced. It is not a numbers issue as an official could walk through transition following the completion of the race and check all bikes. Instead I lost 2 minutes on what seems to be  as a small infraction. While I messed up and did not know this rule (it is not a rule in pro or draft legal racing), it makes the sport look silly. An alternative approach would be a less sever penalty during the run (such as a 15 second stand down penalty). Right now, this penalty cost as much as a drafting penalty. I think it is safe to assume I did not gain much time from racking my bike the wrong direction, and as such a time penalty gradient seems fair. 

At the end of the day, the experiences, hard work, and feelings from the two days of racing cannot be changed by a penalty. Most importantly, life goes on and I learned something. I am most ecstatic for the University of Colorado Tri team's performance and can't thank this team for all it has given to me over the past 2 years. I genuinely will cherish the memories and friends made. 

At the end of the day, my teammate, great friend, training partner, and athlete that I coach, Nick Noone ended up winning. If this had to be how this race went down, I wouldn't have asked for it in any other way. 

Could not have done this without the love and support of family (there and far)- thanks for coming, Mom, the CU Tri team, and personal sponsors Honey Stinger and Major League Triathlon

Last thing and maybe most important, I am beyond stoked to have kept the CU Triathlon combined win streak in tact. #8straight!