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A 2012 Season Opener in Costa Rica

By Chris Baird | March 30, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

bairdMy name is Chris Baird and I am a recent college graduate and currently a pro triathlete living, working and training in Boston. I graduated this past year from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania with business concentrations in Finance and Business Strategy. At Penn, I ran NCAA DI track and cross country, specializing in the 5k and 10k.

Having committed so much of my time and energy over the past 10 years to running, leaving competitive athletics after college was not an option for me. I have been competing in triathlons for several years, but mostly as a fun hobby to fill the dull void of pre-season summer training. Even though I never fully committed to the sport, I earned my elite license in my final year of college. Upon graduating, I jumped head first into triathlon and decided to take advantage of a three month break to train for an Ironman. Having checked what most view as the “pinnacle” of triathlon off my list, my focus has taken a complete 180 as I am now training for draft-legal ITU racing.

The transition from running to triathlon has definitely been tough. I work full-time at a boutique investment bank in Boston and am always trying to cram in training sessions. The time commitment to training has definitely been increased; as a runner I'd do a 12-mile run and call it a day. Now I have to do that plus a swim or a bike workout! That being said, my strong base as a runner has really paid off by giving me a good foundation for the dedication and time management needed to be a triathlete. My biggest challenge going forward is the swim. I've been trying to become a fish, but am definitely still in the guppy pond. Nothing comes easy in athletics so it's important to keep focus on my goals and strive to make progress.

bairdThis year, I started my 2012 season just a week or two ago at Rev3 Costa Rica. Although it was not my first "pro" race, it was the first race I have ever done with a pro mentality. Triathlon is no longer an offseason side event, but rather my primary focus as an athlete. Making this mental transition has been key to my training and development. Costa Rica was a perfect opportunity for me to test out some of the work my coach, Zane Castro, and I have been doing the past couple of months. With temperatures over 100 degrees, strong winds and gnarly climbs, Costa Rica was an honest (i.e. a triathlete's word choice for "hard as hell") course and was sure to point out areas I need to work on.

The first minute of any race is crucial — you can never win, but you can sure lose in just sixty ticks. In my swim, I learned the hard lesson of charging for those sixty seconds. From the gun, I was not aggressive enough and found myself swimming alone very quickly. This put me out of it immediately and was essentially like putting a 2:00 penalty on myself for not being in the pack.

Despite the poor start, I did make some significant improvements and felt really smooth in the water. For the first time, I didn’t pinball all over the course and actually sighted pretty well. May not be where I want to be, but it is a step in the right direction. The bike was tough, and had a lot of steep hills, but helped me learn where to push section and where to let up. Having been very “base” focused, I expected my legs to lack some of the race sharpness and know I have a lot of improvement coming my way. The run is typically my safe haven in triathlon. I can make up all the time I lost on the swim plus some to bring myself into the mix.

Coming off a running injury, I really had no idea what to expect on the run. With a tough course that was either soft sand, uphill, or steep downhill, it really required some strength to get through. Coming out of T2 I had a big gap to make up and decided to run “strategically” and let the others die and come back to me. It was so hot that a hard effort would run the risk of bonking (no pun intended). My strategy somewhat paid off when I finally saw competitors in the last mile. Despite making a decent effort, I wound up just short of closing the gap. Looks like I should’ve put more into the beginning miles than I thought. All that being said, despite feeling horrible on the run (and some very bloody heels), I still had one of the fastest split of the day.

Having this race under my belt, it is very clear what I need to continue doing to get to the next level. Seeing the attitude and intensity with which other pros approach the sport, I have newfound appreciation of what it takes, and what I need to give to be successful.

bairdAside from the race itself, Costa Rica provided a much needed exotic reprieve from city life. The trip got off to a rocky start when a massive electrical fire in Boston left my girlfriend and me without power for two days prior to our departure. Believe me, you do not want to pack your bike in the dark, and you especially do not want to lug two bike boxes down 7 flights of a narrow stairwell at 5 a.m. in the dark. Once we landed in Costa Rica, it was "pura vida" and all worries were left behind.

As my first international race (sorry Canada, no way I'm calling you international) the trip was quite an experience. Our small hotel was right on the water and we were surrounded by chickens, cawing roosters, iguanas, sloths, lemurs, and all types of cool animals. But, most importantly, sun. Having spent the daylight hours of the past four months behind a desk, I was in dire need of some vitamin D. Only problem was that I am so pasty white I burned in ten minutes, I could just feel the future skin cancer cells having a fiesta!

What is the best destination race you’ve done?