Earning It

By John ONeill | April 25, 2013, 12 a.m. (ET)

johnYou’d never think a trip to the Caribbean could be hellacious, but this last weekend it was the face of adversity that laughed at us. I traveled down to the island nation of Barbados for my debut race as a professional triathlete at the ITU Bridgetown Pan American Cup alongside teammates Luke Farkas, Justin Roeder, Kyla Chapman, Erin Jones and Johanna Gartman. What’s more, the race would be my first experience racing internationally and an experience where nothing went quite right.

Our travel story was rough. We had two canceled flights, flew on three different airlines, paid an obscene amount of bike fees, slept one night in the Boston airport’s baggage claim and only narrowly made it before they grounded all mass transportation out of the Boston area. I could go on but this was hardly the ideal flight itinerary before a very competitive race. We had been traveling for nearly 30 hours and arrived in Barbados exhausted and with one less day to rest before the race. After clearing customs and getting to our hotel, it was time to forget the crazy travel, relax, rest and refocus for the race.

To sum up my feelings about the race, I’ll say it was overall frustrating but nonetheless something I could be proud of. I would end up finishing sixth out of 20 competitors in a strong international field.

The frustrations came from mostly weather and mistakes on my part. The start of the swim was a beach start with about five running steps down the beach into a hard and fast dive. I used a new pair of goggles that I knew were sketchy on those fast dives. Without fail, I dove into the water and they blew off my face immediately.

johnI was told one thing about racing in Barbados: when it rains, the roads get slick.  By the time I was warming up for my race, the weather turned from overcast to complete tropical downpour. Almost half of the men’s field would crash. The roads were so slippery that your back wheel would spin out whenever you tried to get out of your saddle on the climbs.

Coming into T2, I made the very dumb mistake of racking my bike in the wrong spot. Very amateur, I know. We all had our names and country’s flag on our transition spot. I came in from the bike a little disoriented and racked my bike where I thought was my spot, reassured by an American flag on the rack. I realized this wasn’t my spot when I went to put on shoes and saw they weren’t mine. To avoid a penalty, I grabbed all my stuff and re-racked in my position just a few spots away. In the end, this probably cost me 20 seconds.

Once I got on the run, I laid down a fast first 1k to make up for my transition mistake, fought through the first side cramp I’ve had in a running race since high school, and picked off runners up until the finish line.

It sounds like a lot of negatives, from the flights to the finish line. But I can write this with pride in my finish.

johnWhen nothing seemed to be going right, I kept my gloves on and fought until there was no more fighting left to do. This was also a difference I saw between racing amateur elite development races and my first professional race: everyone fights for every inch of the race. When the pros fall down, they get back up. Even when the roads are dangerous, they ride hard. On the run, they never let you run by -  you have to break them on effort.

I had been preparing for this race since I finished my last race and I would have been disappointed to have left Barbados knowing I gave up because the race and its lead up weren’t smooth. I fought like the best of them and earned a solid finish.