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Pushing Through

By John ONeill | June 06, 2013, 12 a.m. (ET)

Mediocre finishes are sometimes the toughest to deal with, I think. On bad days there is an outstanding reason as to why the day was bad – sickness, injury, crashes, etc. The good days speak for themselves. With an average finish there is such a mix of good and bad that you’re left teetering between happy and frustrated. So this was the case in my last race, the ITU Dallas Continental Cup held last weekend in Texas.

I was coming off a string of good finishes, even a win in my last amateur race in Richmond. But I was nervous coming into the Dallas race for a couple of reasons: it was hot, it was windy and the field was much deeper than any race I’ve done. My main worry was that this race was my first Olympic-distance triathlon. My longest previous race was a sprint – half the distance, half the time. Going against a deep field in the unknown longer distance was like facing goliath while both blind and blindfolded.

 I was also very excited for the race: it was a U23 World Championship qualifier, both London Olympians for the USA were on the start list, as were a bunch of my training partners from the training center. There was ample opportunity to prove to myself that I belong on the start list of such a competitive race.

The swim was fast. I knew it would be with guys like Greg Billington – who would go on to win the race – Luke Farkas, Ryan Bice, Hunter Kemper and Ben Kanute all lined up. I was pinched by the aggressive swimmers right from the gun. By the second lap of the swim, I had worked my way into the third swim pack and latched on to someone’s feet until the end. 

The beginning of the bike was solid. Our swim pack made for a nice cycling group and we tore up the first three laps of the eight-lap course. We caught the second group of swimmers quickly. Instead of pressing on with our newfound compadres of the bike, we did the opposite. Despite the efforts of Manny Huerta and Michael Poole to push things along, the group was content. Meanwhile, the front group that was 2 minutes ahead was then 2:30 ahead, then 3:30 ahead and almost 4:00 ahead by the end of it. That wasn’t good.

The run was a bummer, and over 10k I learned a lot about the Olympic-distance. Being that running is my background, I could always rely on whipping people once it became a footrace. I learned real fast that a 10k run following a 1500m swim and 40k bike is not really like a 10k at all. Rather, it is a festival of struggle, exhaustion and mental angst. This, I was not ready for.

I ran a solid race for the first 5k working my way up from about 20th place to 11th. I could see the 10th place runner in front of me but I was already dealing with some unfamiliar exhaustion.  No less, the heat and humidity were beating me into the cement. At 5k, my body was done. The longer distance zapped my drive. In the last 4k I fell back to 17th and met the finish line somewhat ashamed of my final efforts.

I now have a deeper respect for the guys that got off the bike and tore up the run.  Guys like Sean Jefferson and Greg Billington killed the run. Both my coach and my family told me I did well considering it was my first Olympic-distance race. I hate the word “considering” when it comes to racing. It has the resounding annoyance of an excuse. But, in a way, there is some truth to that consideration. The next time I meet an Olympic Distance race, I do see it going much better – particularly the run – as I will have some idea of what to expect. I was proud to have finished, glad to have some new points next to my name and look forward to tipping the scales back to solid finishes.