Third Time’s a Charm

By Walter Schafer | Aug. 25, 2015, 8:25 a.m. (ET)
The Detroit EDR (Elite Development Race) marked my third draft-legal, sprint-distance triathlon with the first two being in Clermont back in March. The two days in Clermont were my first two triathlons after a brief hiatus from competition following my NCAA running career at the University of Notre Dame. It was great to get back on a course and compete. I had only started to swim a month or two prior to the Clermont race, so I had no real expectations of getting on the podium; I mainly wanted to gain some draft-legal experience and sink my teeth back into competing.

My result at Clermont exposed what I had anticipated — my swim was holding me back from being a successful draft-legal athlete. Trying to swim on my own or with a masters team wasn’t doing the trick; I needed to be in a more structured environment with on-deck coaching. Ken Axford coaches a high performance squad out of Colorado Springs, Colorado, called Peak Multisport. He and the other members of the squad graciously invited me to join them in the pursuit of a career in triathlon.

Between Ken’s coaching and training in a daily environment with other motivated athletes, my swim quickly began to improve. On top of all of the help from Peak Multisport, Barb Lindquist and USA Triathlon’s Collegiate Recruitment Program (CRP) having been providing me with resources to improve my skills. Just prior to Detroit, the CRP held a 10-day camp in Colorado Springs to refine our skills. We were fortunate enough to live on campus at the Olympic Training Center and learn from some of the top athletes and coaches in triathlon. After my gains in the pool and the refinement of my skills at camp, I finally felt ready to compete for a podium spot at an EDR.

As the race was approaching, we kept getting water temperature updates. Races are only wetsuit legal if the water temperature is below 68 degrees. As an athlete working on his swim, I was hoping for a wetsuit swim due to the increased buoyancy a wetsuit offers. About a week out from the race we got an update saying that the water temperature was nice and balmy, hovering in the mid-70s.

The warm water meant that I was really going to have to focus on my swim to make the pack. As the gun went off, my goal was to get out hard and get on a good pair of feet. After the mayhem that is an open water swim start, I found some feet about 300m into the race (my timing chip was ripped off of my ankle in the first minute of the race). I didn’t know exactly how the race was playing out in front of me since I was having sighting issues caused by a rogue heel to face, so I just stuck on the feet in front of me in hopes that I would be with other athletes running to transition.

Running out of the water I could see athletes around me, a very pleasant first experience, and I knew that I could be in a bike pack. I charged out of T1 to try to catch two athletes that were in front of me, but I wasn’t making up any ground on them, as they were already working together and using their energy more efficiently. A quick glance over my shoulder (thanks CRP camp skills sessions) let me know a group had formed behind me, so I took that time to get into my shoes and speed back up to be able to hop on the group as they approached.

Our group worked well together for the most part, but I felt the pressure to take some longer, stronger pulls to try to stay as close to the athletes ahead of us as possible. As we came into T2, I heard someone yell, “You are 90 seconds back!” At that moment I felt a little disheartened, a minute and a half is a lot to claw back in a 5k. Little did I know that spectator was referring to how far back we were off of the leader. Luckily, Barb was positioned about 600m into the run and let me know I was only 30 seconds back from third place and elite qualification. I knew that I had the run capable to close that gap, but I couldn’t get too excited and try to close the gap at a pace I couldn’t sustain. I moved into third place with about 1k to go, and from that point on knew that I would earn my elite license if I just held my form and pace.

Crossing that finish line in third place was an incredible feeling, a feeling of joy and confirmation that making the move to a full-time training environment was paying dividends. I feel like I have improved a lot since Clermont, much of which would not have been possible without Ken, Peak Multisport and Barb. They have all gone so far and above their job description, and I cannot thank them enough. I would also like to thank USA Triathlon for all the work they put in to get the U.S. athletes competing with the best athletes in the world, and for all the time and money they spend helping young athletes like myself develop. Lastly, I would like to give a huge thank you to my parents and brothers. Without their support I would not be able to chase down my dream.