Estonia: Positively Surprising

By Dylan Sorensen | July 15, 2015, 11:09 a.m. (ET)
Aside from excitement surrounding exploring a new place in the world, I had no idea what to expect when my teammate and I left our European base in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain, to head to Tartu, Estonia. This was to be our first international race on the ITU circuit, a sprint distance triathlon in the second largest city of Estonia. Situated in northeastern Europe, Estonia was held by the Soviet Union from the mid-1940s until the early 1990s, making the country far more of an unknown than most of the tourist destinations around the Baltic Sea (Finland, Norway, Sweden, etc.). I left with not only a sense of accomplishment, but with a positively surprising experience that made the beginning of the CRP’s two-month stay in Europe an incredible one.

We arrived by air on Thursday to Tallinn, the country’s largest city and capital. From there, we took a 2.5-hour bus ride through rural Estonia to our final destination of Tartu. The view was scenic and reminded me much of Wisconsin, but not as hilly. We easily found our hotel and were pleasantly surprised that it was situated in the town square, a beautiful and historic setting dating back to A.D. 1030. Most of the time leading up to the Sunday race was spent resting and getting adjusted to the different time zone, though we still got in a bit of training. We were treated to 20 hours of sunlight per day, thanks to the longitudinal coordinate of the city’s geographic location. This was something that I was unaccustomed to and while it made it difficult to sleep, I loved the extra vitamin D. The weather was, in my mind, perfect every day with temperatures ranging between 55-75 degrees Fahrenheit.

The course was set up to swim in the narrow, fresh water river that ran through the center of town (just 200 meters from our hotel), bike through the old part of the city (including cobbles and a steep hill), and a flat out-and-back run through the center of town. My body took to this place well, and I was incredibly excited to race.

The swim was a particular challenge due to a strong current. Though it was supposed to be 750 meters, which normally takes around 8-9 minutes to complete, this was a bit longer with the swimmers exiting the water between 12-14 minutes. I was 40th of around 50 out of the water and sprinted as quickly as I could to my bike in the first transition. The first lap (of four) was spent riding as hard as I possibly could to catch a couple people. By the start of the second lap, I had dropped the people that I caught and was joined by an athlete from the Czech Republic. The two of us rode the rest of the way together, splitting the pace among the incredibly technical course, which thankfully suited both of us. Some of the features were a 16- to 17-percent 400-meter hill, a 180-degree turn at the bottom of a steep descent, and 18 90-plus degree turns per 5-kilometer loop. We safely traversed the course and started to catch the second chase pack toward the end. I had a solid T2 and was surprised to feel good immediately on the run.

Given that I had missed three weeks running out of the previous six due to a bike crash and contracted MRSA and strep in the penultimate week before this race, I didn’t even remember what it felt like to feel good running. I set an aggressive pace and started swallowing up athletes like I swallowed chlorinated water when I started swim training a year ago (in gratuitous amounts, I promise you). By the end of the first (of two) laps I was in 24th place, and my goal coming into the race was top 20. A top-20 finish would earn me some ITU points toward my world ranking, a feat that I have yet to have achieved. I ran down two more people in the last lap and almost caught a third, but finished in 22nd place knowing that I put my best effort forward.

Looking back on the race, it was a really good step in the right direction even though I didn’t score any points. I am incredibly thankful to be in a position where I am healthy, happy and getting to live my dream by racing all over the world. As an athlete in USA Triathlon’s Collegiate Recruitment Resident Program, we have one of the best coaches in the world in Jarrod Evans, access to a network of countless other high performance mentors, and an incredible relationship with Litespeed, Rudy Project, Team Psycho, Gatorade and TYR Sport. Life as a professional triathlete is extremely demanding, but we are in a much more fortunate position than most athletes are at the beginning stages of their triathlon careers, and I am certainly grateful for that.