This weekend I participated in my third draft-legal and second Olympic-distance race at the Collegiate National Championships in my hometown of Clemson, South Carolina. In March, I raced in my first two triathlons and discovered how important the swim was to a draft-legal triathlon. I finished sixth and fourth respectively in the two days of racing in Florida. After this eye-opening experience my coach, Dan Arnett, shifted my training to be very swim heavy. For the four weeks before Nationals I doubled my swim, increasing from 10k to 20k in the pool. Completing long sets and making faster intervals boosted my confidence going into this weekend, and with an elite license on the line and the home crowd out cheering, I knew I had to be out of the water close enough to the lead group to ride them down before they got organized.
Clemson’s Y beach was a strange place for me to be preparing to battle for a national championship. This is the place where I go with friends to hang out after workouts, lay in the sun and play volleyball or Frisbee. I have never viewed it as a place to be stressed or nervous. The bike and run courses are on roads I have covered countless times. It was our warm-up loop for every single track workout I ever did as a varsity runner. I knew the map like no one else there and, unlike Clermont, I was confident in my abilities.
I had a good, not great, swim start and fell into where I believed to be the middle of the pack and attempted to hold on. I didn't get swarmed or swallowed up like I had come to expect. I was swimming and holding the feet of the swimmer in front of me; I was shocked to not be getting dropped even by the end. I exited the water and ran into transition with a large group of athletes. I saw my good friend JR Creekmore transitioning several spots down and knew if I was close to him, I had swum well. We rode out in a large pack and as we approached the first U-turn, I looked to see how far back from the lead pack we were. I saw only the swimmer from Cal riding the other direction. I was shocked to realize I had made the front pack. I rotated through the front attempting to keep our 25-second lead over the second pack. As soon as I could see that they were not catching us, I sat in and prepared my legs for the run. I rode hard on the front into transition with Mike Meehan and Dan Feeney, which gave us a small but critical gap going into the run. I fell from third to fourth for a short time as I found my legs. From the side of the road a voice yelled, “You can take this Clemson guy, he’s not a runner!” That remark from another coach to his athlete, along with the cheering of my home crowd, fueled me to push through and take back third which put me on the podium in my first draft-legal national championship.
On Saturday while warming up for the Olympic-distance event I was not nearly as nervous. I had proven to myself that I belonged in the front end of this group of athletes and I was no less qualified. Even though the 1,500-meter swim would be the longest distance I had swum in a continuous effort, I was calm. I got into transition after the swim in 40th position and was excited to attack the non-draft bike and put myself back into contention. I rode hard but was discouraged when a group of 10-15 riders passed me in a large pack. On the run, heat took its toll but I managed to keep it together somewhat and run myself into a seventh place finish across the line. I was pleased with the effort until I learned that I had been given 6 minutes worth of penalties and had dropped to 39th position. Lack of experience and knowledge were to blame for the citations. Upon asking the lead official for clarification, he informed me that the first penalty was for not dropping back far enough upon being passed. I was certain that I had fallen back far enough as each time I was passed I would sit up on the hoods and coast. The second penalty was for not racking my bike properly out of T2. This was disappointing to say the least; however, there was nothing I could do. I gained valuable experience that will make me better the next time.
I had an amazing time this weekend and was happy to represent Clemson University and do so well in front of all my friends and family. I am graduating in May and was honored to wear the orange Tiger Paw as I closed out my collegiate career. After graduation, I will continue to train hard and will race again on July 9 in De Moines, Iowa, at the U23 CamTri Championships.