Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.
My journey to ITU Duathlon Worlds in Aviles, Spain, began on my bathroom floor. I was scheduled to race at the ITU Continental Cup in Richmond, Virginia, five weeks before Worlds, when the night before traveling I got food poisoning. Training had been going really well, and I was fortunate to have travel and a home stay taken care of for Richmond. I cried as I vomited feeling like weeks of work were literally being flushed away.
Worlds had been something I wanted to do, but I was unable to get help to travel so I had all but dismissed the race. A couple days after the miserable night on the bathroom floor, as I lay on the couch feeling weak and sorry for myself, my dad approached me and asked simply, “Could you compete for a podium place at Worlds?” I thought I could, but I was doubtful, tentative and discouraged that I was not able to find travel arrangements.
“Your mother and I want to fly you to Spain and watch you give everything you have to try and chase a World Championship.” The confidence in my dad’s voice inspired me with a belief I did not yet have. With only a month to go before the race, airline tickets, Air B&Bs and fitness were all frantically procured, and before I knew it I was wheeling my bike into the international terminal at LAX.
I have always dreamed of racing at a World Championship. On quiet afternoon runs and rides I often dreamed what it would feel like to cross the finishing line and be crowned a world champ. These dreams were more than about just winning as a competitor; I thrive at big races, in front of big crowds, against big names. As I stood on the start line and listened to them call out competitors from all over the world — Spain, Japan, Great Britain, France and then, Seth Totten representing the United States of America — I was filled with joy at just having the opportunity to be there fulfilling a dream before the race even started.
As soon as the gun went off the race plan became clear: full-gas. The 10k run course was very narrow and twisty, constantly forcing you to stop, push your way around a corner and sprint back up to pace. This is a very difficult way to run a flat-out 10k, and with a couple of guys set on blasting the 10k, the front the group quickly dwindled down. Going into the last lap of the first run I was the last guy of a 14-man pack to scrap into the front pack, even though I ran a 30:42.
Every Tuesday night back home I do what the local cycling community has dubbed “Tuesday night Worlds.” We race out and back to a pepper tree as fast as our legs will carry us, pretending we are racing for a World Championship. The weeks before the race I went out every Tuesday and rode on the front for harder and longer than I ever have, preparing for the actual World Championships. With three laps to go in the Du World Championships, I unleashed weeks of Tuesday night ride’s work onto this international field, right at a key technical part of the course. The transition area featured a series of technical corners, and for the first couple of laps I had touched my brakes to make the corners; this time, however, I didn’t touch my brakes and just made the final corner, missing the steel barrier by inches. As soon as I was out of transition I pushed on the pedals with everything I had. I was determined to split the 14-man pack. My legs screamed, but the crowd screamed louder! After 5-6 of the most painful minutes I have experienced, the front group was split to only 5 of us.
Coming off the bike, I was spent and my immediate thought was that fifth place would be a fantastic result. In almost the same thought, years of memories came flooding over me. Memories of gut-wrenching track sessions; hours and hours cycling in the mountains; all the runs I had not wanted to do, but did in the cold, in the heat, hungry and tired. I thought of all the coaches and teammates that had built me up over the years. I thought of the generosity of my local athletic community. And I thought of making my parents and girlfriend Lauren proud for believing in me even more then I believed in myself. With those thoughts I set off after the four guys in front of me. I squeezed all I had left out of my legs over the next 16 minutes and crossed the finish line, smiling ear to ear in fourth place. Fourth place finishes can haunt people. There is not medal for fourth, no podium place, nothing. It has been called the toughest position. However, when I crossed the finish line at the Duathlon World Championships, in fourth, I may have been the happiest fourth place finisher in the history of fourth places.