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Tritonman: What a Difference a Year Makes

By Seth Totten | March 02, 2016, 11:34 a.m. (ET)

Seth Totten Pre-Race

The UCSD Tritonman is unlike any other race in the U.S. because of the lack of draft legal racing on the West Coast, the high number of elites who train in San Diego, and the perfect timing of the event before the first big ITU races of the season. Tritonman draws many of the top American ITU pros on the West Coast. The race is also an EDR, so it also draws many athletes racing in their first ever draft-legal race. At Tritonman I was racked between Ben Kanute, an American Olympic hopeful, and a high school kid racing one of his first triathlons. This unique blend creates a race atmosphere that encourages pressure-free but full-gas racing, unlike any race I have ever done.

I ran cross country and track for five years at UC Riverside, so the focus of my first winter as a triathlete was swimming, swimming and more swimming. The focus at Tritonman, my season opener, was to see how far my swim had come compared to last year’s race with all that pool work under my belt. Even though I came out much closer to the front group than last year, the swim did not go well as my times in the pool had indicated. I elected to start on the empty side of the start line, and swimming alone, I took a very bad line to the first buoy. It was eye-opening to see how important open water skills are-- sighting, navigation, being calm, and maintaining pace. Besides swimming poor lines to the buoys, I also found myself often fighting to stay at race pace. Without the pace clock to peek at, I often slipped into a more comfortable tempo pace.

Seth Totten BikeAs soon as I exited the water, my first thought was how excited I was to ride my bike. I love bike riding and especially racing. Racing also means I get to throw on my fancy race gear on my bike, my tubular race wheels and aero road helmet. I am such a cycling geek that I get excited to ride my race gear even in the middle of a race. I almost whiffed the flying mount, but recovered and hammered for 4-5 minutes with my feet on top of my shoes to get across to a small group I saw forming in front of me. I got across, but so did a whole bunch of other athletes. We spent the next 20k in a rotating paceline, but getting nowhere closer to the group 30 feet out in front. We could see them the whole race, but we did not close them down at all. I came into T2 a bit frustrated we didn't ride faster, but told myself it meant my legs were ready to run. I flew out of T2 determined to pass as many people as I could.

The run was a blur. I don’t remember much other than constantly repeating, “push”, “push”, “push”. I saw my family and girlfriend on each loop, which spurred me on. I wanted to race well for them as much as I did for myself. Last year the week before Tritonman I ran 14:08 5k indoors; I therefore knew I was in good shape. This year my running was a huge unknown. Tired legs and foul weather had shut down a few key sessions. Just a week before I had to talk myself out of a breakdown after I bombed another run session. I was therefore very surprised to learn I had the fastest run split of the day. 

Last year Tritonman was my first “proper” triathlon. For days before the race I was sick to my stomach not sure if I would make it to my running shoes in T2. When the gun went off last year, I was so nervous about mixing it up in the swim I backstroked to the first buoy. This year I am training full time as a triathlete with a team of coaches and USAT support to guide me. I swam better and had a group to ride with, which then allowed me to run the fastest run split by 22 seconds. I managed to finish in the top ten, 8th place! It was a great hit out before my first elite races in Clermont and Sarasota in March.