Last weekend I was able to race my first draft-legal competition down at the Clermont Draft Legal Challenge in Florida. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn and develop as a triathlete. The race was like nothing I have done before, and I can officially say that I am hooked on this sport.
Race day arrived and butterflies were back in full force Saturday morning as I squeezed into my father’s hand-me-down wetsuit and looked out at the black water of Lake Louisa. The water was actually black from above and had a strange red look from underneath which really threw me off. I have been racing primarily on the bike for the past 10 months and rarely feel nervous while on the line waiting for the mass start events. On the bike I am confident in my abilities and knowledge of pack cycling so the start is one of the least stressful aspects of this discipline of racing. This starting line in Clermont was pretty much the polar opposite. My heart rate must have been upwards of 200 as I toed the line and awaited the commands of the starter.
The gun went off. I took 5 massive bounds into the water followed by two dolphin dives. I was swallowed up by the pack shortly after and spit out near the back of the swim pack. I followed this up with an atrocious T1. I watched as athlete after athlete passed me out of transition as I struggled with my wetsuit, taking nearly 20 seconds longer than the fastest athletes. But soon enough I was off riding on my favorite discipline of the event. I powered for a solid lap and bridged to the first chase pack. We were 35 seconds back of the leaders. The road racer in me took over as I yelled commands to everyone in the group. I worked my tail off and finished the bike 15 seconds off the lead. I ran my way back into 6th position on the day with many areas that needed improving.
As the sun rose Sunday morning, I knew what went wrong and I knew what had to be changed. My swim was much more under control even though there were high winds and some sizable chop to the water that reminded me of surfing at home. This gave me confidence as I could predict rises and falls of the waves knowing others would most likely struggle. I dropped nearly 20 seconds in T1 as I stripped off my wetsuit more efficiently and grabbed my bike. I emerged closer to the second chase pack than the previous day. After bridging to the chase pack I again began calling orders and forcing a constant rotating pace line. With one lap to go we were stuck at a 20 second time gap, so I sat mid-pack and recovered while holding my position. Slipping out of my shoes early before the dismount allowed me to attack into transition and come out on the run leading our second pack. I again was forced to run back into contention but again fell short, just off the podium and just one place off of earning my elite card, taking 4th.
Two race days in a row allowed me to instantly fix all of the small issues leaving me now with the task of improving my swim to hold onto the back of the lead pack. Following the races I spent several days at the National Training Center with Barb Lindquist and several other coaches discussing form and drills, analyzing video, and then taking to the pool to learn how to go faster. With this being the first time anyone has ever actually looked at the way I swam and given me instruction, I have made some key changes in my swim stroke that I feel will make a huge difference in my efficiency in the water. My next triathlon will be on home turf as the Collegiate National Championship comes to Clemson, South Carolina. I will be racing the roads that I train on every single day, and I am confident that my knowledge of the course will benefit me greatly. I will compete in both the draft-legal race on Friday and the non-draft Olympic triathlon on Saturday. I have just over a month to kill it in the water so that I am able to make that front pack on the bike!