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Cruisin' in Cozumel

By Rob Fain | Oct. 05, 2016, 10:27 a.m. (ET)

I have been racing triathlon for three seasons since graduating from Swarthmore where I was a collegiate swimmer and runner. This year, though, I was fortunate enough to qualify to compete at the ITU Age Group Standard World Championships in Cozumel, Mexico. With a field made up of the top age-group athletes from their respective countries, I anticipated this race being a fantastic opportunity to test my abilities and, hopefully, walk away with a best personal result. 

When I arrived in Cozumel, I was amazed by the natural beauty of the island but also by its relentless humidity. It seemed to me that the heat was the only thing with the potential to get in the way of my race goal. Four weeks prior at the Age Group National Championships, I had put together a solid swim and bike, but a mile into the run my quads began to cramp up. Although I managed to podium in my age group, my 10k run could likely have been up to two minutes faster had I been properly hydrated. In the weeks leading up to Worlds, I made sure to take advantage of Washington, D.C.’s humid summer days and work on increasing my fluid and electrolyte intake during my rides and runs. This preparation allowed me to approach Cozumel’s conditions proactively, rather than reactively. 

At 6:40 a.m. on race day, I walked down to the swim start. I was proud to share the platform with triathletes from all over the world and happy to start alongside some awesome fellow American racers. After the gun went off, I fought hard to get a good position. While we bunched up around the first buoy, the field began to open up as we turned against the current. I focused on my form, trying to remain efficient and not wear myself out fighting the current. I exited the swim in pretty good position and mounted the bike ahead of any traffic jams in transition. 

Early in the bike portion, I had a slight slowdown when I had thought my race belt had fallen off (it turned out to be an inner tube), but I was able to quickly get up to speed on the mostly flat course. Whereas in previous races I had come up a bit short of my goal pace, this time I worked on pushing the pace as fast as I could while still maintaining my running legs. By the second half of the ride, when the temperature started to rise, my early work allowed me some room to hydrate and prepare for the run while still achieving a personal best split. I dismounted the bike a few places back than I was in after the swim, but I was confident that I could make up ground in the final stage of the race. 

The run I was about to experience could be only described as one word: hot! The two-lap 5k course offered almost no shade or breeze. I gave myself the first mile and a half to work up to pace and then worked on picking things up. I also made sure to drink or pour water on myself at every water stop to keep cool. My run split — like most of the other athletes’ — ended up slower than usual; nevertheless, I finished the race with perhaps my best result so far of 5th in my age group and in the top 25 overall. In the offseason, I plan to build on what I’ve learned through this experience, as well as the Collegiate Recruitment Program, and come back next season ready to race even stronger. 

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Rob Fain

Rob Fain