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Back-to-Back Racing on the World Stage

By Morgan Pearson | May 17, 2018, 2:03 p.m. (ET)

Morgan Pearson

I had a huge eight days of racing recently, which included the Chengdu ITU Triathlon World Cup, a prelim/final format on May 5-6 in China, and my first World Triathlon Series and Olympic-distance race in Yokohama, Japan.

There were three male heats in Chengdu, China, and the top nine qualified to the final in each heat. In my last race, the New Plymouth World Cup, I had a poor swim and T1, so my focus was to really execute that part of the race. I did a solid job of that as I got out of the water in about fifth in Chengdu. Eventually the group came to about 13 athletes in the front pack so on the run I ran a little hard the first 800 to string out the pack to nine. No one came initially, so I ran easy the rest of the way and successfully qualified to the final.

Heading into the final, a super sprint, I had the same mindset as before the semi — execute a good swim, T1 and first part of the bike to make the lead pack. I came out of the water in about seventh. I worked really hard on the first part of the bike to get on top swimmers’ wheels. Eventually though, the entire final of 30 athletes ended up coming together. I rode near the front of the pack to stay out of trouble, but heading into T2, most of the athletes sprinted by me. I am still getting comfortable with this part of the race. As soon as the run started, I knew it was going to be hard to win; my legs didn’t feel good. I tried running an even pace to get to the leaders — and I eventually made my way up there and at one point, with about 600m to go, I was leading. My competitors started to kick with probably 400m to go and I knew that if I went I would blow up. Instead, I squeezed my pace down and passed a couple guys who had gone with the kickers. I ended up sixth, my best World Cup finish, but one that I am not satisfied with. In my head, I should be toasting these guys on the run. I didn’t have time to sulk though, because I had my first WTS in less than a week.

I had really only been training for triathlon for about six months, and this would only be my fourth ITU race. I do have confidence in myself in some ways, but in many others I doubt myself. I started to question if I really deserved being on the start line. On the race start line I told myself, “this is where I want to be” and also repeated something my friend Sam Parsons has said many times: “Embrace the Fight.”

The swim was probably the best part of my race: Two laps of 750m. I was able to get out quite well, and after the first lap I would say I was sitting in about 10th place, only a few seconds off the leaders. The second lap was a bit more physical, and I got passed a bit but I still came out of the water in 15th range. I ran out of the water and toward transition, thinking about how critical the next few minutes of the race were. I took my wetsuit off and tossed it toward my bin, helmet on, grabbed my bike, and jumped on my bike after the mount line. I was sitting on my bike and I look down quickly to get my feet into my shoes. While this is happening, I run into another competitor and fall off my bike: it was world No. 1 Mario Mola who told me after the race his chain had fallen off and that’s why he wasn’t moving. One bike shoe fell off the pedal, the other one is spinning around the pedal, and I am on the ground. I put my shoe on and jump back on my bike as quickly as I can. At this point I have no room for error if I want to make the front back. I sprint as hard as I can and get onto the back of the pack.

I ended up riding the entire 40 kilometers on the back of the pack of about 40 men. I will be the first to admit, I was not comfortable enough or skilled enough in the giant pack passing people. As a result, it took a lot of effort to stay hanging on.

Getting off the bike I was in the back of the pack, even a little off the pack because I was chugging fluids the last lap of the race and lost contact a bit. I racked my bike, put on my running shoes and grabbed the gel. “Run smart, close the gap to the leaders slowly,” I thought to myself. I was feeling pretty solid the first 600m or so but still running conservatively. I had already passed some guys and had the front pack of runners in my sight. Then I dropped the gel I was holding, I ran another few seconds before remembering that’s a penalty if I leave it. Begrudgingly, I turned around to run back to the gel, pick it up and continue on the 10k. I was now in the back again. “Stay calm,” I think to myself, “10k is a long way to go.” I am able to get back into my rhythm and start moving up again.

About a kilometer down the road, I hear from my coach “Morgan, you have a penalty.”  

“Seriously?!” I think. At this point I figure the penalty is for the dropped gel, so I shout back, “for what?”

“Your wetsuit is not in your bin; take it on the last lap.”

This sucked — it seemed like nothing was going my way at this point — a bike fall, the dropped gel and now a penalty. On top of that, I was starting to feel bad from chugging that sports drink. I’ll have to be better next Olympic distance about drinking periodically. For the next 5 kilometers I wasn’t running well and even got passed by a few men. I stop before the last lap to take my penalty. I have to stand and wait 15 seconds. I see a group of five or so guys go by me. I think to myself, “I can pass some guys, I don’t feel that bad, I can really attack this last lap.”

Fifteen seconds go by, and I start running … hard. I have the fastest last lap of anyone in the field and end up passing guys that were in front of me before I took the penalty. I finished in 14th place in my first WTS.

I am happy with how I am progressing as a triathlete. All credit goes to my coach Jono Hall and teammates. I will say that I am eager to get back to running really well. I have had some “solid” runs, but solid or good isn’t what I am after.

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