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Season Debut: Clermont Draft Legal Challenge

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justinThis past weekend I debuted in my first draft legal race in Clermont, Fla. This triathlon was a sprint distance which included a 750m swim, 20k bike, and 5k run (as well as temps in the mid-80s and 15-20 mph wind gusts). Along with my race, the event hosted an age group non-draft and elite race which created an amazing all day atmosphere.

Going into the race, my coach and I had established the goal of finishing in the top three. This would allow me to apply for my elite license and become a professional triathlete. This goal was partly due to watching videos of last year’s races and realizing the swim start on the beach eliminated nearly 150 meters of the swim, making it a runner’s paradise.  Unlucky for me, this year’s swim started roughly 75 meters out knee deep in the water where I was forced to swim the full, and fair, 750 meters.

After lining up in our starting positions on the beach, with all 75 athletes standing shoulder to shoulder, we marched into the water and out to the start line. My swim commenced with about 10-12 dolphin dives until lactic began to tickle and from there I switched to swimming. Early in the race, I was on the feet of a good swim pack, but midway through the swim they were fading and I was forced to try and close the gap by myself.  By the time I made up the gap,  I was only 100 meters out from the beach and entering back into very shallow water, which meant more dolphin dives, high stepping, and more lactic! After about 12 minutes in the water and roughly 30 spots behind the leaders, my legs finally touched the sweet sensation of solid land.

After a swift T1, I performed a flying bike mount and immediately sprinted out of the saddle to catch the nearest bike pack. Early on, I found myself in a good group of five, which later turned into about eight by the end of the first lap of a 3-lap course. Towards the end of the first lap, I faded to the back of the pack after my turn at taking over the lead of the pack — rookie mistake! Right when I tried to take a breather, several of the riders in front of me struggled with a few technical turns and slowed, which created a 50 meter gap and eventually grew to a minute deficit. During most of the second lap, I exhausted my legs trying to work back up to the group and eventually another bike pack caught up to me. At that point, I just settled with them and tried to conserve whatever was left in my legs for the run.

After the ride, I entered transition 20 spots behind the top three. The run started really rough; I asked myself “where are my legs?!” For the first time in my short triathlon history, I could not manage to run a sub-5-minute mile off the bike. I knew immediately the new style of draft racing, which includes all out 15-60 second sprint burst on the bike, took more out of my legs than I anticipated.

The run was two loops and an out-and-back course, which allowed me to see the leaders. I heard my coach shout two minutes to the leader and 90 seconds to third place. I knew making up that kind of gap in a sprint would be a tough task, but I still fired all cylinders hoping it would be enough. By the start of the second loop, I finally found my rhythm and at this point heard that I was 90 seconds down from the leader and 40ish from third place. When I entered the last quarter mile of the run, I could see third place entering the home stretch, but unfortunately I ran out real estate to work with so I tried to relax and enjoy the last couple strides left of the run finishing fourth. In the end, I claimed fourth place and was just 16 seconds behind the third-place finisher after coming out of the water in 36th place and off the bike around 23rd.  Looking at this with the glass half full perspective, I am proud to say I ended up with the top run split for the age-group field.

After reading this I hope this gives you a better feel for my current ability level, style of racing, and hopefully some dos and don’ts for the beginners or novice sprint distance triathletes.

What have you learned from you season’s debut?

Train hard, Train Smart!

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