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Draft-Legal Triathlon: A Sport of Its Own

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nicole
Me on race day (photo: Katherine Phillips).
Last weekend I completed my first draft-legal triathlon (ITU style) in Clermont, Fla. The first thing I have to say is, wow! DL is definitely a sport of its own. Not only does every second count, but each portion of the race has a new skill that is necessary to gain every advantage possible. It is the most exciting triathlon I have ever competed in. The race is designed to be more spectator-friendly than the typical triathlon, so on the bike course you do loops where the spectators can cheer you on each time! The same thing happens for the run where there are a couple of loops so that you head back to the transition area each time to see some friendly faces and maybe hear a few key words from a coach.

From the first stretch of the morning to when my head finally hit the pillow, it was just a little different than any other race I had done in the past. Once I got to the venue there was a line of cars about twenty-deep waiting for the designated parking time. It seemed like that line took forever to move (five minutes feels like forever when you're wearing your race day antsy-pants). When I finally got inside there were a few unusual race morning tasks to be done, but not body marking. We got race number tattoos, just like the pros, which I prefer over the sharpie marker ones that are usually scribbled on race morning. The other new thing to add to the list was having my racing suit, bike, and helmet checked by the ITU officials. During my warm-up run, I watched the F1 boys zoom through transition and move to catch the wheel in front of them. I was so impressed that these young boys had such advanced handling skills! I started to get nervous watching and thinking that in a short time I would be out there on my bike trying to make some strategic moves myself!

nicole
The scene at Lake Louisa.
Fast forward to the race start; all of the DL women were lined up by race number to pick their position at the starting line. It was important to pick a spot that benefitted your specific race plan, and the first piece of strategy in the race. This was really the only major mistake I made in the swim; I stayed too close to the center when in the future I would choose a position further to the side.

After a moderately turbulent start with shallow water and lots of competitive bodies, I settled into a position and really got my motor running. With a long swimming career behind me I really wanted to take advantage of this portion of the race. Coming up out of the water was tricky because the water was not shallow enough to run in, but it was not deep enough to swim in so a combination of dolphin dives, swimming and then finally some running got me out of the lake and up to transition.

The bike course was three loops of the hardest interval workout I’ve ever done. Out of transition I had two packs to go for; the lead pack about thirty seconds in front, and a pack of two girls within my sight. I gave a ninety percent effort to try and catch the two girls — this was a big mistake! Just as I gave every ounce of effort that I could to get an advantageous position in the swim, I should have given a much more valiant effort to catch those wheels! I was stuck during the first lap all by myself in no man's land. The second lap I managed to join another two-girl pack that came out behind me in transition. Finally, some draft to feel! This pack grew and I panicked a little. There was not a whole lot of communication going on in the pack so our shape, instead of being a straight line, often became a bit of an amorphic mess. There were a couple of girls who really knew what they were doing and kept the pack moving, which I was really thankful for.

nicole
Me on the bike (photo: Katherine Phillips).
Finally came the bike dismount and I was off to the run! I was so excited to get to familiar territory that I threw nutrition out of the window and completely forgot to take a part of my gel — yet another big mistake. I usually have a tiny bit of gel right at the end of the bike and it pumps me up for the run, instead, I came out feeling heavy and slightly hazy. I didn't let this thought linger and settled into a conservative pace, it was not until the second lap that I was going to dig in. The second lap came around and the humidity was suffocating, but mentally I was ready: it was go time! I put my foot on the gas and made my move. My last and most crucial mistake in this race was that I waited far too long to it came down to the final portion of the run and I realized I had run out of real estate.

Crossing the finish line in sixth place was by no means a major disappointment, but it certainly left me hungry for my next race, and opportunity to eliminate the mistakes I made, oh, and probably make a few more to learn from!

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