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Experiencing Draft-Legal Racing for the First Time

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In May of this year, just one year after I took up the sport of triathlon, I competed in my first ITU draft-legal race in Ixtapa, Mexico. I arrived on Wednesday for my Saturday race to allow plenty of time to acclimate to the heat and not feel rushed. With humidity making it seem even hotter, temperatures for the week were in the 90s and breaking 100 for Friday and Saturday. Coming from Wisconsin, I had barely even seen warm weather as spring had just arrived. Realizing that the weather was going to play a big part in the race, I focused on staying hydrated and sitting in the shade whenever possible.

The pre-race workouts proved to be very hot. Even running at a controlled pace, my heart rate was extremely high during my runs. Instead of letting this bother me, I focused on the things I could control – sleep and making sure all my equipment was ready. The days went by quickly. Thursday I trained, Friday was course previews and the briefing and, before I knew it, I was in the athletes lounge just an hour from the race.

The swim started on the beach. I had swum the course twice: a simple triangle with two yellow buoys. I managed the first two stretches with few problems. I had built a good lead going into the second buoy when I went too far left and veered off course. I saw the main pack to my right as I changed directions, but by that point I had lost the lead. I reached the beach in a group of five and started the long 700-meter run to T1.

We entered T1 with a very large group. The runners took advantage of the long run out and most of the racers made the bike pack. My mount was successful and with a short surge I caught up to the first riders. I settled in, taking a pull every once in a while. My brain told me to be up front, watch for attacks and be ready to follow if someone went for a break. I was leading for much of the race and taking pulls every minute or two with about 20 people in our group. But while I was in the lead, the other riders were conserving their energy for the run. There were no significant attacks, but I ended up falling off the group as we entered T2, choosing an inopportune time to get out of my shoes. The bike had me anywhere from first to 20th, which is not where I wanted to be going into the run.

After a painfully slow and crowded T2, I was out on the run. I passed two runners quickly and kept my eyes up, trying to move up in the field. I felt slow at the start of the run. I tried to pick up my cadence, which was a big help. By the start of the second lap, I was running 40 seconds faster per mile. I caught two more runners, but with the field being so stretched out, I had a long ways to catch anyone else. It was not where I hoped to be, but I was trying to make the most of it. I dug a little deeper and maintained my pace. With one-kilometer to go, the heat began taking its toll. Vomiting three times, I focused on crossing the finish line and ended 19th.

I don’t remember much after the finish. I recall body aches and a headache, both of which disappeared after several cold towels, water and Gatorade. There are about 10 minutes I can’t remember, which is frightening to me. I’m thankful for the assistance of the medical staff and I noticed I wasn’t the only athlete that didn’t tolerate the heat well. After sitting for a while, I was able to grab my bike and head back to the hotel. I had no time to waste as my flight left that afternoon.

Ixtapa taught me that all your training, nutrition and race strategy are subject to factors you can and can’t control. Despite being told what can happen in a race, either by a coach or teammate, some things are hard to learn until you experience them yourself. I realize now more than ever how critical the last mile of the bike is after watching 20 riders pass me. In future races, I will be able to correct my mistakes in the swim. I will improve my technique on the bike, becoming a better racer. In the coming month I will train hard, focusing on things I want to work on. Next up, I’ll race two local, non-draft races and I hope to return to draft-legal racing on July 12th in Toronto, Canada.

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