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Escaping from ITU for the Weekend

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jasonWe are nearing the summer solstice and triathlon season is now in full swing. I have returned home to Southern California from the high country of Flagstaff, Arizona, and spent the last two weekends on the road at two of the biggest races yet in my short professional career. While they were both “Olympic- distance” events, more or less, the two events could not have been more different.

On June 2 I was at the ITU Dallas Pan American Cup. The whole event took place right at the race host hotel. I had a view of the swim course from my hotel room; transition was in the hotel parking lot; most of the out-and-back bike and run courses could be seen by spectators, watching the race unfold; even the pre-race athlete briefing was in one of the hotel’s meeting rooms. ITU races are very consistent and officials do a great job of ensuring this. This allows many international athletes to arrive a day or two before the race, get a quick look at the course, and then compete on a level playing field (Although competitors from warmer climates had a clear advantage in the near triple-digit heat in Dallas with a 2:45 p.m. start time).

Eight days later I was in San Francisco for the world-famous Escape from Alcatraz. I stayed in the East Bay in Oakland and was up at 4:00 a.m. to ensure I would be ready for the 7:30 start time. If consistency is the theme of ITU races, uniqueness describes Escape from Alcatraz. A bus and boat ride from transition all before 6:30; a 1.5-mile swim from a dive off the boat into 55 degree water to start; about half a mile run to T1; a very hilly and technical 18-mile non-draft bike; and an 8-mile run that goes up, down, left, right on road, dirt, stairs and sand. This is a very long running event and many of the sport’s greatest athletes have competed and won here. Experience is rewarded here, with Andy Potts winning his fifth Alcatraz title and Leanda Cave her fourth this year, and will certainly return in the future knowing what to expect.

jasonDespite the differences, I had similar results at both events. I was sixth in Dallas, which catapulted me up 135 places in the World ITU Point rankings to 238th. These rankings will be important in the coming years as I eye 2016 Olympic qualification. In San Francisco I “survived” the Escape and finished seventh overall and as the second American. I relied heavily on good bike-run splits in both races allowing me to mix it up with some superb international talent in both races. After each race I was very pleased, knowing that I really belong on the start line with these professionals, but overall not satisfied. I find myself thinking “what if” I swam with the pack and started the bike in the heat of the race instead of playing catch up until the final stages of the run. No one wants to go through life asking “what if,” but I will continue to torment myself until I am at a competitive level in all three sports.

I really enjoyed the change in format that Escape from Alcatraz offered, especially with such a challenging course, but will continue to concentrate on ITU draft legal racing. I find ITU racing to be more exciting with groups of dozens of athletes pushing each other every step of the race. Plus, there’s that whole Olympics thing that non-draft just doesn’t offer.

Photos by Erik Petersen

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