My first full season as a professional triathlete came to a close at the 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, Florida. This race was my first World Championships event and for that reason I was excited, overwhelmed, and very prepared. Just as I put in the time training leading up to the event, I made sure I focused on getting enough rest before the race. This was the first triathlon in my career that I felt I truly tapered for and after the weeks of hard training and a season long of racing, I felt rested for the first time. It reminded me of my college swimming days leading up to our conference meet. The excitement and nervous energy combined with the extra rest made me very anxious. I was determined to use that anxious energy in a positive way on race day.
On the day of the race I felt ready. I had a game plan and I knew what I needed to do. I knew that I was prepared physically to have the best race of my career. The swim for the race ended up being a wetsuit swim with the new rule change from the WTC (76 degree cut off for professionals to wear wetsuits…a very warm temperature in my opinion). I was determined to take the swim out fairly hard and I wanted to be first out of the water. I did just that and led the entire swim, was first into transition, and was first out on the bike course. My plan was to stay at the front of the race but not lead the race. I knew that it would take much more energy to lead the race than it would to stay in the front pack. This is where my inexperience got the best of me and my deviation from my race strategy changed my entire race.
While the bike portion of a half ironman is non drafting, (the rule states that you must be 9 meters or roughly 30 feet away from the person in front of you) it is much easier to stay within a bike pack. Even at the required distance, you can still get somewhat of a draft off the person in front of you. It is also less mentally straining to stay in a pack and react to other racers than set the pace. I knew all of this yet I still led the race for the first 40 miles of the bike. I would be passed by someone and then I would have to slow down while they were in front of me. I decided that I could go faster if I was in the front, but I should have known that everyone was just pacing off of whoever was leading the race, regardless of what pace he was going. Therefore, the whole race was going at the pace that I was setting. I finally realized that this was not a good plan around mile 40 and fell back into the group, but by this point I had already done the damage to my legs.
Even with the effort I put on the bike, I still knew that I would have a good run. I put in way too much time training to not have a solid run. When we came off the bike I was in the middle of the front pack and started running well; right on my race pace. However, this did not last long. The pace was a little fast after my extended bike effort, and I had to settle into a slower pace. Although I was still on pace to run a decent half marathon, my pace was much slower than the pace of the other athletes and I was losing places rapidly. Because of the tactics that the other athletes applied, they were fresher going into the run. Although I knew I was going to have a PR in the 70.3 distance, I knew that I was losing way too many positions to accomplish my overall goal.
I ended up finishing the race in 22nd place. A bit off my goal, but I learned some very valuable experience in this race that I want to pass on. In a race of this distance it can be more important to follow YOUR OWN race strategy and not the strategy of the other athletes. Triathlon is a very individual sport. You spend hours upon hours training at your pace or your heart rate zone. When it comes to race day, you have no idea how the other athletes around you have been preparing or what their race strategies might be. The best advice I can give after my experience is race the best race that YOU are capable of. You spend way too much effort and time training to make a small mistake on race day that can change the entire outcome of your race. Race a hard and smart race to the best your abilities and you are going to have a great day.