Saturday, September 21, 2013

September 13, 2013 - ITU Sprint Triathlon World Championship Race

After having one of the most perfect triathlon seasons of my life last year, doing great in every race I entered and winning a National Championship in my age group, I had a super frustrating start to this season. In fact, I lost over half of this season to injury. Three lower leg injuries caused me to have to start my run training over from just about scratch each time. As the calendar began to shrink and the time I had to train for the World Championships in London was fading away, I became quite concerned. I had missed a massive amount of run training and several races. Though it was a sprint distance triathlon (1/2 mile swim, 12.4 mile bike, 3.1 mile run) the issue wasn't the distance, it was the speed needed to do that distance fast...very fast.

I'm an OK swimmer for my age group and a good cyclist, but for me to do well at a national or world-class level, I have to be able to get the run training miles in and sharpen those in race settings to be competitive. I felt that day by day, those were slowly slipping away. I had huge emotional ups and downs and many times wished I'd not registered for Worlds and made my arrangements for travel, room, etc. Several times, if I could have bailed I would have. I had no desire to go over there and get 80th place or something like that. My wife, Jen, was a real soldier through those ups and downs and always encouraged me to not give up.

For me it was a huge lesson in persevering. Not in a long hard race - been there, done that - but in not giving up in doing what I could and trusting the Lord to allow me TO get in the training I needed. As the summer was moving on, I had time for one last try at a strategic build / ramp up in my run training. As a regular practice, I only run every 3rd day, no more. The calendar told me that I had time to build up to six mile runs and then to get in just 10 of them. That was all. Would that be enough? It was highly questionable and the absolute minimal at best. Just eight weeks out from Worlds, I had time to get my run from one mile to six, then to hold that for 30 days = 10 runs of six miles. I didn't want to run more due to the risk of injury.

Some of those six milers were tri race days, where I'd warm up, race and cool down equaling the six I needed that day. My best 5K in those races was 21:06, a far cry from the 19:19 I'd run to win Nationals the year before. I knew I'd have to run sub 20 to be the least bit competitive and probably have my best swim/bike ever. Saturdays were the only days I could race and so I looked high and low for any Saturday races within striking distance of Omaha just to get some race conditions under my belt this season. Ended up in some pretty obscure places like Perry, Iowa and Falls City, NE where the locals did a great job putting on the races. There just weren't many that showed up. I smiled at times thinking about the "gap" between say, Perry, Iowa, where I raced 25 people total and Worlds in London, England where I'd take on almost 100 of the fastest guys in the world from 57 nations. Still, I jumped at those race opportunities just to get some speed work in.

By God's grace, I got in all 10 six milers. I sure rejoiced at the end of the 10th one, thanking the Lord for His help. Each one I felt stronger and stronger and felt some speed coming back. But, 10 days before Worlds, halfway through a swim workout, my shoulder started hurting...badly. No, I'm not a hypochondriac...I'm old :) Due to my leg problems, I had really ramped up my hard swim workouts - probably too much, too soon, too fast. I had to stop that workout half way through it, and man, the shoulder hurt badly the next few days. I basically only did two very gentle swims in the last 10 days before the race instead of nailing some great workouts and feeling primed heading to London. More doubt...

The bike course in London gave me heartburn. Not because it was hilly, but because it was a three lap course, shaped kind of like the letter "C" only with squared corners and with one mile being the longest stretch without a turn. We started at the bottom of the "C" and went out up and around it and back three times. That's great if you come from a road cycling background and are used to technical courses with lots of turns and accelerations, all of which I'm not. Read more below about this...

My goals were:
1 - Honor the Lord in everything and bring Him glory no matter what happens.
2 - Be an encouragement to my Team USA Teammates
3 - Shoot for a top 10 finish
4 - Shoot for a top 5 finish
5 - Get on the podium and bring home a medal

Well, I think I accomplished the top 3 goals by God's grace. It rained a lot the days before the race. Jen didn't get to go with me because her 88 yr. old mother is struggling with some health issues and Jen couldn't be out of the country. I went the econo route for a hotel in London and the room ended up being the size of our closet in our master bedroom - not even kidding. Bed, a 5'x6' floor space and a small shower that also happened to have a tiny sink and toilet in it. No chair, lamp, table, nothing. Not complaining at all. Worked great and was very inexpensive and fairly nice/new. But, with the rain, wind and gloomy clouds, my self-doubts about being ready, Jen, not being there and the logistic challenge of getting around that part of London and to the race site, well, it all kind of got me down at times. More opportunity to choose to be thankful and trust the Lord to help me do my best no matter how it turned out.

I had a chance on Wednesday to do a practice swim in a small part of the Serpentine, the inner-city lake/pond that the swim was held in. Water was dark and freezing. You couldn't see a half inch deep in it. Swan and ducks were swimming all around in it, doing their "jobs" in it I'm sure. Yuck. All that didn't help to lift my spirits, that's for sure.

I did have some wonderful friends there in London to be with. Paul and Frances Finch who live in Italy were in London and it was so good to get time with loving people who took such a beautiful interest in my race. They really blessed me and encouraged me. I checked my bike in with everyone else on Thursday in the rain and walked 30 minutes back to my room to wait out the afternoon/evening - that's the hardest part - waiting and wondering.

Race day I had to be in Hyde Park where the race was held between 6am and 7:30am to get my transition area next to my bike ready - helmet, shoes, nutrition, etc., and then wait 4 hours til my age group started the race. THAT was a long 4 hours.
I headed over to the swim start coral just in time. My group had already left the coral and was heading for the lake when I got there. The lady there had to unclip the rope for me and told me to get going. Whew. So there I was, waiting to head out to the dock where we started, across from the portable grandstands that were set up with the flags of the nations lining the top. I looked at 95 guys and wondered how good they really were. I prayed and asked God for His grace to do my best that day. I asked for His "grace to gRACE," (thanks for that Dave K.) I was now mentally ready to...grrrrrrRACE! In my mind was 2 Corinthians 9:8 and a song based on that, "God is able to make all gRACE abound to you!" I was ready to throw it down with these boys and see what they had and what I had.

It rained during the whole race. I had an OK swim but there were a lot of guys ahead of me out of the water.

I felt pretty good on the swim and felt like I was swimming as fast as I could. It was a long 400 yard run from the swim exit to the bikes.
There were many crashes on the bike course as athlete's bikes just slid out from under them. During the three "C" lap bike portion, we went over 36 speed bumps, did six 180 degree u-turns and did 24 sweeping turns or 90 degree turns. That, on wet, slippery pavement.
The bike was like riding on oil coated glass. That course totally killed the bike for me which is my best part of a triathlon, but everyone had to deal with it. Not making any excuses here, just explaining the horrible conditions and course for a triathlon. I'll take a straight out and back any day so I can get my speed up and just hold there flying along. THAT was not the case here at all.

At one point on the bike I was passing a few riders on their left and as I started around them the guy on the far left started fading towards me. There was a line of orange cones dividing the street with cyclist going opposite directions. The rider was squeezing me into the cones in the middle of the road. I could either hit the cone(s) or have him hit me. I tried to shout to him, but it was too late and I hit the base of a cone. I must have hit it square, just left of the right edge of the base, but just right of the actual vertical orange cone part. Bam, up and over it and I didn't go down. No idea how I didn't crash. Knowing it was a course with lots of turns and a good chance of rain I'd been thinking about Psalm 91:7, "A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand but it will not happen to you." Nice. Thankful!

I had no idea what place I was in the whole race. By now it was really pouring rain. My Hoka running shoes were sopping wet when I pulled them on in T-2 and took off, unlike the pic here:
I started the run hard, but not too hard as I didn't want that leg issue to flare up. I tried to run down as many guys as I could. There were people out there from numerous age groups so you didn't really know who you were racing unless you actually KNEW them. No ages were written on back of the legs of athletes like they do in most races, so if you passed someone or they passed you, it was very tough to know if they were in your age group or not.

I think I was in about 10th-12th place in my age group as I started the run from looking at the results afterwards. There was a really fast fellow Team USA member and a Brit who were about 20 ft. ahead of me. I knew the USA guy was in my group and thought the Brit probably was too. They held that gap the first 3/4 of a mile and then I slowly started to close on them. They were running fast! As I closed, I told myself that if I just held this pace I'd go past them. "Be patient. Don't rush. When you get there go by strong." Positive self-talk helps. I tried to do all that and at first I heard their footsteps close behind. I wondered if the three of us would run together to the end and then have a crazy sprint finish.

Slowly but surely, the sound of their strides splashing in the rain faded some, then a bit more. At one 90 degree turn I looked and saw I'd opened up a gap. The run was two 1.55 mile loops and at the end of the first loop I was pooped. I really worried about having gone out too fast. Was I going to burn out? Would those guys come back on me? I told myself, "This is WORLDS. You've got to be willing to hurt more than you ever have. You've got to push really hard the next 5-6 minutes, then you'll be on the home stretch part where you know you'll give your all. Do NOT leave anything in the tank. Have nothing to regret at the end. GO!" And so I ran as hard as I could from the 1.5 mile mark on. Towards the end of the run course you make two right hand turns and then you have about 300 yds. to go. 200 towards where the finish line is, then a u-turn on the blue carpet for the last 100. I passed a Team USA guy (who was the first American in our age group at that point) with about 150 yds. to the finish, made the u-turn and put the pedal to the medal hard giving it my all.

I had a blessed run - faster than I've run a 5K ever in a sprint tri since starting this sport 20 yrs. ago. I went 18:56 after an insane bike. How could I run 6:05 miles? My fastest this season had been 21:07 as I mentioned. I took 2:11 off that. Kind of crazy. I guess that's what Worlds will do.
I finished 6th in our age group out of 95 starters and was the first American. Team USA athletes took 6th, 7th and 8th.

I was blessed to have out biked the gold and sliver medalist and to have out run the bronze medalist. I had the 5th fastest bike and 5th fastest run. Though I dreamed of bringing home a medal, I was 1:45 off the podium which is a lot in a sprint distance tri. Medals went to Latvia, Germany and Greece, then Germany and Australia were 4th and 5th, then me.

Thank you to all who thought of me and prayed for me. I thought of you all during the race and it inspired me. I wrote down on a card that I carried on my bike, Psalms 27, 91 and 1 Corinthians 9:8, "And God is able to make all gRACE abound to you, so that in everything, at all times, you may have an abundance for every good work (and race.)" I want to also say a huge "thank you" to the companies who helped and supported me this season. I love you all and your great products!


Paul Asay said...

Nice race Linc, you just never know till you keep trying. Godspeed Paul

Unknown said...

WTG, LINC! Thanks for 'taking us along' with you. What a great story of a truly Amazing (G)Race!

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