July 19th, 2014 marked the end of a 52-week journey from top performing amateur triathlete, to long-term infirmed parasite sufferer, to unsure professional triathlete, to professional podium finisher.
One year ago, I won the overall amateur title and finished 9th overall at the XTERRA off-road triathlon Mountain Championships in Avon, CO. I was in the midst of a five race winning streak and decided to turn professional to find my physical and mental limits racing the best off-road athletes on the planet. Alas, the best-laid plan of mice and men often go awry.
Less than a month later, I picked up GI parasites from open-water swimming, suffered tremendously for several months without a proper diagnosis, and saw my fitness and strength wither away as it took several more months of various treatments to finally rid my body of the pernicious elements, overcome post-infection symptoms and finally resume training.
Instead of coming off an excellent off-season and making a splash in the men’s professional field at the start of the 2014 season, I was still on the sidelines in April. In May, I was finally healthy enough to train hard, and competed in my first pro race at the XTERRA Southeast Championships. I was delighted to return to action but not fit enough to contend for a podium spot. After a month of hard, purposeful, and timely training devised by my new coach, Josiah Middaugh, I felt ready to fight for a high placing at the XTERRA East Championship in mid-June. Unfortunately, I picked up another acute GI bug from swimming in the James River during a deluge for the pro-relay challenge three days before the actual race. Unable to hold down food or liquids for two days, I could not make it to the start line.
Fortunately, the GI bug from the James River subsided within a few days, and I was back to the grind stone. After nearly a month sojourning in Avon, CO for altitude training and acclimation leading up to the XTERRA Mountain Championship, and no open-water swimming whatsoever, I was finally 100% healthy and prepared to hold my own against a tough professional field.
In the wee morning hours on race day, I woke up with a wicked headache, probably from the stress of wanting to salvage a season marred with poor health by performing to my full capability. After a hearty breakfast, my headache subsided, allowing excitement and positivity to fill my headspace. After a solid bike and swim warm-up, I made my way to the start line feeling very fortunate to be racing in such a beautiful setting.
After a frenetic first 200 meters, I settled into a sustainable pace just off the front swim pack. My training at altitude left me weary of going into oxygen debt too soon, as it’s very difficult to recover from.
I surrendered about 90 seconds to super swimmer Maurcio Mendez et al., and quickly went to work on the bike. Within the first two miles, I moved from 9th to 6th place, and dug deep to summit the 2,000 ft initial climb as quick as my legs and lungs would allow. I felt the pressure of strong cyclists such as Chris Ganter, Ryan Ignatz, and Cody Waite who were in hot pursuit.
GPS map of the bike course, and the corresponding elevation profile:
The rest of the race was a very trying, lonely affair. I biked solo from miles 3 to 15, focusing on staying low and smooth on downhills and switchbacks, while revving just below the red line on the pedaling sections.
When I arrived at T2, volunteers yelled that I was sixth on the course, only 30 seconds back to Maurcio and about 90 seconds behind Brandon Rakita. I ran out of T2 ready to find my mental and physical limit thinking, “podium or bust.”
GPS map of the run course, run in the reverse direction from previous years:
And the corresponding elevation profile of the run, once again run in the opposite direction of previous editions.
With super-running Ryan Ignatz withing sight behind me, fighting to run me down, I went further and further into the hurt locker on the initial climb. I was finally able to catch my breath on the first descent of the run, and focused all of my attention on staying upright while barreling down the tight and rocky technical single track of the Five Senses trail. At the start of the second climb, I could see Brandon Rakita in the distance and shifted into my last gear. I made the pass midway through the second climb and was relieved to be maintaining the the gap over over Ryan Ignatz. I kept fighting on the final descent, trying to squeeze out get every last ounce of physical and mental energy. As I approached the finish line, I heard the announcer congratulate the 4th place finisher, and looked behind. Seeing no one in sight, I finally let up, and crossed the finish line elated to reach the podium as a rookie pro.
Next up is a big push to gain more fitness in preparation for the XTERRA USA Championship.