This past weekend was the Long Course National Championship race in Oklahoma City. Kelly and I signed up for this race early in the season with the intentions of racing Long Course Worlds in 2016. As the race drew near I was getting more and more excited, my power numbers on the bike were higher than they’d ever been, my run pace was exactly on point for what I wanted and despite only swimming once a week my swim splits were still pretty solid (for a triathlete anyway). I knew the course was going to be pancake flat so in preparation I drove out to Ohio for a training ride with the sole purpose of doing a long ride in the flat lands. That ride revealed a lot of things; 1) with flat courses you don’t get any recovery hills or any sort of break from pedaling, 2) staying in aero for 2+hrs is not easy on the body or the stomach and 3) winds matter, a lot.
Fast forwards to race morning…
After one of the least hectic starts I’ve ever had, I quickly settled into a nice pace and starting cruising along. Despite its reddish tint, the lake was beautiful. It was pretty calm, a nice temperature for wetsuits, and the sun decided to stay hidden behind some clouds allowing for easy sighting (aided by a nice amount of buoys as well). With my new work and school schedule I have only had time to swim about once a week so I didn’t have high hopes for a swim PR but I was still gunning for a sub-30min. I wasn’t really able to do much drafting but I felt like I was still moving at a pretty good speed and was doing pretty well with my sighting. As I neared the finish line, and wetsuit strippers (yay!), I glanced down to see a 31:30. A little disappointed but still close enough to where I needed to be. (My Garmin, and others, had the course about 200yds long which might explain some)
Once I got out of T1 it was hunting season. The bike has always been my strongest leg and the first half of this race was no different as I quickly moved to 3rd OA by about mile 20 and was closing in on 1st and 2nd. The course was pancake flat and relatively straight so it was the perfect course for just mashing away at the pedals. Well come mile 30 and my stomach had had enough. One thing I didn’t account for was heat and sun and much like my early season experience at Wildflower, those are two pretty important considerations. I think a combination of that mixed with staying in aero for so long with some heavy power output were just too much for it to handle. I’ve been lucky to have such a bulletproof stomach in past races and my race fueling strategy was no different today than in days past so this was quite a new experience for me. I gritted my teeth, drinking as much water as I could manage to find, and pushed on hoping the gi distress would fade as quickly as I was watching my lead on the bike diminish with each mile. By mile 52 or so it had calmed down enough that I was able to start focusing on the run. I wasn’t going to go put down that 2:17 or faster bike split but I knew I was still on pace for a sub-2:20 split and still on target for my sub-4:20 finish time. (Garmin bike split)
As I ran through T2 I saw the 2nd place M25-29 just ahead of me, providing a nice boost of adrenaline, and much needed confidence. First mile out of the gate was a strong 6:50 and it came with relative ease. I could tell my stomach wasn’t quite ready to take in anything but water so I dialed back the pace to a 7:00 m/mi but things took a turn for the worse shortly after. No matter what I could do I just couldn’t get my pace back to stop creeping up. I could tell I was already walking the fine line of exerting too much for my stomach to handle and by this point in the day those wonderful clouds that had been in the sky all morning had decided their time was up, exposing the sun in full intensity. I was ready to quit. I have never DNF’d a race but today I thought long and hard about it.
As I weighed the options I thought about my parents anxiously waiting for me at the run turn around. I knew they would probably understand if I quit but I didn’t want to feel like a disappointment to them either. They had driven 5hrs to watch me race, I couldn’t just quit. I also thought about my Coach. Time and time again he has talked me off a ledge that follows a bad workout or a bad race and I didn’t want him to think I didn’t have have the guts (although I literally didn’t, ha) to get through tough times. It’s during tough times that we learn the most about ourselves, after all. I checked out my Garmin, did some quick math and came to the conclusion that if I could hold my current pace of 7:15 I could still pull out a pretty big PR and by my count I was still 3rd in my AG which was a nice relief. As the miles clicked away things didn’t get better but at least they didn’t get worse. The look on everyone else’s face was the same as mine and I knew they were no tougher than I, if they can get through this, so can I.
As my Garmin hit mile 12 I poured every last drop into composing myself for the finish line. As I sprinted towards it I saw my friend and former coach, Jon, there cheering me on. I also saw my parents there in their “Team Kyle” shirts, ringing bells and screaming. On a normal day I wouldn’t claim parents who are acting in such a way, but today I was happy to say they were mine. (Run file)
All said and done, the experience of that race was definitely worth it. I learned a lot about myself, I set a 70.3 PR by over 10 minutes and I placed 3rd in my AG, taking home a cool bronze medal. On top of that this race is wonderful, it’s a good test of merit, well organized and well supported by what seems like the entire city of a OKC. The people there are also incredible. One of the few things I miss about the Midwest is the people, their kindness and genuine personalities are found nowhere else.
Results: 4:27:37 – 3rd AG/22 OA (11 minute 70.3 PR!)
Swim: 31:35 (4th AG); T1: 1:23; Bike: 2:19:13 (2nd AG, 16 OA); T2: 1:07; Run: 1:34:21 (6th AG, 4min 13.1 PR!)
Somewhere south of Wichita, as we drove back towards Kansas City, I found myself getting lost in the view of the sunset over the plains. While it’s not a palm tree lined beach or a rugged mountainside there is something so peaceful and beautiful about the prairie at sunset with its golden fields, farm houses and free range cattle. And all the while I couldn’t help feel a sense of longing, and maybe a bit of envy, for that lifestyle. Life on a farm just seems so…simple. This really isn’t anything new though as I’ve always felt I strongly related more to the ‘country’ lifestyle despite growing up in a place that is pretty much the perfect representation of the suburbs.
As I pondered what life on a farm would be like, I started to reflect on my own life. I know that I have grown up with every opportunity I could ever imagine and that I am incredibly fortunate to have everything I have, and I try to always remember that. I also try to remember to be thankful and not take things for granted but we can all use a reminder of that at times. The single biggest thing I take for granted is my parents – they are always there when I need them and they’re so supportive of the decisions I make. Whether it’s asking them to drive hundreds of miles to watch me race, telling them I’m moving to Chicago on a whim, or letting them know that I am going to go back to school for PT, I know I can always count on them to be there for me. #FamilyOverEverything
This season has been a constant trail of highs and lows and I can’t tell you the number of times I thought about throwing in the towel, mostly when it comes to triathlon. Trying to juggle life as an athlete, a student, a full-time employee, puppy parent, a significant other and a friend is no easy feat and I often found myself burdened by it, wondering what the real ‘end game’ was in triathlon. This sport is supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to push us to be the best we can be, not break us and expose what we are not. One thing that always got me motivated to continue on were my friends and family. Whether it’s Coach Matty on the pool deck telling mw great job, my good friend Pierre who doesn’t hesitate for a second to go on some adventurous, sometimes slightly dangerous, rides or my girlfriend Kelly whose own success and hard work push me to be better. But also my parents. My parents LOVE watching me race. Whether I come in first place or last I know they will be all over the race course and finish line, screaming and wearing ridiculous shirts. It’s something that has brought us a lot closer and something I definitely don’t want to lose.
Triathlon is always teaching me new things, whether it’s about improving my performance, how to dig deeper than I’ve ever dug or how to balance my time, I’m always learning. And I think that perhaps this season was just another test. A test that revealed the true reason I love this sport; the relationships it has built for me. It also repeated the lesson that winning isn’t everything and getting to caught up in that can cause you to miss the bigger picture. And equally important is that it showed me that life is only as complicated or as simple as we make it. Instead of trying to escape something maybe we should first make sure it isn’t us that is making that thing burdensome.
As I look towards the ‘off season’ and even a little towards next season I think it’s clear that Long Course racing will not be a part of it. I think sticking to short course is just the best way to keep myself sane and still interested in the sport. It also leaves me more time to do some other things I love, like racing bikes or going on weekend backpacking trips with Kelly and our pup, Josie.
And lastly, I couldn’t be where I am today without help from so many people. My parents, obviously, my girlfriend and triathlon rockstar, Kelly, my coach, Matty, from Trust the Plan Coaching, and all of my friends/training partners that I spend far to much time in spandex with. Chas from Sayle Service for always keeping my bike in race ready condition, Nick at Banker Supply for too many things to begin to mention and Todd for always helping me tweak my fits and answer my fit questions. I would not hesitate for a single second to recommend any of these gentlemen for their services.