I haven't raced much the past few years. I want to continue racing for the next 60 years of my life, which means I've been more selective, so that I keep the enjoyment and excitement of toeing a start line. The two downsides of not racing as often is that a) it takes some racing to really get yourself up to "A" level race speed, and b) that you weigh each race more heavily when not racing often. I was really looking forward to being back at it last Sunday, and especially in a World Championship event.
We pulled the kids out of school on Friday, and left our house at 4:30am for the 450 mile drive up to Mont Tremblant. The drive was easy, and seven hours later, we were pulling into the small, very scenic Canadian ski village. Registration for the race closed Friday at 4pm (no registration Saturday), so I made my way over to the race headquarters, only to find the line to register about a 1/4 mile long. I'm not good in lines, which meant grabbing lunch was the priority, hoping afterwards the line would go down. No chance. I ended up waiting two hours in line to register. I've been racing for 25 years and I've never waited in a line longer than 45 minutes to register! The inefficiency of the registration process was surprising, considering the WTC have been hosting races for quite some time now, and that this was a World Championship race.
Saturday consisted of a light jog, some breakfast, an easy spin, checking in the bike, walking around the village, taking the gondola to the top of the mountain, watching the kids rock climb and luge, and otherwise relaxing. I felt good. I was a bit nervous which is always a good sign - it means I'm ready and anxious to race and that it still means something to me.
We stayed at the Westin and our room had a full kitchen area, so I was able to toast a bagel for breakfast, make some coffee, go set my bike up, then head back up to the hotel room and relax. This is such a positive at a race - getting to hang out in your room until the start of the race! Mont Tremblant is a great venue for a race - what happened this day was not a result of the venue, but rather some bad luck and the WTC's organization.
After getting my wetsuit on, I kissed my family goodbye, and walked down to the water. As I walked down, I thought of how dramatic we could make a race. The reality is that I'm going out to exercise for 4 hours and change, something i love to do! Why do we complicate things? The air temperature early on was in the low 50's, but it was sunny out. The water temperature was in the low to mid 60's. The pro's left at 8am, and my group was scheduled to start at 8:36. After another men's age group left, my waive was issued into the corral, and I began to do some shoulder stretches. My training for the race was solid except of course in the swim. I was hoping my five swims since St. Croix would be enough to get me out in around 27 to 28 minutes. Just as the announcer yelled "two minutes!", my zipper opened up on my wetsuit. My friend Leo who was also racing helped try to fix the broken zipper, but to no avail. Because of the water and air temps, I knew I needed a wetsuit for warmth, and I also knew I was going to be dragging this busted wetsuit through a slow swim. The cannon sounded and we all crashed into the water to start the day. My wetsuit quickly filled with water from the open zipper, and it felt as though I was dragging a parachute. Now, I'm very comfortable in the water. I'd consider my comfort and ability to relax in the water one of my strengths. This was the first time in a triathlon swim that I actually had a bit of panic. As I'm dragging this water filled wetsuit through the water, I'm also dealing with the highly competitive athletes, grabbing, pushing, kicking, and swimming on top of me, something common to everyone in a competitive triathlon swim start. Fighting both of these situations was exhausting and I soon found myself hyperventilating. I focused on exhaling, and counted to blank my mind and this worked. The traffic never really thinned out, and the swim took a lot out of me, but I knew my bike and run fitness were solid. The swim took me 30 minutes, slower than I wanted and with more effort, but not as bad as I anticipated all things considered.
Everyone has heard the complaining on drafting before, especially from me, so I won't beat this horse much more. Long story short here, over the next 30 miles, I was swallowed up by two more huge pelotons, consisting of 20+ athletes. I knew now that my race to be competitive and aim for the podium was over. I was beyond irritated, and those who know me know that I can become a bit disgruntled when dealing with bullshit, to put it mildly. Then, at mile 45, on a nice uphill section of the course, things got worse. I was riding alone, climbing this hill, as an athlete came by on my left and cut right in front of me. You have 15 seconds to drop back the three bike lengths, so I began easing up. On uphills, the draft benefit isn't nearly as significant, so penalties are not typically issued there. As I was dropping back, a draft marshall pulls up next to me and yells "you are receiving a four minute penalty for drafting off that rider". I went ballistic. Again, I've been racing for 25 years, and I have been called for drafting twice - at Hawaii in 2012, and here, both World Championship events with huge packs and tons of drafting occurring during the race. I don't know how to ride in these unfair races. The bike is my other strength and I thrive on grinding it out alone. The irony; If I had stayed in the pack, I would have been safe from a penalty!! I yelled at the marshall; "you have got to be fucking kidding me!!!" We argued for at least a minute, before I called him an asshole and road off. Now I'm not proud of this and it's definitely not the best action to take if you are trying to appeal something. My temper got the best of me. As I rode up to the last penalty tent on the course, again, with know one in it, I blew right by it.
The really bothersome part about the whole experience during the ride is that the majority of those racing in these packs seemed to accept the fact that this was part of racing now. They seemed to go along with it.
I changed into my run gear quickly, and headed out for the hilly 13.1 mile two loop run. They changed the course from the other Tremblant races to make it more spectator friendly and in doing so made it much more challenging, and it was a great course! My legs were heavy, but not dead. I actually ran the second loop much stronger than the first and ran the last three miles at six minute per mile pace. I crossed the line in 4 hours 29 minutes, about 10-14 minutes off my goal, but that didn't really matter any more after the nonsense that ensued. I knew soon that they'd DQ me as well for blowing off the penalty tent, and I didn't care. My kids got to see me cross the finish line on a beautiful day in a very cool venue, which became the new goal while running.
To say my last two World Championship experiences were disappointing from a racing perspective is an understatement. I did some race debriefing, as I typically do, shortly after the race with my father. He mentioned to me "Eric, you have some soul searching to do here. the sports changed and maybe your racing days are over." But I quickly rejected that. I think that maybe my days of trying to test myself against the best athletes in my age group at these World Championship races might be over. There are great athletes racing in these events, but the events themselves are set up so they are anything but fair tests. The WTC keeps opening more events, and they keep selling out, so even though they know it's a huge problem, why would they do anything to change things? But I love to race and will continue to find races out there like St. Croix, that offer a smaller field, great course, and fair racing. (I appreciate and respect St. Croix more and more as time goes by). And also, things have changed for me in that in the past, I was all about racing. Now, I really enjoy having a goal out there to focus on and then developing a plan of action to get me to that starting line dialed in. Standing on the beach Sunday morning waiting for the race to start, I was thinking about my build over the previous two months. The process of getting myself to a level where I felt ready to give my best effort. That's what I'm enjoying more now - the training process. I still need that race goal out there - that's what keeps us honest and gives us focus. But it's in the details of the daily and weekly training that I'm finding satisfaction in. That's where the passion is.
That afternoon, after the race, Lisa, Ryan, Kate and I did a few more luge runs - racing each other, took another gondola ride and walked around the top of the ski mountain, laughed a bunch, and really enjoyed the rest of our adventure in Mont Tremblant before heading home early Monday. These experiences are all learning experiences, even if they don't go according to plan. Now, I'm combing the calendars looking for a late season race to end the year with and to not waste this fitness!
Thanks fort reading, and cheers!