I set a goal this year to qualify for the Las Vegas 70.3 World Championships. To be completely honest, I thought the chances for me to qualify were slim to none at the beginning of the year. I’ve consistently trained, but I lacked confidence. I never believed I was the caliber of athlete to qualify for a World Championship race. I’ve trained incredibly hard this year. I’ve learned to embrace pain and suffering in training. Although it was a team event, I believe Ragnar Relay ultra totally changed me as an athlete. It gave me the confidence that I can race with the best. It was there where I started to truly believe that I could become a Jedi.
Going into Florida I told Nick: “It’s Vegas or bust.” It’s the first time I had the mindset of racing a triathlon. I knew the approximate time splits I needed to contend, but meeting time goals wasn’t going to get me to Vegas. It’s all about age group placing. With only 30 qualifying slots proportionally distributed between age groups, I knew I’d likely have to be top three to have a good chance of qualifying. I was going to leave no regrets out on the course. As I lay in bed the night before the race I remember telling myself: “I’m getting to Vegas. I can do this.”
Due to unfortunate circumstances, my friend who I was planning to travel and race with me had to drop out at the last moment. I was traveling to Disney World, the happiest place on earth, all by myself. At first, I was super bummed. Though, I still made it a fun trip. Star Tours. Alligator hunting. Dolphin watching. I had a lot on my agenda.
Saturday morning: I had breakfast with two German guys who were racing. They were making fun of the unhealthy American diet and all the fat people here. I was ashamed of America, so I told them I was from Japan. They made me laugh.
I went for a short bike and run. After my 10 minute run, my clothes were drenched. This place felt like a sauna!
My hotel was in Davenport, about 15 minutes away from Lake Eva. I woke up at 4 a.m., and ate my usual oatmeal and blueberries and toast with almond butter. 4:45 a.m. I was off to the lake. I got to transition a little after 5 a.m. and set up my transition area. I talked to several of the guys in my age group. Although it was my first triathlon of the season, I surprisingly wasn’t nervous at all. I knew I trained just as hard as the fastest guys here.
I met this awesome volunteer, Wayne Jr., who was a native to Haines City. He took my mind off the race as we chatted about random stuff. Great guy, but knew nothing about triathlon. It was funny explaining everything to him. The entire community of Haines City seemed to be very welcoming to the triathletes. Lots of the volunteers were residents nearby, and they were all very helpful and supportive.
I walked down to the lake/swamp at 6:15 a.m. The pros took off at 6:30 a.m. Waves started in five minute increments. My wave started at 7:10 a.m. I lay down on the beach, watched the birdies in the sky, and searched the shoreline for gators. No gator sightings. This was going to be a great day.
7:00 a.m. I walked through the swim start corral, crossed the timing mat, and entered the water. Immediately, my feet and legs sunk several inches into the soft, slimy mud. Nasty. The water was 85 degrees. I was wondering why they didn’t let athletes swim in the lake beforehand… now I know why. I put my head into the water and it was pure blackness. This was probably the murkiest, darkest, warmest water I’ve ever set foot in. It creeped me out.
The start was about 20 yards off the shoreline. Technically, it was a “beach start” since it was still only slightly above knee level. 7:10 a.m.… BOOM goes the dynamite. Watching the other waves go off, I saw that the water wasn’t swimmable until about 20 to 30 yards into the swim. Most people “ran” slowly through the water, while the experienced swimmer gracefully dolphin-dove. I tried dolphin diving, but I’m pretty sure I looked like a drowning dog.
The swim course was unusual. Haines City didn’t get much rain the weeks leading up to the race, causing the lake to be extremely shallow at some points. Thus, it was changed to an ‘M-shaped’ course.
To the top the “M,” I felt good, I started out relatively easy, and there was minimal congestion. Once I made the first turn I started bumping into people from prior waves. There was quite a bit of contact for the rest of the swim. The sun made it especially difficult heading back to the shoreline. I bilateral breathe and people seemed to be spread out quite a bit. Sighting was difficult and at one point a kayaker was next to me to get me back on course.
The contact seemed to increase throughout the swim, especially at the turns. I started feeling bad, and a bit irritated. Lots of people in prior waves were treading water, breast stroking, and floating on their backs. I unintentionally ran into many of them and shoved them to the side. About 50m from the beach, I attempted to stand up and run. Fail. Running through water is probably the slowest thing you can possibly do. I started “dolphin-diving” again. 20m from the shoreline, I tried standing up again. I was still too deep. Finally, I swam until my fingertips hit mud, about five feet from the shoreline. I stood up and I was out of the swamp. See you later alligators.
Swim time: 32:26 (1:32 per 100/yd pace)
AG place – 12th
I decent swim for me. Just over a year ago, I was two minutes slower at this distance (and I wore a wetsuit). I know I have the ability to go sub 30 though.
T1 (3:21): Transition consisted of a 50 yard run off the beach and then running through a two-tiered transition area. My bike was in a less-than-ideal position. Being my first triathlon of the year, my transitions were definitely rusty. I think I lost about a minute fumbling through my stuff and messing up on petty little things.
Bike: The course consisted of a single, 56-mile loop. The first 30 minutes were flat and fast. Miles 30-50 contained small rolling hills. There was about 1,100 feet of climbing on this course.
Four miles into the bike I almost made a fatal mistake. There was a slight decent that immediately went into a 90-degree turn. One lane was still open to traffic. I took the turn way too hard, and rode into the other lane. I saw a car approaching, hit the brakes hard, and I could feel my rear wheel skid sideways. I rode off into the grass and slowed down enough before “tipping” over. Wow. Is this really happening? I checked over my bike. Other than a dropped chain everything seemed to be fine. I hopped back on the bike and was off. It was after a mile back into the ride when I realized I lost a bottle. I was going to have to rely on a half full bottle of water for the next 14 miles until the next aid station. Luckily, the temps weren’t too bad and it wasn’t a big deal at all.
When racing a triathlon, I believe you need to fully understand your strengths. I know my run is the strongest out of the three disciplines. So, I stayed in a pretty conservative power range throughout the entire ride, and avoided any huge power surges to conserve my energy. A 28 year-old passed me around mile 25. I tried pacing with him. Though, my power numbers and heart rate were extremely high. I knew I’d blow up if I continued this kind of effort. I wisely backed off, and just hoped he wouldn’t gain too much ground on the bike. There were a couple guys in my age group who caught up to me around mile 35 on the bike. I kept pace with them. I was still in a reasonable power range so I paced with them (legally) for the rest of the ride.
Other than the huge packs that passed me, the rest of my ride was pretty uneventful. There were several people blatantly cheating. Packs of 10+ riders, just inches from each other’s wheels, flew past me. Everyone was yelling at them. I recall questioning my integrity and contemplated hopping on one of these train(s). Am I willing to cheat myself to get to Vegas? Absolutely not. I’m not a cheater. I continued along as a one man wolfpack. For all you wheel suckers out there – – karma is out to get you. You guys are pathetic.
Bike split: 2:27:01: 22.85 mph
Age group place: 13th (with 11th and 12th just seconds ahead of me)
When I was leaving transition, I counted the bikes in my area. 12. Time to do work.
The course was three 4.4 mile loops, with about 250 feet of climbing on each. Each loop consisted of two back-to-back “Curry hill”-like climbs. There wasn’t much shade, but the crowd support was pretty spectacular and definitely helped me out late in the run.
I started out fast. I was flying, averaging a 6:16 pace for the first loop. It’s the first time racing I ignored heart rate on the run and just raced. I felt unbelievable off the bike. So fresh, well hydrated, and mentally ready for the pain ahead. I unleashed my beast-mode on lap one. I constantly checked out peoples’ calves. I counted down the 25 to 29 year olds that I passed. I counted three people on the first loop. 9th place. Good progress.
Second loop – the back-to-back hills seemed slightly longer and steeper this time around. My beast mode was starting to fade a little, but still present. It was creeping up to the mid 80s on the run, and I knew it was essential to stay cool and hydrated. I hiked my jersey up like a sports bra, and stuffed it with sponges and ice. I also put ice in my mouth and down my pants at every aid station. I call it: Spongeboob Iceballs.
Running with a water bottle saved me. It allows me to skip an aid station if it got too congested and it let me drink and consume my gels whenever I wanted. I still felt decent on the second loop. By this point of the race, it was hard to count the number of passes I made because there were many guys in my age group that I was lapping rather than overtaking. Though, judging by how they were running, I believe I passed two more 25-29 year olds. 7th place.
I started to really hurt. My stomach started to feel horrible. I went in and out of feeling nauseous. My legs got heavy. I remember seeing Wayne Jr., the volunteer I met in the morning. He shouted my name and told me two guys in my age group were just a couple minutes ahead. I closed my eyes and picked up my pace… God, I was hurting.
Still closing my eyes, I told myself: “These are the moments you train so hard for.” I was in some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in a race. Though, I spent a great deal of time before the race visualizing this exact moment. How bad do I want to get to Vegas? I knew I’d eventually feel like crap. I wasn’t giving up here. I didn’t travel to Florida just to finish. I HAD to impress Linsey. I was going to race it with everything I possibly had.
One mile into the final loop, I see someone in my age group…walking. He was hunched over with his hands on his knees He had blown up. 6th place. One more pass and I make podium! I ran as hard as I could. I was in hell. I’m starting to embrace the feeling of that place. Nick told me before the race: “The pain will always end when you cross the finish line.” I was begging for it to come soon. More running with my eyes closed. Grunting and suffering. Luckily I avoided knocking over the sweet old pretzel lady at this race.
About a mile left, I see a 25 year old. He was struggling. I made my pass and he didn’t even try to keep pace. 5th place was all mine. I pushed it to the very end looking for any other people I could pass.
I hit the finishing chute with a smile, high-fived a few people, put my arms up as I crossed the line, and puked up my gels as the catchers walked me over to medical. I immediately felt better once I poured ice over myself and drank some cold water. When I finished, I didn’t know my exact time or splits… but I was damn proud of myself. Nothing makes me happier than when I finish a race knowing that I pushed as hard as possible. This was, by far, my most complete, well-executed, fastest triathlon to date.
Run time: 1:27:40, 6:41 pace
Age group place – 5th
Overall time – 4:32:56
Ranking/place throughout the day:
Swim: Age group = 12, Males = 115, Overall = 152
Bike: Age group = 13 (-1 spot), Males = 87 (+28 spots), Overall = 96 (+56 spots)
Run: Age group = 5 (+8 spots), Males = 45 (+42 spots), Overall = 50 (+46 spots)
Chicked– 5x (by the top five women pros) 🙂
I waited for my friend, Libby, to finish in an amazing 4:46… 2nd in her age group! She had raced in Kona this past year and had already qualified for 70.3 Worlds in New Orleans. I hung out with her and tried eating food. I also met my DURAPULSE teammate, Shane Arters. He also had a phenomenal race placing second in the M40-44 age group.
Awards Ceremony and Vegas World Championships—
I drove back to Lake Eva around 3 p.m. for the awards ceremony. I immediately went to the Vegas World Championships booth to check out the number of slots allocated to my age group. There were TWO slots in my age group. From 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. they left the slots open to the first two qualifers. After the awards ceremony at 4 p.m., they begin the “rolldown” process if the slots aren’t taken. One slot in my age group had been claimed. I was so nervous. I began pacing back and forth. I constantly checked out peoples calves. No 25-29 year old males.
4 p.m. – They began giving awards. My first WTC award!
Around 4:30 p.m., rolldown began. I was in the front row. They got to my age group. The guy announced the third place guy… long pause… not present. The fourth place guy was called. Extra long pause. Now, I’m shaking. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry. Next! Next! Next!
“ELLIOT K-K-….” The guy began calling out my name. I jumped up and down as I began screaming like a little girl.
Walking up the stage to the Vegas signup booth I had a huge smile on my race. I was crying. This meant so much to me. I’ve worked so hard to get here and this was my reward. I made it to the big show. I did it. On September 9th, I will be racing the best 70.3 triathletes in the world. Vegas, baby!