Thursday, September 19, 2013

London World Championships recap

I remember why I love this sport! Throughout the year I at times struggle balancing the multi-sport lifestyle. It’s a commitment doing triathlons, and requires sacrifices. But, it’s introduced me to many friends, provided me countless experiences, and taught me many lessons that can be applied to any aspect of life. London highlighted why I do triathlon. It epitomized what draws me to the sport—competing against the best, spending time with friends who share a common goal, traveling to new places, and cheering on others. Although it is an individual sport, to me, the community and experiences are what makes triathlon so special. Although winning the age-group world championship and finishing second overall is an accomplishment that I may never duplicate, performing this way alongside friends and uniting with other USA athletes made the experience one I’ll never forget.

I arrived to London Wednesday morning after a long over-night flight. This race marked my third ITU World Championship race. I won the overall sprint race in 2007 in Hamburg, Germany, and in 2010 finished 2nd in my age-group and 9th overall (I think) in the Olympic-distance event in Budapest. I didn’t come to London with specific goals, but wanted to perform as I knew I could. The days leading up to the race were fun. I became far too familiar with Hyde Park, watched the sprint and pro women races, went out to dinner with friends, connected with the Philly/Avalon tri crowd, and meandered through the streets of London in its chilly and rainy weather. I went for a spin with friend/competitor Adam Webber, jogged through Hyde Park, and took a plunge into the Serpentine Lake to test it out. Aside from some hotel issues were my roommate and I showed up to a room with just one bed, all went smoothly. I became increasingly excited for Sunday, and couldn’t wait to see what I could do!

Race morning was greeted with exceptionally chilly temperatures. A wind chill of 41 and water of 60 degrees. I woke up with excitement, jumped on the spin bike in my hotel, then headed to the course where I set up my transition, and did some striders and dynamic stretching. I was in the fourth wave. Although it’s an age-group championship, unfortunately my group was split into two waves to control the size of the field. Unlike HyVee where I raced head-to-head against my competitors, this race was very different. I knew I’d have no idea where anybody else would be, so had to give it every last thing I had. Although I wanted to win my age-group, I also wanted to compete overall. No regrets, I told myself. Make the most of the opportunity, stay alert, and don’t give up.

As I was lining up with my wave, it was announced that the swim had been shortened in half to 750 meters. This frustrated me. I wanted a complete, and fair, race. Also, the swim tends to be an area that many triathletes lag, and as a result, an area to gain on other’s weaknesses. But I told myself to stay calm; the decision was out of my hands. One of my strengths is the balance I have across all the three disciplines, and from this I gained confidence that no matter what the distances would be, I would be a threat.

I took the swim out hard, as usual, and fortunately got on the feet of two seemingly fast swimmers. I had little contact during my swim, and made it around the first turn buoy unscathed. On the way back, one of the swimmers dropped and I kept on the other’s feet. This was fortunate, as blinding sun (rare in London) made it difficult to see. Unlike in HyVee where I got stuck swimming solo, I was able to find company here. I exited the swim fourth or fifth in my wave. I then sprinted toward transition. Because of the size of the race, transition area was quite large. In shorter races like the Olympic distance, I know that, at the highest level, every second counts. I pride myself, and prepare for, efficient transitions. After a smooth T1, I was ready to rip it on the bike.

The first part of the bike course went through Hyde Park. After watching dozens of racers wipe out at turns in the sprint race, I was sure to keep it somewhat conservative. This was actually helpful, as a key for me is building into efforts, and the technical sections prevented me from pushing too hard too early. As I exited the park and hit the roads of London, I realized I had passed everyone in my wave. The bike course was a blast, going through narrow streets, passing major landmarks, navigating winding roads, and riding through cobblestone sections. I feared the two-loop course would lead to congestion though, but fortunately it wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, however, as I passed other athletes, some would latch on. About three people in my age-group blatantly drafted off me, and during my second loop, others from different waves latched on as well. This frustrated me and I let them know of it, but they didn’t care much. Occasionally one would pass me, and I would be put in an interesting position. Do I either sit five bike lengths behind, conserve a little energy, but go a slightly slower pace, or just stay at the front, push the pace, use more energy, and give these other guys a free ride? The answer: push it. Half-way through the ride, my average wattage was way above anything I thought reasonable to sustain for a 40k, but I felt great, so kept pushing. On a course as technical and with as many turns as this, it made it extra impressive that my average could be so high. But I sustained it, and finished the bike with a blazing fast time, among the top in the race, and a record average wattage, well above anything I had done before. Typically flat courses like this don’t suit a small rider like myself, but the hard work on the bike is paying off (now put me on a hilly course!).

As I exited transition for the run, I quickly blew away from the drafters. Wow I felt great. The run was without a doubt the biggest adrenaline rush of the day, and one of the most memorable athletic moments in my life. The paths were lined with thousands of spectators and the crowds were loud! Because I had my last name and country on my uniform, tons of people, some of whom I knew, and many of whom I didn’t, would cheer for my name, or for my country. It’s an amazing feeling when somebody looks at you and yells, “USA, USA!” You’re representing a country! About a quarter-mile in, I heard somebody repeatedly shouting, “GO BDuff!” I don’t know who it was, but her loud and aggressive cheering definitely gave me a boost. The run course was three loops, making for a spectator friendly route. There were friends, family, other USA spectators, and USAT officials scattered across the course. There was never a dull moment or an excuse to let up. I knew I was running well—the best I ever had, and was on pace for perhaps my finest performance. The last lap hurt, but I gave it everything I had. In the final mile, my right quad started twitching. I feared it could seize up, but kept pushing anyway. With about 250 meters to go, I saw a USAT official on the side of the course holding small American flags. I grabbed one as I passed, and ran down the final 75m stretch in front of the grand-stands with friends loudly cheering my name. I sprinted so hard I felt my knees were going to buckle. I crossed the line, gasping for air, exhausted, and proud. I didn’t know exactly how I fared, but knew I gave it absolutely 100%. And that’s all you can ask for. I swam strong and smart, split my best bike leg ever, and ran a new triathlon run PR—33:12 for 6.26 miles. I reached a new level.

As the results came in, I found out that I obliterated my age-group, and finished second overall. One athlete from Mexico in the 30-34 age-group bested me. It would have made for an interesting race had we started the race together, and did a complete swim course, but regardless, I’m pleased with my performance. Second overall amateur in the world at the Olympic-distance, in addition to the 25-29 world champion and the 2012 overall amateur national champion are no small feats.

After the race, there was a Team USA banquet at a pub, followed by the closing ceremonies, and an after-party at a down-town club. Details (fuzzy at best) of which I won’t release, but the night capped off a fantastic week! Time to celebrate!

It’s races like these that keep me coming back for more. The experiences are second to none. And I can’t wait to do it again. These next few months will be difficult, as I take a break and rest, but I anxiously await 2014, to test my body’s limits, make new friends, and create more memories.

Congratulations to all the Philly/Avalon Team USA members—let’s do it again! Adam Webber, Nace Mullen, Ryan Phillips, Smarty Jones, Midge Kerr, Fran Gray, Bob Pugh, Paul Brinkman, Leslie Randall.

Also, a big thank you to my sponsors. To TYR for providing me a super-fast wetsuit and swim gear, First Endurance for my pre-race, in-race, and workout nutrition, Dave Cox and Bryn Mawr Communications as well as Chris McHugh and Lucky Well for the constant support and encouragement, and to my coach Eric Bean of Fast Forward Triathlon, Inside Out Sports, CompuTrainer for turning me into a beast on the bike, and everyone else who helped me along the way!

Check out the Fast Forward Triathlon website here