St. George has provided many great experiences over the years. Back in 2014, it is where I saw for the first time what world class 70.3 racing looked like. In that race, I finished 18th, nearly 10 minutes behind Jan Frodeno, losing time in all three disciplines. Immediately after the race I was very discouraged and contemplated giving up triathlon. A few days went by and I realized I had made many mistakes with regards to equipment, training, pacing, nutrition, etc. I also realized that my attitude and orientation to triathlon had taken a wrong turn, and vowed from that race onwards that I would do triathlon solely to find out what is possible. I also vowed to always give my absolute best on race day, regardless of the cards I am dealt.
This year was sure to provide equally as valuable experience. St. George always has a stacked field. It usually is the prelude to the 70.3 World Championship. There was one unique thing about this year that was sure to make it a race for the ages: Alistair Brownlee. Alistair is arguably the greatest one day racer of all time. He has won every single race he has wanted to win, including the last two Olympic Gold medals. He is largely responsible for pushing short course racing to a point where if you can’t swim sub 17 minutes for 1500m AND run sub 30 minutes for 10km after riding a hard 40km bike, you will have no chance at winning a major race. Along with being massively talented at swimming, biking and running, he also possesses that quality that you cannot teach; he has pushed himself on multiple occasions to the point where he could no longer function at the finish line, and had to be wheeled away for medical attention. St. George was going to be Alistair’s first 70.3 against a quality field. The whole world would be watching and waiting for him to usher in the new era.
Before the race even started Alistair already was positively impacting my training. In the weeks between Oceanside and St. George I was doing the best swimming of my life. I also posted a lifetime best 1 hour power on the bike of over 410w. What benefitted most was my running. I knew to have any shot at winning I was going to have to take my running up a notch. In the three weeks after Oceanside I did multiple run workouts that were approaching the workouts I was doing back in 2013, when I was doing a lot more pure running races, and posted all of my best times. In my run workout six days prior to St. George I was able to do multiple 2km repeats on 3 minutes recovery, and average 2:57-2:58/km.
With hindsight, Alistair actually may have entered my mind a little too much. Admittedly, this race is the first time in years where I actually had a little bit of fear of a competitor. I knew that if given the opportunity, Alistair would rip your legs clean off your body, with no remorse shown whatsoever. I think fear is good, and can be very motivating, but looking back at my training, I probably trained a little too hard in the weeks leading into the race, and definitely pushed the race-week training too hard, particularly on the swim and bike.
St. George is always a tough swim for me. There are usually many great swimmers in the race, so the take-out speed is very fast. Fast take-out speed is still something I am relatively poor at. The spread between my all-out 100m speed and threshold 100m speed is not very large. This is something that unfortunately I do not think can be rushed, and predominantly comes with time and experience. This year’s race played out very similar to last year. The gun went, I got dropped immediately, and swam most of the race with just one or two other guys. The sad part for me is that in Oceanside I came out with or ahead of multiple guys who were all considerably further ahead of me in St. George. I swam very hard in the two days leading into this race, so I think there are some good lessons here with regards to tapering into the swim. I can’t get down on the swim though as this year I was 3:13 down to the front of the race, whereas last year I was 4:30 down to the front. This year was arguably a better group of swimmers than last year, with multiple individuals who are fresh off the ITU circuit, or still racing ITU.
The bike was the most discouraging part for me though. I have heard many stories of Alistair being a monster on the bike, both in racing and in practice. I knew to have any chance at competing for the overall victory I was going to have to post the best bike ride of my life. I figured I was physically and mentally prepared to do this because just one month prior in Oceanside I pushed 360w for 1 hour 50 minutes, with ease. At that point, I made a conscious decision to lap the computer and ride a little easier to the finish, yet still went through 2 hours averaging 357w. Sadly, the moment my feet touched the pedals in St. George, I knew it was going to be a rough day.
For the first 20 minutes I averaged 360w, and it was a massive struggle. I tried everything to muster up some power, but nothing worked and the average just kept dropping. I knew not long after that the race was going to be with Kienle for second. In a race that I needed to post the best power of my career, I actually posted the second worst average power of my professional career: 333w. My prior second worst being my professional debut at Muskoka 70.3 in 2013 where I averaged 335w.
Towards the end of the bike I was really starting to worry about how I would perform on the run. Last year Kienle and I ran pretty much dead even through 10 miles, and I felt a heck of a lot better for the first 2.5 hours of the race that year. Once onto the run course, I was quite surprised to find that my legs felt good. I knew there was no chance to catch Brownlee, but I did want to show that I am in good run form, so I set a good tempo from start to finish. The time was slowly coming down to Alistair, but to be honest, I never really believed I could catch him. You just don’t run down a 3 minute deficit on a guy who has run 28:3x for 10km!
All in all I am happy with the performance on the day. The only thing I am a little disappointed with is that I pride myself on being someone who rises to the occasion, and on this day I was unable to do that. Oh well, more fuel for the fire. I will say, as we look back in the future at the history books of triathlon, this race will be recognized as a monumental day. Alistair is a great all around triathlete who has no weakness whatsoever. His performance on the day was good, but there is not a doubt in my mind that he is capable of much more. He took ITU to a new level and will do the same in long distance triathlon. This race will mark the beginning of the New Era. I am excited for the challenge, and to continue to find out what is possible.