I fully intended to get a blog up right after Samorin, but unfortunately came down with a bad cold on the travel home, and it persisted for almost three weeks. To add insult to injury, I must have picked up a bug from somewhere a little over a week before Mont Tremblant, as I had fever, aches, chills, etc. for a good 48 hours. A week before Tremblant I was unsure if I would even be able to start the race, but then things started to turnaround on the Monday so I decided to give it a go. But back to Samorin first.
Samorin was Challenge’s version of the 70.3 World Championship. The major difference was that they were going to implement a 20 meter draft zone, which is something that has become both my life and career mission to see happen in all championship races. I had never done a Challenge race before, but there was absolutely no way I would be missing this one. I must say, I was very impressed with Challenge. Everything was top notch; they treated us very well, and it truly felt like we were part of a family. Multiple times Erin and I would be eating dinner and the CEO of Challenge would come over and chat with us and make sure we were doing alright and had everything we needed. Moving forward, I will be incorporating a lot more Challenge races into my schedule.
The race took place at a facility called X-Bionic Sphere. It was probably the most amazing place I have ever been to. 50m outdoor pool, 25m indoor pool with water slides, outdoor track, massive gym, multiple restaurants, hundreds of miles of bike paths right next door, beautiful rooms- it had everything. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy it much, as none of our bags showed up until about 24 hours before the race, so I basically just sat around in my XXL white t-shirt, combing my hair. In the end, this probably worked to my advantage though, as it forced me to rest.
The swim took place in the Danube. I lined up right next to Sebastien Kienle. The gun went and a gap opened up on Sebastien almost immediately. I worked very hard for the next 200m chanting “bridge the gap, bridge the gap” in my head. Then, I looked over to my right and noticed a cap that had the number 2 on it. I knew Kienle wore number 2, so then I realized that I hadn’t been dropped at all, I was actually swimming right next to him. I knew then that I had made the second pack. The rest of the swim was very easy. In fact, I would say it was probably one of the easiest swims I have ever done in a 70.3. I felt like I could have done back stroke and still kept up. But this is the beauty of making the pack. When I emerged form the water, Erin yelled at me that I was 3:15 down to Richard Varga, and 2:30 down to Alistair Brownlee. Most would say Richard is the best swimmer in triathlon, so I was happy to hear this number. Brownlee was 3:15 ahead of me just one month prior in St. George, so I was happy to hear this as well.
Out onto the bike, I figured I could ride fairly steady because with a 20 meter draft zone, I wouldn’t be disadvantaged by the “legal drafting” that occurs in other competitive races with a 10m draft zone. I rode quite poorly in St. George, so my only real goal was to improve upon that performance. I pushed 380w for the first 30 minutes, and averaged 370w for the first 80 minutes. At that point, I believe predominantly due to the course being dead flat with very few corners, my glutes decided to shut off. I had done some preparation for this style of riding, but obviously not enough. For the final 36 minutes I averaged 310w i.e. lower than my Ironman race pace.
Sebastien and I both swam together and rode the entire bike together. We came off the bike with about a 45 second deficit to Alistair Brownlee. I could tell that he was just as motivated as I was to avenge the performance in St. George, so I knew I was going to be in for a very painful next 21 kilometers. In all honesty, I would say my run legs felt some of the worst they have ever felt coming off the bike. I think most would say a bike course like Samorin is quite easy, but I would say it is actually harder than most bike courses because there is absolutely no change in muscle recruitment patterns, and thus it fries your legs a lot more than usual. We took the time back from Brownlee very quickly. Around 2km we entered the lead.
Kienle sounded fantastic. He showed no sign of pain or weakness whatsoever. I was absolutely dying. The negative thoughts started to come around 5km. Things like “second is good, this is a really good field.” Multiple gaps opened up and I had conceded the victory in my head. But, once there was significant space between us, I would focus more on myself and my own internal sensations, and would find another gear to bridge back up. As we went through an aid station around 10km Kienle let out some weakness. He started panting and even let out a few moans. The tables turned right then and there. I knew then that he was suffering just as much as I was, but was just hiding it well. I also realized at that point that he was throwing surges out, and that was why the gaps were opening. I then knew that if I just weathered the surge, he would slow down and I would get a break from the perceived exertion.
At around 15km I started to feel a gap opening. I knew it was now or never. We went through an aid station and I didn’t slow down. I felt the elastic starting to snap. I vowed to not look back and kept chanting “keep the pace rich, keep the pace rich.” When I got to the turnaround at about 17km I saw that I had opened a gap of about 200m. I knew this was not enough though, and kept the pace hot. There was another turnaround at around 20km. I saw at this point that I was about 400m ahead, but I still felt like Kienle could somehow close the gap, so I needed to keep pressing. As we were going by each other, Kienle reached over the fence to give me a high five. He didn’t need to say anything, I knew exactly what this gesture meant: “You got me. Great battle. I am not pressing. Enjoy that finish line.”
What a great gesture this was, as I would have blown through that finish line with fear driving my every movement. Sebastien is a great champion, and I have learned so much from him over the years. This was another great lesson on humility and the spirit of competition, that I will add to my arsenal. The finish line was amazing. The grand stands were packed with people and the announcer was hyping everyone up. I got a good tear in my eye and a shiver down my spine. I still stand 100% by what I said after finishing. It wouldn’t have mattered if I won or if Kienle had won, I still would have had the same positive feeling at the finish line. There is nothing better than a good battle right to the last minute, where you have no idea who is going to win. It was an honour to experience this alongside Sebastien. If you didn’t have the opportunity to watch the race, I encourage you to set some time aside and watch the replay. Challenge did an excellent job with the live coverage and you can find the video here:
I have to say, I am very impressed with Challenge. They offer an amazing product, that from what I can tell, was equally as good for the pros as it was for the AG field. I also commend them for their effort to make their World Championship fair. This race proved to me that there is absolutely no reason why we can’t and shouldn’t have a 20 meter draft zone for all championship races. Our careers, reputations, hearts and souls are on the line here, and it takes absolutely nothing extra to implement this rule. This was a very deep field, with some of the best short course and long course talent in the world, and it was implemented smoothly and efficiently. I am honoured to have taken part in this first World Championship for Challenge, and I am excited for next year.
In the interest of reading time, I will do a separate post on Mont Tremblant 70.3, and then go into the details of the rest of my season, and the rationale behind this.