This was my second year racing in the Saint Anthony’s Triathlon, which is held in St. Petersburg, Florida. Last year I entered at the eleventh hour because I happened to be in the mood to race that week. I was so impressed by the organization and presentation of the event that I committed to racing again this year immediately.
I love taking part in well run events. That’s why I keep going back to races like Nautica South Beach, New York City, Hy-Vee and any race that Bill Burke directs. St. Anthony’s Triathlon is that caliber of event, and as such it will be a part of my race schedule for years to come.
This year there were 49 pro men racing, including legends like Greg Bennett, Courtney Atkinson, Bevan Docherty, and Matt Reed, plus rising starts like Josh Amberger, Cameron Dye, and Kaleb VanOrt. The race was legitimately a world class field – far beyond the draw of talent that we normally see in a race that doesn’t help qualify for the Olympics.
Despite the intimidating start list, I came to Florida with this crazy idea that maybe I could put my name on select group of previous winners. That list, which goes back to 1984, includes names like Mike Pigg, Andy Potts, Hunter Kemper, Greg Welsh, and Matt Reed. Judging by the people have won this race, there has never been a cherry pick year. I wasn’t putting any expectations on myself, but I figured that a good race would force anyone that wanted the title from me to really work for it.
I came up 9 seconds short. That makes it seem like I could have changed a few little things and made the difference, but that would be false. I left everything I had out on the course. I had an exceptional race and there weren’t mistakes that would have made any difference in the outcome. I raced well. I raced with everything that I brought to Florida and that in itself is a victory of sorts, regardless of finish place.
The swim course was changed from previous years after a 3 year stint of weather cancellations and deaths among participants. I never had a chance to swim the old course, but the new one is not bad. We start down the beach in a deep water start, which is less desirable to a pontoon start, but better than a shallow beach start. The shallow start gives a huge advantage to the runners and people with long legs (not me). The deep water start gives the advantage to the swimmers, but tends to be difficult for the race directors to officiate. We line up between two buoys, but since we don’t really know when the gun is going off everyone is trying to tread water and keep their body’s horizontal. This inevitably has the entire field moving forward slowly and after a short time the line of men has moved well beyond the buoys. The race is still fair – everyone moves forward and nobody is silly enough to sit back while everyone around him is inching forward – but with a two or three minute delay we’ve unintentionally taken 50 meters off the swim course.
Once the gun finally did go off I found myself quickly in third position on the feet of Cameron Dye. Cam had intelligently started near Josh Amberger and was on his feet from the gun. I had somehow spaced on Amberger’s presence or I would have done the same. Josh is the guy that won all the swim primes at Hy-Vee last year and beat Cam, Potts, and myself out of the water by 50 seconds. I started to fade about 600 meters in and was glad when 2 guys came around, allowing me to enjoy a bit more draft. That straight 600-meter portion was parallel to the shore in a protected channel, it was followed by a 90 degree left turn away from shore that took us into the wind and chop of the open waters. The waves were rolling in at a cadence that really didn’t mesh with my natural stroke rate. I was being thrown onto the other swimmers around me, one second I was on a guys feet, the next he was 5 feet to one side, or in front of me, or behind me. It was brilliantly fun! I love a challenging swim and this was just enough chaos to make things interesting.
The pace didn’t slow, but I could tell that people were tiring in the chop. Josh and Cam were only holding a few meters gap ahead, but we weren’t closing it. We made two right turns and headed back to shore as one big group with only a small time gap from first person to last, and all the contenders were there.
Mounting our bikes it was Cam leading the group. I was fourth of fifth, but right in position. Now, Cam was in form today and his bike ride took off from the line. I had hoped to take the lead, but it was not mine to be had. Everything I had to put into my pedals could only get me up to Cam’s side – he never relinquished control of the race. It was obvious to me who was in charge and there was nothing I could do to change it. I was forced to contend with staggering to the opposite side of the road, giving Cam first choice of the best line, and pedaling for all I was worth to stay with him.
Right behind us, Josh Amberger was tenaciously hanging with us. He was in great position and – unlike me – he never once tried to pull to the front. He sat in 3rd and took full advantage of the flaws inherent to the drafting rules. He wasn’t breaking any rules – I know this because we had an official on a motorcycle riding right behind us the entire 40 kilometers. But there is a still a big advantage to being in the back of a group of three or more when the race follows USAT’s stagger rules. The jockeying for position in front of that person forces them to shift lines left to right and back. Every time that happens, the person in back goes through the draft zone. And if that person is staggered, but not very far back, they can be frequently passing through the draft zone of someone only a few meters (or less) in front of them.
Behind us was a group much larger than our own, and the larger the group the more this flow in the rules allows for drafting. With more people, there’s more changing of positions, more moving in and out of draft zones. I’ve been in groups like that, it’s much much easier in the back. So much so that the people who like to ride in the back will more likely coast to maintain their position in the back than risk facing the wind in the front.
So I’m definitely not suggesting that anyone was cheating, just that the way the rules are enforced, a start list of 49 guys allows a lot of people to take advantage of drafting without risk of penalty.
The three of us, Cam, Josh and myself, had over a minute on the next pack heading into T2. I took the bike prime, but only because both the other guys beat me out of T1. There’s no way I would have ridden that hard without Cam pushing me the entire way.
Now, I’ve been hearing rumors about how Josh has been training really well over the winter, and I knew he would be a bigger factor than in our previous match-ups. I also knew that Cam has been working hard on his run and that it’s been coming around. But I was sincerely floored when my surge on the run was not just matched, but countered by both Josh and Cam, in series, and that their counters left me 10 seconds behind at the first mile marker. Those guys were running really well! By two miles I was 15 seconds behind Cam and 25 or 30 behind Josh. Then I started inching back. By 5k I had caught up to Cam, and set my sights on Josh. With the turnaround at half way I also got to see that Filip Ospaly was closing the gap quickly with Tim O’Donnell right behind him. I did everything I could to pick it up, but my fourth mile was my slowest. I needed a second wind. At mile 4 I started pulling Josh back to me again and at just before the fifth mile I finally caught him. Just then, I heard footsteps and knew I’d been caught. Ospaly passed me right as I passed Josh. I went from second to second, but with Tim only a short ways back I knew I had to try to hang on. My last mile was my fastest, and I needed every second of speed. I crossed the line less than 10 seconds behind Ospaly, but TO was just 4 seconds behind me. It was a really close race!
Josh in fourth, with Cameron hanging on for fifth. Nobody had an easy time at this race. It was fun, but it was also one of the hardest races I’ve done. Start to finish I was going full tilt. So, second place is good! I have no regrets. I raced my heart out.
Next up is Olympic Trials in San Diego. I’m still on the wait list to get in, but hopefully that will change in the next day or two as we pass the deadline to drop out without penalty.