Team USA athlete and 717 Endurance Head Coach Mike Hebe lays out the ups and downs of being a triathlete in his latest race with Team USA Belfort in the 2013 ITU Long Course World Championships Triathlon.
The qualification process for this event started a full eighteen months prior to race day. To earn a Team USA spot you need to qualify for Half-Ironman Nationals the year prior to Worlds. To qualify for Nationals you need a qualifying race in the year prior to that. I qualified for Nationals when I raced in Kona at Ironman distance Worlds. I qualified for the International Triathlon Union Worlds with a 10th place overall at US Half-Ironman Nationals last September.
On to the event. The race took place in Belfort, France. Belfort is a small town in Northeastern France, very close to the Swiss border. It was not a tourist town, which was good since it rained seven of the nine days I was in France. Rain is not bad, except when it is 45 degrees out and you share a small European hotel room with two teammates.
The race distances were a 2.5 mile swim, 70 mile bike and a 19 mile run. Well that was the plan at least. Europe was getting hit with cold weather and due to International rules the swim was deemed to cold and was cancelled. The water was 55 with air temps in the 40’s, it would have been a disaster & we were all glad they nixed the swim. Oddly enough the bike course was also reduced for some reason and the race turned into a run, bike, run duathlon with 10k, 90k, 20k format.
Now the race, finally, I know. Race morning is cold and damp. It is 48 with 90ish percent humidity and a nice 10+mph wind blowing. My 45-49 age group starts near the end of the waves and with a gun shot 103 old guys start their Worlds’ adventure. The run starts very comfortably and I work my way to the front. The pace is very manageable the first two miles and feels easy as we clip along at a 6:00/mile pace. We go up, then down a long distinct downhill and hit the 5k mark in 17:59. I am stoked at the time as it feels easy. Then I see the wall in front of us as we go very hard up this climb and then turn left onto a stone farm lane descent that is just as steep. That hurt the legs. I hit the four mile mark and decide to ease up a bit. I catch my teammate who started two minutes in front of me at the five mile mark. I am in 10th place right now and am going to run an open 10k split of 37:50 and still be in 10th place, in the old guy division. Welcome to Worlds.
The bike starts easy enough but quickly we hit a 5k climb that just grinds gradually. It is not steep, but it just grinds. Then the fun starts. We start descending through towns and roundabouts and I start moving through people. I hit one town so fast I am coming downhill in a light rain onto cobblestones. I am pretty sure I am now going to crash. OK, focus, sit bunnyhop onto the curb to the delight of some locals, ride the sidewalk bunnyhop back onto the cobbles. Wow, that was awesome.
I start to approach the big climb of the race. This climb was in the Tour de France in 2005. It is 8 miles long with a 6% grade. Miles 4, 5, 6 and 7 are between 8-10%. The climb is nice with switchbacks and a huge mountain waterfall. Then it gets steep, at the same time it starts a light rain and now we are fogged in with about twenty feet of visibility for the last two miles of the climb. I hit the top with a Polish guy from Denver who I know and we start the fast ride down. I absolutely bomb the descent passing dozens, including a race official in the middle of a switchback. That was a crazy fifteen minutes of adrenaline. With only 12 miles to go to the finish it is so fast I decide to ease up a bit and save my legs.
Going over a small rise with about 4-5 miles to the finish I get a sharp stabbing pain in my left quad. I look down and notice my quad has a long divot in it as if some just took an ice cream scoop across the top of a new container. Oh shit! That was the nastiest cramp I have ever seen. Not felt, seen. I could see the muscles tighten so much they pulled inward. OK, finish the ride and hope for the best.
I roll into transition to start the final two 10k laps. I think a 42:00 and 44:00 will easily keep me top 10. Starting to run I immediately feel searing pain in each quad. Wow, that is something new and it really hurts. I feel like I am barely moving, yet my watch is ticking off 7:00/mile pace the first four miles. I now start to stop and take in more fuel and water the last few aid stations hoping that my body comes around. The 20k split saw me run a 44:30. Not good, but acceptable. I know I am in eigth place as I stat the final 10k.
Now I am really hurting. I make a deal to myself that I will run to 11k then stop to alleviate the pain. Complete. Run to the steers in the pasture then walk the hill. Complete. Wait, no one in my age group is passing me. I lose a ton of spots when I walk, but when I start to run again I recatch everyone and pass them. Please, please let me make a deal to get to the finish. Run to the 180 turn. Run the long downhill no matter how much it hurts. The villagers are so encouraging, willing you to run when your legs just will not move. Get to the 5k mark before Tomkisson from Canada. Got it, pray to make it up the climb then just 2.5 miles to go. Anyone can run 2.5 miles. I start the long steep downhill and every step is searing pain. I stop at the bottom and can barely move.
A Spanish guy that I have been leapfrogging, stops and says to run with him. I can not. Then I get moving and pass the Spanish guy again. One last aid station just 2k from the finish. Get through that and there is the finish. Oh wait, we run past the finish line and then see the 1k to go sign. In the last mile I have to stop three times due to the searing pain in my quads. There is the finish. The spectators are calling your name, chanting USA and banging the aluminum side walls of the finish chute. I allow myself to look up at the big screen and see my finish. I am parts relieved, embarrassed and happy when I see my name on my team kit with USA underneath it as I finally cross the line.
The last 10k took me 53:00.
My final time was 5:10:51. I end up 16th out of 103 starters. I lost four places in the final mile of the race. I went from 8th to 16th in the final four miles.
When your day is not what you know it should be, or for that matter was at one point in the race, a lot of things go through your head. You think of all the reasons why you should not quit. You think of all the reasons why quitting will end the temporary pain.
For me it came down to not wanting to let anyone down. Too many friends, family, and sponsors offer their support. To quit would have been a disgrace, pain or injury be damned.
So if you made it this far in reading, you are probably one of the reasons why I stayed in the race.
Thank you for your support.
Team USA Belfort 2013
Team Novo Nordisk
717 Endurance Coach