Tales from WTCS: A Busy May

I’m home now and just finally starting to get over the jet lag from a three-week round-the-world race trip. My teammates and I started in Yokohama, Japan for what was my first WTCS of the season. A couple hours post-race, I caught an overnight flight to Cagliari, Italy where the US team spent two weeks training ahead of the next WTCS. I had a great race in a torrential downpour in Yokohama. I really should’ve just written up my race story then. But, I hoped I was on a roll. Unfortunately, the entire time in Italy looked like people exhausted from all the travel, many athletes with COVID, and I struggled to train for a while with huge gashed in my feet from Yokohama. I thought I could turn things around in time for the race in Cagliari, but instead had one of my worst races ever. It happens, I guess.

Back to the fun part, though: Yokohama. 

Yokohama WTCS and I go through a journey every year. Despite a large part of that journey being me freaking out with beginning-of-the-season nerves, I really, really like this race. This year, the journey also included multiple solo efforts to bridge myself up and a rainstorm like I’ve never raced through.

I was reading Emma Bates’ marathon recaps and thought it was fun to hear what she was thinking during the race. Maybe people are interested in more than half a sentence on Instagram. So, here’s my race that you may or may not have seen on the broadcast.

Rounding the buoys on the first lap of the swim, I had relatively clean water and wasn’t jostling around much with other athletes. This is a good sign, I thought. Whenever I’ve found enough space that my energy is actually focused on swimming as hard as I can instead of just avoiding other athletes, that is usually indicative that I’m somewhere in the front half of the pack. On the way back to the first exit ramp, I got on the feet of someone who kicks harder than anyone I’ve ever swam behind. I don’t know who it was, but wow that was a lot of kicking! Again, I thought, this works, this is good. It was easy enough for me to swim on her feet without too much sighting. We hit the exit ramp from the first lap, and something went wrong. I ran around and dove back in next to Amelie Kretz, but we were on our own, having lost the feet of the girls we were swimming on just a moment ago. Full determination kicked in and I was not going to let the athletes just ahead of me get away. I spent the entire second lap swimming my own race, trying to get back up to that group ahead of me. When rounding the buoys for the second time, I was next to just one other athlete. I had the outside line and all I was thinking was I’ll keep to myself on the outside line, I won’t hit you if you don’t hit me, every second counts if we are going to move up. Right at the end of the swim, I made one last huge surge and just barely caught the back end of that group coming out of the water.

I knew that I’d need the T1 of my life if I didn’t want to mount the bike still on the tail end of this group. I’ve been in the position before of thinking I was “basically with them” and then had a hard first couple minutes on the bike to actually be in the group. So, I flew through transition with everything I had. I mounted, hit the first U-turn just a couple hundred meters into the bike, took stock of where everyone was on the course, and realized that I had completely out-done myself. I had not only caught the girls I was running out of the water behind, but had passed and put ground into every one of them but Emma Lombardi. This presented the opportunity to continue solo bridging my way through the field. A good thing, but also a lot of very hard work coming. Head down and go, so much for a draft-legal race, I thought.

The group ahead of me was the first chase pack. I had already seen Georgia Taylor-Brown sitting at the front of it out of transition. But at this point, they were far enough ahead that I don’t think I could actually see them on the road very often. I knew that I needed to go as hard as I could, but keep it somewhat steady because it could be a long time before I caught, if I even did. Emma mostly sat on my wheel, I asked her to pull around a couple times and she did, but I was mostly content to be the one in control of our situation. Usually a person trying to catch a group would be hoping that the group was NOT trading pulls well to give the best chance of catching. But, given that Georgia was there, my biggest fear was actually that she would just sit on the front fully committed and it would be a one up between me and her. If I was watching, I’m not sure I would’ve bet on myself in that scenario. But I was in the race and so I kept at it. At this point, rain that was absolutely pelting us and the roads that were mostly puddle.

At some point early on, I can’t remember exactly when, I did catch that first chase pack. To be honest, I’m pretty impressed with myself for that! It wasn’t too big of a group either, which was great given the wet, wet, wet conditions. Because I’m a totally crazy person, when I used to watch WTCS races and see one with crazy wet conditions like this, I would think it looked epic and want to do it. So as I was out there, screeching through corners, hoping to stay upright and not drink too much water from the wheel ahead of me, I had a moment of reminding myself that this is what I used to want to do, and now I’m there in it. Try to channel some of that ‘let’s do something epic’ attitude right now, was the pep talk I kept giving myself.

I managed a good T2 as well and headed out onto the run. On that first u-turn of the run, I could see everyone from the front pack. The splits were accurate; we aren’t too far behind. We are very much in this race. It’s 10k, be smart. Sometimes the first kilometer of the run feels totally out of control, like my legs don’t know how to move and I can’t tell how hard I’m going. This time around, I was able to feel out my effort and actually have a decent stride early on. It was a nice change. I was flowing. Less athletes passed me in that first lap (of four) than I would have expected. When Summer Rappaport passed me, I even managed to latch on and be pulled around for a brief time. This is good, I haven’t always been able to switch gears like this in a race. The effort feels good and just go with it, I thought. Years of training and racing are starting to pay off.

It’s always full focus until the end though. Don’t get too excited too soon. I was running in positions that would be my best WTCS finish ever, but I knew the race was far from over even halfway through the run. Going into the third lap, there was a group of girls running behind me who appeared to be getting closer. I wasn’t sure exactly how many of them there were. Oh no, keep going, this can’t be happening, I thought. A little inside scoop: I’m always counting the positions as best I can during a race. It’s not a part of racing that I love, but the final position matters too much not to. For me, getting top 15s is my ticket to staying on the USAT National Team, and picking up sponsor bonuses. Not knowing exactly how many girls were in that group behind me, I thought that if they passed me I might go from having the best result of my life to not even making the top 15.

At the end of the third lap, two girls were suddenly right with me. I thought it was that group of girls I’d been seeing. Focus, run with them, no wasted energy, I told myself. I picked up my pace and tried to flow with them. I wasn’t looking around much, so it took some time for me to realize that the group I’d been seeing behind hadn’t caught me. It was Nina Eim and Jeanne Lehair, who had come up from the third bike pack (and went on to have the fastest run splits of the day). I have to stay with them, I thought. They’ll help me keep others from catching. It was hard. Both my feet were being cut by my insoles and really hurting by this point. I was giving everything I had to keep pushing with them through corners and not give into weird, slower footsteps to aid my hurting feet. The pain was so bad, but I didn’t have the space to give into it. 

Finally, it was over. I’d finished 13th, one of my better finishes in a WTCS on a day when almost all the best athletes in our sport were there. I’d even ran the same split as the fourth and fifth finishers from the lead pack. There’s obviously never direct comparisons in triathlon, but it’s a cool stat that gives me confidence. And we did all of it through more rain than I’ve ever experienced on a race course. My feet were destroyed for another ten days, but it was worth it.

The entire US team really smashed it. I was actually our last finisher, coming in 13th. Five of the top 13 were American. Let that sink in for a moment. Our team has set the bar very, very high. I’m up for the challenge though.