March 10, 2018
CAMTRI American Championship
750 m swim, 18.3 km bike, 5 km run
“You very nearly lost your fiancé,” I said to Lauralee as Matt was grabbing his cycling shoes from a table and putting them by the bike. I’d just finished grinding my teeth as Matt and Lauralee scrambled around searching for Matt’s bike shoes. Originally, Matt thought they were in the car, then he searched his bag finally realizing he’d taken them out and put them on an officials table about 50 yards away. If we hadn’t located Matt’s shoes before transition closed we would’ve had to been extremely creative, like Matt riding in running shoes on the bike (definitely not preferred). But, crisis averted we meandered over to the swim start.
This was a very different event that I’m used to competing in. For starters, everyone in this race was a paratriathlete. Whether it was a physical or visual impairment, all the participants were here to collect points on the ITU (International Triathlon Union) circuit to help improve their world rankings to hopefully be selected to represent their country at the World Championship or for the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo. This was my first ITU race and I had no idea what to expect. The distances were short—750 meter swim (about 820 yards), 18.3 kilometers bike (11.37 miles) and 5 kilometers run (3.1 miles). I compete in the PTVI (paratriathlon visually impaired) Male division and I’m designated as a B1 (totally blind) athlete. As such I’m required to where goggles and glasses that have been blacked out so that no light gets in for the entire race. I also get a 3 minute and 16 second buffer (also known as compensation time) ahead of visually impaired athletes who have some usable sight. Today, I’d be competing against six other male visually impaired athletes. Five of us represented the United States, one from Canada and one from Venezuela. By far this was the largest field of visually impaired athletes I’d ever raced against in a triathlon and I was curious to see how I’d stack up.
My guide for today was Matt Miller, who’d guided me to a PR (personal record) at the 70.3 distance in Boulder the previous August. This was Matt’s first time guiding an ITU event as well so we were both slightly clueless when it came to procedures. There were so many rules and regulations I had to try and wrap my head around that it was almost a little overwhelming. For example, swim tethers couldn’t be longer than 80 cm (31 inches), run tethers couldn’t be more than 50 cm (18 inches), the distance from guide to athlete head could not exceed 1.5 m at any point during the swim, the guide could not move the athlete forward at any point (give them a little tug forward to make them swim faster as Matt had done a couple times when we raced in Boulder), and a million other rules that I tried to keep straight.
The day was cloudy and drizzly. Wind was making small waves on the surface of the lake we were swimming in. But the weather didn’t concern me. In fact, I love racing in the rain because I tend to perform well whereas some athletes dread the rain and stress about it. What stressed me out more was the seeming lack of organization compared to other events I’ve attended. For example, we stood around at the swim start, with no loud speaker or bull horn announcing, “athletes in wave X are on deck”. There was just someone calling out (in a soft voice) “next up”. The athlete briefing the night before was an official showing stuff on a powerpoint saying “you guys have all done this before. The run course is this, the bike course is that, the swim goes here.” And while the powerpoint apparently showed times and such for check in, number pick up etc, it wasn’t verbalized for those of us who couldn’t see a thing. Whatever, I was just ready to race.
Matt and I finally lowered ourselves off the dock and into the water for the swim start. Matt, thinking he’d not need a wetsuit because this race was in Florida, sat on the edge of the dock until the 20 sec warning. Meanwhile, I desperately had to pee, so I relieved myself in my wetsuit as the clock ticked down. As soon as I finished, the horn sounded and I quickly put my head down and took off.
Swimming has generally been my weakest discipline, however I’d really been working hard on my swim over the last six months and in this swim it looked that work was going to pay off. I settled into a good high tempo rhythm. I didn’t punch or hit Matt too terribly much and I felt as though my stroke rate, and body rotation were as good or better than I’d ever done in an open water swim. I kept slapping the heels of a swimmer in front of me and kept upping the pace wanting to get around him thinking I was stuck behind a slower swimmer. Then all of a sudden I felt a yank on the tether and it started slipping down my leg. “F*ck!” I screamed (whether in my head or into the water I can’t remember). I wondered if the tether had broken, or if someone had grabbed onto it. I popped my head out of the water and Matt was working at the tether. I reached back and felt a buoy behind and to the left of me, right between me and Matt. We’d gotten hooked and our momentum was dead. We got the tether unhooked and back to swimming, but we lost probably 15-20 seconds in the process. That would cost us later on in the race. Swim time: 13 min 27 sec
We scrambled up the swim exit and onto pavement and started running toward the bike. “We’re about 10 seconds down on Brad,” Matt said. (Brad Snyder is an elite Paralympic swimmer who holds a few world records and five gold and two silver medals from the London and Rio Paralympics. He is now trying to qualify for Tokyo in triathlon. It was apparently Brad’s feet I’d been slapping before we got hooked by the buoy. Oh well, the bike was Matt’s and my strongest discipline so I figured we could make up the time. We only had 18 km to do it in though.
As I ran through transition I struggled to get my wetsuit down off my shoulders and around my waist. Then I had some trouble getting my swim cap off (note to self, get my haircut before the next race). Once we got to the bike I dropped my goggles, tether and cap into the basket we were required to put stuff in that came off our body. Then I worked at getting my wetsuit off. As always, it got hung up on my heels. Swearing like a sailor I worked at it furiously until Matt was able to step over and help me out. We pitched it into the basket as I yanked on socks (note to self, screw socks next time), cycling shoes, helmet and blacked out sunglasses. Finally, we jogged to the mount line, clipped in and took off. Transition 1 time: 1 min 33 sec (way too slow)
Once we were out on the bike I started to settle in mentally. Matt is an incredibly strong cyclist and we quickly overtook Brad and his guide to move into 2nd place behind the Canadians. We hammered at the pedals but weren’t able to reel them in any further. Then came Aaron Scheidies and his guide zooming past us on the right. Aaron is the top ranked visually impaired triathlete in the world and has only come in 2nd place or worse twice in his ITU career.
Matt and I were able to consistently hold between 25-27 mph on the bike for the three loop bike course. Each lap I grabbed a swallow or two from the bottle of Base Performance rocketfule I’d prepared and put on the bike prior to the start of the race. On the last lap, I passed the bottle up to Matt who hadn’t put any nutrition on the bike for himself. Bike time: 26 min 18 sec (25.9 mph average speed)
As we rolled to the dismount line I made the mental shift from biking to running. We unclipped and ran to rack the bike. I got my helmet and shoes off and for some reason struggled getting my running shoes on. I grabbed the run tether and snapped it around my waist. Then Matt and I were off onto the run. Transition 2 time: 1 min 9 sec (still too slow)
For some reason, my left shoe was rubbing horribly against the arch of my foot. But it wasn’t hindering my run so I just ignored it. It turns out the inside upper fold of my shoe didn’t get fully flattened against my foot which eventually cause a small blister, but since I’d run a lot farther before with much worse blisters, I simply ignored it and put my efforts into running and syncing my arm and leg turn over. Strangely enough I felt surprisingly good, even though I’d pushed myself hard in the swim and on the bike. The only issue was Matt’s and my arms kept hitting each other. We probably made the tether a bit too short. Next time, I’ll be sure to measure it out to exactly 50 cm so we have the maximum length allowed. We hit the first aid station and grabbed water. Then we started approaching the turn around. Matt glanced back and saw Brad and his guide coming up on us fast. Brad was pushing everything he had. He caught us just before the turn and opened up a gap. We were now sitting in 4th place, just off the podium, with Aaron way out in front leading and the Canadian, Jon Dunkerley holding 2nd. I opened up the throttle a bit more intending to run Brad down and claim that final podium spot, but it wasn’t meant to be. Tired with our arms continuously whacking into each other, Matt unbuckled the tether from around his waist and held it in his hand and fell a step or two behind me. He was now guiding me more verbally than with a quick bump on the arm. We held our position and ran it in settling for a 4th place finish, just 14 seconds back of Brad and 1 min 38 sec of Jon. Aaron was nearly five min ahead of us. Run time: 22 min 16 sec (7 min 10 sec per mile pace)
Total race time: 1 hour 4 min 39 sec
When we crossed the line, my legs and lungs were a little tired, but I honestly felt as though I’d only done a tough work out. On the one hand, it was a ton of fun to have a race only take me just over an hour, but on the other hand I kept thinking “that’s it?”
There were three big things within mine and Matt’s control that went wrong which cost us a podium spot. First was the swim tether getting hooked on the buoy costing us 15 or more seconds. Second was my transition times. When looking at splits between me, Brad and Jon, I noticed that I gave 24 seconds to Brad in transition and 44 to Jon. These times need to come down if I want to seriously compete at an International level. Finally, I never truly “redlined” it. Meaning I was giving it absolutely 100 percent especially on the run. I felt my swim and bike efforts were executed just about perfectly, but I eased up on the run when I should’ve used that time to go full gas.
Things that I do feel good about though include, my fitness is far ahead of where I thought it would be, especially on my swim and run. Knowing that Matt is such a strong cyclist on the front of the tandem I predicted within 20 seconds of our actual bike time. So all in all, it was a successful start to the season but with definite room for improvement.
For a while, many people in the triathlon world have said I should switch to ITU racing exclusively and they’re all absolutely positive I’d enjoy it more than 70.3 and Ironman distance. All I can say to that is… We’ll see 🙂 I am extremely intrigued with traveling and competing internationally collecting points toward qualifying to represent the United States in the Paralympics. But there are a lot of things to consider and work on.
Right now, my #eyeronvision isn’t 100 percent razor sharp. I have some goals I’d like to achieve this year, but I don’t have the laser focus on one specific goal quite yet. But I might be changing. And the only way for you to find out what my eventual #eyeronvision is is to keep reading these newsletters and following me on social media. Follow me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kylecoonspeaks and on Instagram @eyeronkyle 😉
So until we meet again. Remember to keep an “eye on your vision!”