Paratriathlon National Championships
July 20, 2019
Long Beach, Calif
750 m Swim, 18.9 km Bike, 5.1 km Run
“It’s Aaron’s first race back. He’s beatable so go for it.”
Coming off a disappointing second place finish at the Magog Paratriathlon World Cup the week before, I went into the Toyota Paratriathlon National Championships eager to test myself against one of the top VI triathletes in the world—Aaron Scheidies. I’d raced against Aaron twice before. The first time I finished nearly five minutes behind him in my first ever ITU race. Then earlier in 2019 at the Continental Championships I was able to finish only one minute and 37 seconds behind Aaron. Aaron soon after went under the knife to repair a torn hip, and I steadily chipped away at my swim, bike and run times. Now Aaron was making his return to racing at Nationals. Much how triathletes in the 1980s and 1990s measured themselves against the likes of Dave Scott and Mark Alan, or how quarterbacks are measured against the likes of Tom Brady and Drew Brees, the measuring stick for American VI Male triathletes is Aaron Scheidies and I was eager to see if I’d made any progress.
Arrival and Near Ending
I and several other members of the Paratriathlon Resident Team took the direct flight from Colorado Springs to Las Angeles early in the morning on July 19. Immediately upon landing, we headed to our hotel just a short 10 minute walk from the race site in Long Beach. After getting checked in, we grabbed food and waited around for the race briefing. Zack arrived shortly before the race briefing having flown directly from his summer internship in San Jose. After the quick race briefing, Zack and I headed to the hotel room to build the bike. And that was when our race nearly ended.
The week before, we’d accidentally snapped a bolt to a seat post collar. Fortunately one of the coaches loaned us a spare seat post collar. Unfortunately I’d totally blanked on getting a replacement. So Zack and I had to call around to bike shops in Long Beach to see if they had a seat post collar that would fit my bike. Zack pedaled the bike to a nearby shop and in a pure stroke of luck they had one perfect seat post collar left in stock. Crisis averted we picked up some take out Chinese food and shared our pre-race dinner with our teammate Howie and his handler Danny. Then it was off to bed for an early morning race start.
The Paratriathlon National Championships was being held in conjunction with the inaugural Legacy Triathlon so there were a lot of age groupers very excited to get their racing underway as well.
The age group racing began at 7:00 AM, but the Paratriathlon racing wouldn’t begin until 8:00. This concerned many of us as we feared the bike and run courses would get crowded causing us to have to dodge slower age groupers more than necessary. However we had to race with the hands we were dealt. I was just eager to start racing.
We stood on the beach at the water’s edge waiting for the word to head out into the water. There were only five visually impaired men in the national championship division. Three of us were B1 (totally blind) and the other two were B2/B3 (severe visual impairment). We were joined by several visually impaired women as well.
The call came for the B1 athletes to enter the water and so we waded out to about mid thigh. Then the starting gun sounded and we were off. Zack and I ran for a few steps before diving in and beginning to swim strong.
The first half of the swim was slightly choppy and I made an effort not to swallow any saltwater. I felt strong even with some waves attempting to push me back toward shore. Zack tapped my left shoulder to indicate a sharper turn to the right. I did so and immediately felt the waves now buffeting us from the left. I’d heard some reports that a couple of age groupers had already been stung by stingrays so that added to the urgency to swim fast. Zack tapped my shoulder again and we made the turn for the beach. Now the waves were behind us and pushing us into shore. I felt like I was flying.
My hands touched the sandy bottom and then I was up on my feet and sprinting through the shallows and onto the beach. I yanked the zipper of my wetsuit down as Zack jumped to my right side. I pulled my wetsuit down around my waist then focused on running as hard as I could through the extremely long transition. We finally reached the bike and I immediately sat down on the ground so Zack could help me rip off my wetsuit. Then it was on with the helmet, blacked out sunglasses and cycling shoes. Then grab the bike and sprint for the mount line.
Swim: 12min 5sec
Transition 1: 3min 4sec
Unlike an ITU race we hadn’t had a course familiarization. We only had a map. Fortunately the course was well marked and the turns were nice and wide. This allowed Zack and I to really gun it on the bike with very few technical aspects to worry about. It was just straight power, and that’s what we’re good at.
It didn’t take long for us to catch up with the slower age groupers. Zack was constantly yelling at people to move out of the way. Many times we were moving as speeds twice as fast as some of the people we passed. Some were beginners and while we loved seeing them out on course racing their race, it caused some frustration. We were racing in a national championship event with prize money on the line and we had one of the best VI triathletes to ever live in hot pursuit.
We completed the first lap of the bike course still holding a gap on Aaron and his guide, but we weren’t entirely sure what the gap was since there weren’t any great places to mark and count off the gap. All we could do was head out for our second lap and hammer away as hard as we could. On our second lap we were still dealing with a couple age groupers but now there were more experienced Paratriathletes on the course so they held their lines as we blazed past.
We hit the far end of the bike course and headed back toward transition, powering up and over the little bridge that was the only elevation on the course. Zack timed the removal of our shoes perfectly and we slipped out of our shoes and executed another flawless flying dismount. We sprinted to our bike rack, dropped our helmets, yanked on our shoes, grabbed the tether and ran for the run course.
Bike: 26min 21sec
Transition 2: 1min 6sec
The path we were running on was fairly narrow and a little windy. We now had to contend with passing a few age groupers but now we had the lead bicyclist riding behind us calling out that runners were coming. The problem was that we were running fast and the runners ahead of us weren’t so Zack was still yelling more than was necessary. Finally Zack asked the lead bicyclist (who accompanies the race leader) to move ahead of us to help in clearing the path. Thankfully the guy on the bike was experienced enough to clear the path while not accidentally pacing us.
Apart from Zack’s voice giving me direction, I did my best not to focus on anything else. I was running as hard as I could and trying to synchronize my arm/leg turnover and breathing. It was warm but not overly hot. I could hear age groupers running in the opposite direction yelling encouragement but my focus was on pushing my limits. We hit the turn-around and caught our first glimpse of Aaron and Ben. They weren’t far behind us but if I could just dig a little deeper maybe we could hold them off. I willed my legs to move faster but about 400 meters past the turn around Aaron and Ben caught and passed us. They were running hard. “Just stay in contact with them,” I told myself. I tried clawing my way back to Aaron’s shoulder but he was just running too fast so after 50 meters or so I had to let him go. I wasn’t ready to hang with him and beat him in a sprint. Nevertheless I continued to push myself, determined to not let the gap grow too much. I later heard from several athletes that witnessed Aaron and me racing that it was quite the site. It was a legit race and they could tell that we were both trying to shake the other loose. Ultimately it was Aaron who broke away and broke the tape first, 46 seconds ahead of me. However I took pleasure in knowing that I’d significantly improved from the last time we’d raced. We congratulated each other on an excellent race before turning to wait for the other Paratriathletes to finish.
Run: 19min 59sec
Total Time: 1hr 2min 33sec
My second place finish earned Zack and I each a check for $750, the first time we’d ever won prize money for doing this sport we love so much. We shared the podium with Aaron and a young 16 year old up and comer, Owen Cravens. We cheered on each Paratriathlon category as the podiums were presented. Then it was time to get out of the hot sun and break down the bike. Zack headed back to San Diego for a couple days before he had to get back to his internship. I meanwhile joined Howie, Danny, and our friend Tyler (a para downhill skier who’d flown into L.A from Colorado Springs to hang out with us). Together the four of us went into L.A to the Tarpits, then dinner and cruising around Hollywood. The next day we geeked out at Disney Land spending the majority of our time in the newly opened Star Wars section of the park. Then Monday morning came and I jumped on a plane to Aspen for a quick visit home with the family before returning to Colorado Springs to prepare for my next race—The Tokyo Paratriathlon World Cup in Tokyo, Japan.
Toyota USA Paratriathlon National Championship PTVI Male Podium
- Aaron Scheidies 1:01:47
- Kyle Coon 1:02:33
- Owen Cravens 1:06:36