This is the story of how I became a front pack swimmer.
The day started like usual, missing my 3:45 alarm, waking up in a panic, and eating breakfast at an indigestion inducing pace. Finally on the road with a banana in hand, and a backup in case of emergencies, we settled in for a fairly short drive up to the Santa Fe Dam Recreation Area. As the driver I was lucky enough to have veto privileges on the music choices and imposed a soft ban on Ariana Grande. We arrived with plenty of time to set up our transition and help out one of our first time triathletes. This process is a lot like the the oxygen masks that drop from the airplane ceiling. You must secure your own before assisting others. The next, and most important step of the race morning prep process is the bathroom stop (PRP for short.) This is a vital element of the process as it is very difficult to replicate on the fly during the race. We soon found that the bathroom by transition area had a traffic jam due to a stall shortage which led to a great warmup run over to the parks center headquarters where the very nice lady at the front desk let us use their bathrooms. Now properly warmed and lightened up, all we had to do was put our wetsuits on and race. I was sporting my brand new Xterra long sleeve suit that really came in handy in the freezing water. You know what they say, always try out new gear on race day.
A short warm up in the water that doubled as a brain freeze acclimation session and it was go time. The gun went off and everyone booked it towards the first buoy. I’m not sure if it was because this was the first full triathlon with a swim start of the year or if it was the slightly shorter swim that encouraged it, but the swim felt a little more aggressive than usual. A couple kicks to the noggin later and I was out of the water running into transition. I had one of the easiest times ever getting my wetsuit off (confirming that you should always try new gear on race day) and was quickly out of transition and onto the bike. I caught one guy right off the bat on the quick hill coming out of transition and settled into my bars to lay down some watts. With some Hammer Nutrition HEED (shameless plug, their stuff is awesome) in my bottle, already chilled from the ambient temperature I was feeling good. The layout of the course allowed for a unobstructed view of almost the entire bike leg, so naturally I used all of my looking muscles to see how much ground I had to make up after the swim. As a runner I suffer from a bad case of AOSS (Adult Onset Swimmer Syndrome) and rely on my legs to bring me back into the race after my utter lack of technique and underdeveloped shoulder muscles let me down. However, as much as I squinted I could only see one cyclist ahead of me. My first thought was that I actually had no idea where the bike course went and was either off course already, or about to be, but there were no other turns I could see and I had passed volunteers that didn’t yell at me so I put my head down and just kept sending. I kept waiting for more people to come into view or the guy in front of me to take a turn, but I made it all the way to the turnaround without seeing another rider. That’s when it hit me, I had come out of the first transition in 3rd place.
The elation and adrenaline hit me all at once and I threw down on the bike. My Trek TT bike I like to call Thor (because whenever we ride we hammer it) and I started pushing 27 mph, uphill, into a headwind (definitely not an exaggeration) with the leg freshness of a front pack swimmer in a desperate attempt to take the lead of the race early. I came into T2 just seconds behind the leader, confident I could outrun him. However, I wasn’t the only person whose thunder thighs had aspirations of winning that morning and a UCSB athlete came into transition right with us. Out of T2 it was a dead heat between myself and the UCSB athlete who had joined up on the bike and we took the run out fast. I made the mistake of letting him get a few strides on me early in the first mile. I made this same mistake many times running the 800m in high school where I would rely on my kick to close it back down at the end of the race. Unfortunately the 5k is longer than the 800m and the gap grew to a distance I just couldn’t close at the end. I’m going to blame the gap on the exhaustion from all the energy I expended earlier becoming a front pack swimmer, but in reality I was simply outraced. I ran a PR through 5k (the run was a little long) and took home second with a comfortable lead on third. I was very happy with my race and the complete line-to-line performance I was able to put together, but there is still a lot of work to be done in the next few weeks before nationals. While I am ecstatic with my race I’m not satisfied because of the wise words of a wise man “If you’re not first you’re last.”
The rest of the team also did great despite the cold. There were a few more PRs and Juhi took home 3rd in the 10k. To celebrate we went to get donuts and I put them down like only someone who was burning the calories of a front pack swimmer could.
-Brody “The Pace Arrow” Cormier