I am writing this off the back of my podium finish at the 2016 ITU Age Group World Championships in Cozumel. Hopefully it hits home for many in taking a chance, and having confidence in your abilities.
Heading into race week, my fitness was feeling very good and I had a solid season of training and racing behind me. I would be competing in two races during the week, the first of which was the first ever Draft-Legal Age Group Sprint World Championship. Knowing this format really favors fast runners, I decided to domestique for several of the top U.S. runners, and use my bike strength to try to get them in position to go for the podium on the run. The Olympic-Distance, Non-Drafting, Age Group World Championship would be held on Sunday. I came down with the goal of trying to make the top-10 in this race, as I have never had a “strong” performance in hot conditions or at a World-caliber event.
The draft-legal race on Thursday was extremely fun to implement some team tactics into a triathlon. I did as planned and helped three of my friends, and super strong runners, get to the lead group by taking some huge pulls on the bike and keeping the other athletes in our group working together. I didn’t feel great on the run, but took joy in watching Kirk Framke, Jon Noland and Jonathan Mason run a great race, taking 2nd, 4th and 6th for Team USA. I finished in 14th on the day.
Thursday afternoon, my wife and I walked down and watched the elite women’s race. We watched as Flora Duffy crushed the bike along with two Brits, Lucy Hall and Jessica Learmonth. The three of them put time into the chase group each lap, and Flora placed herself in a commanding position to take the win with a solid run. After the race I went back to our hotel and began to think, if she can win it “on the bike,” why not me? I looked at what I thought my best run adjusted for the heat would be, compared that to what I thought the top runners in my race would do, and figured I would need to have four minutes coming into T2. Although I knew I could not run with those guys step-for-step, I did know that I am one of the strongest age group triathletes around on the bike. I decided if I felt okay on the day, I would go for it, lay it all out there, and if I failed, I would fail while going for it versus just going through the motions.
On race morning, I came out of the swim feeling good. During the first couple of minutes on the bike, I felt great and kept on the gas. I passed the three athletes I was most worried about around 14 minutes into the bike leg and was instantly excited. I drilled it going around them to make sure they did not try to use me as a rabbit. Throughout the bike I felt strong and was laying down my best Olympic-distance power. With about 10 minutes left to go, I had emptied both my water bottles and got slightly concerned. I begin to back off slightly as not having fluids for that long in the heat worried me, but I still tried to stay relaxed and in a good rhythm. I dismounted and started running into transition and my legs still felt great. I was unaware there was one more competitor ahead of me until I saw him racking his bike right as I racked mine. I passed him exiting T2 and steadily ran away from him.
The run was tough… it was very hot, but I felt as good as I thought I should, kept my head down and stayed focused on keeping cool at every aid station with ice and water. I heard from several spectators cheering I was leading our race. I got my first glimpse of the athletes behind me after a u-turn about 1.5k into the run… my gap was good, but the three strongest guys were all chasing and looked strong. “Head down, race your race… you can do this…” I held the lead until about 6.5k, when I was passed by the eventual winner. I tried to match him for about 20 seconds, but quickly realized that was not sustainable. “Run your race…” I kept pushing as much as my body would allow and was eventually passed by another athlete with age “40” on his calf. “Keep going, you can hold the podium…” I held strong and came into the finish shoot in what I thought was third. Turns out that last runner to pass me was still on his first run lap, and I found out several hours later I had finished second in the age-group, was 27th overall, the 4th American and had the second fastest bike split in the entire field.
I had earned silver for the 40-44 age group after what was a lifetime best race and my first time on the podium at a world stage. It all came from that one question, “Why not me?” In asking this question, I realized that I had shown the potential to be at the top of the field, but had not really believed I was capable of doing so. I decided at that moment, I would only know my true potential by taking confidence in my abilities and I could not be afraid to fail by trying.
Next time you are setting your goal, whether it is finishing your first triathlon, setting a PR, looking to qualify for Kona, or putting yourself on the podium, try asking yourself, “Why not me?” There are plenty of times when you may come up with legitimate answers as to why not, and you may need to readjust your goal. However, you just might find the confidence to go for it and find out what you can really do.
So, now I ask, why not you?
Editor’s note: Three weeks after finishing 2nd in his age group at Olympic Distance Worlds, Jeff finished 3rd age group and 14th overall at Ironman Louisville, which locked in his latest Kona qualification… Jeff’s fast at all distances!