As Stefan and I racked our bike between Aaron Scheidies and Erich Manser, I thought for a second that I had bit off more than I could chew. To give you a quick idea of who they are, Aaron won the World Championships not just once, but seven times, and Erich broke the world record on the Ironman distance earlier this year. Needless to say that I was racing for third place! But you know what, I was very proud to be next to those guys, even if it was just at the starting line. As we were getting ready, Stefan commented on their fancy tandems, he had just removed the basket on our cute little rental. He says: “Charles, I just realized that we don’t have any tools to fix a flat… Oh, it doesn’t really matter, if you have a flat on a sprint triathlon, the race is over anyway.”
All season long I had only one thing in mind, the Paratriathlon National Championships in Santa Cruz. I had finally qualified, this was my first participation, my goal was simply to represent Achilles as well as I could and not finish in last place!
I had never raced in the Pacific, with its cold water, its waves, its adorable sea dogs, and being a “weak” swimmer I must admit that I wasn’t feeling great while listening to the Star Spangled Banner. I knew that Aaron, Erich and all the strong swimmers would start at a very quick pace, the worst mistake would be for me to try and follow them. But after 500 meters at an easy pace I was very comfortable, I knew that this would be a good day, there is no better feeling!
We rush out of the water, we begin a long transition with a run in the sand, our feet are numb, my heartrate spikes. I’m trying to graciously remove the top of my wetsuit while running at a sub 7 minute pace, in my mind it looked good, but I’m afraid that live we looked a little clumsy. We finally arrive to our bike, we pass Abbey, my team mate racing in her first Nationals as well, I yell “go Achilles!” I feel a nice rush of adrenalin.
The bike course starts with a mean incline, another tandem next to us struggles to clip in, Stefan and I decide to run up the hill, we’re finally on the road. We had never used that bike before (it would have been a hassle to bring our tandems from New York to California), the wheels are a little thick, but quickly I forget about all of this and focus on the road ahead. We pass a few competitors, the course is very technical. Stefan is an aggressive pilot, our wheels squeal through a few turns, oh gosh, I love racing! At a turn we pass by the competitors ahead, I count three of them, we are in fourth position!
The second transition goes very smoothly, but even if I feel good, the exhaustion from our long trip the day before the race begins to catch up with me, I’m slower than usual on the run. After a mile I manage to push a little, Stefan says that he can see a runner ahead of us. I accelerate even more, we pass our competitor, we are now in third place! But at mile two, we make a right turn, a wheelchair athlete is coming full speed toward us against traffic, we try to dodge him, but he hits my right knee, I can hear him tumble behind us. We stop immediately, check if he is ok, he has a flat. A few spectators rush to help him, we are on our way again. My knee is hurting, but nothing too serious, let’s go get this spot on the podium!
As I pass the finish line, Aaron and Erich are talking, they seem well rested, I’m totally dead. I realize that they finished a long time before me, I can’t help but feel a little frustrated, I know, I’m stupidly competitive. I promise myself that I will be back, faster, stronger.
Congratulations to Abbey who placed second in the female race, to Aaron and Erich for being such strong triathletes, and a huge thank you to Stefan for his mentorship and his incredible guiding through this race!