Chris Poulos represented both NEMS and the USA at this year’s World Age Group Sprint Championship in London. Here’s his account of this once-in-a-lifetime (or maybe more if he keeps getting faster) race experience.
If someone said I would compete at a world championship triathlon event back in 2010 when I began the sport I would have chuckled at the notion. After all I was the guy who could barely swim and only with a wetsuit at that. I was the athlete who loved hanging out in transitions much longer then anyone finishing remotely around me. So much has happened since managing to qualify for the sprint worlds last year in VT. I got married and bought a new home. Several interruptions ensued like getting a mysterious illness that had me nearly sidelined or at least half myself (sore throat, nausea, extreme fatigue) during April and May. My doctor ordered every test in the book (all were negative). Luckily It passed after nearly 6 weeks. The most beautiful interruption occurred on 7/2/13 with the birth of our daughter Alexandra. Welcome to the “little sleep club!” Thank you to all my good friends, team mates, and especially my supportive family.
My goal this year was to improve my swim and my run off the bike. The two, it turns out are dependent on each other. I need to swim with the front pack, not only to reduce time on the swim but to have faster runners to “race” during the run. My HR at most tris actually goes down during the run. I didn’t realize how much of a problem it was until I started doing longer runs with a great runner Steve OBrian nearly at my race pace (and higher than my HR) during most sprint tri runs.
After examining previous world championship results, it turns out I aged into quite a competitive field. Therefore my goal was simple: to have the race of my life and set new personal bests in each of the 3 disciplines.
Well…what is London known for besides fish & chips, driving on the right (and 100 other things). Yes, you guessed it, raw, damp, wet weather. And this past weekend was true to form. I think this picture embodies the day nicely.
Of course the experience is more than a day of racing. For me it was about celebrating months of hard work, representing my country, making new friends, and challenging myself. I only wish my family could have been there too.
The swim was in the Serpintine, a small lake inside Hyde Park. The water was pretty cold (between 63-66). The course was counterclockwise. The start was in deep water in “chorus-line” formation alongside and with one hand on the dock. You basically are told to jump in, grab the dock, tightly packed with other racers on either side, 66 in all, ready set, go. There are 6 yellow buoys 3 on each far side of a slightly hexagon-like course. We were to keep these to our left. There were no spot buoys on the left except for the 3 corner yellow buoys on each end of the hexagon. There were small red buoys to the far sides that were difficult to navigate with.
My usual race antics somewhat apply here as I bought a new wetsuit (Blueseventy Helix) the day before the race. Since I’m a right side breather I found navigation more challenging but I didn’t think I was doing too badly. I was very happy with my acceleration off the dock. Quick starts have been a big part of my training regimen and those 25 yard pool sprints are beginning to pay off. I usually do better following a group but somehow I lost one of the lead groups which ended up sharply off to my left after the first 200 meters. I ended up being drafted by several guys instead, not the position i was hoping for. The isolation from the lead groups is partially explained upon examining my garmin map which shows some zig zagging across to the right of the course. The extra 140-200 m of swimming certainly was a disappointment but I’m incredibly happy with my actual pace overall, composure during the first phase, and upon exiting the water. Rather than feeling like I needed to catch my breath at the exit, I actually felt energized especially when I noticed 1:17/100 on my watch. Overall, I’m pleased with my progress on the swim.
What would I change:
Navigate forward more frequently as to get on someone’s feet in front of me.
Place overall: 472 of 1800+
This was more like an additional run segment. My watch had 0.35 miles from the water exit ramp to my bike mount. Luckily it was flat. Not so fortunate was the T area was very muddy and slippery with bare feet. I decided it was better to slow down a bit once inside T1 then to end up on my butt!
What would I change:
I knew ahead of time the course was technical and consisted of 3 loops around a short course. I also anticipated some adjustment given I was renting a bike (Felt TT bike). I didn’t know there would be speed bumps, brick sections, bumpy gravel, and wet, slippery conditions. The bike segment was longer than 20km. My garmin had 13.8 miles which includes some of T2 but also cuts out the first 0.33 of the start so probably my garmin is close to the real length.
The bike is generally my strongest leg so I struggled with how to cycle in the given conditions and the different feel of the rental. I decided having come all this way it was better to finish healthy with a smile then to wreck and get bloodied and not be able to finish, or worse be taken away to London General! I took the first lap easy averaging only 18.6 mph. The final 2 loops still felt relatively easy and I averaged about 24.5 mph. I tried very hard to follow drafting rules (especially on the 1st loop) it became clear that drafting illegal was more of an option. I believe the course and conditions apply here as this photo shows.
What would I change:
Not sure here. It’s easy to say cycle faster but who knows what the result would be especially given the slight awkwardness of riding a new bike
Place Overall: 328 of 1800+
This was again a slippery adventure running barefoot on muddy grass. It was slightly annoying that we had to stay single file as this surely cost me sometime with slower people ahead. But I guess safety first.
What would I change:
Do not unbuckle helmet until bike is racked….remember “click it or ticket”
Wet, fairly flat, and fast
This is where the real race started for me given my focus on the run off the bike. Gut and determination is tested more than ever now. I quickly pass a few more in my age group and develop a rhythm fighting for position with althletes representing Mexico and Poland (the guy from Poland it turns out is a Kona qualifier this year). USA, USA, USA. I hear the screams of spectators from our country lining the finish line and complete my fastest run in triathlon ever finishing the 5k run in17:57
I had forgotten my HR strap (no surprise) so I could not extrapolate my effort. I just need to go
on perceived exertion here. I really felt like I left it all out there!
Place Overall: 329 of 1800+
After the finish I feasted on the available selection of water and (some version of) Gatorade, seriously that was all that was available for us. So I made a decision to cool down with a jog to the hotel for a hot shower and some English grub.
Final Time: 1:12:24
Place Age Group 44 of 132
Place Overall: 312 of 1800+
I starting to write this from Heathrow airport in London. Largely I accomplished what I set out to do. I miss my wife and daughter and I’m ready to come home!
Great job, Chris!