Craig Zelent "Switzerland"

on . Posted in TCSD Conversation

Typically I interview a fellow Ironman finisher for this article.  This month I am making an exception.  I want to share my story from an Olympic Distance race with you. 
On September 2 I raced for Team USA at the Triathlon World Championships (Olympic Distance) in Lausanne, Switzerland.  I was very happy with my race as I placed 29th out of 108 men in the 40-44 age category and I was the 4th out of 10 Americans with a finishing time of 2:20:17.

The 1.5k (0.93 mile) swim was in Lake Geneva.  It was a great place to swim as the water was clean, clear and calm for the race.  The water temperature was in the mid 60's so everyone wore wetsuits.  It was a 1 loop swim so we had some time to separate before the 1st turn at 730 meters, but it was still a pretty physical swim on the way out and thru that 1st turn and 2nd turn 40 meters later.  I had a great swim time of 22:23 which put me in 43rd place. 

The transition area was well done as far as it being a clean, safe area for the race, but it was ridiculously long to run without shoes - they said it was 1,600 meters.  I did not mind because I knew I'd benefit with such a long run in T1.  I actually elected to strip my wetsuit off about 200 meters into the transition area as it would be easier to peel off while it still had a lot of water in it.  This was absolutely the right decision, despite having to carry it the remaining 1,400 meters to my bike.  My T1 time was 6:44 and I moved into 39th place as I mounted my bike.
The 40k (24.8 mile) bike course was going to be the most difficult part of this race.  It was a 4 lap course with a couple of tough climbs and challenging descents on each lap.  It had one climb of 1,000 meters with a maximum grade of 10.5% followed by a 1,000 meter climb with an 8% grade.  By comparison, Nationals had 1,400 feet of climbing, while the Worlds course had 2,000 feet.  With so much up and down, there was no problem with drafting (illegally gaining a benefit by following directly behind another cyclist) on this course.  It was a tremendous test and a very fair way to sort out the field.  My bike time of 1:11:06 was 74th best.  I was very happy with that effort even though it dropped me to 61st place.  These guys at Worlds are really, really good.

The long transition area treated me well again.  My T2 time was 3:29 and I moved up to 57th place to start the run.  This time we only had to run 800 meters thru the transition area.
The 10k (6.2 mile) run was mostly very flat.  We ran 4 laps and you could get a good handle on where you compared against your competition.  I had a great run split of 36:37, good for 4th best on the day and it moved me into 29th place at the finish line.  I actually picked off 28 guys during the run, including one British father who stopped just prior to the finish line to pick up his young child.  I snickered to myself - that's another reason I'd rather not have kids!  There was a lot of Team USA support along the run and I was extremely motivated to do my best for myself, my family & friends and my country.

The racing started at 7am and continued until 7pm, but my race started at 11:50am.  That worked out well as it enabled me to spectate and cheer for my fellow Team USA teammates during the late afternoon racing.  This course was extremely spectator friendly.  My wife, Laurie Kearney, had a blast watching my race.  She was able to see me finish the swim, then 4x's on the bike and 8x's on the run.  This course and the venue of Lausanne was as good as it gets.  The French describe the steepest climbs as "hors category" or "HC", meaning beyond category.  Well, as a cheerleader for myself and anyone else on Team USA, Laurie is definitely HC and cannot be categorized.  My good friend, Tim Yount, who is the Senior VP at USA Triathlon was also on the course.  Tim is also HC and absolutely brings out the best performance in all the Team USA athletes.

Some other TCSD people had great races.  JP Theberge won a silver medal in AWAD (Athletes with a Disability).  Kim McDonald finished 4th in men's 50-54.  Angelika Drake finished 12th in women's 60-64 and her husband Preston Drake finished 29th in men's 60-64.

I am already looking ahead to future World Championships.  I thank God for my many gifts and opportunities in all aspects of my life.  I hope that this "ride" will continue.  Since the race ended I have been thinking a lot about my limits and where the ceiling is.  Basically the only ceiling that exists is in my head.  I've been racing triathlons for 20 years now and initially never thought I'd accomplish the "big" goals.  It took me 13 years to qualify for my first Team USA (this was my 10th Team USA).  It took me 15 years to qualify for Ironman Hawaii (I've done it 4x now).  My best placing at Tri Worlds was in Cancun 2002 where I finished 17th.  If I was 7 months older, I would have raced in Lausanne in the 45-49 category where I would have placed 12th.  Things are looking up.  I dream about cracking the top 10 and even getting on the podium at Worlds.  It is a real long shot, but I am getting closer.  I am learning that anything is possible for me if I can remove the limits I've imposed upon myself.

As far as the vacation is concerned, we had a great time in only 1 week.  We spent the first 2 days in Geneva enjoying sights such as the Jet d'Eau (a spectacular fountain that reaches a height of 140 meters) and the Flower Clock in the Jardin Anglais.  Then onto Lausanne for the remainder of the trip.  Lausanne has an impressive Olympic Museum which we toured the day prior to my race.  The day after my race we took a ferry ride to Evian, France for a relaxing day trip.

I do have a great support team and you are part of that if you are reading this.  I do sincerely appreciate your support.  I'd like to thank the TCSD for its continuous encouragement.  I'd also like to thank my 2006 sponsors - B&L Bike Shop, Mizuno (running shoes and apparel), Xterra Wetsuits/, Specialized (cycling equipment), (nutrition), PowerBar (nutrition) and Jay Robb Enterprises (nutrition).
I hope you enjoyed this story.  I wish more TCSD people would race Nationals and get their ticket punched to participate at Worlds.  It is tough to qualify, but I know that many TCSD members could achieve this goal.  It is such an honor to race for Team USA.