Fighting in the water with Grizzly bears – Kelowna ITU Sprint Triathlon Pan Am Cup

August 20th, 2014


Kelowna, which means “Grizzly bear,” is one of my favorite race cities on the ITU Continental Cup circuit.  I competed in this race in 2010 and 2012, but this year, the race was half the distance and twice as fast.  I was a little upset that it was changed from an Olympic to a sprint distance half way through the year, but I enjoyed this trip just the same.  I had the pleasure of staying with a good friend, Ron Mattiussi, who I have stay with before. Since I stayed with him last time, he has conveniently moved to a high rise condo a mere 50 meters from the race site which was very ideal. I could literally spit from the balcony into the athlete’s area, but that would be gross wouldn’t it?  Kelowna is a beautiful, valley city, surrounded by mountains and orchards, with a large lake right in the middle.   The city of Kelowna, BC promotes an active lifestyle, with many parks, bike lanes and outdoor activities.

Transition is a spit away

My race unfolded similar to my 2012 race but with much better overall results.  Once the gun went off, the swim was not pleasant at all.  Even running into the water, there was a little pushing and shoving and it did not stop there. The lesson I learned was to not position myself in the middle of the starting line. (I’ll explain more about that in a minute.) After the initial dive into the water, I was fighting for a clean position, which I did not get until the last 200 meters of the 750 meter swim.  People were grabbing my feet, arms and anything they could get a hold off to propel themselves forward.  I get it—it is part of the race but intentional grabbing is unprofessional.


After the first 100 meters, there were two distinct swim packs, one on either side of me; right before the first buoy they came together and I was in the middle. As soon as these packs merged, swimmers collided and swam all over me. Trying to go around the swim buoy was very difficult and the only place for me to do it was underneath it. After emerging, the grabbing and fight continued.  I felt like I was in a boxing ring.  I just could not get a good stroke going and it severely slowed me down. I eventually went wide to get some clean water and get away from the mayhem.  After the last buoy to travel back to shore, I finally got into a rhythm and started to make up time I had lost on the packs ahead of me.  I soon found myself at the front of my swim group and lead them out of the water.  If only I could have held the speed of my last 200 meters the whole time, my race would have been much better.

beaches on the lake

As I was running into transition, the only thing I could think of was going balls-to-the-wall to catch the swim pack that had come out about 30 seconds ahead of me.  After hopping on my bike, I did not worry about putting my feet into my shoes until I caught them. I put my head down and pedaled as hard as I could. In the distance, I could tell I was catching them, but I needed to do this before the end of the first climb.  As I started to climb the first hill, I was passed by a group of three and should have jump in with them.  I had the ability, but I made the second biggest mistake of my race when I did not put my feet into my shoes before beginning to climb the hill.  I just did not have the leverage to generate the needed power to climb efficiently and that eventually cost me a top 10 finish.  However, I didn’t panic and just waited until after I crested the hill to put my feet into my shoes.   Once I was working at full mechanical strength, I slowly picked people off during the two laps of the bike course. It was a draft legal race but it was a non-drafting race for me.  No matter, as soon as I was on the run course, I did what do best and run, Nicholas, run.

Running like there is no tomorrow

Also, during the run, I slowly picked more people off, running a 15:47 for 5k and finally crossing the finish line in 13th place. This was my best finish so far in my ITU history since 2010 at Mazatlán, MEX where I placed 18th.   Overall, I was 3:40 behind first place winner Tommy Zaferes.  Given a better swim, it is possible that I could have placed 8th or better.  However, my head is high and I am ready to finish of the season off by welcoming my unit redeploying from Kuwait and racing the rest of the local triathlons in Austin, TX.  With triathlon aside, my most important event of the year is my wedding at the end of October to the love-of-my-life, Heather Cox, aka “Bear.”

On the boardwalk...out by the lake

I am fortunate and honored to represent the US Army and race for the US Military Elite Triathlon Team, part of US Military Endurance Sports. Racing and training is effortless and made possible by the following USMES sponsors:  Boeing,  Snapple,  Scott,  SRAM,  Primal,  American ClassicOsmo Nutrition,Honey StingerHeadsweatsRudy ProjectsXterra Wetsuits Orange Seal CyclingKlean Athlete  andSchwalbe. I’m thankful to be serviced by and involved with my local bike shop, Jack and Adams Bikes. Team Sterghos also includes VasaSable Water Optics, and Total Immersion. I’m coached and trained by Tim Crowley of TC2 coaching. Finally and most importantly, at the end of the day my heart belongs to Heather.