Ed. Note: Here is an end-of-season update from Ka’eo Kruse who details just how difficult it is to show up healthy and avoid mishaps and mistakes on the World Triathlon circuit. Ka’eo remains positive about the gains made this year (7th American and top 125 in the World rankings in his first full year as a pro!) and is determined to persevere in 2024.
The 2023 short-course season has finally come to an end, thus, with some off-season free time, I thought I’d update you both on how the last 4 races went and my reflections on the year!
My first race on the Asia Tour this October proved to be the best of my career in Chengdu, China with a 14th place finish in my 3rd Olympic distance race ever. The 30+ hr travel went smoothly and coming off a strong training block after Valencia and fixing some nutrition things I felt in control of what was happening in a World Cup race for the first time. Started with a solid swim coming out of the water in the top 15 to make the front pack which eventually got caught by the chase pack due to people not working together. First time I’ve gone into T2 with that many people so definitely have room to improve there but was methodical on the run passing 20+ people staying consistent the whole 10k. I was very proud of this performance as it showed the potential I had expecting to show sooner at the World Cup level and also showed that I belonged like had I believed prior. It also qualified me to be able to race WTCS races in the 2024 race year if I chose to nominate for them.
One week later, I raced the 2nd leg of the tour in Tongyeong, South Korea (this time a Sprint distance) in what was the most stacked World Cup field I’d ever raced in to that point. Unfortunately, I had picked up a virus/cold in China and wasn’t feeling 100% but did my best to recover before race day. I had an okay swim coming out of the water 20th, but first American over Matt McElroy and company, and worked hard on the bike to help catch the front pack. Unfortunately, the gap stayed about the same as we came into T2 in a big group which again didn’t go well for my inexperience, leaving me to run through a large field on a narrow course. I was able to finish 30th but knew that I wasn’t able to give my best run performance. With my cold/virus settling down a bit, I then headed off to the last Asian stop in Miyazaki, Japan hopeful that I could capitalize on another Olympic distance like I did in China.
Unfortunately, that didn’t end up being the case as it seemed as though the virus, traveling, and racing in 3 different countries in 3 weeks caught up to me in Miyazaki for my worst finish of the year. I tried my best but from the swim I just didn’t feel like myself. I was able to get in the chase pack but wasn’t able to hold the wheel through the 20+ 180 turns and continued to slip back during the bike. By the time I got to the run I was completely toasted but was able to muster up enough to finish the race as I’m not one to not finish what I started. This was immensely disappointing for me and hard to reconcile given how good I had felt and performed in China.
Coming back to Boulder, it had seemed like I had finally shaked the virus and was getting some good training in so Ian and I decided to go ahead and do the sprint distance World Cup in Vina Del Mar, Chile like we had planned as opportunities to get Olympic points going into next year continue to become more scarce. However, spoiler alert, this race didn’t really end up well either. Due to flight delays and plane changes, me and a couple other Team USA teammates had our bags come in a day later than us which resulted in our bikes being detained by Chilean customs for a still unknown reason. Thus, we spent most of the days leading up to the race trying to figure out a way to get our bikes which we finally did the day before our race start. Regardless, I tried to put the bike stress behind me and started off with a decent swim, out of the water in the top 20. Able to make the first chase pack with fellow American Darr Smith, we worked together to try and catch but no one seemed to help. All of a sudden, when an attack was being made, a stray dog (common in Vina if you’re familiar) poped out in front of me on the bike causing me to break suddenly and subsequently lose the pack. Angry, I tried to compose myself and work with the next pack that came through but by that time the damage had been done as I lost too much time and wasn’t able to make it up on the run resulting in a very anti-climatic end to the season and a disappointing one at that especially coming off of China where I felt I had found my form.
However, that being said and putting the year as a whole in perspective, I progressed throughout the year starting with 3 podiums in my first 4 continental cups of the season before bumping up a level to competing in World Cups. Unfortunately, due to a crash at my first World Cup in Huatulco, Mexico, my summer didn’t go as well as I’d hoped for finishing in the middle of the pack at most of the World Cups I competed in. However, I was able to get my feet back under me by the end of the year amidst “some of the most stacked World Cup fields WT has seen” (likely due to the Olympic push) highlighted by a 14th place finish at Chengdu WC qualifying me to compete at WTCS races in 2024.
All said and done, I finished out my first full year of triathlon ever ranked in the top 125 in the world and top 7 in the US. Although this was not quite as high as I was shooting for, it’s a good indication of my potential this next year to really climb the ranks with a solid year of experience under my belt.