Ed. Note: Since crafting this update, Ka’eo had his best finish in a World Cup in only his 3rd Olympic distance race ever: 14th place at Chengdu World Cup. To give you and idea of the caliber of the athletes on the World Cup circuit, Ka’eo ran 31:08 for his 10K (13th fastest). And just recently he finished 30th at the Tongyeong World Cup (sprint distance). This moves him up to 133rd in the World Triathlon rankings and 7th American!
It’s been about 6 months since my last update and a lot has happened in my career since! To start off, I left you all as I was preparing for my first full Professional Triathlon season and was in the midst of getting ready for my first race of 2023: a Olympic distance Continental Cup in Havana, Cuba. My first Olympic distance to be exact. Spoiler alert, it went well! I finally was able to transfer my pool fitness to the open water and was comfortably in the lead pack after coming out of the water in the top 5. We were able to put more time into the chasers and came off the bike with a run to decide it all. My favorite. It was a war of attrition with the heat of mid-day Cuba but I was able to breakaway from everyone except one Canadian in the last half mile and he just out sprinted me in the last 50m. Although I was disappointed to be so close to the win, there was much more to be happy about getting 2nd in my first Olympic distance triathlon ever and finally feeling validated that I have potential in this sport as I beat a couple Olympians in the process. The local Cuban people were also so celebratory and kind, it really just made for a great day.
I had a quick 2-week turnaround after Cuba as I then went to a Sprint distance Continental Cup in Sarasota, Florida. My body felt like it was still recovering a little from doing it’s first Olympic distance, but I came into the race with a lot of confidence and that was the main thing. I had a decent swim and lead the first chase pack onto the bike where we quickly caught the front breakaway of 4 within the first lap. The bike ended up being uneventful as we had a big group come into T2 headed into the run. I could tell my body was still tired from Cuba but I was able to run through a good amount of field ending up on the podium again in 3rd and almost catching 2nd place. I was pleased with the result, but more so happy with the fact that I was able to get back to back podiums and find consistency in races which as we all know is tough thing to do in a sport in which so many factors can influence the final outcome. To podium on home soil in front of a home crowd was definitely the cherry on top.
My next race was about a month later in April in St. Peter’s, Missouri (the same weekend as my birthday), and I was itching to go 3 for 3 on podiums for the year. Although there were major storm systems in the area (literally lightning only a couple miles away from us during the run, which admittedly made for some cool photos), we were still able to run the race. I had a good swim coming out in the back of the front pack, but a little delay in T1 getting my wetsuit stuck on my ankle timing chip cost me as that second or two allowed the front pack to just get away before I could latch on. This left me doing a ton of work in the chase pack trying to get people to work with me to bridge up but unfortunately the front group of 8 worked well together and grew their gap resulting in me not being able to catch any of them and ultimately finishing 10th. Considering the ways things played out it was a decent performance, but going from back to back podiums and looking towards moving up to World Cups to getting 10th was a hard pill for me to swallow as I was pretty disappointed to not even be in the top 5. However, you learn more from your failures than your wins and I was determined to use these lessons in my next race in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
The Sprint distance in Punta Cana was another month later in mid-May and took place in an island saltwater lake despite the ocean being only 5 miles away! Coming off of St. Peter’s, I was determined to get on the podium again. I had a decent swim coming out in lead of the chase pack as we quickly caught the front group of 5 within the first lap. With the rest of the bike being uneventful, we came off into T2 in a big pack. My teammate and I (who also used to run for UVA) made quick work of the field getting a 20 second gap in the first half of the run and never looked back. He was able to put in a surge that I couldn’t quite match in the last mile and pulled away from me for the win but I was able to lock up a decisive 2nd and another podium spot. Although again disappointed to not win, I was more happy about correcting my mistakes from Missouri and being able to share the podium with my teammate. That was something special.
After being on the podium in 3 of my 4 continental cup races for the year, we decided it was time to move up a level to compete with the big dogs at World Cups and my first opportunity to do so would be in Huatulco, Mexico in the middle of June. Preparation going into this race was good, but I didn’t know what to expect from the competition jumping up a level. I think that inexperience cost me in the swim as I wasn’t used to having so many people around me and having to fight more for position. I came into T1 in the back of the chase pack and had to do some work to bridge up solo. Unfortunately, with the roads in Mexico usually having a layer of sand grit on them at all times, I was being a little too aggressive through the corners and crashed as soon as I bridged up to the chase pack. I was okay on the whole but my knee got pretty bruised and cut up. However, with all the adrenalin I didn’t really feel like and kept going to finish the race alone with my rear derailleur not working properly for shifting. Although I still ended up catching some people on the run, it was safe to say that this wasn’t a good day for me and on top of that, despite rigorous efforts to disinfect, my knee was infected by the time I got back home in the US.
The lead up to my next race in Tiszaújváros, Hungary just 2 weeks after Mexico wasn’t ideal. I started taking antibiotics as soon as I got back for my knee but it took about a week or so for the swelling and everything to go down enough so I could run on it. Even when I got to Hungary, my knee was better but still didn’t feel 100% yet. Additionally, I had to stay out of the water for a couple of days so that the knee wouldn’t get infected again such that training mostly consisted of biking going into it. This race was a preliminary/final format such that it took place over 2 days and was the first time I participated in anything like it. It was a small town but the Hungarian fans were really passionate and it was just an all around cool experience. For the race itself, however, the swim takes place in a tiny pond in the middle of town such that you have to do 3 full laps to get to the Sprint distance of 750m. Knowing that the start would be crucial, I focused all my energy on that which paid off getting to the first buoy in 2nd. However, whether it was the lack of swimming leading into the race or selling out a little too much to get a better position, I paid the price in the 2nd half of the swim and came out in the back of the first chase pack. This would’ve been a decent position, but I had some trouble getting my feet into my shoes on the bike mount and, again, due to those couple of seconds I lost the pack. I worked hard with the 2nd bike pack (maybe the hardest bike I’ve done, those Europeans are impressive) which almost worked but the first chase was able to hold us off and starting the run too far back there was not too much more I could do on the run to get a qualifying spot for the finals.
Disappointed coming off of my first two World Cups, I was really excited going into my next race in Yeongdo, South Korea to really show what I could do outside of races affected by the crash in Mexico. Yeongdo was about a month after Hungary in early August and gave me time for my knee to heal fully and to try and get back to the solid consistent training I was accustomed to before Mexico. However, I had a horrible swim and came out of the water close to last. Part of this I think was that I had a little hiccup in the form of stitches that kept me out of the water again for a bit leading into the race but more so that I needed to adapt my swim tactics to what was required in World Cups. In Continental Cups I could largely get away with staying wide and not having to fight for draft position whereas in the next level up I needed to do that because the competition was just better. Suffice to say I had to do a lot of work on the bike in the 2nd chase pack but we still couldn’t reel the next pack in. I had a solid run and was able to catch some people from the pack ahead but at that point it was too much of a deficit to come back from finishing a disappointing 33rd. However, despite the swim, I feel like I had performed and executed the rest of the race really well such that it felt like I was finally putting the pieces together again for this increased level of competition and if I could dial my swim in again, I’d be golden.
This leads us to my most recent race in Valencia, Spain which took place in early September just two weeks ago. After moving houses and dealing with tying up a lot of loose ends before heading to Korea, I finally felt like I was able to settle into a really solid training block without any hiccups and was again optimistic heading into what would be my 2nd Olympic distance race. Learning from my mistakes in Korea, I had a good swim. Getting out solidly in the first chase pack. We were then able to reel in the front pack about halfway into the bike and ended up coming into T2 in a big group going into the run. My dream scenario right? Well it was, but, unfortunately, I was starting to get stomach cramps on the bike and as I started running it only became worse. Trying not to spill out my guts for 10k was a challenge but maybe more so not being able to take in as much carbs as I needed to for fuel which left me feeling pretty rough for the last 10min of the race. Coming across the finish line I gave it all I had but due to my stomach all I had ended up being 31st on the day. It was bittersweet knowing that with my regular run I could’ve performed very very well but also being proud of myself for executing the way I needed to in order to give me the best opportunity to do well. Something I hadn’t done in my past 3 World Cups.
And that’s leads us to the current day, mid-September 2023. Training is going great, I think I’ve figured out some tips to help make sure I don’t have to deal with GI issues during the middle of a race again, and I feel like I finally have all the pieces ready to put together for this level competition in order to get back on the podium again. It’s been a long and tough summer but I’m so excited to show the Team what I know I’m capable of in my last 4 races of the season. I’ll be competing in China, Korea, and Japan in a few weeks time and then end the year in Chile in early November. I’m currently ranked 150th in the world and am the 8th-ranked US male (with 4 through 8 being very close in points) and I know I have it in me to reach my goal of being top 75 in the World and top 5 in the US by the end of November.
The support of the Team Psycho family means everything to me and I look forward to making this community proud in the coming weeks. Thank you for your belief in me!