Crash didn’t sink Karau down under

October 9, 2018

About five miles into the World Triathlon, the thing Michael Karau feared most happened.

An American athlete in his bike pack took a right turn incorrectly and crashed into another competitor near where Karau was trying to finish mile 5 of the second leg of the race.

Karau had spent the last several miles trying hard to remember the rules of racing on the opposite side of the street in Australia — wide rights and tight left turns.

Learning to race on the opposite side of the road presented problems for Western teams.

At least, Karau said, he brought his bike with him. Some competitors rented bicycles that had brakes on the opposite side of what they were used to.

Despite all the obstacles that come with competing internationally, though, Karau technically met his goals for the World Championships.

He himself didn’t crash. He didn’t meet a shark during the swim portion of the race.

And he sure didn’t come in last.

Traveling to the Land Down Under

In the spring of this year, Karau received word that his time at one of the National qualifiers in Omaha, Nebraska, had qualified him to compete in the ITU World Triathlon as part of Team USA, in mid-September.

That was great news for him, as he had lost 70 pounds over the past 3-1/2 years, fought a nasty staph infection from stepping on a nail in his yard and was hospitalized with kidney failure. He got into running, and eventually triathlons, to improve his health.

His family traveled to Australia (“gorgeous!”) for nine days to watch him compete against some of the best triathletes in the world — many of whom he recognized from training videos.

Karau, number 11706, completed the course in one hour, 14 minutes, 30 seconds and placed as 831 st of 1523.

He was one of 500 runners from Team USA, which was the second-largest team competing.

The fastest American man placed 30th of 74 runners in the 35-39 age bracket, he said. Only two made it into the top 50. Karau was number 66.

It was not, he said, the result he’d hoped for. Windy conditions and a strong current in the ocean inlet where swimmers competed affected him more than anticipated.

“I had a good swim, I had an OK bike,” he said. “I fell apart on the run.”

Stephanie Karau, his wife, has watched every race he’s been in.

“It was a different feeling at that race, because it’s the best in the world, so everyone’s really confident,” she said. “Everyone’s at the top of their game.”

Karau began running only three years ago. In that time, he’s become accustomed to placing high.

When he first started, his goal was to win races in his home state, then at nationals.

“I’m not used to finishing in that bottom percent,” he said. “It was a reminder of when I first started, how it feels to be in that bottom side of things. … I got a taste of how much work it’ll take to get back.”

Rest and recovery

Karau’s spent the last two weeks recovering — mentally and physically. It was a 15-hour flight back to the U.S., spent dealing with the realization that his season was over.

A few weeks prior to the world championships, Karau had again competed in a race to qualify for the world championships Sweden, in 2019.

However, he’s not going to chase a qualification this year.

Karau will be on Team USA again, he knows.

And he did learn a thing or two to take into his next world-championship marathon.

“I’ll try to be more calm,” he said. I got way too worked up on the swim, pushed too hard on the bike. I should have relaxed, tried to find a rhythm. Next time, I’ll trust in my training.”

Update hourly