On Saturday, I put my training to the test and took on my “A” race of the season: the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. Held in Milwaukee, this event attracted 4,850 of the country’s best triathletes. More than 3,000 folks qualified for the Olympic distance (0.9-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike, and 6.2-mile run), which resulted in the biggest and arguably most competitive field this race has seen.
Game faces and game braids!
I did this race last year, and my mindset differed greatly this time around: I was not intimidated, I was there to compete, and I felt much more confident in my training. Bottom line, I knew I belonged.
Another difference between the 2013 and 2014 races? Expectations. I’ve alluded to objectives, but I’ve never stated them outright because they scared me.
From the start of the season, my primary goals included peaking at this race and performing to a level that would give me a shot at a 2015 International Triathlon Union (ITU) Short Course (Olympic-Distance) Triathlon World Championship slot.
Because Chicago will host this race, the United States would receive 25 slots per age group. (It’s normally 18 slots.) So finishing in the top 25 was part one of the goal. However, the equation contained an interesting wrinkle for me: I’m 24, which means I “age up” next year into the 25-29 group. So even though my calf read “24” in Milwaukee, I was competing against the 25-29-year-olds for a 2015 slot. This is also a faster, more competitive age group.
My training this season had gone well, and based on race results, earning one of those coveted slots wasn’t completely out of the question. Best-case scenario, I’d be on the brink—even if I had the race of my life: If I swam and biked to my potential, then I’d be competitive, but I’d have to run “out of my mind” in the words of Coach Pat. But that what makes this sport so addicting and exciting: making progress, putting hard work to the test, and going after that invincible feeling when everything lines up and seems effortless.
Swim – 0.9 miles – 25:50 (54/91)
The swim course remained nearly identical to last year’s route, and my wave was scheduled to start at 10 a.m.
During my warm-up, though, everyone was pulled from the water, including the wave before mine. I’m not totally sure why, but I finally got to meet rockstar Victoria. We obviously talked about watts.
When my wave was finally about to go off, I situated myself in the second row. Staying with the lead pack was out of the question (a lot of those girls were actual swimmers), but I wanted to set the tone early and put myself in a position to compete. I could not be passive like I was last year.
As soon as the starting siren went off, washing machine chaos ensued—and it reminded me of contact in the paint during basketball. Let’s do this.
Immediately, I hit an aggressive pace in an effort to draft and/or find clean water, but as I made moves, I took in more water than I should be—á la Pat Griskus. Even though the pace felt sustainable, I was not going to make the same mistake twice and jeopardize my race, so I eased off the gas. After that, I settled into a groove and felt good. I passed some girls who started in the wave before me, but I did not sight well, which is uncharacteristic of me.
As I neared the swim exit, I couldn’t tell how it went overall. Yes, I felt good, and yes, I passed a bunch of girls who started before me. But I had no idea what my time was or how many girls were in front of me—both of which were probably good things.
Transition 1 – 2:45
For whatever reason, I could not get my act together coming out of the water. It took me longer than usual to find my legs. That’s all that really stood out.
Bike – 24.8 miles – 1:10:54 (23/91)
Overall, I’m happy with this bike split. It’s also a PR.
As you can tell from the course elevation, there were a few rolling hills, but this was a flat and fast course for the most part. It was also the same as last year’s ride, and I was pumped to take it on with another year of training and with some fun toys like an aero helmet and race wheels.
When my coach and I talked race strategy, we both agreed I should go for it on the bike. Obviously, I’d leave some gas in the tank for the run, but in order to contend for a top-25 finish, I would need to capitalize on my strengths. And push all the watts.
It sounds cliché, but the bike flew by. I overtook a ton of girls, and more importantly, not a single girl passed me. Aside from what seemed like a never-ending headwind, I felt good for the most part, managed my energy well, and stayed mentally focused. Sure, there were tough spells I had to work through, but I never red-lined or felt gassed.
Transition 2 – 1:41
I remember noticing how warm it was. That’s about it. I mean, it was almost noon.
Run – 6.2 miles – 50:38 (44/91)
As I started the run, my legs felt decent. They actually felt fresher than Stamford, but that’s probably because this was a flatter course.
My Garmin took forever to sync, so I ran the opening half mile on feel. When it finally loaded and displayed my average pace (7:15), I couldn’t believe it. My goal was to run 7:20-7:30 off the bike. I feel good. I am doing this. Seeing splits that low (for me) still freaks me out a little.
Like the bike, the run was relatively uneventful. I saw teammates who finished the race already—ah, the perks of being older and starting sooner—and even passed a few girls. Miles two and three came in at 7:30. I am strong. I am doing this.
Everything changed at mile three, though. It felt like I slammed into a wall of heat: Holy $%&*, it’s hot right now. It became oppressive, and my speed slowed. At every opportunity, I dumped water on myself and stuffed ice in my sports bra, but it didn’t seem to help. I was baking and (sun) burning.
And that’s how I lost my top 25 spot: I put a lot of time into the girls on the bike, but they ran me down. It’s disappointing and frustrating when girl after girl passes you, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. It was just like Hopkins; they made the move, and I couldn’t respond.
Official finishing time – 2:31:51 (36/91)
Even though the second half of the run didn’t go well, I did what I could: I went for it on the bike and pieced together three solid miles on the run. So I am satisfied with this race. I did what I needed to do and put myself in place to contend. That’s all you can do: play your strengths.
Since I am happy with how Nationals went overall, I am shutting down my 2014 triathlon racing season. This race confirmed what I suspected about my training, so I know exactly what needs to happen between now and when I truly start up again in January for the 2015 campaign. (Post coming soon!)
In the mean time, I’ll continue to swim, bike, and run through the fall, and I’m also going to try to be a “real person,” which means being sociable past 8 p.m., reconnecting with friends, and doing things that wouldn’t be “approved” during the season. Yoga! Maybe rock climbing! Eating out regularly!