Milwaukee, you really know how to humble and inspire an athlete. Last Thursday, I headed back to Wisconsin for my third consecutive trip to the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships.
Yes, I bought race photos. No, I have no idea what my leg is doing.
As always, competition came standard: between Saturday’s Olympic-distance race and Sunday’s sprint, about 4,000 folks put their training to the test.
Even though my season saw transition—I “aged up” into the 25-29 category, plus I broke off from my former team and did my own thing—and adversity—when I sustained a bike crash—training went well overall, and I had a great pre-“A” race build. In the week leading up to Nationals, I felt fit, strong, and ready to rock.
Plus, since this would be my third time swimming, biking, and running at this venue, I knew what to expect. It almost seemed routine: once I arrived in Milwaukee, I went into autopilot, checking into the hotel, wandering to the public market for fresh produce and green juice, retrieving my race packet and bike. Like my most recent trip to Lake Placid, I was flying solo, which gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do. This was perfect and helped me stay loose, relaxed, and focused.
Race-day conditions proved to be perfect too: overcast and about 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Although it was windy, it was not hot and humid like last year, and thankfully, the weather held steady for my 8:55 a.m. start time. My training/fitness, the course itself, and weather conditions were the perfect PR combo.
I’ve given this race a lot of thought. Initially, I was not happy with my performance. My not-so-good run overshadowed the solid swim and decent bike I executed. All I could think about was the mental breakdown I had on the run. But after talking with my coaches, we figured out what happened and where improvement needs to happen. And above all, I am not tying the success of a season to a single race. Here’s how it went down:
Swim – 1500m – 24:28 (55/141 in AG)
Even though swimming and I have a complicated relationship, I knew it would be a strength during the race. And plus, since I’ve been training with a masters team this season, I was excited to see how much time I could shave off from last year.
Aside from the 63-degree Fahrenheit reading, this portion of the race was relatively uneventful. The start was not as chaotic as I anticipated—maybe because Kingston was such a zoo—and I was able to surge ahead, settle into a groove, and actually draft effectively. (One of the perks of aging up?) I felt smooth and strong the entire time and could not have asked for a better swim. I even passed dudes who started before my waves and caught a few of the older women too, so I knew I was executing fairly well. My goal was 24-25 minutes, and I nailed it.
Transition 1 – 2:54 (59/141)
I was high on life coming out of the water and immediately picked off a few girls ahead of me during our long run to transition. My heart race was though the roof, though, so I calmed down and eased off the gas. In T1, a lot of the bikes were gone already, so even though my swim felt great, I assumed it was a middle-of-the-pack time and knew my work would be cut out for me on the bike—let #Hammfest2015 begin!
Bike – 40-K (24.85 miles) – 1:09:38 (38/141)
As the strongest of the three sports, the bike was where I planned to go for it.
There was an unrelenting headwind the entire ride, but I stayed in aero for 95 percent of the time and focused on the feeling. And I felt invincible. There were a ton of people in front of me, and I passed a bunch of girls (and only two passed me). Above all, I felt confident: I knew I could push, I knew I could hang tough, and I knew I could execute.
Aside from one of my contacts falling out due to the wind and one 42-year-old dude hitting on me, it was an uneventful ride. My mental game was on-point, so even if anything notable occurred, I don’t know if I would’ve noticed. As I approached transition, I felt like I executed precisely and really thought I rode a 1:07, which was my goal. When I looked up my split post-race, I was a little bummed; one of my coaches even said a 1:05 was doable. If it hadn’t been so windy, then I think a 65-67 ride would’ve happened.
Transition 2 – 1:31 (56/141)
This felt like the fastest, most efficient T2 I’ve had all season: I slipped on my shoes, grabbed my stuff, and got the heck out of there.
Run – 10-K (6.2 miles) – 53:18 (107/141)
Remember how I rode my way to the nearly the top quarter of my age group? All those girls ran me down—and then some. Sigh. There really isn’t much to say. I was trained to run a 48. The first two miles were on pace, and I was able to hang tough mentally. But each time a pocket-friend passed me (and there were a lot of them), I came out of my headspace. There goes another one. Man, she’s fast. Look how smoothly she’s running. Nope, get back in it. Run your race. Focus on the feeling.
Unfortunately, being run down is nothing new. I wish I could say it didn’t affect me. Even though I knew it would happen—it’s a national championship, and a lot of these girls simply don’t have weaknesses—I did not mentally prepare for the constant stream of girls effortlessly passing me. At first, I was able to regroup. But being run down wore me out mentally, and after 2.5 miles, I could not get back to my headspace. “Mentally checking out” is not the right phrase, but based on how dialed in I was during the swim and bike, I know I was not in that headspace for the majority of the run.
Overall finishing time – 2:31:50 (63/141)
It’s been five days, and I’m still feeling all the feelings.
Overall, I had a solid swim that set up a decent bike: I rode my way from 55th to 38th, which is great; I played my strengths, and both these times are faster than last year’s splits. However, my mental game during the run (or lack thereof) is unsettling. But instead of sulking, I’m ready to regroup, refocus, and rededicate myself to the process. And that’s exactly what this sport is all about: progressing and trusting the journey.