Last weekend, I took on my “A” race of the season, USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships.
Unlike the past three years in which Olympic-distance race took place in Milwaukee, the event occurred in Omaha, Nebraska this time around. (Typically, the race site rotates every two years, but Milwaukee did a phenomenal job, which is one of the reasons they hosted for a third year.) It was impossible not to draw comparisons between the two cities and to say Omaha differed from Milwaukee would be a huge understatement. I don’t want to spent this entire post ranting about sub-par race logistics, but:
-It’s not ideal when hotels are located three miles from the race site, and there are only two school buses shuttling 2,000-plus folks back and forth between the properties, which took about 15-20 minutes without traffic. (Allegedly, four buses were running on race morning, but the bus dropped us off one mile from transition. Again, not ideal.) Although three miles is not far, it was not a walkable route, and this was a race where a rental car would have been warranted I think.
-It’s not ideal when the bike pick-up location is situated half a mile from the race site. (It’s also not ideal when you’re a bonehead and leave your pedals in your hotel room, thus forcing yourself to walk back to the shuttle drop-off site, take the bus back to your hotel, etc. The pedal incident was totally my own fault, but this process that would’ve taken all of 30 minutes in Milwaukee—walking back to the hotel, grabbing the pedals, heading back to the race site—ended up taking two-plus hours in Omaha.)
-It’s not ideal when the race starts 30 minutes late. (For me, this meant my F 25-29 wave didn’t jump into Carter Lake until it was nearly 10 a.m.) However, I did get to hang out with Victoria for three hours …
-It’s not ideal when there are no mile markers on the run. It’s also not ideal when there is no ice left on the run, and the temperature is closing in on 90 degrees. (Full disclosure: I had ice on the run. A few of my friends did not.)
It’s all about perspective: Omaha has a lot of room for improvement for next year’s event.
Before the race, Earl and I met to review the plan, and we knew it was not going to be a fast day: non-wetsuit swim, plus long runs in transitions 1 and 2 and a hot, exposed (read: unshaded) run. Due to these factors—and the fact that it was a new race—we did not establish time goals. Rather, he gave me mental cues for each leg of the race that centered on execution; these reminders helped keep me in the moment, and I knew if I executed, then I would put myself in a position to have a great day. And even though it was not a PR outing, I was satisfied with how it went overall.
Swim – 27:32 (54/119)
Mental cue: draw a straight line down the bottom of the lake (in an effort to help me pull and finish my stroke)
With water temperatures clocking in at 80-plus degrees weeks before the race, I did not bring my wetsuit to Omaha, but I did invest in a swimskin. It gave me a little buoyancy, but as its name implies, it’s much thinner than a neoprene wetsuit. I was really glad I had it for this 1500m outing though.
Although the water was murky—I couldn’t see my hands while I was swimming—it was a fairly easy course to navigate. After the second turn buoy, though, it felt like there was a current. That doesn’t make a lot of sense for a lake swim, but during the second half, I struggled to stay on course. I felt smooth and strong, but it also felt like I was out there for a while. But again, given the no-wetsuit aspect, I knew it would be a slower swim. (I’m usually two-three minutes faster.)
Transition 1 – 2:20 (64/119)
The run from the swim exit to transition to the bike mount area was on the long side—probably around a quarter of a mile.
Bike – 1:14:47 (36/119)
Mental cue: smooth, strong, controlled
It’s time to talk watts. I rode the route twice on the CompuTrainer beforehand, and the course knowledge helped tremendously: I knew where the two hills and the handful of gradual climbs were located.
It was heating up when I got on the bike—upwards of 80 degrees Fahrenheit—but I felt good and moved through the field quickly. This was a big-time hammerfest!
There were a few turns, though, which took away from hammering, and I also got caught up in a game of leapfrog in the opening miles. In hindsight, this would’ve been a great place to lay down a surge, get into open space, and continue to ride my own race. I definitely lost some time getting sucked into that game. At the turnaround, I started to push more and took advantage of the tailwind on the way back to transition.
Transition 2 – (56/119)
Again, there was a longer run from the bike dismount line to my personal transition area, and then a long run to the run exit.
Run – 54:38 (59/119)
Mental cue: let the “belt buckle” pull you through (forward lean, engaged abs, and not running upright like a basketball player)
With temperatures nearing 85 degrees Fahrenheit and not a cloud in the sky, I mentally prepared to settle in and grind out this hot run.
The out-and-back course took competitors on a highway and to the TD Ameritrade Stadium, and although it was flat, it was also completely exposed, a.k.a. no shade.
Grinding it out on the warning track. Do I look like a basketball player? (Rhetorical question)
There were also no mile markers, which would’ve been preferable.
I positive split the run big time, but the huge personal victory was my mental game: there were no breakdowns, no slip-up, and no wheels coming off. Of course, there were a few mini-battles I had to work though, but I was able to overcome the negativity before it led to anything really detrimental. This was absolutely huge because the run is where things tend to go south real fast. So even though this split is not indicative of my fitness, I am pleased with how I hung in there mentally.
Sidebar: I’ve never seen so much walking at an Olympic-distance race, including Quassy. It was total carnage out there. Around mile four, one girl in my age group was passed out on the side of the road and receiving oxygen from medics. That was scary.
Finish – 2:41:19 (44/119)
When I crossed the finish line, I knew it was nowhere near a PR, but I was satisfied: I executed across the disciplines, and I remained mentally tough. Earl always reminds me to “focus on the feeling and don’t become emotionally attached to the numbers,” and although I want the numbers to improve, I felt strong and confident in my ability out there. In fact, this is the first race I’ve done in my four years triathloning in which I was totally, completely mentally in it—and that makes me excited for the future. It’s a process, and we’re getting to where we need to be while enjoying the journey.