Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Race Report: USA Triathlon Nationals - Olympic and Sprint


Wow, where to start?! This was my third year at Nationals and it was no less exciting this year than the first. This event continues to grow in terms of competitiveness and field size with a record 2700 athletes completing the Olympic and 1100 the Sprint. I learned that just 100 of us did both races, and five of those were on our Endurance Films Racing Team.

I flew into Milwaukee mid-day Thursday and spent the afternoon putting the bike together, getting some groceries, picking up both race packets, and checking out the venue which was about seven blocks away from the hotel. I also met up with the fortyninegroup Chief Connector John Jones (who I am privileged to work for) who attended the event in his capacity as Chairman of the USA Triathlon Age Group Committee Multisport Awards Subcommittee to present the 2012 USAT Multisport Awards.

I have to say, I was very pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous race site at Veterans Park and the clean and quiet city itself. Milwaukee is quite lovely! Things were all easy walking distance and we were fortunate to have moderate temps, clear skies, and low humidity.

 I felt very at home with three wind turbines and a solar array on a Wattsun tracker!

Friday morning I met up with teammate Bill Van Cise and Scott Endsley and his wife Wendy. We biked the north part of the bike course and also biked the run course. Aside from some pothole-y manhole covers things looked pretty good. Bill and I laughed a bit as we easily passed a group heading up a gradual hill and we commented they must be "flat-landers!"

Thanks to race sponsor Solar Connexion, Virginia's Premier Solar Contractor!

Later that morning I headed to the organized practice swim to get my bearings, feel the water (nice - around 70 degrees), and to check out the narrow pedestrian bridge we had to swim through on the out and back. It was also good we could test out the swim exit as it was a steep ramp lined with a series of volunteers. They would grab our arm and pass us up to the next volunteer in line in order to get us up safely (photo further down below).

Friday afternoon we had our Endurance Films Racing Team meeting (and got new team apparel from Champion System!) and then racked our bikes in transition. At big events like this they have a mandatory night-before bike check-in to avoid morning bike congestion. Once they are checked in, they don't leave again till we bike out in the race. We spent some time ogling the the beautiful bikes and wheels as they paraded by (but I still love the Roo.)

 Endurance Films Racing Team - Eric, Scott, Nicole, Andy, Nick, me, Laura, Danny, and Megan.
Not there/not racing this race: Liz, Sip, Tom, Diane, Lora, Corey

Olympic Race Day

Saturday morning I got into transition at 7 am for the ten minutes it would take to set up my area before it closed at 7:30 am. (A new "security measure" this year is that you had to take stuff into transition in a provided clear plastic bag. I can understand it, but it still seems kind of futile.) My swim wave wasn't scheduled to head out till 8:21 am so I didn't want to arrive too early. As I got organized I heard them announce that Sister Madonna Buder had forgotten her goggles and they asked if anyone had a spare pair. How cool! I've read her autobiography The Grace to Race - she's an 80+ year old nun and multi-time Ironman. I was excited to get a picture of her later that day at the awards.

Sister Madonna Buder - very nice posture, she's so cute!

Anyway, at some point during my setup, I ran my hand over my wheels and noticed my rear tire was completely flat!! FLAT!!!! ACK!!!!!

Without hesitation, I hauled it off to the Wheel and Sprocket bike support area in the corner of transition where the kind and calm Amelia proceeded to investigate, switch out the tube, and make some adjustments to my shifting. I tried to stay calm but I kept thinking WHAT if I had not checked my tire?? Lesson learned: always do the ABC Quick Check of the bike - tires, brakes, shifting, tight bolts, etc - when the bike has been unattended for a period of time.

As I was returning my bike back to the rack, I heard over the loudspeaker, "Transition closes in 40 seconds. Any athletes found in transition will receive a time penalty." YIKES!! I racked the bike, quickly clipped in my shoes, and sprinted out of transition just in time. I'd had no time to double-check my setup and hoped all was well. I had to just let it go and focus on preparing to swim.

Ah, the pre-swim wait. We all struggle with that aspect of racing. The agony, ugh! I explained to "equipment coach" and sponsor Bryan that my "race self" comes out just as the air horn sounds. It's like I instantly become a different person as the world falls away and I have a single purpose - to race clean and fast. My fear on race day is that my "race self" will not be there, but will have been replaced by some lazy version of me who will backstroke the swim. But it never happens.

 Looking out toward the swim start.


As each swim wave waited to head off, they announced some of the top ranked triathletes in the age group. With our wave, I heard my name and hometown called and I felt a rush of nerves. I took a deep breath and rehearsed my focus points for the swim.

The swim was pretty crazy from the start. Despite starting far left to give myself the straightest shot and hopefully some clearance to the first turn buoy, it turned chaotic very quickly. It was congested, with the typical flying fists and feet, and people swimming over one another. I was stuck in the middle of a pack that was too slow and I wasted some time and energy trying to get to the outside and free. The second half of the swim went much better and I noticed I was actually racing it - reeling in a swimmer, drafting a bit, then reeling in the next.

 Photo from Sue James and Dustin Yonke - it shows the bridge we had to swim under to the right. Past the bridge, the  Olympic course went left for a while,
the sprint only maybe 100 meters past the bridge.

A view from spectator area. The building is the "Discovery Center"
(Paul Phillips/Competitive Image/@Compimagephoto)

photo from USAT - shows the swim exit ramp to the left and the two rows of awesome volunteers!!

I got to transition and unlike last year, I found my bike pretty quickly thanks to a new bright yellow towel. I lost a few seconds struggling to get the wetsuit off over the timing chip and needing to unbuckle my buckled helmet. Sloppy!

Giddyup, Roo!


The bike went well. I knew I had to pass as many people as I could to make up for my swim and because I'd be working with a sub-optimal run. The course was and out-and-back north along the lake, and an out-and-back south over a bridge and on a highway. The race folks did a nice job of covering expansion joints on the bridge with mats to give us a safer surface. I don't get passed often on the bike, but I did have one girl pass me and as I hung behind her for a moment, a bit dumbfounded, a race official pulled up on a motorcycle. Oops! I was a little worried they thought I was drafting so I backed off quickly. The course was heavily patrolled which is good for everyone.

heading to the bike dismount

Before I knew it, the bike leg was over and into T2 I went. Then the moment of truth - the run.


We recently discovered that the quad issue that has been plaguing me for months seems to be almost a non-issue on treadmills, tracks, or flat courses so I was cautiously optimistic. But it's still like running with a ticking time bomb so I started off pretty conservatively.

The aid stations offered ice so I dumped some down my one-piece suit for a distraction and got more than I bargained for as it all managed to accumulate....well you can imagine where....leaving me pretty much numb "there". That was certainly distracting. A few aid stations later, having learned my lesson, I thought I'd try ice down the back. That was not much smarter!!

I ticked off the miles and felt my confidence grow with each. I passed a number of folks but also got passed by one woman in my age group but couldn't match her.  I ignored my watch and gave what I had - a 7:20 pace, which is about 29 seconds per mile off my 10k pace last year. However, I didn't have to stop or walk or rest my quad and I didn't go negative in my head. It was good enough for 12th place out of 137 and probably about the best I could have hoped for on the day. By the time age-ups were factored in, I had qualified 15th out of 18 for the 2014 Team USA, headed to Edmonton, Canada. I did not think I had much hope for qualifying this year given my current run so it was a great reward for doing my best with what I had and not giving up. Thank you Coach Jim and Equipment Coach Bryan for not letting me bail on this race!!

It's always such a sweet feeling to run up the red carpet finish line of a national championship!  As I stopped, I saw Danny Kolker of Endurance Films and he steered me over to undefeated iron legend Chrissie Wellington as she handed out finisher's medals. I gave her a sweaty hug of thanks!!

 Danny and I; Chrisse Wellington over my shoulder!


The race continued on for quite a while with swim waves that didn't even start until I was out on the run. I waited back at the Endurance Films tent where I got to meet Facebook friend Lana and her husband Chris!

 Lana and I met up in person!

When transition opened, we got my bike out (via the usual transition-out traffic jam..beep beep!), hauled it back to the hotel, and swapped the bike number for its return to bike-check a few hours later, and just before the awards ceremony and video highlights from Endurance Films. I scrubbed off my old race numbers, along with five layers of skin, and prepped the areas for the new tattoos that I hoped would double as skin grafts.

Sprint Race Day

I was not quite as nervous this day. The field was smaller, I had the experience of the day before, my confidence in my leg was higher, and I had only half the course length to do! I set up transition again, this time without the flat tire, and passed the 90 minutes waiting to start. We camped out at the remains of our tent!

Nick, Erica, and Laura


Lining up for the swim, I met Facebook/blog friend, Patti. We had corresponded and hoped to meet up so that was fortuitous! Despite this swim wave being less than half the size of the previous day, it was still more congested than I would have liked. I could tell I was fatigued, but pushed those thoughts out of my mind quickly and told myself to Suck it up Buttercup. I felt like I swam well for me, much more strategically than I used to.

 Yep, that's me up top. One advantage to the bridge was the good photo-ops!


Per equipment coach instructions I tried to push it a few times on this shorter bike, getting out of the saddle to try to accelerate and bump up my speed as compared to the day before. Somehow I managed a slower bike ride on a shorter course. Oops.


I was determined to push this run and burn up whatever was left in the tank. I felt good, pushed away fears of a leg blow-up, focused on keeping my cadence up, and dug in. Again, I got passed by one woman in my age group and could not stay with her. I found that very disconcerting. When I heard another runner approaching from behind who looked to be in my age group, I faced that pivotal decision....crumple and fold, or find another gear and stay ahead of her at any cost? I chose the latter and felt amazing in my suffering as I crossed the finish line, to a second hug and medal from Chrissie Wellington :-)

 I've started going hatless, not sure why.

 Thanks Arbouws for the picture! I was not letting up on the gas.

 Come on yellow shoes!! Pursuer in the background - thank you for pushing me!

I was about 18 seconds per mile off last year's pace but that's OK. That at least feels like it is within striking distance of "normal". I finished in 7th place out of 53, presumably good enough for a Team USA Sprint slot.

Dave Robinette, me, James Dalton, and Stephanie Pratola were in New Zealand together and 
all made Team USA for Edmonton too!

Friend Kimberly relied on guts and determination to pull off a
solid race in spite of a significant side-lining injury.


Lordy, this was a long blog post and I am exhausted just writing it. I'll wrap by saying I LOVE this race because it's like planning a vacation in the same city as 4000 friends! The importance of it amplifies every fear - but also every strength - as it asks you to decide just how tough you are and how bad you want it. Next year is going to be even tougher as we will be vying for spots for Worlds 2015 in Chicago. If you haven’t already, check out the Endurance Films highlight reels for the Olympic and Sprint. They really capture the vibe of these races!

Lots of thank-yous to say: Robert, Spencer, Grant, Oma, Coach Jim, Equipment Coach Bryan, Krista, mom and dad, FNG John, friends near and far! Thank you to race sponsor Solar Connexion (for your solar energy needs in Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region.)

Next up: London!!!!
(and some work to do on that run....)