Monday, August 10, 2015

Race Report: USAT Sprint and Olympic Age Group Nationals

It was a great weekend of racing in Milwaukee - a bit cool, overcast, and dry - which made for fast and fun racing. There is nothing like the excitement of the National Championships weekend (read's recap here and see their great photos here). This year there were 4300 finish line crossings from teenagers to athletes in their 80s (and one aged 91). One of the many attractions of this race is that we are competing for a spot on Team USA for 2016, when the ITU Grand Final will be in Cozumel, Mexico. The top 18 in each Olympic Distance age group (based on our ages in 2016) qualify. The Sprint offered 8 spots since that race is switching to draft-legal in 2016 and there will be a special qualifier in the fall for the other 10 spots.

With Glenn and Sue - Sue was 5th in her age group!

This race draws us back, year after year, to catch up with friends and meet new folks. In the top photo is Amy, who I met getting off the plane in Milwaukee. It turned out we are in the same age group, we were staying in the same hotel, so we took a cab into town together and dashed to packet pickup before it closed Thursday. At the expo I ran into a number of friends including Glenn and Sue who I first met in New Zealand in 2012.

Friday: Pre-Race

Friday I got in an easy ride, mainly to review the run course and explore the venue again, which felt so comfortably familiar on this, my third go-round at Nationals in Milwaukee. After that we had a practice swim session. The water was 63 and a bit of a shocker to jump into, but once that bit of water between wetsuit and skin warms up, it's pretty OK. I always find it funny that there is a lot of conversation going on in the water - just random groups of people treading water to discuss the swim. 

On the Art Museum bridge, overlooking the finish line

Don't go to packet pickup first thing Friday - it's always a madhouse.  
Go Thursday, or wait till later!

With Nicole Baxter Brown at swim practice

I had a little extra time after to explore a curious bookstore across from my hotel. The doors opened to an incredible place complete with cats! I bought a book about cycling. Imagine that!

Then I headed to the host hotel to see 6x Kona Ironman winner, Mark Allen, talk. He is a legend in the sport and a master storyteller and coach. He spoke to a packed house, sharing tales from the highs and lows of his own racing career to show us how we can manage our own thoughts to allow ourselves to race our best. One of my main takeaways was to tell my own brain to "shut up" and stay in the moment. I really appreciated hearing about the 1995 race, in which he overcame a huge deficit to Thomas Hellriegel, who was 13 years younger, to win his 6th Kona. He had to get past worrying about the other guy, just as I had to get past my own brain telling me I was another year older in my age group and that the younger girls were coming up to get me. He also reminded us that the race isn't over until that finish line, and you can't know how your race is going while you are in it! It was the perfect motivational sendoff for my races.

If you ever have the opportunity to hear him talk in person, DO NOT pass it up. He's a phenomenal speaker and will impact your mental game!

Then it was time to check in my bike (mandatory bike check-in is always the day before). After this, I felt like I had walked 10 miles and I was tired and ready for a quiet dinner and early night.

Saturday: Olympic race

Race morning the nerves kicked in a bit. The day was here! I had a chance to watch some of the first waves of swimmers and it always amazes me that there are a few stragglers in each wave who really struggle to swim, I mean REALLY struggle. I don't get it considering we all had to qualify for this race. I wonder if they are injured or qualified in a pool swim race or what. Who knows, but it's hard to watch as they backstroke off course into rocks, or make almost no forward progress.

As for my swim, the best way to describe it would be "sardines." It was packed out there with 150+ in my wave. But it felt like a strong, smart, in-the-moment swim and much to my surprise I powered out of the water with great energy, passing several women on the run up to T1.

I wore two caps both days with goggles over the first, under the second.
It's a little warmer and more secure.

The bike went fine and once I got going and passed a few women in my age group, I really didn't see any other 45-49'ers anywhere near me. I always know the fast swimmers are ahead so all I can do is put my head down on the bike and get to work. I used my power meter to keep me honest (am I really working hard, or just thinking I am?) and did a little leap-frog with one guy (he'd pass me down the hills, I'd pass him up!)

Given where my run is currently (as opposed to where I'd like it to be), my plan was to run a 7:20-7:30 opening mile -- and it ended up a 7:24. The next goal was to go by feel and not dig myself into a hole the first half. I ended up running fairly steady: 7:23, 7:26, 7:34, 7:20, 7:28. I stayed positive, even though I did have a few women in my age group and some 50-54's blow past me as if I was off on a stroll.

After the race I went to the results tent for a printout, having no idea where I finished. I was extremely pleased to see I was 14th in my age group and with age-outs and age-ups for Worlds 2016, I secured a spot on Team USA in Cozumel. (results here

Someone else who should be pleased with their race would be Barrett Lehardy of Roanoke, Virginia (our closest city) who WON the whole race, like first of everyone, in 1:51:17. Amazing and cool to think he's from my neck of the woods!

Post-race I walked back for a shower and lunch before returning to the venue to pick up the bike. I had to swap all the numbers and remove my temporary number tattoos for the new ones the next day. 

HINT: to remove the number tattoos, apply packing tape over top and rip off like a bandaid! It will remove most of the tattoo and the rest can be pretty easily rubbed off. I read this somewhere recently, I forget where, but it does work!

HINT: don't keep those number tattoos on beyond race day, or beyond your first opportunity to shower. At least try to remove them. We know you are a triathlete. Awesome. Move along with life, the race is over.

A few hours later, it was time to take the bike back again to check it in for the next day's sprint. (This is why it's important to have a hotel close to the race site - you will make a bazillion trips back and forth.)

I took this rare opportunity to bike in flip flops, regular street clothes,
and the aero helmet. Good times!

Sunday: Sprint race

My nephew Evan drove from his home west of Chicago to watch the race. He's done a number of triathlons up through Ironman so it was great to have him there!

We swam under the pedestrian bridge in the middle so you can't see the back half of the course.

This swim was much less sardine-like and I could do more actual racing. I passed a number of people, particularly in the final 1/3. Even though I am not a top swimmer, I am just having more and more fun with the swim as you can see in the photo below.

The sprint bike was trickier because I was bunched up with a few other competitors and had to ride carefully to avoid drafting. The Nationals races are heavily patrolled with officials looking for illegal drafting. Once you are in someone's draft zone, within 3 bike lengths, you HAVE to pass and have to do so within 15 seconds. I saw two girls drafting one another, perhaps unwittingly, but one did get a 2 minute drafting penalty that moved me up a spot.

We dropped one girl, but then I got stuck behind the other (I guess the one who got the penalty), feeling throttled back, but not sure if I had enough "gas to pass" (haha funny). After sufficient frustration accumulated, I hit the accelerator and made the pass on an uphill and I stayed ahead until she passed me back in the final 500m. But then she dismounted way too early and I cruised past her, throwing my leg over the saddle and hitting the brakes within a foot of the line, carrying that momentum into T2. It's all part of the fun of racing!

I did the 5K run by feel and it came out to a 7:03 pace, with splits of 7:05, 6:58, 7:03. Again, pretty even. I just thought about keeping good flow and form, staying relaxed but fast, and being happy. I guess it worked well enough as I finished 6th - one off the top-5 podium, 17 seconds away (darn it!) (results here).

That placing was sufficient for a Team USA spot for the sprint which will be draft-legal in 2016 so in all likelihood I will pass on that one. It requires a different bike (road, not tri) and probably a much lower deductible on the medical insurance, just saying.


Like last year, after I packed the bike up for its BikeFlights return trip, I rented a Bublr commuter bike that they have all around the city and rode the lake front path. It's such a fun way to decompress and enjoy the area. I've really enjoyed Milwaukee but will look forward to new adventures as the race moves to Omaha Nebraska for 2016.

Thank you to Coach Jim of One-on-One Endurance! I could not do this without his guidance, encouragement, and perspective. It's such a gift not to have to do all the hard thinking, organizing, and analyzing he does, but to just get out there and swim, bike, and run! When I toe the line of a race, I do so with full confidence knowing he has prepared me well!

I am also extremely grateful to Solar Connexion and Bryan Walsh for supporting my racing and the local tri community through kit sponsorships and race volunteering. I, in turn, appreciate my role as "solar advocate."

Last but not least thank you to my family, including my master triathlon statistician husband, and very tolerant children, who got their mom back just in time for school to start tomorrow. Thanks mom and dad for cheering and watching (dad, I did get you a shirt!), and to my nephew Evan for coming to see me!

Five weeks from tomorrow I'll be heading to Chicago for the ITU Grand Final. It's hard to believe.