On August 10, 2013 I participated in Nationals for the Olympic distance. The event was held in Milwaukee, WI. This was a race my coach, Mary, wanted me to go to so I could experience a whole other level of racing. To get there you do have to qualify (qualification rules are here but basically you have to place in the top 3 of your age group on a USAT certified triathlon).
So I went. Many people reflected that this is a long way to go for an experience and to race “just an Olympic”. I can’t argue with them on that point but I will say I had a terrific time, learned tons (which I list at the end), was among some kick ass athletes (not that I hang out with slouches!), and had fun.
I always get nervous before a race. I do a run before and it calms me down. It prevents a freak out or inability to handle a sudden spike in heart rate when I take off on the swim. I did this run after setting up transition but about 6 am. This was about 3 hours before I started, but the timing doesn’t matter. It primes my body and mind. It settles me down and I feel ready to race.
Another big help is talking with someone. I randomly sat next to a woman in my age group (#1819). We chatted. She lived in Chicago and was glad Nationals were in Milwaukee. Soon Carlos And my parents showed up and the five of us just chatted. Miriam talked about her family, that she swam as a young woman (I knew right then she was fast..and her final time was great, and she qualified for Worlds), and just friendly chatter. These may not affect others, but to me they mean the world. I love getting out of my world/nerves and hearing about someone else’s experience.
Just because it isn’t a mass start or as many people in the water as in ironman doesn’t mean the swim won’t be aggressive. This was my worst swim in a while (not horrible but not my usual either). I didn’t go ready to swim hard. I guess I have gotten lulled in to a confidence, ready to swim, but not hard enough. At Nationals I would get hit and slow, swing out and carry on. Not until the last 600 meters or so did I start enjoying the swim. This is unusual for me. Apparently I have been spoiled with my recent swims (except IMCdA). Lesson learned: go in ready to swim hard and pass people; not back off and be passed. I can’t let other people’s aggressiveness make me back off or give me pause. It’s a part of the sport. you aren’t there to hurt someone or be mean, but you do have to be ready for some jostling and jockeying for position….or get left behind.
The swim exit was a run up a steep ramp. There were many volunteers to help you along the way.
As I ran along the flat I removed my swim cap and goggles (tried to do this in the wrong order at first….doh!), took out my earplugs, unzipped my suit, took my arms out (I had purposely chosen my sleeveless as my sleeved just seems to take longer and longer to get out of with each race. What is that about?), and hauled butt to my bike.
The earplugs prevent any disorientation I tend to feel after swimming in even mildly cold water. And given all I do while running, and I am getting set to hop on my bike, I really want to avoid being disoriented. I still took too long getting my wet suit off my legs. I may need to practice this a few times for future races. I had a few great goes at removing it quickly and now it just isn’t happening. Thought are welcome on this topic!
I un-racked my bike (the racks were very High and stable so I had no issues at getting my bike out from under the rack. Yes!) and ran towards bike out.
I started off strong. Every time I looked down my watts were over 200. But I felt good, thought about it briefly and decided i am string enough, I will still have a strong run, and kept on. A few women passed me and I figured they would pay for it later or were just strong athletes and deserved to pass me since I was over 200 watts on my bike.
The course has a short out and back headed north, and then a long one headed south. The hills are easy. The longest hill is the entrance ramp up to and actually going over the highway bridge.
I played back and forth with one woman for probably 10 miles in the middle. I hated being behind her as she wandered on the road, and passed her three times or so. Finally she didn’t answer back at about mile 18, and I didn’t back off my effort.
I think the squirrels were informed of the event and had decided it would be fun to play chicken with all the cyclists. I had 2 go in front of me at different times. Neither caused me to brake, but one time a male age grouper was about even and passing me and he almost did run down the squirrel!
As I came back I wondered how descending the bridge ramp would go. It was fine (and fun).
At no time did the bike course feel crowded. It was perhaps one of the most wide open courses I have ridden. I loved it. USAT said that the kind of had the wave starts down to a science, and I see what they meant. I mean there were 3,500 registered participants and probably over 3,200 raced…and the bike and run never felt congested. I couldn’t help but wish I could be so lucky at Augusta this coming September, but given that is a half iron distance, they can’t put so much time between waves.
Anyway, soon I was coming in, got my feet out of my shoes, dismounted at the line, and ran in to transition. I felt good and was ready to run!
T2 was faster than T1 (it had better be since I had no wet suit!) but could still be faster. I didn’t think, just did: shoes, gel flask, visor, done. I heard (and then saw) Carlos
and my parents as I exited. I smiled as i ran out.
For the run I kept thinking “quick feet” not wanting to take long strides. I know the time I wanted…and now it was time to see if my belief in my strength, training and nutrition was founded. i passed a woman in my age group and said she was looking good. she told me to go for it. i said it’s your turn to have a rabbit. i never saw her again. Shortly there after, a little after mile 2 a woman in my age group passed me. She never got more more than 30 yards ahead of me, but I couldn’t catch her either. She was my rabbit! another woman in our age group passed about mile 5. I sped up, as did the other woman ahead of me. It was my fastest mile (but the same time as mile 2), After my slowest mile. apparently there was some motivation! Throughout the run i slowed to grab water and took occasional sips from my gel flask tucked in my jersey pocket. nothing huge.
At the last 0.2 miles were my fastest. I asked and my body said “Yes”. I came down the chute running hard and smiling. I may have not been near the front but I raced strong for me with a new 10k PR.
Carlos and my parents quickly found me. We waited and soon found Kathleen, but we still had to wait some to get our bikes out of transition. They had spaced us out such that people were still coming in off the ride. While I was leaving transition with my bike later I think I saw one poor guy trying to get out to go on his run. I heard “the victim of a late wave start.” I hope not. It was a mass of humanity with everyone, their gear and their bikes trying to get out. Luckily the weather was terrific and there was cloud cover so even the late wave starts weren’t battling extreme heat.
This race was a learning experience. I was among the best. My coach had put a finishing time of 2:26:30 for me. I finished in 2:28:05 total time. Not too bad, but I know I will improve.
And so here are some lessons learned
1) when I swim, I need to be ready to swim aggressively. From the start I can’t back off or I will lose too much time. There is only one way to get in front. And there is a difference between swimming smart and strong (aggressive) and reckless. My goal is the former and not the latter.
2) My bike is not as weak as I had given to believe. I looked at this race (which, although not really hilly, also wasn’t flat) and compared it to my last 3 Olympic distance races. My power output for this race was over 40 watts more than any previous race! And I still ran a 10k PR. yes, my bike I still believe needs special attention and lots of work. But it also isn’t as bad as I was letting myself believe, and I can ride strong.
3) My bike also proved, as I stated in my IMCdA race report, how important the mental state and belief you can attain a goal pace is in a race. This race I went in believing I could be strong in all three events.
4) I more comfortable with a race effort. My goal is no longer to finish, but to win. OK – at Nationals it wasn’t even close to win, but this is a developing mind set for me. I am out to race and do the best I can for a race. I am starting to find that line. I haven’t crossed it yet. But you only learn my doing. I am finally racing….not just me but those on the field with me. The exciting part is I can!
If you are still reading because you wanted to know how I did, you are rewarded now.
Bike: 1:09:19 (Power output was over 40 watts greater than any Olympic where I have previously recorded my power output. Given my average power zone range is ~ 30 watts, this is big to me!)
Run: 46:53 (10k PR by 1 minute 40 seconds)
Final time: 2:28:05