Last week I went across the country to Burlington, Vermont for the USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals. This was my first national championship race in triathlon and would be my last age group race before turning professional later this year.
I arrived in Burlington with my parents and my girl friend Mo on Friday. First stop was the race expo to check in and a short video interview with Endurance Films. They primarily asked about my involvement with the Collegiate Recruitment camp and my July visit to the Olympic Training Center. We then checked out the bike course, transition, and assembled my bike. I wasn’t able to start my pre-race workouts until 3 pm, which I think may have had some consequences come race time.
That evening we met one of my cousins, Mia, and her family for a delicious carbo-loading session at a local Italian restaurant. They drove up to Burlington from New York to come see me race, and I really appreciate their support. If any of you have ever watched a triathlon in person before, you know they aren’t always the most spectator friendly events. They stuck around for the whole event and even bought me a cheeseburger and beer after! They are welcome to come watch anytime 😉
Race day began at 6 am and everything went fine. I got my usual breakfast down and made it to transition without too much traffic. I had a great spot in transition near the bike and run exits, probably thanks to my seeded “1:55” time. About an hour before I was to go off I did some jogging and a few longer efforts. I made my way to the dock where the swim start was. I did a few minutes of warm up with a bungee cord to try to warm up the arms (I think I should have been more aggressive here… 10 minutes would have been better).
I took a couple of pictures with all my supporters and then jumped in the water about 5 minutes before the start. My first thought was how warm the water was. By 8:30 the air temperature had already begun to creep up. Warm air + warm water + full-sleeved wetsuit = discomfort. I strategically placed myself toward the left of the start line to have the shortest distance to the buoy and so I wouldn’t get stuck on the inside of the first right-hand turn.
113th in 21:58, 3:10 behind the fastest
I got out great the first 100 meters or so. I was keeping near the front with only a couple of guys getting ahead. As we came up on the first buoy, however, it started to get crowded. I took a solid left hook to my right eye. Fortunately the goggles stayed on and they didn’t fill with water. Still, it rattled me a bit and gave me a nice little cut in the corner of my eye.
As we rounded to buoy I was in a good rhythm. I could see the next orange turn buoy off in the distance and there was a pack of swimmers from my wave just ahead. By the time I made the turn around the final orange buoy and headed for home, I was passing people from the wave ahead. You’re having a great swim! Then came the sun in my eyes. The next buoy was yellow, and with the bright orange-yellow fiery ball in the sky, spotting a little yellow blow up floating on the water was next to impossible. I tried to look for people ahead and hope they were on course. I quickly realized that these people were from the wave ahead, and had no idea where they were going either. I took a few strokes with my head above water and finally found the bulk of the swimmers: WAY OFF TO MY RIGHT! I sprinted to get back on course. You are going to come out 6 minutes down! Game over.
Finally I made it to shore. As I came running up to transition I heard Mo yell “3 minutes PD!” Solid! I can do this! Hearing that I was only three minutes down made me feel so much better.
1:00, :16 behind the fastest
I sprinted into T1 and made my way to my bike. My helmet was knocked off my bike and onto the ground, but my glasses were still inside the helmet. I slipped off my wetsuit, picked up my helmet and sprinted out of transition. I ran passed a few people that were mounting pretty slow and had a good flying mount, keeping my momentum going forward.
10th in 58:20, 1:46 behind the fastest
Heading into the race my coach Ian wanted me to really work the bike leg. He thought that I could really go to the well on the bike and still have one of the fastest run legs. It was a pretty hilly bike course, but I thought I could average 25.5 mph on it.
Each hill I hit, I charged and really tried to crest the hill; carrying my speed up and over. I didn’t sit up on the downhills. I was working every portion of the bike legs. I flew by probably hundreds of competitors from the previous waves. I tried to notice if any of them were in my age group, but it was too hard to tell.
In the end I had the 10th best bike split of the day, hands down my best ride ever. I made a big mistake in not the effort I put out, but the amount I drank. I had a 20 oz bottle on my bike, and probably only got about two thirds of it down. Heading into transition, I could feel one of my hamstrings starting to pull. I was in for a tough run.
:51, :14 behind the fastest
I felt good running to my rack off the bike, but once I bent over to put on my running shoes, my left quad seized. Shit. I was in for a long run.
5th in 32:42, 1:21 behind the?? fastest
Straight out of transition there was a very steep, 400m long hill. My original plan was to just rev up the engine and push the hill, but after the fear of cramping set in, I tried to relax up the hill. I picked it up once I got to the top. Every time I really started to roll, my left hamstring and/or one of my quads would start to grab. I would ease up a bit, try to relax and then push again. It was a cycle that would continue throughout the rest of the run.
After a couple of miles I found a guy in my age group that was running pretty well. I passed him around the 3 mile mark, but I didn’t drop him. I could hear him running just behind me for about a mile. By this point the heat was pretty oppressive, so I was grabbing water at every aid station. I grabbed a cup at about the 3.5 mile mark, and just as I did that, one of my quads locked up. My shadow made a move that I couldn’t respond to, and he got away. The rest of the way I was in survival mode, just trying to keep it as quick as I could without cramping up.
After the race I learned the guy I was battling with was Daniel Hedgecock. He also was a Division 1 runner with a 14:09 5 PR. I didn’t feel so bad about getting dropped after that. I have to realize that I can’t just rely on my run always being there and there are going to be races where I’m not the fastest runner out there.
When I first heard the results I was pretty bummed I didn’t make it onto the podium. I really wanted to win the race. After some talking with my parents and Mo, I realized that this was my first national level triathlon and I finished within the top-5, just 42 seconds off of 2nd place. I gave it my all, and where I fell short fell largely in the realm of experience. If I had done a hot, humid race before… If I had traveled across the country for a triathlon before… If I was able to see that yellow buoy…
So I went in a little ignorant and I fell a bit short. Not so bad. Now I am onto bigger and better things. More on that to come.