Age Group Nationals

Let me say this: Milwaukee is an awesome city!  Mandy and I were pleasantly surprised. Mandy commented all weekend how nice everyone was (hotel staff, restaurant staff, race volunteers, etc).  I’m sure there were some complaints from the locals with thousands of triathletes riding very expensive bikes on the city roads with funny looking helmets.  But overall, everyone was very welcoming.  Our hotel was 5 or 6 blocks away from the race site and there were plenty of restaurants all within walking distance from our hotel.  I didn’t have one bad meal while I was there.

This past weekend I raced USAT Age Group Nationals – Olympic Distance (0.9 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike, 6.2 mile run) in Milwaukee, WI.  To say the race was a success, is an understatement.  This race has been my key race all year and I really wanted to make a statement against some of the top amateur triathletes in the country at one of the biggest Olympic distance races in the country.  After racing a 2:04 at St Anthony’s in 2012, I really wanted to break the 2 hr barrier.  With a big break through in my biking earlier this year, and finally running consistently without injury, I knew this season would be my best yet. Unfortunately, all my Olympic distance races this year have had shortened swims which set up Nationals to be the perfect place to achieve this mark.

Race week started out pretty rough.  After Loggerhead, I was having some pretty bad stomach pains for a few days.  My mind was all over the place for those couple days after Loggerhead. I’ve had stomach issues after races before but they usually only lasted for the rest of the day and I was feeling normal by the next. Why was a sprint race, that only took an hour, causing me all kinds of issues?  Did I push myself that hard during the race?  Was I going to be recovered by Saturday to race?  Fortunately, I started to feel better on Tuesday and things were back to normal.

With the race on a Saturday, Mandy and I decided to fly out Thursday morning in order to have plenty of time to get situated in Milwaukee, put the bike together, familiarize myself with the course, and just relax. Upon getting to PBI, the Delta agents immediately asked me if my Aerus Biospeed bike case had a bike in it. This is one of the few bike cases that doesn’t scream “bike”.  This has helped bypass the airline bike fees before but the Delta agents at PBI have apparently been trained pretty well as this is the 2nd time I’ve flown Delta out of PBI with a bike, and I got stuck paying their outrageous bike fee ($150) both times.  We and the bike made it to Milwaukee with no issues but upon building the bike back up, I stripped one of the screws where my stem fastens to the fork (yes, I even had a torque wrench with me and I didn’t go over the max torque setting).  I took the bike over to bike support at the expo and fortunately they were able to take care of me.  They had to re-tap the the threads and put in a larger screw in order for the screw to engage.  Looks like I may need a new fork as a long term solution (not sure if  I can get one from Trek or not) but needless to say, a trip to Tri Running Sports & Cycle is in the works.  Later on Thursday, I picked up my packet, talked with some vendors at the expo (I really want a computrainer now), and got a quick ride in on the first part of the bike course.

(I stumbled upon this thread on Slowtwitch and now I’m searching for a hard case to travel with my bike. There are just too many risks you take with using a soft case.  Anyone have any suggestions on a hard case?)

Friday was pretty low key with a quick run, bike, and swim in the morning to get the blood flowing. We then drove the bike course to get a feel of what I was up against and eventually dropped off my bike at transition.  We had dinner at Ryan Braun’s Graffito restaurant, where I had what has become my pre-race ritual (out of superstition and it doesn’t seem to cause me any issues), chicken parmesan. Very good food there and a great view of the water if you sit outside.

The course was very straight forward.  We swam in Lake Michigan but we were protected from the “chop” of the lake.  The swim course was narrow and I thought this would cause problems with all the waves going off but fortunately it wasn’t an issue.  Swim exit was interesting as there was a very steep ramp out of the water with volunteers helping you get out. No matter how strong of a swimmer you were, you needed the volunteer to help you out and up the ramp.  I think there was some misconception on the bike course as someone called it flat as a pancake.  It is not flat as a pancake.  I train daily on terrain that is flat as a pancake and this course is not that.  I would define the course as “wavy” more than anything. There are 3 small climbs on the course.  One is right at the beginning, and the other two are the bridge you go across twice on the highway.  The course has two 180 deg turnaround’s and is relatively flat.  The run is flat and fast…. plain and simple.   If you are thinking about racing next year, I highly recommend it.  It’s a great city and a great course.

With my wave not going off until 9:08 AM Saturday (11th wave to go off), I got to “sleep in” to 5:45 AM.  I got a quick shower, Mandy put on my race tattoo’s (thank goodness she knew what she was doing), and I got in my usual 2 packets of maple and brown sugar oatmeal and a banana for breakfast.  Transition closed at 7:30 AM, so my goal was to get to transition by 7 AM to get everything set up.  We were told at packet pickup that no bags were allowed in transition and no items were allowed to be left in transition after it closed unless it was apart of your race equipment.  Essentially, only your bike, cycling and running shoes, helmet, race belt, sunglasses, and nutrition were allowed to remain in transition.  I really liked that USAT did this as it kept the clutter in transition to a minimum and prevents people from bringing their whole kitchen (including the kitchen sink) into transition.  I got everything set up and headed to the swim course to find some shade and watch the first couple waves on the course.  With the down time, I made sure I was staying hydrated and got in a few more calories before my wave went off.  
SWIM (18:27, 3rd AG, 8th Overall)
Being Nationals and all, I knew there would be some fast swimmers here.  So my goal was to get out at the front and use each other to get a gap on the rest of the field.  The gun went off and I got a good jump and got to the front with 3 other guys with several others clawing at my legs and feet.  Two of the guys took charge, the other hopped on their feet, and I decided to draft off him. The four of us swam together all the way to turnaround where we were greeted with the wave before us (W35-39 that went 10 min before us). At this point, my right goggle had started to leak and it was hard sighting buoys and making sure I was still with the guys in front while dodging all the women in the wave ahead of us.  At some point, I lost the two guys in front but still could make out the 3rd guy who was just only a little ahead of me.  I luckily took a great angle into the final turn buoy and was somehow able to beat the guy in front of me to the swim exit.  The race volunteers pulled me out of the water onto the steep exit ramp and I made my way to transition.  Mandy and Rudy Robaina both yelled I was 3rd out of the water and only 20-30 secs back.  
BIKE (*PR 57:41, 8th AG, 29th Overall)
I beat one of the lead swimmers out of  T1 onto the bike (I think he had issues finding his bike as Mandy took video of me in transition and you can see him running around in the wrong direction looking for his bike).  At the time, I had no idea I had beat him out of T1 so I got on the bike quickly and began hunting for the guys in front.  As I approached the first turnaround (~3 miles in), I looked for anyone who could be in my age group.  Since there were a lot of people on the course, it was hard to determine age.  At this point, I just assumed I was in 2nd and focused on riding my race (I guessed right).  I made sure to stay in aero and in the big chain ring on the 3 small hills as the climbs weren’t that bad and there was no reason to waste energy getting out of the saddle to hammer the hills.  At mile 11, I was passed by Colin Riley (overall race winner) and I told myself to stay with him.  I hung with him for 2 miles while maintaining a legal distance behind him (3 bike lengths) but in retrospect, it was probably too far back of him.  I was too worried about getting a penalty that I let way more than 3 bike lengths between us and the distance eventually got bigger and bigger and he rode off out of sight.  He did have the fastest bike split in the race so I don’t feel as bad now that he got away. Another rider passed me at mile 17, and this time I made sure to stay with him and keep him in sight.  He got a decent gap as we got back on the highway but I was still able to see him up ahead all the way into T2.  My bike was good… not great, but not terrible.  I really think I had a 56 min bike in me had I stayed closer to those guys but who knows what would have happened on the run.  I entered into T2 in 4th place knowing very well I needed a good run to hold on to that spot with some very fast runners coming behind me.
RUN (*PR 38:26, 35th AG, 144th Overall)
I took off on the run with the goal of running 6-6:10 pace if things were clicking.  First mile: 6:10…. perfect. At this point, I knew I was going to break 2 hrs but wasn’t sure by how much.  At the first turnaround, I noticed I was catching the guy in 3rd and this gave me tons of confidence.  I don’t know what happened next (or if it was just a slight tailwind) but I got a huge burst of energy and surged past him into 3rd place at mile 1.5.  I ran in 3rd all the way to the second turnaround at mile 4 where I found another racer in an older age group.  As I passed him just before the turnaround, he decided to go with me and I’m thankful he did.  We ran stride for stride the last 2 plus miles and he really kept me from fading off pace.  At mile 4.5, someone in my age group zoomed past us like we were standing still.  I had no chance at matching his pace as he went on to run a 33 min 10K and the 3rd fastest run of the day.  Knowing top 5 in my group gets an award, I was determined to not get pushed off the podium within the last mile.  I was able to hold off a bunch of charging runners behind me and cross the finish line in 4th.  
OVERALL – 1:57:29 *PR, 4th AG, 18th Overall
I’m still pretty shocked with the result but if I go back and look at all my training, there really isn’t any surprises considering what I’ve been able to do in training.  I’ve had 2, maybe 3 bad workouts (all bike workouts) since April.  My running has been more consistent than ever after figuring out how to stay injury free (knock on wood).  Going into the race, I thought I had a shot at top 10 in my age group if I went under 2 hours……It’s an awesome feeling when you exceed your own expectations. My first Olympic distance race was over two years ago where I did a 2:28 (results) when I was first getting into triathlon.  Given the course was hilly, I was on a road bike, and I was about 20-25 lbs heavier, it’s amazing how far I’ve come.  
Having placed 4th in my AG, I qualified to race at Age Group World Championships for team USA in Edmonton, Canada in 2014.  I have some time to decide if I want to go, so we’ll see what happens the rest of the season.  I have some other races I would like to do and qualify for but for right now, I’m going to kick back, relax, eat whatever I want, and enjoy an easy week of no structured training.   
Thanks to everyone who followed along during the race and for all the phone calls, texts, tweets, facebook posts, etc.  
More to come on what’s next….

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