Wednesday, May 26, 2021

USA Triathlon Age Group Olympic-Distance National Championships Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 15; 3rd Edition 
1900 yards swum, 38 miles biked and 22.3 miles raced in 2020 races
Race: USA Triathlon Age Group Olympic-Distance National Championships
Place: Fort Worth, TX
Miles from home: 200
Weather: 75 degrees; 100% humidity

I have standing rule: if a national championship race is held somewhere near me, and I am free, I will race that race, regardless of how unprepared I am for it. It led me to taking part in the US Mountain Running Championships six years ago when I was woefully unprepared for a trail race three times up a mountain. It pushed me to take on newish territory at both the Duathlon Championships in 2013 and the Aquathlon National Championship in 2009 in North Carolina (which actually wasn't close to me at all) and just up the road in Austin in 2017, just two months after I was attacked by two guys who fractured my face and broke my thumb. My theory is that triathlon and its permutations as well as some running events offer the opportunity to take part in National Championship races for us mortals and passing it up would be silly. In fact, my current 50km PR is at the 50K Road Championship Race where I was the tenth fastest 50km runner in the nation that day. Sure, I knew that there were oodles of runners who could beat me but only 9 of them showed up. To finish top ten in the nation in something is a proud moment I know can never be taken away from me.

So when I saw that there was this triathlon three hours away in Fort Worth a few days after me jumping into a local tri in Austin that would allow me to compete against top triathletes in the nation, I decided to sign up. I threw myself into a crash course trying to get into shape by doing a triathlon workout five days in a row two weeks before the race. Considering from June 1 2019 to the triathlon I did on April 25th of this year I had ridden my bike a grand total of twice, this was an epic amount of cycling for me. I am not going to get too deep in the weeds here about cycling but it is not my favorite sport. I just don't like relying on a machine first and foremost and I really loathe relying on one that people who pour more money into can have a better product. I will try to keep the extent of my comments on cycling to that.

I spent ten days before this triathlon visiting my mother in my hometown and as always the case when I go home, for some reason, I have trouble breathing for the first few days. I felt like that set me back a bit but you do what you have to do. By the time I returned I just had a few days  to get back ready for this race. I was pleased with the effort I had put in and hoped to finish in the top three of my age group. A podium finish in a national championship race would be a nice feather in my cap.

Race Morning:

A 5 a.m. wakeup call awaited me to be ready to race at 7 a.m.  Ooof.  God bless you early morning risers, but I am not one of you. Loading up my bike to take it to the start of the race, I was happy the deluge of rain from the previous day seemed to have abated but it was clear we were going to have a fully-saturated, 100% humidity day.

Arriving at the parking lot I got into a line of about 50 other athletes waiting to get body marked and/or pick up our timing chip. Pickings were slim for bike placement in the transition, but I found what I considered to be a not-so-bad spot to place all my gear. A longish line to the bathroom awaited and before much longer it was time to head down to the water to get ready for our swim.

I have only done like 15 triathlons in my life. Some people finish that many by May of each year. But the one thing that has been constant in those races is each swim start seems to start late, seems to be a puzzle as to where exactly we go, and seems to leave most people shrugging and thinking “Well, just don’t be first and follow the wake!”  This one wasn’t much different.

Swim: 23:30 (39th out of 202)

We lined up to start by the honor system of roughly where we thought we would finish. Then one by one we would give our number to the timer, run off the edge of a dock, and dive in. This was one of the most fun swimming starts that I have done. I thoroughly enjoyed sprinting at full force and then diving into the water. I noticed I was one of only a handful of the 200+ people that was not wearing a wetsuit. The last wetsuit I had didn’t fit me properly and I haven’t purchased a new one yet. I’ve also never been bothered by the coldness of the water and in fact feel quite invigorated by it even on the odd chance I’m actually cold. (I never am.) The swim was rather uneventful with me passing a handful of swimmers and feeling like I did a fairly decent job of sighting. I definitely have a long ways to go to get back into the strong swimming shape that makes me a better natural swimmer than runner but felt pleased that I gave all that I had on this day. I was surprised to finish as slow as I did, at least according to the overall swimmers, but it put me right about where I was when I entered the water so I guess I gauged my starting position correctly.

Transition 1: 2:38 (24th out of 202)

This transition was a long one because we had to exit the reservoir and then run up a long paved steep parking lot just to get to the bikes. After we got all our bike gear together we had to run out of the transition, then run all the way around the transition paddock before making a U-turn to get on the road and start the bike. I lose a lot of time on these transitions so was doing my best to speed them up. I am more than pleased to have finished as high as I did in this one. Nearly top 10%? I’ll take it.

Bike: 1:14:10 (80th out of 202)

Because of the rain all the night before and even into this early morning I was extraordinarily wary of how wet the roads might be. Along with not being the strongest cyclist in the world I’ve had two bad bike crashes in my life that make me quite fearful of any type of turn. I was happy to see that for the most part the roads were relatively dry and also smoothly paved. I knew that this bike would be twice as long as the one I have done in my previous triathlon last month so I was simply trying to conserve my energy as we went through the first loop. I like loops because they allow to know what is coming ahead of you. I could see that the front part of this course had more uphill than the second half so that allowed me to plan accordingly.

Throughout this first loop I was playing cat and mouse with a young female cyclist who really surprised me with her athleticism. She would not be considered the thinnest of athletes or what you would normally see at the front of the pack of race and therefore it was wonderful to watch her push me and the other competitors and breaking stereotypes along the way. We passed each other numerous times on both loops as it was clear that we each excelled at different parts of the course. It was on the second loop where I really started to feel my groove and began to pass a few cyclists which was quite a surprise. That’s not normal for me. I had probably 10 to 15 cyclists pass me which, to be honest, I

thought there would be much more. A final push at the end had me passing two cyclists who had just passed me and after the dismount and the run to the transition I was ready to see what I have left in me for the run.

Transition 2: 1:30 (39th out of 202)

I was surprised during the transition when one of the cyclists ran past me like I was standing still and was quickly onto the run. As I racked my bike I decided to take a couple extra seconds to take a big swig of cold drink before heading out myself. I could tell that this run was going to be very difficult simply because of the humidity and it really got into my head knowing there was very little I could do about it. The transition wasn’t as good as the first one because of this break but it was still better than usual for me.

Run: 46:53 (45th out of 202)

I knew the run was going to be a challenge simply because it ended in the last mile with quite a steep hill that we would have to climb back up. It was also a winding and undulating course that would also raise a challenge for my already tired legs. However in the first mile I passed more than a few of the cyclists who had beat me into and out of transition and was narrowing the gap on more than a few in front of me. It was kind of hard to exactly tell who was running what race because they were a multitude of different distances in realize going on so my attitude was try to pass as many people regardless of who they might be. The footing was a little difficult in some places even on the paved trail simply because there was still lots of water running from multiple sources all over. My shoes are a little too old to be still being used for racing and the tread is not the greatest. I did a couple of slips and slides here and there as I headed towards the turnaround but didn’t pay much mind. 

As I hit the 4th mile was just a little over two miles to go I was closing in on one last runner that I thought I could make a charge at. After I passed him with a mile and a half to go I tried to put on a surge but he definitely was feeling his oats and was willing to give me a chase. Soon thereafter I went through another watery area and slipped pretty good this time. I felt a little bit of a twinge in my hamstring and almost came to a dead stop. The next few steps were ginger as I attempted to make sure that nothing was askew. The gentleman behind me was kind enough to ask me if I was OK and when I applied in the affirmative, he gave me a “Let’s Go!!” to urged me to get to the finish. I could tell I didn’t really have that much more left in me as the humidity was sapping my energy and as he wasn’t in my age group I wasn’t in the biggest of hurry to push my luck on what felt like a slightly tweaked muscle. 

As we began the steep climb to the last mile of the race I was reduced to a walk as my body just drizzled sweat from every pore. Any last gasp attempt to pass the runner in front of me, who was obviously feeling it as well considering how often he looked over his shoulder to see if I was pursuing, was for naught. I just wanted to finish strong and hopefully take a top three in my age group. Only one person in my age group had passed me during the bike so I was hoping that there would still be a chance. I pushed it hard on the last little stretch finishing a very disappointing run to the best of my abilities, crossing in 2:28:39. My overall place was 44th overall and unfortunately two spots off the podium with a fifth place finish in my age group.

While I didn’t even finish in the top third on the bike it was a huge improvement over my last triathlon which was half the distance but slower at 17 mph as opposed to 20.2 mph today. The swim was surprisingly low in terms of my placement but the Olympic distance definitely brings out the swimmers as it is the most generous in terms of percentage of the distance that is actually in the water. My time kind of bums me a bit because even if I had just had a decent run time I would have finished 3rd in my age group. Alas. 

All told it was less than I had hoped for but right in line with what I could have actually expected realistically. I will say one last time, however, that if going to continue doing this, I need to get a better bike!