Every year USA Triathlon puts on a national championship for the top amateur triathletes in the nation. I decided to do this race in part because of some peer-pressure from my friends Todd and Sam Kennedy (thanks guys). Since I had already done the collegiate national championship, I wasn’t sure why I should do this race too. However I am very thankful that I ended up doing this race because it was an even better atmosphere and experience than collegiates.
The race was held in Milwaukee, WI right outside their beautiful art museum that was located right next to Lake Michigan. The day before the race, Todd, Sam, and I (the Todd Sammich as we are often referred to) did a little practice swim and boy was it COLD (in the low 50s!) Sam would be racing the elite super-sprint race Saturday after the Olympic distance race so she got some practice in as well. As you can see from the picture, she was the toughest of the three of us going sans wetsuit. No thank you. My face was numb after 2 seconds in the water, I can’t imagine having the rest of my body exposed.
Because there were so many athletes competing, there were 17 starting waves Saturday morning. My wave didn’t start until 9:08am so race morning arrived a little later than usual (which I don’t mind at all!) I woke up and ate my normal cinnamon raisin bagel with honey, maple brown sugar oatmeal, banana and beet juice (yummm!). Then dad and I drove into the race site and I set up my transition area. After I had everything set and ready to go, I just tried to relax and watch the early waves go off. With about an hour to go before my race, I drank a Red Bull Zero. Research has shown that caffeine ingestion about an hour prior to endurance competition significantly improves performance. Since I’m not a coffee drinker (and I want to be just like Jesse Thomas) I drink my Red Bull. Finally race time rolled around and after hugging dad and him telling me to “Take luck!” I was off to the water.
Swim: Lake Michigan is still FRIGID this time of year
I jumped in the water with Eric Abbott and Todd Kennedy and the water was still REALLY cold! I think water temps were in the 50s...BRRR! I lined up to the far left, just to the right of Todd. I wanted to stay out of the middle to avoid some of the washing machine effect and I wanted to be able to get on Todd's feet and draft. The horn sounded and we were off. Being out of the middle really alleviated the bodies around me and I was able to find Todd's feet without much difficulty. I was with him for the first couple hundred yards, but I noticed that I kept drifting to the right. Every time I looked up to make sure I was on the right track, I wasn't! For some reason I just kept drifting right no matter how much I focused on staying straight. This caused me to lose contact with not only Todd, but just about everybody else. You can see from the map just how crooked I was going. I found myself swimming alone which is never what you want to be doing. I just tried to keep a good pace and get out of the water as quick as possible. As I came out of the water and was running through transition, I heard dad yell out that I was in 17th. Not too bad for having what I thought was a bad swim I guess!
Swim time- 20:11.2
Swim pace- 1:13/100y
Swim place- 85th overall; 17th age group
Bike: Ride hard and try not to get passed
As I was heading out on the bike, Jeff Nordquist, who finished second at the Grand Rapids Tri, was close behind me. It was only a matter of time before he caught and passed me, but I just tried to ride hard. It was hard to keep track of what place I was in because there were so many athletes on the course from previous waves and other age groups. I passed a lot of people, but couldn't really tell who was in my age group. I was riding so hard that on one of the turns I came in a little too fast and swerved in between the cones dividing the road. I was lucky there was no one coming the other way because there would have been a big time wipe out. I was still waiting for Jeff to pass me at the second turnaround, but could see that I still had a little gap on him. I was also waiting for anybody else to pass me. I hadn't been passed at all on the bike and I know there are some really strong cyclists in my age group. It wasn't until the last 2 miles that 2 guys finally passed me. The last two miles were pretty eventful actually. At one point I heard a loud BANG! that sounded like a tire had popped. I looked down and took inventory of my bike and I was okay. I hoped it wasn't another athlete and that it might have just been the construction workers using a nail gun or something. Shortly after this happened, I ran over something extremely hard. It kicked up from my wheel and hit me in the leg! I didn't see it in the road and thought it might have fallen off my bike, but after taking inventory again I (and more importantly my bike) was good to go. Into T2 I passed both the guys who had passed me on the bike so I knew I at least held my position.
Bike time- 58:09.2
Bike speed- 25.6 mph
Bike place- 46th overall; 15th age group
Run: Go all out and DON'T get passed
Coming off the bike and into T2 there were only a few bikes racked in my age group. This kind of took me by surprise and I just stared at all the empty spaces as I ran by. Well I lost focus and ran right by my spot so I had to backtrack about 10 places. I got back to my spot and Jeff was coming in right behind me. I had held him off on the bike, but I wasn't so sure I could do it on the run too. I grabbed my race belt, a PowerBar gel, slipped on my shoes, and was off to the races. It's always a goal of mine to not get passed on the run, but in a national championship that can be tough. I wasn't really aware of how fast I was going, I was just trying to feather the red-line the whole time. I could tell I was going faster than normal though because I was cruising passed the other waves and Jeff still hadn't caught me. At the 1 mile mark my watch beeped and showed a time of 5:18. I thought, "Uh oh. I could be in trouble. This is way too fast. But I still feel good so I'm just going to roll with it!" At the nearest turnaround point, I had built up a little gap on Jeff and just tried to keep pushing. He called out words of encouragement to me, but I couldn't even acknowledge him let alone reciprocate the good feelings because I was working so hard. Todd's wife Sam was out on the course cheering us on and as I passed her I thought she told me I had 7 guys ahead of me.
I saw the leaders of my wave come cruising by as I was approaching the far turnaround point. They had built up a substantial lead and I knew I wasn't going to catch them. There were a couple others I saw that were within striking distance so I tried to chase them down one-by-one. Just before the far turnaround, I caught one in my age group.
I saw Jeff at the turnaround and again he had words of encouragement for me, but all I could do was steel myself for the remaining miles. I promise I wasn't ignoring you Jeff, I was just in a lot of pain. I appreciate the encouragement though! Shortly after the turnaround I caught another guy in my wave; 1 more. I knew I would have to do some work to catch this guy because he had a sizeable gap on me before the turnaround. Once I got him in my sights I almost started pushing too hard to catch him. I was starting to drift on the wrong side of the red line and my right quad was on the verge of cramping. I feathered it back just a touch and told myself I still had time to catch him. Between 1 and 2 miles to go I came up on him as we were going through an aid station. I was going to grab a water, but saw that he was going for one and decided against it. Instead I put in a surge as he was grabbing the water and tried to drop him while he drank. I pushed hard for the last 1.2 miles and sprinted down the finishing chute. Luckily I was able to hold off the guy I had passed at the aid station. Top 5! (Or so I thought at the time). It turns out that when I thought Sam told me there were 7 ahead of me, she actually said I was in 7th making me 4th in my age group not 5th. My run split of 33:29.8 also turned out to be the fastest run split of the day...out of everybody! That's probably the coolest part of the whole experience for me. Out of thousands of the best triathletes in the nation, I had the fastest run...too cool!
Run time- 33:29.8
Run pace- 5:23/mile
Run place- 1st overall (!!!); 1st age group
After crossing the finish line I found my dad and gave him a giant hug! I was just so happy having him there to see me have such a good race. My friends from CMU, Nick and Sicilia (and their boy Sammy!), showed up to watch me race too. Nick is working on his PhD at UW-Milwaukee right down the road and they even baked me cookies and brownies! My friends know me so well :)
Finish time- 1:54:52.5
Finish place- 8th overall; 4th age group
My triathlete friends all had really great races as well. Todd set a new PR for the run, Sam (who raced the elite super sprint because she’s awesome!) cut 1.5 minutes off her time from last year (which is crazy in a race that lasts less than 40 minutes), Jeff finished 6th in our age group and 11th overall, Eric had a top 10 swim in our age group and a solid bike before having to drop out because of a foot injury, Louis Cayedito from U of M finished 6th overall and 1st in his age group (national champ!), and my MSU Tri teammates Elaine Sheikh and Jess Ball both had awesome races (Elaine finished 4th in her age group and Jess dropped 6 minutes off last year’s race time!) It was a fantastic day of racing, spectating, and catching up with all my super-fit friends.
Dad and I were planning to go to a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game after the race, but because I finished so high we went to the awards banquet instead. It was amazing to see all the amazing athletes who competed, both young and old. I got to stand up in front of everyone and receive my 4th place age-group medal. I should note that the top 3 in my age-group were also the top 3 overall!
Because I finished as one of the nation’s top athletes in my age-group, I qualified for the world championships in 2016. Where are the world championships you might ask? Unfortunately they are in a really gloomy part of the world...Cozumel, Mexico! Sorry it’s hard to convey sarcasm through text. Doesn’t this just look like an awful place to be for a race? :)
The world championship race will be in September of 2016 so right at the beginning of the school year. I’m hoping I can sort everything out and it won’t be too much of a problem for me to miss a week or so of teaching. I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am for the opportunity to race for team USA against some of the best amateur triathletes in the world!
Thanks as always to my family and friends for all the love, support, phone calls, texts, happy (and fast) thoughts, and prayers. I couldn’t do it without you all in my corner. Thanks to the guys at Biekworks in Dewitt, Tyler and Austin, for getting my bike in and tuned up with such short notice before the race. Thanks to my massage therapist, Lynika, for getting my legs ready to go (even if I was screaming in pain during our last session before the race!) Also a huge thank you to my coach, Barb Lindquist. Even though we’ve only been working together a short time, she has already whipped me into the best shape of my life. Everything just came together in this race and I had my fastest swim split by 20 seconds, 2nd fastest bike split (missing my fastest by 2 seconds), and my fastest run split by 12 seconds. There are definitely times when I don’t think I can handle some of the workouts she gives me, but clearly they are paying off. Finally, thanks to the hotel I stayed at for putting out these mini-cinnamon rolls just for me the morning after the race (at least I’m assuming they were just for me because I ate so many of them!)
And thanks to YOU for reading! I know these can be kind of long, but I like to be detail oriented so you can feel like you were there :)