Triathlon, Racing

2017 USA Triathlon National Championships

Back in Omaha for the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. This triathlon season has been anything but smooth. If you missed what’s happened so far, take a look back at my GR Triathlon and Tri del Sol races. Then, take a look at my post on being consistent. If you want the shortened version, I was 5 and 7 minutes slower than I was last year at those races. Part of the reason I think I've been slower is that I’ve been traveling a lot working with a sports nutrition company and been unable to get any solid training or resting in. The other part? Keep reading and you’ll find out 😉

Before I get into the race, though, I have to talk about Monday. This is not how I wanted the week leading up to the race to start off. My parents called me sometime over the weekend and told me that our dog, Latte (aka big dog because she was a Rottweiler German Shepard mix), wasn’t doing well; we were going to have to let her go. So, I made the trip home to be with her that last day. It was really special: we got ice cream, snuggled, and I even got some kisses. It was bittersweet because I was happy that I got to be there for her, but heartbroken because now she’s gone. I was there with her until the end (and so were my parents and my other “brother”, Jake), so she knew that we all loved her and it was okay to go. It was simultaneously one of the best and worst experiences of my life. Even writing this now, I’m just thinking how I won’t ever get any more big dog snuggles. She was so soft and had the best squishy face. I’m really going to miss her. But I decided that I was going to race for her on Saturday and that even though I’ve had some subpar races so far, this one was going to be good no matter what. Love and miss you already, big dog.

Okay, now onto the race stuff. If you want the highlights, just scroll to the bottom. Otherwise, read on and enjoy!

SWIMSKIN

From Triathlete Magazine “…a smaller, thinner, non-buoyant replacement for a wesuit that is worn over a race kit when the water is too warm for a wetsuit…It enhances speed through the water…by compressing the body and…provides hydrodynamics in the water…”

See the zipper on the top there? Yeah, that's not supposed to happen...

Leading up to the race, I knew it probably wasn’t going to be wetsuit legal because the water was too warm. So, I borrowed a Roka swimskin from my Every Man Jack (EMJ) teammate, Ernie Mantell. He wasn’t racing because he went double-full send and got a stress fractur in his femur (and that is NOT easy to do!) I went to the pool on Monday to try it out and the zipper broke clean off. Crap. I tried fixing it myself; watched YouTube videos; read articles on how to fix broken zippers; nothing worked. Thankfully, I was still at my parent’s house and I was able to have our friend, Mrs. Amy Bordano, come to the rescue and install an entirely new zipper. Coming through in the clutch, Mrs. B!

Unfortunately, that would not be my last run in with the swimskin. Friday (the day before the race), I was about to jump into the water for swim practice and it broke AGAIN! Cue freak out. I ran to the Roka tent that was set up at the expo and they hooked me up with a brand-new swimskin for the race. These guys are awesome! Shameless sponsor plug, but Roka rocks and you should buy their stuff 😎 

 

DISSERTATING

Another task on hand for me this weekend was to recruit participants for my dissertation. I’m looking at different factors that are associated with success in triathlon that are measured by multisport watches. And what better place to do that than at the USA Triathlon National Championships?! I brought 150 fliers with me, so I had some work to do to pass these out! So, during packet pickup on Thursday and Friday, I spent several hours begging...er...pleading with...I mean...asking people nicely to be in my study and handing out fliers. Even before the race on Saturday, I was at the venue early handing out fliers 😋 

RACE DAY

READY. SET. I’ll bet you thought, I was going to say ‘Go!’ didn’t you? 😝 

We had a 30-minute delay because traffic getting into the park was crazy. There’s only one entrance for parking and 2,000 athletes along with their family and friends. Needless to say, the process took a bit longer than expected. This meant that I wouldn’t be starting until 9:49am instead of 9:19am and it would be that much warmer when I finished. Oh well, everybody else (in my age group, anyway) had to deal with the same thing so I tried not to worry about it too much.

SWIM- 22:42 Not a washing machine, for once!

I put on my brand-new Roka swimskin and lined up on the dock next to my EMJ teammate, Kevin Denny. Last year, Kevin beat me out of the water by about 40 seconds so I thought if I could stay with him, that would be a good swim for me. The dock is only a couple feet thick so you have to hold on with your hand and can’t really push off with your legs because the dock isn’t very deep. Well, being the fun-sized person I am, I was able to scrunch myself up and get my feet on the side of the dock. So, when the horn sounded, I was able to push off and got a great start. Usually, I am not a fast starter in the water and get hammered by others’ arms while they swim over me (like being stuck in a washing machine). That wasn’t the case today and I was out front. I settled into a nice pace and tried to keep Kevin in my sights. And then something weird happened: I started to pull away from him. I was not expecting this, but I felt good and tried to follow the guy who was leading our pack. I was sitting in 2nd or 3rd for the first half of the swim. I kept thinking to myself, “This can’t be real. There is no way that I am in the lead pack of the swim. If it is, this is going to be a GREAT race!”

Unfortunately, I lost contact with the two leaders because I got a little off course. Well, I thought I was on course, swimming the straightest line to the buoy. I think my straight line must not actually be straight, though, because every time I do this and go off on my own in the “straightest” path, I seem to lose the group. As I was approaching the buoy, I also saw the real lead pack. I started at the far left of the dock and didn’t even see this group who started at the far right. They were a good 90 seconds ahead of me at this point. Dang. There goes my thought that I was having a super killer swim. When I got to the buoy, there was a pack that had been behind me that was now in front of me. I thought, “If that’s Kevin, I’m going to be pissed (at myself).” Sure enough, I saw the blue sleeve of his EMJ race kit. DAMAGE! I cost myself a good chunk of time there. Luckily, I was able to make up some ground on the way into transition and came out of the water 1 second ahead of him. The swimskin was a life saver. No way would I have come out of the water even close to him without it.

  • Swim time- 0:22:41 (1:24/100)
  • Swim place- 13th age group, 76th overall
  • Overall place after the swim- 76th
 When I first saw this picture, I thought I was the person in the background (EMJ teammate, Kevin Denny). I didn't even recognize myself! I'm definitely not as slim as I was last year. But it just goes to show you that you don't have to be super skinny to be fast. Also, I'm hoping some of it was the lighting and they say the camera adds 10 pounds 😜 

When I first saw this picture, I thought I was the person in the background (EMJ teammate, Kevin Denny). I didn't even recognize myself! I'm definitely not as slim as I was last year. But it just goes to show you that you don't have to be super skinny to be fast. Also, I'm hoping some of it was the lighting and they say the camera adds 10 pounds 😜 

This was about one minute slower than I swam last year, but the course was a bit long. Only 2 guys went under 20 minutes and one of them was the overall winner, Bill Jones, a former collegiate swimmer at Harvard, and he “only” swam 19:55.

TRANSITION 1- 1:54 Go me! 

I didn’t realize that Kevin was right behind me until he told me, “Good swim.” I looked and saw it was him and asked if I actually beat him out of the water. Go me! I later found out that he had to stop a few times to adjust his goggles. Maybe not as good of a swim as I originally thought…dang. We ran to our bikes together since we were racked 2 spots from each other and I got out first. I told him I would see him out there and he said, “Yeah, but not really.” I was hoping this would be the case and that he wouldn’t catch me. he’s a solid cyclist too so I had my work cut out for me if I wanted to stay ahead of him.

Overall place after T1- 65th

BIKE- 58:25 Dodge, duck, dip, dive, and...RIDE!

Immediately coming out of transition, I saw another EMJ teammate, Andrew Weinstein, running ahead of me, but he pulled over to the side of the road right after leaving transition. I thought he was just fixing something really quick on his bike and that I would see him on the road. It turns out, he had a flat tire and had to fix it right there. It cost him about 6 minutes. Ugh.

I had a little mechanical issue myself with my front wheel. As I was riding, I could hear something rubbing. My front brake was up against my wheel and catching it every time it made a revolution. I tried pulling my brake open farther, but that didn’t help. Then I realized that I hadn’t opened the brake calipers so I flipped the switch and we were good to go. Stupid mistake that could have easily been prevented and cost me somewhere around 10 seconds. Luckily, I was able to fix it while I was still riding so it could’ve been much worse.

The course was congested from the previous waves (one of the disadvantages of being the 3rd to last age group to start) so much of the ride consisted of weaving in and out of traffic, dodging from side to side. It was tough to tell who was in my age group, too.  I did see one guy ahead of me moving pretty quick and wearing a blue kit that I thought was EMJ so I just tried to keep him in my sights.

I came up on another EMJ teammate, Mark Kolding (who had an awesome swim- 21:57), about 6 miles into the ride and asked him who the other EMJ guy was up ahead. I couldn’t tell what he said, but I was running through the list of guys in my head and just couldn’t figure it out. Andrew had pulled off to the side, Kevin hadn’t passed me yet, I just passed Mark, that only left Kyle Simmons who had a broken wrist after he crashed his bike a week ago and I couldn’t imagine him swimming and riding that much faster than all of us.

About 7 miles into the bike course, there is a “hill” that seems like a mini-mountain coming from Michigan. (Because the biggest hills we have in Michigan are highway overpasses. Right, Yoni and Brandt? 😅) In reality, it was just under ½ a mile in length and 165 feet elevation change (6.8% incline) so not really that bad. I remember last year being able to ride up the hill without shifting into my small chain ring in the front so I wanted to repeat that this year. I put in a charge up the hill, got out of the saddle, and closed the gap almost immediately. Turns out this guy wasn’t an EMJ teammate, but another guy wearing a blue kit. I wasn’t able to pass him on the hill because there were so many people crawling (not literally!) to the top. Then, I just tried to stay within shouting distance of this guy because every time I passed him, he would pass me right back. Fine. I’m not going to play this stupid game and exert myself more because you’re being dumb and sprinting then sitting up.

 Those ENVE wheels though... 😍 

Those ENVE wheels though... 😍 

As we were approaching the turnaround, I tried to keep an eye out for other guys who might be in my age group to see where I was. There was only one other guy who I saw that I thought could be and he was about 4 minutes ahead. Wow. Thankfully, it turned out that he was in one of the other age groups so he wasn't actually that far ahead of me.

So, you remember that other reason I said I thought I had been so much slower this year than last? Well, I got a new bike, but my old race wheels were SO tight. In fact, they were actually rubbing on the frame and brakes, even after widening the brakes as far as possible. This caused me to have to work much harder on the bike than I should have. This also means that I didn't have my legs as fresh for the subsequent run. 

Enter these ENVE wheels (seen in the picture to the left). Let me tell you, the babies are FAST! My bike split was over 1-minute faster than last year. Wheels for the win!

Overall place after the bike turnaround- 18th

Once I hit the turnaround, I saw that Kevin was only a few seconds behind. Within a couple minutes, he came flying by me. I did my best to stay with him, but he was hammering and making me hurt. Thankfully, the hill was coming up again and I thought I would be able to use that to my advantage and catch back up to him. Unfortunately for me, I think Kevin had the same idea and took off up the hill. KEVIN! STAAAHP! He gapped me again going up the hill. Fortunately, I was able to make up some ground on the downhill and it also gave me a chance to rest. Because I’m so small, I was able to tuck into the bike and be super aero. I reached a top speed of 47mph!

After the hill, I was able to stay with Kevin a little while longer. One minute, I looked down to get a drink from my bottle, and the next minute, he was already 50 feet ahead of me! I tried to make up the gap, but couldn’t close it down. By the time we rode into transition, he had already put 20 seconds on me.

  • Bike time- 0:58:24.36 (25.5mph)
  • Bike place- 3rd age group, 10th overall
  • Overall place after the bike- 10th

TRANSITION 2- 1:19 “Come and get me” 

As I rode into T2, I took my right foot out of my shoe and my right hamstring started to cramp. The same thing happened last year and I was just hoping that it wouldn’t turn into a full-blown cramp. Thankfully, the cramp stayed away and I ran into T2 weaving between a few slower cyclists from earlier waves. As I was putting on my shoes, Kevin yelled to me “Come and get me, Todd!” Ohhhh man. That lit a fire in me and I thought to myself, “Alright, but you asked for it!”

As I started running away from my transition area, I looked up and saw Kevin running back toward me. I was obviously confused because he was running the wrong way. He yelled, “Throw me my bib!” because he had left his bib number at his transition area. I was only about 15 feet away, so I turned around and grabbed it for him, threw him his bib as I was running out of T2, and was gone.

Overall place after T2- 8th

RUN- 33:50 At least I don't have to make up a 3-minute deficit...

As I was running out of T2, I heard Coach Barb yell at me, "You're in 3rd! Run against the clock!" I took this to mean that the guy in first was so far ahead that there was no way I was going to catch him. I did see a guy not too far up the road who was moving pretty fast and thought he might be in my age group. So, I put in a solid surge to catch him and just sit on his feet for a little bit. 

I tried to see his age on the back of his calf, but it was already worn off so I couldn't tell if he was actually in my age group or not. I figured he must've been, so I sat behind him for about 3/4 of a mile so I could catch my breath after bridging the gap in the first 1/2 mile. 

The run course was a two lap course, different than last year's out and back. This made the run seem a lot more manageable. I decided to take the lead right before the first turnaround at mile 1.5 and put in a little speed burst to see if he would stay with me after the turnaround.

Overall place after the first run turnaround- 5th

After about one minute of pushing the pace pretty hard, I could still hear his long, loping stride right behind me so I eased back a little. I wanted to gauge how he was feeling so I turned over my shoulder and said, "You're just not going anywhere, are you?" I think he chuckled and I asked him how many were ahead of us. I was really listening to see how easily he could get the words out because I could tell if he was working above his lactate threshold and how long he would be able to sustain this pace (thanks to the 10+ years I've been studying exercise physiology for that one!) He said he thought it was just us, but he wasn't sure. I told him I'd be okay if it was just the two of us and he said we just have to keep pushing each other. Okay, well, you asked for it 😉

As we were running through one of the aid stations a little farther down the road, I decided to put in another effort. This time, I felt him fall off my feet and I was clear. When I got to the second turnaround at 5k, my dad yelled at me, "It's all you! MAKE HIM HURT!" In hindsight, I probably wasn't running hard enough because I had the mental clarity to think, "Ohhh, I like that one. Make him hurt!" It turns out that I wasn't that far ahead of him. Before the turnaround to start the second lap, I only had 4 seconds on him and after I had doubled it to 8 seconds. I thought he was way farther behind than that. 

On my second lap, I was out front running by myself. It was nice to know that all I had to do was not fall apart and I would repeat as the 25-29 age group national champion. But I still wanted to push hard to see if I could take the overall win again. It's tough knowing how hard you need to run in order to "catch" guys who have gone before you or are still on the course after you.

Overall place after the second run turnaround- 3rd

So, I just ran hard to the finish. Just before I ran down the chute, I heard the announcer say something about the national champion. Was there still a guy in front of me? Barb had said that I was in 3rd when I started the run and I only caught one guy...As I was coming down the chute, I felt much better than last year (which, again, probably means I hadn't gone hard enough the rest of the run). I sprinted through the finish line and crossed the finish line feeling great.

  • Run time- 33:49.46 (5:27/mile)
  • Run place- 3rd age group, 5th overall
  • Overall place after the run- 3rd

It was such a relief to have a good race after my two other triathlons this season. Really the only disappointing thing about the race for me was the run. The last two years, I've had the fastest overall run split in the nation and this year I was 5th. Marty Andrie ran a blistering 32:06! I think part of the reason it got so warm once we started the run was that he was on fire! My friend, Brian Reynolds, who beat me at Tri del Sol, also ran a 33:20. I wish I could've raced with him because having each other to push during the run would've been fun :) But because he's in the 30-34 age group, he started about an hour ahead of me. 

  • Overall finish time- 1:58:08
  • 25-29 Age group finish place- 1st
  • Overall finish place- 3rd

MORE DISSERTATING

Immediately after crossing the finish line, I was back in participant recruitment mode and handing out fliers left and right. All told, I passed out 130 of the 150 fliers I brought. Success! Now I just need everyone to take the survey and upload the data from their watches and we’ll be good to go! (So, if you’re reading this, did the race, and haven’t taken the survey, please do 😁 click here).

AT THE END OF IT ALL

After all was said and done, I went 4 seconds faster than last year so it's tough to be disappointed with a 3rd place finish. If you would've told me that I was going to go 4 seconds faster this year than I did last year, I would've taken it for sure! Especially with the ups and downs I've had this year. That being said, it would've been nice to be in the same race as the other two guys, Bill Jones and Ian Hoover-Grinde, so we could've pushed each other.

The race last year against Chris Douglas was so much fun because he pushed me SO hard that I know I couldn't have gone any harder. When I finished this year, I knew I hadn't gone to the well like I did last year. But that's why it's the Age Group National Championship. You're only supposed to race against others in your age group. 

AWARDS CEREMONY

This kind of speaks for itself. My Every Man Jack teammates and I had a fun little photo shoot while we were waiting for our awards. Oh, and I was able to hand out a few more fliers for my dissertation 😄 

CINNAMON ROLLS

Clearly, this topic needs its own section 😍 Last year after the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship, I went there and got a fantastic cinnamon roll. So, I wanted to go back this year. Well, by the time I got to the bakery, they were closed. Fortunately, there were still a few people inside and they let me in! The first thing they said to me was, "We have a cinnamon roll waiting for you!" What?? Seriously, this has got to be some of the best service I have EVER had. So thoughtful of them to remember me AND to let me in after hours. The box even had my name on it! As for the cinnamon roll, it was amazing (as you can tell, because I was halfway through before I remembered to take a picture!) It had the crunch of the brown sugar within the roll with a beautiful caramel frosting and it was just heaven. I had to get a chocolate chip cookie sandwich too because it looked so good (and it was!) If you're in Omaha, do yourself a favor and go for a visit (and tell them I sent you 😉) Thanks Sweet Magnolias Bakery!

And I did say cinnamon rolls as in more than one cinnamon roll. After leaving Omaha, my dad and I stopped in Iowa City for the night. Before finishing the drive home, we had breakfast at Hamburg Inn No. 2 (because I saw it on Food Network! 😅 ) Believe it or not, I actually didn't know they had cinnamon rolls. I knew of it because of their famous pie shakes. Chunks of pie blended into a thick and rich shake. Of course, I had to get both! The cinnamon roll was pretty good. It didn't hold up when I cut into it with my fork and just kind of fell apart, but the flavor was still there. My favorite part was the frosting that looked like a little beret on top 🇫🇷 . The shake was a bumbleberry shake, which is apple, berries, and rhubarb. It was delicious and so thick! And I know what you're thinking. I did NOT eat all of these by myself. My dad was happy to help me finish them 😉

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Back-to-back 25-29 age group national champion
  • Made the overall podium (3rd)
  • Went 4 seconds faster than last year
  • Had fun with my EMJ teammates
  • Got to spend time with my dad and cousin
  • Sweet Magnolia's Bake Shop! Seriously, just unbelievable what they did for me
  • Handed out 130 fliers and have already received dozens of survey responses (keep 'em coming in!)

THANK YOU'S

Thanks to my sponsors:

  • Every Man Jack. Nothing helps me clean up nice quite like you
  • BOCO Gear. Stylishly cool headwear
  • Cobb. Comfort equals speed on the saddle
  • Felt. Freaky fast bikes
  • Garmin. Keeping me on time...and for my dissertation!
  • Gu. Keeping me fueled so I can Gu for it!
  • Louis Garneau. Have you seen our race kits?? That's some kitspiration
  • Lululemon. The most comfortable shirts ever
  • Normatech. Recover right to perform your best
  • Roka. Finding faster
  • Sock Guy. Sock luv for a strong sock game!

Thanks to Sweet Magnolia's Bakery. Can't say it enough. Customer service off the charts! And delicious baked goods, of course 😊 

Thanks to everyone who wished me luck, congratulated me, sent positive vibes, etc. It seems crazy to me that so many of you follow along while I exercise competitively at high rates of speed. But it really does make a guy feel good to know that so many people have my back. 

 

 

 

 

Finally, thanks to my family and Coach Barb for your unwavering support. You put up with a lot of my time-consuming, high-maintenance, training and racing needs and don't get the recognition you deserve. This is why I am going to give my dad my national champion jersey and my mom is going to get my medal. (Sorry Tyler and Britt, they didn't give me enough swag for winning! Take it up with USAT 😜. And Barb, you have enough medals of your own!) 

Chicka chicka 😎