Monday, August 19, 2013

My most complete triathlon performance so far

It was finally here. My first opportunity to compete at the Age Group National Championships and it was finally here. I wouldn’t say I was nervous, just pure excitement.

My wife and I spent the week leading up to the race visiting her parents in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. The change of scenery and the opportunity to relax was entirely refreshing. I felt rested. None of those 6am pool sessions; instead I slept an extra hour or two and then did a morning workout. A couple days I even pushed sessions to the afternoon, which I rarely do just because I’m a morning person and like to get them out of the way when I’m feeling energized.

I was coming off a great block of training and the week leading up to the race was simply about staying fresh. I even incorporated a bit more yoga into my routine that week, thanks in part to my mother-in-law who’s a big yogi.

We arrived in Milwaulkee, checked into our hotel (which, was a pretty sweet deal thanks to my father-in-law), and then headed down to the lakefront where the expo and bike check-in were. I wanted to leave plenty of time so I could have the on-site bike mechanics take a look at my bike (of course, I was still having some small issues with the gearing).

The atmosphere was buzzing. People were out and about. Some athletes were doing some course recon and riding their bikes along the run course.

To kill some time while waiting for my bike, and since we didn't really have a huge lunch, my wife and I went to one of the lakefront restaurants to get some food (and enjoy the beautiful afternoon on the lake).
I tried to enjoy the moment, but (and my wife will 100% attest to this) I was a little nervous about my bike. The only reason I was still in this mess with having to continuously adjust my gearing is because the local shop I took it to a few weeks back did a pretty poor job and I had the issue with my front derailleur at the NJ Triathlon
I got my bike back - it felt great. The gearing was crisp and smooth. After a quick test ride to run through the gears, I went to transition to rack my bike.


I slept well that night, mostly because my wake up time was same similar to any other day: 5:40am. It felt familiar, like my normal routine. Everything was already packed, so just had to grab and go. Off to the most important stop of the morning...breakfast.

I tried something new that morning for nutrition, which, in retrospect actually worked extremely well. I ordered a small cup of plain oatmeal, which I then added cinnamon, half a banana, a handful of almonds that I brought, and some coconut oil. I also got a double shot of espresso, to which I also added a tablespoon of coconut oil. (Yes, you heard correctly, coconut oil in coffee. More on this in a future post.)

Though the excitement was building as I made my way the few blocks from the hotel to transition, I felt really calm. When I got there, I slowly went through my bike checks: making sure I was in the right gear; checking the breaks; checking tire pressure; clipping in my shoes; and attaching my nutrition.

Ok, everything was set. Grabbed my swim cap and goggles, and then it was the waiting game.

My age group's swim wave wasn't scheduled to go off until around 9am, which actually ended up being a bit later because of some delays at the start. Before I met up with my wife to wait for the next 90 minutes (transition closed at 7:30am), I took some time by myself, sitting in the grass, and just reflecting on my journey over the past couple years. I went through some deep breathing exercises to relax. I felt a huge sense of gratitude. This was only my second full year of competing in triathlons (after about five exclusively running marathons) and here I was with the best in my age group in the country, all vying for a handful of spots to represent Team USA at next year's World Championships in Canada.

Though it was an in-water start, each age group had about 4-5 minutes to warm-up in the water. It was definitely nice having a few minutes to acclimate to the water temperature, which was in the high 60's.


And in the excitement of the moment, I hit the wrong button on my water, which I realized just after starting to swim. Keep going or take a quick moment to start my watch? I chose the first. There were too many bodies and arms flailing to stop.

During the initial chaos of the first 300 meters, I took a pretty hard kick to my chest - enough to knock a little wind out of me. I took a few seconds to swim breaststroke and regain some composure. Except, I felt more anxiety now that I had people basically swimming over me because I was going a little slower. Alright, back to it.

I settled into a nice rhythm after finding some clear water and drafting a few times off some nearby athletes. I exited the water feeling really fresh, like I wanted to keep going (which is a pretty rare feeling since I consider the swim my weakest discipline). I knew I had a pretty good swim since I passed a bunch of people from age groups who started before me, but I had no idea how good since I never started my watch.

Quick transition, and on to the bike.

I changed things up a little with my nutrition since I ran out of UCAN Superstarch, which I've been using for about a year now and really liking it. Instead, I used GU Roctane (main difference with regular GU is that Roctane has amino acids): one every 30 minutes, so essentially one at the beginning of the bike (with about 4-5 oz of water), one halfway through, and one just before the end of the bike leg.

The bike course was fairly straightforward, basically a double out-and-back. The first out-and-back along the lake was smooth and fast. It took a few minutes for the burn in my legs to subside, but I felt like I was pushing a good pace. Coming back past transition I heard a few shouts of encouragement from my wife and her parents (thanks so much for your support!) and then towards one of the few "hills" of the bike course, which was actually a big bridge.

The second half of the bike course wasn't very technically challenging, but riding on the interstate and a few of the local roads made for a slightly bumpy ride, constantly riding over the cracks in the road from where the concrete slabs butt up against each other. A few tight turns at the end of the course, and I came up to the bike dismount line, which came up a lot quicker than I thought. I misjudged how close I was and only had time to slip one foot out of my bike shoes. So ,I had to quickly slip the other out after I came to a stop before the dismount line.

Coming out of T1 I felt energized. My legs felt pretty fresh, not the typical heaviness transitioning from bike to run. The run course was beautiful (and dead flat - the biggest elevation change was going from the roadway to the sidewalk), along the lake the entire way. I settled into a good rhythm, focused on breathing and cadence. I didn't want to go out too hard and almost blow up like I did in NJ.

Looking back, I held back too much. I still had a pretty solid run - a 6:30 pace - but, after crossing the finish line, I still had way too much in the tank. A was passed a few times on the run, and my instinct was to try and stay with a few of them. After a few short bursts to try and keep pace, I slowed slightly to settle back in. I should've went. The worst feeling in the world is passing the finish line and wondering what could've happened if you really laid it all out there.

But, as someone who is still relatively new to the sport, these are all things you learn from and incorporate into your preparation from the next race.

Crossing the finish line was a real thrill, not just because I had my best all-around race, but because I received my finisher's medal from non-other than the legedary Chrissie Wellington, four-time Ironman World Champion (three of those consecutive), and undefeated in all of her 13 full Ironman starts. She was there to give the keynote at the Athlete's award dinner two nights before, and was down at the finish line, welcoming in athletes. What a thrill!

I finished in the middle of my pack for my age group, but I cut about 3 minutes off my time from Philadelphia earlier this year. I was where I wanted to be on the swim (25 minutes) and bike (1 hour 7 minutes), but came up a little short of my 6 minute goal pace on the run. My bike split was a PR too!


Putting the race into perspective, it was my most balanced race to date. Sure, I still have improvements to make in all three disciplines, but I no longer feel like I'm chasing the field on the run. It was also a fantastic learning experience. My first time at an event like this, with an extremely competitive field, I now have a better understanding of what it takes to be competitive. Most importantly, I know what I need to work on for next year. I spent so much time improving my swim and my bike this year, that I think I took my run for granted too much. So, as much as creating balance has been important, it's just as important to remember your strengths, and exploiting them as much as you can.

Thanks Milwaulkee for a great race! I'll see you at next year's National Championships!

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