Most athletes will freak themselves out thinking about this as a big, national event.
So don’t do that.
Pretend it’s just another local race. Execute what you are capable of on your best day locally and you’ll have a great race at Nationals.
My coach doled out this advice to a small clutch of his disciples I mean athletes during a breezy lakeside lunch at Alterra Coffee in Milwaukee, Wisconsin the Friday before The Big Day, or should I say The Big Days since there were two: on Saturday the country’s top age groupers at the long-course distance would compete for coveted slots on Team USA 2014. Come Sunday we sprinters would get our chance to make the team and race on the global level—against athletes from every continent even—in Edmonton, Canada in August 2014.
The table where we sat dissecting our sandwiches wasn’t “local” to any of us; Coach Tim came from Clermont, Florida; Evan from Portland, Oregon; Mike, George and I call Central Massachusetts home. Indeed, the vast majority of the 5,000 Rudy-helmeted athletes in town for either of the weekend’s races (or, for a subset of those Rudys housing truly certifiable brains, both races) had to pass through TSA screenings to get here…
If you’ve followed this blog even casually, you should know I am pretty darned accomplished at this whole “willing suspension of disbelief” thang (aka “lying to oneself”), so it should come as no surprise that I sunk my teeth into Tim’s advice. Which was nice, since I hadn’t sunk my teeth into anything for five straight days prior to boarding Southwest Flight 431 BOS to MKE, and by that I mean from Friday to Tuesday I was on a strict Pedialyte-only diet thanks to a seriously nasty stomach bug.
NBD as the kids would say…just another local race. To complete the ruse, I even picked a local race company; the number on my seat post would be “3517” so clearly this was a FIRM race since all season long they’ve issued me numbers heavy on threes and ones—I was 31 at Ludlow, 13 at Wayside, and 331 at Lowell. Any minute now I’d see Bill and Wendy Fiske pull up in the great big old FIRM mobile they drive from one race to the next. Elaine Vescio would be milling about under the Vmps tent and Mike the DJ’s voice would soon boom over the loudspeaker, teasingly calling me “Scarlett”. Heck, since I’d placed 2nd overall at all three of those “3” “1” FIRM races, this’d likely be a good weekend for me. (While I was lying to myself I mean suspending my disbelief, I also decided that my stomach-bug days were actually the world’s-greatest-taper days. All those Pedialyte pops and naps and skipped workouts were actually good for my race. That was my story and I was sticking to it.)
Bill and Wendy had clearly stepped up their marketing efforts to attract such a crowd and invested some serious cash in venue upgrades:
~ PRE-RACE ~
“They” say to never do anything different on race day, and my coach is totally one of “them”. So while he has been riding me to get a power meter for, like, years, he banned me from installing and using my brand-new-super-nifty Garmin Vector, which, btw, qualifies as a PR for me—a new personal record for Most Expensive Race Expo Purchase.
(Post-race update: Viper is all Vectored up now…check this out! The Vector gives left-right balance data; it should come as no surprise that I lilt ever-so-slightly to the left.)
Coach Tim did approve one significant exception to the “nothing new on race day” rule: at Nationals I would for the first time ever ride with a disc. Coach would have nixed the switch-out had it been a ploy to gain a few seconds, but this wasn’t about speed: during a routine Viper inspection I spotted a small nick in his rear tire. NBD if he had clinchers but Viper runs sew ups (nothing but the best for the boy), so properly fixing that possible race-ending gash would take three days…not gonna happen. Saving grace: my friend Jim had shipped his bike to Milwaukee but pulled out of the race due to a hamstring injury…all parties agreed I should steal I mean borrow the gash-free wheel off Jim’s sidelined steed and that wheel was a disc.
Nasty stomach bug notwithstanding, I felt like I was ready to race hard. The course appeared to be tailor-made for cj and heck the stars just might align perfectly for PRs on all three legs. I have recently been experimenting with racing without my watch, but since this might be one for the record books I decided the Garmin Forerunner 910XT would record it for posterity. If star-alignment occurred I thought I could swim in the 1:30s, ride above 23 mph and cap it off with a 5K close to—heck, maybe even a smidge under—seven-minute mile pace. That’s not quite as fast as the other Elites at Cohasset but again—this is not Cohasset it’s a FIRM race. Work with me here, would you?!? We’ve totally got this.
~ THE SWIM ~
Unbeknownst to me, this silly local-race ruse allowed me to avoid fixating on something very serious; I didn’t mentally link it to last year’s Nationals in Burlington, Vermont, August 18th 2012, the day fellow TC2 triathlete Rich Angelo died in the waters of Lake Champlain while trying to qualify to race in London for Team USA 2013.
While I was sculling at the start and awaiting my airhorn, I did not go back to the panic that spread through last year’s awiating-the-airhorn F45-49 wave as they watched EMTs on the dock adjacent to them clearly failing to breathe life back in to Rich’s wet, limp body. I did not go back to how I Mother Henned “my” athletes when I got word of some water-based crisis—I had one, two, three, four water-bound teammates…located one, two, three…thought “there are 5,000 freaking athletes here, what are the freaking chances?”
I did not go back to scrubbing my skin raw so Rich’s much-too-young-for-this widow wouldn’t have to see my race tattoos. I didn’t go back to the transition mat re-created at the foot of his coffin—race belt, running shoes, number “494” meticulously affixed to the seatpost of his Cervelo. I didn’t go back to the words my coach said over post-wake beers: I can’t believe this happened…Rich was one of the stronger TC2 swimmers up there.
I know for a fact that many who were in Burlington last year did go back “there”, swam alongside Rich in Lake Michigan.
Not me. Mercifully, thanks to my ruse, when the Wave 2 airhorn bleeted I simply pushed START on my 910 XT and set my sights on the yellow buoy, then the footbridge beyond it.
What I did go back to was a saying George and I saw on a T-shirt earlier that morning:
We liked that a lot and our goal was to Swim Smart and get to our bikes (in George’s case, Tim’s bike) as quickly and calmly as possible. (For the record, we also really enjoyed the “Tri Yuppie Scum” shirt, but that didn’t really, like, meet our swim-leg mantra needs.)
The most significant barrier to my calmness would come at the very end of the swim; it took the form of an impossible-seeming swim exit:
I had a great-for-me swim, which is to say I actually used my newly emerging lats more than the itsy-bitsy arm muscles I have historically relied upon. I entered at an angle, reached out as far as I could and grabbed as much water as possible, which appears to be The Goal. I imagined myself as a Catamaran, which probably sounds really weird but hey, it worked for me so don’t judge.
It is exhausting being a Catamaran, and by the time this multi-hulled vessel was heading back under the footbridge she was seriously wishing she came equipped with an outboard motor. As I took the final turn I sighted and saw what appeared to be the lead pack emerging en masse onto that heinous ramp. Got what I wanted: all those orange shirts would be free to focus on me and me alone.
The results show the cold hard truth: that wasn’t the lead pack I was trailing. It wasn’t even the chase pack…when I hit the ramp (figuratively not literally, thank goodness) at 15:01 I was in fact packs of packs behind the leaders. A dozen chicks swam 14:00 – 14:33; another eight were “in the 13s” and yet another eight emerged between 12 and 12:30. Three F 40-44 rockstars went sub 12 (!)…net-net count ’em all up and you’ll see I emerged from the swim behind 31 F 40-44 chicks. (Another 3! Another 1! This is getting weird!)
Viper and I had our work cut out for us. But that’s OK; we like the work oh yes we do.
My swim time / place : 15:01 (1:49 per 100 yards) / 32nd of 64
Fastest F 40-44 swim: the incredible Sara Cannon of Portland Oregon, in an awesome (and, it should be noted, a rather rank-reflective) 11:11.1, which also gave her the 15th best female swim of the day. (For those of you who speak TC2-ese, I will put Sara’s effort into TC2 context: the incredible Mike McCombs swam this course in 11:01…so Sara is like, nearly Mike’s kind of fast.)
Fastest swims overall: The fastest boy swimmer was the amazing Scott Gentles of Atlanta, Georgia (9:26, which is to say 1:08 pace). The best girl dolphin du jour was 23-year-old phenom Erin Dolan, who swam 10:05 / 1:13 per 100 yards. I am triply impressed with Erin’s performance since she hails from Nebraska, which (geography lesson forthcoming) is a triply landlocked state; it does not border the ocean…nor do any of the states it borders…nor do any that they border. Probably her parents had a pool???
~ TRANSITION #1 ~
I might have been an unspectacular (and not-Team-USA-worthy) 32nd out of the 64 F 40-44ers, but per usual as soon as I hit the timing mat I made it clear I wouldn’t settle for middle of the pack. By that I mean that by BIKE OUT I had blasted past a competitor who had clawed her way up that impossible ramp more than 30 full seconds before me.
We can forget about all 31 F 40-44ers who both swam and T1’d slower than me (sorry ladies) with one exception: Alison Gittelman of South Riding, Virginia. At this point in our little story Alison is nearly a minute behind me—she lost 43 seconds to me in the swim and another 15 in T1—and the gap will widen by another 90 seconds once Viper unfurls his fangs. But mark my words, remember her name—you will quite literally hear it again by the end of this story. (I know…the suspense is killing you!)
My T1 time and place : 1:55. That’s 3rd of the 64 in my age group, 33rd of 418 females
Fastest F 40-44 T1: The incredible Chris Wickard of Crown Point, Indiana with a mat-to-mat time of 1:46.
Fastest T1s overall: The best boy T1-ing du jour was done by 29-year-old Eric Burnett of Pasadena, Calif, who rocked it in 1:26 (!) while 17-year-old Megan Dustin from Feeding Hills, Mass (where the hell is that?!? I had to Google it; turns out it is a subsection of Agawam) reigned Chick Supreme with a 1:37.
~ THE BIKE ~
Oh, this is fun. It was just like a FIRM race because I passed and passed and was never passed. I passed 17 women from my wave who had swum far better than me and too many Wave 1 boys to count. I passed athletes from Arizona, Illinois, Georgia, Hawaii, Utah, and the lone lady in my race who actually may have done a FIRM race before: Boston Triathlon Team’s Margaret O’Toole, from Cambridge, Mass. I even smiled when I reached down to grab a quick swig of my water and nicked my Garmin against my knee, causing it to dislodge. (Missed that story? Catch up here.)
My bike time / speed: 34:43 / 21.5 mph
My place: 9th of 64 in my wave/ 34th of all 418 females / 359th of all 1,099 sprint athletes
Fastest F 40-44 cyclist: The incredible Chris Wickard of Crown Point, Indiana, who must have been a sight to see on what was certainly a solo time trial; she rode the course in 33:24.3 aka 22.3 mph. Since she was such a speedy swimmer we never saw each other on the course.
Fastest rides overall: An absolutely HUGE shout-out to the powerhouse 57-year-old Barbara Sullivan of Carlsbad California who was the ONLY chick to break the 23 mph barrier. In doing so she captured the national title in her age group and easily qualified for Worlds in Edmonton. As for the boys, 33-year-old Matt Migonis of Hamilton New York somehow rode an average 25.8 mph. (His time: 28:52. Five of the 681 male athletes rode 25 mph or better.)
~ TRANSITION 2 ~
Parting is always such sweet sorrow but the boy had done his job well and deserved the rest, although I sure could use his help on my weakest leg but I think that might, like, get me disqualifed.
My T2 time and place : 1:02. That’s 2nd of 64 in my 64-chick wave, and 11th of all 418 females. We said our bye-for-nows quickly.
Fastest F 40-44 T2: Top kudos goes to Julianna Batizy-Morley of Centennial CO, who stabled her steed and jammed into her running shoes a second faster than I did (1:01).
Fastest T1s overall: Eric Burnett of Pasadena California and 43-year-old John Reback of Jupiter, Florida both aced T2 in 49 seconds flat. Erin Dolan rocked it for the girls, in 56 seconds.
~ THE RUN ~
Just outside RUN OUT I fly by my coach and fellow TC2-er Evan Pardi. (An aside: 19-year-old Evan is one of the certifiable; he not only raced both days but qualified at the sprint distance and earned the first roll-down slot in the Oly!) As I pass they excitedly yell, “YOU’RE 14th!!!!”
OK, cj, it’s time to get real with yourself, I thought. Even at a FIRM race when it comes to the run I am apt to be the pass-ee not the pass-er, so I expected a bullet-train phenom or two would plow past me. I just couldn’t let four bullet trains plow past or I’d miss that Magic #18 and the automatic qualifier slot Viper had slithered us into.
For the bullet trains, the run is the fun bit. For me, its a war of attrition and the longer we fight the less likely I am to win. Since this was an itsy-bitsy 5K and a flat one at that I knew I had a really good shot; how much of a shot I wasn’t sure, since I had no way of knowing how large a chunk of time Viper and I had put between Us and Them.
I really did feel good and strong and was running well-for-me. My Garmin, had it not spontaneously ejected on Lincoln Memorial Drive, would surely show a nice 92-ish cadence and a pace somewhere in the “lower sevens”. It felt right and I thought, keep doing this or even a little better and you’ll be totally fine. At that moment, somewhere just before the turnaround after Lagoon Drive, the first bullet train approached, with a warp-speed cadence.
Julianna Batizy-Morley of Centennial, Colorado, sped past, running an impressive 6:45 pace.
OK. 15th. That works.
I am alone again for awhile and then I hear another one–it’s runner extraordinaire Murphee Hayes who, appropriately enough, comes from Marathon, New York. I tried but there was no way I could keep up with her 6:27 pace.
Now 16th. Still works.
Ack there’s that familiar bullet train sound again…this time generated by Heather Butcher of North Point, Florida. Six freaking nineteen pace.
Crap. 17th. This is totally no longer OK.
I have quickened my pace as much as I can and I can barely see let alone think straight so when I hear my coach’s voice with a quarter mile to go I at first assume I am delirious. But I am not–he is actually there, and he is talking to me in those dulcet tones I’ve heard a few times before–the ones you’d use to gently coax a friend into action when a mountain lion is looming large.
Now’s the time to kick, he tells me. Lean in and crank it up.
Crank what up??? How??? My crank must be broken, my engine overheated, the wheels are soon to come off. The finish line is ahead but I refuse to look at it because it is, like so freaking far away.
And then suddenly it is not so far away and I am crossing it but not before Alison Gittelman appears out of thin air to make her cameo appearance in my race. And in my finish line video, which, firm believer in public shaming I apparently am, I provide here for your entertainment:
As you can see, I was a wee bit happy…I am not so sure how much of the happiness was a result of qualifying and how much was a result of the fact that the freaking run was finally freaking over.
My run time / pace / place: 23:15.1 (7:29). That makes me 29th of 64 on this hardest-for-me leg. I refuse to calculate my gender place since it is just too darned depressing 😉 If you must, then you must do the counting yourself; full searchable results are here.
Fastest F 40-44 run: 41-year-old Heather Butcher from North Point, Florida. She’ll be taking that super-awesome 6:19 pace 5K (19:40.1) to Edmonton, Canada as part of Team USA.
Fastest runs overall: I don’t know how either of them run this way, especially after a swim and a bike: well done to the jaw-droppingly fast (and, you may recall, triply landlocked) Erin Dolan for her 5:58 pace 5K (18:35) and to 23-year-old Dustin Thomas of Broadview Heights, Ohio for his (insert dramatic pause here) five freaking minutes eleven freaking seconds pace run which came after a 1:27 pace swim and a 22.5 mph spin through scenic downtown Milwaukee. (Believe it or not, that amazing effort didn’t earn him the first slot in his division at Worlds. Or the second, third or even fourth. Nope, it was “only” good enough to earn him the 5th slot—those young thangs sure can fly!)
~ THE CELEBRATION ~
Post-race we did a little celebratory Tour de Milwaukee: attempted to have a Rochefort at the Palm but its Sunday hours aren’t conducive to post-race celebrating. So we headed down the street to the St Francis Brewery, where the beers are named after the Seven Deadly Sins (Wrath was my favorite beer but it’s not my favorite sin; talk amongst yourselves to guess which one is.) Then we ended up at our new favorite restaurant, the rather fancy Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro, where they overlooked the compression tights that conformed perfectly to our legs but not-so-perfectly to their dress code. They even gave us the best seat in the house and treated me like a total rock star for qualifying. As if I didn’t already have enough to smile about!
Actually, later I’d find I had even more to smile about: two women in my age group got 2:00 penalties on the bike leg, so even though they crossed the line before me their official finish time once the penalty was added ranks them lower than me. (I don’t know what they did but all ya’ll triathletes should really make sure you know the rules; there’s a list of common penalty-worthy practices you should avoid here.) So instead of being 18th and getting the last Worlds-qualifying slot, I was 16th. Which is kinda even more cool, even though it is lousy for them since one now has to cross her fingers for a roll down slot.
So, I have a new goal and a lot of work ahead of me!
That’s all for now. As usual, thanks for stopping by. Remember Rich Angelo, kick like Alison Gittleman, and be willing to suspend your disbelief like me; sometimes triply land-locked Nebraskans rock open-water swims, kind strangers return ejected Garmins* and 42-year-old single mothers who were too slow to make their college track teams freaking qualify for freaking Worlds.
* breaking news! The Garmin arrived from Colorado the day before yesterday! And it actually still works! I immediately removed it from the quick release mount and put it back on the standard wristband it came on–anybody want the quick release kit? FREE! 🙂