Sunday, August 18, 2013

Race Report: USAT Age Group Olympic Nationals, 2013

While packing, I stumbled across a bag full of my old swimming stuff that my Mom had brought me after I moved into this house and she officially got to give me All The High School Things.  Upon first glance, it appears that there were a pretty even balance of 1st place ribbons with everything else.  When I opened up the bag and looked a little closer, I noticed a trend.  Most of the 1st place ribbons were in relays.  There were a few earned solo (backstroke? butterfly? is this a joke?) but most of my solo races were red and white 2nd and 3rd place ribbons.

I smiled.

None of this has ever come easily to me.  I was never the standout; never the one who won All The Races.  But I was the kid who "sure had a lotta heart," and made a great team player to race in the 3rd spot on that free relay.  I always knew my role and never questioned it, but I was always trying to chase that set of bubbles ahead of me, hearing the shouts as I turned to breathe and knew it was close.

And if I was lucky, it would be my day.


I decided to do this race after qualifying on kind of a fluke last year at Vermilion.  The stars aligned and I got a bit lucky.  Once I knew my teammate Michelle was in, that sealed the deal.  I had a great race at Huntington and was looking forward to being a teensy, tiny, little guppy in a HUGE pond of talent.  Usually around these parts, I come out of the water near the top 1/3, hammer the heck out of the bike and pass quite a few, and then try to hang on for dear life in the run.  The fact that almost every single person I'd be racing with was either my ability OR better was something that I thought would be fun.  A little scary, but fun.

The week before, my brother-in-law Dan married the uber-awesome Dawn, and we had an amazing time in Mexico.  I ran three times on the treadmill and greatly violated the "30 minutes maximum" rule by pretending I was a dumb American and didn't see the sign.  I'm not happy to admit that, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  We did run on the beach once where I completely underestimated 92 degrees and humidity by thinking "there will be a nice breeze!" Um, yeah.  That didn't last long.  Needless to say, despite missing my kiddies like crazy we had an unforgettable, amazing time with family and friends.  

Headed to Milwaukee at 5:30am EST (4:30CST, so that worked in my favor).  Drove straight to the race site with the hopes of making a short swim which was done at 1pm.  I packed a lunch and made minimal stops, and despite Chicago's attempts as usual to make me late and crazy, I made it with an hour to spare!  I quickly changed in my car (mad skillz), registered, and headed to the water for a dip in the cold but calm protected little bay we'd be swimming in.

Holy crap.

I see fit people.

Everyone--and I mean EVERYONE--was super fit and all geared up.  Bike porn galore since we had mandatory check-in from 2-7.  Crazy alien aero helmets, super fancy kits, the whole nine-yards.  

I started hearing the voice that says, "You don't deserve to be're a slow, non-fit mommy don't train nearly as much as these people."

ARG.  I hate that voice.  

So I made a conscious decision to reframe the voice in this manner:

"You got lucky, but you DO deserve to be here.  You are a mommy triathlete who has gotten faster after having two kids and losing 64 pounds in the process.  You don't train nearly as much as these people yet you're still here and you're going to kick ass and take names.  And on a good day and the right angle you can *almost* see biceps and something resembling abs.  GET ON IT." 

The water was cold but I'm used to it and I like it.  It was nice and calm, and I thought I'd definitely have NO excuse not to have a decent swim.  Except for the fact that I only swim 1-2 times a week, but it is what it is.  Nothing I can do about that now.

Met up with Michelle and we headed to the hotel and grabbed some tasty dinner.  Before I knew it, it was time for bed!  Watched another episode of Girls (OMG, where has this show been all my life?) and turned in.

Michelle loves to get up at ridiculous o'clock but I love her for it.  I rolled out of bed significantly slower than she did, and we immediately got coffee.  I wasn't racing until 8:58am but she was heading out around 7:40.  Transition closed at 7:30am, so I'd have a good solid hour and a half to sit around, get nervous, and see fit people everywhere to compare myself to.  Tried really hard not to do that last one.  

Finally, it was time to go!

THE SWIM--29:12

I talked to a really nice girl, Kristin, who was in from Chicago as all the hot pink caps were assembling.  She told me that her husband was racing the sprint the next day and her three kids were here and two of them also like to race.  How awesome is that?  I had an immediate girl crush on Kristin.  We also joked about the swim and she said she "maybe" swam 1 time a week, so that made me feel better.  She said the bike was her strength, so she was going to focus on that and then if she had a good run, even better.  I liked that mentality.  My goal in this race was to try to crack the top 1/2 of my age group, which would be tough considering the field was the largest and most competitive ever since Worlds are in Chicago next year.  ALL the fast girls were there.  Top half would be very difficult, so I also had in mind something one of my former students said on my facebook wall the night before, "You only race the clock."  I loved that.  The clock for me had me finishing no faster than a 2:40 for an olympic-distance triathlon.  If I could at least beat that, then I beat myself.

The gun went off and it was of course a mass of elbows, feet, and bubbles.  I was with a good pack for quite a bit, and then about halfway saw them inching away.  I was like, "bye, guys...."  I started to get discouraged and felt that I was SURELY the last one in my wave.  Silly thoughts like that start to pop in and you just have to block them out.  I wasn't last--not even close.  My swim wasn't great:  29:12.  Not my best, but considering my training, I'll take it.  One of these days, like Coach Emily says, when I can swim 3-4 times a week, I'll actually see a swim time I'm capable of.  Until then, it's just a matter of getting through it. 

T1:  I couldn't get my wetsuit off.  I was that guy, floundering and flailing.  Perhaps I should have put it on more than once this year.  So many triathlon rules broken...oops.  Oh well.  Fit people flew by me effortlessly, and I once again cursed myself for not freaking practicing this crap.

THE BIKE--1:11

Okay! My element! Where I pass the chicks!

Except, no.  Not in this type of race.

Which was good for me, and expected.  Whereas I usually make up a ton of ground on the bike in my local races, I knew that I may be able to only pass a few of these fast girls.  So I remembered what my former student said and thought "You versus the clock."  I had never gone faster than 19.6 mph in an olympic distance triathlon.  I knew the winds were light and aside from a few bridges with slowly increasing grades, it would be a pretty flat course, so I really wanted to hit it hard and see what I could do.

Saw LOTS of officials out which was nice and it kept people honest, although this rule-follower panicked a bit every time I heard a motorcycle approaching.  I thought I might get a penalty for EXCESSIVE SNOTTING. Seriously.  Without my cycling gloves I had no where to try to stop the snot floodgates, so I was just disgusting.  I tried the "I'm Just Scratching My Nose" approach and attempted a "Part Of My Jersey Makes A Good Kleenax" tactic, but nothing worked.  In the end, I just tried to make sure no one was behind me and executed a good, Midwestern farmer's blow.

Keepin' it classy, ladies and gentlemen.

I passed maybe 2 or 3 girls, and maybe 3 or 4 girls flew by me (mostly early on), so I counted that as a victory.  I felt strong and kept saying to myself, "NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS, self.  No doggin' it.  Find another gear."  And I did!  I ended up with an average speed of 20.7mph for a HUGE Olympic distance PR on the bike leg.  Progress.  I may even be able to say I'm a decent cyclist now!  Well, by triathlete standards of course.  Roadies still scare me.

T2:  Statistically speaking, the fastest part of my day when compared to the age group.  Yay for me and T2!  I am the T2 champion! Because that totally matters NEVER!

THE RUN--49:16, 7:55/mile

So I knew my best run for an Olympic distance came about 5 years ago which was also my distance PR.  51:29 was the fastest I'd ever done a 10k at the end of a tri.  I was determined to blow that out of the water.  I wanted to go under 8s, but I wasn't sure given the Mexico trip and my antibiotics for getting sick after the Mexico trip that I could do that.  I felt like "If only I could have tried a few more bricks" that maybe I'd be able to do it.  The shouldas and couldas crept in for sure.

Michelle and I were laughing at someone's question at the pre-race meeting about "where are the timing mats on the run," because we were like WHO CARES? Run as hard as you can until you almost hurl, and then you know you did it right.  That's what I tried to do.

Same thing:  passed a few and a few passed me.  I pretty much stayed the same place the whole race.  And things got hard, and I tried to just think, "You Versus Clock. You Versus Clock." the whole time.

It worked.

The last mile and a half or so hurt and was definitely over 8:00/mile, but the others? They were all in the high 7:40s/low 7:50s.  I ran past Sister Madonna around mile 2 and she and I smiled and said, "Nice job!" which made my day.  And at Mile 4 I realized something that you don't get to realize much but when you have that moment it's awesome:  I am going to PR big time.  It's just a matter of how much.  So I dug as deep as I could and made my way to the finish line.

I did a cheesy fist-pump thing because I was so happy and as usual the race photographer managed to capture the most unflattering moment of this ever, complete with rolls, muffin top, and the most ridiculous facial expression ever made.  In my head, it always looks so much better.  You won't see that, but here's the video:

I was spent.

A race volunteer asked me if I was okay, and I said, "Yeah...." so he pushed me definitively toward the center of the crowd.  And then a girl put a medal around my head and I looked up to thank her and...



Chrissie Wellington @ KONA "YOU...YOU'RE...You're CHRISSIE WELLINGTON!" I said like I was an 11-year-old girl at a Justin Bieber concert.

She did her signature smile and laugh as I bumbled around like an IDIOT and she gave me a big hug!  And then I told her she was "like my FREAKING IDOL!"  And I'm pretty sure then that she was laughing at me and not with me.


Race time:  2:34.58
82/158 F 35-39

PR of almost 6 minutes.  My watch said faster so I thought it was 6, but still, I will take this.  I will DEFINITELY take this.
Now, if you know anything about math, you will be quick to point out that I missed the top half of the age group.  I am in the top 51%.  I decided not to give a crap about that.  I am calling that "close enough" and pretending that in my math world it's really 50%.  The other thing I'm trying to remember is with Worlds in Chicago next year, there were probably even more fast chicks who came to play this year.

I beat me.  I kicked me's ass.  Me 2008 and Me 2012 weren't even CLOSE to Me 2013.

In the end, I went from not feeling like I should be there to doing what I really only dreamed I could do.  It was pretty much the ideal race.  And I had a BLAST.

I'd love to do more olympics in the future, but if I do that, I really need to focus on swimming.  Olympic distance races totally favor the swimmers and I just can't compete where I am now.  But, I do believe breaking 2:30 is in my future.  Because Coach Emily says so.

I've never been so happy to be so mid-pack.  Because, let's face it: the cards are stacked against us 36-year-old-working-stiff-mommies-of-two.  It's so nice to show conventional wisdom who's boss.

I have one more goal yet to tear up.  And based on what my body has shown me this season, I've got it's number for sure.  I'm excited to keep working hard and do the thing that I was never supposed to be able to do.  

Remember--I'm rarely first, but I'm the kid with a lotta heart.