Sunday, August 23, 2009

USAT Age Group Nationals Race Report

After starting this season with the intention of cutting back the serious racing, I really didn’t expect to be back at Nationals this year. Of course, that changed about four weeks ago: I figured I was in decent shape so why not go after it. There was a good contingent going from MN (including my coach), and I knew it would be fun to see fellow racing buddies from all across the country.

Kerry and I arrived Thursday morning which provided plenty of opportunity to check out the venue. The bike course was thankfully hillier than I was expecting, however the hills on the run were significantly less welcoming. With mounting pressure and expectations leading up to the race, I was becoming increasingly nervous. With the help of my great support crew, I was able to put it all in perspective: The pressure is a privilege and being in a position to race for a National championship is a great honor and gift. Yes, I do know this, and after everything is said and done, this is ALL FOR FUN.

Finally it was race day: We had extreme humidity greeting us in the early morning, but as race time approached, the sun came out, temps increased and the humidity dropped closer to ‘normal’. Although the monsoon rains helped lower the water temp to 83, it had a more serious impact on the race course.

As we watched the early waves from shore, it was obvious that something goofy was happening in the river. Swim times were insanely slow, and it appeared as though people were just not moving as they should. As it turns out, the Army Corps of Engineers opened the upstream flood gates due to excessive rains, and the current was MUCH more than we bargained for. Beth and I had the the best armour for the journey up the river.

Here’s a swim map: I felt very strong in the swim and swam solo the entire way. Of course the first leg (with the current) was amazing, but when I made the turn on the back stretch I felt like I was swimming in an endless pool. I just kept telling myself that it’s the same for everyone. Well apparently not so much: I came to find out afterwards that the trick of the day was to swim along the shore. The blue line on the map was my swim line. The red line on the map was apparently the correct place to swim. When I hugged the buoys, the shore looked so far away and figured there was no way I would save time by swimming there. Well I was WRONG… In addition, when we made the final turn into shore, the current was pushing everyone back off course, which meant another upstream swim to the exit. Again, I heard after the race, that the trick was to swim 30-45 strokes past the final turn buoy and then cut across letting the current take you into the finish. black arrows represent CURRENT!

It was an interesting swim to say the least, and I certainly learned something about swimming in rivers. When I saw 27 minutes on my watch at the swim exit I was a little shocked (this is close to my 1.2 mile swim time), but I figured it could mean a greater buffer on the rest of my Age Group. Onward...

The run up to T1 was killer, but I was excited to jump on Big Red and go. It’s a two loop bike with six 180 degree turns. This provided a good opportunity to check in on the competition. We started 6 minutes behind the 25-29 AG, so I was looking ahead to gauge my position against a few top girls in that AG. I felt very strong and smooth on the bike, and was informed after the first lap I had about a 3 minutes lead on that field. I was very pleased with this position and decided to scale back the intensity slightly for the second loop in an attempt to save something for the run. It’s always tough to know that fine line, but thinking back, I wish I had continued to push the pace on the bike (regardless, I know it wouldn't have been enough to move up in the OA standings). On a fun side-note, Devon forgot his race suit at home and needed a backup. Of course, I came prepared and was so pumped to see him out there with Yndestad on his bum. devon picked up the bike preme (new Blue frame) and we both finshed 3rd OA. I think the suit works for both of us.

I was feeling good with my position coming off out of T2, and figured I just had to hold my own on the run for a good shot at the AG win and was within reach of the OA title. With fellow competitors all over the course, it’s impossible to know what’s happening, but I figurd that a 3 min lead over the top girls in 25-29, was a great position. Well the run was TOUGH for me. I’m not sure what it was, but I just couldn’t move my legs. There were NO mile markers on the course making it difficult to gauge pace during the race. Maybe as part of Garmin’s sponsorship, they pulled the mile markers to encourage wearing GPS units. On the first big hill, superstar Bruce G (one of the greatest guys in the sport), ran by and provided some much needed encouragement. After the race he said he thought my heart was about to pop out of my chest [due to my uncharacteristic breathing pattern]. With that, I know I gave it everything I had, and can’t say I didn’t try my hardest out there. (Running downhill-maybe the only time both feet were off the ground.)

We really could have used more ice (they had none) and water on the course, but unfortunately the aid stations were understaffed. With two way run traffic, the volunteers just couldn’t keep up. I missed getting fluids at two aid stations, and that didn’t help ease the suffering. I guess I’m spoiled by the Midwest hospitality and the Ironman buffets. Anyways, I kept trying to motivate myself to run faster, but nothing was working. I figured I still had a decent comfort zone for the AG title, but I knew the OA was slipping away. I tried my hardest out there, and was completely shelled at the finish line. I was immediately informed that I had stayed ahead of the 25-29 AG, but I knew I didn’t put forth an OA title worthy performance. I checked the results and sure enough there were two 20-24 girls who kicked my butt. I really didn’t expect my 3rd OA to hold up to the fast 35-39 AG, not to mention the legendary Linda Robb, but once the official results were drawn up, I was pleasantly surprised that I stayed on the OA podium.

We stuck around the venue for the men’s and women’s pro race. I always enjoy that about this race as it provides not only a chance to watch some of the best in the sport, but also a great opportunity to catch up with fellow racers. With the race behind us, everyone is so mellow and it’s always fun to share war stories from the day. The MJET team had a tent on the ‘Hot corner” so it was a great meeting spot and a perfect place to cheer. In addition to the MN gang, it was super to hang with the awesome duo B & O from PA and Bruce G from TN-Such awesome spirits and attitudes all around. I can’t wait to do it again in Clearwater!

During the Pro race, the MJETS were eager to help motivate Jas to the Elite National Championship crown. Their cheers were simply loud at first... Then it turned to this! I guess it worked-She picked up the Victory!

After a very long day in the sun, we finally made it back to the hotel around 4pm. I was exhausted, dehydrated and very under fueled. Typically that’s a VERY bad combination, but once I got back to my phone, I was immediately revived with all the supportive comments and cheers. I’m so thankful and truly appreciative for all the support this week. I know its cliché, but I’m truly blessed and I couldn’t have done it without you. I’m always touched by the kindness out there.

After a quick bite and shower it was time to return to the University of Alabama campus for the awards ceremony. As you can imagine, going 10 deep with awards in 14 different age groups takes a while-And these start after the thanks-you, top 3 OA, Masters, Grandmaster, Top SBR splits etc. Needless to say, it was a long process, but we made the best of it. Team MN decided to get very enthusiastic for our fellow Statesmen on the podium, and we had plenty to cheer about.
Minnesota's Medalist's

Dennis Dane kicked butt on the run to take 2nd behind defending champ Mark Harms from WI.
OA Top 3. I'm on the podium with two Florida Gators.
Masters podium-Rhett Bhonner (also won his AG), with our friend Bruce from TN.
30-34 AG.
Devon takes 3rd OA, and 2nd in the AG.
He's Lauren getting second in her AG (19U. It's her first year in the sport.

Way to go Team Minnesota!!

Next up…A break in the racing action and onto serious spectalatlete training for IM Wisconsin-Good times ahead!