I sat staring at my blank computer screen for awhile before starting this blog entry, because I wasn’t quite sure where to start. There was, and still is, a lot of emotion surrounding my first USAT Age Group Nationals and I don’t know if I’ve even sorted it out 48 hours later! I’m pretty tough on myself in most areas of my life and triathlon is no different. Like a lot of athletes, I set high (if not sometimes unreasonable) expectations for myself, and when I decide to commit something, it’s either all or nothing. In a way, I envy the people that can separate the emotion from the sport and just do it for fun. Don’t get me wrong, I still approach every race reminding myself to have fun and be supportive and courteous to others on the course, because that’s truly what the sport is about, as well as what I have come to love the most about it. But I am competitive, I do like to win, and I am disappointed when I don’t meet my own expectations.
I really wanted to qualify for the USA Team and Worlds this weekend and I didn’t. I wasn’t fast enough. That’s a hard statement to make when it’s something that you wanted so badly and had put months of mental and physical energy into! I’m trying to keep in perspective that this is my first full triathlon season and that most people don’t qualify for Worlds at their first Nationals – maybe that was one of those unrealistic expectations. Despite not qualifying for Worlds, what I found most important about this weekend was I had a great experience, I didn’t crash, get a flat, or get kicked in the face on the swim (my primary concern!), and that I am continuing to learn more about myself at every race and the sport of triathlon. I am already excited to do it again next year! (If you’d like to skip to the race only, just scroll down 😊)
We arrived Thursday evening and got settled in the hotel, pulled the bike out of the carrier and got it put together to make sure everything was working properly, which it was. Cleveland is a three-hour time difference from California, so I’d been waking up at 5am to hopefully make the transition a little bit easier. I woke up at 5am east coast time on Friday morning and headed out the door where I luckily found a big empty parking lot to practice my transitions. I literally almost crashed my bike getting on at my last race 2 weeks ago and I did NOT want to make the same mistake twice! So, I took about 40 rubber bands with me out there – practice, practice, practice! I went back inside to leave my bike and change so I could go back out for a little run warm up, which consisted of a 15 minute easy jog, followed by 3 x 20-30 sec sprint at 5k pace, followed by a short cool down jog. The legs were feelin’ good!
Around 10 am, we packed up and headed over to the park and expo to check in and get to the designated swim practice, which was from 11am-1pm in the lake. Having never been to one of these things, I didn’t really know what to expect and I couldn’t believe how fit everyone was!!! I know that’s silly on my part because, duh, you’re at Nationals! This was the second largest USAT Age Group National Championships on the books, so there were a LOT of people and a LOT of bikes. The count was somewhere around 5000 people between the sprint and the Olympic distances. In my age group alone, there were 30 more people than the previous year and I’d heard that in other age groups there were double that. Anyway, I got my packet and met up with a teammate from Orange County to ride the run course.
Everything felt good, bike felt good, we got our picture taken in front of the “Cleveland” sign, shook the legs out and then headed back to the car to change for swim practice.
I was happy to have my teammate there to hop in the water with, even though they have lifeguards out on paddle boards, but today the water was ROUGH. I thought having done a few races in the Pacific Ocean would prepare me, but I had NO IDEA that the lake could have such intense currents and swells. Only a little way out I heard a strange noise, stopped to look around and realized it was my teammate choking. Her back was to me, so I couldn’t tell what was going on, and by time I said, “Are you OK??” she was flagging down the lifeguard (who was over in no time at all and she grabbed onto his board). She literally almost drowned less than 100 yards from shore. They tell you these things, but it really is true…. It doesn’t matter how strong a swimmer you are, it really can happen to anyone. She said I should go on, so I swam out a little way to check my sight lines to the first buoy, and then swam over to the finish line to check out the sightline coming out. The guards and locals promised all us concerned swimmers that surely the lake would be calm and smooth the next morning. That would prove to be a wishful thinking!
The rest of the evening was resting, Netflix, a nice dinner that was easy on the stomach, some course studying, packing my transition bag, prepping overnight oats to take with me, and then trying to get to bed at a decent hour. That usually never works because I just lay in bed obsessing about my race!
I LOVE RACE DAY. Who else LOVES race day?! I woke up at 5am, put my tattoos on, did some stretching, and ate my first of 2 breakfasts of granola with fruit. We had racked our bikes overnight so grabbed just my gear bag and we headed to Edgewater Park. Truth be told, I had had nerves for about 2 whole days before race morning. I think it was a combination of first time jitters plus really wanting to perform well. I have been performing on stage since I was 4 years old; this has helped me tremendously with performance mindset, dealing with performance anxiety, but also how to prepare mentally to perform your best. However, despite all of my training, I still get butterflies! When I mentioned this to a few friends when they asked how I was feeling, I said that I had nerves; naturally they would ask what were the biggest things that I was nervous about. When I thought about it, the things that came to mind were: 1) getting kicked in the face in the swim. 2) crashing my bike during transition. And, 3) having an accident while on the bike course. Yes – I wanted to make top 18 to qualify for Worlds, but what it came down to for me was being nervous about just having a good race and performing to the best of my abilities…having something go wrong because of my own errors.
RACE DAY SWIM 33:32
We were all nervous because the water temp was dangerously close to 78 degrees, which would’ve meant no wetsuits (to all the non-racers out there, you’re faster in a wetsuit so we all wanted to wear them!). Around 6am, an hour before the race start, they announced that the temp was 75 degrees. There was a collective cheer from the thousands of racers in transition! I got all my gear set up, and left transition to eat my second breakfast of overnight oatmeal with almond milk and raisins; I still had an hour to wait before my wave was scheduled to go off at 8:05 am, so I found somewhere quite to stretch, get in a warm up jog, and prepare for my swim!
It was an in-water swim start, which I’d only done once before, but it was no big deal and I was feeling confident. Some people are in the zone and don’t want to be bothered but I don’t mind sometimes and ended up talking to the girl next to me in line – not only was it her first Nationals, it was only her second triathlon ever!!!! She seemed extremely nervous, so I tried to give her a pep talk, told her to have fun and listen to her body, but realistically I was probably aiming that pep talk at myself as well. We got off to a good start, but by about half way to the first buoy it was evident that the current had picked up and those swells were starting to take a toll. By time I made the right had turn to head to the second buoy, my mind was definitely not as focused as it should’ve been – I was thinking about how the swells were the worst I’d been in, how much more tired I was then I should have been at that point, I started thinking about my colleague that had choked the day before; then I started realizing how hot I was in my full wetsuit and how I should’ve brought my sleeveless. Also, I also couldn’t find the buoy – there were no markers along the way, and it was a long sight to that next yellow buoy. I made the BIG mistake of just blindly deciding to swim in the direction that I thought the buoy was. There were a few girls near me, so I assumed that we were all headed pretty much the right direction. Eventually I found myself on my own and had to stop swimming completely to see over the swells and find the buoy. I was off, and the current had been pulling me back toward the beach – not where I wanted to be! It’s mentally defeating to make a mistake like that so early, especially because I consider myself a strong swimmer; it was tough to feel like I was struggling. But I foraged on, made it to the finish, actually only came out of the water in 36th place (I would’ve thought I would be way further back after going off course), but I was exhausted. Then there was the quarter mile run to T1!
*For reference, the water was bad enough that one man did die, and they cancelled the swim for the Sprint race the following morning.
RACE DAY BIKE – 1:12:08
I’ve always been solid and quick in transition area, so I had a good T1. I’d practiced that barefoot mount 20 times, so I nailed it at the race, and I’m not going to lie (warning: moment of gloating ahead), it felt good to run past all those girls stopped at the mount line that had to stop to climb on and clip in (OK, back to being humbled). My coach had reminded me the day before to do my OWN race despite what everyone else was doing, so I made my personal goal for this race to keep my bike over 20mph avg. And it worked! I averaged 20.7mph and was super proud of myself. My last race had been 19.5 mph avg. Baby steps! For those interested in my nutrition, I had a 16oz bottle of water with 1 package of Manuka Sport Hydration (115 cal, BCAAs, electrolytes), + 2 scoops of CarboPro (200 cal). I sipped on this the entire ride. I had an equally smooth dismount and speedy transition into the run.
RACE DAY RUN 47:13
I had about a year and a half of extra experience of running before I started doing triathlons, so I’m always confident on the run and don’t worry too much about it. I had felt so good on the bike and been hammering harder than I normally do because it’s Nationals and I wanted to lay it all out there!! So, I wa
s a little nervous when I started out of transition for the run, because my legs hurt more than normal. We started out with a long slow climb (ugh!) and then proceeded on the running/biking paths through the park. My thoughts about this run course were that: 1) some parts were so narrow it you could hardly pass someone without bumping into them, 2) I did not enjoy all the windy paths – they were hard on my joints and made it difficult to keep any sort of pace (maybe that was just me), and 3) we had to climb up a gnarly bridge at the end right before the finish line… It was kind of fun, but totally sucked!! It was almost 10am by time I started on the run, so it was quite warm, and I was pouring water on myself at every aid station. I didn’t eat any gels or drink anything – I wasn’t feeling dehydrated, getting chills, or feeling hungry, just mostly mentally fatigued. I had a nagging strain in my hip that had been bothering me (and I’d been ignoring) all week and it started to rear its ugly head, but I wouldn’t say that slowed me down too much, it was just more of a distraction.
I didn’t have a bad run, it just wasn’t my best. And sometimes that happens!
I wouldn’t say I’m sad, but I am bummed and disappointed. I’m also proud, humbled, and incredibly inspired and motivated. I had waited and dreamed about running down that red carpet for months, and it’s definitely going to keep a smile on my face for a long time when I think about that feeling! 48 hours is enough to revel in my woes, so now I’m going to embrace the inspiration and motivation. I’m already getting pumped up again about my next few races of this season and then getting to work on planning my next year of races. I’ve got some BIG and EXCITING goals for next year!!! Stay tuned 😊