What a day! 2017 USAT Age Group National Championships, Omaha, NE
I am a planner. I had a plan for the day. I had a schedule in my head, I had a nutrition plan, and I had a tactical race plan. All was going well with my morning routine right up until it was time to call a Lyft to get us to Levi Carter Park. The problem was, there weren’t any! At least not for 40 minutes!
Trying to manage my rising level freakout, I immediately started googling and calling every taxi company in Omaha and told Kat to download Uber and request one ASAP. There were no available taxis BTW. So in a panic I texted my friend who was also racing that I might not have a way to get to the park. Heart rate through the roof! Not the best way to start the day.
A few minutes later, Kat snagged an Uber and we arrived at the park in plenty of time to stick to my warm up plan. Phew!
After setting up my transition and triple checking placement of everything: nutrition, tires, the rubber bands holding my shoes to the frame, placement of my sunglasses, etc. I started my warm up.
Towards the end of my warm up when I am about to start donning my swim skin, the announcers says there is going to be a 15 min delay. “No problem” I think to myself. More time for me to get to the bathroom — If you’re an endurance athlete, you understand the importance of the pre race poop(s)! — Yes it’s a thing. No one wants to be midway through a 2+ hour race and have to go.
Very shortly after the first announcement came another saying it would be a 20 min delay, then 30. I’m now slightly concerned that my warm up was a waste and I’ll just have to rev back up in the water. Eventually, the national anthem was performed, I did what I needed to do in the porto potties, & it was time to start lining up at the swim entrance chute.
The start was a new experience for me. There was a dock, but we weren’t doing a diving start. It was an in water start and we all had to have a hand on the dock.
My race plan was to position myself just behind that front pack but I don’t know if I ever got a chance at that as these women were hella fast! I tried to hang on but very quickly I had clean water in front of me as they sailed away. I stayed with my rhythm as much as possible and just kept swimming.
Eventually I caught some swimmers who fell off pace including several Wave 1 swimmers (big confidence booster as they started 7 min ahead of us ladies in Wave 2). Once around the 2nd turn buoy we were swimming towards the sun meaning it was incredibly hard to sight the exit. I did my best to swim straight but my time being over 28 min means I probably didn’t. “Oh well” I thought as I pressed the stop button on my Garmin making my way to transition.
Exiting the water on a ramp and stairs was a first for me. There were volunteers to help us out of the water which was nice since I almost ate shit missing the ramp completely. I heard some cheers for “Go Portland” and a couple of “Go Ashley”s as I was running towards transition which gave me a injection of energy. BTW Transition was HUGE! I mean with 1900 athletes it makes sense, that’s a lot of bikes! So, I had a pretty long run from the swim to the bike.
Another first for me was donning an aero helmet in the heat of a race. Those ear flaps are tricky! I made it a point to move, not slowly, but deliberately through my transition so that I didn’t forget anything. It felt weird not having to put on my cycling shoes because they were rubber banded to my bike but it was so awesome to pass the mount line and just hop onto my bike and get going as opposed to waddling over in my shoes and having to clip in at the mount line. I felt so pro!
The first half of the bike was amazing! I felt strong and confident on my tri bike, in the aero bars, wind rushing past my aero helmet (It sounds pretty cool!) as I was grinding at over 20mph. I even felt pretty confident climbing the one big hill on the course, passing a couple of athletes on the way up! It was about 11 miles in that I noticed a twinge in my right knee. It felt like something that would just work itself out so I kept plugging away. Eventually, I realized this pain was not subsiding, in fact it was getting worse. The more I tried to push through the pedals, the more painful it was.
I was in tears by mile 13. I had made the turn around and thought “I might not finish this race.” It was a devastating blow. Instead of breaking down completely, I just took it mile by mile focusing on driving down with my left leg and keeping a smooth upstroke with the right. My speed and power dropped dramatically and I knew my time would suffer for it. But with about 4 miles to go I realized that I was still on target to meet my goal bike time of 1 hour and 20 min. 7 min faster than my previous 40km bike time.
Somehow, I was able to churn out just enough to get me across that dismount line (with a wonderfully executed flying dismount I might add) just a little over 1:20. I was pumped! Hurting, but pumped!
Running my bike in was a clumsy affair. I wasn’t sure my knee was going to hold up and I was feeling a bit delirious. The good news was I had eaten well (cliff blocks) & hydrated well (SOS rehydrate) on the bike. Another win for the day! — Nailing down that nutrition is a whole other piece of the triathlon puzzle.
After racking my bike and shedding my super sweet aero helmet, I slid on my running shoes and headed out. Serendipitously, I crossed paths with my friend who was just finishing her swim as I was starting my run. (She would go on to become National Champion in her age group!) It was a special moment.
The knee pain either dissipated or I just became numb to it because it wasn’t a factor in the run, Neither was my bleeding foot due to a blister on my MTP joint (Big toe joint) that had developed a few days before but hadn’t healed. It wasn’t until I finished the race that I noticed the lovely new brownish red spot on my blue shoes.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. So, numbingly pain free I settled into a nice rhythm on this super flat, two loop course. Almost instantly I found myself matched up stride for stride with another runner and decided to hang on. We’re slowly picking off other athletes on the course and realized we can work together. While pushing each other on the pace we breathily introduced ourselves. Her name is Emily, from Wisconsin. We stuck together, motivating each other almost the whole race. She got a little jump on me at about mile 5 but I closed the gap before the finish and came in right behind her.
That last mile was meant to be a quick kick. That was in my race plan. Stay controlled and then unleash the fury with a mile or so to go. I trained for that. Go run 40 min then run the fastest mile you can. Well, it didn’t quite go as planned, and my last mile was more like a drippy bit of passive aggressiveness rather than a wave of unleashed fury. That said it was still a strong run. About 3 min faster than my run at Hagg Lake Tri 6 weeks ago. Granted, there were no hills to manage on this course, but that’s still a pretty big chunk of time to shave off.
Crossing the finish line under the giant “National Championships” arch was incredible. With my arms raised and a smile on my face I finished, congratulated my race running partner Emily, received my finisher’s medal, and chugged the gatorade they handed me.
It was when Kat found me that I collapsed in her arms and broke down into tears.
It was then that it hit me. The fact that I had come to Omaha with big goals, big dreams. Maybe a bit ambitious for my 2nd olympic distance race but goals nonetheless. The most ambitious one being qualifying for the 2018 ITU World Championships. I did not qualify. Not even close.
But what I did do was amazing and I am proud of it.
It wasn’t my strongest swim, but I know what I need to work on for next season.
It was my best bike ever and I spent 12 miles of it pedalling with pretty much one leg. Just think of what I’ll do with both!
It wasn’t my fastest 10k ever but it was a solid run. And again, I now have some things I can work on for next season.
But beyond all of the goals and the training and the times and the places…
I had fun. It was an adventure. I raced the top age group athletes in the country! Some of whom have been in this sport for many many years. I love the challenge, I love the camaraderie, I am inspired by the greatness out on the course.
I can’t wait to compete again next year!