race recap: usat age group nationals 2014

CHICAGO – After five years and 14 triathlons, I still learn from every race. Sometimes, I learn more than I’d like to, like the time I didn’t notice I pulled off my timing chip with my wetsuit, or the race I went down to the beach without my goggles and had to run uphill, in a wetsuit, into transition (after it had closed) to grab them. At least I’ll never make those mistakes again.

I had two of those races in the same weekend, and both lessons came on the bike.

USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals is a wonderful experience — that’s why I wanted to soak up as much of it as possible. Milwaukee has a great lakefront course, and the city and its neighbors put together a great environment for athletes, on and off the course. After enjoying it for the first time last year (and suffering considerably), I made it my goal to compete in both distances in 2014, which seemed like a much smarter goal in my 2013 runner’s high than after I finished the first of the two races a few weekends ago.

Anyway. Here’s how it went:

saturday, aug. 9. olympic distance.

I woke up late, which turned out to be a serious issue for the day. I got into transition with 10 minutes till close, and I barely got myself set up amid the official on the megaphone yelling, “Athletes, you need to get OUT of transition. NOW.” I finished securing my cycling shoes during the national anthem, but I didn’t have time for everything.

I had forgotten to check my tire pressure the night before, and I didn’t have time to pump up my tires in transition. I felt I was towing a trailer during the 40K bike leg, and when I checked my tires later, I realized why: I was down more than 40 psi than I normally race on. In retrospect, that certainly didn’t help as I dragged myself across I-794, struggling to keep a steady pace up the gradual incline and yelling at my legs to wake up. (They never really did.)

Considering I was only two minutes off a personal record, that was the difference. I still shaved 6:30 off my time last year, but I can’t help kicking myself over the tire pressure. I also lost a spot in my age group at the last second of the run: I came up behind a woman in my age group with about 800 meters to go, and I was cruising. I debated hanging behind her and sprinting at the last minute, but I felt she couldn’t pass me at my pace.

She sprinted ahead of me at the very end. Oh well.


sunday, aug. 10. sprint distance.

I knew I’d be tired. I didn’t expect much from this race, only that I wanted to empty the tank and finish confidently. When I treaded water before the start, I told myself to muscle through the swim, spend my arms and concentrate on the last two legs — I enjoy those most.

After 200 meters of the swim, I had to back off. I hadn’t realized how tired my arms were from the day before. Once I approached the turnaround, I said to myself, “Screw it, you don’t need your arms. Push. PUSH.” I managed an average swim, which is a good thing in my book.

I jumped on the bike (which had properly pressurized tires this time), and I wanted revenge for Saturday. I hit a bump somewhere in the first half mile (maybe even sooner), and my water bottle dislodged from its bracket between my aero bars. I had to hold it in place. Commence internal debate:

“Do I dump it?”

Don’t you get a penalty for abandoning gear?

“I don’t know … but I can’t hold this for 12 miles.”

It’s only 12 miles.

“But that’s 12 miles of focusing on a water bottle instead of everything else.”

It’s a $60 water bottle.

“Maybe I can toss it to Mom when I pass her…”

It’s also your hydration for the bulk of this race.

“Crap. Fine.”

So I held it. I found it to be quite unpleasant, but at the same time, I think my desire to get off the bike and be done with the water bottle helped me push through fatigue.

If you look closely, you'll see my hands are around my water bottle, not on my aero bars.
If you look closely, you’ll see my hands are around my water bottle, not on my aero bars.

When it came time for the run, I told myself to focus on leg speed. I felt like I had weights strapped around my quads (perhaps just my quads themselves?) but I wasn’t able to generate a great speed. I dropped the water cup I grabbed at the second aid station before I could drink from it, but other than that, it was an otherwise smooth leg.

I displayed quite the pain face at the finish line, and I didn’t know it at the time, but I logged a sprint PR that day. I placed 35th in my age group — 30th on the USA qualification roster. I’m pleased. Plus, it was the last time I got to compete against my sister until we’re in the same age group again in four years.

sisters make the best racing buddies

Still, I could have done better if I dedicated more time to training, as usual. These fantastic fields of athletes tend to be the best motivation, because I know I’m capable of more than I’ve shown, and I’m inspired by their achievements. Most important: I couldn’t have had such a great race weekend without Mama DiGang, aka DiGangi Team Manager (she yelled at some spectators who crossed the course in front of me, providing a much-needed smile as I headed into my 10K Saturday), as well as the ever-supportive Matt Welch. Much love, guys.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a great fall of running goals and fun races to look forward to:

four stars trail run // 4 miles // libertyville, ill. // sept. 20
hilly hundred // 100-mile cycling tour // southern indiana // oct. 11-12
run10feed10 // 10K // chicago // oct. 19
indy monumental // half marathon// indianapolis // nov. 1
hot chocolate // 15K // chicago // nov. 9
turkey day 8K // chicago // nov. 27


post-nationals exhaustion, for real

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