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.
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.
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.
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