Thursday, August 31, 2023

USAT Milwaukee Sprint Nationals

This was my 7th time racing at USAT Nationals, but every other year I have raced the Olympic distance (1500m swim/40k bike/10k run). Sprint distance is literally half the distance in each event, which made the training load a lot more manageable amidst the chaos of our lives right now. It still seemed like too much at times, and I had seriously contemplated pulling out of it altogether. I love finding out what I am capable of though, so I pushed through. Looking at past results, I thought I had a chance at making podium (which I have only done once before at Nationals – 2 years ago when I placed 9th). It takes making top 8 to automatically qualify for the World Championships, but I thought I had a chance, so that was my goal going into the race. Shoot high, right?

As I was packing for the race, I could not find one of my triathlon gear bags. Since our house is under construction and we are living in only half of it right now, we have yet to unpack all of our boxes. After driving myself crazy that I could not find it, I accepted the fact that I would have to just buy a race belt (usually around $10) at the race expo. For Nationals, we have to pick up our race packet as well as check in our bike the day before the race. Fortunately, I caught the fact that I had missed the packet pick-up closing time and adjusted our leave time (I would have been 2 hours late and missed it!). We of course didn’t leave as early as I was hoping either, and then after we left we had to turn back around to switch out cars because the one we started with didn’t sound so good! I spent the rest of the drive stressing out about getting parked and to packet pick-up in time.

Andy dropped me off with my gear and I made it to packet pick-up with 15 minutes to spare. Whew! After getting all checked in, buying a new race belt at the expo, and doing a shake-out run, Andy and I went out to eat. Later as we were pulling into our hotel, I realized that I had forgotten to pack my pre-race breakfast! I ALWAYS pack my breakfast, which is ALWAYS the same thing every time. Things just didn’t seem to be going my way. The hotel offered a packed breakfast bag to-go that I was able to pick up in the morning, and it actually had good pre-race items. I got my transition set up, and my wave started at 7:23am, which was great compared to a 9:22am start that I would have had with the Olympic distance!

I felt like I had a good start with my swim but it wasn’t long before I was getting passed. My time was slower than what I know I should be able to do, but I didn’t want to focus on my time being slow. I hoped to make up for it on the bike. I was really grateful for the shorter distances while I was out there racing! The bike ended up being a lot tougher than what I was hoping. The first half went alright, but when it came to the bridge, the cross wind was so brutal that when I got to the downhill, I felt like the wind could literally knock me over. I had the disc on the back wheel, but I think even if I hadn’t had that on, I would have still felt unsteady. That was the most terrified I have ever felt in the wind. I needed to take advantage of the downhill to make up for the lost time in the ascent, but I felt so unsteady that I stayed out of my aero bars and I could not push the speed. That was incredibly discouraging.

         I switched out my bike for my run gear in T2 and started running through transition when suddenly I realized that I had forgotten to grab my race belt with my bib number (remember that race belt I had just bought the day before for this?!)! So I TURNED AROUND and went back and grabbed the race belt by my stuff and buckled it on. I wasted more time yet again. I tried to just start catching anybody who was in front of me at that point, which with age groups overlapping at this point, there were plenty to chase down. Someone called out, “Good job, 6302!” and I got nervous because that must have meant that someone from my age group was right behind me (I was 6304).

The first mile was too slow, probably around 6:52. That was also about the point at which I saw Andy and asked him what place I was in. He said 8th. Two miles to go. I had done that distance so many times in training I reassured myself and picked up the pace. I wanted to hold that spot. Top 10 make the podium. Top 8 automatically qualify for the World Championships. I could not let anyone catch me at that point. My best bet was to try to catch the next one in front of me. A man passed me at a good clip and I decided to go with him. With a half mile to go, someone again yelled, “Nice job, 6302!” At that point I was suspicious so I looked down at the race bib I had put on and I had accidentally grabbed my transition neighbor’s belt! What a doofus! I wasted that time in transition for nothing, as I then flipped my belt around so nobody else would read my bib as I finished the race (my timing chip was on my ankle so it didn’t affect results or anything like that). In the last quarter mile, I pushed hard. When I hit the carpet for the finish chute, I gave it anything I had left. 

I finished 8th in 1:14:23, surpassing my goal of 1:15 and accomplishing what I had believed I could do. I not only made podium, but I placed high enough to automatically qualify for Team USA for the World Championships in Malaga, Spain for 2024! There were so many times, leading up to the race, and during the race, that I could have felt defeated (and there were times in training where I was definitely defeated!). But if life has taught me nothing else, I should know that when things don’t go your way, keeping pushing ahead. Live unashamed. Live without regrets. Also, don’t take someone else’s race bib.

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