Friday, August 30, 2013

Race Report: 2013 USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals (Olympic)

This is my report from the biggest and most competitive triathlon I have ever participated in.  It was an awesome and humbling experience.  This report is a long read.  I am trying to write this report for the group that likes to read about my experience and for those planning on doing the 2014 race and looking for any insight. 

Here is a quick summary of my time and rankings from the Olympic distance race (0.93 mile swim, 24.85 mile bike, and 6.2 mile run):

Total Time:  2:34:55
Age Group Placing:  171/183 (whew not dead last)
Male Placing:  1229/1546
Overall:  1694/2677

The 2013 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship in Milwaukee, WI was a race to remember.  I have qualified in each of the past 3 years but was unable to attend due to the race being in Vermont.  However, in 2013 the race moved to Milwaukee and opened the door for me to finally participate in this race as it was within driving distance. 

Coming off a spring and summer with some mediocre training my goal for this race was to enjoy the experience and not finish last in my age group.  Those two goals were accomplished.  I spent most of the winter training for my first marathon which I ran at the end of April.  My mentality was that I could do the marathon, take a week or two off, then get right into triathlon training in preparation of this event.  That was not how it worked out.  The marathon training and the marathon itself took more out of me than I realized.  I felt behind in my triathlon training all spring and summer.  Trying to catch up on key bike building months that were missed and trying to switch running gears from marathon pace to sprint pace.  I have battled myself in trying to find my bike and run speed from a year ago.

Last fall I wanted to have a 2hrs 15 minute time at Nationals (Olympic distance).  In June I realized that time was almost an unattainable goal this year and came to grips with my new goal of just enjoying the race and the USAT experience together.

Leading Up To The Race
The family and I made the 4 hour voyage to Milwaukee Thursday night and stayed at a downtown hotel.  Friday was mostly spent getting my packet, checking my bike in, checking out the city, and watching my kids do the Kids Fun Run.  It was a pretty relaxing day but the nerves started to kick in as the day went on.  By the way, my kids rocked their fun run and they definitely had a blast.  The coolest part for them was being able to run down the red carpet and finish at the same place I would the next day.  Plus a free t shirt and a finisher medal are cool for them too!  Chrissie Wellington started the kids race off with a pep talk which I thought was cool of her to do.

Packet pick up was really easy once we found it.  The signage to get athletes to the right area seemed a little lacking.  Once we found it the process was seamless and just like any other race.  SWAG included the event t shirt, USAT socks, an event drawstring bag, event running hat, and the standard fliers you see at other races.  After that was done I we walked around the expo, got some water bottles, a couple more event shirts, and even some free compression socks.  Honestly, I was expecting this expo to be a lot bigger.  I have seen better expos at smaller events.

Bike check in was really easy.  This is the first time I have left my bike overnight in transition.  My bike spent the night with about 3,000 of it's closest friends.  I didn't leave anything but the bike.  For peace of mind I would bring my watch, water bottles, shoes, etc when I came to the race the next morning.  After I got the bike racked I rehearsed my transitions. 

With the bike checked in and the kids fun run done it was time to head back to the hotel to chill and get dinner.  Friday night was pretty laid back.  Got to watch my kids enjoy the pool and hung out with my family.  Before bed I put my race tats on and got everything I needed for the race tightly packed in the clear plastic bag USAT gave us.  Then it was off to bed.  I didn’t get much sleep  but that’s typical for me on the night before a race.

My hotel was about a mile from transition but my dad offered to drive me down to transition that morning.  I think I probably got down there around 6am.  Once I got transition all setup I checked my clear bag and basically hung out until my swim started.  My wave didn’t go off until 9:30, but the race had a 15 minute delay and now my wave went off at 9:45.  I had a lot of free time so I watched some of the other waves on their swim start and watched some of the athletes at the bike mount line.  I even got to see my family and hang out with them for a little while.  The weather was perfect but sitting out in the sun for 2+ hours anxiously waiting for my race to start probably took more energy out of me than I realized.

By the way the weather was absolutely perfect.  During my race the temperature was in the low 70's and the humidity was very low as well.  The wind was generally light.  By the time I got to the run there was good cloud cover.  Couldn't have asked for a more perfect day to race. 


Swim start for my age group Men 30-34

The swim took place in a lagoon at Discovery World.  The water temp was a perfect 69 degrees and I wore my wetsuit.  My open water swimming is a little sub par because I can’t swim straight and usually have a hard time sighting.  I was excited about this swim because all the buoys were on your right and I am a right side breather which made the entire swim better for me.  I started in the middle of the pack at the start with the goal of trying to hang with that part of my age group for as long as I could.  I held on until around the first pass under the walk bridge then I slowed a little and settled in for the remainder of the swim.  There were a few other guys in my age group that were swimming at the same pace and we traded off on drafting each other. 

Different view of swim start.  Everyone starts in the water.

I was initially concerned about congestion through the, what seemed to be very tight space, canal under a walk bridge.  I got to watch a few other age groups before me go through it and to me it seemed like there was plenty of space.  During my swim I didn’t notice congestion being a problem.  Well, maybe that’s because I was slow and not too many people around me.  The exit ramp from the lake was steep and slick.  Thankfully the ramp was lined with volunteers that basically pulled us up the ramp.

Overall, the swim was what I expected.  I can swim this distance a lot faster in a pool obviously, but I was able to improve 4 minutes from my last 1500 meter open water swim.

Transition 1

Coming out of the water.  I couldn't wait to
get this wetsuit off.

T1 seemed liked it took forever and it did.  As soon as I was out of the water I had my wetsuit halfway off and was on my way to find my bike.  I rehearsed, like I do at every race, going through each transition so I don’t get lost or confused as to where my rack is.  I was able to find my bike pretty easily.  The problem I had was getting my wetsuit completely off.  I eventually had to sit down to get them off my ankles and lost valuable seconds in the process.  With the wetsuit off it was time to grab the bike.


This image was taken as I was making
the first pass over the Hoan Bridge.
 I really enjoyed the bike course.  It was generally flat.  There was a decent climb at the first turnaround around mile 3 and of course the steady climb over Hoan Bridge.  The roads really seemed to be in good shape.  I don’t remember dodging potholes or debris.  For an event this big I really didn’t see any congestion on the bike course.  I was always around a lot of the athletes on the bike course but we all had enough space. 

On the flats I was able to hammer and put out some good speed but I really slowed down and lost time on the first incline at the 3 mile turnaround and also the first trip over the bridge.  On the second pass over the bridge heading back into transition I felt I got over it fast and stronger.  I believe on the first two climbs I didn’t push as hard as I should because I was probably trying to conserve a little energy.  I am generally pretty good on climbs and can make up time on a lot of people.  However, this is where my lackluster bike training this spring and summer finally caught up to me.
I didn’t go as fast as I wanted.  I averaged 21.2 mph and was hoping to average between 22-23mph. 
It was a fun and fast bike course.

Transition 2

Transition 2 was uneventful.  No problem dismounting or finding my bike.  Racked the bike, put my running shoes on, and headed out for the 10k run.


I didn’t know what to expect on the run because my runs this summer in triathlons and stand alone races has been inconsistent and slower.  In my last 10k triathlon run my run sucked and was a slow 8:21/mi pace.  I really wanted to average about a 7:30/mi pace at this event but I ended up with a 7:54/mi pace.  An improvement from the last race but still slow for me. 

The run course was flat and scenic along Lake Michigan and up and down Lincoln Memorial Drive.  For me the water and ice stations were placed perfectly.  The volunteers did a great job in keeping athletes on course and were really energetic. 

The Finish

Most of my finish photos are me looking
down at my watch.  Wanted to make sure
this one was halfway decent.

As I got closer to the finish line the crowd was getting bigger.  My adrenaline started to kick in and my pace picked up.  I was almost there.  The finish line I have been dreaming about crossing was just up the road.  But wait, that dude ahead of me is in my age group.  So I kicked it in and passed him.  As I went under the Mason Street Bridge I could see the red carpet finish line through the sea of people lining a path to it.  It was everything I imagined it would be.  As I hit the red carpet I did a quick check around me to make sure I had enough space between me and the other finishers so they wouldn’t photo bomb my finish photo.  Yes, that ran through my head.  I may not have had my best race but damn it I am going to get a good finisher photo.  I crossed the finish line and got my medal.  Somehow I missed getting my medal from Chrissie Wellington.  Maybe I did, who knows, as I was a little dazed at that time. 

I did it!  I finished the race I have been wanting to do for 3 years.  I competed against the best in the country and had a blast getting my butt kicked.  It was an amazing and humbling experience.


In the end I had a really great time and really enjoyed the experience of competing in an event of this size with tons of talented athletes.  Milwaukee was great city to host this event.  I am starting to like these triathlons in urban settings.  I've done a couple of them and it is much more enjoyable when your scenery is something besides corn fields.  I have never visited Milwaukee before this and it is a pretty cool town.  From the hotel, to the food, to the race venue everything seemed convenient.  Parking wasn’t an issue for us the entire weekend.  My wife and kids easily found a parking garage close to transition even arriving later than most people. 

My only recommendation is the clear plastic bags.  I understand and appreciated the emphasis on safety post Boston Marathon.  I wish the USAT issued clear plastic bag could have been a little bigger and a little stronger. 

Awesome event in a great city with energetic volunteers.  What more could you ask for.

I want to go back next year.  Except this time I want to do the sprint distance and qualify for Team USA.  The sprint distance is my bread and butter and I am looking forward to getting my speed back.

Train.  Race.  Repeat.

Here are some other photos from the event:

Looking towards the swim start.  Taken Friday morning.

The dock you walk down to get to swim start.

The Finish Line the day before

Transition before any bikes

Very close to the end

The final push

On my way up Hoan Bridge

On my way up Hoan Bridge

Doing my best to finish strong

View of the finish line, expo, and transition area from the
elevated walkway from the Art Museum to a parking garage.

My younger brother and I before the swim

My parents and I

The orange shirts are the volunteers pulling swimmers out
of the water and up the slick ramp.  This was a great swim
course for spectators.  As you can see the spectators had
a lot of spots to view the swim.

This may be a view from the parking garage.  Looking east
towards the Art Museum and the finish line

View looking towards the exit ramp you take up to Hoan Bridge

Almost there!

View from the walk bridge that went over the swim course

View from the walk bridge that went over the swim course

The very steep and slick swim exit ramp.  Thankful for the line
of volunteers that pulled us up!



Coming into Transition 2

Coming into Transition 2

Bike and Run exit from transition

View from the stands at the finish line