Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Nationals Double

The first race: Olympic Distance  .9 mile swim, 24 mile bike and 6.2 mile run
Second race: Sprint Distance 1/2 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 3.1 mile run (the next day) 
Transition closed: 7:30
Race start time: 7:40
My wave number: 15
My start time: 9:50
Equals way too much time for butterflies to take over my stomach.

Starting at nearly 10 am is so different; I am usually finishing my races at this time. I warmed up and took in food and liquid the best I could. It was hard to know what and when to eat with this much time.

As my swim start time approached Gina and I made our way to the water. I had to stop at the bathrooms for a while; Gina must have thought I fell in. I can’t help my nerves and what they do to my stomach. Steve said its something I can work on and that I can control.

The swim was a straight shot and under a bridge and into a cove, then a big loop back to the other side of the bridge up a very steep and short exit ramp.

Among the hundreds of athletes I put my wetsuit on and waited for the 30-34 age group to be called to the deck. There were just over 200 of us and no they did not split us up. I walked down the ramp and realized I still had my flop flops on! I took them off and threw them up to Gina. We all jumped in and warmed up the water was 70º perfect temp. I swam for a few minutes then did some sprints getting myself ready for the start. 2 minutes to start came over the PA I made my way over and positioned myself front row far right. For each wave they played music from that decade to get us started. About a minute left they announced we’d be delayed but didn’t say why. I swam some more and as time went on most were getting out of the water. I wanted to stay in as long as possible, one to keep my core temp down and two to keep my arms moving. After about 6-7 minutes they asked all of us to come out. We could see a rescue truck on the shore just before the bridge but they weren’t telling us what was happening.

At the 2012 Nationals during the Olympic an athlete had a heart problem and drowned in the swim. I was racing the Sprint the next day. I was really hoping that it didn’t happen again.

After 10 minutes they brought us back to the start line. Just before the count down they encourage every wave to high five their neighbor. I high fived mine and said have fun. The count down was a deep drum like a heartbeat. That got my heartbeat going. The horn sounded and we were off. With 200 hundred women it was a bit crowded. I did the best I could and drafted when  possible. I got elbowed in the face a few times and definitely kicked a few too.  I kept getting stuck between two girls and got a huge mouthful of water. It went down so fast my gag reflex didn’t even kick in to try to stop it, I just swallowed it. The water was really choppy so it made it hard to sight. I followed others and drafted one girl the last minute to the exit. My plan to swim to the right side and grab the rail went perfectly. Volunteers lined the ramp and pulled us up it was very helpful.

I waited until I was on flat ground to pull my goggles up and my arms out of my wetsuit while passing a few girls.

The rows were lettered and I was in row M. I spotted my bright green bar tape switched over as fast as I could. There is a line that we have to cross to mount out bikes. Most stop right at that line, I saw it was crowded and went beyond before getting on and got out in front of the cluster. I got up to speed and began to settle in. The roads were closed to all traffic so that’s one distraction we didn’t have to deal with. At Nationals there is a huge fleet of USAT official on the backs of motorcycles driving the bike course looking for infractions. Drafting, not passing on the correct side, not passing in the allotted time 15 seconds and those that have been passed dropping back to the proper following distance of four bike lengths. A 2:00 min penalty is given if any of these are seen, 6 minutes for two penalty’s and disqualification with three offenses. After the turn around, we made our way up the exit ramp of the highway 794 that had been shut down for both races! Racing on the highway is always so fun. I picked off about 10 girls in my age group and most of which had aero helmets. Out to the turnaround and back over the bridge and back to transition. I forgot to recognize my spot with out green bar tap and looked for my stuff in row M. Big mistake everyone’s stuff looks the same, black inside out wetsuits swim caps and goggles tossed to the side. I ran right by my spot and my brain switched to looking at numbers on the racks. Mine was 3302 I stopped at 3317 and tuned around. Switched over and headed out for the 6.2 mile run. I felt fine at that point and passed one of the girls who passed me on the bike and at about mile 1.5 my stomach began to hurt/cramp. I tried to block it out but it wasn’t working. My turn over wasn’t fast and my legs felt like Popeye’s arms look. I held it together the best I could. More and more racers passed me which doesn’t happen often. Then I began to recognize some of the girls passing me as the ones I worked so hard to pass on the bike. It kept happening and I was getting so frustrated with myself and just wanted to stop but that really wasn’t an option – I don’t quit.

There are a few questions athletes ask themselves when it gets tough. Am I hurting so bad I may be injuring myself? Am I going to pass out? Can I still feel my legs? If the answers are no then there is no reason what so ever, to stop. That’s when it becomes mental. Knowing the hundreds of hours put into training kept me going, knowing how many people have sent me words of encouragement kept me putting one foot in front of the other, knowing Steve would resign as my coach if I stopped, kept me going. He wouldn’t. So I kept going. I finished in 2:29:21 with a 29:06 .9 mile swim a 1:08:0224 mile bike and a 48:20 6.2 mile run. I didn’t meet my placement goal but 53/157 wasn't bad for my first Olympic distance race at the National level. 

After some tears and words of encouragement from Gina I started to be ok with 53rd. There was nothing I could do but look forward to the Sprint race the next day. It took most of the day to get over it. Steve called me, Tami called me and they both said Sprint is your specialty and we support you no matter what place you come in. The evening was filled with rest, food and hydration. Gina cooked a wonderful dinner cous cous chicken and mixed veggies.

Sunday came and I was excited. We knew the routine; traffic, parking and timing. I set up my transition and wasn’t as nervous. I was closer to the end of the rack so there was no confusion during the race. We walked back to the car for me to start my warm up. It was away from all the action so I could focus on what I had to do to get myself ready and not worry about others. Again, as I was warming up, the race had already started and the butterflies began to take flight but I pushed them out the best I could.

The start came and I was so ready to do what I do, no matter the outcome. There were less in my age group so I felt better about that. My swim plan was the same start; in the front and draft when the faster swimmers got by me. That worked a few times. I got squished between two girls like three times over the ½ mile course. It was so frustrating, I got kicked and elbowed and had to change my stroke. The exit was a challenge to see so I did my best to follow the girl ahead of me in. I had the same strategy up the ramp; stay right, grab volunteers hands and wait until I was all the way up to the flats before I started stripping off wetsuit, goggles and swim cap. I made the right decision again as I passed others who were struggling. I swam my fastest ½ mile 13:25

Found my spot, pulled wetsuit off and got my shoes and helmet on. Unracked my bike and went straight down the row where the rest of the bike racks weren’t being used –left over from Olympic race- avoided all other racers and got out in about 2 minutes.

It took me a few tries to get into my pedals but I made up for that as I got up to speed asap! I started picking off cyclists but less than 2 miles in one of the girls passed me. It's been A LONG time since that's happened. It lit a bigger fire in me and I chased her down. I got her on the long gradual uphill and made the 180 turn before her. I descended but she was faster and left me in the dust- respect. 

I made my way back through town and the crowd. It took a few seconds to soak it all in; the venue, the crowd, the competition, that all my hard work was paying off and I have the opportunity to be in this race. I made my way up the exit ramp and picked off a few more. I didn't know where the turn around was but it came up fast. That felt good. I peddled hard back up and over the bridge and could see the venue, again I smiled and was so grateful to be racing.  I came into TA and knew exactly where my bike was. Switched over and was out on course in no time.

The start of the course was lined with screaming spectators which always helps to go a little faster. I felt really good, quick and light. I started doing my thing, passing guys and girls! My confidence was getting stronger and stronger. There was an athlete who must have finished before me and was seeig how the race was shaking out. For some reason, he noticed me and knew where I was with in my age group. He yelled I was 10th when I started my run. At the 2.5 mile mark he kept track and said I was 6th or 7th and told me to keep it up and push it. I didn't him but he had his eye on me strange but cool. With a 1/2 mile to go he yelled your 4th!! I passed one more girl in my age group and got super excited knowing I had moved into 3rd place!! My heart began to race and my breathing changed. I need to calm down so I could finish the race. I pushed my current placement out of my mind and refocused on my pace.

I could hear the roar of the crowd and gave it my all. I felt so good. I finished strong, got my finishers medal and began the frantic search for Gina. I finally found her and she had the biggest smile on her face and was throwing her fist in the air. We hugged and she was so incredibly proud! I was too. We still didn't know exactly what place I was in but we knew it was in the top 25 so I was going to Worlds!!

We got in line for the results ticket and when I saw it I was both a little disappointed that I wasn't 3rd but so excited, I was 4th in my age group. I called Steve and he was very proud of me too.

I did a cool down run and changed and got ready for the award ceremony. For this race they honor the top 5 in each age group on the podium. That was so cool!

Results: 4/63
I was tied for 1st in the run for women in my age group!

The award ceremony was great! They began with the oldest age groups and ended with the youngest. It was so nice to see top 5 for each AG. Not many were holding their hands up in celebration. I wanted to change that. When my age group was called I made my way to the stage and up onto the podium. they put the medal around my neck and when 5th place got hers the audience clapped and I grabbed the women's hands next to me and raised my arms, the rest of the podium followed I had the biggest smile ever!!

From there we had to decide and sign the Team USA sheet if we wanted our spot on Team USA for the World Championships in Chicago in 2015. There was no hesitation for me!!

It was the perfect ending to an amazing weekend!!

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