Race Report - Aquathlon Worlds with Terri Gierer


I remember the first time I went to US Nationals in Milwaukee.  I was so overwhelmed by the number of athletes and how fit they all looked.  Yet, I felt in my heart that I had a decent chance of qualifying for Worlds that year.  My age group is generally not very competitive – so I was thinking it would be the almost the same.   I only had to be in the top 18 I think, with a roll-down to 25.  I began stalking the registration list and watched as the number of women in my age group began to mount before the actual event.  I went through Athlinks and recorded everyone’s fastest Olympic time to see where I might fall in.  I kept falling further down the line, but still felt, if I had a great race, I could do it.  The reality is that I finished 32nd – not even close and I was amazed by the times posted by women in the 60-65 age group – they are really fast!  I had to accept the fact that unless I could keep racing into my 70s, I may never qualify for Worlds.  I really wanted the Team USA kit with my name on the front and on my butt.  I envied those who had one.

Last year at Club Nationals, a good friend, Annette Jacobs told me that I could most likely go to Worlds in Cozumel if I would go to Aquathlon Nationals in Oklahoma City later that month. She said a lot of people don’t even know about it, so anyone who goes generally has a good shot.  I would have to be in the Top 10 in my age group to qualify.  I emailed my teammate and training and racing buddy, Tori to see if she might want to go and she sent back the email indicating she just signed up!  So I guess I was committed.  Again, I watched the list of participants grow as the event approached and I was getting really worried that it would not happen as by no means was it a slam dunk.  I think I figured I needed to beat two girls in my age group to get in.  The aquathlon event at Nationals consisted of an Olympic distance swim and run - 0.9 mile for the swim and 6.2 miles for the run.  I think I had a decent swim but I knew I had to hold up through the run which in the past had always  been my downfall. It wasn’t my best 10k run but it was respectable, and I was really trying to catch the woman in front of me who kept walking – she was in my age group and she noticed I was starting to really gain on her.  She had to quit walking so I was not able to catch her.  However, she thanked me for making her run. I thanked her for giving me the motivation to try to catch her.  At the end of the day, I finished 5th in my age group – good enough to qualify for the World event in Cozumel.

Fast forward to the 2016 triathlon season, and I had put together a full calendar of races with the culmination of my season in September being Worlds in Cozumel.  Throughout the year emails would come from USAT to order uniforms and parade kits, etc.  And after a good sprint race in April, I was looking forward to doing the Olympic distance at the St. Louis Tri.  Then I tripped and fell walking into a store and fractured a rib.  And that ended my race hopes for the St. Louis Tri – so I volunteered instead.  It looked like it was a really fun race, and I was bummed to not be racing.  I also need to mention that prior to that fall, I had tripped several different times on training runs and mostly just scraped my knees – but it was a little concerning that I kept falling down. My coach and I had been working on a remedy for this and I was working on my running form and being aware of my feet on my runs, but the last fall, did sideline me for a little while.

It took about four weeks before I began to feel comfortable running again.  I also had been doing some bike training on the trainer until I felt like I was healed.  Next up was Riverlands Rush – this is such a fun race but it can be really hot since it is in June.  It was really hot that day.  I think it was probably a mistake to get to the race site early only to stand around waiting to start.  This race begins with a 4 mile run that goes off-road for much of the race.  I felt like I made it through the run pretty well.  I jumped on my bike to begin the first 10 mile loop of a two loop ride.  Starting the second loop, I began to feel extremely fatigued and dizzy but I thought I could tough it out.  It was only ten miles but the more I pushed the worse I felt so I stopped, turned around and did not finish the race.  This was a first for me and the psychological effects were pretty bad.  I felt like such a loser for not finishing the race – but I know it was the best thing to do and in the overall scheme of things, it was not an important race for me.

After that race, I really started to feel more fit and back to my normal training pattern.  I had a one-hour bike to do on a Sunday that had been a rainy day.  The rain stopped, and I took the opportunity to get out on my bike to do that training ride.  I hit a route that I normally ride – for those in Saint Louis, I  rode out from the Page Extension bridge lot over to River Valley and back towards Creve Coeur Mill Road.  As I crossed the railroad tracks, the metal on the track must have been extremely slippery from the rain and it pulled my bike right out from under me.  I landed really hard on my right side likely bracing my fall with my left hand as my thumb looked really swollen and bruised.  A very nice young couple stopped to give me a ride back to my car since I really wasn’t sure how bad I was hurt.

My right side was really bruised and looked terrible but I really did not feel all that bad.  I found I had some difficulty with my right arm when trying to swim and my practice times were really slow.  My thumb just seemed swollen and numb but it did not keep me from doing anything.  So I continued my training working towards the New Town triathlon in about two weeks.  I actually raced and did amazingly well, finishing third in my age group and having a really good bike and run.  The swim was not my best because my arm was still bothering me.  However, after crossing the finish line, my right hip hurt so bad I could not walk normally.  I thought with a little rest it would go away but it did not subside.  It was extremely disturbing as I absolutely could not run.  I always heal well with some help from my chiropractor, so I paid him a visit.  He worked on my hip and also my arm.  He actually got his partner to come in to help with the treatment on my hip as it took both of them to work through it.  Here we are in July, I have Ohio 70.3 coming up in August and I really need to get back to a normal training schedule.  With his help, things were improving and I was getting the workouts done.

Back to my thumb.  It just did not seem to be improving.  I was advised to get it x-rayed just to be sure it was not fractured. I finally gave in and went to urgent care.  The x-ray showed that the top joint was completely dislocated and there was a minor fracture.  They advised I go to an orthopedic specialist as soon as possible since it had been three weeks since the accident.  The ortho specialist numbed up my thumb trying everything he could to pop it back into the joint with no luck.  He sent me immediately to a surgeon who also tried to pop it back but then said three weeks is just too long and it now required surgery.  With that went my ability to race at Ohio.  Surgery was scheduled and I woke up with two pins in my thumb and at least four weeks of having it immobilized.

The good news was that I should be good to go for September – Worlds being the week of September 12.  I was able to run while the pins were in but I could not swim.  As soon as the pins came out, my swim workouts became the focus and I avoided getting on my bike until after I returned from Cozumel fearing something else bad might happen.  At least swimming, I was relatively safe from injury.

Finally to the race report on Cozumel.  Tori and I flew into Cozumel on Monday with our race on Wednesday morning.  I am always amazed at how little time there is prior to an out-of-town race – the travel, checking into lodging, packet pickup, athlete meetings, course review, figuring out food, trying to sleep and all of that.  We were able to swim the course on Tuesday.  It was amazing – the water was beautiful and very clear.  However, the time did fly and I awoke early Wednesday morning for the race.  I had my normal pre-race breakfast (imagine the surprise of the customs official who pulled out a jar of applesauce from my luggage). Transition closed at 7:30 and my wave did not even start until 10:00.  It was a very hot sunny day with no real shade.  I did have the opportunity to watch the pros race to help keep me distracted.  I was extremely intimidated and truly feared that I might finish dead last.  After all, I was already in the final wave of the race.  This weighed pretty heavily on my mind and I really questioned whether I had the right to even be involved!  After going to the portajohn more times than I can count and getting down my pre-race fuel, my wave was ready to go.  I took my place towards the back and we all kidded that we were the fun group – no speedsters here.  That made me feel a bit more relaxed.  I need to mention that the race was different than the qualifying race – here we were going to run 2.5k, swim 1000m followed by a final 2.5k run.  Coach had me practice this setup numerous times before race day as it is a little different.  I tried to have a steady pace and not push too very hard since it was hot, there was still a swim and another run to do.  I got to the swim where you were to dive or jump off the dock.  I tried the day before at the swim practice to jump off the dock but I couldn’t do it so I sat down and pushed myself into the water to begin my swim.  At the first turn buoy there was a scuba diver at the bottom to make sure everyone made the turn correctly.  One of the things I didn’t want to do on the swim was to just swim a slow steady pace and try as I might, I could not get myself to move faster.  After the first turn, there is a very long straightaway – you can actually site off the cruise ship that was anchored although I think it moved a bit since the practice.  I also had a problem sighting the final turn buoy at practice and I wanted to be sure I did not do that again.  After the long straight you turn right and begin to angle towards the finish but there is that last buoy to go around before heading in.  I was on another girl’s feet for a bit but finally went past her and picked up another set of feet.  However, we both were going to miss that damn buoy and the kayak came around to point us in the right direction.  At that point, the guy in the kayak was taking my picture but I never did see that one.  I do have pictures from underwater that are really spectacular.

You never get pictures like this at other races – the water would never be this clear.  At the end of the swim you have go up a ramp and I really struggled to stand up so basically had to crawl out of the water.  I have that picture too, but it is pretty sad.  I finally got steadied and ran to T2 to get my run shoes on and finish up the race.  I was feeling pretty tanked at this point, but grabbed some gel and water and hoped for the best.  There was a girl in front of me who would walk from time to time and I was hoping to catch up to her.  I was feeling pretty worn down and the heat was oppressive, but I kept telling myself it is a short run and THIS IS WORLDS you do not walk at Worlds.  I was really happy to make that final turn to the finish line.  Coming down the blue mat (don’t you just love the blue mat?), Team USA reps hand you a small American flag to carry across the finish line.  I finished 11th in my age group in the WORLD!!  I was hoping for top 10, but I’ll take this any day.

The really cool thing was that opening ceremonies were later that evening so we could go and really have a great time. I found it to be very exciting.  You are dressed in the Team USA parade outfit and everyone lines up behind their country’s flag – just like the Olympics.  Then you walk through the streets of Cozumel.  They had a mariachi band playing, spectators lined the streets screaming and yelling for all the athletes and you finally assemble by country out in the town square.  I thought it was an amazing experience.

Even though I did not get to compete in all of my planned races, I made it to the Start and Finish of the most important one.  I am so lucky to have had the World’s experience and I hope I get to do it again sometime.  Now it is time to rest, relax and start planning races for 2017.