Talking with your coach about what your next season is going to look like is always the best conversation. At the end of 2016, I told Coach Sam that one of my goals was to qualify for AG Nationals and race it to the best of my ability. I know people who had raced AGN before and they said it was a great experience. I told her I was going to go to a regional qualifier and try and make it. She then told me you would totally qualify at a local race, you don’t need to go to a regional qualifier. I was a bit skeptical at the time she said that, but said okay. The trust between an athlete and coach is key to a successful racing season. I pretty much follow what any of the Evolve coaches suggest. So I put my trust in the process and went after each workout.
Sure enough after my first local race, I got an email from USAT, “Congratulations you have qualified for USAT Age Group National Championship”. I didn’t really understand how you qualify. I learned that you have to be in the top 10% of your age group at any USAT race, unless you race at a regional championship where they take the top third. I registered immediately and luckily my teammate JP qualified the same week. So we both signed up.
JP and I traveled on Thursday for the Saturday race. JP drove and we headed out to Omaha. About 2 hours in, we get a flat tire on her car and we are on the interstate. JP said she would call AAA, I said it will be faster if I change the tire and she finds a tire place while I do that. We unload all the gear from the vehicle: club tent, chairs, gear for two triathletes and get to work. As we load the tire over the two bikes, we both cut our hands and are bleeding, but JP in her usual way has already made friends with the guy at the tire store (via the phone) and now we need to get to Ozzy, so we can get a new tire put on. JP had negotiated with Ozzy and he had promised to get us in and out of Marshall, MO quickly. We get to the tire place and a guy who is smoking a cigarette approaches, of course it is Ozzy, and he complements JP’s muscles and says I bet you're fast. JP says he is faster (she is pointing to me) and I don’t think Ozzy could see past JP’s muscles, nor cared to. But he gave JP a great deal on three new tires, I think cheaper than 3 new Continental GP4000s. In the meantime the crew pulls out a huge first aid kit and tends to JP’s wounds. Mine… Walk it off. I don’t think Ozzy noticed me the entire time. It made for a really fun way to start what would be an epic weekend full of fun and adventure.
So let’s get to the race, the rest of the commute was uneventful. The weather in Omaha had been cooler and I am a boater, so I know how to find the water temps of many bodies of water. I was watching that week as the water temps dropped to 78.6 degrees. I was thinking kick ass. This race should be wetsuit legal if the weather holds. Well the temps warmed up and when we get to the race site and ask Coach Tori, who had already been to packet pickup what the water temps were – 80.6 was the answer. Well this is not a wetsuit race. At this race there is no wetsuit optional choice. So I realized it is what it is. That day I went out and did a practice swim. We were the first ones there in a line of athletes that all looked like they should be on the cover of Triathlete Magazine. I just sat there and thought damn – do I even belong at this race? Well I am here, so I did my warm-up swim and it went fine once I got settled in. But as can happen I started getting doubt in my mind. I didn’t say anything to the Evolve crew, but decided to log it in my training log. Sam responded in 4.3 milliseconds.
You can totally swim! Think of your nerves on the first day of masters - these are the same. You are in uncharted waters so you are nervous. But logically you can swim super well now. I like the idea of strong as your mantra - because that's what you are!!
So that evening I worked on my mantra, which was “Strong and Belong” and went to bed, slept great and the next morning went to the race site. Coach Tori drove JP, Terri and myself to the site, of course she figured out the way to circumnavigate traffic and we got into the race site while everyone else sat in traffic.
We get to transition, which had the best transition racks for a tall person; my bike never sits right on the typical racks you see at races. My seat is high. I start talking to the two guys in transition on my rack. Making small talk is how I relax. What race did you qualify at for this? The guy responds “All of them, I am going to Kona this year”. The guy on other side says I am going to Kona again. I laughed and realize okay these guys are all freaking fast. Said my mantra smiled and went to the club tent.
Announcement one – 15 minute delay due to traffic, announcement 2 – 20 minute delay due to traffic, announcement 3 – 30 minute delay due to traffic. I was scheduled to start at 8:04 and the race starts at 7:00 AM. I am thinking 8:34 isn’t the worst but I had hoped we would start sooner.
At about 8:20 the 130, 45 to 49 year old males walk out on the dock and the thing is moving side to side like crazy. We get to swim on the other side of the dock for a practice swim. I swim the full area and take advantage of every minute for the warm-up and feel pretty good. I get back on the dock and there are no spots to stand. So negotiate a spot in the middle of the dock. The guy next to me is from Chesterfield the other guy is from Tallahassee. Like I said small talk relaxes me. The whistle blows, I decide to wait 3 seconds and let these guys take off. Everyone is spread out. But I could tell it was going to be war on the swim. Coach Sam wanted me to hold back until buoy 1. So that is what I did. I am thinking buoy one was a couple hundred yards out. By the time I got there, I saw guys treading water, stopping and suddenly I realized I just passed multiple swimmers. That is all I needed to realize I had this swim. After that I just kept swimming, and found a guy I could pace off of. I did that until the turn buoys where war broke out. After I got around the last turn buoy I was heading in. Coach Tori had suggested going inside the sighting buoys, because at the athlete rules meeting they said you could go on either side. Well that move was genius. I was swimming by myself and everyone else was swimming long. I quickly made my way back in. I thought to myself this was my best non-wetsuit non-sprint race swim ever. The swim was a PR for me for this distance and my other Olympic race this season was a wetsuit race.
Went running up the ramp through the grass and Tori yells run faster. She knew what I was thinking. I got into transition, put my helmet and shoes on and was out. I hit my Garmin lap button and realized whatever the transition and swim were, they were both great – because that is a great time for me just for the swim. I was smiling and thinking time to HIT the bike hard!
Get out on the bike and I am feeling solid. I recently bought a Garmin Edge 820 and had that on my aerobars. I am cooking along when I hit the big hill around mile 7 – I look down and my average speed is 22.8 mph, I try and keep my average speed up without blowing my legs out. Sam said I could stand if I wanted to and was feeling strong and hitting my metrics. I do, and I passed a bunch up the long hill, including people walking their bikes and a guy who dropped his chain. I get to the top and the average speed says 21.3 mph. By the time I got to the turnaround I was averaging 22.9 mph. Then I turned around and realized that I was going to fight a headwind back. All in all it was good. Only had one group that I had to worry about getting around that seemed to not like being passed. After I passed a guy on a Specialized, he immediately sped up after I broke the plane, I hammered for a second to get around and then 2 minutes later he was passing me. Then a few minutes later he couldn’t hold his pace, so I did what Charlie Crawford, head of USAT officiating suggested at the athlete meeting which was just come up fast and tight to their rear tire and they won’t even know you are there and won’t have time to speed up as you pass. He was right, I never saw him the rest of the day.
They hand out a ton of penalties at this race, they estimated 200 to 300 penalties would be issued. So, I knew the rules were really important, and I was glad to have a clean race. I finished the bike and was pretty happy with my time. Just under 22 mph fighting a headwind back. I did my flying dismount with success, this was something I did at every race this year and have actually gotten to the point where I enjoy it after a few challenges earlier in the season.
T2 – This transition went great as well. Every triathlon this year I probably lost 10 seconds wrestling with a shoe or something. This one went off flawlessly. Again the transition area was nice with the tall racks. My bike easily slid under the rack!
I get out on the run; I am feeling real good. I am running much faster than my earlier season Olympic; my stride feels solid. The Coach Andy advice is helping from the spring clinic. The great thing at AG Nationals is almost everyone is running and you can feed off of the energy. I am running solid. The run out had a bit of a headwind I could feel, so on the way back the run felt really great. This was a 2 loop run. I saw other Evolve athletes Terri and JP on the 2 trips out and back. That always lifts your determination when you see the blue and green! As I approached the finish, Coach Tori is yelling at my to pick it up and has Coach Sam on the phone. I said I am good! Somehow while I had a great run, I felt I should have had even more, but we need goals for 2018 - right?
This was a great time with great people. Qualifying was something I never expected until this year and ironically I qualified at my first race of the season. If you get a chance to race AG Nationals, definitely give it a shot. It has a lot of amazing athletes. I want to thank all of my Evolve teammates for a great season with many memories and also Coach Sam. This season was the most fun I have had in triathlon.
In the end just believe you belong and you will end up making your dreams become goals that happen.