It has been several days since I returned from Omaha, after competing in my first USA Triathlon National Age Group Championship race and I still feel excited, unsettled, overwhelmed and full of energy. I have so much to tell you, from discoveries prior to leaving, mishaps with luggage, my bike and sleep, and how my perspective and knowledge about the race and myself changed from day to day.

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A little background…

The only other time I competed in a USAT national event was in 2013 for duathlon, which is a run/bike/run event. It was in Tucson, AZ and I placed sixth in my age group and qualified for the World Championship/Team USA. I raced in Pontevedre, Spain the following spring and placed ninth in my age group and third American woman.

Lightbulb Moment #1 – Four Days Prior to Race Day

My coach and I discussed realistic race goals. She asked if I intended to go, should I qualify for the world championship. I told her I would most likely decline since it’s in the Netherlands and we are not made of money. I have spent more than my fair share on races over the last three years and, frankly, I’m not that excited about the destination. She asked me to reconsider saying I did not need to bring my whole family, just her. HA!

So, I looked up race results from the 2015 triathlon national race in Milwaukee, WI to see just how good my chances were for qualification.

There was no chance.

I did not know or expect this and yes, this was four days prior to the race.

Based on my best race time in the Olympic distance triathlon, I would have placed about 100 out of 120 women in my age group of 40-44 in 2015. Only the top 18 in each age group qualify for worlds.

I basically freaked at that point, called my best friend and cried. I did not want to embarrass myself at the race and started to feel as if I did not even belong there. I emailed my coach and she talked me down, begging me to not compare races and race times as they vary so much with weather and terrain and, that I absolutely belonged there as a top competitor. She virtually slapped me and insisted I get my mental game on point.

I did as I was told but it was tough.

Lightbulb Moment #2 – Arriving in Omaha

USA Triathlon National Championships is a big deal. I knew this when welcome signs were plastered all over the airport, host hotel and pretty much every local business had a sticker in the window welcoming “USATriathlon Athletes!”

This was not the case with duathlon. Not even close.

This is my "I'm excited but pooping myself" face.

This is my “I’m excited but pooping myself” face, as we arrived to this welcome, at the Omaha airport.

 

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This may also be a good time to note that my luggage did not make it to our final destination. My husband’s did, of course, but not mine. I had packed all my race gear with me on the plane, but still.

My luggage was scheduled to be delivered to my hotel, when it arrived on the next flight, sometime after 11pm. The courier thought it was a good idea to call me, twice, at 2:50am to tell me it was at the front desk. WTF? So, my sleep that night was less than stellar since I did not answer the phone but was woken up by it, coupled with nightmares of not recovering my luggage at all. Good times.

Lightbulb Moment #3 – The Day Before the Race

I had a lot on the agenda the day before the race. I needed to be reunited with my bike, do a practice swim in Carter Lake and also a short bike and run to shake out the nerves and see some of the course. I also had my race registration packet to pick up, numbers to put on my bike and helmet and a mandatory bike racking at transition before 7pm.

I was excited and nervous as I set out to the venue by myself.

Swim practice under a cloudy sky. Just the way we like it!

Swim practice under a cloudy sky. Just the way we like it!

Shuttles were provided from the hotel to the venue and it was only about a 15 minute ride. I easily found the RaceDay Transport tent and eagerly stepped up to get my bike. The reps face dropped when I told her my name and said they didn’t put mine together. She then pointed to the large box that it was still in. Seriously? I needed to wait over two hours for them to assemble it, which was the total time I was planning to be there.

I was trying very hard to keep my shit together at this point. I was already so nervous about the race, my luggage had been lost (and found!) and now this?

Luckily, everything else went smoothly and, I was eventually able to do all three disciplines, before racking my bike in transition mid-afternoon.

A virtual sea of bikes!

A virtual sea of bikes!

Lightbulb Moment #4 – Race Day!

After another sleepless night, I walked over to my friend Caitlyn’s hotel. She is also coached by CRS, is from Connecticut and she and her husband drove to Omaha. They invited me to drive to the venue with them in the morning, instead of having to pile onto the shuttle, so I walked over at 5:30am. We made it to the race a little after 6:00.

Here is a fun fact about triathlon – – the race starts in waves to cut down on traffic jams and drowning in the water  – – but the transition area (with all of our bikes and gear) closes before the first wave of competitors takes off. My wave did not start until 9:45am but transition closed at 7:30am so I had over two hours to panic think about my race strategy.

Numbers tattooed on and ready to race!

Numbers tattooed on and ready to race! Also, these hurt a lot less when you scrub them off, if you down two cucumber mules prior to starting. Just a tip.

The Swim

The swim was not wet suit legal since the water was too warm. A wet suit makes you much more buoyant in the water and, therefore more efficient. This would be my first race without a wet suit for the swim. Cue the nervous laughter.

Shifting between terror and dominance in my mind, I looked out onto the water, ready to go. This was the moment I had been training for. There were 114 women in my 40-44 age group, the largest and most competitive group there, a point we were reminded over and over again. No pressure.

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Coming out of swim transition, happy and ready to go!

As we dangled our feet into the water, waiting for the signal to actually get into the water and hang onto the dock before the horn, we chatted. I met so many super nice and funny women, a lot of them from the east coast. In fact, I met a woman from Connecticut just before the horn sounded and she declared it was “good luck!”

I took off at a snail’s pace and stayed there. In my mind I was thinking “nice and easy” until the turnaround. I was very happy with my sighting and I felt like I was keeping an even, smooth pace. There was almost no kicking, grabbing, scratching or crashing in the water. It was the cleanest swim I have ever raced and I made it out of the water in 36 minutes, not even close to last.

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The Bike

The flatness of Nebraska was heavenly. There were two or three very insignificant hills but, astonishingly I saw people struggling up them! In fact, a woman I spoke with in my age group after the race was pissed saying someone told her the course was flat. Wait, what? She was from Texas. Bless her heart.

The bike was by far my most favorite part of the race and I felt like a rocket as I shifted and passed so many women  in my age group!

Miles of flat road make for a very happy triathlete!

Miles of flat road make for a very happy triathlete!

The funniest moment was when I was passing another woman and she yelled “Go catch that guy up there! He’s so hot!” I literally burst out laughing and gave her a thumbs up. It’s very rare to have anything but business on the bike course and I loved this girl for making me laugh.

Notice the whopping elevation gain of 830 feet! The Northeast laughs at your “elevation” attempt.

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Also notice the temperature in the bottom right. It went from 73 during the swim to 79 on the bike. You know what’s coming, right?

Other than the hot wind blowing both ways on the bike course, I was unaffected by the heat. That was about to drastically change.

The Run

As soon as I dismounted the bike and started running into transition I felt the full effect of the heat. I knew it was going to be a suffer fest for six miles and I was ready.

My husband was standing pretty much right out of transition when he captured this. I was not quite so happy on my return…

 

The course was flat but there was not one.speck.of.shade. I saw athletes getting sick, keeled over, sitting and basically succumbing to the elements.

I set a pace I knew I could hold for the first three miles then, if I had anything left, I would slowly build for the last three.

At each water station I took two cups, pouring one over my head and drinking the other. At mile three we ran inside TD Ameritrade ballpark and sped around the warning track, having our images displayed on the big screen. It was pretty cool but I would have enjoyed it a lot more if it wasn’t brutally hot…and I wasn’t running a triathlon race…and instead having a beer, sitting in the shade of the stands…but, details.

Once I hit two miles to go, I tried to catch and pass as many women as possible. I upped my pace and gave it everything I had.

I finished the run in 48:36 which is a 7:39 overall pace. My last two miles were 7:35 and 6:47.

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The temperature reads 82 but it felt like 102.

I was never so happy to be done with a race and I think this picture pretty much sums it up. I look like the racing equivalent of a homeless person.

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Lightbulb Moments – Results and Post-Race

Since my SIL Katie is a stalking genius in the best way possible, she texted me my race results about five minutes after I crossed the finish line. It was then I found out I finished in 39th place but, I had no idea how many of the 120 women slated to race in my age group, had actually done so. Once I found out there were 114 finishers and several DNF’s (did not finish) I felt a lot better!

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First, I was very happy I did not finish in 100th place. After my husband did the math and told me I was in the top 34% of the group, I felt even better.

I have to remind myself that I have only just started in triathlon. In fact, my very first race at this distance was just this past May and this event was only my third ever.

My swim is obviously holding me back but, on the bike and run my times were very competitive and in-line with the top 18 finishers.

I definitely have my work cut out for me on the swim, have room for improvement on the bike and, who knows, maybe I can even get faster on the run?

Making the final turn toward the finish!

Making the final turn toward the finish!

I do know this – – I absolutely deserved to be there and I definitely can compete with these women. My goal for 2017 will be to go back to Omaha and qualify for worlds!…of course, first I have to qualify for nationals again.

[Tweet “Lighbulb moments for this age group #athelte at @usatriathlon #nationals 2016!”]

I also want to thank my village, once again, for their tireless support! From my husband (who keeps me sane by knowing nothing about racing and triathlon) to my dad and stepmom (who enthusiastically took the boys for days!) to my entire family, close friends and all of YOU. I say it all the time because it’s true – – you motivate and inspire me and I absolutely could not do what I do without your love and support. Thank you!

More posts to come on Omaha (loved!), USAT and the event itself. Stay tuned!

Have you had any lightbulb moments lately?