USAT Sprint Nationals were not originally on my 2013 race calendar. After finding out that they would be in Milwaukee, WI, looking up Milwaukee on the map and realizing it was almost 800 miles from my home, I decided I would not be participating. Last year we drove to Burlington, VT for Nationals, which was 10 hours each way; Milwaukee would be 13. And flights were expensive and indirect. I’d basically end up flying to Chicago and driving the rest of the way. And if I flew I’d have to ship my bike, which would be around $300. All for a sprint. I decided it wasn’t worth it.
[Why the sprint and not the olympic? Last year I raced the olympic in Vermont and placed 57th in my age group, nowhere near the top 18 needed to qualify for the US Team. The day after the race I met a woman who'd raced the sprint and was very excited to have qualified for Team USA. Since she was in my age group, I looked up her results and realized that these were times I could do. That if I had raced the sprint I may well have qualified. Because even though I had a decent bike and a very good run in the olympic, my swim is just too slow for that distance. I needed the shorter swim distance of the sprint, which wouldn't put me so far behind. ]
And then my Half Ironman in Raleigh went better than I expected. I had a 40 minute PR, placed 3rd in my age group and qualified for the 70.3 World Championships. And three weeks after that I had a good sprint race, placing 1st female and 3rd overall. And I started thinking. Which is always dangerous. I started thinking that I should race Nationals after all, because my goal was to make Team USA for the 2014 ITU World Championships, and I figured I had a better chance of qualifying while I was racing well.
So I discussed with my husband the possibility of us driving to Milwaukee. He thought it was a
crazy great idea. If we could get someone to watch the kids, we could leave on Friday, arrive in Milwaukee on Saturday, race Sunday, and be home on Monday. Thankfully our niece and my husband’s sister were able to cover the four days, and so we booked our hotel in Milwaukee (really lucked out here as the host hotel, the Hilton, was available Saturday night) and started planning.
Milwaukee is a very cool city. I decided I’d like to live there. Except in Winter. I don’t fancy all the lake effect snow. But Milwaukee in summer is great. Lake Michigan is beautiful, and there’s a river running through the city with lots of riverfront restaurants. We ate at one, Water Buffalo, Saturday night. Great food and so nice to be able to sit outside. Milwaukee has preserved much of its Art Deco architecture, which I really love. Even our hotel was classic art deco, having been built in 1927. I loved the fact that the hotel had preserved the mail chute by the elevators! Another nice touch was all the water stations that were provided for the triathletes. There were plenty of us staying there, as evidenced by bikes everywhere.
We pretty much arrived as people were returning from racing the olympic event. We got the scoop on the course from a couple of the athletes (great swim, easy bike, flat run) and found out that it was an easy walk from the hotel down to the race venue. So we checked in, parked the car, and walked down with our bikes. The race venue was easy to find. Right by the beautiful Art Museum.
Since it was too early to check our bikes, we went for a short ride on the course. The bike course was easy, out and back one way on Lakeshore Drive, then out and back the other way, including riding over a bridge. We couldn’t practice ride over the bridge because it’s, um, a highway. So no practicing biking uphill with big cracks in the road and a side wind…probably just as well I didn’t know that was coming… We also wandered over to look at the swim course as we always like to have a good visual of that. Two things were a little scary to us. One was the fact that the swim went under a bridge which was very narrow, and we wondered about congestion here; the other was that the ramp to get out of the water was incredibly steep. We were told by people who had raced the olympic that volunteers would line the ramp and literally pull us up. I always figure there’s no point in worrying unnecessarily, but I was glad I knew about the ramp in advance.
When transition opened we racked our bikes…always hard leaving your bike somewhere overnight…I said a little goodbye and took a picture of the red dragon:
I slept great the night before the race. Unusual for me. But again, our hotel was nice and quiet, even though there were several wedding parties Saturday night! Yay for 1920s buildings with their thick walls. We were up on the 23rd of 24 floors and all the way down the end of the hall, which may have helped. Anyway, we got up around 5:15 as I wanted to get into transition at 6:00. My wave was the 2nd wave (I was really glad about this as in Vermont I was in the 2nd to last wave, which sucked) and was due to start at 7:37. On our walk down to transition I ate a Nutella sandwich and drank my usual Kona Cola Nuun. I don’t drink coffee before races any more – I find that keeps me out of the bathroom and the Nuun provides enough caffeine to wake me up. After setting up all my transition gear and double checking everything, I wandered over to the swim area. Time seemed to be going by super fast and before I knew it I was pulling on my wetsuit and putting on my cap and goggles. Which fogged up instantly. I’d selected to wear my mirrored goggles when I saw the sun peeking out, but now it had gone back behind the clouds and the darker goggles were making visibility difficult. I debated running back to bag check for my non-mirrored goggles, but I hate making last-minute game changes and decided I’d be ok. I had to spit in my goggles several times while doing my warm up swim, but they finally cleared.
The water was cold. I heard 69 degrees but it felt more like 65. I like cold water but it was definitely a good thing that I got in early and got acclimated. I climbed out for a short while for the National Anthem before the first wave started, then got right back in. We were to start to the left of the bouy. What was interesting was that everyone in my wave (about 70 of us) was really spread out. There was a little cluster right next to the bouy, and another cluster further down, but right in the middle was wide open. Which was odd. I don’t usually go for the middle spot as it’s prime get-clobbered-from-both-directions territory, but it was open so I went for it. When the gun/siren went off I had a nice open spot to swim. I only felt hands on my feet once. I was sighting well for the first bouy and didn’t get bumped or swum over. Going under the bridge was actually fine – and kinda cool, because I could hear everyone yelling from the bridge. This swim was perfect for spectators as they could walk along the bank and see the whole event. Past a couple more bouys after the bridge and then the turnaround. Back under the bridge with no incidents and I was still sighting well and swimming close to the bouys. I knew I needed to be on the right of the last bouy for the turn to swim out and the dreaded ramp. Which was actually fine. The volunteers pulled me up and one shouted, “lean forward if you can!” so I did. Nothing to it.
I was on dry land and pulling off my wetsuit and running. And running. My feet started hurting and I’m thinking, “this is a long run!” The turn into transition finally came and then I had to run all the way down almost to the end of rack A for my bike. As I pulled off my wetsuit (I wish they had wetsuit strippers like at Ironman events) I accidentally pulled off my timing chip, so had to reattach that real quick. Just took a couple of seconds so no biggie. Donned sunglasses and helmet, grabbed the red dragon, and I was outta transition and on the bike.
My bike can be summed up in one word: sluggish. I never really felt good during the 12.4 miles. I felt like I was pushing way too hard for the speed I was going. The first incline was right before the first turnaround; it wasn’t overly steep but it was long enough that I had to go into the small ring and stand up. After that I thought I’d get some speed from the downhill but it never really came. I tried going into an easier gear to get a faster cadence, then a harder gear to get more power, but nothing seemed to help. I passed four or five women but nowhere near as many as I’d hoped, and a couple passed me. The bridge was long. I dropped to 14mph and saw my 21mph average slipping away. I tried to maximize my speed on the downhills but had to be careful as mats had been placed over the joints in the bridge and I didn’t want to be in aero going over those in case I lost control. Just before the turn into transition I was catching one more rider but didn’t want to try a pass on the turn and was also busy taking off my shoes. I followed her to the dismount line and had a good dismount, which received a couple of cheers!
Into transition, this one faster than the last. Knowing I just had the run ahead of me was a great feeling. I figured I could catch some women here and was planning on running 6:30 pace. One thing that I have gained from working with Coach Hadley of Maximum Performance Running over the last six weeks is confidence. I am holding back less and pushing harder earlier, knowing I have the ability to maintain pace and even speed up. The first mile of the run was an out and back, which enabled me to count how many women were ahead of me. I got a little nervous when I realized I was in 26th place. I needed to pass 8 women to get up to 18th and a spot on the US Team. But the good news was they were in groups and not that far ahead of me. I just started picking them off. At 2 miles I had passed 7 women and could see the 8th up ahead. After passing her I didn’t let up at all but maintained my 6:30 pace. I saw one more woman up ahead just before the turn for the finish. I didn’t think I’d catch her before the line but I guess she was slowing down and I surged past her right before the line. Her name was actually called before mine, I passed so late. Felt a little guilty for passing so close to the end but then it was a sprint and we were racing for places.
And then I realized I was in 17th place and had secured a spot on Team USA. I was shaking with relief. I got my results and went over to find my husband who was still waiting for his swim wave to start, since he was in the 2nd to last wave. He was chatting with Hector Picard, a double arm amputee triathlete who is unbelievably inspirational. Check out the video that shows how he races…it’s incredible.
Later on I discovered that I had moved into 15th place as two women who had finished ahead of me were assessed 2 minute penalties for drafting on the bike. Triathlon rules are tough.
I’m so relieved to make Team USA, grateful that I got to race, and thankful to my niece and sister-in-law for watching the kids so Stuart and I could go to Milwaukee. It really is a dream come true and I can’t wait to go to Edmonton next year!