Cleveland, OH: We all have an “A” race. It’s the race you train for all season. The race that approaches with anticipation. The race that makes all other goals irrelevant. The race that pushes you and that demands more of you than you’ve ever given before. It’s the race you want so badly to be perfect. My “A” race this season was the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships.
Nationals is only open to those who qualify. In order to qualify, you must place in the top 10% of your age group in a USAT-sanctioned race in the prior season. In 2017, my performance in the Chicago Triathlon landed me in the top 10% of my age group, earning my qualification for Nationals.
When I received notice that I had qualified, I set an intention to make it my “A” race. With 13 half marathons, 3 marathons and 2 Ironmans behind me, I could have easily picked another long distance race for the calendar. But that didn’t feel quite right this year. Something inside me yearned for a different challenge: the need for speed. I knew this endeavor would be unlike others I’ve trained for, as my speed is not something I feel overly confident of. So, as a responsible coach and athlete, I wanted to train smart. As a full-time fitness professional I care for others all day, every day. I carefully craft customized training plans and workouts to help athletes meet their goals. I wanted someone to do that for me, to put me on autopilot so there was no thinking required to complete my own training. That’s right gang, even the coach needs a coach. I even worked with a registered dietician (RD) to hone in on race nutrition and fueling. Boy was it a sweet sweet day when my RD told me my pre-race breakfast (1 day before) should consist of 2 pancakes, a cup of roasted potatoes, 2 eggs and 2 slices of wheat toast. With a coach and an RD to chart the course for me, the road to Nationals was paved…
On Saturday, August 11, over 4,000 of the fastest triathletes congregated in Cleveland, Ohio to swim .98 miles in Lake Erie, bike 25 miles along the highways of Cleveland overlooking the city, namely the Memorial Shoreway, and run 6.2 miles in Edgewater Park along Lake Erie.
The swim kicked off the race with a wave start staged by age group. At 8:05, I was in the water with 120 other 30-34 year old women battling the waves of Lake Erie head on. It was choppier than other lakes I’d swam in, taking on characteristics of an ocean rather than a lake. I had watched the first few waves of men complete the swim and the fastest time clocked in around 24 minutes, so I knew that if the fastest men were taking that long to complete it, it must be a challenge. I completed the swim in 33:54; Given the conditions, it wasn’t my best swim time, but it was a strong performance nonetheless.
A quick transition put me on the Memorial Shoreway pedaling fast to gain lost swim time. Through the sights of Cleveland I downed electrolytes and Gu to keep me fueled and hydrated as the temperature heated up. It was flat and fast. I tore through the 25 mile bike in 1:12:41, averaging almost 21mph.
Another quick transition led me onto the run course through Edgewater Park. I knew this race would hinge on my run, as I’ve always struggled to be satisfied with my run times in triathlons. Of course, it began with an uphill climb. But surprisingly my legs were feeling great. I kept my cadence high as I tried to monitor my heart rate. My pace was faster than I thought it would be. Two loops later, the finish line was in sight. I nailed the run, with a 10k time of 55:56, averaging 8:34 min/mile, making it my fastest 10k to date.
I crossed the finish line in 2:48:43, placing 59th in my age group, and boy was that finish line sweet. I raced a perfect race. Everything I set out to do, I accomplished. I competed with some of the fastest athletes in the sport, and I landed in the top half of my age group. A year ago, my Olympic distance PR was 3:02:19. In just 1 training season, I cut nearly 14 minutes off my time; roughly 5 minutes from my run and 7 minutes from my bike, and faster transitions. If I can cut 14 minutes off my time in one training season, just imagine what next season holds. Racing Nationals gave me great reassurance in knowing that this is just the beginning of my journey for speed…
Of course, no race is complete without a celebratory meal. My Mom spotted a homemade ice cream shop the day before the race – Mitchell’s Ice Cream. We vowed to test the goods post-race, and this was the outcome:
We later returned to Mitchell’s later that same day for some fuel before we hit the road back home. Being a triathlete is tough. Good thing Mom’s here to help me make smart decisions.
If you find yourself with a qualifying spot to Nationals I would highly recommend competing. It’s a race unlike any other. A race where only the fastest triathletes are, but not just for pros. There was a healthy mix of professionals and everyday athletes alike. Many of the women I met in my age group while waiting for our race to start were first-timers to Nationals as well. It’s a race that truly challenges you to put your best performance on the course, because you know everyone else out there is doing the same. There’s no one taking it easy. We’re all there to make it our best performance, not just to finish. I say with great confidence that this was my best performance to date.