Wednesday, September 14, 2011

USAT Age Group Nationals Race Report

When I first saw this race was going to be held in South Burlington VT I knew I had to get there. Over the past few years South Burlington has developed into in many ways a vacation destination of sorts. My girlfriends grandparents live there and we make multiple trips each year to do everything from ski to race the Bitter Pill 12-hr adventure race, grab some beer at the Magic Hat Brewery to simply hang out downtown on Church Street. Lots of fun has been had in Burlington and I wanted to add the USAT Age Group National Championships to the growing list.

Lead up:
In the days leading up to the race itself we took some time to show my parents around South Burlington as they had never experienced it before. We hit up all the favorites and had a great time enjoying the good weather. With respect to pre-race events, some thoughts. The registration expo in my opinion was severely lacking. I know that this event would not garner the same attention as an Ironman but really? Half of the vendor spaces were empty and most of the ones that were filled had nothing to do with triathlons. Having raced the Vermont City Marathon a few months prior, and seeing the awesome vendor turnout (Ben&Jerry's in particular) I was expecting a bit more. Another point of concern was the swim "warm up" area they gave competitors to use on Friday. Dont get me wrong it was better than nothing, and I completely understand they could not shut down the harbor to boat traffic for the entire weekend, but really? Personally I do not think roping off 50yards worth of lake is adequate space for a National Championship. Aside from those relatively minor points I think the race was well run and I look forward to returning next year.

Race Morning:
Got to transition bright an early, having checked in the bike Friday evening. My transition spot could not have been better, right next to the bike and run exit. After situating myself I met up with some of the ROC gang and hung out until they closed transition. The start was set up in wave format so once we got kicked out of transition I still had about an hour to wait before I went off ... in the second to last wave. I guess that is one more point of criticism I have for the way that race was set up. Again, I appreciate that the sprint championships were being held later in the evening, and I appreciate they needed to have all the races off the course in time for that race to start. But putting the fastest group of races at the end of the stating cue was not the best option. We spent the day swimming through the masses and dodging packs of cyclists and we literally fought our way to the finish line. Something to consider for next year.

I digress. The ROC crew made our way over to the swim start and one by one we made our way into our respective waves. When it was finally my waves time to start I made my way to the staging area and joined my fellow competitors. Now dont get me wrong, at the start of each and every race I get nervous but knowing that I am a strong swimmer helps calm me down a bit. Usually I can approach the start line knowing that I will be able to dictate the pace of the swim. I quickly realized that this race was going to be different. Listening to the murmurs of my fellow competitors I overheard "Division 1 NCAA National Champion Swimming this" and "Division 1 NCAA National X-Country Champion that". It suddenly hit me, my age group was filled with the best of the best collegiate swimmers and runners in their racing prime. Good competition brings out the best in you right? ... yeah we will go with that. Either way it was going to be a fast and furious race.

The Swim: 00:20:47
When the gun finally went off and the race started it was absolute mayhem. 200+ of my closest friends all fighting for the same aquatic real-estate. The best part was that the chaos did not stop. We were all swimming at the same speed and going around the first turn it became apparent that no one was willing to give an inch. It was only when we started catching the wave ahead of us that things started to spread out. I took a wide line to avoid as many people as I could. As we rounded turn two things were looking very good, I was feeling great but at this point it was impossible to judge my position in the age group. I just kept my head down and pushed a hard tempo. Rounding the third turn was a bit difficult. We were swimming into the rising sun which made spotting difficult at best. In addition the guide kayaks which were supposed to keep the swimmers on course were drifting very wide. As a result everyone took an extremely wide turn but at least we were all in the same boat. The last segment of the swim went off without incident and as I approached the swim exit I had managed to catch swimmers from three waves ahead of us.

T1: 00:01:19
A bit slower than I would have liked but all in all no major problems.

Bike: 01:03:53
Leaving transition I immediately found myself in a mix of age group competitors. After the initial few technical sections of the course the road straightened out and I settled in, working on catching those ahead of me. For the most part the ride went well. The majority of the top competitors in our age group stayed together as we made our way through the crowds out on the road. We would go through stretches where we would have the road to ourselves and then we would hit traffic jams with riders all bunched together. Prior to the start of the race I had overheard that there were going to be 25 officials out on the bike course so I was very aware about potential drafting. In such a short race a 3 minutes penalty can mean the difference between placing in the top ten and finishing outside the top 30. Even given the number of officials there was still a large amount of drafting, or at least what I considered to be drafting as I think a grand total of 6 drafting penalties were given. Nutritionally I was feeling great and things were going well as I approached T2. In hindsight I probably could have pushed a little harder on the bike, I think my Ironman mentality was still going in full force, but all in all I was pleased with the way I rode.

T2: 00:00:44
12th fastest T2 split overall! ... to bad there are no awards for that. Was in and out without a problem.

Run: 00:38:53 (02:05:37)
Exiting T2 we had about an eighth of a mile section of flat run course before we hammered up a rather intense hill. Having just finished Ironman Lake Placid I was prepared for hills but many of my fellow competitors were not and this hill definitely took its toll. Having conquered said hill the remained of the 10k was relatively down hill which was very nice. I settled in, kept my eyes up, and worked a solid tempo. At this point I do have to admit that it was nice having started in a later wave. While the temperature was climbing we did have the benefit of being able to chase down everyone in the waves ahead of us. Passing people every few seconds definitely helped keep the motivation up. At the turn around I started to feel the twinge of fatigue in my legs but quickly pushed it out of my mind and focused on making it to the finish line strong. As I passed through 8k one of my fellow competitors yelled "love your kit" as I ran by; I do agree, the folks at e21 Recovery have been nothing but amazing this season and it was great to be able to represent them at such a huge event. As I made my way towards the finishing stretch I put in one more hard effort and was able to catch as few more people before the line. All in all a good race and I look forward to doing it again next year.

As it turned out I managed to place in the top 4% which was great. I had missed my goal time of going sub 2 hrs but I definitely learned where I can gain some valuable time and it only being my second olympic distance race I will take it.

Update: Initially, my finishing time had placed me well enough that I earned a spot Team USA's alternate list for the ITU World Championships; having missed automatic qualification by just under a minute. That being said I was recently notified that I had been awarded a slot on Team USA! Looks like there is a possibility that I might be going to Auckland New Zealand next October to race in the World Championships!

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