Although I had previously qualified for the 2012 National Championship race, I was unable to attend. Therefore, I looked forward to the 2013 race with anticipation. Given the events of the last 9+ months, beginning with the injuries I sustained from being hit by a car while training on my bike and culminating with a second place finish in a local sprint triathlon early last month, I was anxious to give this race a try. I knew I wasn't going to be able to do this distance at my "best" (meaning as good as I was before my injuries) but I also viewed it as being a good marker to gauge my recovery. My previous best time for this distance was 2:58:12 from almost two years ago and I was pretty sure I should be able to beat this time. However, thinking I could do it and doing it are two very different things, especially considering the multitude of things that can go wrong on race day. I was also looking forward to lining up next to the best athletes the sport has to offer. I wasn't expecting to compete for any awards, but that also wasn't going to stop me from doing my best and seeing what would happen.
When I first got to check-in I identified my top priorities: checking in and getting by the TYR test to see Chrissie Wellington. I was able to quickly do both since I was there early. Chrissie sure seemed as friendly and vivacious as she always does.
After check-in, Michelle and I met with some other athletes near the race site. I went for a practice swim to see how the water was and then went to the athlete rules briefing while Michelle took her bike out for a training ride. Later on we brought our bikes to be checked into transition and Michelle snapped the photo I was hoping to get of myself with the Texas flag. As it happened, the state flag wasn't all that far from my racking location.
After this was all done we were ready to head our separate ways for the night and come back ready to race the next morning......
On race morning, transition was open at 5:30 am with a 7:30 am race start time. Unfortunately, my wave of athletes was not scheduled to start until 10:02 am, which gave me a lot of downtime but not enough to feel comfortable about going back to the hotel to nap. After getting everything ready, I sat with several teammates near the swim start and chatted and rested for a while. The race was delayed for 15 minutes for unknown reasons, but then started and went smoothly after that. I wasn't really happy with such a late starting time, though I didn't worry about it since there wasn't anything that could be done about it. About an hour before my start I began to warm up with stretching and some light running. Then about 20 minutes before I got my wetsuit on and moved to join those in line for my group. I got in the water early and did some light swimming as a warmup, and then I waited until it was time to go.
1500 Meter Swim: I lined up just to the outside of the main group to avoid getting caught in the pack, which seemed to work pretty well, especially since I was far from the strongest swimmer there. My goal here was to put in a solid swim without hurting myself. That is pretty much what I did. I hadn't been as comfortable with swimming since my return from injury and I haven't done as much swimming as I should have been doing recently. However, I have also started to feel "normal" again while swimming. In a normal situation for me, I would have (and should have) had a better swim time, though for this race I did just what I hoped to do. I did stray off course a bit on two occasions, but not too badly. I finished with a swim time of 33:25.
T1: The goal was to get in and out quick. Coming out of the water and up the ramp I feel my right hamstring tighten up. I slow to a walk for a moment and then back to a trot as I take my wetsuit down to my waist. When I get to my bike, I finish stripping of the wetsuit and then grab my cycling helmet and head out. T2 was a bit slow in 2:32 but I got out without my hamstring being a serious issue and headed out on the bike.
40K Bike: As soon as I got going on the bike I knew I was feeling good and a couple miles later, even up the first hill, I knew this had the makings of a great ride. About 10 miles into the ride I was beginning the largest hill and heard a loud metallic popping noise. This was cause for concern and as I continue to ride uphill safely I look over the bike for potential issues. I discover the rear wheel is spinning out of balance but also know there isn't anything I can do about it and suspect a broken spoke to be the culprit. As I head down the hill, I can tell I am not able to get as fast as I would expect and figure the rear wheel is the culprit. I make the decision to ride on since there isn't anything else I can really do for the wheel at this point. Unfortunately, my speeds are now a bit lower and it feels like the wheels are a bit harder to push but I keep going--even with suspecting the wheel was rubbing the brake pads slightly, I didn't have any way to adjust the brakes at this point. Even with all this I still pass more people than pass me on the bike. On the way back to transition, probably near the mile 18 mark, I hear the same metallic pop. Upon inspection of the rear wheel, still spinning unevenly but still allowing me to ride, I continue on. I finish the bike in 1:14:58, a 19.9 mph pace, not exactly a slow pace but less than I'd hoped, especially since I was probably averaging 21-23 mph much earlier and felt like I should have finished 4-7 minutes quicker. Then again, I very easily could have been unable to continue by that wheel and am also thankful for still being racing at this point. I did later confirm the broken spokes and that the wheel was rubbing lightly against the brake pads.
T2: I had a pretty good T2 other than one minor issue. While preparing to get off my bike I didn't quite get the Velcro strap completely undone and when I tried to slide out my left foot the whole shoe came off, so I ran into T2 with a shoe on my left foot and nothing on my right foot. Ugh! In any case, I was in and back out of T2 in 1:42.
Run: I was hoping and planning on a good run today and was looking forward to this part. I quickly was at my upper heart rate for the early run and kept myself at the top of the zone. As much as I tried to hold an even and strong pace, my running pace slowly got a bit slower each mile. I had hoped to kick things into a higher gear for the last two miles but found there was no higher gear there. I had felt good running but I was also maxed out in terms of what I was going to be able to do on this day. It seemed that the extra effort I put into keeping the bike going took an extra toll on my legs before I got to the run. I had figured I would run in at least the mid- minute range but ended up finishing the run in 58:29.
Overall: My total finish time was 2:51:08, which easily beat my previous PR time of 2:58:12 from a couple years ago.
I was very pleased to see that even with the problems I had, I still met the basic goals I had set forward for this race. If I had gotten through the whole race without any problem, I might have been a good bit faster (which will be what I aim for the next time!!!). Part of my would normally want to feel a bit disappointed over the "failed" parts of this race. However, I do not feel that way at all.
My goals here were always twofold: 1) Do my best, and 2) Enjoy the experience. I did those and still had a great time with the overall experience. I will always be able to know that I competed in a national championship event (and am a two-time qualifier for the event as well). Both before and during the race, everywhere I looked I was surrounded by awesome athletes who were all there sharing a great experience. It reminded me of the run up to an Ironman event, but was different in its own way.
I left the USAT National Championships feeling good about what I had done and hope that I can have the opportunity to return again some day--perhaps even on a day in which I can attempt a more competitive effort. I also left knowing that I can continue working towards my full recovery and start thinking about resuming my efforts towards accomplishing my long term goals which include, but are not limited, to future triathlon goals as well. For now,I have some serious rest to do to allow my body to recover; then after that, I will look to resume some serious training and maybe look at going after some aggressive goals in the process.