For the past 20 summers (it’s crazy to write it let alone live it!) I have been racing triathlons. It’s been a great experience filled with unique surprises all viewed by me as omens that I was in the right place at the right time. Like the time I went for a run in Franconia Notch state Park and one of the ranges shouted to me as I trotted down the trail from my car “watch out for moose”! I chuckled and waved. It was 6a.m. on a lovely July morning, I was squeezing in this trail run before work. (Note: my shower was jumping in Echo lake after the run, getting dressed lakeside hidden behind my towel before scooting off to work). Wouldn’t you know it I crossed paths with a young moose trotting parallel to the trail just as I was finishing my run! A sign! I am in the right place at the right time!!
In all those years of racing and crazy serendipitous moments, it never crossed my mind to go to the USAT Nationals. Until another well seasoned (as in when we started doing tris racing in a bathing suit was the norm) triathlete friend informed me that Age Group Nationals was happening next door, in Vermont, this year 2011. This sounded good to me. It actually seemed like an omen that it came to me. I was in. It was January and I was in St John teaching at a Total Immersion Open Water Swim camp when I registered. August was very far away. Little did I know running those crazy steep hills in St John would come in handy when August rolled around.
As the months ticked on from January it was always in the forefront of my mind. My two main thoughts regarding this race were going to be the heat and this very short but very steep hill at the start of the run. The crazy thing about this race was it was to be in August at 11a.m.! Yipes! I was going to need to prepare for the heat and humidity as I would be running at noon and that one steep hill coming off the bike. My training plan for the races I would do this season, my “B” races, would get me to the Sprint Nationals which was to be my “A” race of the year.
I had raced in Burlington, VT, the host site, in the past when I did the Burlington Marathon and the Burlington Olympic Triathlon. Because of this I was familiar with the AG Nationals course. The swim was to be protected, the bike rolling hills and the run, that one good steep climb off the start, otherwise flat. A great course for me.
Race day came. I felt good, rested. Because we did not start until late morning there was time to sleep in, eat breakfast then have plenty of time to warm-up. My warm-up consisted of 20 minutes on my road bike mounted to my bike trainer in a shaded part of the hotel parking lot. I would have been on my tri bike, but all race participants had to drop-off race bikes the night before at the transition area. So, after my road bike I did some run strides, hard, short, fast efforts with full recovery walks, in the shade of the parking lot. I was appreciating the shade of the trees. The weather was with us, sunny with some clouds, but not very humid, hot but manageable. About an hour before the start of the sprint I made my way to transition.
Transition was very busy, the Age Group Olympic race started earlier that morning, finishers were making their way in. Making my way to transition was fun. I could cheer in the Olympic racers as well as acknowledge Sprint racers setting up. This was fun, I was not anxious as I have done this so many times before. Plus I was feeling good! After setting up my bike with my shoes mounted on the pedals, aero helmet and glasses just so, run shoes, visor and gel all ready. A few more minutes of running, stretching and I was ready to head to the swim start. It was wetsuit legal race, water temp at 75 if I remember right. But, the sun was hot to be standing around in a tight black insulated suit waiting for the swim! All competitors were huddling in whatever shade could be found.
Finally my wave was next. I am glad I warmed-up at the hotel pool since there was no opportunity to get in and warm-up now. Watching the previous wave was helpful to see the flow of swimmers. It looked crowded as most swims do.
Next up was my age group. In we went like seals. Waiting, treading, some nervous banter and jokes. My friend Jeff Cole was in a boat at the start, he wished me luck, which is always nice to have support. I inuited that it was going to be a great day! In hindsight, I was right…as I reflect back on it from the comfort of my cushy office chair. The swim was smooth, though I could see the chaos around me. It was so fast, we were out in what seemed like 3 minutes. The frenzy of the crowd, the run to transition, the whoops and hollers is so thrilling! I run faster with all the energy. T one was quick, onto the bike. I settle in to the rhythm, getting away from the crowds and out onto the streets of Burlington. Fuel, drink and relax where my thoughts. I watched the miles on my bike computer so I would always be aware of how hard to push given my plan. The bike seemed to be a blur. One minute I was going out, next I was coming back. I love sprints for this reason. Though, it’s mentally hard to go hard, to deal w the discomfort of pushing it, it’s really is a short period of time. It’s exhilerating!
Heading back to the waterfront, I could feel the “draw” from the crowd. The cheering, the anouncers, the energy of all the spectators and other athletes was helping me pedal faster. Off the bike, into t 2, on w the sneakers, out of t 2. The cheering! How exciting! About a 1/4 mile out is “the” little hill. It’s mental, coming off that bike before the legs come around to realizing they are in run mode and not pedal mode. It felt good to get up it, but the remainder of the run was not any easier, though it was, as I remember, flat. Though flat, that last mile was long, very long in my brain. But I kept pushing, and talking to myself to keep going. “The faster I go the sooner I can stop”, was a popular mantra for that last stretch. “Relief” sort of came as I came closer to the finish. Spectators appeared cheering, urging racers on, shouting encouragement, helping us all get to the line. It helped me, but it still hurt. I was looking forward to crossing the line so I could stop. I saw the finish, I felt the energy of the finish line shute, I smiled, crossed and happily stopped on the other side.
That evening was the award ceremony for the Age Group Nationals Sprint and Olympic event. I went. It was a room bulging w many, many very fit athletes representing all ages from across the country. I was there because I made it, I made it to the podium in 3rd place. My camera in hand, I waited for my age group to be called. There was a very energetic women next to me, she too placed in her age group. It was fun, the energy and the level of athletes, my name being called, standing in the 3rd place spot, standing next to the other women in my age group, it was memorable. Of course, there is no picture, my camera battery was dead.