Emotional Highs and LowsAugust 10, 2013 – USA Triathlon National Age Group Championships, Milwaukee, WI
Short Bullet List Version:
- Dress rehearsals for Nationals went well.
- Race course for Nationals seemed to promise a fast race.
- Raced hard, raced well, ended up 9th in my age group.
> Emotional High
- Chrisse Wellington gave me my finisher medal.
- Received a penalty for supposedly drafting, I was devastated.
> Emotional Low
- Dropped from 9th to 14th place because of it.
- Ended the day in a Safe House.
- Stopped at Izzy’s for ice cream on the way back.
- Had a great time in Milwaukee with Lisa, Craig, and Neil.
- Minnesota women rocked the 45-49 age group.
Long Detailed Version:
After fighting with weather and bike issues early in the season, the dress rehearsals leading up to the 2013 Nationals had gone well. In both cases the weather was close to perfect: comfortable temperatures, slightly overcast, no demoralizing winds.
July 21, 2013 – Heart of the Lakes Triathlon, Annandale, MN (0.5 mi swim, 21 mi bike, 5.3 mi run)
I started in the elite wave at HOLT, which meant no wetsuit allowed for me. The swim went OK, nothing to brag about. The bike and run went quite well. On the bike, athletes like Jan Gunther and Julie Hull obviously just whipped by me. But I averaged 22 mph and by the end of the bike had caught up with Ann Snuggerud, one of my age group rivals. Ann pulled away again on the run. She after all is the better runner, but I still held my own and completed the 5.3 miles in a 6:56 min/mi pace. I was pleased with my bike and run performance, and I was not the last of the elite wave crossing the finish line!
August 3, 2013 – Brewhouse Triathlon, Duluth, MN (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run)
Brewhouse Triathlon had moved to a new location from Pike Lake to Island Lake Reservoir. It also was the first year that it was a true Olympic distance race. The water of Island Lake is really dark from all the iron (or is it tannin?) it holds. This made for an interesting swim, it was like looking into a black hole. I was the first female of the elite wave to exit the water and had the second fastest swim time of all females. So, slowly but surely I seem to regain my “swimming legs”. The new bike course is very scenic but with a lot of rolling hills. I found it quite challenging. The eventual women winner of the race pulled past me like it was the easiest thing in the world. Well, she is from Park City, UT, so this route probably felt very flat to her. 🙂 Despite all the hills, my legs felt good coming off the bike. The 10K route is quite flat and a mixture of black top, gravel road, and a short portion of forest trail towards the end. I was running well, but Jessica Rossing still caught up with me and passed me easily. I had to let her go, she is just too strong a runner for me. But, hey, she is 20 years younger! Between mile 4 and 5 there is a short circular detour we had to take on a dirt road, they called it “the lollipop.” It has no noticeable change in elevation or such, but to me it still felt like the hardest part of the run. Back on the main road, it was still a little bit more than 1 mile to go, including running through the ditch to reach the forest trail that lead us into the finishing shoot. I was rewarded with my fastest 10K time ever (43:04) and a 3rd place overall.
Conclusion: Great dress rehearsal, let’s hope I can carry this momentum into the Nationals one week from now.
August 10, 2013 – USA Triathlon National Age Group Championships, Milwaukee, WI
So, now to the main event: NATIONALS.
Wednesday. Neil King and I decided to tackle the 9h drive to Milwaukee on Wednesday (8/7). I left Bemidji shortly after 7 AM, I already had packed most of my stuff into my car the night before. I stopped in Nevis to pick up Neil and his stuff. I love my new RAV4, we had more than enough space in the back for both bikes and all of our stuff; and we are both not known to travel lightly. The drive to Milwaukee went smoothly: We stopped in Woodbury, MN for lunch at Panera’s, shared the driving duties, and arrived at our hotel around 6 PM. We checked in, brought our stuff to our rooms, and by 6:30 PM we were in our running clothes, ready for a short run to stretch our legs after the long ride. We ran about 2 miles through the neighborhood at an 8:25 pace. The first mile felt really hard, the legs just did not want to move, but by the second mile the stiffness was gone and I added a few 5 sec sprints to wake up my muscles. We ended the day with a light dinner. Unfortunately, the selection of eateries around the hotel was not too good (mostly fast food), and the folks at the hotel’s front desk were not of much help either. We ended up at a place called “Beer Belly” and had a blackened grouper sandwich.
Thursday. By 10 AM the next day we were on our bikes to check out as much of the course as possible. Part of the bike route was on I-794 which we obviously could not check out by bike, but the southern portion of the route through the cities of St. Francis and Cudahy was easily accessible from our hotel, so off we went. This part of the route seemed to be rather flat on paper, but we found that it had quite a few 1% and 2% inclines, false flats! The Oak Leaf Trail along Lake Michigan and some city streets brought us downtown Milwaukee to check out the transition area, near the Art Museum, and the running route, which followed for most parts the downtown portion of the Oak Leaf Trail. One of the run turn arounds was near a beach with rows upon rows of beach volleyball nets. We had lunch at a cafe in the Milwaukee River Flushing Station: Avocado-BLT, yum! The Flushing Station has an interesting history. It was build in 1888 to pump water from Lake Michigan to the Milwaukee River to dilute the sewage in the river. Boy, am I glad we have water treatment plants today. And wouldn’t you know it, the bike route along I-794 took as past the Milwaukee water treatment plant! 🙂 After lunch we headed back to our hotel to catch up with Craig and Lisa who just had arrived from Minneapolis. Neil and I ended up covering close to 37 mi on our bikes this morning. That was not really planned, but luckily it was only at an average of about 13 mph!
In the afternoon, we all filed into my car to head back to the race site for the packet pick-up and to check out the rest of the bike route. With our race packets, we were given a rather flimsy clear plastic bag. Transition bags were not supposed to be left in the transition area and only clear plastic bags were allowed to be checked at the bag check on race day. Any transition bag brought to the race site had to be given to loved ones or put back into your car. OK? What if you had no loved one with you? I had no clue how my stuff was supposed to fit into the provided plastic bag for transport. Anyhow, the best part of the packet pick up was of course Chrissie Wellington at the TYR expo booth. 🙂 Once she realized that I am German, we chatted for a while about the Roth Challenge, her favorite race! She was so genuine and authentic, and fun to meet. As for the bike route, we thought that the most challenging part probably would be the long and sustained climb up the I-794 bridge over the Kinnickinic River.
Friday. Friday started like any pre-race day with a short, 2.5 mi run with 4 * 30 sec striders and 2 * 5 sec sprints to wake up and prime my legs. After breakfast we headed to the swim area for the scheduled swim practice to get a feel for the water and the swim conditions. Many others obviously had the same idea, and the whole area was packed with athletes in swim suits and wet suits. The swim took place in the long, narrow, and very protected Lake Shore Park Inlet. Starting at the docks of Discovery World, the 1.5K course would take us from Discovery World underneath a narrow pedestrian bridge, along the whole length of the inlet and back.
All along we had marveled about how we were supposed to get up the 45º exit ramp, and we hoped to find answers this morning. The water temp was just shy of 70ºF, it would be a wet suit legal swim tomorrow. I did not want to dry my wet suit over night, so I decided to test the water without it. After the initial shock, the water felt quite comfortable. It was very calm and unexpectedly clear. It promised a rather fast swim. At the exit ramp, three to four lifeguards were lined up on either side, pulling us up the ramp. I see, that’s how it will work tomorrow! The poor guards, they will be really sore by the end of the day!
After the swim, we headed to the athlete informational meeting, hoping for some more detail about the route, but it was just the officials talking about competition rules. However, I found out that we did not have to use the provided plastic bag, any see-through bag would do. We decided to head to Target later in the afternoon to get some sturdier Ziploc Big Bags. They at least have a zip closure and a handle!
The afternoon was occupied by a late lunch at Olive Garden, our own version of a pasta feed, 🙂 and getting our bikes checked in at the transition area. I also used this time to get familiar with the transition area and finding my way from the swim- and bike-in to my transition spot. Neil and I estimated that with more than 3000 participants in the Olympic distance race, there was probably around 12 million dollars worth of equipment in the transition area. They better keep a close eye on it over night!
Getting our remaining race equipment ready and packed up in our Ziploc bags, having a light dinner/snack, and getting a good night’s sleep, was all that was left to do now.
Saturday. RACE DAY! I know, the part everybody has been waiting for 🙂
Transition area opened at 5:30, so at 5:00 a.m. with Ziploc bags in hand, we were ready to leave the hotel and have Lisa drop us off at the race site. Setting up the transition area is no different than for any other race, except, that everything is a little bit tighter and bikes are closer together. And like any other transition area, you start chatting with all the competitors around you. Transition spots were assigned according to age group and within age group according to age. So everybody around me was born in 1965. Two fellow Minnesotan competitors were right around me, Cheryl Zitur was 7 spots to my left, and Julia Weisbecker was right across the rack from me. The warm up consisted only of running. You were not allowed to take the bike out of the transition area, and the swimming area was closed to athletes. At 7:30 a.m. the transition area closed. Only stuff you need for the race was allowed to remain in the transition area, so for me, everything else had to go in my Ziploc bag, and the Ziploc bag had to go to the bag check. My wave (wave 7) was not scheduled to start until 8:21. As I was standing in line, I heard somebody behind me say “I probably will breaststroke most of the distance.” I turned around and commented, “Where are you from? Because that is something people from Europe or Asia would say.” Turns out the woman was from Munich, Germany. Hey, a chance to speak my mother language. Unfortunately, I did not ask for her name, so I could not check how she did.
Finally, our time to go. The water felt good. I went out hard and was among the top swimmers quite early. Early on my legs felt heavy and I thought, “oh, oh, we biked too much on Thursday.” But after a few hundred meters I felt OK, and the swim went really well, especially considering that I had been struggling with the swim earlier in the season. Shortly after the bridge, I locked arms with a fellow Minnesotan several times. But that was the only “fight” I was involved in. At the exit ramp, I was struggling getting my feet underneath my body, but once I had the hand of the first lifeguard, I just pulled myself hand-over-hand from one lifeguard to the next, and off I went. I heard somebody say “15th out of the water,” I did not know whether he referred to me or not, but I was satisfied with this ranking.
T1 went really well. Despite running for a long time with the wet suit hanging from the waist, I had no problems slipping it of my legs and feet. Sometimes, I am struggling with the buckle of my helmet, but not this time.
I tried to bike hard. Early on the bike, I was passed by a follow Minnesotan who just left me behind. This did not seem to bode well, but I also passed at least two women in my age group. For most parts I was going back and forth with athletes who started in waves ahead of me. So, I felt rather good about my bike, until we crossed the I-794 bridge for the second time and a big group of women who seemed to be from my age group passed me. Not good! But what can you do? Fight back!
Like T1, T2 went well. Nothing special to report here.
The run felt really fast. I was passing a lot of athletes, especially from the older age groups who had started in waves ahead of me. But I did not seem to pass many if any at all of my age group. Accordingly, I did not feel like I was moving up in my age group. I tried to push harder and leave everything on the course, but still, where were those other 45-49-year-old? I felt dizzy after crossing the finish line, but when Chrissie Wellington put the finisher medal round my neck, this was forgotten for a moment. Suddenly somebody next to me said “Great run, I was trying to catch up with you, but I could not!” It was Ann Snuggerud, a fellow Minnesotan. All I could think was “Wow, I beat Ann? That never happened!” Generally, Ann is faster in the swim, I tend to catch up with her on the bike, and then she outruns me. But not this time! We ended up having a Minnesota get-together with 3 other Minnesota Master’s competitors in the finish area, until they shushed us out of the area to make room for other finishers. It is so much fun competing with these women on a regular basis and having such great camaraderie at this national event.
My dizziness was coming back. I knew I had to get something salty, I better get the salt tablet I had in my checked Ziploc bag. After the salt tablet and a burrito from the food tent, I felt much better. Time to check on the results. 2:21:38, yes!, definitely one of my fastest Olympic distance times (actually the fastest), despite the rather long transitions. 9th place in my division! Top 10! I was on an emotional high. I had hoped to make Team USA again, but I had never dreamed about making Top 10. But something was nagging in the back of my mind. On the bike course I had seen an official writing on his note pad as he was passing me on the motor cycle. I was not aware of having done anything wrong but somehow I was double guessing myself. I made Neil, Craig, and Lisa wait for the penalty report to be posted before heading back to our hotel.
As my finger went down the list, there it was, my number: 1248 – 2 min penalty for drafting. My heart dropped. Drafting? I was drafting? Really? Where? When? How? I was devastated. I went to the officials tent. They could not answer most of my questions, except that I supposedly followed another athlete within his/her drafting area for more than 15 sec before passing, and that – and here comes the kicker – I did not attempt to pass until I heard the motor cycle. With this statement, they basically accused me of drafting on purpose. Now I was not only devastated, I was also mad. The penalty dropped me from 9th to 14th place, I still had a chance to make Team USA, but at this point this was not much of a consolation.
Craig, Neil, and I had agreed to do an easy cool down on the bike by riding our bikes the 11 miles back to the hotel along the Oak Leaf Trail. Lisa took the bags back in the car. The ride to the hotel did not only help with my sore legs, it also helped me come to terms with the penalty. I raced hard, and I raced well. The penalty affected my place, it did not change my effort. Let’s take it, learn from it, and determine what I can do to avoid a similar situation next time.
After getting cleaned up and some rest, Neil and I went to the awards ceremony, primarily to sign up for Team USA. Lisa and Craig caught up with us in downtown Milwaukee after the ceremony and pretty much kidnapped us, leaving my car behind at the parking garage. They would only tell us that we were going to a Safe House. Good thing we trusted them. The Safe House turned out to be an amazing, spy-themed restaurant. Luckily we knew the password to enter, otherwise they would have asked us to earn our way in by doing the chicken dance, playing mime, or doing some other embarrassing thing that everybody in the Safe House would have been able to watch via television. The place was packed and we had quite a long wait, but with Martini (stirred not shaken) in hand and some spy riddles to solve, we kept ourselves entertained and explored all the amazing things exhibited. Neil volunteered to be my designated driver, so I was not too worried about the drinks getting to my head. And, oh by the way, the food was really good, too. So, if you are ever in Milwaukee, check out the Safe House, or should I say “the stately office of International Exports, Ltd. (est.1868) at 779 North Front Street.”
Sunday, we slept in, had a relaxed breakfast, and made us on the long ride home. But obviously not without stopping at Izzy’s in St, Paul for our ice cream treat/reward. I tell you there is always room in my stomach for Izzy’s ice cream, even after a good lunch. I could even convince Neil of this – I thought – well known fact.
I had a great time in Milwaukee. It was fun sharing this experience with fellow Headwaters Tri members, and other fellow Minnesotans, folks like Julia Weisbecker, Ann Suggerud, Cheryl Zitur, Marcus Stromberg, Brian Bich, Helen Gunther, and Juli Currie. Julia, Cheryl, Ann, and I rocked the 45-49 age group. We all finished in the Top 10 :-), at least until I received my penalty 😦
Back home, I will measure out the drafting zone in my back yard to make sure I have a good feel for its size and with the World Championships in London coming up Sept. 15, I better make sure I also have a good feel for the slightly bigger ITU draft zone!
Helpful info regarding the drafting rules (Note, ITU rules specify a bigger drafting zone than USAT rules):