a German on Team USA

“Gute Goat im Himmel” and “2017 National Transition Champion”

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“Gute Goat im Himmel” and “2017 National Transition Champion”

USA Triathlon National Age Group Championships, Omaha, NE – August 12, 2017

1.5 km / 40 km / 10 km

So, this was it, the triathlon highlight of the year, my A-race for 2017.

What were my goals going into the race?

  • Race hard and leave it on the course
  • Qualify for Team USA.
  • Finish Top 10

Leading up to the race

The turn around between returning from Brewhouse Triathlon and leaving for Nationals was really quick. I came back from Duluth late Sunday and Neil King and I left for Omaha early Wednesday morning. Somewhere in between, I washed my race clothing, cleaned my bike and my car, packed my bags and made sure I had everything I needed for Nationals (good think I have my checklists, even if some of my friends make fun of them and my binder), and somehow I also got all my workouts in, and ate and slept.

The drive to Omaha was pretty uneventful, just head over to Fargo, and then head south on I29. Just make sure you don’t fall asleep, the scenery along I29 is pretty monotonous. We arrived in Omaha with enough time to go on a short run to stretch our legs from the long ride.

On Thursday, race course reconnaissance and packet pick up was on our schedule. We drove the bike course, tested the one hill in the otherwise relatively flat course with our bikes, and biked the run course, before finishing up with a transition practice. Just regular pre-race stuff. And OMG, the temperatures were so much more comfortable than last year. Instead of temps in the high 90s F (30°C) with an heat index around 110°F (43°C), we just barely reached 80°F (26.5°C) and the heat index probably was not any higher either. We ended the day at the Kitchen Table, having their Thursday night special: Tacos. Sounds pretty boring, right? But if everything is locally sourced and made from scratch, even the corn tortillas, taco night becomes something special.

My bike in the transition (orange helmet). The Texas flag in the background help me to find my spot.

Friday started with an easy run that included some accelerations and striders and continued with the familiarization swim, the only time we were aloud to test the lake water prior to tomorrow’s race. The water was still as cloudy as last year, but quite a few degrees cooler, yet with about 81°F (27°C) still not wet suit legal. And that was very unlikely to change until tomorrow. Checking our bikes into the transition area and attending the athletes briefing was next on the schedule. Early dinner today was at Noodles & Company. I like to go there the day before a race. I know what I get, I know how my body reacts to the food, and I know it works for me.

Overall, I was pretty calm and relaxed considering that this was my A-race. I didn’t seem to have many butterflies in my stomach, which is pretty unusual for me for an A-race.

Morning of the race

Learning from last years ‘battle in the heat’ the organizer had decided to open the transition and start the race 30 min earlier. Transition opened at 5 AM, and my wave was supposed to start at 7:34 AM. That obviously also meant getting up 30 min earlier, i.e. at 3:35 AM. Who gets up at this time of the day unless for a race? Not me!

Last year they had to delay the race start by about 15 minutes because of the traffic jam to the race site, so this year, they had more shuttles from the downtown hotels and gave the shuttles a different route from the cars going to the race site. But instead of using the extra shuttles more people decided to drive to the race site. News flash, the race site did not allow for more parking spots than last year, and the lot was already full last year, so where did you think you could park your car? Well, as a consequence they had to delay the start of the race by 30 minutes this year.

Once the started announcing all those delays – first 15 minutes, then 20 minutes, and finally 30 minutes – I just sat down on the grass in front of the bag drop tent, leaned back, rested my head on my bag, enjoyed looking at the legs of all those nervous triathletes running around me, and waited for my time to slip into my wetsuit and go to the swim warm up area. All my gear was set up, my warm up was done, so there was nothing more to be done but relax and wait.

Swim > 27:58; 1:43 / 100 yds; 9th age group

Garmin data > 1:34 / 100 yds

I thought I had lined up somewhere in the middle of the starting dock, but according to the USAT video clip I must have been more to the outer third of the dock. In any case from were I was situated the sighting and turn buoy seemed all in a straight line. So, keeping all buoys just to my left should give me the shortest distance to the first turn.

On my way to T1 (photo: FinisherPix)

With the floating dock not having a skirt, my feet just dangled in the open water once I had one hand on the deck as required. So I leaned slightly forward with my legs underneath the dock as I was waiting for the starting signal, which gave my body a more horizontal position. One strong scissors kick and a few arm strokes once the gun went off, and I already was ahead of the athletes immediately round me. I pretty much hugged the sighting buoys on my way to the turn buoy. After about 400-500 yards I passed the first athlete of the wave that had started 10 minutes ahead of me. Breathing towards my left, I did not see what was going on to my right except when sighting, but looking back, it seemed that most of the red hats of my wave that kept up with me were way out to my left. I felt like I was pretty much by myself, stringing myself from buoy to buoy, thus no drafting was possible for me.

After about 850 yards I reached the first turn buoy. I turned 90 degrees but could not find the next turn buoy. Did I swim to the wrong buoy? Is that why all the other athletes were so far to the left of me? I looked back but could not see another turn buoy behind me. So where is the second turn buoy? I turned an additional 30-45 degrees and finally found it. The turn was much sharper than I had anticipated.

As I came around the second turn buoy, I found that again all sighting buoys seemed to be in a straight line leading to the exit ramp. But this time a current seemed to want to push me to the right, so staying in a straight line, hugging the buoys, seemed slightly more difficult. And again most of my remaining competitors and athletes from the previous waves seemed to be swimming way out to my left. Did they know something I did not know? Well, at least they could draft off each other, there was no athlete around me I could use for a good draft. There also was no point for me to swim out and join them, they were too far away.

T1 > 2:04; 1st age group

Nothing to add here, the age group placing speaks for itself. It went just about as well as I could wish for. Not having to remove a wet suit obviously helps :-). I entered transition in 9th place, and I left transition in 7th place.

Bike > 1:12:14; 20.6 mph; 16th age group

Garmin data > 21.0 mph

You probably can image, that you won’t be fastest (in your age group) through T1 without running at a pretty fast clip. But as I was sprinting towards the mount line guiding my bike with my right hand, all I could see was a wall of people standing on the street just beyond the mount line. The whole width of the mounting area was blocked. They were standing maybe 4-5 people next to each other and almost 2 rows deep. The male 60+ wave and the female 60+ wave had started 17 and 10 minutes ahead of me, respectively, and so thinking back it seemed to me some of these athletes, when they had crossed the mounting line, just came to a full stop, so they could swing the leg over to straddle their bike. Being totally concentrated on the task they had to accomplish, they were oblivious to what was going on around them, and thus had blocked the whole width of the mount line. As I was approaching the mount line I was desperately looking for an opening, yelling “Move it! Move it! Keep going!” to get the athletes to move. The whole situation is clearly visible in the video. I sound pretty aggressive, don’t I? Even one of the officials tried to keep the people going.

In the process of this whole struggle, I ended up stepping somewhat off center onto my left cycling shoe and it came flying off the pedal landing in the middle of the road. Great! Now I had to stop, backtrack, and retrieve my shoe. To clear the area and get out of this traffic jam as fast as possible, I quickly slipped into the shoe without closing it, swung my leg over the saddle, pushed off to get going, before clipping in and closing the shoe.

(photo: FinisherPix)

I felt like I was flying on the way out on this out-and-back course. I felt like I was passing athletes right-and-left, well, just left, passing on the right would be illegal :-). My Garmin data show that I was way faster on the out-portion than last year, but the same can not be said for the in-portion. Did I go out too fast and as a consequence lost steam on the way in? Reeling in and passing many cyclists certainly can have this effect. But I don’t think that this was the case. I also don’t think that a lack of stamina could be blamed. In my lead up to this race, I had been cycling at least as well, if not better than last year. I rather think the difference was caused by the slight tail and head wind we experienced on the out- and in-portions, respectively, this year. In the end the overall speed for the bike course was the same as last year.

Shortly after the turn around, it felt like my rear wheel was starting to swim. Did I lose air pressure? Did I have a flat? Or was it just the sand on the road? I could not tell by looking down, so I finally decided to stop and check. Nope, air pressure was just fine, must have been the sand in the road. I looked back to check if I can safely take off again before continuing my journey. It was right at that moment that an official’s motorcycle slowed down next to me. You really do not want an official slow down next to you. It generally means that they are taking your number for a penalty. So, did they slow down because I did something wrong? Or did they slow down to check that I’m all right? There really was no point in double-guessing my action. I could not change anything at this point in time.

It wasn’t until the last third or quarter of the bike leg that women of my age group started passing me. I obviously did not keep track how many women of my age group I passed and how many passed me, but I started the bike leg in 7th place and I finished it in 10th place, just 3 seconds back from 9th.

T2 > 1:37; 2nd age group

Well, it was a fast one again, the second fastest in my age group, but I only could move up by one spot within my age group, the others were too far ahead of me for this transition to make a difference.

(photo: FinsherPix)

Run > 48:55; 7:53 min/mi > 27th age group

Garmin data > 7:58 min/mi

Compared to last year, this should have been an easier run, right? The temps were cooler, there were more water stations, we did not have to run through the industrial area that acted like a baking oven last year, the street surface was nicely repaved … So everything pointed to it being easier, but I still suffered. And I’m not talking about my speed, I knew I didn’t have the same speed in my legs as last year, but I’m talking about how it felt. The temp was about 8°F lower than last year, but after a while I still felt like I was baking. Maybe the new, still very black, street surface reflected more of the heat, or maybe it was just me and my weaker running shape, but with every mile I was getting slower and slower. My drop off was not as bad as last year, but in the end, I did not have enough energy left to fight off one of my age group competitors who passed me shortly before the start of the finishing shoot. Granted, it is also a lot easier to outsprint an athlete coming from behind than to react to an athlete sprinting past you in the last possible moment. Coming from behind, she could see my age on the back of my calf, but I did not know until she was already past me and it was too late to react. But I also only had enough left to carry my tired body to the finish line. In the end, four women of my age group could pass me on the run and I slipped back into 13th place. The run is definitely something I should try to improve on for next year.

Overall > 2:32:49; 13th age group

(photo: Neil King)

Ever since I received a 2-minute penalty at the 2013 Nationals in Milwaukee, WI, I am paranoid about receiving another penalty. And this time an official had slowed down next to me as I was checking on my tire. Did this mean anything? I needed to know and so I made Neil wait with me for the penalty report. We both ended up in the clear.

In the end, I was pleased about my race. I raced hard and to the best of my current capabilities. I had a great transitions, and a strong swim and bike. The run was my weak spot, but I knew that going into the race. I was surprised about how calm I was prior to the race, and even though the delays were a pain in the neck, I was able the just shrug my shoulders and roll with them. I was not able to finish in the Top 10 of my age group, but I was able to qualify for Team USA.

I was,however, Top 10 in the swim, T1, and T2. Even better, I’m National Transition Champion 🙂 Yeah!

Feeling strong in Omaha, NE (photo: Neil King)

Neil had made the podium by finishing 9th in his age group. And so we celebrated Saturday evening with some great Persian food. We were so full afterwards and the line at Ted & Wally’s was so long, that I decided to delay our departure until after 11 AM the next day to get our traditional post Nationals ice cream fix. Neil was nice enough to go along with it 🙂

So, the next day we stood in front of Ted & Wally’s door the moment they opened. We both had ‘Gute Goat im Himmel‘ ice cream made with chèvre, cinnamon, and cranberries. It sounds like a weird combination, but it was SO good.

What’s coming up next?

On August 27, I will be racing the Superior Man 41.5 in Duluth, MN.

Picture Gallery

(click on any picture to enlarge)

During the week prior to Nationals, posted “How to Do a Proper Post-Race Data Analysis” by Maria Simone on their blog. Simone suggests to write a report to provide context for the day within a day or two of finishing the race, consider the following:

  1. What did you learn?
  2. What worked well?
  3. What are you proud of?
  4. What didn’t go well?
  5. How well did you respond to things that weren’t in your control? (e.g., weather)
  6. What are areas for growth?
  7. What were your thoughts and feelings during the race?
    How did they influence your actions?
    What was or was not effective about your mental game?
  8. How did your pre-race planning help or hinder you?
  9. What was your fueling and hydration strategy?
    Did it work?
  10. What were the circumstances of the day (weather, terrain, competition, etc.)?

So, by writing this report, I was trying to not only inform my friends about my race, but also to answer these questions for myself.

Author: seecktri

an Exercise Science professor at Bemidji State University who spends most of her time working, swimming, cycling, and running; a German on Team USA Triathlon who nevertheless cheers for Team Germany for anything sport

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