Monday, October 4, 2010

USAT Age Group Nationals

For the last 3 years I have been able to participate in the USAT Age Group Nationals Championships in the Olympic distance. The last two years it has been down in Tuscaloosa Alabama. The race venue is on the campus of the University of Alabama Roll Tide who this year is ranked #1 in college football. The campus is rich with history and is quite a place to see.
I was able to travel with some of the best athlete in their respective age groups and each year I am proud to support them as they rise to the victor’s stage and place in the top 10 of the country. 1300 racers this year were fighting for the right to be crowned the best and have a chance to represent the USA in age group worlds which in 2011 will be held in China on the very course that the Olympics were raced on just a short while ago. In all I was able to toe the line with 13 of my training partners and I was even able to start right next to Anthony that placed in the top 20 of our 35-39 age group.
The days leading up to the race were good and I was feeling wonderful and ready to give it my all. I woke up wide eyed 10 minutes before the alarm was to go off and was able to just relax and get my game face on amongst the other 3 snoring friends in our hotel room. Racking the bike was done the night before and so setting up transition was simple and only took a few minutes. I was able to eat well and get warmed up. The national anthem was awesome and brought goose bumps and a few tears that to me signaled I was ready to give it my all on the course.
The swim was a deep water start with around 150 others and as the horn sounded I placed myself 3 layers back. I took the first of 3 turns easy and by the 2nd turn I ramping up my pace and really having fun. For me the swim is all about setting the day up right and not taking it too easy but not too hard as to take away from my effort on the bike or run. I was smooth in the water and felt good as I was passing those that pushed too hard early in the swim and slowed down. The river was warm enough that we were not able to use our wetsuits and I was keeping a great rhythm on the longest leg of the swim. As always it went fast and I was making my way to my first transition. I decided to wear my Garmin to help keep me smart on the bike and run for the best outcome possible and took the time to put it on. Other than that small addition I was in normal fast form and was out on the bike in 1:47.
The bike course had 2 loops that had some good ups and downs in it. At the bike mount I jumped on and started the timer on my Garmin and saw that I was at 189BPM (I like to race in the 170-185 range). With that I slowed way down and was able to get it back down and kept it for the first climb right at 180. The first decent I was feeling good and realized that my legs were going to help me today and were like game on. I kept my effort steady regardless how many totally killer racers passed and kept telling myself that it was my day and I was racing myself not anyone else. The next part of the day took me for a loop. I had grabbed some extra gels from friends that I had not used before but felt ok with gel. I took a small amount and realized that I was more like paste, very sticky paste and by the time it took to get a breath I was up chucking chunks, I leaned to the right and let it go. It took me by surprise to I kept peddling and riding up the slight incline I was on. Seconds after the first spew I the second was up and coming and then the third and forth. Seven times in all and by the end I had nothing left in my stomach and was feeling a bit wobbly. I slowed down on my bike and took a small swig of water and it stayed down. I worked hard to lean way to the left and was able to keep the left half of my clothes and bike clean while the right half had some battle scares. I did not know what to do and felt that the best way to avenge was to toss the gel that was still in my hand away and swear A LOT…. The small drink stayed down and I poured some over my clothes to wash me down a bit and then jumped back on the peddles and kept going. (After all is was Nationals) The first loop was kind of different and I settled back in and started to fight like I normally do a few minutes later. The second loop was all about getting my speed on and I felt really good with the increase in effort. I has battle stains on my clothes but I felt good and was going to make the best of the day. I pulled into T2 at 1:07.22 faster than last year.
I had a bag of ice ready at T2 and put all that I could in my hat and my back and in my hands to try to cool me down as the day was getting really, really hot. I had not retained much and so as I cleared out I was going to have a battle and wanted to do my best. I looked at my Garmin to see what the day was going to give me and I was shocked to I was running in the 180’s a really good start. I slowed down and allowed to check my breathing and pace. I took a swig at the first aid station and mile 1 was feeling good. Mile 2-3 had some good climbing and by the time I finished the second I was cooked and looked to see 194BPM. I wanted to finish the day as strong as I could and tried to fight knowing that I was overheating and had limited time. For the next 25 minutes I put my head down and did not stop running except to take on aid at the stations. I had to tell myself “keep running, don’t stop several hundred times and was fighting a battle that I would lose badly. The last ½ mile was the hardest as I looked again to see a 196 and felt it all over. I did not stop and as I crossed the line I was a peace with the results. I did the best that I could and had nothing left to give. I left it all (I really mean IT ALL) out on the course that day.
I was able to get my feet under me and get back to see some of the best finishing shoot battles I have seen. Beth was shoulder to shoulder in an all out sprint and gave more than she had to give to win and I was able to see that fight. I was able to see many with ages over 70 come running in with smiles for the day and all I could think about is what will I be doing in 45 years!
I love this sport and appreciate what it has done for my life. I am only able to give it a small part of my life but when I get it race that does not matter because it really is a joy. I look forward to next season and what it will bring. Nationals are up in Vermont where my wife spent her high school days. I hope to make it and have her come to the event with me. Until next year, train hard, love lots and smile for sure.