Wednesday, October 5, 2011

USAT Age Group Nationals (Olympic Distance) - August 20, 2011 Burlington VT

Competing in the Age Group Nationals was a late decision, mainly motivated by my desire to compete at ITU Worlds 2012 in New Zealand. My VO2 Multisport teammate Charles and I were both thinking about going, but were both put off by the high cost and all the hassle of the trip to Vermont for a race that would last merely a couple hours. A few weeks before the race, the airfare prices came down from incomprehensible $800 to more graspable $500. Coincidentally, USAT added 500 more slots to the previously sold out race around the same time. By traveling together we could save on the hotel costs and bike shipping costs (thanks to Mr. Crampy’s Multisport shop that supplied us with a bike case that fit both of our bikes). We booked our trip and a few weeks later landed in Burlington, VT after a full day of traveling. We arrived at 11pm local time and I was pleasantly surprised that it was warm outside after dark – something I am not used to coming from Seattle.

Friday, the day before the race, was filled with the usual chores. We picked up our registration packets, rode part of the course (hilly but not nearly as bad as the posted profile would lead you to believe), swam in Lake Champlain (perfect temperature and the water much more clear than in murky local lakes!). We enjoyed some crepes for dinner at the Skinny Pancake on the waterfront and were in bed by 10pm.

On Saturday, race day, we woke up at 5:45am and were in the cab to the start by 6:15am. My breakfast was comprised of half a bagel with peanut butter and banana and a small cup of coffee. No need to eat too much before an Olympic tri. It’s refreshing how little you have to worry about for a race of this distance compared to a half ironman or a full ironman. My nutrition for the bike was one 24oz bottle with a couple scoops of GU brew and one vanilla GU gel; no complicated concoctions with multiple different ingredients and no salt to worry about. Fewer items to place in transition: luxuries like socks, hat and flat coke for T2 are not necessary, which minimizes the number of steps in transition.

My wave didn’t start until 8:30 and I was ready to go by 7:30 (when they kicked us out of transition). I had plenty of time to watch the first couple waves go through the swim course. The first guy in M35-39 age group took 20 minutes to swim the course, which struck me as a pretty long time for some of the fastest age groupers in the country. Either the course was a bit long or there was current/chop that made the swim slower. The weather was just about perfect for the race. Water was in the low 70s and the air was in the high 60s at the start. The sun was shining and there was not a hint of potential rain.

Finally, it was time for F25-29 wave to step on the dock by the boat house. Similarly to Lake Stevens start, they have you jump into the water off the dock. You have 4 minutes to warm up on one side of the dock while the previous wave lines up for the start on the other side. As soon as they started we moved over in their place to line up and go in 4 minutes. My plan was to take the swim really easy for the first few buoys so that I could stay relaxed and avoid any chance of a reactive airwaves attack happening again (which cut my race day short at Lake Stevens just six days prior). It’s still a puzzle to me what causes the attacks – not sure if it’s internal factors (stress, fatigue, minor cold) or external (cold water, allergic reaction). I suppose it could be some combination of multiple things. I lined up behind everyone else to avoid the being caught in the swim start chaos. Not sure if that was a wise decision as I had to swim around a bunch of girls despite going at me very easy pace. As I swam past the first three buoys, I realized that the only imminent danger to my finishing the swim course was being run over by the very aggressive swimmers from M25-29 age group that followed us. A couple of them literally swam over me without slowing down their stroke or kick and I got a little bruise on my hip to prove it. Could have been worse – at least I didn’t get kicked in the face, my goggles stayed put and I didn’t swallow a bunch of water. The fact that they caught me about half way through the course despite starting 4 minutes behind helped me realize just how slow I was swimming. I was feeling totally fine – no breathing issues whatsoever, so I picked it up a bit for the second half. One of the turns on the course was sharper than 90 degrees and I got caught with a bunch of people swimming the wrong way for a while before realizing where the next buoy was and correcting. This probably cost me another minute. Arrgh! I didn’t have my watch on in the water so I asked another girl who exited at the same time about our split. She said 28 minutes. Yikes! This was really slow compared to my sub 24 minute swim at Seafair tri. Official results have me at 28:31.

T1 was pretty quick and efficient: took off the top of the wetsuit while running to my bike, slipped off the bottom of the wetsuit at my bike without much effort. Helmet, glasses and bike shoes on, grabbed my bike, out of transition in 1:31. Pretty good given that the run through transition was quite long.

Struggled with clipping in my pedals a bit more than I’d like – the cleats got muddy running through transition. Must learn the art of flying mount and dismount for next year if I want to focus on shorter distances! Once I was clipped in and pedaling, I had no trouble getting up into my target power range – my goal was to ride at around 200 watts. The course had a bunch of rollers, a few steep climbs but nothing prolonged – piece of cake for anyone training in Seattle area. I only had to get out of my saddle once. I passed a bunch of girls in my AG and was overall very pleased with my ride. My time was 1:08, 9th best in my age group.

I had to be careful racking my bike in T2 because the transition spots were so tight and the 2 bikes next to mine were already racked. Other than that, it was a quick transition – helmet and cycling shoes off, running shoes one, grabbed my Garmin and was out in 1:02.

Felt good at the start of the run, though the first mile started with a very steep quarter mile long hill. I took it steady up the hill and noted a girl in my AG who passed me going up significantly faster. As we went over the top of the hill, I let my legs go and got my pace down to my target pace of sub 6:30s pretty quick. In retrospective, I should have been going faster on that section since it was a slight downhill, but I was running as fast as I could maintain. I kept passing lots of folks including a few women in my age group. I did get passed by a few guys and a very fast 48 year old woman. I tried to hang with her but she must have been holding 6:15s and that was too fast for me. Around mile 2.5 I did pass the girl who passed me on the hill (I’d been steadily gaining on her ever since we reached the top of the hill). The last 3 miles were flat and I slowed down to 6:50s as soon as I hit the flat trail. I didn’t feel like I was running that slow so I thought my Garmin was acting up because we were surrounded by trees. I realized soon enough that my Garmin mile splits were right on with the course markers, so the problem was with my legs and not my Garmin. I tried to push a bit harder and get down to 6:30s again, but it wasn’t happening. I was fine holding 6:50s though and still passing girls in my AG. I got passed by one 25 year old (former collegiate runner who I’d met the day before) – she ended up splitting a 38 minute 10K, so no wonder she passed me as if I were standing still. With half a mile to go I heard that someone was gaining on me and running very closely at almost the same pace. I didn’t look back but I had a feeling it was my hill runner who passed me early on and whom I passed back at mile 2. I sped up for the last 800 and so did she. She passed me just as we entered the long finishing chute, but I put in a solid sprint to the finish line and ended up outsplitting her by 2 seconds and passing a couple more folks in the process. My final run time was 41:30 (6:44 pace) and my total time was 2:21:03. I was a bit slower than my sub 2:20 goal, but I was pretty happy with my overall time given my extremely slow swim and sub-optimal run. I finished 20th in F25-29 age group (out of 85).

After crossing the finish line I felt a little bit like I was going to collapse and/or puke (that sprint in the end really pushed me). I was fine after sitting down and pouring some cold water on myself though. I was anxious to find out whether I qualified for the ITU Worlds 2012 in New Zealand. As I am turning 30 next year, I had to qualify against the 30-34 age group. Those who finish in top 18 of the age group qualify for the worlds and if any of the top 18 give up their slot, the slots will roll down as far as 25th place. After careful evaluation of the results list, I realized that I was in 18th place in the 2012-adjusted 30-34 age group which meant I was the last person to get a legitimate slot in that age group. Success! All the hassle and the expense of the trip were worth it. New Zealand – here I come!

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