Friday, August 28, 2009

USAT Elite Nationals Recap


My coach, Barb Lindquist, informing me I would need to swim for my life to fight the current pre-race


Swim start practice off the pontoon


This past weekend I competed in the Elite National Championship in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “Why Alabama of all places?!” many have asked. Well, for one, this was the site of the 2008 US Olympic Trials, boasting a course similar to the one in Beijing. Although the course was slightly changed from last year due to construction, it still served up enough challenges for one race…

Swim – As I dove from the pontoon into the warm waters of the Black Warrior River, I realized pretty quickly that I would need to push the pace of my swim turnover for as long as I could to stay on feet and have a shot of being in a bike pack once I exited the swim. For a little over ½ a mile I swam towards the first buoy, trying to stay in the draft of as many feet as possible and maintain contact with a pack ahead of me. As soon as I made the left hand turn around the buoy, I was able to confirm the rumors I’d heard pre-race about a wicked current on the way back (think water shooting out of a water slide). Although at times I felt like I was going nowhere, I kicked extra hard and was able to stay in the draft of a couple of girls in front of me. Once I turned for that final home stretch of the swim, I picked up the pace to an all-out sprint as did my competitors. As I reached the swim exit and forced myself out of the water, I immediately saw 3-4 girls right ahead of me and started sprinting up the ramp/stairs into the transition area.

Bike – This is the part where I started to get nervous. Thoughts of yester-year started to creep into my head. Since you probably have no idea what I’m referring to, I’ll give you the cliff notes version of my Nationals race from last year. Great swim, stayed with chase pack for 2 laps on the bike and then got shelled off the back on the hills and eventually lapped out by the lead pack. My first DNF ever. Gulp. But anyways, back to the present… as I left transition, hopped on my bike and headed up the first hill, the same 4 girls that exited the swim right ahead of me remained within sight. I knew if I wanted any chance of having a decent race I needed to catch their wheels and be in their bike pack. So, I red-lined it for about 30 seconds and was fortunately able to catch them as some were still getting their feet properly positioned in their bike shoes. Once our pack formed, we were able to formulate a rotation and eventually added another girl to our pack halfway through the 6 lap bike course. There was a pretty significant hill on each of the 6 laps but the lesson learned from last year is that I needed to be near the front of the pack to ward off any potential attacks/gaps that might occur. The pack stayed in tact the entire bike and there were just enough girls in the group that I was working hard yet still had the feeling that my legs would be able to function once I started the run.

Run – Once I got to the run I was able to stop worrying and just go! I wanted to push the pace right away to sort of break up our group and see who would come with me. One other competitor did and we both ran a very quick 8:40ish for our opening lap (2.5k). At the beginning of the second lap, I pushed even harder and was able to open up a little gap on her by the turn around. My legs were hurting and the sun was beating down on us at that point, but I was able to find a rhythm, get my breathing under control(finally!), and just focus on being in the moment. From there, I just thought about trying as best as I could to close the gap on the next competitor up the road who had been in a bike pack a couple minutes ahead of mine. I could see myself making progress each lap on the looped course but realized by the last lap that it wouldn’t be a close enough gap to close. I had a girl 600 meters ahead and another one 300 meters behind me.

Therefore, there was no sprint finish for this race. No camera bulbs flashing at the finishing line. No fans to wave to (they’d all moved on to other parts of the course to watch the men’s race unfold). But none of this mattered to me. The thrill of having a solid race was enough for me on that day. I ended up 8th place overall and 3rd place in the Under-23category. This is an improvement on my 10th place overall, 3rd place U23 finish at the 2007 Elite Nationals and obviously my DNF from last year. Jasmine Oeinck made a remarkable comeback from injury to win on the women’s side and for the men, Matt Chrabot ended up taking the national crown.

Something else I feel compelled to comment on is the electric atmosphere at the race. There are not many sports out there that allow age group athletes to support the pros and vice versa. The fact that the age group race was held immediately before the pro race allowed me to cheer for some athletes while I was setting up my transition area and many reciprocated the favor by sticking around to cheer for my race. I feel that the sport of triathlon forges an innate connection between all participants. We all understand the long hours of training, the sacrifices made, and the mental and physical struggles it takes to even make it to the starting line. Even though our goals may be very different (from winning to just finishing), we are bonded by the three sports that compose a triathlon. I am grateful to have met so many great people/athletes this past weekend and also to have had the opportunity to catch up with some of my Floridian triathlete friends that I hadn’t seen in awhile.

The day after the race, I had an early 5:45am wake up so that I could participate in the mini-camp that my amazing coach, Barb Lindquist, was offering to her athletes as well as some of the athletes from the collegiate ranks that she had helped recruit to the sport of triathlon. I hadn’t seen my coach since the San Francisco race last year (10 months ago!), so it was nice for her to be able to critique my technique in both swimming and running and give me some things to work on for the future. Just because I’m a professional doesn’t mean I’m perfect by any means!

My next race is the Under-23 World Championships in Gold Coast, Australia on September 11th. I have about a week of solid training left and then it’s taper time! Once I’ve figured out how you can follow me and what the time difference is, I’ll let you all know. Also, I did an interview last weekend for the Stay Tuned Report, which should be available to download on ITunes in a couple weeks time so keep an eye out for that.

To read a recap of the race from USA Triathlon, click here.

Hope everyone has a happy and healthy transition into the fall season!

AHahn