So this past weekend was finally¬†the first race of my triathlon season this year. I counted it up and it had been 10 whole months since I raced last (Age Group Nationals last year). Little bits of slacking here and there definitely have occurred because of the 7-day a week training schedule that leads to monotony if you’re not kept fresh mentally. Despite those however I have been fairly consistent in the majority of my training (I’m just hyper-critical sometimes).

Surveying the scene the day before the race and out for a bike warmup

Surveying the scene the day before the race and out for a bike warmup

We drove over Friday morning and arrived in town around 11. Freshly paved roads on the bike course and a hilly run were going to be a good and bad sign of things to come. Post lunch we arrived at the race site and spent 20 minutes driving around trying to figure out how the heck to get over to the transition area since nobody had yet put up any signs giving directions within the Innsbrook resort. This is a typical occurrence when you’re new to an area and there’s a dozen options of turns to take, but I like arriving before everyone really starts coming in to pick up their packets to get my pre-race workout in. A 30 minute bike and a 15 minute run almost end in disaster. As I was turning around on the run course my left foot planted on the ground, pushed to help me turn and came out from under me with the gravel. I was forced to stick my arm out to save myself from face planting, but hurt my wrist and shoulder a little doing it. Post-workout I just wanted to get the heck out of there before I hurt myself, I’d waited too long to race for any kind of ridiculous shenanigans to prevent my race appearance.

Repping the Cycle City KC gear in transition at the St. Louis 5150 the day before the race.

Repping the Cycle City KC gear in transition at the St. Louis 5150 the day before the race.

Coming into this race I knew that I needed to win my age division to make my qualifiying spot for Age Group Nationals. Looking at last year’s results and the winner having a blistering fast almost 25mph bike in the 20-24 category I didn’t want to get my hopes up. Barb had talked to the race director to save a few spots for the remaining collegiate recruits (which included me) who hadn’t yet qualified and registered. Knowing that in the worst case scenario I can always qualify at Regionals helped me relax and forget about needing to qualify.

Setting up transition at around 6am. I'm standing in the camera lens flare of course.

Setting up transition at around 6am. I’m standing in the camera lens flare of course.

Race morning started as most race mornings do. An early alarm. Putting the few things I have with me and the bike in/on the car and heading to the race site. Setting up transition in a matter of minutes while everyone else muttles about and I wonder how everyone can have so much stuff in their transition area (it just boggles my mind, I’ll never understand).

 

34 and under wave start St. Louis 5150

I’m in the middle of the frame, mid depth in black and red. The white cap, can’t you see me?

As the cannon has sounded several times for the pros and age group elite waves to start the 34 & under crowd is called over to the start line. I realize I never took any of my accel gel before the race. “Oh well” I thought “if 110 calories are going to make or break my day then so be it.” (as an aside, this is why you actually eat things pre-race instead of relying entirely on gels) Regardless of anything else I’ve learned over the years that panicking over minor details is the worst idea ever, just relax and put out there what you have in you and that will be that. I toe the line oddly calm. It’s almost like I’ve been doing this for years (oh, I have now I suppose, but this is the first year I’ve finally been able to relax pre-race without almost any jitters). The cannon goes off and the clusterf*ck begins. I use that term because that’s the only way to describe a wave start with too many guys. I’m prepared at the front of group only as one line of guys ahead of me to get out and sprint onto some fast feet. To my surprise and chagrin I’ve got guys surrounding me making it difficult to even get in the water so I continue to wade forward as they what seemed like slowly crawl forward. Finally I’m able to dive in and get going as the mass of hands and feet kick, claw, climb and assault everyone in everyone direction. I couldn’t even get into sprinting speed for the mass of guys until about 200 meters in when I started to get out of the congestion and find some faster feet.

I would estimate it was 4-500 meters into the race before I finally got settled onto a slightly faster guy’s feet and there was only one other person around us. Sighting was much easier this race as I’d been practicing it over and over and over for months in the pool inserting it at random points through all different speeds in workouts. Sprinting around buoys to stay on feet and keep others off mine I seem to be making a pretty good pace and keeping up with the guy I’ve latched onto. He begins to die with what seems like 400 meters to go so I begin to go around him. Nope, just taking a breather he says (or I imagined) as he zooms back around me and puts some distance between us I just can’t seem to close. 250 meters to go and I’m by myself with a pack ahead of me. Everyone is wearing white caps so I have no idea who is who at this point.

Coming out of the water I anticipated being sub-24. Alecia tells me I am rightIMG_4519 around 26. Oh well, it is what it is and I couldn’t have put anymore into that swim. I’m still grappling with this swim time today and I can’t decide whether I think the swim course is long or not, but it doesn’t really matter at this point so training continues unabated.

Into T1 I go knowing that I need to deliver a great bike performance. After getting out of the resort area with its steep hills and speed bumps I’m finally on the open road ready to start making some ground up on the swim leaders. “Focus on cadence, exact every advantage you can by switching gears often, don’t get lazy” I tell myself. I pass by several people (which always feels nice) in the beginning 15 minutes of the course. I come to a point where there’s a gap between me and the next rider and enough turns in the course that it seems like I’m in a world by myself, just me and the clock. Then the eventual Age Group winner comes past me with a momentum I can’t even pretend to match. Those damn 40 year old guys always annihilate me on the bike. I catch back up with him as we hit the largest climb of the day and pass him for some time up the hill. They always get me on the descent though. Unsure of how I’m able to climb faster than him (despite being in my smallest gear possible) while he still passes me on the downhill I pedal on. Heading into the resort I unstrap my shoes to get ready to head into T1, but oh no I apparently didn’t study my course maps right and I have another mile or two to go before I am actually into T2. Oops, now I’m pedaling with loose shoes and guys are passing me as my inferior bike handling skills show on the fast and tight turns. I’ve held them off for the whole 40k and get caught up by about 5 guys my age within the last mile going into T2. “Rookie mistake, rookie mistake, grind it out and salvage what you can” I think to myself.

IMG_4538Coming into T2 there’s some congestion at the dismount line as I squeeze in between two older age group competitors shouting “in the middle!” (you know, like when you say “on your left” when passing; I just hoped for the best). Somehow I make it through them without taking anyone out and get stopped briefly at the transition entrance by a competitor walking their bike into T2. I run the bike through transition counting the racks from the front “One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, fourth rack here we go.” I slam the bike on, unbuckle my helmet and toss it down. Shoes on, grab your belt, go!

Having already consumed 2 accel gel packets on the bike I’ve decided to try a new strategy on race day (I live dangerously, what can I say?) and I have put a gel packet inside a 12 ounce gatorade bottle with about 4 ounces of G2 in it. Previously I’d been too dehydrated on the run at Nationals when trying to consume gels and it was like the worst thick paste I’ve ever had (and accel gels are watery compared to GU packets). Somehow I successfully clip my belt onto myself on the way out of transition, open the gatorade bottle and down about half of the bottle before tossing it aside. Some nutrition is better than none and it went down smooth, mission accomplished I think to myself.

Now I’m back in my element. It’s just another cross country race at this point with my racing flats on. “Good form, high cadence” I chant inside my head. Careening downhill past other competitors I begin navigating the beginning twists and turns of the run course onto the first big hill about a quarter of a mile in. A phrase Barb said last year rings in my head “Don’t blow your load on the first hill of the run.” That phrase will always stick with me I imagine. I see a Missouri Collegiate guy on the hill and give him a little “M-I-Z Brother, here we go” and he shouts back “Z-O-U” as I cruise on past. Unsure of where my random Missouri pride has all of the sudden come from I figure it is simply spending too much time with John watching Missouri sports and competing itself that brings out my desire to enjoy the sport and the competition around me. One by one the other competitors fall behind me as the run course continues. Up hills, down hills, it doesn’t matter which way they are “good form, good form” I keep thinking.

I’m always checking ages on people’s calves as I pass. “Another 22, another 24, 19, 21, good keep going.” Then I see him, the 44 year old who was kicking my butt on the bike. I already know he’s 6 minutes ahead of me overall because of the difference in start time, but I refuse to be shown up in my own discipline come hell or high water by the 40 year olds. A second 40 year old guy I was passed by on the bike I begin to pass on a climb and say to him “You 40 year olds were kicking my butt on the bike” to which he replies with a chuckle “Yeah, well we kind of buy our speed, some people call it cheating.” My eyes are locked on my 44 year old competitor in front of me. He takes a glance back as he seems to sense that I’m coming. He begins a surge that lasts another half mile as he doesn’t want to be caught and eventually the pace is too much for him and he has to relent a little as I pass him. Small victories I say make up the successful race and training day and this was one of them. I have no idea where I stand overall at this point and with only a large downhill and the twisty quarter mile into an uphill finish to go I see an OSU guy in front of me. “One last guy to break” I think as I surge past him into the downhill.

Going downhill I start to see female pros in front of me that I eventually pass. “Hey, I can’t be doing too bad if I’m catching up with the female pros and they have a 6 minute head start on me.” I know it may sound ridiculous, but those ladies are stellar and at this point in my development I am happy enough to be able to compete with the female professionals.

A little photo op up a small hill into the final stretch as Alecia sprints along the stlouis5150runinlower portion of the hill towards the finish line trying to make another photo before I hit the line. I see the time on the clock at 2:25, meaning I’m at 2:16. Not terrible for a super windy bike course and a really hilly run course I think.

 

Post-race I won’t let Alecia tell me what I placed. I just want to wait it out and see what happens at the awards ceremony. No need to fret over it out. I put out there what I came to do and nothing can be changed now. She picks up one of the tickets that gives finishing place and comes back with a smile. Did I tell you she plays poker poorly? So I know I probably finished where I needed to qualify, but what about overall placement? In my head I think “Maybe 6th?” I’m a bit advantageous I suppose.

Waiting, waiting, waiting. The Olympic results finally start and I see my 44-year old competitor who kicked my butt on the bike has won overall. Good deal I can’t be too far down the standings with him only 6 minutes ahead. The announcer decided to go in reverse order of age groups to do the 20-24’s last. My patience has to wait another few minutes before they’re in. Fourth place is announced, nothing, third place is announced, nothing, second place is announced and it isn’t me. I let a smile crack on my face as I know what will be said next. I place my hat on the ground (not a great looking hat for photos, but I love it for training purposes) as the announcer calls my time and name to come up to the podium. Finally, I’ve made it. 10 months of training and the need to qualify for nationals in my first race out of the gate are successfully accomplished.

Stlouis5150podium

1st in the 20-24 Male Age Group Category. 8th overall, 15th overall counting Age Group Elite with Age Group at the St. Louis 5150 2013

Despite my extra time in the pool and on the bike with only a little increase in run training over those 10 months, I am disappointed with my swim and bike performances. I imagine the swim either had to have been long or I was stuck in a time warp since there’s no way with the kind of soreness my lat’s experienced I could have only put down a 1:44/100 pace. Regardless I somehow ended up putting down the fastest run time out of the age groupers and 3rd fastest run time including all the age group elite. Something that shocked me as I don’t really feel like I’m even training the run all that much. In spite of whatever flaws and accomplishments have happened or not yet occurred I think the extra training this year has finally made it happen for me. I am no longer a just a runner, I am finally a triathlete.

 

Now it’s waiting time. Waiting for both e-mails to show up. Free entry to the 5150 National Championship on September 1st and the e-mail saying I’ve qualified for USAT Age Group Nationals. It’s been 3 days post race and I’m wondering whether they have my e-mail. Can you e-mail me already? Where’s that e-mail. I guess my steely reserve is only for race days. I’ll be wondering about that e-mail every day until they show up and I can make that registration official. Now’s time to find some lodging. Cheers everyone and thanks for sticking through my longest blog post ever.

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