It’s rare that I am low in confidence, but I was mentally rattled during the middle of July. The body is an interesting thing, and I could not figure it out. In the beginning of the year, as my training took off, I told myself, “There’s no way I could lose nationals this year.” I even went on to guarantee to my parents that I would win. That’s how confident I was in my training. But by the time July rolled around, I told myself, “I don’t even know if it’s possible that I can win nationals.” Those types of thoughts never cross my mind. I’ve always been one to believe in my training through highs and lows, and to know that in the end, the preparations will pay off. But I lost faith in this patience.
Since I first started ramping up my training in early February, my wattage on the bike and speed on the track has been tremendous relative to my past workouts. I have detailed notes of my workouts from the last 3 years, and since I often repeat the same workouts each year, or even multiple times throughout the year, I am able to compare my performances. And wow, I’ve been crushing it! My focus from about February through June was primarily anaerobic, and I developed my anaerobic engine into a beast! I was running 4:30 mile splits on the track during workouts, posting high relative wattage numbers in my workouts, and feeling solid all-around.
But these workout performances weren’t coming through on race day. My bike and run times were slower than the previous year at four consecutive races: Columbia, Philadelphia, Avalon, and Stone Harbor. I know times can never be applied across different years, as conditions vary, but I found it discouraging that the trend was so prominent. With such large improvements in my training, there has to be a large improvement in my racing somewhere! As July rolled around, I spoke with coach Eric Bean and he assured me that while the intensity of my training could potentially hinder my racing during that time, it will set me up for success for the end-of-season A races. In July, I moved into my threshold phase where “it all comes together.” I knew my body would be better recovered and fine tuned during threshold, but I was worried I didn’t have enough time to really dial it in before August 18. Fortunately, because I spent many days during July and early August at the beach, I was really able to ramp up my bike volume, which built strength and endurance to compliment the speed and power I already had.
In the two weeks leading up to Nationals, I re-gained confidence and became excited for the race. Time had healed some of my previous concerns, but I was still unsure how my body would respond. I focused on my taper, as it is a component that I have struggled with in the past. I decided to do a gradual taper over a two week period, where I maintained race pace intervals, but slowly started cutting back on volume. I think it really worked well. I also made sure to get as much sleep as I could!
I arrived to Burlington Friday around noon for the Saturday morning race. After going through the pre-race routine, I was ready to go!
Race morning: My wave, the 24&unders, was the last wave to go at 9:20 AM. The race started at 7:30, so I had to have my transition ready to go by then. This gave me a lot of time to relax, stretch, and warm up. But the time went by quickly, and nationals had arrived.
Swim (19:21): I played close attention to the current and to the buoy placement. Most athletes lined up to the left near the dock, but with a right-to-left current, I went as far right as I could, not only to be clear of the masses, but to play the current. It worked out well, and I was the second swimmer to reach the first buoy, which was just 150 yards from the start! Last year I got trampled going around the first turn, so I wanted to make sure to get out fast! I was in perfect position, swimming on the leaders feet for about half the swim, until we turned into the sun! At this point, we were passing the wave ahead of us, and as soon as the sun was in front of us, it was impossible to discern what swimmers were ahead of me. I lost the leader’s feet, but just tried to make sure I stayed on course. Sure enough, a kayaker came up to me and told me I was going off-course! Oh no! I was immediately rattled. I can’t believe this could happen! I’m going to blow nationals!
Bike (58:24): After exiting the swim, I received a split that I was 2 minutes behind Adam Webber (who started in a wave about 30 minutes before me). I was stunned. He normally puts about 45-60 seconds on me, so I knew 2 minutes was too much. Doubts crossed my mind. I thought the race was over because I had gone off-course. He had been racing so well, I didn’t think it would be possible to make up the time. As I got on the bike, I started to relax and told myself that a lot can happen over the next two legs. I was riding well. Around mile 7, Drew Scott passed me. I knew if I wanted to have a chance to win, I needed to keep him in my sight! I made sure that I would fight like to hell to hold the pace. He served as a great motivator and really got me going on the bike. I was able to stay close, and ultimately came off the bike about 5 seconds behind him. At this point I had confidence that I probably put some time into Adam.
Run (33:33): As I exited T2, I looked to Shannon on the sidelines asking for a split! I was nervous about what she would say. When I heard her say, “Even with Webber, 2 minutes on Hedgecock,” a big internal smile erupted. I knew the race was mine to lose. I could already tell I was running well, and had put 7 seconds on Drew in T2. I took the steep hill up Battery Street conservatively, then let it rip. I was going to win!
But then at mile 2.5, a painful cramp formed in my right ab. It hurt, badly. I tried to fight through it, but could notice my pace slowing. I tried to stretch it out, but it wasn’t going away. I altered my run form to appease it, and did my best to keep a fast pace. Around mile 4.5, the pain subsided a bit, and I saw Shannon on the side of the road. She told me I needed to break 1:55:06 to win. I immediately did the math. I knew I started the run at 1:20, so a 35 minute 10k would win it. This got me going! She gave me some encouraging words and I picked up the pace. At this point, I later found out, Drew was about 20 seconds behind me. As I crossed mile 5, I was at 1:46:15. All I needed was to cover the final 1.2 miles in about 8:45 to win. But the last mile took forever. I started to become paranoid that the course may have been marked incorrectly, so I got worried. But alas, the finish line came into sight. I looked down at my watch and it had just crossed 1:53! I saw nobody was behind me and ran my way to victory.
I was exhausted at the finish line, and couldn’t be 100% positive that I won, since people were in all different age-groups, but I was confident that I pulled it off. I was immediately escorted into drug testing tent, so I didn’t even have a chance to talk to anybody after the race! Eventually I found out I had officially won. Beautiful!
Everything came together in the end, and the race played out to my advantage. Now I need to figure out how to hold it all in place for HyVee over Labor Day Weekend, where I’ll race many of the same top athletes, but with a Mini-Cooper at stake!
Thank you to everyone who has made this possible: my parents, Eric, Fast Forward Triathlon, CompuTrainer, Inside Out Sports, First Endurance, CEP Socks, Rudy Project, and locally, to the Philadelphia Triathlon Club, and to the many others who have been there along the way!