Saturday, August 9, 2014

2014 USAT Age Group Nationals, Milwaukee Wi

Let's Go Team Zoot! Lots and Lots of fast in this picture.
The guy on the far right is way to cool for silliness, though.
I was pretty dang reluctant to make the trip up to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the USATriathlon Age Group National Championship.  The Olympic race distance presents the most challenging way for me to find success in triathlon.  Considering my training is oriented toward long course, and all signs point to my physiology being geared that way, I tend to become more successful as the race day gets longer, not shorter.  The 2hrs of racing in the Olympic triathlon distance leaves me in uncomfortable territory. 

 
Its also racing to my weakness, swimming.  The race distance has a proportionately longer swim than any other triathlon distance.  That means racing Olympic triathlon has me farther behind out of the water than normal.  Overall, I was not very excited about the day.  The carrot, though, was a big one.  Finishing inside the top 25 in the Male 35-39 age group meant I would have the rare opportunity to represent the nation, on our own soil, for the World Championship in Chicago 2015. 
 
The Austin Hardy
I had 3 goals going in:
A. Finish Top 10 in my age group
B. Finish under 2 hours.  As I found out once I decided to do an Olympic, a sub-2 finish is where legit starts.  Naturally, I wanted one on my resume.
C. Qualify for Worlds 2015
<---D. Don't get beat by Austin.  We've had a rivalry decided by seconds the last few years and the score left me one down going into this race.
 
I had been warned that the Milwaukee course has especially long transitions that pile on ~3 minutes to what most can expect from the typical Olympic distance race.  In keeping with my humble nature, I was confident despite my naivety.
 
I'm one of those white splashes at the back.

Off the pier for the deep water start, 250 of my new closest friends were the first wave to descend on the course.  I have grown quite comfortable with the bar room brawl that breaks out for the first few minutes within the typical large group swims.  I was surprised to find that the pummeling here, seemed relentless.  Once we were under the bridge, around half way, I finally quit getting hit so hard.  What really blew me away was the few times I would get contact followed by subsequent, especially assertive contact. I think a lot of guys may've been swimming toward the orange, marker buoys instead of aiming at the yellow, turn buoys.  Regardless as to why, it was a pretty sporty swim for 10-15 minutes, and I was all to happy to be vertical again in ~23 minutes, a new best, but 68th out of the water.
 
The transition run was long.  It was a lot longer than I expected.  I stayed cool, ran hard, and found a gel in my cycling shoe at a very inconvenient time.  Still I thought, "what's a few seconds matter?"
 
A faithful man knows his shoes are there;
the doubter must see them
Onto the bike, I had lots of places to make up.  At the first turn around, I started counting my position and stopped after 40.  I found Austin was in the mid-20s, as expected since he is much better in the water.  I put the hammer down and started making lots of passes.  I was surprised to see Austin had only barely moved up at the next turn around, and was still in the low-20s.  I know he is a strong cyclist, so that meant there were lots of strong cyclist out today.  The bike course was pretty boring and aside from the steady thumps from the concrete expansion joints, uneventful.
Strava Bike Course Data
 
I arrived back in transition to find my run gear was strown out and my bib number was missing.  It looked like someone drug their bike through my setup.  I rummaged about for a bit, found my number, and headed out for the 10k still pretty calm as those few seconds aren't really a game changer, right?
 
 
Transition turns out to be very important as the race gets shorter. 
This is what I look like while I am learning.
It really was a great course in Milwaukee.
Onto the run course, I am pretty used to moving up quickly.  When Emily yelled that I was 28th out of transition, I realized I was headed to top10dom.  I felt pretty confident about running a 38 flat off the bike, so I settled in and got to work.  After a few minutes, I realized things were different here.  It seems we were all pretty solid runners.  By mile 3, I got a look at Austin, just a bit ahead of me.  Next I saw E and she let me know I had only moved into 24th, on the bubble for making the World's qualification.  I was felt like I was only ever so slowly catching my competition.  Each time I would move for a pass, there was a deterring surge from the competition.  The same was true every time the guy in front of me would move for a pass.  From my perspective, I would gain inches only to lose feet with every pass ahead of me.  My dilemma was to attempt to stay steady and conservative, or counter and try to limit the gaps. 
 
This is how close 8 places in 15" looks at high 5' pace.
This little dance went on for the first 4 miles.  My plan was to wick it up the final two miles as the course pointed back to the finish.  Undoubtedly, we all had similar ideas.  Austin was just a few yards ahead of me, but I wasn't gaining anything on him.  I realized I was running out of real estate and had to really turn the screws if I were to catch him.  Inside the final mile, we met followed by an extremely challenging spurt.  My everything said I couldn't possibly make the pass stick, but just as I was going to cave, he cooled off just a whisker. I realized I had to close the door while I had a chance and kept the wick up. 

Love, love, love seeing these things.  Next time I am here, I will see it >2' sooner.
I cant explain just how thrilled I was to see the finish line and hold on to 20th M35-39.  The crazy thing, looking at the results you can see 15th through 23rd places were all separated by 21 seconds.  You'd think it would be easy enough to suck that up and finish at the front of that pack.  The reality was, we were all sucking it up; we all had been sucking it up to get there. The "suck it up" tank was dry. 
Bench racing is so much faster.

 
I fought hard for that 20th spot, and I couldn't be prouder of it.  I managed to miss the majority of my goals, but I did get a World Championship Qualification slot, and I was able to sneak in a 10 second advantage over Austin tying up the score.  Can't wait until next time!
This is my hot dog for the year.