August 10, 2013

I recently competed in the USAT Age Group National Championships in Milwaukee, WI. Here’s my race report.

Participating in a national event is a lot of fun.  USAT rolls out the “red carpet” and stages a first-class event.  The Age Group National Championships rotate to a different region of the country every two years.  Next year, the Championships will be held in Milwaukee again. Then, in 2015 I expect the Championships to be held somewhere closer to the west coast.

The venue for the race turned out to be great! The Expo and transition areas are all adjacent to Lake Michigan. And, Milwaukee is a great town.  The town has a lot going for it: A re-vitalized historic 3rd Ward, the lakefront, great restaurants, and some really nice people.

Saturday was the Olympic-distance race.  You have to qualify to participate in the race, so the field of participants is generally pretty competitive.  This year, there were 2600 participants in the Olympic-distance event.  I was a little concerned pre-race that this would be too many participants to squeeze into an Olympic-distance course. But, to their credit, USAT did a good job of managing the event.  The course never felt crowded.

Awoke Saturday morning to good conditions – slight overcast and not too warm or humid.

The swim kicks off in a sheltered harbor just inside Lake Michigan.  Water temp was “just right” – not too cold but not too warm. And, any pre-race buzz about dirty water, etc. was just not the case. The swim is an out and back course.  At one point, the swim course went under a bridge that was crowded with spectators.  There were 17 waves to accommodate all of the participants. Fortunately, USAT tends to put the old guys up near the front, so I was in the 6th wave.

My swim time for the 1500 m swim was 25:09. Not bad, about what I expected. Now, on to the bike.

The bike course was a 1-loop course. This was key – This meant that the bike course never got too congested.  I was able to pretty much ride my pace the whole way.  Much of the bike course was along the shore of Lake Michigan – very scenic.  For part of the course, we hopped on I-794 and rode over the Hoan Bridge – very cool.  The bike course was moderate – lots of rolling hills, but nothing too tough.  Kind of like riding out Hwy 192 through Carpinteria foothills.  My bike time was 1:06:20 (22.7 mph avg.) – again not too bad. I was thinking “I’m doing okay here.”  Now, on to the run.

The run course is also 1 loop – basically out and back along the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s a real beach scene along the lakeshore – people playing sand volleyball, tossing Frisbees, sunbathing, etc.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought I was back home in California.  It started to heat up a bit on the run. The clouds parted and the sun came out.  I’ve been struggling a bit with nagging foot injuries for the past year and I have definitely lost confidence with my run. So, I started the run with a conservative pace and effort. But, I was still passing a lot of people and felt pretty good.  I was wearing my SB Tri Club kit and actually got a few “Hey Santa Barbara” shout-outs on the run course.  There were by this time a lot of spectators on the run course cheering you on – kind of like running through the campground at Wildflower long course. My run time was 45:44 – I’ve run faster, but all things considered I thought that run time was okay.

I crossed the finish line – a long, wide path with stands full of spectators on both sides. A real festive atmosphere. I heard the race announcer say my name and home town, and I smiled crossing the line – the finish to a great morning. And, to top it all off, none other than Chrissie Wellington was there at the finish line handing out finisher medals. She gave me my medal and in my excitement from just having finished and now being face-to-face with a superstar (and I might add a genuinely nice person), I gave her a big, sweaty hug. That will probably be the last time Chrissie shows up to hand out finisher medals!

My overall time for the Olympic event was 2:22 – once again I thought “not great, but not bad”.  Then I went over to check my results and boy was I in for a surprise.  37th place in my division (Male 55-59)! I was kind of expecting to at least crack the top 15 – which would have qualified me for the US National Team (and earned me one of those snazzy “USA-team” kits like the one that Fast Freddy Maggiore picked up last year) – but no way.   As it turned out, there was only 10 minutes separating positions 10 – 40 in my age division – pretty darn competitive.

So, hence, the title of my race report – local triathlete leaves farm . . . and ventures to the city where he gets smoked by the big boys.

All-in-all, the National Championships is a fun event. It’s a lot easier to pack your bike and travel to a race than most might think. Matt and the others at Hazards are very helpful in showing you how to disassemble and pack your bike. And, they have bike boxes to loan. A few screws here and there – it’s really not that hard to do.

So, if you’re reflecting back on your 2013 season and thinking about goals for 2014, I would really encourage you to consider the Age Group National Championships. It’s not that hard to qualify for and it’s a fun event to be part of.

John Nelson