Wednesday, June 17, 2015

USAT Athena National Championship

Last year sometime Claire and Denise asked if I would be going to the USAT Athena National Championship. At the time I wasn't really sure but after finishing the Chicago Triathlon I felt unstoppable and needed a new goal to work towards. I registered and started putting together my training plan. Unfortunately, Chicago weather didn't agree with my plans and I wasn't able to get any OWS practice or time on my bike before the race. Yes, you read that correctly...I did not do any OWS or outdoor biking of any kind from when my season ended last year until this June. Yes, this was not a wise choice but sometimes life is about taking risks, right?

roadddddd trippppppp
Claire and Denise are truly like my family away from home. They feed me, come visit me at work, check up on me and even let me come over and pretend like their dogs are my pets for a few hours. I'm not sure what I would do without them. They have become an integral part of my support system. The prospect of spending a weekend with some of my favorite people, doing one of the things we love most....well obviously it was a no-brainer. We packed up the car and headed off to Grand Rapids.
ritual, pre-race prep
Upon arrival we headed straight to packet pickup. We had our own dedicated table and even scored some sweet USAT swag (OK maybe not really that sweet but I was pretty excited about the hat). We had posted in the Athena facebook group page that we'd be dining at Olive Garden so we made our way over there right after we dropped our stuff off at the hotel. Much carbo loading and conversation was had before our last stop of the day. It turns out our hotel was near a liquor store so we checked out the local brews and brought a few (by few I mean a variety of bottles and cases) back to the hotel.

Race day morning. We awoke to the sound of rain against our windows. It was dark, dreary, dreadful (all of those ugly D words).

Denise was concerned, the nerves were stating to get the best of her. Claire and I kept reassuring her that the race would be fine when honestly I think we were all ready to back out. I prepped coffee for Claire and I to keep my mind focused. We packed the car back up and off we went to rack up in transition. Yes, it was still raining. Denise was doing the Oly so she was in a different area, but luckily Claire and I got to rack our bikes right next to each other. 

rainy transition before the race
Despite my best efforts I still felt an overwhelming anxiety about the race. I tried to stuff all that doubt and concern into the depths of my brain and just focus on what I needed to do for the swim. I got my wetsuit on fiddled with my goggles for a bit. I just wanted the race to be over. I didn't feel ready. When it was finally time, we walked over to prepare for the swim start. It began fine but a few strokes in and my goggles broke. Great, this is totally what I need right now. I was able to get them figured out but it psyched me out a bit. By now much of the pack (front, middle and back) have all passed me. I'm with a few lone stragglers in the back but we're moving along. The further out we get the more I begin to feel fear creeping in. Something about the vastness of the lake and not having a wall or shoreline to sight really freaked me out. I began to hyperventilate and had to roll onto my back to swim backstroke until I could regain my breathing. I couldn't believe this was happening. I've done this before, OWS is not new to me. There were several pep talks occurring simultaneously in my head. Mostly I had to convince myself that the only way out was to keep going.
When I finally reached the volunteers pulling us out of the water I let out a deep sigh of relief. I made it. I didn't drown. Now onto the bike. I grabbed Trixie and did my best to run towards the bike out. Once I was mounted I hit the pedals and was off. Up until this point I was absolutely convinced that there was no one else left in my wave behind me. Turns out I was wrong, but then they passed me on the bike so I guess it didn't really matter anyway. "This is YOUR race, don't worry about anyone else" Yeahhhh right, my competitive side was finally starting to edge in. I hit the turn around quicker than I thought and got really excited about heading back so I could start my run. I felt confident, strong, and definitely owned that bike ride. This was a first for me as I usually struggle with this portion the most. I just kept pedaling away and before I knew it I had reached transition. This was just a quick stop to drop off my bike then I made my way to the run course. Oh, and by the way, its STILL raining.
The run is my favorite part. I feel relaxed and natural. This is the easy part. The 5k run was an out and back sort of loop. I was pretty hungry by now so all I was focusing on was getting to that finish line so I could eat. At some point between miles 2 and 3 a lady I had seen on the course earlier ran out to ave ma twizzler. She told me it would get me through until the finish line. I admit, it did help give me a second wind to push a little harder. As runners continued to head onto the course I offered high fives and smiles to anyone who would accept. Man, its a great thing to be a triathlete. I felt blessed.
As I crossed the finish line and checked out my time, I realize I've just PRed by a little over 20 minutes. Hell yusssss!!! It wasn't a podium finish and it certainly wasn't the best race I've ever had, but I felt good. I'm happy with my results. I learned a lot about myself out on that course and have plenty to work on before my next tri.

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