2011 USAT Age Group National Championship

Yesterday’s race in Burlington, Vermont, was nothing special..at least in terms of my effort and result. However, the race experience was fantastic and our time in Vermont was awesome. I wasn’t mentally or physically sharp going into the USAT Age Group National Championship. I knew going into the Olympic distance race that it was likely my last triathlon of the year. I was actually hoping that it would be because I’m feeling burnt and I’m ready for something different. Rather than ending my triathlon season with a bang, I ended with a bit of a whimper. It wasn’t my strongest performance, but at least I “called it.”

I’ve only done one other Olympic distance triathlon, the 2009 Pat Griskus Olympic, and I didn’t do any distance specific training. Come to think of it, I haven’t done much “training” at all, at least not like last year. That sort of psyched me out. The 1.5 kilometer swim is disproportionately long relative to the other triathlons that I do. With the swim being my weakest leg, especially recently, I knew I was going to be racing from behind right from the gun. It wasn’t a gun that started us off, but it was a horn, and it didn’t matter. In the opening 100 meters, I took a hard kick shot to the mouth, and suffered some internal gum bleeding, but more importantly, another blow to my weakened morale. I got kicked hard at the Ocean Beach Triathlon and suffered a fat lip, but this wasn’t that bad. Fortunately, the race and the weekend improved from there.

It was a really rough start. The 35-39 men were the first wave of this championship race at 7:30 A.M. and the other guys were animals. There were some real beasts in this race. It seemed like I was the shortest of the 126 guys in my age group. These dudes were in ripping good shape and I hadn’t been in such a stacked field since last year’s Ironman World Championship. I survived the Lake Champlain swim, which was neat, but it wasn’t a smooth effort. Going back to the start itself for a moment–we walked from Waterfront Park, to the swim start. They queued us outside a restaurant, then marched us through the closed restaurant past the bar and tables, down to a dock. It was really weird, but kind of cool. They had us jump into the water and we swam over to the start line. We were in the water no more than two minutes before they sounded the horn, so no swim warmup. That was probably another issue for me. I had gotten a good pre-race run, but it is hard to warmup for a championship swim by running.

The Burlington venue was excellent, and no more so, than on the bike course. The 40 kilometer loop took us through South Burlington into Shelburne, and back. The start was cool with throngs of people lining the Burlington waterfront. We raced through city streets alongside Lake Champlain before connecting to the more rural roads south of the city via Interstate 189. The highway was closed for the race and we had the road all to ourselves. I’ve raced on a few highways in the past, notably at the Tour de Toona bicycle race, and it is always a unique experience. From the off ramp, even more scenic roads took us up and down gorgeous rolling hills past picturesque farms. The beautiful and warm Saturday morning weather made the spectating experience so much better than the rainy races I’ve competed in lately.

I was a bit dismayed by all of the drafting on the bike leg. During the swim, I was caught by many of the 20-24 women, 40-44 men, and 20-24 men. Some of the riders practically rode in packs. I know that there were supposed to be nearly 2000 triathletes in the race, but with the wave start and the wide roads, there was no reason for the drafting. I realize that with a championship race, things don’t spread out as much. Look at the times. Five minutes would have moved me up more than 100 spots, so riders were clustered together. There were quite a few race officials on motorcycles and they were scribbling down race numbers as fast as they could. I avoided drafting at all cost, but was still worried that I would be guilty by association. Several times, I had to slow and drop back, only to watch the group in front of me pull away in the slipstream. I have to say that some of the women I saw were the worst offenders. They had a lot at stake because these were the top 10 or so, and several got busted. That’s harsh but deserved justice, and from the looks of the results, not enough were penalized.

My bike leg was OK, but again, not too fast. I had no oomph, so I rode within my limits and got back to T2 before the real heat of the day. I enjoyed the roads heading back into town with the bumps and turns. I turned in one of my worst runs in a while. The 10K distance is not common for me, but I couldn’t even run the first 5K fast. I usually start with a bang, especially if there is a hill. I got the steep hill that I wanted, but instead of motoring up it, I sort of jogged up it. I think I left my running legs at Winding Trails last Tuesday night when I did the final off-road Summer Tri Series race of the season. I gave it all I had, by choice, in a bid for my third win of the year. I ended up 2nd by seconds after closing a 80 second gap on the run. It was a valiant effort, but likely doomed yesterday’s race.

So, I survived the run through city streets and along the famous Burlington Bike Path. I picked up a few spots in my age group, and improved my overall time, but my pace was more than 20 seconds a mile slower than I wanted. The finishing stretch was fun and fitting for a big race production, the finish was on carpet. I heard my family cheering for me at several points on the course. They have been huge supporters during all of my triathlons over the past three years since I picked up the sport. The USAT championship experience was very different from Ironman. I felt that the production was a step down in quality, but so was the entry fee, which means the value was there. I likely wouldn’t have traveled outside of the reason for an Olympic distance race. The race met my expectations and there were a few nice things about it that were unique. One was the finish line “result receipt.” You walked up to a tent/kiosk, keyed your race number into a touch screen, got an instant readout with splits, and had the option to print. It was very cool. The race volunteers and course marshals were wonderful and the few that I knew who recognized me gave me a personal boost with their cheers.Special thanks to Parm and Jeff Padgett who hosted our family at their South Burlington home. I had a 10 minute walk to the race start, so our accommodations couldn’t be better.

Overall, I was happy to do the race and hopefully after some time away from multisport, I’ll have the motivation to improve my swim. I was probably over-raced, but racing is what I love to do. I had a blast doing the sprints this summer, and would have done more if I could have fit them in. I enjoy the local weeknight training races as much as the big weekend productions.

Congratulations to all of the finishers. It was great to have the national championship in the Northeast Region. The Olympic distance is something that I’ll have to work at. Hopefully, my national ranking will once again qualify me to race the USAT Age Group National Championship, because it will return to my beloved Vermont for a second year in 2012.

Olympic Race Results

Full Race Results

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