For the past couple of years I’ve been doing pretty well in the local triathlon races by placing 1st or 2nd in my age group (AG), which qualified me for the USAT Age Group Nationals Championship (“Nationals” from this point forward). For the past two years Nationals has been located in Omaha, NE, and that induced logistical issues that I never felt like overcoming. This year Nationals is located in Cleveland, OH. With family living in Indiana and Ohio, plus Cleveland being drivable within 8 hours… I had no excuse to finally accept my qualifications and try to compete against the best of the best in my sport. Nationals is a collection of all the individuals who placed in the top 10% of their age group over the past year. To say “the field is stacked” is an understatement.

USAT AG Nationals PRE-Race events

Thursday

Colleen and I drove to Ohio (without the kids, long story… but they were already with grandparents in Indiana) and arrived at the Speed Sherpa AirBNB Team House around 5pm (thanks to Liz for an excellent house). We were the first to arrive (mostly due to the lack of kids), so unpacked and started to scout for dinner options that were close by and feed the starving bunch of athletes looking to fuel for their race in the next 48 hours.

Friday

Friday was a big day of packet pickup, practice swim, and quick bike/run brick. We perfectly timed our arrival for packet pickup by getting in line right at when the tent was opened, and for the most part it was a smooth process of waiting in line and chatting with fellow athletes. After collecting our packet and timing chips, we walked around the vendor area to take a look at purchasing any last min items or event swag. I really wanted to see if Roka had some of their glasses available to try, however, I didn’t see any of those displayed. It was mostly wetsuits and swimskins to target those athletes with big concerns on swimming over the next 48 hours.

The practice swim was next, and truthfully the BIG item for Friday. It’s not a secret that I suck at swimming, however, I had been improving a lot over the past year where I can swim about 3k yards in a 1:40/100y average (a big improvement vs. the 2:00/100y a couple of years ago). My big issue was my pool swim time never translated to Open Water Swim (OWS). When we headed out to the water for our practice swim, it sucked. The waves felt we were swimming in an ocean vs. a lake. I began to feel seasick in my stomach from bouncing up and down, that I could only make it to the first pylon (about 100m) before I didn’t feel safe and wanted to turn around. Granted, this was without a wetsuit as the current water temperature was reported as 79˚ (which is not wetsuit legal).

Feeling completely demoralized, I wanted to find something to cheer me up, which called for a quick ride on the bike! We retrieved our bikes from the house and set out for a quick spin around on the park bike paths. It felt good to be clipped in, and soon the horrible practice swim vanished from my thoughts. After the ride, we racked our bikes… kissed them goodbye… and headed back to the house for our last meal and enjoy the good team vibes!

Race Breakdown

Race Morning

The day started like any other race day, by waking up at 4am to get a cup of coffee and a bowl of oatmeal while trying to keep my mind at ease before racing. The team house was also slowing falling out of bed in a half zombie, half race pre-race nervous shuffle, trying to collect themselves and head out the door as drove to Edgewater Park to begin our day.

I returned to the transition area to lay down my things and do a final check on the bike, and made sure it was ready to roll once I’m able to finish the swim. When around 6am everyone heard that joyous announcement “the swim will be wetsuit legal”. This really helped my nerves! I was no longer fearing the swim as if anything goes wrong I can simply stop, collect myself and then move on… I’m not worried about getting in trouble, just that it may take a long time.

Swim

The swim starts were broken down by age groups, and I was in wave 11. I learned my lesson from last year’s XTERRA race that standing with a wetsuit is a REALLY BAD IDEA where you can overheat before the race starts, so I only put on my wetsuit half way and stood in the shade until we were allowed to start.

Once we were allowed to get into the water, it felt great (tasted horrible… still…) and for a moment I was looking forward to swimming. That is until I noticed the early morning “glass” description of calm waters had disappeared, and the water began to show signs of the previous day. Once the horn sounded my group of 200 was off and I felt good… for about 50 meters… and then then realized that the waves were getting to me again. I could not shake off the motion sickness of the waves bouncing me up and down, while I was also trying to keep my form to propel myself forward and breathing to my side. After the first buoy I had came to terms that this was going to be terrible and the best thing I could do is stay calm and just try to have fun.

By the time I passed the first yellow marker I was getting my spirits up. I thought that “once I turn the corner, it’s all ‘downhill’ from here”. I was wrong. No matter which direction we turned it seemed the waves were always going in a direction that you had to fight. I knew it was going to be difficult heading out as you had to fight the current that was pushing you to shore, but now while trying to head east I realized that the current direction was not “south” but more SSW. I found myself having to swim at a slight angle to the left to make sure I was going correct direction; as if I were an airplane pointing the nose into a slight crosswind. After passing the second Yellow buoy I thought, “OK… NOW it’s all ‘downhill’ from here”, but I was wrong again. The swim exit was still slightly off to the left so the waves were actually coming over the top of my head and rolling over my mouth.

This would have to be hands down the calmest I’ve been on such a horrible swim. I watch so many green caps just disappear in front of me as they were able to overcome the water conditions, while also getting passed by Silver caps (people from Wave 12 passing me) starting to become my new neighbors. The worst part was the coast guard boat floating to my right on the final 400m. They looked like they were searching, which I knew meant someone was in trouble.

Strava Swim Activity

Bike

I tried to quickly clear my head from a horrible swim experience while running down the HUGE path to get to Transition, while repeating to myself this great mantra of “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” to make sure I didn’t have any errors that would have caused additional time while getting my shoes, helmet, bike off the rack. I was really lucky in transition placement as I was close to the beginning of row “I”, located right in the middle making a straight line to the bike exit vs. having to go around to the side of the transition area and get my gear.

I was REALLY excited to be on the bike. I knew I wasn’t going to pick people off one-by-one as I do in my local sprint races… this was Nationals! I put my head down and was able to stay in aero position for most of the time (except for a few turns), which I think helped in my overall average speed. I don’t remember much about the bike segment other than having fun except when:

  • dodging pot holes
  • suffering jarring bounces from pot holes
  • seeing bike parts and water bottle everywhere from pot holes

I seriously wonder if USAT did a course re-con before approving the route, or if it was simply “this is all we can get in terms of city approvals”. Cleveland has some SERIOUS work to do on their roads. If you ignore the quality of the road, the route was great. There were a couple of 90˚ turns, only one u-turn which required you to slow down, some low/small hills that took away some speed, but you didn’t need to stand up or do anything extra to get over a major climb.

Strava Bike Activity

Run

When ending my ride I wasn’t able to dismount off the bike as fast as I would like, but I was able to speed through transition quickly with my bib, visor, and glasses to start my run. My run has not been great this year, so I felt that I could maintain an average 8min pace and have enough for a kick at the end. It was great seeing all the racers in the run segment! There were so many people on the course, but these were great athletes in their respective age groups and were working really hard. I never felt I had to dodge anyone (excluding aid stations) because they were not moving fast enough which would cause a hazard on the path way. The run course had a lot of curves to get as much distance as possible within a small section of land. The hardest part was actually the downhill section because you must have really strong legs to take advantage of gravity trying to pull you forwards.

I did see fellow Speed Sherpa teammate Emilie on the course and we had a great 1/4 mile where we were able to talk about the day. It’s always fun to catch up to team mates and have these quick little moments… it reminded me when I was able to do this back at IRONMAN Louisville.

Strava Run Activity

Post Race Thoughts

I’m really glad I decided to do Nationals this year. There were several items that made this race really enjoyable:

  • Team Speed Sherpa! Let’s face it, when you can have a large group from your team there to support you the entire weekend, listen to your concerns, provide guidance, and cheer you on as you cross the finish line… it makes for a great day.
  • Family! This is the first time that my kids, wife, and parents were able to watch me race. I know sitting around for three hours is not that exciting, and most likely won’t suggest they attend another race unless it is a sprint that can be completed around an hour… but it was nice to have family there.
  • Cleveland is really close to rocking. I’m not going to lie, the streets suck… but the people are very cool! Every hotel, restaurant, tent, whatever… the people of Cleveland were great!

I had a great time, and if fellow Speed Sherpa team members state they are looking for a comeback in 2019 I’m happy to sign up for another trip!

Race Results

Rankings

  • Overall: Placed 1312 out of 2892 (top 45%)
  • Gender: Placed 964 out of 1607 (bottom 40%)
  • Male 40-44: Placed 133 out of 195 (bottom 30%)

Among the Male 40-44 category there were 195 athletes.

  • Swim: 172nd
  • Bike: 88th
  • Run: 116th

Splits

USAT AG Nationals 1.5k Swim T1 40k Bike T2 10k Run Total
Goal Times 1 30:00 4:00 1:11:00 2:00 49:42 2:36:42
Actual Times 2 40:44 4:19 1:07:13 1:36 48:51 2:42:42

Footnotes

  1. Goals were based on 2:00/100m Swim, 21mph bike, and 8:00/mi 

  2. Results available at: rtrt.me/1132/track/R79A4GEH 

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