This years USAT Nationals for the Olympic distance was held in Cleveland, Ohio. Race morning was more or less a case of hurry up and wait. A large field, plus a small course meant a very staggered start, two hours after the first wave in my case. I did my best to stay loose by chatting with my coach, Andrew Yoder, and other athletes with Yoder Performance. It is always great to try and impart some knowledge on others, even if selfishly these conversations also serve as a distraction from my own pre-race nerves.
The swim was extremely wavy. I got off to a strong start and did my best to keep my cadence and breathing under control as I battled the waves out to the first buoy. The course was a simple out, over and back. At the first turn I thought I was leading my wave but I must have missed a couple because in the end I had the third fastest swim in my age-group. I focused on trying to level off the peaks and valleys of the waves when I had the chance but more often than not I just ate the waves on the face and then found half my body out of the water one stroke later. If I wasn’t in the middle of a race trying to swim fast, these conditions would have been a lot of fun. During the practice swim the day before I was able to ride the waves on the way back in, unfortunately the waves were coming at more of an angle this morning so even on the way back to shore the waves were more of an impediment than a boost. As usual, I lost my cap about halfway through the swim. This was actually nice because it cooled me off a bit. As a former swimmer you would think at this point I would know how to keep a swim cap on my head! Feelings wise, I thought the swim went better than expected and by about half way through the effort I was really able to open things up aerobically. As I approached the shore I tried to get some blood into my legs for the long sandy run up to the transition. I ended up swimming a 24:07 which was a good 5 minutes off my expected time. This either shows the conditions were indeed tough or I was tired, you choose.
T1 was an efficient affair and even managed to sneak some socks on for the bike ride.
The bike split was the highlight of the day. I knew the only way I was going to win this race was to get off the bike with about a three minute lead and hang on for dear life on the run. The first part of that plan happened. Right from the start I had good power but my heart rate was a solid 8-10 beats higher than I would have wanted. Through the first 15 minutes I normalized 318 watts which is exactly where I wanted to be but it was quickly evident this was was not a sustainable effort. I struggled to keep my heart rate under 175 but the legs were actually feeling very good and I was on top of my breathing. Through the middle 10 miles of the race I managed to control the effort a little more and dropped the normalized power to about 305 where is stayed for the rest of the effort. The course was a simple flat loop so there were only a few chances for respite in and out of a few of the sharpest corners. These little 5 second breaks through the turns made all the difference and allowed me to keep the pressure on the pedals and actually regain some of my power that I had let slide during the middle portion of the 40k bike split. Between the Ironman and Nationals I had swapped for a 55 tooth front ring and I was very happy with how this worked out. This change added about 6 mph to the top speed that I could keep pedaling within my desired RPM range. On a relatively flat course, like this, I never geared out which was a welcomed change. I look forward to racing like this in the future. My nutrition on the bike was pretty simple compared to the previous race. One bottle with 280 calories of carbo-pro and scratch lasted me the whole split with no problems or cravings for more. I finished the 40k bike with a time of 54:51, I normalized 302 watts, averaged 27.2 MPH and had an average heart rate of 175, ouch. Heading into T2 I had done exactly what I set out to achieve, I had a three minute overall lead and with even a decent 10k this race was mine to win. I really enjoyed this bike, I went deep, for sure too deep, but sometimes you just need to send it.
T2 was uneventful much like T1, I had forgotten my race belt so attempted a new method of using shoe bungie's to secure my race number. This actually worked out very well and I think I will switch to this method as opposed to a race belt moving forward. Off to run.
To be honest, the run was rough. I was in full management mode from the get go. Thirty seconds into the effort I got a very encouraging update about my overall position from Andrew and I knew if I ran even a 36 this race was mine. I found it difficult to get my heart rate under 175 at any point during the 6 mile run. The course was two loops. I set 175 as a hard limit for my effort on the first loop and then would just bury myself the last 5k and see what happened. The run was much hillier than the bike so it was important to manage the effort up the steeper inclines, especially since I was starting most of these climbs with an already elevated heart rate and spikes above 180 were going to be less than sustainable. I managed to finish the first loop still in the lead but I had already burned the three minute lead I had off the bike so at this point it was all about being tough and fighting my way to the finish. On the second loop I gave up looking at my heart rate and just fought on every stride to keep my cadence as high as possible. I averaged a solid 184 beats per minute for the last 10 minutes which felt about as enjoyable as you might imagine. It would be one thing if I was running 5:30 pace at that heart rate but I was more of less jogging in the 6:30s just holding on for dear life. At this point the overall lead had already slipped from my grasp but what really rubbed in the poor run was getting passed twice for the lead of the age-group in the last mile. I tried to respond but I was already on the red-line and there was nothing there. In the end I ran a 39:17 with a heart rate of 178. Definitely not the run I wanted or that I know I am capable of but all things considered I am actually proud of how I managed the energy I did have left and that I kept pushing right to the end.
Overall finish was 12th overall and 3rd in age-group in a time of 2:02:45, 3:15 off the overall win. Winnable, which makes the poor run even more painful. Going backwards on the run is getting really old but I know I have it in me and still have a lot of room to improve in that split, especially over the 10k distance. That being said it is hard to ignore the fatigue I was likely still carrying post the Ironman 13 days earlier, so it is probably good not to be too hard on myself. Onwards and upwards as Mr. Yoder would say, back to work, time to crush Kona.