USAT Olympic Age Group National Championships in Omaha, NE
Knocking Nebraska off the 50 states list! What a race experience this was. I qualified for this race in my Xterra races so I had never done a standard olympic distance race yet. The race distances were swim 0.9 miles, bike 25 miles (or 40k), run 10k. I will preface this with this disclaimer: I am just a really good athlete at not giving up, and by no means even remotely close to being elite or top Age grouper.
To begin, I was not in top physical condition at all. The week leading up I had some major Ironman training including my first century ride out on the Ironman Wisconsin bike course/brick, and a 14 mile run at pace the next day. I had essentially one day to recover and that day was spent driving the 6 hours out to the race location. I took along my good friend Aida, since the race was on Saturday, it’s hard to find someone to come with Friday’s off. While driving out we saw many new things and a lot of the same thing: corn. So much corn. There was corn for days.
Omaha, NE is on the very eastern edge of Nebraska, touching Iowa. In fact, I found out later that the swim portion was technically in Iowa! As much as I want to count this as a race in two states, Iowa isn’t that far away so I’ll return to that at a later date. The trip was uneventful, and the night before I had authentic Vietnamese food with the family I was graciously staying with, was unsure how this would agree or not agree with me the next day– it ended up being fine (my usual prerace food is either Asian or Mexican, something with a little spice at least is good for me). We got up at 4:30am and headed to IHOP to grab some quick food before the race, on the menu was an omelet with bacon, I had plenty of time before the 8:38am start time of my swim wave to digest.
Then it was off to the race location, Levi Carter Park near the Eppley Airport. Traffic was BAD. For one, the city had closed down a few roads for the night, so I got lost heading there. Upon reaching a mile from parking, traffic wasn’t moving much. We arrived at parking at 6:43am, which transition closed at 6:55am! Luckily, they delayed race start due to the terrible traffic issues, first by 15 minutes, but then creeped up to half an hour! So I set up transition and had to think about it a lot. I usually don’t have T1 and T2 in the same place. Then I waited and waited for my wave to start. I decided to wear a surf shirt for the swim to reduce bra drag since the lake temps were edging their way up to 81°F.
The swim start was off a pier, so walk out onto the pier, drop down into the water, and hold onto the pier (they call a pontoon) until they hit the start button. I was closer to the end of the wave starts, wave 13, and some guys were already on the run part of the course before I started! The race turnout was huge, I think about 4000 athletes. The 15 second music they set before the start was like a heartbeat on low key timpani drums. And then I was off, 9 something am at this point. The water was murky and green, but overall clean, nothing tasted funny as odd as that sounds. The sun wasn’t in our faces. We could swim on either side of the orange site buoys, but had to make the outside turns of the yellow buoys which were really far out (and those two were very close to each other). 1 lap, out, sharp turn, and headed in. Turning around the 2nd yellow buoy, I figured out I wasn’t pulling correctly like I’d been trying to teach myself. By this point, my swim time could not be saved. With about 450m to go, my swim cap fell off, and a seaweed of hair fell over my face. This affected me a lot but I powered through it. I’m just glad my goggles stayed on! The swim exit was up on a pier that had been lowered into the water. I didn’t know when I could stand (you couldn’t see the ground less than 6” below surface water), but then got told to stand, so I did and was pulled up. I took my goggles off, and ran towards my bike, which like Ohio was on the far side of the swim exit. My swim ended up being about 43 minutes, about 3 minutes slower than I wanted, and 0.1 miles longer than expected.
T1: I arrived about 1:20 after exiting the swim. Ate some chews, put on shoes, and a shirt, and off I went. At least the exit to T1 wasn’t as far. The bike!! Oh the bike. I didn’t know what was going to happen, having done so much riding just recently that week, and didn’t feel near recovered to lay down ball out mode. I started by warming up the legs, increasing cadence, watching people pass me on their fancy tri bikes (this really never stopped as bike is not my strong sport anyway), and averaged 15.6 first mile, which I noticed was FLAT. I was like, “this is nice”. My speed quickly rose from there, averaging about 17-21 mph up to the big hill (about mile 7). Then “the” hill. When I had looked up the course info, I saw it rose about 150 feet at least in about a mile. I immediately checked out some of my elevation gain profiles from Ironman Wisconsin bike training rides, and the only things that compared were the two hills I was the worst at: Barlow and Midtown. It was going to be what it was regardless, so get up the hill however possible. Well the hill started, it looked steep from the bottom, I got into the right gears, kept downshifting until I ran out of gears, and then started powering up. This was the only time I passed people, it felt good. My legs wanted to stop but then a volunteer said I was almost to the top and I could see it, he was right. I made it. I shifted into the big ring and powered down hitting my fastest speed ever on my bike, 39.8 mph. The road was smooth as butter. I continued on. I made it to the turn around which was in a bunch of, you guessed it, corn fields. I took a gel and had some more water (which I had to slow down to balance doing it). The water bottle situation was unfortunately, I had forgotten all of mine at home, so I had to buy them the day before at the expo. I washed them out the best I could, but it ended up tasting like plastic…like really badly.
I started encountering the wind I had felt at the start of the race (the race announcer had mentioned there was a cross wind and shouldn’t affect the bike, but it most certainly did). This slowed my speeds down from 19 mph to 17 mph, but I wasn’t tired. Made it back up the hill again. I was passed by so many lovely gazelles on course, men topped on their tri bikes with good fits, floating above the ground. I rounded out the bike with an average speed of 17.4 mph, faster than any bike I’d done, including speed workouts. I entered T2 not knowing if I’d blown my legs for the run.
I quickly switched my shoes as I ate the rest of my chews, and swallowed the rest of the plastic water. I lingered a little thinking I must be forgetting something, but I wasn’t. The whole T1/T2 combined thing really threw me off.
I ran out of T2 actually feeling quite good. I didn’t feel the “brick” soreness at all, which I have for the past several weeks of workouts. The run course was two out and backs on a roughly 1.5 mile circuit. I was suspicious. I hadn’t had a good bike-run in a race ever, and none in practice since June. I walked through every aid station except for 1, which I tried to run through, but I couldn’t get the water down. Mile 1, I had a pace of 9:17, really good, and I still felt good. I decided to maintain pace whilst singing Pendulum to myself. Mile 2, 9:15. I spent some more time walking through aid stations afterwards, there was not a leaf’s worth of shade on the newly paved blacktop run course. It was also humbling to see the top athletes out of breath (as bad as that sounds), they were doing their VERY best, it was inspiring! My pace dropped a little in miles 3-4, but then picked it up in mile 5, when I knew I had just a little bit left. I pushed hard and dropped my pace. I ended up finish with a 9:21 min/mi average pace! This was about 40 seconds off of my PR for the 10k!! I was ecstatic to say the least.
Overall the course was nice. My complaint was I thought there was an aid station on the bike course?? It didn’t matter anyway. It was funny to see top athlete complain about the legality of the swim, you’re basically elite athletes, you don’t need a wetsuit. But it was amusing seeing people at the top still freak out a little. Everyone is human. My goal for the race was to not get last. I placed 86 out of 89 out of the finishers in my age group. My finish time was 3:18:39. I had never competed in an actual standard Olympic triathlon. It felt a lot like a sprint, and way easier than any of my Xterra races as far as energy consumption. It felt good being done fairly quickly too. Part of my difficulty however was that I was still sick from the previous week. I am now sitting here with a blanket writing this up more sick than before. I think it was worth the push. But I will always do my best given the circumstances. Until Ironman Wisconsin, peace out.