Thursday, September 29, 2011

USAT Nationals

This last weekend Buffalo, NY hosted USAT Nationals.  It was a very well run race, and the course was great.  We swam in Lake Erie and the water was cold enough to be my first wetsuit swim of the season.  The roads were fantastic on the bike, and although it contained two 180s it was very fast.  The run was flat and fast, like most of the run courses this year.

A big thanks goes out to everyone who made it to the race.  My Mom was once again my personal driver for the weekend.  I am not sure how she continually puts up with me, but I am glad she does.  It was great to have my Grandparents there as well!  They stopped by the hotel before the race, so it was nice to chat with them pre-race.  It is always great to have Greg there cheering, he always knows what to yell to keep me focused on the task at hand.  I am glad that the Housands made the trip.  Tom is a training buddy, and he brought his daughters, Addison and Aubrey, with him.  They brought some great energy to the race.  I would have to say that I had the best cheering section of the day!!

Swim – ITU races always have a fast start.  Not just the pace of the swim, but the actual start.  You have to be ready when the race is handed over to the starter.  As soon as he says, “On your mark,” you might as well jump in because there is less than a second usually before the horn sounds.  I am now ready for this when I show up at a race, and this race was no exception.  I got a good start and was in the middle of it all.  I was surprised at how nice everyone was!  Usually there is a lot of fighting all the way to the first buoy, but that did not happen this weekend.  Either that or I just happened to be a good position.  Although I did not get beat up at all, the swim was very hard.  I was on feet early and I really wanted to make a bike pack, so I swam as hard as I could to stay there.  The whole time I was swimming I imagined a solid line of guys from the very first swimmer to me, and I believed that if I could stay on feet I would be in the front pack.  This was not the case but it kept me in a good position!  By the end of the swim I was dizzy from being on the rivet for about 500 yards so I was happy to be heading to the bike.

Bike – Once I was out of my wetsuit I was around a few guys and I could see some guys leaving transition.  I ran out and jumped on my bike.  I got my right foot in my shoe and that was all I had time for.  I was at the front of a few guys and there was a pack of 5 about 5 seconds ahead.  I put my head down and tried to close the gap.  Once I got close, I swung out and let someone else pull us the rest of the way to the group.  Once we got there I was able to get my other foot in my shoe and tighten them down.  There were small packs on the road, but the pack I was in was working well together.  Hunter was in a group of 7 at the front that was moving the best, but my pack moved well and caught the 3 packs in between.  I didn’t miss a turn at the front on the first 6 laps.  I wanted to do all that I could to try and catch the front pack.  The front pack got a max lead of 80 seconds, but it did come down on the last lap and a half.  On the last 2 laps I had nothing left in the tank.  I did all I could to just stay in the pack and make it to the run.  Toward the end of lap 7 Kyle asked me if I was ok and told him I was fine, but I was in survival mode.  Draft legal racing can be easier than non-draft, but it can be harder as well.  They are different styles of racing.  I am used to a steady hard pace for 40k, and this was like a roller coaster.  There was a lot of easy peddling, but there were a lot of hard accelerations.  I think the hard pushes took a toll on my body!

T2 – I broke this out separately, because I made a huge mistake here!  Usually this is routine and simple, but something happened out of the ordinary.  I missed my bike rack!!  I am not sure if it was the mental state I was in or the size of the group that threw me off.  For most of the season I have come in to T2 toward the back, all by myself.  I ran in to transition too far and when I realized it I had to turn around and head back in to everyone coming in/going out.  Not what I wanted at this point, but there is nothing I could do about it; there are no do-overs.

Run – I was out of transition almost last from my group so I tried to stay calm and tried not to get ahead of myself.  I knew I had ground to make up, but I could not do it in the first quarter mile.  I just tried to set a hard pace and make up as much ground as I could.  By the end of lap 1 I was in the top 10, and I had caught the majority of the guys from the front bike pack.  By the end of lap 2 I think I was in the top 5, but my mind was wondering, so I was not sure what place I was in.  Before the race I told Greg that there were two things I would like to hear during the race, other than words of encouragement.  The first thing was if Maddie won her cross country race earlier in the day, and the second thing was if Notre Dame won their football game.  I think it was on lap two Addison let me know ND won.  I couldn’t help but smile!  It is amazing how happy thoughts keep you going.  It had nothing to do with the race, but it made me happy and maybe even gave me a little extra spring in my step.  By the end of lap 3 I was in fourth, moving in to third.  I passed Andrew Yorke for third but he passed me right back so I let him stay in the lead and break the wind along the only stretch with wind.  At the end of the straightaway, I passed him and tried to put it down.  He hung on for a while but I slowly pulled away from him.  I tried to speed up and go after Ritchie for second place but he was too far ahead and I was not going to catch him.  I ended up in third place!! Second American!!  That was the same result as I had at USAT Sprint Nationals.  Not bad for my first year as a pro.  Hopefully I can improve on that next year!!

Good Job to Kyle!  He was right at the front coming out of the water, and finished with a strong 22nd overall!  It was nice to have a teammate in the bike pack as well! 

Post race – I got the call from USADA.  But since awards were coming up right after the race, I got to stay out of the tent for a while.  The awards were fun, and it was the first time I got champagne.  I still had some left in the bottle when I left the podium so I poured the rest on Greg!  He deserved the champagne just as much as I did.  He is the one that got me to the podium.  Once the awards were over, I had to head to the doping tent.  It still took a while for me to fill up a cup, but I think it is getting better.  I just hung out with all my nice USADA friends until I was able to go. 

Thank you to all my sponsors: Profile Design’s Marlin wetsuit for getting me out of the water in a great position, Look Bicycles, Profile Design for my Altair 52 wheels and bars, Rudy for my helmet and sunglasses, Hammer for my nutrition, Champion System for my tri suit and clothing, and John Cobb for the comfy V-Flow Max saddle.

“Either you run the day or the day runs you.”  ~Jim Rohn


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

LA Triathlon

LA has been a great trip because I got to hang out with my dad, brother and brother’s girlfriend- the weather is ridiculous here, I met a very cool homestay triathlete from west hollywood and I always love going to the conejo valley multisport masters swim group here.

As far as the race, I am still on the upswing after being sick for 3 weeks so I am looking forward to continuing to get stronger going into Dallas next week. LA is defiantly a swimmer’s race- the swim was very choppy and some notable surf- nothing like year but still very challenging. The majority (middle 2/3rds) of the course is only marked with corner buoys without any sighting buoys along the way so it is really hard to sight off anything in the water- this was a major issue for me and the swim pack I was in - (we resorted to breaststroke more than once)- Definitely a course for the open water swimmers…

After the swim I was pretty far behind- more so that usual - I pushed the bike and was happy to catch a few people but the swim really took me out of it and I was still way back after the bike so I decided to cruise the run and save my legs for Dallas next weekend. The run was actually fun as I got to interact with people on the course and my family who was there to watch. I am looking forward to next weekend and Dallas and continuing on the upswing from here…

The big story of the weekend was really superstar Kaleb- who was 3rd at Elite Nationals!!! Ridiculous!! So happy for him and such a testament to both Kaleb and Greg and all their hard work this year! Kaleb just keeps getting faster in the swim- very exciting to watch!!

On other big news…very excited for Lisa’s debut at Kona- so awesome- I wish I could be there to cheer!

Looking forward to Dallas!!  ~Nicole

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

From Hyvee to LA

Hy-vee was one of the best triathlons and one of the more disappointing triathlons I have ever been too- all in one.  

First the best part…

The event itself was like nothing I could have imagined. There was fireworks at the start and finish, great TV coverage, huge huge crowds, a great concert from the gin blossoms, and I could go on and on.  The city of Des Moines and Hy-vee put such tremendous support into this race. It seems to be a passion for the city and this company to put on the best, highest quality triathlon in the world and they have succeeded in that.  The way Hy-vee supports our sport and the pro athletes is tremendous, they are singlehandedly changing the lives of pros that race there and adding prestige and reward to the sport like no other event. I am just so thankful and appreciative that they are doing so much for our sport and for the pro athletes that get to go.

The other thing that made the event so awesome was having Wes, Lisa, Greg, Kaleb, Brian, Jake, and Rudy there- it was so awesome to get to share the experience with everyone.  Greg, Kaleb, Brian and Jake (and Rudy- my buddy from Charlottesville) all had tremendous races and it was so great to share that with them.  Greg won his age age group Kaleb crushed the run with the fastest run and being a rockstar overall too!! The whole trip was just so much fun and I was so proud and honored to get to stand on that pontoon with all those incredible athletes at such a great event before the start of the gun. Definitely something I won’t soon forget.  

Then the gun went off…haha. Well. As far as the worst race goes, I will be brief. I woke up Wed am before the race was some time of viral flu and didn’t get over it until the week after the race (about 10+ days) so that more than a bit of a chafe on my race.  I was hoping my body would just be able to perform well under the circumstances with enough adrenaline but my performance was certainly not indicative of my fitness at that point. I was actually happy with where I finished considering the circumstances… that may sound weird but I honestly do not think I could have gone harder that day and I actually rarely feel that way.. so in that way I was proud of myself.  And I got a great preview of the course for next year- looking on the positive side.

For AG athletes, I would strongly recommend this race if you are thinking about doing a race to travel to next year. The atmosphere is something you can’t experience anywhere else, maybe Kona, I don’t know (lisa will have to let me know =)  )  but it is certainly in a different universe in terms of atmosphere and quality compared to other events.  Thanks so much to Greg and Lisa for being there for us, for Wes who is my #1 fan, and definitely to Hy-vee and the city of Des Moines for setting the highest standard of what a triathlon can be.  As always, thanks to our awesome sponsors! Profile design, Quintana Roo, Rudy, Champion Systems, Hammer- So happy for the support necessary to get to this huge events!!

Excited for the LA triathlon this week!!  Good luck to Kaleb at Nationals!!!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Racing with the Big Boys

The Hy-Vee triathlon can be summed up in one word – Awesome!  The race may not have went well for all athletes involved, but the race was brilliantly planned out.  There were hundreds of people spread out over the course cheering for everyone racing, and there were grandstands full of screaming fans set up at the finish area.  It was the most fun I have ever had while suffering.

Pre-Race – I went down to the river, right next to my hotel, to watch the women swim.  The current in the river was pretty intense so I wanted to watch the women to know where the best place to swim was.  There was a bridge support in the river coming back to the start/swim out that seemed to slow down the current a little bit, but there was no easy way up stream.  This was going to be a hard swim!

Swim – The start to this race was brutal.  In most races the first buoy is at least 300m away.  Here it was about 25m away into the strong current, therefore 30 guys got to the hard left at roughly the same time.  The action at the first buoy was total chaos.  People were getting punched and kicked, and well as grabbed and pulled backwards.  I took what felt like a punch straight to the eye.  I thought my goggle was broke for a while, but I continued to swim and try to stay on feet.  The current played a huge role in the swim, as no one wanted to break the current on their own so almost everyone tried to find feet.  Josh Amberger led out the swim and put about a min on Andy Potts and the rest of the field.  Impressive!!  I came out of the water about a min off the back of the front pack.  I will take it for the conditions.  I was happy to be out of the water as I ran up the steps to T1.

Bike – As I headed out on the bike, I heard that I was ahead of David Thompson.  We go back and forth on the swim so it was nice to hear that I beat him out on such a hard swim.  As I started the bike I noticed my legs did not want to go.  Not a good feeling in a race as large as this one!  I let them relax for about 5 min and then I tried to push.  They were having none of it.  The course was technical and rolling so I thought I could make up some time on the down hills and turns.  On the first downhill section there was a 90 degree turn at the bottom.  I knew it was coming but I was not ready for it.  I hit my brakes, but I was not slowing down fast enough.  I squeezed down on the brake levers and my back tire locked up and started to skid out!  I was out of control and heading for the crowd!!  I crossed to the other side of the road, luckily there was no one coming in the opposite direction, and hopped on the curb as spectators jumped out of the way.  I finally got turned and rejoined the race.  After that I started to take turns a lot less aggressive!!  It was a fun bike course but my legs were not cooperating with my head.  I wanted to go harder but my legs were winning my internal argument.  On the last lap I could see Jarrod Shoemaker.  Once I caught him I knew I had to put some time on him if I hoped to beat him, I was not sure if my legs were going to be there for the run.  Finally off the bike I had a respectable T2 and was off on the run.

Run – The run started on a slight uphill and then came a large downhill. It took me a little bit to get my run legs going, but I set a goal for top 15 before the race so I had to get moving.  I was in 26th coming off the bike so I had a lot of work to do.  The first lap went well and I was moving through the field.  On the second lap I was starting to come unglued.  I went in to what I like to call energy conservation mode - I try not to use any more energy than I have to.  That means running with my eyes closed for long stretches and only controlling my legs and arms.  By the start of lap three I was still moving well but I could not catch my breath.  I tried pulling my jersey up and down to find a comfortable position, but I could not find one that allowed me to breathe.  Lap three was my slowest lap by 15 seconds.  Oops!  Finally in a last ditch effort, toward the end up the lap, I pulled my jersey up as high as it would go.  It was really digging in to me arms and what pec muscle I have, but I could breathe!!  Finally I could concentrate on running again!!  I ended up with the fastest run split of the day which always makes me happy.  If I cannot win the race, I at least like to come away with something.

What an amazing race.  It was the hardest race I have done this year, but I will not remember any of that.  I will remember the crowd and the overall competitiveness of the field.  Since I don’t know any better, that is what I imagine the Olympics feeling like.  Everyone in the race has a great resume and being able to compete with them was very exciting.  And the crowd was unbelievable, there was constant noise and words of encouragement.  The city of Des Moines was a great place for a race, if only triathlons were this big in other cities.  I feel that if people could experience something like this in their city triathlons would be more mainstream in the US.  There was no entrance fee and the action never stopped in any of the races, from the Age Groupers to the Pros.  The roads were full of great racing all day!  I truly love this sport and I hope you do as well!

A big thanks goes out to all my family and friends that made the trip.  Usually I name everyone out there, but my support team was too large this time!  Not a bad problem!!  Thank you everyone for your words of encouragement.  That run would have turned out differently had you guys not been there!  And thanks to all my sponsors, I would not be as competitive without you!!

I hope Nicole gets better soon!  She raced tough and hung in there all day.  She will rebound!  The Toyota Lifetime Series better watch out, because great things are going to happen for her!!

I only have a few races left until my first season as a pro comes to an end.  It has been a learning experience, but it has been a fun ride!  A little training motivation for everyone still chasing goals this season!