Monday, June 29, 2015

USAT 2015 Athena and Clydesdale National Championship at the Grand Rapids Triathlon ~ 6-14-15

I was so honored and excited to be attending the 2015 Athena National Championship race again this year. Last year I had raced in the sprint and olympic Athena Championship when it was held in Arkansas. This year, I raced the 70.3 half iron distance and it was being held in conjunction with the Grand Rapids Triathlon in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It was a little further away then I would have liked since we drive to our races. It took 2.5 days to get there but we decided to add in a family road trip so the drive was worth it.

We left Las Vegas on Wednesday, June 10th, and arrived on Friday, June 12th. We stayed at the closest hotel we could to the race location, which was still about 10 minutes away. We booked three nights at the Econo Lodge and Suites on Kraft Ave. It was a great price and the room was laid out nicely.

My friend, who was also from Las Vegas and racing in the Athena Championship, flew in and had arrived earlier in the day. She had shipped her bike from a local Las Vegas bike shop to the supporting bike shop. I went with her to get her bike since my other option was just sitting in the hotel room. It was fun and a nice break from my family (although I love them dearly but being stuck in the car with them for 2.5 days was enough). Then we went to a grocery store to pick up some groceries. We then met up again for dinner at a restaurant between our hotels.

On Saturday morning, I needed to get in a quick last brick before the race. I picked up my friend and we drove to the race location in Ada, MI. We parked along a side street and walked towards the water. The swim portion of the race was in the Thornapple River. It was dammed to resemble a lake at the location that we would be swimming at so the current was expected to be minimal if any. When we arrived we realized that there was no access to the water as the gates were chained. We decided to walk down the street to see if there was any public access. There was not but there were houses that lined the water that did have access. I decided to ask one of the houses if we could go into their backyards and swim from their water access. They agreed. Even though the race was going to be wetsuit legal, the water was warmer then the air and we decided to swim without our wetsuits since we only needed a 10 minute swim. The water was murky and it was difficult to see anything but it was calm and enjoyable.

After our quick swim, we went back to my car for transition and then did a 10 minutes bike ride followed by a 10 minute run. We then drove back to our hotels to clean up. Since this was the Athena National Championship, a group lunch had been set up for those that could attend. My friend and I went and had a great time meeting up with friends from last year as well as making new friends. 

After lunch, we all went to the expo and packet pickup. We had a special room set aside for us to have our weight verified. After it was official, we were handed a USAT National Championship hat and were directed to a special registration table. There we were given our packets which included our swim caps, race numbers, bike and helmet numbers, race shirt, small backpack, and other swag. We then walked around the expo and listened to the athlete talk which helped explain the routes and rules. We then made our way back to the hotel to relax until dinner. We then met with my Las Vegas friend again for dinner at a yummy bar-b-que joint. Once back at the hotel, I got all my gear ready for the morning.

I woke up at 4:45 AM with an expected leave time of 5:30 AM. My wave began at 7:10 AM so this would allow enough time to arrive and get transition set up. I was sad to see that it was raining and the weather called for 100% chance of rain for the entire race time. I made my breakfast and drank my UCAN, got dressed, applied sunscreen and then it was time to go. We ended up arriving at the athlete drop-off location at about 6:00 AM. With it raining so hard, my husband decided to take my boys back to the hotel for the day so they could stay dry (don't worry, they are old enough to be left alone). 

My friend and I then made our way towards the transition area that was about 0.5-1.0 mile away. We stopped while on a covered bridge to air up our tires. With everything being so wet, this ended up being a really good idea. After that, we continued to transition and set up our gear. By the time we arrived, the racks were pretty full so space was limited. I then had my friend do my body marking. By the time we got to my leg, the marker was so wet it would no longer write. I overheard others saying that the body markers were having the same issue. We realized that we should have done that while on the bridge too. My friend ended up not having any numbers written on her due to the wetness. 

The transition area closed at 6:45 AM, so we made our way to the staging area. As we were walking there, we finally met back up with my husband. I was worried that he would miss the start of the race since he had to take the boys to the hotel, drive back and park and then take a trolley to the race area. He was able to take a few pictures of us and give me some words of encouragement. He told me to be safe but to race "just this side of recklessness". 

We then got in our race corral and waited for our wave to start. When the 7:05 AM wave started, they told us to enter the water and wait for the air horn. 

When the horn sounded, I started towards the left of the pack with only a few people around me. The swim was one loop of a long triangle. I was unable to see others around me in the water due to it's murkiness. Since I am a good sighter, I was able to locate other swimmers before I got to them. The beginning was congested but quickly cleared out which allowed me to get into a nice rhythm. I felt good on the swim and had no real surprises. I began to catch men from the previous two waves which is always a nice feeling. As I approached the exit boat ramp, the course entered into a bottleneck which caused a lot of congestion. This caused more contact then I like but it was manageable. At the edge of the ramp, a volunteer was standing there to help you stand up which was nice. I completed the 1.2 mile swim in 36:19.

As I exited the water, I saw where the wetsuit strippers were and ran over to the biggest guy I saw and told him to "yank it off, big guy!" He had my wetsuit off in one second, if that. I then stood up and continued my run to transition. As I passed by other athletes waiting to start, I heard someone yell "Go, Sarah!" I can assume that it was a fellow Athena and it made me smile. My husband was standing near my transition so that helped me spot my location. It looked like I was the first person from my rack out of the water because all of the bikes were still there. I quickly put my socks and bike shoes on and grabbed my helmet. I decided to race without my gloves to save a few more seconds in transition. I unracked my bike and ran out of transition. I completed T1 in 2:48. 

The bike course was an out and back. I had driven the bike course the day before so I was a little familiar with the route. This allowed me to be aware of turns, curves, and uneven sections. I think it is a valuable tool to have if you have enough time to drive the course ahead of time. The rain started to pick up so I had to be aware of my speed on any corners or curves and my braking time due to the wetness. I had a pain in my left groin for the first 10-15 miles of the ride but it eventually worked it's way out and allowed me to really hammer the ride. There were two sections of hills on the course, one on the way out and one on the way back. I really tried to attack those hills. At the one hour mark, I was at 19 miles. At the 28 mile turn around, I was at 1:29. This information told me that I could make a sub 3:00 ride if I continued to push it. After the turn around, I drank my premixed bottle of UCAN. On the way back, I hit a few potholes due to joining in with the sprint and olympic traffic causing more crowds and less visibility. I prayed for no flats and it worked. I found myself stuck behind people at different sections of the ride and would self-motivate to pass them by telling myself to not become complacent. I saw my husband just before the final turn back into transition. He told me to watch my speed because he had seen a few mishaps there. I hit the dismount line and stopped my Garmin and saw that it showed 2:52. I was shocked! I finished the 56 mile ride in 2:52:39.

I ran into transition and once again realized that I was the first one from my rack back since I was the only bike there. I took my helmet off, grabbed my visor and glasses, and changed my shoes. I stuck two Gatorade Chew packs into my back pocket and then started running out. I realized that I didn't need my sunglasses so I stuck them in my back pocket as well. I completed T2 in 3:01.

The run was a two loop course. The rain was still coming down but I was fine with it now since I knew it would keep the temperatures down on the run. I started out a little faster than I wanted to so I had to force myself to slow down. My left calf started to tighten up almost right away. It wasn't cramping but felt like it could at any minute. At the 15 minute mark of the run, I ate one pack of Gatorade Chews. The tightness was gone within a few minutes. I was able to hold a pace between 10:30-10:45. There were a few big hills on each loop that weren't fun but I just put my head down and pushed up them. As I was approaching the turn around I saw my husband. He told me that I was at a 4:40 and that I was crushing the course. I was really surprised to hear that number. My only other half iron distance I had done was in March 2015 and I finished it in 6:34. My goal for this race had been to finish in 6:15. With that new information from my husband, I knew that I was going to make that goal and that a 6:00 might even be possible if I could hold my pace. I ate my second Gatorade Chew at the 1:15 mark. I saw my husband again at mile 7 and he told me that my friend was about 6 minutes behind me. I knew that I was not going to be able to hold her off since she is a faster runner then me. I did the math and thought that she would pass me at about mile 10. I was correct and at mile 10, I was able to give her a high 5 and cheer her on as she passed me. I picked up the pace for the final 2 miles and my last mile was a 10:15. I then sprinted in the final 0.1 mile. I crossed the finish line when the ticker showed 6:03. I completed the 13.1 mile run in 2:18:40. 

As soon as I crossed the finish line, I was handed a finisher's medal and a finisher's visor. I then saw my friend and we hugged. She was so excited! She had just found out that she won 1st place overall Athena in the 70.3. She told me that I was only a few minutes behind her. I made my way to the exit and found my husband. He gave me a big hug and told me that he was so proud of me. He affirmed what I suspected, that I had finished sub 6:00. He took my sweaty visor off and put the finisher's visor on my head and told me to go check my times. I walked over to the timing table and had him pull my number up and saw that I finished in 5:53:29! That time was good enough for 2nd place overall Athena in the 70.3 and 1st place in the 40-54 year old division. I went back and told my husband and friend that and we shared more hugs. 

We then went into the transition area and started to pack up our gear. When that was done, we went over to the awards area and received our 1st place plaques from the Grand Rapids Triathlon and a 2015 National Champion jersey from USAT. The rain began to clear up which allowed us to get a few pictures with our newest bling. Then we grabbed our bikes and walked back to the athlete pick up area and loaded up. 

1st place Athena 40-54 division in the 70.3

1st and 2nd place overall Athena 70.3 champions

My husband who is my biggest fan, Sherpa, supporter and sponsor.

This race started out under crummy conditions but ended up being great! I gave it all I had and couldn't have raced any harder. I am so glad that we decided to make the long road trip so I could be a part of this National Championship. I will now have my name in a little piece of history in the Athena triathlete world and couldn't be prouder.