I’m currently in the air, the only mode of the classic ways of travel – by sea, by land, or by air – not demonstrated in triathlon. Instead, we propel ourselves through water, pick up our trusty machines and traverse 40 kilometers on two wheels, then abandon our equipment as hurriedly as we swim to it. Finally, we run off on our own two legs, determined to demonstrate machinery-free self-reliance.
I’m on my way back from my second appearance at the annual USAT Age Group Nationals in the Olympic distance, which was my fourth Olympic distance triathlon ever. My A goal was 2:10, set in the beginning of this year for the end of the season. My B goal was 2:12, and my C goal, 2:14. Last year, I finished in a time of 2:16:12, so even my C goal would be a two minute PR. My plan for PR-ing by six minutes? Bike five minutes faster and swim one minute faster. Given these were my weaknesses last year, I heavily focused on them during training since last year.
Friday, August 7th
“Stay engaged.” –Mark Allen
After picking up my packet, I did a two mile run with Herb on the beginning of the pancake-flat run course. I christened my new wetsuit, the Reaction by blueseventy on the swim course in Lake Michigan. I swam the first half of the course and felt fast and slippery. The water was 63 degrees, a warm bath compared to the two Long Island spring triathlons I did in hypothermia-inducing conditions earlier this year. I was prepared.
I picked up my bike from the Tribike Transport tent, where I met a fellow Bucknell Track and Cross Country alumna (Class of ’72!), Valerie! I tested out my bike, checked the gears, and dropped it off in transition for the mandatory pre-rack.
After lunch at the Milwaukee Public Market, Herb and I went to hear Mark Allen speak at the pre-race “clinic” which was more of a pre-race pep talk. Mark regaled his Ironman stories (you can watch a similar version here), and the key takeaway was to stay engaged. “It’s never over until it’s over,” as he proved by making up huge deficits in his races, including a 13 minute one before the run leg of his final Ironman Championship in 1995. In 1982, he had an 11 minute lead but bonked on the run, so it can go either way! I find that I never give up during races, but I do go on auto-pilot, settle into a pace, and that sometimes leads to falling asleep.
Saturday, August 8th
Discipline 1: The swim 24:33, 58th in AG
“Oh, you again!”
I woke at 6am CST and ate a blueberry bagel with honey peanut butter. Remember Lenders’ bagels? Well I found a version of them at a lovely little supermarket, Outpost, in a Milwaukee suburb. I had some Colectivo coffee made with the automatic coffee machine – the Airbnb had one and coffee finished brewing just as I woke up!
Herb dropped me off at the race venue by the Discovery World along Lake Michigan. I set up my transition; no bags are allowed in transition once it closes, so I triple-checked that all of my race gear was arranged correctly. I ate a banana, drank a Nuun, and hung out with Herb until it was time to race.
Waves went off every 10-15 minutes, and before each one, a drum that sounds like a heartbeat would play for 20 seconds, just enough to build up excitement of the crowd. My wave started at 8:55am. We were allowed to warm up in a designated area adjacent to the start. The water temperature increased to 65.5 degrees, which was brisk but beautiful. This year, we had to have one hand on the pontoon until the heartbeat drum-accompanied race horn sounded. While waiting for the race to start, other women in my age group and I were packed tightly along the pontoon, one arm up holding on gradually draining blood, our bodies drifting under the pontoon as we essentially spooned each other.
When the horn finally sounded, we were off like 141 loose cannons. I was aggressive and got in a good position where I was drafting – impossible not to do in such a large group – and being grazed but not pushed around. I found sighting pretty easy, and as usual, experienced the swarm at every buoy. I also found myself swimming alongside the same girls at between buoys, kind of like that person at a wedding who you’ve never met but keep seeing and making eye contact with.
I stayed out of trouble for the rest of the course, but I didn’t draft very well in the second half. As I mentioned, I was swimming alongside ladies, not behind them. I finished 13 seconds slower than last year.
T1: 2:19 (31 seconds faster than last year)
Video proof, thanks to Herb!
Discipline 2: The bike 1:05:34, 14th in AG
“Get back get back!” –Ludacris
This leg could not have been more unlike last year. The whole time, I was yo-yoing with four other women. We kept changing leads, as much as one can change leads without drafting. This was a little scary for me.
Being close to these girls, constantly swinging to the outside to pass in the allotted 15 seconds, sometimes not succeeding and having to purposely drop back to avoid a penalty – it was like waiting in line at Dunkin’ Donuts when you’re in a hurry, but you know standing closer to the person in front of you won’t make them order any faster. I don’t have a power meter on my bike, so the whole time I wondered, but was pretty sure, I was riding well. These girls, in their pointy aero helmets, screenprinted uniforms (one of which was a bathing suit-style tri onesie), and disc wheels took turns passing me, but they were never in front for long. About two-thirds of the way through, I regrouped, took some nutrition (baby food pureed pear, mango, and banana!), and slowly reeled in the group again.
I really like consuming real food, usually in the form of fruit puree, on the bike. I save the gels for the run. I drank half of my bottle of mango Gatorade during the bike leg, a bit on the lighter side, but with mid-60’s and low humidity, I didn’t feel like I really needed it. (How many times has that phrase come back to bite well-rehearsed athletes!)
I got one gel in my pocket and the other one is grabbing my bib belt.
That’s about all that happened in T2 as I (Mori)sette off on the run.
Discipline 3: The run 38:47, 3rd in AG
I exited transition as I snapped on my bib belt and tucked an espresso-flavored Gu in my jersey pocket. From the get-go, I locked into a pace that just felt right to me. Going faster felt like it would use up too much extra energy, and slowing down wouldn’t save much energy. It was like my legs had a pre-agreed pace they would not waver from. That pace later turned out to be 6:15 for a 38:47 split, which includes a 15-20 second stretch break for a chronically tight hip adductor.
Being familiar with the pancake-flat, mile out-and-back plus a two mile out-and-back course made it go by more quickly than last year, and I never ended up taking my gel. I took water on the course, even missed a cup, and a male competitor gave me the rest of his. In my weary state, I muttered “thanks, hun” in a way that made me sound like a 70-year old smoker receptionist.
The company I had this year could not have been more unlike last year. Last year, I stuck behind two men running a perfect pace and hung on for dear life. This year, it felt like I was on a conveyor belt, except the calves of everyone I was passing (indicating their age) was slightly discouraging, as none of them were in my age group – 50, 63, 42, 76 (whoa, go grandma!). Then, at the four-mile mark, I thought of something that hit me like a pun of bricks.
“You’re going to pass girls you can’t even see yet.”
Knowing I had just over two miles to go, recalling that I was six seconds away from not medaling last year, and estimating that many of my competitors run 7-something pace for 10k, I realized there were women two minutes ahead of me that I could pass by the finish.
I reengaged (thanks Mark Allen!) and picked it up. I stopped looking at calves, kept my head up (and slightly back, as I tend to do when I fatigue) and accelerated to what was likely 6:05-6:10 pace. I picked off every person I could. I vaguely remember finishing, so it’s a good thing I have video proof! (Go to 3:52:23 if the video automatically doesn’t.)
One of the craziest things about how I race triathlon is that I don’t know how well I did until I am done. Can you imagine if baseball had no score until the game was over? A Cross Country race where everyone started at different times, all on the same course, with no clock except at the finish? Granted, nothing is stopping me from throwing on a watch before the run leg except my own preference. I’d never do a track race without looking at the clock and checking in to see my pace, but with triathlon, the lack of a watch means I stay engaged with my body. I’m competing more than I am time trialing. Or, I’m just totally blind and would be better off with technology that measures time passing.
I crossed the line in 2:12:31, good for 7th place in my age group and 17th place overall.
I felt fast and strong on the swim, but my split was 13 seconds slower than last year. I’m admittedly disappointed with this, given the fact that I went out of my way to open water swim this summer. I brought my wetsuit to beach outings with friends and even did an Ocean Mile Swim in Long Branch, NJ the morning after four hours of sleep and a Taylor Swift concert (“…so we gonna swim a mile, or we’re gonna go down in waves…”). The bright side is that while I wish I had swum faster, I know I’m improving in the pool and just need to translate it to open water. It’s a huge opportunity for improvement for me to shave off some time.
I’m very pleased with my bike time, which was 3.5 minutes faster than last year. I’ve been working a lot on the bike, and I’m in my third year in the saddle. My run was decent, and I’ve admittedly been focusing a lot less on that this year, so running a tad slower, though feeling strong and not redlining like last year, is encouraging.
I have ITU Age Group Worlds in Chicago on September 19th, for which I qualified last year at Nationals. The course (map here. also below) is very flat and spectator friendly (a.k.a. loops on loops). You nearly need a geography degree or watch a few episodes of Dora the Explorer to understand the map.
I’m confident I can get faster on the bike and swim. And run. Because why not tri for all three in Chicango?!