I had races the two weekends before the USAT National Championships which were held right here in Omaha. Two weeks before Nationals, I raced the Cornhusker State Games Tri held in Lincoln, NE. Our 40+ aged swim group took off 4 minutes behind the first group of younger guys. That means that I really don't know where I stood during the race as it unfolded. My swim was OK and I tried to hammer the bike really hard on the three loop course.
As I headed out on the run, a friend yelled that I was the first guy to start the run from the 40+ group and was the 5th guy overall. I knew I'd spotted those young guys a few minutes at the start, but wasn't sure how things would shake out til the first runner was coming back at me. It was an out-and-back run so I clocked my time starting right after he passed me, to the turnaround, then doubled it to find out his lead on me. It was just about two minutes...meaning...I was leading the race. Now that's motivation to run as fast as possible on the way back.
I pushed pretty hard that last 1.5 miles and came across the finish line as the 4th athlete, but, first time-wise. I'd won the race. I was super happy and also thankful that a few really fast guys from the area chose not to race that day :)
The following week I drove over to Boone, IA for the USA Triathlon Regional Championships, wanting to win my age group and my third regional championship. I was surprised that the race wasn't better attended since it was a championship race. I was just behind the leaders out of the water and took the lead (overall) early in the bike.
I built up a minute+ lead and had a very fast transition from bike to run. The run course was really challenging with hardly a flat spot on it and, it had a long steep hill to run down and back up on the way in. At the turn around I had a fairly large lead but still wanted to get in a good workout so I pushed it crossing the line first overall!
Two weeks, two races, two wins. I was heading into Nationals with a lot of confidence, though I knew the competition would be ferocious and that I was the 'old guy' in the 55-59 age group being 59.
USA Triathlon National Championships - Area athletes were pumped to be able to sleep in our own beds and save some bucks having nationals in our hometown. Tues. - Thurs. of race week the heat index was over 110 but the weather broke on Friday, setting up a beautiful weekend. My last few workouts went well and I felt ready mentally, spiritually and physically. I knew there were 3-5 guys that would be very hard to beat. A couple of them had won multiple Nationals and World Championships at distances from sprint to Ironman.
My swim was not what I'd hoped for. I knew I'd need to be in the 12 min. something zone to be anywhere close to the leaders. I probably started too far to the right on the dock and went out too conservatively. Two mistakes I'll not make next year. As I exited the water I wanted to see 12:something on my watch but it said high 13s. Uggghhh. Not good.
As I ran to my bike, I heard friends yelling that I was 2 min. down, in 13th place. Out of about 90 signed up in my age group, that's not bad, but if you're trying to get on the podium, which went five deep, 13th left a lot of work to do.
I'd decided ahead of time to sprint as hard as possible to my bike and again on the long run out to the road with my bike which I did. I ended up having the two fastest transition times in our age group. Thankful for that. I tried pushing hard on the bike but that "pop" I wanted to feel just wasn't there. I tried and tried to get that sense of flying, but it felt like work. So, I worked.
Came in off the bike with a time 60-90 seconds slower than I wanted. But, maybe everyone had a slower bike than they wanted, so I sprinted hard to drop off my bike and toss on my running shoes. The noise was deafening running out of the transition area to the road for the 5K run. So cool. I had no idea how many guys I'd passed or what place I was in.
About 400 yds. into the run, I went by some friends and family who yelled that they thought I was in third place. There were other age groups out on the road and the age of each triathlete, written on their calf, had been rubbed off of many so it was tough to truly know. Someone else then yelled the next guy was only 20 seconds up the road. Thought I had a chance at 2nd and who knew if the 1st place might cramp up.
My first mile was just over 6:30 pace. I was happy with that cause I knew I'd have to get out and go quickly. I've had a hard time this season getting up to speed on the run as quickly as I wanted to so I was thrilled with my start. I knew the toughest part of the run would be from 1 mile to the turn around a half mile up the road. I was right. I started to feel tired and had to dig deep to keep the pace up. I saw Bobbie Gonzalez from Texas about 45-50 second ahead of me at the turnaround. I had no idea what place he was in. First? Who knows...
No one has passed me from my age group in the first half of the run and I'd not caught anyone from my group. At the turn around I told myself I only had the equivalent of 6 laps on the track to finish and I knew the closer I got to the finish, the more friends would be cheering for me. With one mile to go I tried to find yet another gear. Mile 2 was 6:20something. I kept passing runners from other age groups who had started ahead of me, but none of them had 55-59 on their calf. I tried to run faster and faster as I hit the 800 meters to go mark. I was still passing runners as the finish line came into view and I did my best to sprint it in.
I crossed the line, dropped to a knee to thank God for a clean race with no major problems. 6:20 average per mile on the run was about as good as I could have hoped for. I was interviewed right away by Michelle Bandur and a lady from the World Herald newspaper. I thought maybe I'd gotten third? Second? Fourth? Then someone saw the results and told me I'd gotten 5th. Podium. Last spot on the podium, but there. That was my baseline goal going into the race. Get on the podium, top five. Thankful.
In reviewing the results, I'd started the run in 5th, not 3rd and held that through the end of the race. I was 50 seconds behind 4th and 97 seconds off 3rd place. 1st and 2nd were way out there. In some ways, I was a little disappointed but just a little. Everyone who beat me was younger and 1st and 2nd place younger by five years and four years. I enjoyed the Awards Ceremony and was grateful to the Lord for helping me to a podium spot. My wife Jen, family and friends were amazing out there cheering and encouraging me. The companies for whom I'm an Ambassador, were also amazing helping me with products and services!
I'd qualified for Team USA and the ITU World Championships next year in Rotterdam, but will pass on my spot.
I've got a few low-pressure, fun races coming up to close out the season and then it'll be time to get to work on areas of improvement. There are several. Though my time at Nationals would have won the National Championship in the next age group up, where I'm heading to in four months, I'm planning on going faster next year. A lot faster. I'm motivated and excited for what next season could hold. I'm blessed in so many ways. Thank you Lord!
Til next year