Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Road to Hamburg Went Through Portland - Nationals Race Report...

The Road to Hamburg Went Through Portland - Nationals Race Report...

Six weeks ago, on a Saturday morning the alarm went off at 4:00am waking us up abruptly. Jen and I were in Portland for the USA National Championship Triathlon. I ate some breakfast, about 300 calories; we got dressed and loaded into our car. My Mom and Dad had come up from Omaha to watch the race, so the four of us headed towards Lake Hagg. It was 44 degrees outside and upon arriving at the lake; there was a blanket of fog/steam rising up from the water. As the sun came up on the opposite side of the lake and shined through the fog, it made a beautiful picture as the sun's rays penetrated the rising steam. "Thank you Lord for letting me be here today. What a great job you did creating this beautiful location."

I got everything set up in the transition area where everyone has a slot to rack their bike and set up their racing gear. I felt incredibly honored and blessed to be there because only the top ranked triathletes in the nation qualified in each age group. I'd be going up against the best 50-54 yr. old triathletes in the nation. My Ipod Shuffle filled my head with upbeat praise / worship songs putting my heart and mind in the right place as I set up and then warmed up.

It's one thing to race locally in the Phoenix area or in the state, but moving up to compete nationally was, well, a bit intimidating. My goal was top 16 in my age group as that would qualify me to be on Team USA and compete for our country at the age group World Championships in Germany two months later. Top 8 qualified for Team USA and Worlds this year AND next year, 2008.

At 7:15am the first group of triathletes went into the water, waiting for the starting gun and then took off. Then every three minutes, another age group would start. My group was the 4th wave to go. We swam straight into the sun and so it was almost impossible to see where I was going. The big bouys that marked the course seemed invisible as all I could see what splashing water and the blinding sun. So, I just tried to follow the guy ahead of me or beside me. My goal for the 1,500 meter (9/10ths mile) was 23 minutes and change. I realize now, that I must have gone slower than my goal on the way out. Once I made the turn and headed back towards the beach, I felt very fast and strong.

However, there were already about 20 guys ahead of me in my age group. Coming back it was easy to see the bouys and even the crowd waiting on the shore. I exited the water in 20th place, hearing Jen yell my position. 24:40 - disappointing to me. I was over a minute slower than what I had hoped for. I ran hard to my bike, stripping off my wetsuit as far as I could while I ran. My transition time was 1:50 which, compared to the rest, wasn't great but wasn't too bad either.

The 24.8 mile bike course, which was also the run course, had huge hills. Massive ups and downs that never ended it seemed. I had trained hard every week on a very hilly course out at Lake Pleasant just NW of our home, doing time trials at the same distance as the race. So, I felt prepared. The course was beautiful with trees everywhere and the road twisting and turning around the lake. There were times it felt like it was a tunnel we were shooting through. I rode hard and passed many who had started in swim waves in front of me. It was a two loop course and after seeing it the day before the race, thought it might take me about an hour and fifteen minutes. I came through the first loop in 32 minutes. Wow. I felt great about that and it encouraged me to press on hard. I tried to spin up the steep hills and really crank on the downhills. I'm pretty fearless (hopefully not careless) on the downhills. I figure it's free speed so just go for it!

It's funny how much "self-talk" you engage in in a race like this. "Come on Linc, you're doing great," I told myself. "How do you feel? I feel good! Legs feel strong. Relax the upper body. Concentrate on a full, 360 degree pedal stroke. You're doing great. Go get that guy ahead of you! Reel him in! Come on! This is Nationals!!!" Reminds me of King David in the Old Testament, when he "encouraged himself in the Lord." Gratitude flowed from my heart to the Lord as I raced along, so thankful to be healthy and strong and racing!

I tried to push the second loop of the bike harder but came in one minute slower than the first loop - 33 minutes and change, so my bike split was 1:06:04 which, on that course, I was thrilled with. It was the 9th fastest bike split in my group and I was only 90 seconds off the fastest split. I saw Jen and my folks who were standing on the road as I came by. How awesome to see them and hear them yelling for me. I felt great dismounting my bike, racking it, changing into my running shoes and taking off. As I ran out of the transition area, I heard the public announcer recognize one the better 50-54 triathletes in the nation, just coming in on his bike. I WAS AHEAD OF HIM. Wow. That pumped me up! However I knew he was a great runner....

The 6.2 mile run course was on the same road as the bike so...that meant hills. Lots of them. Steep hills. Very little of my run training had been on hills. I actually had a calf injury one month before this race, so my entire run training for the 4 weeks before this race had been jogging one hour, twice a week. Not really what I had planned for but thankful that at least the calf seemed to be healed. I know many folks had been praying for that.

I ran up from the transition area to the road that went around the lake and right past Jen and my folks. I heard Jen yell that one of my rivals / friends from Phoenix was, "just a little ahead of you." We went down a steep hill for about 400 yds., then up the other side...down another steep hill, then up the other side. This continued for 3.1 miles to the turn around. I kept telling myself to relax on the downhills and just let gravity pull me along. "Lean forward, bend over some, run hard, let the downhill help you here...this is free speed," I told myself.

Just before the turn around I saw the rival / friend that Jen had mentioned. He was still a good ways ahead of me as he turned and ran past me. I pressed as hard as I could to the turn and reminded myself I only had 3.1 miles to go. I was running about 6:55 miles, which, I guess on that course I had to be thankful for. I heard steps coming up behind me. It was Doug Hill, in my age group, and really moving. When he went past me I tucked in behind him and told myself, "Do not let him get away!" I was able to hang with him for a while but he was running about 25 seconds/mile faster than I had been, so after a little while he started to pull away. (He ended up beating me by 14 seconds for the whole race.)

I finally passed the aid station at the 5 mile mark. 1.2 miles to go - a big uphill, then a downhill, then the final uphill to the turn into the park and the finish line. I saw my rival/friend up the road and tried to use him as a target to reel in. I finally caught him with only about 500 yds. to go. Knowing that my folks and Jen were at the finish line, well, made me run that last 500 like that's all there had been to the race. They were like a magnet, pulling me in.

I had no idea where I stood in my age group, but I ran as hard as I could to the big finishing banner and crossed the line in 2:16:22. I had run a 42:41 on one of the hardest 10K courses I'd ever been on, with only a few one hour jogs the whole month leading up to the race. 7th fastest run. God is so good! I felt as if I had been carried by Him. The two finishers right behind me were in my age group and I only beat them by 9 and 10 seconds. A special thanks to my sponsors, Valdora Cycles and Hammer Nutrition for putting me on an amazingly fast bike and for a golden nutritional plan for the race. Both had worked perfectly.

After some hugs and "congrats" from Jen and my folks, we went over to the free massage tent area. I knew my legs would be incredibly sore the next day, but a massage would help that a lot. Then, it was hang out and wait for my friends Randy and Mike to come in, and then, load up and head back to the hotel. I was so happy as we left. I had given it my all and we'd have to wait til later that afternoon for the results to be announced and awards given out.

Just a bit before 5pm in a pretty outdoor park, the awards were given out. Since it was the National Championships, awards were given to the top 10 in each age group. I bowed my head and prayed, "Lord, if I make the top 16, I will be so happy...but...it would be incredibly cool to be in the top 10. I'll accept whatever the outcome is. Thanks for just letting me have a clean race."

When they announced my friend/rival's name in 10th place, I knew I had done really well. I was announced as 8th. I was overjoyed. I hopped up and gladly joined the others in the top 10 on the stage and received my award. In reality, they had missed one guy in my age group somehow and he was not in the preliminary results. A few days later he was added, and so I actually finished 9th. Top 10 at Nationals was so far beyond anything I could have hoped or dreamed, but I know that God has purposes in everything He does. He must want me on Team USA and so I welcome any opportunity to encourage my teammates and share God's love in any way possible.

Just last week I found out in an email to me that a few guys who finished ahead of me had turned down their slots for Team USA and World for next year, and so, I got a "roll down" slot which I accepted. So at Nationals, by God's grace and through His strength, I was able to qualify for Team USA this year and next year. Lord willing, I'll be racing again for Team USA in Vancouver, BC, the second weekend of June, 2008.

Though Nationals was amazingly positive, I've lived long enough to know that life can be incredibly tough at times. How is it for you right now? Life throws us painful curve balls that we never see coming. Disappointments, hurts, rejection, etc. can be part of life and we never could have guessed that we'd experience them til they smack us in the face. But then, God is faithful and is there to either deliver us out of the experience or take us through it. God also has a way of balancing life out. My Dad say, "God never mixes our cup one ounce too sweet or one ounce too bitter." God is perfect. This race, and getting to go to Worlds, is so...sweet, and I'm so thankful to Him for His kindness to me in all this. I feel no sense of pride or egotism over all this racing stuff. I KNOW it's simply God's kindness to me. I'm blown away by it and humbled to think I get to represent Him and our great country in Germany this year and in Canada next year.

We all have a choice. We can look at the hard aspects of life, the disappointments, and complain and get depressed. Or, we can see that God mixes in sweet things in our lives to encourage us and "mix our cups" so they are just right. His primary goal for us is holiness, but He is so good to bring happiness along at just the right times.

"Thank you Lord so very much. Encourage anyone out there who is going through a really hard time right now. Help them to find the sweetness in life that is ultimately You, and the good things that flow from Your hand." Amen

Linc






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1 comment:

Paul said...

Lincoln,

Enjoyed reading your race report, and a well deserved congradulations. Anxious to here how Hamburg turns out for you. I'll be in the 50-54 age group next year, you set a mighty high standard. Paul