USAT Collegiate Triathlon National Championships Race Report, 1st place

Quick stats: Fastest Bike Split, Fastest Run Split
Swim: 22:59, pace: 1:32 / T1: 2:46 / Bike: 1:04:03, 23.2 mph / T2: 0:50 / Run: 38:42, Pace: 6:14
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Transition Trouble:
What a way to start a race: even before toeing the line, I had been issued a penalty. Though the women’s race didn’t start until 10:20am, we had to exit transition by 7:30am, so it was a typical up at dawn triathlon race morning. I bee-lined for the mechanic’s tent to get my Di2 and rubbing rear TRP brake sorted out. My first mistake was to access the mechanic’s tent by lifting my bike over the barrier rather than exiting transition to enter via the proper entrance. Though my mechanical issues were soon sorted, I needed to test ride my bike before racking it (a golden rule of thumb never to be broken is to test ride your bike with the real weight of a human even if the mechanic swears it’s “fixed”).

However, when I attempted to exit transition, I was told that I would not be let back out. I begged and pleaded, but they would not budge. That left me two options: a) rack by bike and pray that it was working right or b) ride it discretely in transition for a moment to test the gears. I knew option B was against the rules, but it would make me too nervous to leave my bike untested, so I risked it… And was caught. What’s more, in my flustered state, I didn’t think to put on my helmet, so I actually violated two rules. That was stupid. And I learned my lesson: do things the right way. Go to the proper entrance of the mechanics; take a breath and pause to think through the consequences before hopping on your bike without a helmet. I was upset with myself. But one thing was for sure: not only was I going to win this race, I was going to smash it and win by at least two minutes.

I have experimented with different warm up strategies, but after the success this race, I’ve decided I’ll stick with this one: 10-minute jog with some bursts of speed and drills (high knees, skips, etc) about an hour before start time. Last minute bathroom, bite of PB sandwich and then head to the swim start to don the wetsuit, after lubing every body part that could possibly experiencing chafing (we’re talking neck, shoulders, wrists, calfs, chamois area). We were able to get in the water for a few minutes, so I swam for 8min or so with a few bursts of “take out speed.” A final sip of water to fend off cotton mouth and it was time for call-ups.

Breakthrough Swim:
Since I placed 6th last year, I got a call up, which meant that I had to tread water for an extra 5 minutes while the two hundred other girls in my wave entered. I wanted to avoid the crowds, so I lined up on the right side of the river, with only about 10 girls to my right. Before long we were underway and I took about a hundred hard strokes with much bodily contact but no disasters (just the usual leg pulling, hip bumping). I settled into an up-tempo rhythm and had the sense that I was towards the front of the pack with only a few outlier swimmers 50 yards in front… A strange sensation for me, as I just started swimming in 2015 (with a swim cap in a lap lane, I knew “how” to swim from childhood) and have struggled in the swim portion historically (I was 213th out of the water in this race last year). I focused on sighting every 3rd breath and pulling all the way to my hip and under my body, as I’ve been working on in practice sessions. I felt fluid, and surprisingly aware of my surroundings, which was comforting, in contrast to the chaos and disorientation associated with the swim in previous races. By the first yellow buoy, there were a number of swimmers on all sides of me; I was swimming in a pack! This was new for me. I found feet/ bubbles when I could but only swam about 1/3 of the race directly drafting I think. I exited the water onto the rocky shore and indeed I was right with a group of a dozen racers. Someone shouted 22nd at someone near me. I knew this race was mine.

T1: I started running and waited to take down my wetsuit, as I knew T1 was long. I drove into a run and passed a handful of racers, and someone shouted “17th”! and then tugged down my wetsuit as I approached my bike. Step, step, step, tug and it was off. I’ve struggled with blisters in prior races, so I decided to wear socks this time. Putting them on was quicker than expected. I buckled my Giro TT helmet and grabbed my Focus Izalco Chrono Max and off I ran in my socks to the mount line.

Going to work on the Bike: I jumped on and landed on my shoes held up by rubber bands, which is always a relief. I pedaled for about 30 seconds before reaching down to insert my foot into my left shoe, and a few pedal strokes later, my right. Now the race was on. I dialed the power up to 270-280W for a few minutes and reeled in quite a few ladies. Now I was getting the sense that I was towards the front of the race, as intervals between riders were lengthening.

I settled into ~250W, my goal power for an Olympic race, though the greatest average power I achieved last season was 230W, so despite my hard work this off season, I wasn’t sure how realistic that was. Soon there was open road in front of me, and a motorcycle zoomed past me, so I assumed I was in the lead. The course was two laps and the only hill requiring the small chain ring (at least for my 54-42 front chainrings), came at mile 5. While downshifting, I dropped my chain, and attempted to get it back on by shifting, which worked only after my 3rd attempt, by which time I was nearly at a complete stop. I powered out of the saddle up the hill and settled back into 250W, but just before the cone turn-around, I saw another riding coming towards me, and it dawned on me that I wasn’t in first! I laid into my pedals the next few miles, keeping between 75 and 95rpms, and caught the final rider, Hannah Grubbs, who eventually placed 2nd. I wanted to put as much time into the field as possible (as well as hit my 250W average power goal), so I kept at it. I focused on good posture—long spine, neck extended in front, rhomboids pinched and belly breathing. As far as nutrition, I drank two bottles (one water, one electrolytes and a minimal calories) and ate 3 Clif Shots—one immediately after mounting the bike, one 20k into the bike and one with 100mg caffeine right before T2.

T2: I executed a smooth flying dismount and carried my momentum well as I ran my bike into transition, which was very quiet and empty… I made sure to rack my bike in the appropriate direction (front wheel towards me) to avoid further penalty. I slipped on my Salomon S-Lab running flats (they come with speed laces!) and grabbed my Clif visor and run belt.

Run: Form over Force: I had a lead biker luckily, as the beginning of the course was convoluted and I was glad to be able to turn off my internal navigation function. In my pre-race discussion with my coach, Matt Dixon, of PurplePatch Fitness, we’d talked about how the focus should be on form and speed would follow. As I concentrated on the elements of form I’ve been working on, particularly driving off my big toe and leaning forward, thoughts of competitors on my heels couldn’t help but creep into my mind, in addition to the 2-minute penalty.

I knew there were two points where the course doubled back on itself, allowing athletes to see the gap they have on competitors behind them. The first one of these was at mile 2, and I couldn’t see anyone behind me before I turned again. I took water cups from the aid stations at each mile marker, which mostly made it onto my head, rather than in my mouth, though I did drink one half cup of drink mix. I continued to push the pace and my body was responding well, though I could tell that, despite the socks, my hot feet were still developing some impressive blisters.

When the course doubled back again at mile 3.5, I was able to tell that I’d extended my lead to nearly 1 mile, so I was pretty confident I had the win in the bag. Now it was a matter of showing myself, my coaches, and everyone else that I was not only a biker, but a runner too. The mile from mile 5 to 6 felt like an eternity but I finally reached the winding path to the finish, lined with fans. I reveled in the opportunity to high five the barriers as I went by, not sure if this was over kill or not. I was surprised how tiring this is! Each hand slap propels you in exactly the opposite direction of that in which you wish to advance, so you are effectively being pushed backwards. The tape was now within view, so I gave it my best sprint and raised my arms up overhead in celebration. It would be another 9 minutes until the next competitor crossed the line.