Mid August and Sarah and I are at the USAT Age Group National Championships (AGNC) in Omaha, Nebraska.
How did we end up here?
This past year was Sarah's first year doing triathlon. Being a swimmer, she had no problem facing that leg of the race. She also provided me with fantastic insight on how to improve my poor form. So she got a feel for riding on a road bike and put many many miles in to get her running game in good form. First triathlon of our season (local super sprint) and she places in her age group. Next thing you know, she gets the email that she qualified for Age Group Nationals and we turn it into a road trip.
My participation came through signing up for the Sprint race the follow day since Sarah would be racing in the Olympic. Being that Sarah and I had planned a few sprints (and an Olympic) for me before the Omaha race, she was all lined up to get a decent amount of experience to step up to an Olympic.
Everyone racing at the AGNC's is an absolute beast. From the youngest to oldest age group. As Sarah and I scanned through last year's times, we were quite sure we'd finish last in both our age groups. We, however, are people who tend to learn how to improve on our weaknesses very well when we're "thrown into the fire". For myself having started triathlon at the tail end of 2014 and for Sarah to have started training in the fall of 2015, we were ready for everything the AGNCs had to throw at us.
Race Day (Olympic)
I took the role of camera man and Sarah took the role of Amateur Triathlete. Her swim was as fluid as I had expected, her bike time was very close to what I had anticipated based off her training, and her run was only slowed down by the immense heat that weighed on everyone that day. She did it and I couldn't be more proud of her.
Race Day (Sprint)
Leading up to this race, I was feeling confident, having had two strong back to back sprint times back on Long Island. I was hoping the level of competition would propel me to finish sub 1:20 which would have given me a shot to not get last place in my age group.
I was feeling good on Lake Carter, waiting on the dock with many other people hungry for the start gun to fire. After the initial mob scene in the water and taking a foot to the throat, I got into a steady rhythm and powered through best as my swimming skills would let me. My first boost of confidence was that I did not come out of the swim last in my age group!
The boost in confidence may have caused me to blast out of T1 on the bike a bit to hard, but I was also going with the mentality that this is a "Sprint" and I need to turn it up. The bike ride was rather uneventful, and a pain in my left my knee began to slow me down towards the end but luckily it went away as I ran to transition to get my running shoes on. I went into T1 right behind the second to last runner in my age group.
The run was flat and the weather quite humid. I couldn't complain since yesterday's runners were running in mid 90 degree weather. In every triathlon to date, the run has always been the sport where I'm able to truly tune into myself and execute the most effective race strategy with success. Once I shook off my "bike legs", I went in with a very raw mental strategy. I fixated my attention onto the next person ahead of me and one after the other passed everyone I could. I must have been going in and out of heart zones 4 and 5 for the rest of the run implementing this strategy. I remember thinking "this is happening to me because I don't have a coach and my sense of pace has gone to crap ever since high school cross county". I also remember squashing that thought with, "I'm at the Age Group Nationals, I'm here to give it my all".
At that point, I had nothing else to lose. I saw someone from my age group run past on the return lane, when I was about 2 miles behind. He was my main target. I mean, I had every expectation to come in last place. I passed runner after runner from many older age groups trying to make up ground. Although I never ended up reaching him, I closed my gap to finish 1 minute and 10 seconds behind him and that was that. I signed up for the Age Group Nationals, Sprint race have you, and did not get last place. For a noob that was watching swim videos on YouTube about a year ago, in hopes of correcting my doggy-paddle form, and someone who would benefit tremendously from having a structured training regiment and coach, I was damn proud of myself.
While my second-to-last celebration party ensued, mostly in my own head, finishing that far down the rankings helped me reflect on what it would take to qualify for the World Championships. This race reassures my belief that mental toughness has limits most people will never even come close to. Physical limits, I've experienced; the NYC Marathon, dead lifting just a little too much, my first century ride -- but to test one's mental limits and toughness in a positive environment, there is no better place that I've found than through triathlon.