Competing against the nation’s finest

October 28th, 2010

Outside the Serotta fit studio in Saratogo Springs, New York where I first saw my new bike.

I am sure that throughout my triathlon career, I will have many races that would be considered the most important race of my life. So far, the first one of these races, that would basically determine the next two years of my life in the Army and in this great sport, had me racing against the nation’s finest.

Down south, where football is almost a religion and ground corn and butter is a morning meal, The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa held this year’s Elite/U23 Triathlon National Championships, in addition to the Age Group National Championship.

Time out to see "American Idiot" on Broadway.

If I had one word to describe my first Elite Championship, I would have to say: hot and humid.  Yeah, I know that is two words, so let’s call it “hotmid.” And usually the heat does not affect me, let’s face it, I have been living in Texas for the last eight months and the temperatures in Tuscaloosa would be considered cool.  Nevertheless, it was not just the beautiful southern women that tested my total focus on race day.

Even before the race, I didn’t have the best of luck with an injury that had plagued me since April and a cold that I seemed to keep under control but could not totally get rid of.  Although I had these issues, I seemed to at least forget about them and focus on what needed to be done leading up to the big day.

To add to that excitement and my stress level when that day came, was that my helmet was nowhere to be found.  I figured it must have fallen out of my back pack while I was exiting the hotel.  That wouldn’t have been so bad, but I happened to notice it only after I had driven to the race site 15 minutes away and about to go down to warm up and put my bike into transition.  My first reaction was to panic but I did the only thing that I could do at the time with only 45 mins before the race start, and that was to stay as calm as I could and efficiently and timely as possible drive back to the hotel and hopefully find  my helmet laying in the hotel hallway.  I did just that, found my helmet, and arrived in enough time to put my bike in transition, as I was the last to do so, and get in a quick swim warm up before the race start.

My swim started off better than expected, but with really only two swim packs, a faster one and a slower one, I eventually found myself in between fending for myself.   After exiting the water, it was just me and two other athletes who were going to have to work together and hopefully make up as much ground before the lead bike pack could start working together and picking up speed.

The Alabama pool is always. A lot of history and great people like Aquatics Director Eddie Reed made room for my coach Lou Tharp and I to practice.

Well, for many different reasons, we could not seem to get into a rhythm but soon enough a bike pack of three other athletes came up behind us and I just feel into their pack.  Unlike me, it was even difficult for me to hold on, and eventually I was about two-hundred meters behind them after a lap and a half.  Luckily, another two-man group caught me, but this time I wasn’t going to lose them, even if it killed me, since there was no other group anywhere close behind them and the first bike pack was gaining a lot of time on us.  And just like my race in Kelowna, Canada, this was also an ITU race so if a biker is lapped by the lead bike pack, you are pulled from the race.  This time I managed to hang on and eventually we caught the first group that I had tried to stay with in the beginning.

Going back to the heat aspect, it was so hot that my water had run out on 4th lap of the bike and I was already starting to feel dehydrated.  After the race many other athletes told me that happened to them, too.

From then on, our bike pack did manage to keep from getting lapped but that took a lot to do and as soon as I got onto the run, my back was tight and my body did not respond.  I knew it was just a battle of exhaustion and so I just kept focusing on reaching objects every 100 meters ahead until I could reach the finish.  I grabbed water and ice at every aid station, and as much as I could, so much that I made the volunteers laugh.  At least my misery made other people happy — it is the least I can do.  My run ended up being the slowest 10k I have ever run in my life, although I felt better when everyone else’s time showed similar results.

After I painfully finished, I hydrated and waited patiently to find out how I had placed in the U23 results.  During the awards they only announced the top three overall and I wasn’t one of them.  I needed to be 4th in order to qualify for the World Class Athlete Program, so you can imagine how my coaches, parents, and I felt.  My parents had driven from Georgia to see and support me, since it was close and we had not seen each other since the 2009 Duathlon World Championships last September.  This race was also the first time they have seen me race in an elite field and hopefully, they had not come for nothing.  We continued to wait until the officials could print out the unofficial results and post them for everyone to see. When the results were posted, immediately we scan for my name under the U23 results.  When I found my name, I was filled with an abundance of joy to see my name and the number four beside it.

Both my coaches and parents congratulated me, but we knew we could not just yet open the Champaign bottles.  I needed official results from USA triathlon to verify and know one-hundred percent my actual placement.   Fortunately a week later I had in my possession the proof that I needed, and I was indeed 4th in the U23 Elite field.  With that I have completed and sent in my WCAP application and I am currently waiting to hear if I will soon be a full time athlete for the Army.

Not that I need to say how thankful I am, but I know it never gets old, in that I want to thank all my sponsors for all of their support leading up to this race, because I could no way travel, train, and have the necessary tools to compete at such a high level without them — Total Immersion Swimming, Philadelphia Insurance Companies, Serotta, Sable Water Optics and Jack and Adam’s Bicycles.