Race Recap: USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships 2018

51_3rd-2423091-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2443_000561-19363933

Three years of training, racing and a heck of a lot of hard work lead me to this race — the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Cleveland, Ohio. The opportunity to compete with the best Olympic distance triathletes in the nation. The chance to compete on a level I’ve never been on before.

Pre-Race

The magnitude of what I was about to embark on finally sunk-in during the national anthem. As I stood next to the other 159 athletes in my age group staring at the American flag, along with countless waves of athletes standing behind us, it hit me why we’re all here. We’re about to compete for the opportunity to represent that flag and the entire nation at the world championships next summer. I was surrounded by the best of the best. And further yet, I realized I wasn’t just standing amongst them on the outside looking in — I was one of them. I had earned the invite to this race just like each and every one of them did. And that was a pretty powerful thought to fill my mind with as I walked into the swim corral.

Swim

This was far and away the most gnarly swim I’ve ever tackled. For starters, let’s set the stage with location and condition. This was a 0.93 mile swim out in the great wide opens of Lake Erie. There wasn’t a breaker wall to protect us from the chop and waves. Nope. We were swimming right into the thick of it.

I was in the very first swim wave of the morning, a likely indicator that it would be one of the strongest age groups of the field. After a quick warm-up swim, we were directed to wade over and line up at the buoyed start line, between waist and chest deep water depending on your height. The music from the shoreline behind blared, the countdown began and then horn sounded. All 160 of us started swimming furiously, all at once. It was chaos. I got kicked, but also kicked others. My ankles were grabbed, but I grabbed ankles as well. I was ran into and swam over, and I did the same. None of it intentional– it’s just what happens during a mass start.

It took a good quarter-mile before the group started to space out in the water. I did my best to just focus on myself – staying calm, keeping my heart rate low and continue taking consistent, long-reaching, steady strokes. Sighting was a challenge. I’d lift my head every few strokes in search of the next buoy only to be met with a wave rolling above my sight line and straight into my face. Fortunately, I had hung with a pack of swimmers and was able to glance at those to either side during each breath, or follow the splashing directly in front of me. Outside of the sighting challenges, I didn’t mind the waves. I think they helped distract my busy brain during the long swim.

55_3rd-2423091-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2443_007062-19363937

I stepped back on the beach, noticed there were still orange caps coming in behind me, but there were also green caps in front of me, meaning the second wave was passing some of the first wave — my second indicator of just how strong the competition would be today. I unzipped my wetsuit as I ran down the long chute back to transition and started jogging my memory on where my bike was racked amongst the field of 3,000.

Bike

This was the part of the day I looked forward to the least. I knew I was under-trained on the bike. My back injury limited me to two bike rides in the last five weeks — both of which were races. If it were up to my physical therapist, I wouldn’t have ridden at all during the last month. So anyhow, I knew I was in for a grueling ride.

73_3rd-2423091-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2443_063764-19363955

The good news was I didn’t fall. I clipped-in after the mount line rather seamlessly and got to pedaling. The course followed many under-construction expressways, which were rough, bumpy and full of cracks. I’m glad I took the advice to run the tires as at slightly lower pressure in order to try an avoid a flat.

63_3rd-2423091-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2443_034944-19363945

Almost immediately I began getting passed by other riders, bike after bike. I was out of my element on this course. These riders were strong. I mean, I averaged just over 19mph throughout the course and they were blowing by me like I was standing still. My third indicator of how strong the field was. Mentally, this was a battle for me. It was hard to not get too down on myself about how much faster everyone else was on the bike. I knew I was underprepared given my recent back injury, but I was hoping I could hold my own against some riders. I finally passed two bikes in the 22nd mile on one of the steeper climbs of the course. But about a mile later, they both passed me on a downhill. I was quite happy when I reached the dismount line at mile 25 and knew the bike leg was now behind me.

Run

Finally, my favorite part of the day — the run. I just love the run. I bolted out onto the course and started cruising, focusing on the person in front of me, trying to pass them and then repeat. This is where I started getting some confidence back after a very sub-par bike performance. With my feet back on the ground, I was passing people. It was much harder to do than other races of the year — another indicator of a strong field. But I started noticing I was passing people during the run that had passed me on the bike. I was making up a little ground.

A fairly strong stomach cramp set-in after mile one, which was rather distracting. And to compound that, I really needed to pee. I felt the urge since stepping out of the water. I had tried letting it go while on the bike, and even while running the first mile, but I just couldn’t separate the physical activity I was engaged in enough to let it go (I guess I’ll need to train for that?). TMI? I’m sure this sounds weird to some, but this is what happens during a race. After mile two of the run, I noticed the familiar shape of a cement building that resembled a public parks restroom. It was right along the run course. Do I dare stop and use it? Or do I uncomfortably hold it and try to power through. At this point in the race I knew it wasn’t my day. It wasn’t my race. I was far from podium contention. I bolted into the bathroom, used the urinal and bolted back out onto the course, like I never lost a step. I probably lost 20-30 seconds doing this, but it put me into position to comfortably run my fastest for the last four miles.

67_3rd-2423091-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2443_047116-19363949

I soaked-in every step of those last four miles. Running. Smiling. Passing people. Just enjoying the experience. I opened up a pretty gap during the last mile, turning the last corner towards the finish chute with a huge smile on my face. I ran down the red carpet, past the flowers, flags and spectators thinking to myself, “I get to do this. I have my health, strength and positive mental attitude — and I get to do this. I worked hard to get here. I did it. Just enjoy this moment, man.” And what an epic moment it was.

Results

My USAT AGNC 2018 Results

Split

Split Pace

Age Rank

Overall Rank

Swim (0.93 mile)

00:34:19

104/157

1143/2892

T1

00:04:32

Bike (25 miles)

01:20:17

19.13 mi/hr

152/157

2242/2892

T2

00:02:50

Run (6.2 miles)

00:45:10

06:55/mile*

109/157

706/2892

Total

02:45:15

139/157

1450/2892

*Note about the run split: USAT appears to have averaged the recorded paces from the timing mats throughout the run course versus dividing overall time by overall distance to calculate the split pace, which would have otherwise been 07:17/mile for me.

Reflection

This race kicked my butt. The swim was the gnarliest of my career. The bike exposed what has become my greatest weakness of the three sports. And even though I had a sstrong run, there were still a lot of athletes were just flat out faster than I was that day — 705 of them to be exact.

The race also showed me how far I’ve come. I think back to the panic attack I had just 200 yards into the quarter-mile swim at Trinona in June — a panic attack that had me questioning if I’d even finish the race. And here I was two months later conquering an unforgiving great lake without pause.

Just one day earlier, while standing in line at packet pick-up, I thought to myself, “Wow, I’ve never been around such a shear number of incredibly fit athletes.” It was intimidating. Everyone just looked fast, even though they were standing still, waiting to receive their race packets. Much like during the national anthem on race morning, I realized I was one of them, earning my way there just as they did. Racing amongst and against them humbled me in a way I hadn’t yet experienced in the sport, realizing I’m far from my ceiling. Yep, while on this day this race wasn’t my race, it left me hungry for more. It was exactly the epic finale to end the season, and also the fire that will burn inside me throughout the offseason.

74_3rd-2423091-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2443_065208-19363956

Race Recap: Turtleman Triathlon 2018

Josh Finish Line

When I scaled-back my registration from Olympic to Sprint at the Minneapolis Triathlon earlier this month, I knew I’d need to call an audible within a few short weeks. I’d need to insert another race into the schedule and get longer distance experience under my belt prior to the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. The Turtleman Triathlon in Shoreview, MN would be my audible.

Pre-Race

Almost everything about this race was new to me. This would be my first time racing Turtleman. My first Olympic distance race (technically the swim is a little longer here – 1.1 mile vs 0.93 miles, and the run shorter – 5 miles vs 6.2 miles). My first time seeing this specific course. So since it as all new to me, I just focused on staying relaxed and taking it all in on race morning. I found a comfortable spot in transition (first come, first served), racked my bike and laid out my gear. I walked down to the beach and got my first look at Turtle Lake. I stretched. I maintained a balance of calm and excitement. Maybe the biggest surprise this season has been my sense of calm on race mornings. Even with all the unknowns on this specific race morning, nothing worried me. I was ready to tackle whatever came my way. And welcomed the challenge.

Swim

This was probably the best swim of my career. It’s hard to really say how it compares in regards to time and speed since this was my first Olympic distance. But in regards to how I felt, it was by far the best. Here’s what I mean. I didn’t have the slightest thought of panic — for the entire one mile swim. I didn’t question if I could do it or not — for the entire one mile swim. I didn’t stop to take breaks or catch my breath — for the entire one mile swim. My swimming struggles over the last three years have been well documented on this blog. Heck, I had a huge panic attack during the Trinona quarter-mile swim just two months ago. To conquer this one-mile swim with a sense of calm and strength is a point of immense pride.

Josh Swim Exit

Swim exit zipper struggles: proof that not all race photos are glorious and graceful.

Bike

This is where the wheels fell off. Not literally, but also not that far off. Exiting T1 was anything but graceful. The race director warned us all during the pre-race meeting that there was a hill immediately after crossing the mount line. She wasn’t kidding. I saw others in front of me struggling to mount on an incline. I clipped-in to my left pedal, pushed off and upwards, and threw my right leg over the frame towards my right pedal. But I missed the clip and my foot slipped. I couldn’t keep the bike rolling uphill with just one leg. And in slow motion, I tipped over, crashing to the ground, with one water bottle falling out and rolling backwards down the hill. Definitely not my greatest of race moments. I scraped-up my knee pretty good, took a gouge out of the skin on my ankle bone and got a few cuts on my hand. A very generous volunteer grabbed my water bottle and ran it up to me — otherwise I probably would’ve ditched it. I noticed a few athletes behind me must’ve said “F it” after seeing me fall and they ran their bikes to the top of the hill, mounting their bikes there. I did the same, ran my bike to the top, made my second mount attempt and got to rolling.

I quickly heard a fluttering sound from my front spokes. Oh great, did I break something in the fall? I pulled-over and noticed my bike computer sensors got twisted. The wheel sensor was out of alignment and the fork sensor was shifted. I made some adjustments and got back to spinning. No dice. No data on the computer screen. I rode for about a mile, struggling with a decision of if I should pullover again, or keep going without the computer. I really didn’t want to lose more time than I already had, but ultimately, I opted to pullover. The speed and mileage data were just too important to efficiency, power utilization, and most importantly — my peace of mind. I adjusted the sensors, pushed-off and started pedaling. Again, no dice. So I went the entire 25 miles without and speed or mileage data. Not ideal, but sometimes things happen. And you just have to roll with it. Luckily, there were mile-markers about every four miles along the course. Could be worse.

Josh Bike

Rolling with the punches.

Run

Finally — the run. My favorite part of the race. This was my first time running after 25 miles in the saddle. I wasn’t quite sure how my legs would respond, but I tore out of transition determined to find out. Well, that quick sprint was short-lived due to a truck and boat trailer pulling-out across the run entrance. This was definitely a first for me — a transition area open to traffic. I wasn’t the only runner mumbling a few choice words under my breath. But after a few seconds, I was back on the course and it didn’t take too much longer than usual to shake out the legs. A stomach cramp set in after the first mile and stuck with me for another two miles, which wasn’t pleasant at all. I kept thinking my calm thoughts and stayed focused on the runner in front of me, trying to pass them and then focusing on the next runner. I just kept on running and didn’t let up.

Results

My Turtleman 2018 Results

Split

Split Pace

Age Rank

Overall Rank

Swim (1.1 miles)

00:33:44

4/17

21/89

T1

00:02:28

Bike (25 miles)

01:20:17

16.10 mi/hr

13/17

53/89

T2

00:01:54

Run (5 miles)

00:36:18

07:16 min/mile

3/17

9/89

Total

02:34:39

7/17

25/89

Reflection

I did it. I finished my first Olympic-ish triathlon. It started out strong, got rough in the middle, then shifted back to positive for a strong finish. Strong enough for a top-ten run too!

That rough patch in the middle — the bike debacle — really threw me for a loop. The fall was one thing. But then to be down on equipment added insult to injury. Literally. But as I mentioned earlier, things happen. And sometimes they’re out of our control. We can’t change that it happened; we can only control our response. I chose to keep going. It was a little frustrating in the moment, but now it’s a story I can look back on and say “I did that silly thing, I got back up and finished the race.”

My back held-up fairly strong in this race too. It had only been three weeks prior that I bulged a disc bending over to light a campfire. And here I was swimming, biking and running my longest combined distance yet. You could definitely say I’m a believer in the powers of physical therapy for getting me back to health this quickly.

Now I turn my sights to the biggest race of my life to date: USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships.

Race Recap: Minneapolis Triathlon 2018

BikeOut.jpg

Sometimes we just flat-out surprise ourselves. We go into something with lowered or relaxed expectations due to circumstances outside of our control. But we still have a choice – allow those circumstances to affect our effort, or still give it our all. I chose the latter, and despite a back injury that left me feeling 70% on race morning, finished the 2018 Minneapolis Triathlon with my best sprint time at this event yet.

Pre-Race

I woke up Saturday morning feeling rather relaxed, which is kind of unusual for me on race day. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to race, but the race day stress I usually pile on my shoulders wasn’t there. I knew I was injured. I knew I wasn’t 100% and wouldn’t be able to race as hard as I usually could. But I was happy. Just happy to be healthy enough to compete. Happy to don the Team Save the Children kit and represent the amazing work they do for kiddos around the world. I knew that regardless of the outcome, it was still going to be a good day.

Laughs with Dad

Pre-race laughs and strategy talk with my dad.

Swim

The water temperature clocked-in at 79.2°F on race morning, meaning wetsuits were not permitted for the swim (78°F is the cutoff for wetsuit legal swims). This made me a little nervous given my panics of swims-past. But again, the water temp was out of my control. Just gotta roll with the punches and give it my best.

To my surprise, the swim was pretty great. All of the practices during Open Swim Club were paying off. Panicked thoughts never entered my brain, even without my wetsuit safety blanket. And even though the water was warm, it was still a welcomed cool-down after standing on the sun drenched beach for an hour before race start. It turned out to be my best swim time yet — even without a wetsuit. Progress.

SwimExit_Edited

No wetsuit; no problem.

Bike

Hopping on my bike was the part of the race I feared most. My physical therapist said I could do any activity I wanted unless is involved leaning forward. Well, that’s the only posture I’d have on a bike – leaning forward. I made it eight miles before the back pain set in and it wasn’t pleasant. It turned into a constant ache that intensified as I rolled over each crack in the road. I let my share of four-letter words fly during the last seven miles.

This was also my first race using clipless pedals and shoes. I was excited by the efficiencies this would bring, but also nervous given my lack of preparation for mounting and dismounting. I was still determining my strategy after transition closed that morning. Ultimately, I opted for no socks and wearing the shoes as I ran to the mount line to clip-in. Luckily, I mounted the bike without issue and got to pedaling. For the dismount, I unstrapped the shoes after making the final turn onto Nokomis Parkway, pulled my feet out and rode barefoot on top of the shoes until I reached the dismount line. I seamlessly hopped off the bike and ran back to my spot in transition. Success. Looks like I found my mount/dismount strategy.

Bike Into T2.jpg

The bike took its toll on my back.

Run

My favorite part of the race. The run has always been my strongsuit and that was evident on this day. I slugged a gel on the way out of T2 and cruised onto the run course. I felt like I found another gear as all of my energy poured into my feet. My run strategy was effective once again, breaking it up into smaller increments by trying to pass the person in front of me and then focusing-in on the next person. It’s not that I’m trying to beat that person, but it’s that I by doing this I’m pushing myself harder and faster. And that’s who I’m competing against – myself. I always want to put my best foot forward and be better than I was last time. Well the strategy worked. I posted a PR 5K time — and I’m not just talking 5K at the end of a triathlon PR, I’m talking a straight-up overall 5K PR, breaking my time at last fall’s TC5K which I hadn’t swam and biked before running. With sub-seven-minute miles, I posted the 13th fastest run of field that was 548 deep. Proud of that.

IMG_1531565173700

Channeling my inner-cheetah.

Results

Pleasantly surprised by these 2018 numbers. To be this competitive while only feeling 70% taught me a lesson not only in the power of pre-race relaxation, but also in mental strength and believing in myself to always be my best self.

My MPLS 2018 Results

Split

Split Pace

Age Rank

Overall Rank

Swim (0.47 miles)

00:15:23

02:03 min/100m

6/31

95/548

T1

00:02:35

9/31

75/548

Bike (14.8 miles)

00:44:04

20.16 mi/hr

11/31

150/549

T2

00:02:02

14/31

208/549

Run (3.1 miles)

00:20:58

06:46 min/mile

4/31

13/548

Total

01:25:00

5/31

45/548

And even more pleasantly surprised when comparing them back to 2017 and 2016. The only segment I didn’t improve in was T2, which makes sense to me since I had to change from bike shoes to running shoes here, whereas the previous two years I already had those running shoes on from wearing them on the bike with platform pedals.

My MPLS Tri Comparison

MPLS Tri 2016

MPLS Tri 2017

MPLS Tri 2018

Swim (0.47 miles)

00:16:05

00:15:36

00:15:23

T1

00:04:47

00:03:01

00:02:35

Bike (14.8 miles)

00:51:04

00:44:52

00:44:04

T2

00:02:39

00:00:59

00:02:02

Run (3.1 miles)

00:24:11

00:23:12

00:20:58

Total

01:38:44

01:27:38

01:25:00

PostRace with Dad.jpg

Celebrating and laughing some more with my dad.

Reflection

It was an honor to once again be a part of Team Save the Children, raising awareness and funds for the work they do around the world, including right here in the United States, to help innocent children gain access to education, health care and nutrition while fighting to save them from poverty, discrimination and violence. Even with my back injury just one week prior, I knew if there was any chance I’d still be able to race, I’d be at the start line for Save the Children. I felt an immense sense of commitment not only to the organization, but also to those who supported my personal fundraising efforts along the way. I wanted to be there to represent them and their contributions to such a worthy cause. Together, we helped make a child’s life happier, healthier and safer. Together, we made a difference. Thank you.

In regards to my race performance, what can I say. Where there’s a will there’s a way. Racing through pain pushed me in ways I hadn’t been challenged before. I got my first lesson in suffering and powering through it. The result was rewarding and confidence boosting. Another reminder that we’re capable of much more than we may think we are.

IMG_20180714_192113_393.jpg

That moment when you realize you did it, and are all smiles.

 

When Injury Strikes

This week was rough. I always knew an injury would impact my training and racing at some point; I just didn’t know when. Well, it finally happened. And there isn’t even a good story behind it. I wasn’t lifting a boulder. I wasn’t chasing a bear. Nope, nothing cool like that. On Saturday evening, just 12 hours after finishing the Lake Monster one mile swim race, I bent over to light a campfire and felt a burning pain in my lower back that immediately and drastically reduced my ability to stand up straight again.

I awoke the next morning with a stiffness in my back that wouldn’t allow me to get comfortable for the entire day. I couldn’t stand up straight. And I was twisted towards my right side. All I could think about was “how the heck was I going to be able to complete a triathlon six days from now?”

I was fortunate enough to be squeezed-in Monday morning to see a physical therapist who has a spine specialty. Chiropractic care has always made me a little nervous. I liked the idea of utilizing physical therapy first to address the inflammation and range of motion versus a quick manipulation that may or not work. I know a lot people swear by chiro, and I believe it works, this is just my personal preference to try first. My diagnosis was a bulged disc and was assigned variations of prone press ups to do every two to three hours, helping to stretch my spine and related muscles backwards.

Within the first day I noticed improvement. I was able to put socks on without feeling it was impossible. I started standing straighter and felt less twist. I went for walks in the evenings, noticing day-to-day improvements there as well, going from 20-minute miles to 17-minute miles. I was still rather uncomfortable, but was making progress.

I had a follow-up appointment on Thursday and confirmed the improvement I’d been noticing on my own. I was still nowhere near 100%, but maybe 60-70% or so. My physical therapist didn’t recommend racing this weekend, but said I also wasn’t in danger of doing irreversible damage, just delaying my return to 100%. He understood my desire to compete and honor the commitment I made through Team Save the Children. I was assigned another progression of the press ups and given the option to up the frequency to every one to two hours over the next day to see if that got me to a better spot for race day, allowing my symptoms to drive my decision. It was up to me — a decision I’d find myself putting much thought into.

So here I am, Friday the 13th, the day before the Minneapolis Triathlon. I woke up this morning feeling decent, still with some discomfort but miles ahead of where I was earlier in the week. I ran a mile last night — my first run of the week and a drastic change compared to my 30 mile weekly average — and it felt ok. I could feel discomfort during the run, but it got progressively better as I ran. I was pleasantly surprised to still feel decent in the morning knowing the run didn’t set me backwards. My mind was still set on racing my first Olympic/International distance triathlon.

I went back and forth throughout the day on what I should do. Should I look into a reduced distance? Should I even race at all? I had come to terms that I wouldn’t be 100% and I’d have to be ok with not being able to put my best performance on the course. But I also knew this was no longer my “A race” of the summer. That was now the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Cleveland, OH next month. And I want to put myself in the best position to be 100%, or as close to it as possible, for that race. So after giving it much thought, I decided to drop my registration down to the sprint distance.

I attended the pre-race meeting, picked-up my packet and walked over to the solutions tent to make the change official. It was an easy adjustment to make. I immediately felt a little bummed. I felt like I was pressing an easy button, even though I know the sprint is still going to take a toll on my back. If you didn’t already know this about me, I’m pretty damn hard on myself. There’s still a part of me that believes I could complete the long distance event. But logically, reducing the distance, and the toll that will ultimately be taken on my body, puts me in the best position for Nationals next month. It was the smart choice to make. And when I keep that big picture view in mind, it makes the decision a little easier to reflect back upon.

The best part is that I’ll still be racing tomorrow and representing Team Save the Children. Once again I’ve been humbled by the generosity shown from family and friends through my personal fundraiser. Together we raised $600 dollars that is going to make life a little better for some kiddos around the globe. Together we made a difference — thank you! It will be with great pride that I wear the Team Save the Children kit, honoring and raising awareness for the work they do to help innocent children gain access to education, health care and nutrition while fighting to save them from poverty, discrimination and violence. It’s a constant inspiration and reminder to me that there is good in the world.

So tonight I’ll continue my press ups to help keep my back stretched and flexed. I’ll gather my gear for tomorrow and check it twice. And I’ll have my usual night-before-the-race beer with dinner to unwind. Then I’ll try to get to sleep early. And I’ll sleep well knowing I made the smart choice. Tomorrow’s a big day. I have no idea how my back will respond to the activity load, but I’m more than ready to find out. I’m ready to race!

Race Recap: 2018 Lake Monster 1-2-3

“A ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are built for.”

The open water has long been a mental battlefield for me, providing wide open spaces for anxiety and doubt to creep into my brain. But today was different. I found my calm, which lead to power and strength — and a 00:33:17 finish time at the Lake Monster one mile swim race.

Hosted at Lake Nokomis (Minneapolis, MN), this was the first year of the Lake Monster 1-2-3, which offers one, two and three-mile swim distances. It would also be my first swim-only race. I opted for the one mile event as it would be perfect practice for the 0.93 mile swim I’ll be attempting next weekend, in the same lake, as part of the Life Time Tri Minneapolis Triathlon.

I felt fairly relaxed going into this race. I swam 1.4 miles on two different nights earlier in the week during the open swim nights at Lake Nokomis. If I could swim 1.4 miles, I should have no problem with one mile. The big difference would be the optional breaks I took every 600 yards after reaching shore on the back-and-forth beach-to-beach straight-line course. The Lake Monster course would be a one mile loop, obviously without stops.

I also had my new ROKA Maverick wetsuit, which fits my tall, lanky frame like a glove. It was an upgrade over my previous suit to have something that fit so well. It’s long enough in the legs and torso, and doesn’t pull my shoulders down at all. The legs have thicker neoprene than the upper body, aiding in proper body position in the water. I stuck with a sleeveless model again since a majority of my swims are in warmer water and I just enjoy the range of motion that a lack of sleeves provides.

My wave hit the water at 8:08 am. The “go” call was shouted, I ran into the water until my knees were submerged and I dove forward into my freestyle stroke. The first 200 yards or so were great. Just thinking about each stroke, moving forward and remembering to sight every few breaths to make sure I was on course for the next buoy.

But then the dreaded panic attack started setting in, about the same time it did one month earlier during the Trinona 0.25 mile swim — but this time I had another 1,600 yards left to swim instead of 300. The daunting distance stirred-up all the doubt. Then I thought about having to do it again the next weekend, allowing anxiety to run rampant. I started thinking I’m going to need to flag a lifeguard and get hauled back to shore. I was on the verge of dooming my confidence for the next race and I hadn’t even finished this one. Yeah, the panic was real.

That’s when my heart stepped onto the battlefield. I couldn’t quit. I knew I’d regret it and kick myself over and over wondering what could’ve been. I took a few deep breaths while treading water to slow my heart rate back down. I brought my calm thoughts back into my head, locked eyes on the next buoy and started swimming again. I wasn’t backing down.

The rest of the swim was all about finding a rhythm. Physically, I still felt strong and wasn’t getting too tired. I found that a long swim like this is a lot like running — sometimes it takes a mile or two to loosen-up and then you feel like you can fun forever. The swim started to feel similar — I just needed to get through those first couple-hundred yards. Once I overcame my mental barrier and realized I was methodically putting the distance behind me, I found myself in almost a meditative state of mind. I realized I didn’t need to push so hard — I could relax in my rhythym and keep knocking out the yards. I was aware of my surroundings, enveloped in the water, yet I occupied my brain with calm, positive thoughts of things I’m thankful for and that make me smile.

The water conditions were fair. A light wind created a light, wavy current, reminding me on a few straightaways that I still need to work on my alternate side breathing to avoid needing to rely on one side. That can be a problem when waves are coming at you from that same side and your mouth is wide open gasping for air. But I was still moving forward. Progress; not perfection.

A metaphorical wave of excitement rushed over me as I swam past the last buoy, with just another 50 yards or so until reaching the beach. I maintained freestyle until the sand below grazed my fingertips, stood straight up and dashed out of the water through the finish line, shouting my number to the timekeepers.

I clocked in with a finish time of 00:33:17 for my first ever one mile swim race. Overcoming the mental battle and finishing strong provided a much needed confidence boost heading into next weekend’s international distance MPLS Tri.

Two years ago, the thought of doing a half-mile swim was daunting, but I did it. This year brought the new challenge of swimming twice that distance. The idea was uncomfortable, with an ability unknown. It’s easy to retreat back into the comfortable. But we never grow when we do. We never find out what we’re capable of. Only when we step outside of that and right into the unknown do we find out what can be — that we’re stronger thatn we think. That’s what happened when I found my calm, leaving doubt and anxiety in the water and allowing power and strength to bring me to shore.

Author’s note: My ROKA Maverick comments are my personal opinion, and not a sponsored review. I’m just a guy who purchased the wetsuit and happen to really like it.

Challenge & Opportunity Ahead

JoshRunningJune

Two weeks have passed since my podium-topping age group finish at Trinona. I took two days off of training afterwards to rest and soak in the accomplishment. Then I got right back to it. New challenges and opportunities loom on the summer’s horizon.

So what’s first? Swimming. More swimming. Considering my panic attack 200 yards into the Trinona swim, I still have plenty of work to do as I gear-up for longer distance events this summer. Knocking-out more laps in the pool is one option, but I really wanted get out in the open water more. So I joined the the Minneapolis Open Water Swim Club. Being a part of this club gives me the opportunity to swim a lifeguarded course across Lake Nokomis and back three times per week, and at Cedar Lake twice per week. It’s perfect practice for the step-up in distance that I’ll be tackling this summer.

20180626_211957

A successful 0.75 mile swim across Lake Nokomis and back!

In another attempt to strengthen my swimming-related mental-toughness, I signed-up for the Lake Monster 1-2-3 swim race on Saturday, July 7 at Lake Nokomis. This event offers one, two and three mile distances — I opted for the one mile event. This will be the same distance as my first Olympic/International distance triathlon that occurs exactly one week later on the same lake. I’m a little fearful that participating in this event provides an opportunity for another panic attack that would undoubtedly carry over into the next weekend. But more so, I see this as an opportunity to face that fear head-on, come out on the other side stronger from the challenge and be even more prepared for my first attempt at a longer distance triathlon.

Speaking of that next race, I’ll be competing in the Life Time Tri Minneapolis Triathlon on Saturday, July 14 at Lake Nokomis. This will be my third time competing at this event, but it will be my very first attempt at an Olympic/International distance triathlon (0.93 mile swim, 24.5 mile bike, 6.2 mile run), which is twice the distance of a sprint tri. Doing something for the first time is always a little scary. It’s also a chance to step outside the comfort zone and find out what I’m capable of. And I’ll be full of motivation and inspiration for this event, competing as part of Team Save the Children, raising funds and awareness for the amazing work they do to protect and nurture kiddos around the globe.

Save the Children helps innocent children gain access to education, health care and nutrition while fighting to save them from poverty, discrimination and violence. I’d be honored if you joined me in my journey for positive impact. Together, we can help make a child’s life happier, healthier and safer. Together, we can be the difference. Please consider making a donation and visit my personal fundraising page today: www.savethechildren.org/minneapolistri18/joshaverbeck

And last, but not least, there’s plenty of logistical planning and training to do throughout the rest of July and into August. Last week I received my official qualification notification and invitation to the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Cleveland, Ohio. I’ll be registering for the Olympic/International distance, which is an invite-only race that I qualified for by winning my age group at Trinona (there is also a sprint distance event the following day which has open registration). The top 18 finishers in each age group at this event will earn the opportunity to represent the United States at the 2019 ITU World Championships in Switzerland. I don’t know that I’m quite on that level yet, but I’m absolutely honored and thrilled to have the opportunity to compete against some of the best triathletes in the country!

USAT Email Crop

The dividends of hard work and continuous effort.

Race Recap: Trinona 2018

TrinonaFinishJosh

Sometimes, when you’re struggling and think things are going downhill fast, you manage to persevere and find that in fact, it’s gotten much better than you could’ve imagined. While I didn’t achieve my aggressive finish time goal, I did best my 2017 time by more than two minutes and took first place in my age group with a time of 01:12:09 — my first time on the top of the podium. Better yet, that first place age group finish qualified me for the 2018 USA Triathlon National Championships in Cleveland, Ohio!

Pre-Race

This was probably the most relaxed I’ve been on race morning. I woke up at 2:30am, ate my pre-race breakfast of peanut butter toast and yogurt with fruit, went back to bed, woke-up at 5:15am, got ready, packed-up the gear and drove down to Lake Winona. It had rained most of the prior evening and was still sprinkling as I parked the truck and rode my bike to transition.

Transition was rather tight on space as it always is. I found a spot on my age groups’s rack, parked the bike and started prepping my gear for the race ahead.

I originally planned on skipping the wetsuit for the 0.25 mile swim, but then started to change my mind as I saw many other sprint distance athletes putting theirs on. The water temp was 72.5°F that morning, a few days colder than measured just a few days prior. The air temp was in the low to mid 60’s. And then I remembered how cold Lake Zumbro was the weekend before. With just a few minutes before transition closed, I quickly applied some body glide, grabbed my wetsuit and joined the pack walking down to the swim start.

The Swim

The swim started out strong. I ran into the lake and dove under the water. I had a strong stroke and started passing those in front of me. I wasn’t thinking about anything except swimming hard. I made it to the first tetrahedron, turned the corner, sighted the long straightaway ahead and kept on swimming.

Then came the panic attack I feared. I looked up to make sure I was still on course and noticed how far away the final tetrahedron was that signaled the final turn back into shore. At that moment I realized the restricted my vision felt within the goggles. I started thinking about how tight my wetsuit felt (which it really wasn’t but my brain was stretching for more reasons of doubt). I did the breast stroke, caught my breath, then put my head back in the water and restarted the freestyle. Then I starting thinking how my momentum was gone and wondered how I’d get back into rhythm. I stopped again. It was like I was floating outside of my body, watching myself tread water and telling myself, “You’re blowing it dude. That aggressive swim goal – gone. That aggressive overall race goal – likely going down the drain less than a few minutes into the race. You’re throwing away this race and all you’ve worked for.” I did my best to fight the doubt with calm thoughts. And I remembered I’m not a quitter.

Somehow I pulled it together, completed the swim and found myself back on land running towards T1. Surprisingly I still had a faster swim time than last year.

Transition One

T1 certainly wasn’t my worst ever, but it was far from my best. I had a feeling it would be a little slow given I opted to wear the wetsuit for the swim, which meant I had to wriggle my way back out of it now. I never did buy clip-in cycling shoes, so I had to sit down and tie my running shoes. I threw on my sunglasses, strapped my helmet and thought I was was ready to go. Then my bike got caught in the rack. The weight of the other bikes sagged the top bar, making it difficult to get my 60cm frame out. I had to twist it vertically in order to get the seat under and out. And with that I was running and rolling the bike towards the mount line.

The Bike

I knew this was going to be a grind. It’s the sport I train in the least. But after a rough swim and T1, I knew I needed to put my head down and pedal. I pedaled as hard as I could for 11 miles. Legs burning but still turning. Their were a couple small climbs that I really pushed myself with, but otherwise it was fairly uneventful.

Transition Two

Remember when I said in my last post that it would be hard to beat my 00:00:57 T2 from 2017 and the pressure would be on to just maintain that? Well I was wrong. I bested it by nine seconds, clocking a time of 00:00:48. Not needing to change bike shoes for running shoes has a lot to do with that speed.

The Run

My favorite part of the entire race if the final run. It’s my strong suit. Within the first few paces on the pavement, I felt a dull, aching pain in the bottom of my left foot (I later realized I must’ve cut it on a rock while running into the lake at the swim start). I jumbled with resetting my watch and failed to notice any mile markers. I had no clue how fast I was or wasn’t running. So I just ran. I set my sights on the person in front of me and tried to pass them. Then I looked at the next person and tried to pass them. That trend continued. The pain in left foot numbed after awhile. I hit the halfway turnaround point, flipped my hat backwards let and made sure the pedal was to the floor for the remainder of the run. I rounded the corner off the paved path and onto the back half of Lake Park Drive with a big smile on my face. The finish chute was in sight. I heard the cheers from friends and family. I crossed the finish line of my fourth Ttinona. And at 00:22:13 (07:10/mile) it was the ninth fastest run time of the race!

My Trinona 2018 Results

Split

Split Pace

Age Group Rank

Overall Rank

Swim (0.25 miles)

00:08:05

02:01 min/100m

3/14

43/260

T1

00:03:13

10/14

158/260

Bike (11miles)

00:37:52

17.44 mi/hr

5/14

73/260

T2

00:00:48

1/14

6/260

Run (3.1 miles)

00:22:13

07:10 min/mi

2/14

9/260

Total

01:12:09

1/14

34/260

Reflection

In 2017, when I realized I missed the podium by just 16 seconds, it really lit a fire within me. I was so close to the podium. That was when it really sunk in that maybe I was on to something here. Triathlon was becoming more than a hobby. I was getting good at it and still tapping into potential. I wanted that podium.

I’d hoped 2018 would be my best Trinona performance yet — it certainly was that and then some. Sure, I missed my aggressive finish time goal of 01:09:00 by a little more than three minutes, but I still got a course PR with 01:12:09 and bested my 2017 time by two minutes and ten seconds. This was my first time on top of the podium with a first place age group finish. And qualifying for a spot at the 2018 USA Triathlon National Championships was icing on the cake. I think the achievement of it all is still sinking in.

My Trinona Time Comparison

Trinona 2014

Trinona 2016

Trinona 2017

Trinona 2018

Swim (0.25 miles)

00:11:29

00:09:27

00:08:19

00:08:05

T1

00:04:44

00:04:07

00:02:35

00:03:13

Bike (11miles)

00:45:35

00:43:40

00:38:50

00:37:52

T2

00:01:21

00:01:07

00:00:57

00:00:48

Run (3.1 miles)

00:27:01

00:27:54

00:23:39

00:22:13

Total

01:30:25

01:26:13

01:14:19

01:12:09

Reflecting back on the race, two moments really stand out. This first was the panic attack in water within the first 200 yards. The out of body vision, watching myself stand still, telling myself I was throwing away everything I had worked hard for. I had a choice — either get stuck in the doubting mindset, or dig deep and power through the fear. I chose the latter and made it to the swim exit and back onto land. The other was crossing the mount line and saddling-in to my bike. At this moment I knew I had a rough swim and a very slow T1. At this moment I knew those two things were in the past. I couldn’t change them. But I could put my head down and channel everything I had into my legs and leave absolutely everything out on the bike and run course. I could’ve let up or given up after what I thought was a race-breaking swim and T1. But I didn’t. I battled back and came out on top of the podium. Yeah, I’m pretty damn proud of that.

Podium Crop_3

Picking up the Pace

IMG_20180530_201200_019.jpg

The last 20 days have been much more productive than the previous 50, which is a huge plus considering Trinona is tomorrow. Yep, my first triathlon of the season is less than 12 hours away. And unlike 20 days ago, I’m feeling ready.

The Last 20 Days

OpenWaterSwim

The biggest news here is that I actually got back in the pool — something I hadn’t done in the 50 days prior. I knocked-out a few quality lap sessions at the gym and even worked-in an open water swim last weekend. I’m unsure of the water temp during that open water session, but the air temp was only 63°F, so that’s enough proof for me to reinforce how cold the Lake Zumbro water felt. My heart rate was spiked and my lungs were working extra — it was the solid kick in the butt that I needed one week before Trinona.

IMG_20180526_125726_752.jpg

Cycling took a backseat with the new focus on swimming and continued focus on running, but it didn’t go without a few strong rides. The highlight was a 29.3 mile ride around Lake Minnetonka and the surrounding area with two friends who are much stronger cyclists than I. They pushed me harder than I would’ve rode on my own. Again, exactly what I needed heading into tri season.

20180606_182234

The biggest change in running was the time of day I did it. I traded pounding the pavement under the afternoon sun for a 4:20am alarm to run under the fading moonlight, which opened-up time for cycling or swimming after work. The running highlight came just a few days ago, running 5.4 miles at a 07:05/mile pace during a rare afternoon run. That gave me a confidence boost for what I hope is a strong run tomorrow.

Trinona Preview

I’m hoping to make this my strongest Trinona performance yet. My times have gotten progressively better in each my previous three finishes at this event, including just missing the podium in my age group by 16 seconds last year. That’s left me hungry and wanting more for 2018.

While I had some gaps in my training over the last two months, I kept a fairly steady focus throughout the winter and wrapped-up the last 20 days on some high notes. Usually I’m a little nervous heading into a race, but for this one, I’m quite relaxed and more so just excited to compete. The fact that I’m not nervous started to make me nervous though. The nerves and fear push me harder, wanting to prove to myself that I can push through and overcome.

So to add that element of “can I do this?” back into the equation, I’m setting a more aggressive goal — to finish within 01:09:00. That’s more than four minutes faster than last year. It may not sound like much because last year I shaved almost 12 minutes off from 2016, but there was a big difference between training in those two years and even a new bike that helped shave a big chunk of time. Comparing 2017 to 2018, I’ll have the same equipment and not as drastic of a training increase.

My Trinona Time Comparison

Trinona 2014

Trinona 2016

Trinona 2017

Swim (0.25 miles)

00:11:29

00:09:27

00:08:19

T1

00:04:44

00:04:07

00:02:35

Bike (11 miles)

00:45:35

00:43:40

00:38:50

T2

00:01:21

00:01:07

00:00:57

Run (3.1 miles)

00:27:17

00:27:54

00:23:39

Total

01:30:25

01:26:13

01:14:19

The aggressive goal is putting some doubt back into my head. How can I shave off that much time? Well, let’s start with the run. I think I’m much faster at this point in the year than I was last year. If I can run close to seven-minute miles, I should be able to shave a minute and a half. Ok, I’m almost halfway there.

Transitions. T2 was awesome last year and hard to get much faster. So the pressure is on to keep that speed. T1 could use some improvement. I’d love to pull that under two minutes, which would save me another 30 seconds. I’ll need to really focus and not stumble after the swim while I gear-up for the bike ride.

I’ve gradually become a better swimmer each year and am feeling as comfortable as I ever have in the water. I’m guessing I’ll still have some level of a panic attack in the water, but I’m working hard to think those calm thoughts and stay focused. I’d love to clock a 07:30 swim time, which would shave almost another minute.

And then there’s the bike leg. That’s where there’s the most opportunity to pick-up speed. However, it’s the sport I’ve spent the least time training in. In order to get faster here I’m just going to have push hard. Plain and simple. That worries me a bit as I don’t want to burn up the legs too much before the run. But if I want to achieve this new goal, I need to be aggressive.

Really, overall, I need to push harder than ever before if I’m going to hit the 01:09:00 goal. That’s the beauty and fun of the sprint distance though – going all out from start to finish. I think this is an aggressive goal. But what’s the fun in achieving a goal if it’s too easy? Just setting this goal has pushed me back outside of my comfort zone. And I like that feeling. I’m back in the unknown, which is the perfect place to prove I’m capable of more than I’ve imagined.

So with all of this said. I think I’m ready. I’ve trained. I’ve picked-up my packet. Applied my stickers. Double-checked my gear. All that’s left is to relax, get some rest and wake-up tomorrow ready to give it all I’ve got.

20180609_204911.jpg

Race Recap: 2018 River to Ridge

20180519_103554

The first foot race of the season is under my belt. On May 19, I ran the River to Ridge five-mile race in LaCrosse, WI — finishing with a time of 00:37:46, which was good for third place in my age group (3/24) and fourth place overall (4/143).

The five-mile race starts on the banks of the Mississippi River, winds through swampy river bottoms and finishes with a 600+ ft climb up the bluffs to the top of Hixon Forest. Surfaces range from pavement and gravel to sandy spots and singletrack dirt trails, scattered with rocks and tree roots. Eyes and feet needed to move in synchronized fashion to avoid trips and falls.

I started the race near the front of the pack with the goal of having room to run. Within the first mile, separation of the leaders from the rest of the runners became quickly visible. I was hanging on at the back of the lead pack, somewhere in the top-ten. As each mile passed, I found myself gaining just a little more ground, not realizing how close I was to the front.

Somewhere about halfway through the third mile, the 600+ foot climb up the bluff began. This is where room to run faded for steep and narrow singletrack trails. It’s also where my quads began to feel the burn. But I kept plugging away, maintaining a steady pace — albeit a much slower pace than the sub-sevens I ran during the first three miles. I’d catch-up to a runner in front of me and battle the decision of “should I follow their heals and catch my breath, or should I squeeze past at the first glimpse of a wider section of trail?” I balanced somewhere in-between the two options, not realizing just how close I was to the front of the pack. I savored a few seconds to rest at a slightly easier pace, but then passed when the opportunity of a wider section of trail presented itself.

When I crossed the finish line, I felt like I still had a little in the tank. Not much, but some. That 600+ foot climb kicked my butt. I was amazed to find out I finished fourth overall. A true delight to finish so close to the front.

I’ve since wondered if I could’ve finished higher, especially knowing I was only five seconds behind third place and 14 seconds behind second place. What if I had been more aggressive on the climb? The what ifs are no game to play. Hindsight is 20-20. I ran my race, and I ran it hard. I never expected to finish as high as I did. It was a pleasant surprise and a proud accomplishment.

This was my second time competing in River to Ridge. The first in 2015, finishing with a time of 00:48:08. I skipped participation in 2016, making a morning-of decision due to cold, rainy conditions and I feared risking an injury just weeks before my first triathlon of the season. And then this year I finished in 00:37:46. Pretty wild to look back and see that I shaved almost 11 minutes off of my 2015 time. That’s more than two minutes per mile. Progress I’m oh so proud of.

The icing on the cake was getting to race this event with some great friends — friends that’ll also be racing the Trinona triathlon next weekend. I’m really looking forward to another weekend of laughter, banter and celebration with these guys. Cheers to that!

20180519_102633(1)

Training Update: April and May

20180512_081827

I’ve crafted my blog on milestones and accomplishments, many accompanied by quotes that motivated me during those achievements. It’s easy to talk about things when they’re going well, but not so much when they’re not.

April and May have been rough training months for me. And when I say “training” I mostly mean the lack thereof. I should give myself some credit — I’ve done some things really well. But I’ve also let some things slack.

When I first started reflecting on it, I thought maybe I’d just pass on writing about what did or didn’t happen. I felt like a hypocrite thinking about some of those quotes and how I wasn’t currently applying them to my training efforts. I thought about how this image of myself that I had in my head may not be so accurate. Like I said, it’s a little easier when things are going well.

Then I realized that sometimes the best way to move forward is to be honest with the past, learn from it and then forge ahead. So here it is. My last two months.

Swimming: Ugh. This one is hard to admit. Ok, rip the band-aid off — I haven’t jumped in the pool since March 26. Not even once. No swimming whatsoever. Whew, ok it’s out there now. My goals for this year have been centered around building endurance and tackling longer distances. Swimming is a big part of that. It’s no longer my weakest triathlon leg, but that’s because I’ve worked hard to get better. Up through March, I’d been working on my kick and learning to alternate side breathe, and it was paying off. I was getting more comfortable. I was swimming more yards per session and I felt faster. Then I totally dropped off in April. I don’t know what happened. I really don’t. And I feel pretty guilty about it. I’ve got some serious work to do in the next few weeks, especially since my first triathlon of the year, Trinona, is on June 10. Yikes. I know I’ll be fine, but I want to be fast. I better get to work. Like now.

Cycling: Meh. I’ve done some cycling. But not nearly as much as I should be doing. I’d gotten in a decent routine of attending cyclefit classes on a weekly basis towards the end of winter. And I’ve had my bike out on the road a few times now that the snow finally left for good in mid-April. But I know just a few rides just aren’t enough. Cycling was my weakest leg by far last year. Probably because I practiced it the least. Again, I need to put in more effort here. The good news is at Trinona, I’m doing the sprint distance, so it’s an 11-mile ride. But again, I want to be faster. I need to log some solid rides soon because June 10 is right around the corner.

20180506_080247

Need to spend much more time behind these bars!

Running: Finally, I can share some good news. Running is the one thing I’ve been doing well lately. I’ve ran 110 miles in the last 50 days. I’ve averaged 5.5 miles per run, with a max distance of 8.2 miles. That eight miler happened this past week and I was pretty proud of it because I averaged a sub-eight pace — 07:49 per mile! I’ve ran a few 3 milers and averaged sub-sevens. I’m a lot faster at this point in the season than I was last year, which has me very optimistic for Trinona. The run has always been my strongest leg. And now that I’m used to running longer distances, I’m hoping to let it all loose on the sprint distance 3.1 mile run and have a really strong finish.

20180516_193252

The evening of eight-plus miles at a sub-eight pace.

Whew. Ok. That was my last month and a half. There’s a few things to be proud of, and a few more things that are opportunities for improvement. Opportunities to work a little harder. I keep thinking back to a quote I posted in a recent blog: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” That one is really sticking with me. If I want to achieve what I want to achieve, I’ve got to work a lot harder. Talent can only take me so far.

So, Trinona is only 20 days away. That’s 20 days to work harder. The last 50 days are in the past. I can’t change them. But the next 20 days, well, those are the days I still have control over. I choose the outcome. And you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to use each day to get better — one day at a time.

Fundraising Update: I’m just $150 shy of my $500 Team Save the Children fundraising goal as part of the Minneapolis Triathlon in July. The work that Save the Children does to protect and nurture kiddos around the globe is a constant inspiration and reminder that there is good in the world. They’re helping innocent children gain access to education, health care and nutrition while fighting to save them from poverty, discrimination and violence.

I’d be honored if you joined me in my journey for positive impact. Together, we can help make a child’s life happier, healthier and safer. Together, we can be the difference. Please consider making a donation and visit my personal fundraising page today: www.savethechildren.org/minneapolistri18/joshaverbeck