So, what happened last year?

It happened again. My desire to blog fell off around mid-season in 2019, a tad earlier than it did in 2018 – when it started to feel more like work than fun. Last year I made an attempt to write shorter posts. That lasted for two races and then the writing quickly faded. Maybe that’s common amongst casual bloggers – I don’t know (insert emoji with both hands in the air here). Well, fast forward to today – I’ve had a little extra free time given COVID-19 stay at home and social distancing. So I thought I’d recap the remainder of 2019 into one post.

Chisago Lakes Triathlon (Sprint Distance)

I had never done this race before, but I was really intrigued by the distance configuration and it was a USA Triathlon sanctioned event. It had sprint and half-iron options. The sprint bike was 22 miles instead of the standard 12 – so it was a bit of a mashup between a sprint and olympic distance. The sprint would be a great tune-up distance before nationals in August.

The competition-level was high, yet the overall vibe of the event remained local and chill. I think there were a lot of participants in the half-iron distance utilizing this event as prep for a fall Ironman such as Wisconsin. Not a lot of specific commentary from me on my personal performance. I finished 9/21 in my age group and 28/253 overall. I just had a good time. And had even more fun at the post-event celebration at Uncommon Loon Brewing. I think half the reason I like endurance sports are celebrating with a beer or three afterwards and not feeling guilty about it!

That’s the “I know I’m about about to get a beer soon” smile.

USA Triathlon Age-Group Nationals (Olympic Distance)

I skipped this one. It’s funny – after going to nationals for the first time in 2018, I couldn’t wait to compete for a chance to go back and see if I could do better. I qualified again in 2019 through my finish at Trinona – the USAT Triathlon State Championship race in Minnesota. I punched my ticket and registered for the main event. But when it came time to start packing and hit the road, my heart was in another place. I already knew I could complete the Cleveland, OH course – the same one as the year before. I had done nothing different in my training to notably improve my performance. It was like I already knew a middle of the pack finish was in the making, and with a road trip to the great Southwest on the horizon at the end of the month, it became harder to justify the travel expense. My heart just wasn’t in it. It felt like if I went to nationals, I wouldn’t be doing it for me – but to just say that I went. It didn’t feel right.

So I spent that five days of planned time off camping on Minnesota’s North Shore instead. Trading in the stress and anxiety that sometimes comes with racing for week of peace and nature turned out to be one of the best decisions I’d made in a long time.

Time stops in places like these. The only moment that matters is the one you’re in. 

Ragnar Relay – Road Minnesota

This one surprised me. Like really surprised me.

I had long been intrigued by running ragnar someday. But the logistics and team recruiting kind of overwhelmed me. This year, I got invited to join an existing team. All of that coordination would be taken care of. All I had to do was show up and run my assigned legs. Obviously I said yes.

I totally underestimated the experience I was about to have. I knew I’d have a good time. I’d make knew friends (I barely knew one person on the team, and was brand new to everyone else). I just thought I’d run my 20-ish miles and it would be some good training. You see, I’ve been used to the solo and self-sufficiency aspects of triathlon and running. This whole team thing was going to be different for me.

What surprised me was the sense of accomplishment after finishing, and it grew in the days after the event. Our team of 12 dudes ran the 200+ miles in just under 28 hours, finishing 16th our of 390 teams. We ran non-stop, making sure the next runner was at the next transition early for the handoff. Everyone ran their hearts out. And in the downtime waiting for our next turn, we joked, laughed, shared stories and encouraged each other. I slept on the pavement of a parking lot. The atmosphere was wild in the early morning hours (something we called “the witching hour”) as all teams were tired and exhausted, yet still going – like half-human and half-zombie. And the finish line was electric as teams waited for their final runner and joined, running through the finish arch together. I made 11 new friends. Gained countless stories that we still joke about today. It was an epic adventure and honestly just something you have to experience to understand why people are so proud of those stickers on the back of their vehicles. I can’t wait to do it again.

12 dudes. 200+ miles. One epic adventure. 

Maple Grove Triathlon (Olympic Distance)

Feeling a re-energized again, I was excited about the Maple Grove Tri. It’s a well-organized and locally owned event, USAT sanctioned and happened to be the 2019 USAT North Central Regional Championship race. I knew the competition would be high, but it would give me a chance for qualify for nationals again in 2020, which is returning to Milwaukee, WI. I was ready to make my last triathlon of 2019 a good one.

The swim went great. Man, it sure felt great to finally kick those panic attacks this year. The bike leg kicked my butt, as always. The course was open to car traffic and mostly on exposed roads near open fields or new house developments. Once we got a few miles out of transition, three younger athletes, who I can only assume to be friends, grouped together and appeared to draft off each other to push forward, which is more than frowned upon. So, you’re darn right I made it my mission to pass all of them – solely on my own power. We traded spots a few times, and I don’t remember if I ultimately passed them all, but the competition pushed me to go harder and kept me motivated throughout the ride. I battled through stomach cramps throughout the 6.2 mile run. To occupy my mind, I thought about my late dog Mitch, who was always so stoic. That memory of him never grimacing pushed me to keep pushing – and imagining him running along side me. Gosh, I miss that dog. Overall finish time was 02:26:43, good enough for 10/28 in my age group and a qualifying spot at nationals again in 2020.

Twin Cities Marathon

The grand finale. This would be my last race of the year and I wanted so badly to beat my time from 2018 (03:32:38). In fact, I really wanted to go sub-03:30:00. However, I didn’t really train any differently than the year before. I maybe even trained a little less, hoping to avoid he same knee injury I wound up last year, attempting to ramp up for a marathon in a month and a half’s time after the triathlon season ended. I was basing this off of pure desire.

I started out way to hard. Last year I used a $10 Timex and did the pace and total math in my head at each mile marker. This was my first year with a GPS watch. About a half-mile in, I looked at my watch and noticed a 09:30/mile pace, which certainly wasn’t going to get me to my goal. It felt like I was moving fast, but the watch said otherwise – so I ran faster. Then I made it to the first mile marker, looked at my watch and it hadn’t made it to seven minutes total yet. The tall buildings downtown may have interfered. I had just ran a sub-seven first mile. If I kept that up, that was a guarantee to blow up early. In the second mile, I randomly connected with a friend from the Ragnar team. He thought his watch was off too. We ran alongside each other, same pace, and our watches were more than a minute off of each other. Something was up with GPS in the beginning.

I eventually settled into a comfortable pace in the mid sevens. I knew it might be a little fast for the long haul, but it felt good. Like really good. Maybe I was going to blow my goal out of the water. Well, that all eventually caught up with me around mile 17. My hips started to hurt. The bottoms of my feet started to hurt in ways they haven’t before. The speed had caught up with me. But I had gained so much ground, I could afford to slow down and still be on track.

Well, once I reached the first big hill around mile 20-ish, I decided to take a walk break. I had never done that before – walked in a race. That’s not meant to sound cocky. I just hadn’t done that before, so I had no idea what it would feel like to walk and then try to run again. Boy was that a kick in the shorts. It was like my legs didn’t want to do what my brain was telling them to. It was like that feeling you get in dreams where you’re trying to run from something but your feet don’t move. Multiple walking breaks ensued after. I couldn’t keep the momentum. The wheels had fallen off.

It was an odd feeling still being out on the course while my goal time ticked bye on my watch. In that moment I asked myself, why keep going. And the fact that I asked myself that was enough to keep me going. Not everything is going to go my way. I couldn’t control the moment any longer, just how I responded to it. I still finished with a great time of 03:37:52. I was probably prouder of this finish than the year before, because I didn’t give up, even after the goal was no longer achievable.

When the wheels fall off, smile anyways. We’re stronger than we think. 

Season Wrap-Up

So what were my takeaways from 2019?

  • You can’t do the same thing and expect different results.
  • Sometimes motivations change, and that’s ok. Follow your heart. It knows the way.
  • Regardless of finish time, just be thankful to be out and participating. Never lose sight of the fun.

Some of these learnings drove decisions for the 2020 season, which as we all know now, has a completely different landscape.

Race Recap: USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships 2018

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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