I traveled up to the cool little town of Burlington, VT, for Age Group National Championship (Olympic distance triathlon) this past weekend. The famous home of Ben & Jerry’s! I definitely made a pit stop there after the race for some recovery ice cream!
Race morning I woke up to a BG of 56. That seemed great as most of the times on race morning I get fairly insulin resistant because of the stress/nerves. I made my way from my hotel over to my friend’s hotel and we traveled down to the TA at that point to get our gear set up next to our bikes. I tested again in the TA at about 6:45 and was 88…surprising since again, I thought my nerves would have me shooting up closer to 180 or 200 by that point. My insulin was working really well apparently. So I ate a gel and had some honey stinger chews (kind of like clif shots or gu chomps).
I tested again just before leaving the TA around 7:30 and I was 62. Ugh. I hadn’t planned to have to try to eat more food just so I could start the race! My wave didn’t hit the water until just before 8:30, so I had about an hour to get things right. I took some more gel and some Gatorade. At 7:55 I was up to 123 (good sign to be on the rise!) and then at 8:15 I was still 125 (so I had “settled” at that number more or less). I had one more slower acting gel that I wanted to “hit” me in the middle of the swim, so I finished getting my wet suit on and waited until I was minutes away from getting in the water before taking that one. From that point forward I had faith that my nutrition plan for the race would carry me well enough...I just needed my number to be stable or on the rise and above 100 before hitting the water.
The swim was an “in water” start, so we all got to jump in and had a few minutes to warm up before we had to line up behind the buoy/dock line. They gave us a 30-second warning and a 10-second warning, and then BOOM, we were off! I had positioned myself in the middle (from left to right) and towards the back of the group, which was 4 or 5 guys deep. The gun went off, and I must say that this swim was the most aggressive swim I’ve ever been in! I didn’t have my goggles knocked off, but I was kicked in the chest and had to fight for a spot in between some other guys as our arms tried to occupy the same water. This wasn't my wave, but all of the swim starts looked like this (definitely aggressive...):
Rounded the first buoy and made my way down the straightaway to the far buoy pretty quickly. Turned the far corner and got a little confused trying to find the next buoy. Everyone was fanning out and I wasn’t really sure whether to stay “straight” or veer one way or the other. Finally sighted a buoy off to the right a pretty far distance (the far “end” of the course was supposed to be a rectangular shape, but in the water it seemed more like a really large angled trapezoid and there was no really clear direction as we were all looking towards the shore back into the sun as well). Made my way toward the buoy and rounded the last two left hand turns, heading up and out of the final swim ramp. 27:17 swim time (not my best Oly swim time, but about what I expected). Felt great coming out of the water.
Stripped the wet suit, threw on my sunglasses and helmet, and hit the ground running w/ my bike. The bike exit was quite a long chute but my bike was thankfully really close to that end of the TA so it wasn’t long before I was crossing the mount line and jumping on my bike. I pedaled up to speed and slipped my feet into my shoes just before the first turn and was ready to hit it hard! The bike course was very similar to Oklahoma road topography and conditions. There were not really any major hills and most of the rollers could be powered over easily enough. I focused on keeping my cadence high (saving my legs for the run) and tried to push hard to keep my speed up. Here’s a pic of me mid-course:
The prevailing south wind really helped on the return trip back into town and made for some fast mph in the straightaways! In the last half mile before the TA, I pulled my feet out of my shoes and in my mind I ran through the items I needed in the TA before hitting the run. There was a lot of other athlete traffic as I neared the transition and as I jumped off the bike at the dismount line and hit the ground running. For it being a national event, I was surprised at the lack of clearing of gravel that the race directors had done between the dismount line and the entrance to the TA. Not a big deal, but definitely not what I expected at Nationals. I looked down at my bike computer as I ran down the racks to get back to my spot…1:04:03! Nice! I had hoped to get closer to breaking one hour, but an average of over 23 mph was still a solid showing!
I threw on my running shoes and my race belt, grabbed my visor and my gel I had laid out and I was off! Exiting the TA the run course immediately climbed a 3/8 mi hill of maybe 10-12% grade, and then once on top, it flattened out and was nearly all flat or a slight loss of elevation all the way back down to the finish line over the next 5 ½ miles. I paced myself up the hill (or thought I did) so as not to “blow up”, and once on top, I was ready to kick it into high gear and put some rubber on the pavement! Except that my stomach did not have the same game plan.
I’ve always had a relatively “iron” stomach when it comes to the type of nutrition I use in training and racing. This was not the case on race day though. I immediately had a very large cramping/uncomfortable feeling from my stomach and the only thing that resolved it was decreasing my pace. I ran that way for a few minutes and then tried to push again…only to start dry heaving and eventually throwing up. I’d never had that happen to me in a race. I tried to keep moving along the edge of the course while I was gagging and watching other racers with the 25-29 ages written on their calves running by. I could see my overall place slipping significantly in a rather short time. I tried and tried to push myself but finally found a “comfortable” pace that my stomach could “stomach”, but that ended up only being around 8:30 pace. Not the type of showing I was expecting by any means.
After what seemed like forever, I came across the finish line, and was finally able to stop moving and give my stomach a chance to settle. I was pretty disappointed with my performance when looking at my placing in the age group, but it was slightly bitter sweet I guess because I managed to get a new PR (personal record) of 2:26:32. My race nutrition plan was the same one I had used at prior Olympic-distance races and in training with great success, so I really don’t know what backfired on this particular race day, but it definitely left me reevaluating my strategy for the future. I finished the race with a BG of 136 and about a half-hour later I was 146, so it was all-in-all a good management of my BGs despite the stomach issues.
Nationals will be in Burlington again next year (it’s usually a 2-year venue cycle) so if you have the opportunity to qualify for the race, it’s a great place that’s worth the visit!
I still have one tri left this season but my focus will now be turning towards a few more late-season road races and crits as well as the upcoming cyclocross season! Can’t wait to start pushing myself with some hard bike intervals as the leaves start turning and fall sets in!