Back on the ferry after a spectacularly full weekend in Milwaukee, which was well worth the return visit for the city itself and, as a race venue was every bit as outstanding as I remembered. The walkability of the downtown, visibility of all components of the triathlon, excellent restaurants and breezy lake views at rest and when racing make for a most enjoyable setting for USAT Age Group National Championships.
For me, this year was enhanced by the opportunity to share the course not only with the nation’s best age group triathletes, but with a good friend and my husband and to witness the accomplishments of seasoned champions alongside relatively novice competitors. We headed straight from the ferry to check in at the Intercontinental, less than one mile from the race site at Discovery World, and made our way to packet pick-up. With biggest and middlest on an adventure with cousins in Maryland, we had only littlest to wrangle at the expo, which still proved challenging at times, but she was embraced by the crowd and USAT staff and recruited for a TriItForward PhotoBooth moment.
The weather loomed cloudy for much of the afternoon and drizzled for a bit while we had lunch, but blew over relatively quickly, and we seized a clear moment to maneuver our bikes through the busy city streets to leave in transition for the night.
Violating typical race-day-eve rules, we walked the beautiful waterside pathways and traversed an (unexpected) number of stairs as we made our way to Elephant Café for a most delicious pre-race feast. Thai curry has become my go-to dinner of choice in recent years of racing and this experience did not disappoint. We returned to the hotel to prep our bags for the morning and relax for a bit before heading to sleep.
The morning was calm and quiet, with a walk to the course and quick set up of transition. In a flip-flop from last year, I moved from the last wave to the second of the day, leaving little time between close of transition and my race start but leaving me appreciative to avoid the hurry-up-and-wait of the later waves. The water was reported to be 65 degrees and felt a bit chilly, but was balmy relative to the frigidity of previous races in my season well below the 60-degree mark. I had a hard time finding easy breath in the first few hundred meters, but finally found some clear water and a rhythm, trying to hold true to the recommended mantra of my friend, a seasoned swimmer, of “long and strong” remembering to reach and finish each stroke so as not to waste water or momentum. All seemed well until the final stretch of the race, when multiple orange sighting buoys marked the course leading up to the red swim out exit. It had been declared optional by race officials to keep them on either side and many swimmers were opting to swim right of the buoy and, from my vantage point in the water, it did seem quite a narrow channel between the stone wall and the buoy if they were to be kept to the swimmers’ right. As I continued on however, a water safety jet ski crossed my path, I noted significant increase in wake and, on breathing right, noted a massive pack of pink-capped swimmers moving in the opposite direction, very near to me. I made a hard left and ensured I was indeed keeping all buoys to my right until I was out of the water, noting my split to be about the same as last year.
T1 often proves a challenge for me with wetsuit removal and was on this day – certainly an opportunity for improvement and a skill to be practiced! Finally on the bike, it was a very different experience to only have my own and one other age group out on the course, though speedy members of the two groups immediately after mine quickly zipped by me at unbelievable speeds. Traversing what seemed hillier hills with windier winds than I remembered from 2014, I managed to primarily pass members of my own age group during the bike. The course, particularly with the opportunity to cross Hoan Bridge twice and take in majestic views of Lake Michigan, makes for a beautiful challenge. Grateful to avoid the technical difficulties of last year when my seat post fell in the final miles, I finished the bike intact at a decent pace and was off on the run within a minute of my split.
Thanks to the earlier start time and overcast conditions, the run was much cooler this year. Keeping the majority of the 6.2 miles along the lakefront, the multiple out and back loops maintaining visibility of competition and efficient use of aid stations makes for an ideal course. Going against my usual habit of all-out from the start, I attempted to maintain an even pace through the run and found myself building strength throughout, beating my split from last year and ending up with a finish time of 2:33:02, two seconds faster than 2014 and good for 50/150 in the Female 30-34 age group. I was pleased with the result and excited to cheer on my friend as she finished her third ever-Olympic distance event in fine form.
Feeling accomplished for the day, we enjoyed an indulgent brunch at Benelux Café, replenishing and refueling in preparation for the next day’s Sprint!
May our individual experiences be enhanced through sharing with family and friends in fantastic settings with fabulous food!