With the Olympic event in the books, we had an afternoon and evening to enjoy Milwaukee, walking along the riverfront, mingling with locals, allowing littlest to play with puppies in the park and lounging again in our hotel lobby. My husband and I walked our bikes back to transition, this time with many fewer racks occupied. Coming full circle from the day prior, my husband would lead off the day with my start two hours later, in the penultimate wave. Thankfully we had two good friends with us for the weekend to look after littlest, allowing us to focus our full attention on the event.
Though the sky was full of clouds, the rain held and we enjoyed ideal conditions for the race. Rarely the spectator, I was surprised to find myself quite anxious watching my husband race, enhanced as it sunk in that this was his first triathlon in 5 years, now taking place on a national stage. Notably nervous for the swim, he struggled but survived and emerged not last out of the water for his age group, which was his goal. He held strong through the bike and fought against cramps on the run to cross the finish line, completing a national championship event. I was so proud of his effort and grateful that the staggered timing allowed me to watch, document and celebrate his achievement.
In the midst of my nervous observation of that early swim split on Sunday, I was dismayed by a number of the spectators, many of whom sported wristbands indicating they had raced the day prior, commenting with disdain on the athletes currently using backstroke in the water. My hope is that the comments were out of concern for the safety of the competitors rather than judgment of lesser experienced or skilled athletes and was reminded of the importance of being a supportive participant.
The balance of a qualification-only Olympic race on Saturday with an open entry Sprint on Sunday makes for a remarkably unique weekend at USATAGNC. Many athletes can and do opt for the double, the elite often achieving national titles on both days. For those who miss qualification during the regular season or are finding their way into triathlon and seek a bigger stage with excellent race management, the Sprint offers opportunity to test strength against a bigger, talented crowd, to cross the finish line of a national event and share an equal chance with peers at a spot on Team USA. For all the competitors, toeing the line at nationals takes courage, inversely proportional to previous experience. After all, as noted by John Bingham, The Penguin of Runner’s World fame, “The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.”
USATAGNC15 encouraged all participants to participate in the TriItForward campaign, tagging potential, new or upcoming athletes in a photo booth in hopes of recruiting new members to the triathlon community and inspiring healthy habits by sharing love for the sport. Criticism of skill, ridicule of slower finish times and myopic focus on self undermine this mission and have no place in our sport. Personal success should provide opportunity to encourage, not criticize, to inspire, not defeat and the champions of the sport in particular must honor their role as ambassadors, serving as role models for the up and coming age groupers.
As for my own experience with the Sprint on Sunday – I entered the water wetsuit-free in solidarity with my husband. Thankfully, the cold-water swims in Sweden and Grand Haven earlier in the summer made the chilly waters of Milwaukee seem relatively temperate. Though my split time was slower than I’d hoped, I approached the bike with great enthusiasm knowing the middle twelve miles from yesterday’s race were magically omitted. As I found and passed a number of my age group colleagues, I was awed by the prowess of the Male 24 and under group, who began their wave after my own, but zoomed quickly past me on their bicycles at astronomical speeds. I felt strong through the entirety of the bike and happily descended the bridge into transition with legs ready for the run.
Grateful that the course maintained the majority of lake views and ready to push knowing it was only half the distance of the day prior, I made good on a promise to my friend to keep a 21 minute split and found myself done with the 3.1 mile loop and a finisher of my first ever official Sprint distance in 1:18. This result kept me in the top 30% for both days in my last efforts on the national stage in the 30-34 age group.
Reuniting with my husband, daughter and support crew, we made our way back to Benelux Café for another delicious post-race brunch. We enjoyed a relaxing day and made our way back to race-central for dinner at Harbor House, a highlight of downtown Milwaukee. All in all, racing, relaxing and reuniting with friends made the weekend a success. I look forward to racing the double again next year and welcome the new experience of visiting Omaha and am hopeful I can TriItForward to include new friends in the experience.
May we never forget our own beginnings and be ever vigilant of our mentorship to others, striving for personal best while encouraging others to their own.