I owe you all a race report from Door County (short story: awesome race, I did okay, I have a lot to learn), but in the meantime all I can think about is my upcoming attempt at the sprint USAT Age Group Nationals. The vast majority of these thoughts are anxieties, of course. The race at Door County was, to date, the largest one I’ve participated in. There were about 1,000 athletes in the sprint race, and 62 in my wave. I’ve been used to being near the top of my age group in the more local races I’ve participated in, and being around so many more competitors opened my eyes to how much work I still have to do, how “vintage” my bike still is, and how much I still need to learn about efficiency, USAT rules, and how to evaluate my current skill level compared to others in the sport. It seems so obvious to say that I had a skewed idea of my own skill level from competing in smaller races, but apparently that is yet another lesson that triathlon has had in store to teach me.
When I signed myself up for this age group nationals race last winter, I was depressed about my injured knee, and I had the idea that I’d be in running form by the spring, and would be able to train my run (and bike and swim, of course) hard all summer so that by the time August rolled around, I’d be in great shape. That didn’t exactly happen, and the confidence and hubris I had self selecting myself to compete against the top age group athletes in the country has been tempered by a more than a little dose of reality.
My knee is a lot better, and my run times are coming down. They’re still not where they were last summer, pre-injury, though. My bike is a lot faster than it was last year (but still quite slow compared to others), and my swim is something I’m confident in. Although I don’t know that I can say yet that I enjoy open water swimming, I consistently finish at or near the top of my age group (and did in Door County, too), so I can’t pretend I suck at swimming.
All of this is a rambling way to say that I have some major feelings of inadequacy going into this race. I’m afraid that I’m going to be viewed like a child playing in the grown up race. I’m afraid that my equipment, my attire, my body, and my technique are going to reveal to people at a glance that I don’t belong there. I’m worried about inadvertently breaking a rule or getting in someone’s way.
This is how I am feeling most of the time.
And then the other times? I’m thinking that this race is open to all USAT members and doesn’t have qualifying times for a reason. I’m thinking that I have a right to be there. I’m thinking that if there ever was a time that it didn’t matter if I break a rule accidentally and get a penalty, this is it, as I have no chance in hell of placing. Add 2 minutes to my time? Who cares? I’ll learn my lesson and know for next time. I’m thinking that I’m not the fastest, but I’m not an idiot and I can certainly stay out of others’ ways. I’m thinking that it’s going to be really cool to ride my bike on the Interstate.
When I originally signed up, I had a pie in the sky idea that maybe I could try to place in the top 18 in my age group and get a spot at worlds. By the beginning of the season when my swim coach asked me to write down a goal for the year, I wrote, “Place in the top 50% of my age group at nationals.” Now I’m sort of hoping to finish higher than last place.
My game plan:
Swim my swim and stay calm in the water.
Have fun on the bike.
Run as hard as I can until I think I’m going to puke, and then keep running.