August 17, 2017

2009 Age Group National Championship

Everyone has that disappointing race, mine just happened to be at National Championships, not exactly the race you’d pick for everything to go wrong. Everything did seem to go wrong, even flying to Alabama was difficult; I actually think it’s quite funny now that I think about it, but we’ll get to that later. When I thought about going to Alabama, I always thought it would be in the middle of nowhere. I thought, “what a horrible spot for a venue.” I was proven entirely wrong and the venue in Alabama was amazing. The people were great, the nicest and most welcoming people I have ever met, and every one had a country accent, definitely amazing. USAT did a wonderful job with this event.

With delayed flights it took me 18 hours to get to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I arrived at my hotel at 12:30am. Not a great start to the trip. I woke up that morning around 8:30 and immediately got on my bike to ride the course and check out the run course. The ride started out beautiful, but also humid and hot. The course was a two laps so I only did one lap. It down poured on me the whole time. It was the kind of rain that hurt, but at least I wasn’t extremely hot. The run course had three really large hills, which fortunately I felt prepared for. After my short pre-race training session I went to lunch with, who turned out to be, all age group podium racers and an Ironman legend. We went to this small country breakfast place in which our waitress’ name was Dixie. The menu was hand written on a 3X5 flashcard, the kind of place you can only find deep in the country. I love the country. Then it was time for packet pick-up. I’ll tell you this much, there is nothing like a big triathlon event. It’s so funny to see how everyone is showing off their equipment, almost as if they are peacocking trying to intimidate their competition. I always enjoy people watching on days like this.

I subscribed to the saying, early to bed, early to rise. On race morning I woke up at 5:00 a.m. bright and early, oh wait, I mean dark and early. My hotel was walking distance from the race so I walked down to where I had to rack my bike the night before the race. What’s nice about National events is they have everyone’s rack spot marked, so there’s no fighting for space, or getting there extra early for the perfect spot. It’s already picked out for you! I got all my race equipment situated and I had to be out of transition at 7:00 a.m. sharp. I had an hour to burn because my wave didn’t start until 7:54, so I spent the majority of it waiting in the port-a-potty line.

As I was getting ready for my wave I jumped into the water to take a couple strokes. There are so many girls in my wave that there wasn’t enough room on the starting block. I had to tread water and even this was difficult. The current was so strong that I had to work to stay behind the starting line, when I say work, I mean I was literally doing backstroke to stay in the same position. The start gun went off. The first 1/8th of the mile was with the current; the remainder was against this very strong current. We got to the first buoy very quickly and as I was going around the buoy I got this horrible smack to the face. My goggles were off around my neck and as I lifted my head I saw blood on my hand. Man, I got a bloody nose, are you serious? Since I am in a lake and not an ocean, I decided it was okay to go on. Swimming against this current was horrible. In Olympic Distance swims I usually swim in the low to mid 20’s. My swim was 41 minutes. This swim took me 7 minutes longer than my half Ironman swim. Real swimmers really had an advantage in this race.

After the swim, with blood dripping down my face, I rushed to transition, took a deep breath and was off on the bike. The bike was a good rolling hills course, it was catch up time for me. Right away I passed 5 or 6 girls, I kept passing and passing more girls. I felt great. Then, the unforgivable happened. I shifted my gears while I was going too fast and boom; my chain fell off of my front ring. I tried to shift it back right away and it didn’t happen. Really? I got off my bike and put my chain back on my chain ring as I watched racers re-pass me. It was one of those times where you just want to throw your hands up in the air and just quit, but I couldn’t. I could not live with myself if I quit. I got back on my bike mid-hill and started riding. This time I could feel the soreness in my legs from stopping suddenly. I had about a lap and a half to try to re-pass the girls that I had already passed before, so frustrating. Finally, I got back into transition, got my running shoes on and I was off.

It was hot, it was humid, it was pretty much miserable. The only hope I had to survive the heat was pouring water on myself at every aid station. The run course was one of the most difficult triathlon run courses that I have done. The hills were both long and steep, but the good thing was that in this race what goes up goes back down, so we had an equal amount of fast down hills. As the race went on, I went faster and as the finish line came closer I saw one of my breakfast buddies in front of me. I thought, “Oh I can catch up to him and we can finish together.” As I speed up through the grass through the finish shoot, which was 200 yards or so, I felt great. I was pretty much sprinting. Out of nowhere I felt my ankle roll and before I could do anything I was flat on my face, 20 yards to the finish line. Yes, I face planted in front of all of the spectators. As I was on the ground I heard the spectators gasp and even one yell, “You can do it!” As I got up I was already laughing.

I couldn’t believe that something happened at every leg of the triathlon. I came in 40th place in my age group, which is very disappointing for me. But, overall I still had a great experience. My bike split was amazing for having to stop in the middle of the race and my run split was good as well. The good thing is, I know I can do better and improve. Everyone will have a horrible race sometime in his or her career. The thing I learned was to keep going when things get rough and to always keep my head up. The day would have been more disappointing if I wasn’t able to laugh about it at the end.

Sara Davis

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