USAT Collegiate Nationals 2015

April 25, 2015. It was a date that had been etched in my mind for an entire semester. I had planned my schoolwork to avoid having any tests or final projects during that week, as I would be traveling for four days to Clemson, South Carolina for USA Triathlon Collegiate National Championships. This race was my “A” race, a culmination of eight hard months of training. Endless hours spent in a hot, damp garage for trainer rides, going to morning swim practices at 6:15 a.m., and running speed intervals on a chilly track were about to pay off for me and the rest of the CSU Triathlon Team. Coach had us working hard until the last moment; our bodies were begging for a break from hill repeats and race pace bricks, and the taper was much deserved. I was finally beginning to feel relaxed and ready for my last big collegiate race. Certainly there were some pitfalls along the way, being in grad school makes skipping practice and unwanted stress weight almost inevitable. Despite this, I felt strong, powerful, and ready to show how much hard work and preparation I had put into my training.
A glimpse at the swim course on the Seneca River. Gorgeous!

I boarded the plane with an electric feeling of excitement; I could finally leave all of the papers, projects, and cold weather for some quality time with my team and the warm weather of South Carolina. I also knew that my old team, the Texas A&M Aggies would be there, and I was dying to see my old friends. We got to Clemson just as the sun was setting, and the vast expanses of trees and large bodies of water were a gorgeous sight. The east coast has an understated beauty, and I was happy to not be racing in a hot, dry desert anymore.
The next morning, the whole team headed to the race course to cheer on our four chosen athletes in the Draft Legal Sprint Triathlon. The Rams tore it up, and I was antsy for my turn. The weather was perfect, 70s and 80s with a shining sun. I wiggled into my wetsuit to test the water, which was a perfect 65 degrees! I love swimming in open water! After that I pulled my bike out of the trailer, made sure everything was in good shape, and took it on a 2 mile spin. I went to bed excited and ready, my tattoos were already applied!

Race morning came, and it was drizzling, cold and dark. I looked at the forecast and saw nothing but lightning symbols. Not a good sign. The boys were racing first, and I just kept hoping the roads were safe and there would be no thunderstorms. We cheered all the men, and got soaked to the bone. There was a thought in the back of my mind that standing in the rain and getting chilled wasn’t gonna be good for my race, but I knew that my teammates needed all the cheering they could get in the miserable conditions, and that they would repay the favor. A miracle came along, and it stopped raining just in time for the women’s race to start at 10:40.

I stepped into the water and swam a few laps to warm up my shivering muscles, then treaded to wait for the bullhorn. When the horn blew, I took a position from the outside to cut in, which has always been my tactic for avoiding the mayhem and face kicking of the crowd. The swim seemed long, and I got a bit off course about halfway through, but I made my best effort to spot each buoy and make a straight line toward it. I came out of the water in 25:43, which is pretty typical, but a good swim considering that I swam a bit of a wide turn when I got off track.

Nom nom nom! 
The transitions were very very long. In order to host more than 1200 athletes, the bike corral needs to be enormous, and not only that, the run from the water to the bikes was considerable as well. There was a ton of mud, and most everything was soaking wet. In four years of triathlon, I still haven’t become comfortable with transitions with my shoes already clipped in, so I ran through the mud in my cleats. BIG MISTAKE! The first two miles of my bike ride were spent trying to clip my shoes in, failing, and trying to fish the mud out of my cleats while rolling at about 12 miles an hour. I finally got a huge chunk of mud out, snapped in, and proceeded to employ my new nutrition plan and give it my all on the bike.  I pulled out a homemade rice cake from my bento box, and took an enormous bite (Eating like a lady is useless here, folks, because the rice explodes all over you at 20-25 mph). There are a couple of perfectly timed photos of me nomming my heart out. I now had some food in my belly, and the carbs to tear up the bike, and hopefully rock my run for once. The course was filled with rollers, and I knew that all of the hill repeats and climbing we had done to train would help me to beat out teams from other states. I focused on keeping a high, strong cadence up the hills, and shifting into my biggest gear on the downhills. It was a huge ego boost to pass a ton of people during the bike course, and I felt good. I averaged about 20.2 mph on the bike, which is great for the hilly course and caution taken on turns because of the wet road.

I got to the bike dismount ready to give whatever I had left on the run. Another very slow transition later, my feet were hitting the pavement fast, and I felt strong. My first mile was a 7:42, blazing for a slow gal like me. I hoped I could hold something similar, but my lower legs always freeze up around mile two or three, and I was mentally and emotionally prepared for that hurdle. My lower legs did freeze, and in case you didn’t know what that feels like for me, it feels like a surgeon removed all the muscle from my calves and around my Achilles tendon, and implanted a useless tennis ball in its place. I try to flex my legs and feel something, but it just hurts and feels rock hard. I’ve had this problem at most of my triathlons, but it was particularly bad today. During mile three, it hurt badly
Can you tell I'm in a bit of pain? 
enough for my feet to fall asleep and for me to squeeze out a tear or two. But I took a deep breath, and thought about how this was my last chance to race nationals, and made a promise to myself to stay positive and keep giving it my all to hit that PR. The run course comprised of multiple loops, so I passed my guy teammates about four times though the run. Every time I ran by, they were yelling at me, clapping, and telling me to keep pushing, make it hurt, and that I looked strong. This helped me through the pain I was feeling in my legs. Eventually, all of my lower legs were numb and I was able to do whatever I wanted! This probably wasn’t a good thing, but I was ready to pick up the cadence and the pace again. I had two miles to go, and I was going to make it count. I held low 8 minute miles, and sprinted the curve to the finish line. So much emotion overcame me when I looked at my watch and around at the spectators. The first thing I noticed was a brand spanking new PR for both the Olympic distance tri (2:34:53) and the 10k (50:27), which made me so proud of myself. I had pushed through pain all year, and I had been rewarded. The next thing I felt was a complex mixture of sadness and happiness. It was my last Collegiate Nationals, and I had so many fond memories of the past 3 years I had raced for a team like this. There is no other feeling like it, no other amount of spirit and camaraderie. Surely I would be able to race at the national level again if I trained hard and wanted, but would I ever feel so much friendship and love surrounding me that comes from being part of a team? Would I ever feel such a collective effort to one mutual goal? I’m not sure if I will, but I know that at that moment, I started crying like a baby. I was so proud of this team, and even though I was only a part of it for a year, I felt incredibly close to all of my teammates and I didn’t want it to end.

As a team, the women placed eighth and the men placed sixth in the nation. Collectively, we placed 8th amongst 120 teams across the country. It was all because of our hard work. Not one person can say they were responsible for our success, because it was entirely a team effort. I was so proud. We were all buzzed about the performance of our teammates, and we attended the award ceremony that night knowing we had done better than CSU had done in years. Not only that, but my old TAMU team had placed 5th in the nation, and I was proud to see them podium for the first time since 2009. I was proud of both of my teams. The weekend was surreal, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my collegiate triathlon career.

I’m now back at home, working on the last of a few very major projects this semester. It’s a major downer, entering the real world after such an amazing race, but I do have a few things to look forward to. First, the Colfax half marathon is in three weeks, and I will be racing for Epic Experience with my mom and great friend Stephanie! Additionally, in four weeks I will be racing the Colorado Sprint Triathlon in Boulder with my friend Dave Ruybal, who is also raising money for Epic Experience! More to come on that, but you can expect to see me completing race adventures to raise money for a cancer patient’s own adventure on May 17th and May 31st! Thanks for reading, and Happy Racing!! 


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