USAT Age Group Nationals (Omaha) - August 13

Saturday, August 13th, was a first for me. I went to Omaha, Nebraska, to compete in USAT Age Group Nationals. I’ve competed in Collegiate Nationals three times before, but never age group. Mostly because I’ve never qualified. As a collegiate racer, I was always stacked against a large field of women my age, and never placed highly. For me, it took racing a normal triathlon outside of the collegiate circuit and shooting for the podium. In order to qualify for AG Nats, you need to place in the top 10% of your age group at a USAT sanctioned race. If your age group is less than 20, that means getting 1st. I barely managed to do that in June at the Colorado Sprint Tri, and got my qualification email about a month later.

At first, I wasn’t too excited about spending the money to travel to Omaha and get a hotel just to get my booty kicked by a bunch of women of high caliber, but I sent out an inquiry to my former CSU Tri-mates to see who was going. There was a decent sized group planning to race, so I readjusted my mindset to focusing on a fun road trip and unique experience and got myself registered.

For the next few weeks, I focused on heat training when I could. I knew Omaha would be hot and humid, but nothing could prepare me for the 99, feels like 110 degree heat index when I arrived on August 11. Well.. I lied, I did spend four years in Texas for school, but I still fare terribly in that kind of weather. I was pretty worried that things wouldn’t cool down, as my friend Tess and I shuffled the streets in search of a cold salad. Luckily, a thunderstorm rolled in that night, and Omaha cooled to high 80s, low 90s for the rest of the weekend. Still not very pleasant, but much more doable.

Swim warm up with old teammates the day before the race
I had a good amount of fun sharing a hotel room with my old teammates, catching up on team gossip, watching the Olympics, and enjoying the delicious food Omaha has to offer. When Saturday morning arrived, I was relaxed and ready to shoot for a great race.

The water in Carter Lake was a tepid 84-86 degrees. No wetsuits allowed, which is fine by me, but I was not into the temperature. The water was very green, low visibility, and had that pond-like taste. All you open water swimmers know what I mean. There’s lake taste, which is relatively neutral, not too offensive. Pond taste is like following a gaggle of ducks, or tasting algae. Not good. When the horn blew, I tried not to swallow any water, and focused on making a straight beeline for the turn buoy 750 meters ahead. My sighting was decent on the way out, and I managed to circumvent quite a few girls in my group by shooting for the farthest target, rather than following the contour of the incremental buoys.  Making my second turn, I swam over a few old dudes on accident (sorry), and shot again for the final destination, the swim out gate. This was harder to spot with the water glare, but I still managed to finish in 25:12, which is my second fastest Olympic race swim, so I was pretty happy about staying on track!
Coming out of the swim

Transitions... Let me tell you that transitions at National Championships of any kind are a damn nightmare. There are thousands of bikes, you have to run really far just to get to your station (if you can even find it quickly), and then you have to run really far with your bike just to get out of the dang place. My transitions were slow, and I plan on working on those on a continual basis. UGH.

Finally mounting my bike after my 10 mile run through transition (I may have exaggerated there), I started pedaling high cadence. The course was really flat with the exception of one rather steep short hill, and I was excited to see what I could do without the challenge of too much climbing. The course itself wasn’t so bad, there were tons of corn fields (to be expected in Nebraska), and the roads were in decent condition.

At mile 5 of the bike, I pulled out a rice cake to eat. Then a curve in the course showed up out of nowhere. While navigating the curve, a crack in the road bumped my rice cake out of my hand. NOOOOO!!! First failure. I could have been really upset about it, but I still had a few gummies that I had stuck to my bike for salt and nutrition, and I always leave a gel by my run gear in case my bike nutrition falls short. I kept faith in that and kept sipping on scratch every minute or two. I got back from the bike averaging around 20 mph which was pretty good, but not my best. I felt a little sluggish the last 5 miles due to lack of rice cake and surplus of heat.
Still smiling! Feeling a little warm here...

I hit the run course with my gel in hand. Temperatures were soaring, and the humidity was definitely there. I kept trying to reel myself in, thinking “Slow down, Ali, this is gonna start sucking any second.” Despite this, I was running well, and the possibility of an Olympic distance PR was in my mind when I was checking my watch. I focused on holding back and hopefully pushing harder if the heat didn’t get me first.

My inner voice was right. It did start sucking. I hit the halfway point, where the course runs around TD Ameritrade Park. You run around the baseball field, and see yourself on the big screen. Just what I need. A big screen reminder of how sluggish I’m feeling. I was hot, I was slowing down, and it was a task to focus on keeping the feet moving at the same speed. I hit the aid station at mile 4-ish and splashed cold water on my chest and over my head. This was when things started to feel pretty bad. I got hit by a wave of cold. I wasn’t just cold, I was FREEZING. I felt like shivering, and my arms got covered in goosebumps.

Probably 5 years ago, I remember sitting in an inservice as a young lifeguard, hearing about the warning signs for heat exhaustion. One of them was that the person may feel cold, despite the heat, and may stop sweating. This came to mind as I started to feel worse. I knew I wasn’t going to get a PR, but with only 2+ miles to go, I focused on continuing to run. Just keep running, it’ll be over in less than 20 min. Smart? Maybe not, but I wasn’t about to just DNF!

I crossed the line less than 3 minutes from my PR. I promptly sat down and let the volunteers put cold, wet towels on my head. I was happy with my performance, despite the heat. I had a good swim and a solid bike, and with a few environmental or technical changes, I may have had a really great run. That’s the beauty of triathlon though. Every race is different, with new conditions to tackle each time. It makes you better, and I wouldn’t have nearly as many stories to tell if this wasn’t the case. I had low expectations for this race, and had joked about hoping to not get last. I actually placed 33rd among 119 girls in my age group. I was excited to have placed in the top fraction and to have held my own.
Finishing strong...? Not feeling so hot here.

Overall, the experience was a really fun one! I loved the encouragement I received from former teammates and coaches (who all rocked their races as well), and I loved the opportunity to travel a little and be a part of the big race culture again. Omaha, you’re an interesting town in the middle of nowhere with great food and buffalo statues everywhere. I don’t know if I’ll be back, but I will consider this race one of the highlights of my triathlon season.
Until next time, Omahaaa!!

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