Sunday, April 19, 2009

Collegiate Triathlon Nationals - Lubbock, TX

There are times when everything can go perfectly in training only to show up on race day and have everything go wrong. That is how I feel about the 2009 Collegiate National Championships, summed up in one poorly punctuated sentence fragment.

I want to start off by thanking my friends, family, coach and sponsors who throw their unquestionable support behind me with everything I do. It makes it possible not only to travel and train at the level I want to perform but also helps me recognize what truly is most important in my life.

The build for this race started back in January. I targeted this race as an early season goal after a sub-par performance last year in Tuscaloosa, Al. Going into this race, I was ecstatic about my form. I was posting faster running times on the track than I had ever seen, my cycling power to weight ratio was measured to be off the charts and I was finally starting to swim at a respectable level. I had no reported injuries and had only had a minor bought with the flu two weeks ago. Most importantly, I had survived training in Boone, NC for one of the worst recorded winters in recent years.

I chose to go down to Charlotte, NC with Kristen last weekend to clear my head and get in my final few days of training in some weather closer to what I expected to see in Texas. Training went well through the weekend and we came back to Boone on Tuesday rested. After a long day at school on Wednesday (ie. physics lab ended at 8:30pm) I turned back around and drove to Charlotte, NC to catch an early morning flight out to Lubbock, TX. On the way down to Charlotte, I got a call from the fraud agency telling me that someone had hijacked my debit card in Atlanta, GA and had taken out 500 dollars. Freaking awesome. After getting everything worked out and completely deactivating my account, it was off to bed to wake up and rush off to the airport.

My flights went well. I got to Lubbock on time without any delays. The same cannot be said for Stephanie's flights who missed her connection in Atlanta because her flight in Chattanooga was delayed due to the pilot oversleeping. Got to love the small airports. Since it was going to be a few hours until Stephanie landed, I went ahead and checked out the rental car, loaded my gear and started to drive towards the race sight to get in an afternoon swim. The only problem with this plan was that as soon as I started driving on the interstate golf ball size hail commenced falling, threating to systematically destroy the rent-a-car. Since it was a Ford, I was worried about it breaking down and fled from the interstate in search of shelter. Freaking awesome. Instead a nice, carefree swim at the race site I spent about 45minutes huddled under a highway overpass with about 50 other people waiting on the hail and subsequent tornado warning to pass.

Here's a picture of the 'tornado' warning from the local newspaper. I elected to go to the hotel, without swimming, build my bike, eat and wait on Stephanie. Off to bed.

Friday, the day before the race, Stephanie and I went out to the race site early (~9am) only to be greeted by flooded streets and freezing temperatures. I got in a few miles of running, a freezing cold swim that left me laughably shaking next the car and a terrific bike ride out to the bike turnaround. The rest of the day was left to carbo loading and studying chemistry.

Race morning:

Everything went according to plan race morning. We got to the race site on time, got to transition on time, and started setting up transition on time.

The first problem arose when Charlie, USAT's head ref, started to check wave1 helmets in transition. I have a Giro Advantage aero helmet which for those not familiar with all things TriGeek related is a European manufactored helmet. Here in America (that's America like George Bush says it) we do not like Euro helmets without USA certified stickers. Since Charlie was checking I decided it was best to come clean rather than be DQed coming into transition. So I self reported my helmet. I had brought with me my road helmet, a Giro Atmos which I was under the impression is USAT legal. Well, long story short and a few stressful minutes later, neither helmet met Charlies approval and I was left without a helmet and a transition area that was closing in less than 60seconds. Needless to say my pre-race warm up jog was spent running around the race site trying to find someone with a legalized helmet. I finally was able to find a USAT affiliate who loaned me a legal Rudy Project road helmet (looked like a old lady helmet) and promised to put it on my bike in transition since the transition area was now closed to athletes. Awesome! So this is where I stand now, I have no idea if my transition area is set up correctly, if I even have a helmet, if the helmet even fits or if my bike is in running order since I was unable to pump up my tires or even check my gears/brakes.

8am. (race starts at 8:30am) I leave the race site and try to find some quiet ground to calm down and clear my head. I put on my wetsuit (I was freezing cold airtemp ~36-39degrees) and on top of my wetsuit I put on two jackets, my swim cap and another wool hat on top of that. I headed over the race start (8:15am) and preceded to get in my 10-15min swim warmup. As soon as I had finished swimming in the reported 53.1 degree water and was feeling quasi 'warmed up' (I take ice baths in that water temperature) I got out of the water to mark out a good position on the start line. It was then that I found out the race start had been delayed by 15minutes and we would not be starting until 8:45am. Not good. With a measured 4.3% body fat, my core temperature plummeted and I was left shaking uncontrollably on the start line for 15minutes. I tried to do some strides which didn't help since the outside temperature was ~42degrees and even elected to get back in the water. I tried to get my HR under control knowing the effort ahead but I couldn't get settled. As soon as the horn sounded I hit the water and felt like I ran into a brick wall. I almost passed out from shock. Needless to say, the hard work in the pool over the last few months didn't pay off as I came out almost 10minutes behind the leaders.

Into T2, I was shaking so hard that I could barely get my wetsuit off and put on my granny helmet. Onto the bike, I was still shaking so hard from the water temperature on the way out toward the turnaround I almost crashed on the first descent. I was able to make my way back into the chase pack but still was roughly 10minutes down from the leaders coming off the bike. Due to a rushed pre-race morning I did not scope out the mount/dismount line for the bike and I dismounted roughly 25m from the actual dismount line and had to run my bike an extra 20+seconds into transition.

The run. I had been really happy with my run training recently. Coming off a fairly comfortable PR of lower 1:14 at the hilly Birmingham Half-Marathon a couple months ago I had gotten my 10k speed down around 5:15mi/pace. The only thing I did not account for was not being able to feel my lower legs or feet on the run. Surprisingly, at almost an hour and half into the race, I was still shivering. I couldn't get my core temperature elevated and my motivation was at an all time low. As I was running towards the run turnaround, I started to count off the people coming back and realized that I was in the top 25 placing out on course. I couldn't get into a rhythm and crossed the line frustrated, only to be greeted by the announcer shouting over the loud speaker, "Here's Josh Wheeler, Brain Cancer survivor." I guess all things are in perspective.

I was hoping for a top ten finish. With a swim time around 21minutes which is what I expected coming into the race I would have been there. The race was lost for me in the hour and half prior to the race. There are things we cannot control but one thing we can control is our attitude. I trained hard for this race and yes, I am disappointed with the result. But to be hypothermic on the start line, I figure the race went about as well as it could have. I run a very fine line between training, being a pre-med student and a full time athlete that a few small details can have a large impact. I planned to have a good transition setup. I planned on having the right equipment. I planned on the race starting at 8:30am. I warmed up when I was supposed to and the race was postponed for 15minutes. Those 15minutes probably cost me my desired result. I will be back probably not to TX next year (St. Anthony's is looking more inviting aka Florida swim) but I will be back to Collegiates to have that breakout race I know I am capable of. In the meantime it is back to work. I have exams the next two weeks and White Lake Half-Ironman in three weeks. Life marches on.

Thank you tremendously for the love and support from my friends and family. Without you I am nothing. Here is the post race interview link (sorry for the Albert Einstein hair, it was a long, stressful morning for me)

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