About a year ago my family and I had talked about doing nationals in Cleveland Ohio, but it was not really a serious discussion because it was a while out in the future and with a busy schedule we did not know if we could fit it in. Although all of those things were reasons why we shouldn’t have signed up, we still found a way to fit it in our schedule and we were able to sign up a month before race day. I did not think about nationals until we signed up and when we did I kept it in the back of my head every time I trained and competed. It seemed like it was a long time away, but just like every event I sign up for, it always comes much quicker than I expect it to. Before I knew it the week before nationals sneaked up on me and I was so excited, but I was also starting to feel like I might be a little out of place there. Because it was nationals, I knew that there was going to be fierce competition, and it seemed like everyone would have their USA triathlon suits on with their cool looking bikes and fast transition strategies, and the more I thought about it the more I thought that I would look really stupid there. I did not have a USA tri suit, I couldn’t mount my bike in a cool way, and I definitely did not look professional riding my bike, but the most helpful advice that I heard was that I shouldn’t be intimidated by how everything looks.
I kept that advice with me throughout the whole experience and it helped me to stay calm and to enjoy my time more. I did my final workouts the day before we had to head out and I was excited to get lots of rest on the twelve hour drive to Cleveland. On the first day we drove eight hours which went surprisingly faster than I had expected, and on the second day it was a four hour drive that seemed very short as well. The sleep we got in the hotels were at a minimum because of our energetic dogs that loved to move around at night, but it was nice to have our spacious car as a plan B for getting sleep. As we came into Cleveland I got the excited butterflies in my stomach because I knew that this was going to be an amazing experience. We got to the race course a little while after the Olympic athletes had finished, and as I saw the whole setup and the welcome athletes sign I felt very cool that I was a person that got to compete at this race. I knew that you didn’t have to qualify to get here, but I was just happy to show up and be surrounded by amazing athletes.
I felt like a sixth grader on the first day of school when we went to check in because I didn’t know where to go or what I was doing. The volunteers were very helpful in guiding me what to do and where to go, and with low amounts of stress I was checked in and had my race bag ready to go. It was nice being able to put my bike in transition and look at the swim course the day before the race so that I had less to do on race day. My family had an opportunity to walk around and look at all the tents with cool equipment, and we were also able to see what the swim course would look like. Seeing the swim course did put some fear in my head because the waves looked awful to swim in and I knew that it would feel like absolute chaos if we did a mass start. I tired to not let it bother me because that would only cause more problems that I did not need. After doing a final walk through all the key locations I felt like I knew where everything was for the day of the race, so I headed out and went to the hotel nearby to get some very needed sleep.
Waking up early was not a challenge for me on the day of nationals because I was so eager and I wanted to have plenty of time at the race course to set up, so I knew the early wake up would be worth it. I put on my tri suit excitedly and got in some good race food as I packed all of my things that I would need to set up transition. After I finished all of my packing, I got to tattoo on my race numbers which made me feel so cool and really professional. Even though I was really excited I was still pretty out of it from waking up at 4:00 in the morning, so when my sister told me to put my numbers on my calves and biceps one ended going on my thigh because I apparently couldn’t remember the difference between the two early in the morning. With everything packed and ready to go, we headed out and drove to the race course in the dark because it was so early.
We somehow managed to find a decent parking spot once we got near the race course and we only had to do a little bit of walking to get there. On our walk over we went past the lake and as I looked out on the swim course I felt like my heart dropped into my stomach. The waves the day before seemed really small compared to the ones on race morning, and it made the lake look like a calm day by the ocean. My first thought was that I could body surf part of the way as a strategy, but I also thought about what a mass start would be like in these conditions and it made me feel sick to my stomach. I kept walking just trying to trick myself into thinking that everything would be totally fine, but I still knew deep down that the swim would be far from enjoyable.
Coming into the transition area I felt like a celebrity walking down a red carpet because I was able to walk down a sort of runway that the spectators couldn’t since I was an athlete that would be competing. Walking down that little path with people on both sides of me got me fired up because it really hit me then that I was at nationals and I would have to push myself harder than I ever had before. After showing a volunteer my wrist band proving I was an athlete, I got to go into transition and when I did I realized just how big this race was. There were so many people setting up their transition area and it felt like the bikes took up the same amount of space as a parking lot. I was so nervous and so excited all at the same time, and as I heard the music blasting and all the people getting ready, I used it as motivation for my race.
I set everything up faster than I thought I would and I memorized what row my bike was in because there would be too many to try to search through if I didn’t know where mine was. I went to find my parents at our meet up spot and as I was talking to them it was about half an hour before the first wave would go out, so I started to get my gear for the swim ready. Just as I was about to put my wet suit on I heard the announcer start to say that he had an important announcement to make. After he got everybody’s attention he said that due to a strong current in the water and too big of waves that the coast guard decided along with the race directors that it would be unsafe to do the swim today and it would instead be changed to a duathlon. I waited for him to say that he was just messing with us or that he was just kidding, but instead he said to meet back in transition for a pre-race meeting. I had no clue what to think. I didn’t know if I was mad or not because I loved the swim and could do really well in that part, or I didn’t know if I was excited or not because it might be a good thing that the swim didn’t happen because of the conditions.
Everybody walked into transition talking about a new strategy they would do, or how they where so disgusted that the swim wasn’t happening, or they where beaming with joy because they weren’t a confident swimmer. It felt like even more chaos then the swim would have been and as I listened to all of the conversations, I didn’t know where I stood with my opinion about the situation. I went to my spot in transition and met some really nice people that I got to rant with because we were all in the same boat and we all had to go through this together. Something about being frustrated or confused with other people can oddly cause a strong bond between each other and that’s what happened with the people that I would talk to. The announcer got our attention for the second time and he said again that it would be a duathlon and he gave us instructions on where to go, what time we would be starting, and what the course was. After we got all of our information, everybody headed to our new race start.
I had about half an hour before I started, so I got to talk with people and enjoy my time meeting new athletes. With the swim not happening and all the last minute decisions, it brought a sense of low stress than it would have if it was a triathlon. It was honestly nice having everyone take it less seriously and joking around because it was so last minute, and it let me be a lot more relaxed than I would have been. It would be my first ever nationals experience and my first ever duathlon all in the same day. As I got closer to the start line I saw that you would start in groups of four every five seconds. As we filed our way into our groups of four I could begin to see the start line and all the people going out every five seconds. Before I knew it I only had a few more groups ahead of me and then I would start my first ever duathlon. The groups ahead of me seemed like they were sprinting when they started, and I hoped that it looked a lot faster than it actually was. The group ahead of me went out and as I came up to the line, the starter lifted his hands and we were off.
I felt like I was running the hundred meter dash when my group started. I knew that the people at nationals would be fast but I didn’t realize that people would try to break world records in the first mile of the run. After finally settling into a pace that still seemed extremely fast, I started running in a pack until we got to transition. The thing that was great about having groups starting five seconds apart was that there was always someone to pass and there was always someone chasing you down. We swiftly arrived at the runway into transition and all I could hear was the music blaring and all the spectators on both sides of me cheering for random names as I ran down the long stretch of blue carpet-like material. It was so strange taking off my running shoes instead of my wet suit in transition, but as I just went with it I put my bike shoes on and ran down the long stretch of grass to the mount line.
As I got onto my bike I knew that today of all days would be the time to get a new bike pr because I had so many girls my age around me to push me and help motivate me to go faster. As I got on my bike it was very weird pedaling after a run because I didn’t feel as out of breath, but my legs also felt more tired. Even though I used my legs more in the run than I would have in the swim, I felt strong and I felt like even when I would go up a hill I could still maintain a fast speed. The best part about the bike was riding on the roads with no cars on them because they were blocked off for the race, and I felt much more safe biking, and it was also just plain old cool to be biking on a road with no cars. I had people to pass and I had people that passed me, but I knew that I would definitely get a new bike pr just from looking down at my speedometer and seeing a fast number every time. The bike was done quickly, and as I was getting ready to dismount I knew that I had to leave it all on the race course today or else I would regret it.
I got off my bike and ran it to it’s spot, and after taking off my bike shoes and putting on my running shoes for a second time, I was off and running again. My legs were very tired running for a second time because they were definitely not used to only running and biking in a race, but I didn’t even think about it because I just wanted to keep putting one foot in front of another. Towards the start of the run course there was a long uphill that slowed some of the people down, but I used it to my advantage because I knew I was good at going up hills, and I passed many people as I tried to continue at a fast pace. I felt like I was sprinting the whole time trying to keep up with all the talented athletes which cause the second run to go by in a blink of an eye. All of a sudden I was at the last corners that I had to turn and after I went over a metal arc that was part of the race course, it was the final stretch to the finish line. People were cheering, music was playing, and the announcer was saying all the names of the racers coming through, and even though I wasn’t the first person to come in by any means, I felt like I had just accomplished something huge as I crossed that finish line. I had a feeling of pure joy and I was so proud of myself of what I did after everything that had happened that day.
While I was regaining my breath I was surrounded by kind athletes telling me good job and volunteers directing me to get my medal and food. It felt like a big party as everyone was finishing because we all had to go through everything that didn’t go as planned, but we we all made it through together. I met up with my family again and we all went and walked around the race venue as we watched people finish and got some really cool gear to bring back home. I knew that we would have to go home soon so I took the time to just enjoy and let everything sink in. We got our picture taken in a variety of spots to capture the awesome moments for memories, and as we finished packing all of our equipment I knew that it was time to go. I was obviously sad that we had to leave such a fun place, but I was comforted by the thought that I knew we would come back next year and compete again. Nationals definitely threw a curve ball at me and everyone else racing there, but I didn’t care because I got to experience something so cool as a triathlete, and I also feel like it really gave me a good step forward in my triathlon career. I’ll be back and I’ll be ready for another amazing experience. Thanks Cleveland Ohio, see you soon!