I just experienced my greatest racing day since starting this adventure a few years back and it wasn’t just about my race. I was a competitor, a teammate, and friend this weekend that made it one of my greatest memories. Today I’ll share about my experience competing at the 2019 USA Duathlon National Championships in Greenville, SC along with my team, friends and new friends.
Back in October I decided I would compete in duathlons (run-bike-run) in 2019 in addition to triathlon and run races. I determined I would have three big races, the “A” races, for 2019 and this being the first and my most coveted. My best two events are the run and bike so I was thinking I could be pretty competitive in duathlon.
I started my training plan that would include three duathlon races leading up to Nationals. They proved to be great learning experiences while also performing well. I had two adjustments to make leading into Nationals. The first getting used to a run prior to the bike versus the swim in triathlon and the second racing a longer distance than what I had focused on the last two years.
I have run so many 5ks in straight run races and to end triathlons I know exactly what pace I should be running and know exactly how my body feels, good and bad. The first run at Nationals was just under a 10k so as part of my training plan was to learn how to run a 10k effectively by identifying my pace precisely.
I also increased by bike mileage and intensity more than any other previous training block. Going into Nationals I felt as prepared as I could have been knowing I would come out of it with great learning regardless how it played out.
The week leading up to Nationals I was following a very similar plan that I used leading up to the last duathlon I raced in March. My body felt ready to race that day balancing recovery during a taper week but also keeping the body engaged with activity. This time it played out almost exactly the same. My body was ready and healthy.
I left for Greenville on Thursday arriving at my hotel around 8:30 pm. Friday morning I met our team and Coach Celia Dubey at the race site. We did a walk through of the race by riding as much of the bike course as we could, ran some of the run course, and surveyed the transition area. This provided excellent detail to know what to look for and how to attack. We then headed to pick up our race packets at Fluor Field, a very nice minor league baseball stadium in a beautiful downtown.
We then went to dinner at Whole Foods. This was fantastic. Surrounded by team and friends talking about anything and everything. I met new people whom I now already consider a friend. It’s amazing how this community is so supportive of each other. We all want each other to succeed with whatever that means to that person. Our team can cheer lead, I can tell you that!
On Saturday I ventured to the race site as we had one racer in the Draft Legal Sprint race, Peter Skafar. I also had to get in a short run and met up with Peter and ran with him as he was warming up for his race. Here I was just a fan. I cheered and yelled at Peter as he was blazing through the race, finishing third in his age group. He then followed that up by racing in the Non-Draft Legal Sprint race Sunday and winning his age group. Watching the race was inspiring and provided more good intel how the transition area was and wasn’t working.
I then spent a good part of the day in the hotel resting, treating my legs, and going through my race plan. We met for our team dinner again at Whole Foods. I picked up an acai bowl on the way to the dinner as this has now become my pre-race meal. We celebrated Peter’s accomplishment and had another good night of team bonding. We ended at a good time as everyone was racing Sunday. The first was the Non-Draft Standard Distance followed by the Non-Draft Sprint Distance.
Weather on Sunday called for rain and as the morning went on it was supposed to get worse. As I warmed up I was very pleased with the temperatures and humidity. It was 68 degrees, much warmer than anticipated and humid which was perfectly fine with me.
The final preparation for my legs worked out well as I felt ready to go in warm-ups. This was the first time my legs had felt that fresh since the last duathlon race so the taper week worked out again as planned…sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. Five minutes before the race the rain started and lasted for about five minutes. As I walked up to the start line I was ready to execute the race plan and flex to curve balls as they would come up. They always do…
The horn went off. My first mile went better than anticipated as I was three seconds faster than my first mile goal pace while my breathing felt really good relatively speaking. I settled in and finished the first run 16 seconds faster than my goal pace. Transition went ok leading into the bike.
Now the true test – riding the bike hard for 24.25 miles coming off a 5.25 mile hard effort run. As much as I simulated in training, a race kicks up the intensity another notch and this was Nationals. The course was full of rolling hills. It took a mile or so to get my legs into a good rhythm to drive hard. I was pushing hard and about 10 miles in I started to feel some vulnerability in my calf muscles. This was not unusual for me in a race. It is 25 minutes or so of straight power pedaling with no breaks.
At the half-way point turnaround I felt strong while keeping my radar up in regards to my leg muscle vulnerability. The goal being not to cramp coming off the bike or on the run. The last 12+ miles on the bike hurt pretty good, but in a good way. I was pressing as hard as I could.
As I approached the end of the bike course, I was cautious of the calves cramping while coming off the bike so I started to take my feet out of my bike shoes a bit early and I’m glad I did as when I reached down to pull my left foot out of the shoe the calf and hamstring cramped. I was in a full blown Charley horse situation while still coasting in. I flexed and rubbed them as much as I could. I then pedaled a few times getting them back to function. I was then very cautious with getting the right foot out and it worked.
I then pedaled another 25 yards or so that really helped get some normalcy back. I got off the bike and ran into transition, mounted the bike, through on the running shoes and headed out for the final run of 2.8 miles. As I ran out of transition I had my radar on my calf and hamstring. At this point I knew my calf was going to be OK. The hamstring was vulnerable but I felt pretty confident I was going to make it without cramping based on previous experiences.
At this point I didn’t know where I was in placement within my age group as I went off with two age groups to start the race and things get messy on the bike as there are so many riders out it’s hard to keep track. I was thinking I was in the top 10 and the fight went on. This without a doubt was the most painful run after a bike I have had in a race. It had been over an hour and forty minutes of full out effort on the legs but still had another 2.8 miles left. There is comfort in knowing everyone is experiencing the same thing.
As I approached a final u-turn with about 600 meters left in the race, I looked to see who was trailing me and by how much. I guessed that my next competitor was about 20 seconds behind me. At that point I was not going to lose my position to him. I turned on whatever turn-on I had left. When I made a final 90 degree turn into the shoot leading to the finish line I did one quick peak across and nobody was there…
I came through the finish line extremely happy with my effort no matter the placement. I gave what I had on this day. I immediately took a right turn after the finish line and stumbled into the Medical Tent to get some treatment on the hamstring. After about ten minutes of icing I walked out, greeted teammate, Scott Galley, who ran his butt off while nursing a bad injury and went to the Results Tent. Scott finished 15th with the top 18 qualifying for the World Championships! With as much pain and frustration Scott has been going through with his injury it tells you a lot about how this guy is made up.
When the gentleman printed my result and handed me the paper, I looked and saw 5th place in my division. I think I read the paper 3-4 times to see if I was missing anything. I think I even asked Scott if it was right…meaning I placed 5th in my age group qualifying for the World Championships. An extra bonus was the top five in each age group stand on the podium at the awards ceremony that evening. I gotta tell ya I was pretty emotional.
This was the culmination of five and a half months of really hard training, countless days of double workouts, getting up for 5am runs and rides, the ups and downs while still loving every damn part of it. This venture goes back even more years so it all just came together at this point…
I had a few goals going into the race. I knew my capability going into the race based on my training so I had my targets to hit for each leg. I also wanted to leave nothing on the course and be stronger mentally than any previous race. Lastly I wanted to qualify for the World Championships. In terms of where I finished I just wanted to race my butt off and see what happened. I accomplished each of my goals for the race with the podium being icing on the cake.
But there was still work to do as a fan and teammate. I got to celebrate with Scott and Karoline Muehlfellner-Bair as she also raced with us and finished 6th in her age group, also qualifying for the World Championships. Bruce Mann also finished in 12th place after coming in 2nd in his age group the day prior (Draft Sprint).
Then it was cheering our teammates in the Non-Draft Sprint race at mid-day. What an amazing set of performances:
- Celia Dubey – National Champion for her age group
- Peter Skafar – National Champion for his age group
- Dave Morrow – 2nd place age group
- Bob Barlow – 6th place age group
- Tyler Galley – 5th place age group
- Liz Nardo Sylves – 5th place age group
- Nate Sylves – 9th place age group
- Bob Brown – 5th place age group
This is no accident. This team trains so hard, is so committed and so supportive of each other. I am so happy I am part of this team of great people.
After the race we took several photos, celebrated and headed to Whole Foods to a late lunch. We then cleaned up and headed to awards. This was certainly a team celebration.
Standing on the podium in front of the team was one of the proudest moments of my athletic life.
After the ceremony we headed to dinner and got to share a weekend of accomplishments. I picked up several new friends during the experience and we certainly bonded as a team.
I couldn’t ask for anything more…
The World Championships will be held in Almere, Netherlands in September 2020. I cannot wait to go and represent Team USA.
Now I will do a reset both mentally and physically and move on….stay tuned…
I was going to do a thank you list here but it would make this blog entirely too long. I will think about how I can post that separately in the near future. Thank you to everyone who has supported me on this journey. This doesn’t mean anything without your support and friendship and you know who you are who pushed the heck out of me to get me on that podium!
– Add Health to Your Life
What a fantastic write up Coach Alan.The support YOU give all of us is so much appreciative. You are an incredible athlete coach and person. Thank YOU!!!
This is an amazing sport and has given me so many wonderful experiences and friends. It’s been awesome watching you progress in the sport. You are going to have an incredible experience at the World Championships. There is nothing like putting on the USA uniform and competing for your country.