September 26th, 2010
On a last minute whim, I decided to finish my season in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with the USA Sprint Nationals. Unfortunately I strained my right hamstring the week before the race and could hardly walk for two days after the injury occurred.
I love to race the sprint distance because I can just turn off my head and go…go as hard and as fast as I can and I don’t have to think about pacing and nutrition and much more of anything else. I just GO.
Getting to Tuscaloosa by plane is a trip into Birmingham and then an hour’s drive southeast. Or, if you choose to road trip like I did, is an eleven hour drive from Chicago with no traffic and a few good stops to stretch your legs and eat. Leaving on a Thursday afternoon at 5:30, you think would have been a disaster leaving from downtown, but on the contrary we made it to 65 southbound in about 45 minutes. It had been a long time since I had really taken a road trip that required me to be in a car for more than five hours, but I will have to say it is better than spending seven hours in a plane. After stopping near Nashville for a good night’s sleep, we arrived in Birmingham for some southern BBQ by 2:00pm. Golden Rule was packed…but they had the BEST Chocolate Pie ever! (I don’t eat meat, so I don’t really have much to say about the actual BBQ, but my road trip partner liked it.)
Things I observed in Alabama:
1. There is such thing as Southern Hospitality
2. Greensboro is the Catfish Capital of Alabama (lots of catfish farms)
3. They love their college football…it is safe to say; their 2nd religion
4. Next to Jesus…and they love Jesus a lot
5. Vanity plates – I have NEVER seen so many! It was amazing.
6. Tuscaloosa is a dry county on Sundays
7. Dark tinted windows on your car/truck/dooly is an absolute must
I liked Alabama. I got to see cotton field being harvested; never before had I seen that. Came across a field where you could say; another man’s trash is another man’s art. Tuscaloosa is a beautiful college town, with a beautiful race course that I really enjoyed.
Nationals is run very well with a lot of support, the volunteers know everything about what was going on and could easily answer questions no matter where you were, which is always a good thing. I would give the race an A+ on how it was run. Expo was, on the other hand, so much smaller than what I had ever seen; so if you forgot something, you would have to on an adventure to find it. Expo would be more like a D-.
Friday evening of the race I got a migraine headache so badly that it mad me sick and I couldn’t keep anything in my stomach. Saturday I had an allergic reaction to cross-contamination of fish. Needless to say, I got all the bad stuff out of the way before race day. Sunday morning was race day; I open up the door to our hotel room and saw lightening immediately as I stepped into the pouring rain. Good times. Still, it didn’t get me down. I race by the philosophy of – everyone races in the same conditions, so no matter what the outdoor elements are; it is still an even playing field.
The rain stopped and the sun came out just in time for the swim down the muddy river. I know they said the dam was closed for Saturday’s race, but I swear it was open for the Sprint race…I kept getting pushed from some kind of current, so I found it hard to swim toward the yellow buoy! But what I found to be more difficult was kicking with a strained hamstring…oh my; bottom line – that sucked. I thought the run was going to be tough with it hurting the way it did. Quickly I changed my strategy and decided to go about 80% effort from start to finish; rather than the previous plan of 100% on the swim, 90% on the bike – standing on the climbs to activate more of my quads and less of my hamstrings, and whatever I could do to hold onto the run and survive.
As I came out of the water and transitioned to the bike, I found myself at all times passing people one after the other. I felt strong and steady. The hills were easy to get up and working into the wind didn’t seem to faze me that much. About the halfway point the clouds came and soon followed was the rain. As I came down the second to last hill I decided to go ahead and start pushing myself like I normally would in a sprint race, which was for about 2.5-3 miles. From the time I hit transition, hopped off my bike and was out of the gates starting my run – 36 seconds; it was pouring rain!
I started off easy on the run and found myself running next to a foot pounding, heavy breathing, sounded like he was dying 56 year old man; I had to break away! Once I started to pick up my speed I wasn’t going to slow down. Even though I ran conservatively, I continued to pass one person after the other. Not a single person passed me on the run!
I will always find a spring in my step in the last 800 of any race and hunted down a few in the end. As I came down the shoot to the finish, I started to realize that I done better than what I had expected to due, given the circumstances of my leg. What I was more happy about than anything was that I didn’t deepen the injury and I had raced smart. Within the next few minutes I had caught my breath and felt like I had just done a challenging workout. Walked over to the results table only to find that I had placed 3rd in my age group – my first time on the podium at Nationals!
It was a good day. It was a good course. I now get to go to Worlds. I am only now more excited for next year in racing. It is time to let my body rest, my hamstring fully recover, and enjoy life for a few weeks outside of triathlons and marathons.
The week leading up to my race with my hamstring strain I – iced, got massages, used this Chinese rub that my acupuncturist gave me, did not run, swim or strength train, too time off of work to stay off my feet, and wore compression tights almost every hour of the day. I even wore a compression sleeve on my thigh race day. It felt like my leg was supported during the race. Now I feel like it isn’t any better, but it certainly isn’t any worse.