I sit here, a week after the USAT Age Group National Championships, trying to figure out what to write. I usually manage a race recap within a few days of the race because first, the excitement and motivation is still there, and second, the race is fresh in my mind. This time, I squeezed this race into packed schedule and found myself rolling straight into an incredibly busy and stressful work week and time has just slipped away.
So, I’ll start with a short wrap up of my feelings about the race a week out, and then I’ll go into the details and some of the struggles I’m facing.
Overall, my body felt really good. I came away from the race uninjured and having put in a decent effort. That said, there were times where I did not push as hard as I could have. The goal for this race was to use it as a warm-up for ITU Worlds on September 1st. With that in mind, when I saw ladies in my age group pass me on the run, I didn’t kick it up a notch to try to stay with them or chase them down. I also wasn’t chasing down a world qualification like I was last year. It’s not in my plans to race for Team USA in Edmonton in 2020 so I didn’t have that drive to get a qualifying spot. After I finished and checked my place, I was surprised to see 40th in my age group. That stung a bit. I finished 21st last year and I kind of always hope to improve my results year to year. So that’s why my feelings are in a funny place with this one. Logically, it was a well-executed race. It served its purpose as a warm up for Worlds, and I hope the placing lights a fire in my belly and that competitive edge shows up on race day in Lausanne.
Now for the details:
Race day was Saturday morning so I flew into Cleveland on Thursday afternoon. This gave me time to settle into my AirBnb, do a bit of food shopping, unpack my bike from my Scicon bag, and jog over to Edgewater Park for packet pickup. I’m lucky the flights went well and nothing happened with my bike. Perfect trip from door to door.
On Friday morning, I did an hour spin on the bike. It was tough finding safe and decent streets in the city to do some intervals, but I managed the best I could. Everything was working great with the bike and my legs felt good. I followed that up with an easy 15 minute brick run. The plan next was to bike over to Edgewater Park to catch the practice swim in Lake Erie and then rack my bike. Unfortunately, the swim practice was cancelled due to large swells and waves. I was hoping it would improve for the race the next day!
My TriMarni teammate Danielle was arriving in Cleveland around lunchtime on Friday so I rode my bike over the Edgewater Park to sync up with her arrival. I racked my bike and met up with Danielle and her husband. It’s always great to meet up with teammates, and especially Danielle who’s a big ray of sunshine. We caught up, took photos, and then went our separate ways so that we could both relax before the race. I made dinner at the AirBnb, and was in bed by 8pm with an alarm set for 4am.
Race morning went as planned – oatmeal for breakfast. Then I walked over to Edgewater Park with my fellow AirBnb’er and racer Elizabeth. It was about a 15 minute walk with all our gear, which got us there around 5am. Transition was quick and easy to set up. Elizabeth was very kind and lent me her bike pump for my tires. I did an easy jog, ate a banana, finished my pre-load, and saw Danielle all before heading to the beach for the race start.
I lucked out two years in a row with an early wave time. The first wave of men 20-24 went off at 7am. Females 35-39 were off at 7:26 so not a lot of waiting around. The waves and swell were still IMMENSE so they shortened the swim to 750m instead of 1500m. I’m very happy we had a swim. I really didn’t want a cancelled swim with a run-bike-run instead. The water temp was hovering around 76F so just barely wetsuit legal. I heard ladies saying they wouldn’t use their wetsuit because it’s too warm, but it’s legal, I’m using it. The buoyancy and less water resistance always make for a faster swim in a wetsuit.
We had 2 whole minutes to warm up in the water after the wave in front of us set off. That was a quick out and back, and then they blew the airhorn! It was absolute madness from the start. Faster swimmers swam over me, and it was incredibly hard to sight with the swell. I had to time my sighting for when I was at the top of a swell, and I didn’t get that right all of the time. I had to sit up at least twice to make sure I was heading in the right direction. I told myself it would get better once I hit the turn buoy and made the 90 degree turn to swim parallel to the shore. Boy, was I wrong!
At the turn buoy, a guy on a paddleboard told us to use the Cleveland skyline to sight. I’m so glad I heard that as we turned into a full face of sun. I could not see any buoys with the swell, sun, and mass of bodies. I didn’t see a buoy until I was right along beside it. I think this is one of the reasons the course felt so congested. Everyone was following other swimmers since we couldn’t see the buoys to carve our own paths. I managed a better rhythm for that section of the swim, but still got kicked in the face, and had to swim around a few people.
The final turn buoy had us heading into shore and that was easier. The sun was out of my face, and the crowd spread out a little as we could actually see the swim finish when sighting. I hoped to catch a wave into shore, but it got too shallow pretty far out. That sucked – instead of swimming right up to the shore to reduce running in the water (super exhausting), I had to pop up 15m or so from the water’s edge. I even got back down in the water to see if I could swim further but my hands were hitting the ground with every stroke.
Ugh, so exhausted after that swim. I really wanted to throw in the towel – my mind was not in a good place. Running up the swim finish shoot, Danielle and her husband were there cheering me on. I wanted to say “that swim was REALLY hard”, but I knew Danielle would be in the water soon and I didn’t want to freak her out so I tried my hardest to not look completely broken.
I passed a few women on the run from the swim finish to T1. Once at my rack, I stripped off my wetsuit, put on my helmet and shoes, and ran out. It was a long transition simply due to the quarter mile run from the beach to T1, but I didn’t lose any extra time faffing around with my bike gear.
As I got to the bike mount line, a stranger said “Let’s go Martin. Something special is about to happen.” That was super nice and encouraging. Spectators – these little cheers and comments make a big difference! Unfortunately, my mind was still totally whacked from the swim so where I would normally shoot off on the bike, I felt like I needed to build into this one a bit more. It was a short climb out of Edgewater Park, and then a 180 degree turn to set us out on the highway.
I spent the first half of the bike mostly on my own. I passed quite a few people, but I wasn’t passed by too many other riders. I put in a good effort going up a steady climb, and a female rider gave me kudos for that. The course is relatively flat with technical cornering once we got downtown. Flat doesn’t particularly play to my strengths, and while I’m a great technical rider, I can’t say the same for 80% of triathletes. That means that I had to deal with some ridiculous cornering from riders around me, which slowed me down and screwed up my rhythm.
In the second half of the bike, I got caught up in traffic with some ladies and men that were going about the same speed. This is the most frustrating situation with people passing and then you have to drop back as per USAT and ITU rules. You end up in a leapfrogging situation, and it’s super easy to get a drafting violation if there’s an official around. I did a few efforts to break away from this group, but I’d get caught again after a few minutes. This happened probably 3 or 4 times. Then, a guy passed me who was clearly a crit racer. He took some of those downtown turns like a pro and that got me going. I was like “that’s how you ride a bike” and that gave me some energy to hammer it and use those corners to get a gap on this group.
Before I knew it, the bike dismount line was there and I was off the bike and running into T2.
I got a little confused in T2 and ran down the wrong aisle with my bike. I almost put my bike on the wrong rack, but the girl in my age group was right there trying to put her bike in there. I’m lucky I figured it out, but too much faffing in T2 for sure. I’m usually really good about being in the right place in transition so I don’t know how I screwed that up. NakedBelt with race number on, hydration in the back, hat and sunglasses on, shoes on, and out of transition.
Again, we had to climb out of Edgewater Park to put us on the highway for the long out and back for the first 4 miles. I didn’t like this course change. Last year, it was two loops in the park, which had shade and allowed me to use the hilly terrain to my advantage. This year, it was a single circuit with a big out and back on the highway. Running on the highway is never fun for me, but I had to make the best of it.
I fell into step with maybe 2 other women in my age group. We stuck together for the majority of the run, until one of them broke free in the last mile to bring it home strong. We got passed by a lot of fast women in our age group. I kept thinking “form over force” and trying to run my run. My mile splits were coming up as sub-8 minute miles so I was running the best I could. These other women were just faster, and I can’t pull out a sub-7 minute mile for 5k, let alone 10k. I gave myself two 10 second walk resets in the last 2 miles. Otherwise, I drank my hydration at every mile, and dumped water on my body at the aid stations. I ran down the big hill at mile 5.5 pretty fast, but 8 seconds slower than last year. There was no one from my age group around me near the end so I picked it up a bit, but no sprint finish for me. I didn’t see the point. My final time was 2:15:26 with splits as follows:
Swim (750m): 13:48
Bike (40k but actually shorter): 1:08:21
Run (10k): 47:54
After a quick dip in the ice bath at the finish line, I got my phone and saw that I finished 40th in my AG. Official results now show me in 38th so I guess a couple of people were disqualified. Looking through the results, my swim certainly didn’t put me out of contention. The winner of our age group came out of the water only 30 seconds ahead of me. My bike also didn’t throw me out of the mix with 9 women finishing ahead of me with similar or slower swim-bike times. The big difference was that those 9 women had much faster run splits than me. There were 6 women with similar or slower run splits who finished ahead of me, but they had much faster bike splits than me. So, going into Worlds, I need to stay strong and consistent in the swim. I can’t win it in the swim. No one can. I need to turn it up on the bike. That is my strongest discipline, and where I think I have the most potential to chip away at time. Then I need a well-executed run. I’m not the slowest runner, but it’s very unlikely that I’ll be a come-from-behind, make-it-all-up-on-the-run type of triathlete. No f-ups in transition either. I really don’t have the time or luxury for that.
After the race, it was time to cheer on fellow TriMarni teammates Danielle and Dave, and I got to see my AirBnb roommate Elizabeth finish as well. We celebrated with a few beers before heading home to clean up, and finished off my stay in Cleveland with dinner with Danielle and her husband. Probably the best part of the sport is catching up with friends from all over, and reliving our race day stories together.
In an effort to be fully open about my triathlon journey, I want to take a moment to mention the “other stuff” that comes into play in my day-to-day. As an age group triathlete, racing and training isn’t my entire life. For the past 3-4 weeks, I’ve really struggled with just feeling off. Not in an athletic sense, but I’ve felt very stressed with work and in my personal life. I found out 2 weeks ago that my father’s multiple myeloma is “back”, and he is back receiving heavy treatment for that as of this week. That has certainly been weighing on my mind, how to navigate that and provide support where needed.
As for work, both my husband and I are self-employed, which means we don’t always have a steady stream of income. In July both my husband and I had customers who didn’t pay on time or as expected. While I have a bit of savings to fall back on for these occasions, it can get a bit too close for comfort, especially when we have 2 weeks off of work to travel to Worlds on the horizon. This compounded stress has led me to suffer from mild depression and anxiety for the past few weeks. This hasn’t been diagnosed by a medical professional, and I’m not on medication to address a mood disorder, but there have been many times in my life where I’ve gotten into a funk that I can’t reason myself out of. As of writing this, I feel like I’m approaching the back side of it, and I’m hoping 2 weeks off of work will help me reset and come back to work with new vigor and inspiration.
I write this not for sympathy, but to show that although social media makes everything look happy and perfect, there are tough times going on in the background. I don’t want to hide those tough times and struggles – these times are what help me grow and appreciate the good times – but they don’t make for good photos on Instagram.
I’m looking for coping mechanisms. Training for triathlon is certainly one of those. Training and racing is really the only “Fiona” time I have in my calendar. It works as an active meditation for me, where the only thing that’s on my mind is what I’m doing in that moment. I probably need to get back to a more structured mediation practice. I meditated almost daily back in 2017 when I was going through an incredibly stressful time, and I really feel it helped ease my anxiety. I’m grateful for my husband as we navigate this together. At times, it’s hard for me to vocalize what’s going on. He just sees someone who gets angry easily, or cries at small things, but I think we’re both getting better at supporting each other emotionally when we need it. Thanks also goes to my close friends and colleagues at SOCO – you know who you are. I’ve met such amazing people there who I trust with my life. They are so supportive when it comes to the struggles of working for yourself and everything that comes with it. I don’t know what I’d do without their open ears and hearts.
So, if you’re struggling right now, please know that you’re not alone. There are highs and lows, and some of those lows are very low. Reach out to someone for help, even if it’s a stranger. What we show online doesn’t show the whole story. Behind every smile is likely a few tears.