A week ago, I raced in my last Collegiate Nationals as an undergrad. It proved to be a most unusual race weekend.
Like last year, the race was held in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Unlike last year, due to some torrential downpours, the flood gates upstream of our race site were opened and USAT was forced to cancel the swim three days before our race. Suddenly, my teammates and I were unintentionally signed up for our first duathlon and in the case of Kelsey and I, our first two duathlons back-to-back Friday and Saturday. Ever heard of a draft legal duathlon? It was new to us!
Fortunately, Coach Dave was able to give us insightful race strategy advice the day before Draft Legal. In a nutshell,
1. run for your life
2. get in a good bike pack
3. then catch people on the second run
Sure. In reality, the first two steps were easy enough to achieve after a nice, fat taper week (minus the fact that the “good bike pack” became a massive peloton of swerving, unstable and competitive triathletes). However, the second run hit me harder than expected and I watched in misery as almost all the racers of our bike pack (who had been feeding off my back wheel!!!) came careening past me out of transition.
Thankfully, I had a second chance at duathlon right the next day and I was already signed up! This time, I saved some of my legs on the first run and biked blissfully free catching some 50 of the 60 odd people who had beat me on the first run. Running just short of top 10, I got to witness for the first time the calm energy and polite vigor of other coaches who cheered on their athletes with ill-concealed warmth: “COME ON [NAME]. PUSH YOURSELF. I SAID PUSH. YOURSELF. 40 SECONDS TO [UNIVERSITY]. HARDER. I EXPECT YOU TO GET THOSE POINTS [NAME]! PUSH [NAME]!!!!”
When I approached the finish, my own coach did not issue his usual “Go get her!” but instead a discomforting “Hold her off!” and I knew I’d have to take that burn in my legs one step farther, knew I’d need one more gear that I had not yet created.
Though I held her off to the finish line, she overtook me on the leaderboard some time later in the day when I was graced with my first bike penalty: a 2:00 position penalty. With close to the fastest bike split on a crowded course, that was indeed bitter. Whether it’s a mistake I can learn from or a misinterpretation, I’ll never know. However, the UNC women’s team came in 9th place, making the weekend an overall victory!