Yes, I do realize that my blog titles are extremely original. :)
First, it should be noted that I'm a little embarrassed to have been calling it "Alabama" when all along it's really just "bama". Rookie mistake.
Second, this matter of elephants. Yes, they were everywhere. And yes, I did figure out why. It's related to football of course. And it dates back all the way to the 1930s when a newspaper reporter noted that the 'bama football team was like a herd of elephants coming onto the field. The "crimson" in their "crimson tide" is in regards to their red jerseys. Roll Tide Roll.
Third, the south. What a great place. It's really hot and humid but despite all that, really nice and pleasant people live there. You would think all the heat would make them grumpy but quite the contrary! Both O and I really enjoyed our trip to Tuscaloosa and if you have the chance to go next year for Nationals I highly recommend it. The University of Alabama was beautiful. Campus seemed to be all new! It reminded me a lot of Penn State only...a lot hotter. I'm guessing they don't get 10,000 inches of snow each winter at 'bama. :)
Anyway - the RACE! (I bet you thought I would never get here!)
Of course if you've read any race reports or news articles on the race you know the story of the day was the swim. They had set up the course so the majority of it would be WITH the current but Mother Nature had other ideas. Instead, because of so much rain, dams upstream had to be opened for fear of flooding and that changed the flow of water so instead of swimming with, we were swimming against the current. It didn't LOOK like that much of a current and in all honesty it didn't feel that badly to swim in, but the times certainly showed how much harder it made things. Let's just say, I swam faster at Steelhead than I did on Saturday! (half IM swim vs an Olympic distance swim in case you didn't know)
Cathy and I before the race. She totally rocked our AG winning by A LOT. I respect Cathy for many things but mostly for her ability to perform well over and over and over again at a whole range of distances AND with a lot of outside pressure to do so. Not an easy task. Oh yeah, and her and Kerry (her husband) are just the nicest, most encouraging people too!
I was one of the later waves to go so by the time I had to race I was well aware of the fact that the swim times were a good 7-10 minutes slower than normal. Not really a big deal because I knew what to expect and everyone had to race in the same conditions. Nevertheless, things like this do change the dynamic of the race because I knew the stronger swimmers were relishing the idea while the weaker swimmers were secretly crying inside. I told myself I WAS one of the stronger swimmers (which is quite a statement for me at this level in Olympic distance racing) and in all honesty I believed it. In the end, it turns out that I was half right. My swim definitely kept me IN the race for a podium position BUT the 2 women that finished ahead of me in my AG also outswam me by 4-5 minutes. There is no overcoming that at this distance - not when everyone can bike and run fast also. So, I'm getting there. But not there yet. It makes me so motivated to train my little tail off when I do races like this!
Like I said, the swim really didn't feel too badly, it was just that I felt like I was in the water for a long time. Oh wait, I was! I glanced at my watch as I got out of the water and saw 31:xx. YIKES! But that was neither here nor there. At this race, it's all about finishing place. I could hear O yelling at me that I was right with 7th/8th/9th in my AG. I think it's absolutely amazing that he can figure this out. I mean by this point all the AG were mixed up together (waves only started 3 minutes apart so as you can imagine it was a mess out there). But that's why O is always in the running for "Spectathlete of the Year"! :)
I hopped on my bike and felt good. The bike course was hillier than I expected and that made me happy. It spreads people out and hilly is good for me. I did pass a few girls from my AG and since the course was 2 loops O was once again able to tell me my standing. I had moved myself up to 3rd in my AG but just as we were taking our feet out of our shoes and heading into transition, another gal in my AG came flying past. We essentially headed into transition together. My bike time was 1:04:15. Thanks to KY, photographer extraordinaire, I have some awesome pictures from the race! (not that I LOOK awesome in the pictures but the pictures themselves are awesome :). Thanks Kerry!
My goal was to finish in the top 3 in my AG so I kept repeating "go with her, go with her, go with her" as 3rd place zoomed out of T2 onto the run course. But oh man did she take off. Ouch. She instantly gapped me and was gaining more ground AND she looked like a runner. Darn runners... :) So I was thinking I might be in trouble. But then after about a mile (no mile markers so I can't be sure) it seemed as if the distance between us was remaining constant. I saw O (again, he was everywhere) up the first big hill and he told me she was 20 seconds ahead. Come on, move those legs!
Lucky for me (but not for her), I think she sort of fell apart. It looked as if she started to cramp a little and walked a few steps. I saw it as my opportunity but I did really try to encourage her as I went past. I hope she finished up okay.
When I next saw O, I was solidly in 3rd place and wondering where 2nd was. Unfortunately O broke the bad news to me. He told me 2nd was 2+ minutes up. And we were about 2.5 miles into the run at that point. Hmm... If there is one thing I'm disappointed with myself in this weekend, it's that last 3.5 miles. Once I heard that catching 2nd was going to be pretty impossible, I sort of let down my guard. All of a sudden it was very hot, I was very thirsty and all I could think about was getting to the next section of the run where there was shade. I knew in the back of my mind that I could run myself into a much better OA position if I really, really went for it on the run, even if it didn't result in a higher AG position...but without that motivation right there in front of me, someone who I could see and catch, well, let's just say the weaker side of me won out. I think this is the only part of triathlon that I might not like - having to "race" people without racing head to head. But that's the nature of the sport (at the AG level) so I should get over it! :)
In the end I accomplished my goal of finishing in the top 3 in my AG and I was pretty darn excited! I think O was also excited for me which also makes me happy. :)
After the race, we headed back to the hotel to drop off my gear and so I could take a shower. WOW was I nasty. :) And then headed back to the race site to watch the pro races. What fun! Cathy's Minnesota peeps had set up the perfect tent area to watch the pros go at it and they let O and I horn in on their spot! It was awesome! Awesome to spend some time with Cathy and Kerry and meet some new people and awesome to watch some draft legal racing! Those pros, wow. They can ride and they can run. Oh wait, they can swim too. :) I think O was most in awe of how aggressively they rode the corners and such (and we did see one crash) but what I was most surprised about was the fact that some of them didn't actually get their feet into their cycling shoes until 1 whole loop had been completed (on the 6 loop course). WHAT THE HECK?? :)
Then I was really tired.
Then we went to eat at the dining halls on campus because O REALLY wanted to. I think O's favorite thing about college was the dining halls. Come to think of it, the dining halls were also a big highlight for me. :) With our bellys filled, we finally headed to the awards which was really nice. I was very happy to get to be up on stage. The last time I came to AG Nationals I placed 15th in my AG so no award for me. It really is the small things that motivate me. :)
Anyway, WHAT A TRIP! Besides the race the highlight was certainly getting to meet some new friends and spending time with some old friends that I don't get to see very often. The people in this sport are what make the sport. Sounds corny I know but it's true! It started on the journey to AL when I got to sit on the plane with Chris from IN who I met last year at BOUS. She had an awesome race on Saturday! And then dinner with Kari the night before! And at dinner I met Ashley! And during the race, who was chasing me down on the run but Alicia! (of course she started 6 minutes BEHIND me, so in the grand scheme of things, she was way ahead of me) And watching the pro races with CY and KY and the Minnesota contingent! And chatting with Eric before his pro race (Eric taught me how to swim). And finally, getting to sit with Lindsey on our flight from Birmingham to BWI yesterday. I learned a lot from Lindsey in that small amount of time. Watch out for her folks. I should have gotten her autograph yesterday before she starts charging. ;)
(I told you this picture would end up on my blog Lindsey :)
And one last picture. When I was on the phone with my mom on Sunday she said "oh, I saw your picture on the USAT website." Really? I was a bit surprised that my mom was even ON the USAT website but equally surprised that there was a picture of me on it! :) This was from the day before the race when I took a little practice swim. I did see the photographer there but wasn't quite sure what he was doing... (stolen from the website)
And that was a really long blog post! Sorry! Thanks so, so much to everyone for their good luck wishes and kind comments after the race! You guys rock! Now it's time for a little rest (I think, I haven't seen my new schedule quite yet... ;) and then training for BOUS and Clearwater! Woo-hoo!