About a month ago, thinking forward to next year, I had emailed USA Triathlon to find out more about draft legal triathlons as a potential way to get into ITU racing. As a strong swimmer and biker, I may not be the ideal draft legal racing candidate but I didn’t want to write it off. I got a response that informed me there would be a draft legal race in Detroit in two weeks. I was competing at USAT Nationals in a week and planned to race the following Sunday at the YWCA women’s tri, both of which I still wanted to race.
Since I don’t own a draft legal bike, I sent an email to Kevin O’Connor and Hannah Sullivan at Gear West right away. Almost immediately I got a response that they could definitely help me get setup to race. Last minute planning is not my style but within 24 hours I was registered for the race, had a flight and hotel booked, car rented, bike, wheels and bike box all lined up. Of course I got Stopwatch Greg a flight ASAP too; there was no way he was going to miss this spectator-friendly race. The Monday before Nationals Kevin fit me on a Felt AR2 with Ultegra Di2 electronic shifting and a set of Zipp 303 tubulars. This bike is top of the line and insanely fast; if you need a road bike I definitely recommend this one (apparently it sold out before it hit the stores too). After getting the bike fit taken care of, my focus was back onto Nationals (see that report here).
The Thursday after Nationals I flew into Detroit, Patrick and I put the bike together and we went over the race site on Belle Isle to check out the course. Belle Isle is an island in the Detroit River between Detroit and Canada. Probably one of the most beautiful venues I’ve been to (the name appropriately translates to “beautiful island”). Since race week was busy, this was my first time actually riding the bike. I did five loops of the approximately 4 mile course and called it good. We picked up dinner at Whole Foods on the way back to the hotel and went to bed.
Having no group riding experience (other than social rides with my sister, Lisa Lendway and Patrick) I was lucky to have the opportunity to join Barb Lindquist (2004 Triathlon Olympian) for a clinic on Friday morning. Barb, with the help of a couple local coaches, covered drafting rules and general instruction on biking in a pack. We also practiced in small groups, which was great to at least have an idea how to communicate out on the course. I’ve watched plenty of ITU races but you can’t hear the communication that’s happening. Barb also gave pointers on general bike handling for draft legal racing; some of which will definitely carry over to non-draft racing as well.
After riding a couple loops of the course we talked about swim drafting and got in the river for a brisk swim. The water was low 70’s, which in ITU racing is non-wetsuit swimming. We practiced some drafting with partners as well as dolphin dive entry and exit. It was a different experience for me to practice hanging on someone’s feet, something I have yet to do in a race but I’m sure I will in the near future.
After the clinic Patrick and I headed back to the airport to pick-up Stopwatch Greg. We picked up snacks/dinner again at Whole Foods and headed back to the race site to listen to Barb give a talk. She talked about her different transitions in life that got her to triathlon and the many important lessons learned along the way. I can’t do her story justice by any means but she made some great points that I could relate to.
Following Barb’s talk we had some time to snack in the car before the mandatory Elite Development Draft Legal race meeting. At the meeting they covered some commonly broken rules, like touching your bike without your helmet clipped and racking your bike front wheel facing in for T2. After the meeting we headed back to the hotel to stretch out and get to bed.
Around 3 am I woke up to use the bathroom; with just a couple hours of sleep left I figured I’d be OK without earplugs. Not too long after laying back down I heard an odd noise; I nudged Patrick and asked if he heard something. We waited for a minute and realized it was the fire alarm. The alarm was pretty quiet and it alternated with a voice saying, “Please exit the building, do not use the elevators, use the stairs, there is a fire emergency.” I turned the light on, waking up Greg and we threw on some warm clothes and moved to the stairwell. A few flights down a manager was running up the stairs telling everyone to go back to their rooms as it was a false alarm, phew! As we got back to the room some folks were just exiting their rooms since the alarm was so quiet. Wide awake, with the alarm still going off, I shoved my earplugs back in to attempt to get a little more rest. (In the morning we found out Barb had earplugs in and had slept through the whole thing, that’s scary.)
5:15 and my first alarm went off. It was nice; I got to ‘sleep in’ and I didn’t need to get to the race site until 7 so I could take my time getting ready. After stretching out a bit and warming up my coffee we headed over to the race site. There was an F1 (youth draft legal) race at 6:45, then the men’s Elite Development Race (EDR) at 7:45 and the women’s EDR starting at 8:45.
Watching the F1 race had to be one of the most adorable things I’ve ever seen. Following their finish, it was nice to watch some of the men’s race to get a glimpse of the craziness I was about to get into.
Around 8:30 I walked down to the far end of the beach where we’d be starting. One by one they called our numbers and you got to choose your starting spot on the beach. The current was taking everyone left, so everyone lined up as far right as possible. With literally 3 seconds warning the horn buzzed and we were off in the water.
I had clear water swimming out to the first buoy but there was a pack of fast swimmers nearby. Rounding the first buoy a girl was swimming near my waist and another on my toes. This was the most contact I’ve had in a triathlon; I even got some fingernails to the legs, reminiscent of my water polo days. Swimming parallel to shore with the current carrying us, I kept my slight lead. The waves were pretty big with a few white caps so I had to coordinate my breaths and sighting with the top of the wave. Finally around the next buoy we headed into shore. As the water calmed a bit I was able to break away from the girls and get some distance. Hitting the shore I had about a ten second lead. I was pretty slow in transition as I was worried about getting a penalty. The girl behind me, Kirsten Kasper, flew by me mounting our bikes out of transition, but she wasn’t about to ride alone.
Kirsten and I slid into our shoes and got to work together right away. We had three approximately 4.13 mile loops on the bike with a hot transition (bike and run through transition each loop). Pretty quickly I could tell that I was pulling about 1-2 mph faster when I was leading but I didn’t think it would be worth it to try and go alone right away. It was a new experience to me to not be working as hard as I can on the bike. When leading you ride at about 80% and when drafting you barely have to pedal to keep up a 20+ mph pace. Practicing Friday I knew I was horrible at cornering so I tried to always lead into the turns so I wouldn’t fall off the back. This wasn’t an issue as Kirsten had no problem letting me take the lead whenever I wanted.
Knowing Kirsten was a stellar runner I planned to at least attempt to make a break on the third lap when the wind was at our back. I hit 30 mph but couldn’t break her from my wheel. In hind site I had a great opportunity to break on the first lap when she decided to take a Gu and drink water while leading. I would have caught her off guard and in 2.5 more laps I could have put a pretty big gap between us but I’m not sure it would have been enough. Going into transition was a sharp right hand turn so I was playing it pretty safe which allowed Kirsten to cut in front to lead into T2. We put about 1:30 on the group that came out of T1 right behind us.
Heading out for the run I was feeling pretty good. Kirsten took off right away and I knew I just had to set a strong pace and maintain that. The run was two loops for a 5k, again with a hot transition. Nearing transition on the first loop, Barb was out on the course cheering us on and giving some running form reminders in the process. Running towards transition I checked the penalty board for my number, phew #60 was not listed, so I continued on (if I had a penalty I would have stopped then to serve my penalty for a break mid run). Crossing the timing pad through transition I glanced at my watch and I was at 8:46, I was excited to see I was actually running sub 6 pace. I broke the rest of the race down into smaller pieces in my mind and tried to maintain throughout. The last blocks of the race Barb and Patrick were both out cheering and I was still feeling strong. I raced through transition with tons of folks cheering me on to the finish line. I ended up second; Kirsten ran a smoking 16:34 to beat me by 1:30 but I had run 18:06, 5:50 pace (!!!) my fastest run in a race EVER and sub 6 for the first time!!
This race for me was a great experience and well worth the last minute trip to Detroit. While the field of women ended up only being 10, it was definitely a talented group. Many of the athletes that raced are part of the USAT collegiate recruitment program. Two of the athletes Kirsten Kasper(1st) and Molly Higgins(4th) are actually already officially part of the USA National Team. The two of them spent the last few months being trained in Spain by USAT and they were both listed by USAT as two of ten athletes with potential for the Rio Olympics, read here.
Post-race I hung out for awards and some snacks. The top three athletes in each of the men’s and women’s EDR races were being awarded their pro cards, if they choose to take it.
After awards we had to rush back to the hotel to pick up some luggage, break down the bike and pack it up. Patrick was flying standby hoping to catch a 3:30 flight and Greg had a 3:00 flight to catch. Breaking the bike down went fairly smoothly. We had to check out earlier in the morning so we were breaking the bike down in the breakfast area. People found this process fascinating so we actually had a small crowd of people watching as we spastically packed and re-arranged everything.
We made it to the airport and checked in with no issues. Unfortunately my flight wasn’t until 5:30 so I had a long time to hang out in the concourse. Since I was still planning on racing in the morning I tried mostly to relax. I hooked up the Compex, stretched and downed a lot of water to hopefully be ready for the next day.
I had prepared for Sunday as much as possible before I left but I still had plenty to do when I got home around 7. By the time I got into bed I was exhausted but ready to go for the YWCA race in the morning. Check back for that race report soon. Thanks for reading! Check out the race results. View more photos.