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Collegiate Nationals Race Report

By Rachel Blechman | April 09, 2014, 12 a.m. (ET)

TriCanes, three times the swagger. It’s 5:45 a.m. on race morning and we’re blasting country music out of a pickup truck filled with bikes. Drowning out the strains of “Call Me Maybe” in the event parking garage, pre-race jitters gradually turn into stone-cold killer mode as 7:30 a.m. approaches. 

collegiate nationals

This is the race that I have been thinking about since I woke up in the med tent 351 days ago. With a strong semester of building, training and racing behind me, I finally feel like I can redeem myself. Despite convincing myself that I forgot a water bottle at home base (I didn’t!), I managed to get set up, stuffed into sausage casing and into the water for the warm-up. There is something pretty surreal about being surrounded by collegiate triathletes listening to the national anthem as adrenaline plays havoc with your system. I tend to get this warm feeling, but for all I know that’s just the pee in my wetsuit.

I adore the open water starts; everyone silently treading water when the gun goes off. For the first quarter mile I am flying with the current of racers, letting my history as a soccer player allow me to enjoy the aggressive nature of a swim start. For most people it is terrifying, but I learned from a young age how to hold steady against a larger body and redirect the forces.  Trying not to think about what exactly is in the water, I begin to hit my pace for the swim. While I’m still not the biggest fan of swimming, I have finally gotten to the point where I can race the race instead of just completing it. That is a huge achievement for me this year — now it’s time to bring the time down.

I’m sitting under a palm tree right now looking at the bruises on my shin and realizing how much tunnel vision I have when I race. I wouldn’t be able to tell you who dragged me up those stairs or how I got onto my bike, but somehow it happened. A quick two-lap bike where my main concern was getting in the right fluids. While in recent races the bike has been my focus, Nationals this year was about the run.

collegiate nationals

I don’t remember the last 5k of the 2013 Championships. I don’t remember the course, I don’t remember the red carpet, and I don’t remember the finish line, but pictures show me that I was there. This year was different, instead of thinking about getting to the end, my mind was always on the person in front of me and how I would get in front of them. As my teammate flew past me at mile 5 with a huge grin on her face, I knew we were going to make it.

Finding the strength to kick it into high gear and make it under the three bridges to see that red carpet was my reward for a year’s worth of hard work. I didn’t win the race, I didn’t feel amazing, but finishing was why I was there. I was back, seeing that line and stamping my feet.

The best part about still being conscious, is then going back up the course to scream, coach and moon (sorry to that guy behind ours) my teammates into the final sprint. To everyone who raced this weekend, amazing job. I have so much respect for anyone regardless of size, color or pace that has learned to appreciate the beauty of waking up to push your body to its limits. See you next year!