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The Castaldo Chronicles Part 3: Race Recap

By Eric Castaldo | Aug. 12, 2014, 12 a.m. (ET)

We did it! We completed a 2,400-mile family vacation road trip and the most competitive triathlon we have ever seen.

eric and miki castaldo

After finishing the vacation portion of our trip in Neenah, Wisconsin, it was time to head to Milwaukee and race. We arrived on Friday and met up with my wife Miki’s cousin, Tripp Milligan, an outstanding age-grouper in his own right. We immediately headed down to the open swim practice. The three of us swam about 400 meters and were quite refreshed by the cool, calm waters of Lake Michigan. This also soothed Miki’s nerves and gave her the confidence she needed to race on Sunday. We checked in our bikes and were off to meet with several fellow members of our Gainesville Triathlon Club, G3, for a prerace dinner.

I never sleep very well before a race due to nervous anticipation and that would prove especially true for this race. Although this time it wasn’t rehearsing the race in my head or going over my race plan a final time. Instead a new obstacle would present itself, a child with food poisoning, which set in at midnight. Miki and I were up with him for several hours, quite significantly limiting my rest, but I wasn’t too concerned, as family always comes first.

The atmosphere Saturday morning before the Olympic-distance race was electric. After mingling with a couple of friendly competitors in my age group (40-44) from Chicago and Seattle, we waited for our wave to start. As we floated in the water awaiting the starter’s horn, I looked around and felt honored to be surrounded by so many incredible athletes, each with his own story. I had no false pretenses about a top 25 finish; my goal was to break 2 hours, 30 minutes, which I had only done once before.

eric castaldo

While the water felt amazing, the swim was rough. It was what I would imagine being a sock in a washing machine feels like. There were so many good swimmers of similar speed that space to work was limited. I set a PR in the swim at 25:21 and was thrilled heading into T1 where I promptly lost my wrestling match with my wetsuit.

The bike, which is my slowest event, took us along the shoreline and was mostly flat with a few hills mixed in. You could see that the Polar Vortex that brutalized this region of the country this winter had taken its toll on the roads. However, bumpy areas were well marked with ample volunteers to inform.

After exiting T2, the first portion of the run was along the lake and provided an outstanding backdrop. I struggled a bit through the last two miles, but would ultimately finish in 2:29:01 thus beating my goal. There must have been a thousand spectators cheering around the finish line, which gave me goose bumps as I raised my arms crossing the finish line.

One thing I love about triathlon is how humbling it is. The quality of competitors was so overwhelming and outstanding this weekend that with my time, I would only have qualified for Team USA if I was a 65-69 male (I would have been 12th) or a 55-59 female (I would have been 15th). How incredible is that!

On Sunday, it would be Miki’s turn to race at Sprint Nationals. Her cousin was one of the 500 athletes who did the “double.” Miki’s goal was to finish with a smile on her face. She did just that! She set a personal record on her swim. She had some trouble with her rear brake that made her hesitant to open it up on the downhills but still averaged over 16 mph. She performed well in the 5k and completed the last 100 meters with a huge smile on her face.

miki castaldo

As a spectator on Sunday, this was the best event I have ever seen. You could actually see your loved ones on the swim as they passed under the pedestrian bridge. Additionally, there were numerous opportunities for viewing the competition on both the bike and the run without tremendous walking.

The exposure to this event was an experience like none other. The logistics of putting on a race of this magnitude over two days where roads are shut down must have been incredibly complex. Despite the enormity of that task, the event went flawlessly. Even parking for the event was a breeze. I cannot thank USA Triathlon and the huge contingency of volunteers for putting on such a remarkable event. I am inspired to work even harder to qualify so that I can be a part of this event next year!

If you missed Part 2 of the Castaldo Chronicles, read it here now.

The 2014 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships took place Aug. 9-10 in Milwaukee. Find live coverage from both days of racing here: Olympic-Distance National Championships coverage, Sprint National Championships coverage.