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Competing on a National Stage

By Erin Sontowski | June 12, 2015, 12 a.m. (ET)

erin sontowskiFirst and foremost, I would like to start this blog with a huge thank you to USAT for putting on an absolutely amazing race at the Du Nationals this year. I was incredible impressed with the organization and enthusiasm that surrounded every aspect of the race. From the smooth packet pick-up, to the flawless bike check in that morning, all the way up to the cowbell start at 8 a.m., I could not have asked for a better race setup. So kudos to you guys and all the amazing volunteers that helped put it together.

Secondly, I want to congratulate all the participants that day. As a relatively new age-grouper, this race was an amazing display of the talent that our community possesses. From the pros that were incredible to watch, to the last few stragglers like myself who clawed and pushed themselves to cross that finish line, it was a great day to be a multisport athlete. I even noticed early in the morning how fantastic this group really was. As we all racked our bikes, and placed our gear out, there were so many new friendships being built in that transition area, I couldn't help but be in awe. Every person I came across was excited to hear my story, and I was equally as excited to hear theirs! My first encounter was with a woman who lives in Madison, Lisa, and we even made plans to go on a ride so she could show me the IRONMAN bike course for when I compete next year! I then struck up a conversation with my bike rack mates, and in turn met another Midwesterner and a really wonderful woman from North Carolina. Now, both of these ladies ended up beating me in my age group, but I still like them nonetheless :)

I was happy to have made those bonds, because that course would prove to be more challenging than I had anticipated. I started my run out strong, hitting 7:00 miles to start out with. Which for me was a really solid start! But I think I got a taste of just how good the competition would be that day when about 20 ladies all sprinted out ahead of me at the start, and held on to some really speedy paces!! Once I got on the bike, mentally I thought I had an idea of what was coming. However, even though I may have been mentally prepared, my legs that day had a different plan. Which we all know, in racing, some days you just can't make your body do the things you want it to. As I climbed Ohio Street, grinding and fighting my way to the top, I got a really cool feeling once I made it all the way up. It wasn't about how I finished today, or who I was faster than, it was all about the fact that after a mere two years in this sport, I was at a National race with some really amazing people. Don't get me wrong, I still wanted to push myself and get to that podium, but this was a race that I literally could not stop myself from smiling during. Every time I passed a spectator on Ohio that cheered me on, or on every lap when I would see coach Kris (he is the founder of the coaching services I use, as well as one of the masterminds behind the bike course that day) at the corner on Lilydale reminding everyone it was a tight turn, a big stupid grin crossed my face. Now if you know me, you would know that I am all business when I race. So to have a day that even with a challenging course I had that stupid smile, it really was unique.

duathlon nationalsAs I made my way around Harriet Island for the last leg of my run, I crossed paths with my mom and brother diligently waiting in the grass to cheer me on. Having that love and support of the most important people in my life feels better than most medals will ever feel. I mean, I still love getting a podium spot, but that’s not all that motivates me to be a triathlete. I really cannot thank my family enough for being as great as they are. My brother has been a huge support system for me as a triathlete, and I don't think I tell him enough how inspiring and thankful I am for him in my life. He truly is my hero. So seeing him on that last leg of my run was all the motivation I needed.

As I hit that last mile I thought my legs were going to give out and that I should just walk or even slow down. But as I got closer and heard the announcer and music playing, I caught a second wind that told me to sprint my heart out and finish like a National competitor.

Now I may not have received an age group win that day, but I got a truly unique experience that most will never get in their lifetime. I am so grateful to have met the people I did, and to have competed alongside some of the greatest athletes in the country. Now I will be spending my week recovering and gearing up for my first triathlon of the year this Saturday at the Liberty Triathlon in Rockford, Minnesota. I am hoping to get a qualifying finish to get me to Olympic-Distance Nationals in Milwaukee this year, and believe me I will be pushing myself to the limit that day to do so. Every race I do is getting me one step closer to becoming the athlete I know I can be, and I am so lucky to have been able to document my journey so far.

Race hard everyone and I will hopefully see you in Milwaukee!

Find more coverage from the 2015 USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships here.