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Perhaps Peyton Manning said it best, “OMAHA!”

By Todd Buckingham | Aug. 02, 2016, 5:17 p.m. (ET)

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After being held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the last two years, the location of this year’s USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships (AGNC) will be in the Gateway to the West: Omaha! This will be my second year competing in AGNC and after the great time I had last year, I’m looking forward to another fantastic race.

My training and racing leading up to AGNC has been a little mixed. In addition to competing in triathlons, I also enjoy running marathons. This year I had the opportunity to run in the marathon of all marathons: The Boston Marathon! I had some lofty goals for this race (2:25:00), but after being sidelined from running for about a month with peroneal tendonitis in both feet, the marathon was a pretty big disappointment (2:50:00). Running the marathon in mid-April also meant that I didn’t fully engross myself in triathlon training until late April/early May. Thankfully, I’ve got a great coach who knows how to get the most out of her athletes in a short time.

My first triathlon of the season was June 12 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Living in Michigan means we have to start the triathlon season later in the year because it takes until mid-June for the snow to melt! (I kid, but we have been known to get snow in late May. Not the best triathlon weather!) Coming into the race, I didn’t really have any specific time goals since it was my first triathlon of the year. I just wanted to go out and put my best effort forward.

todd buckinghamSide note: my family has a joke about me and racing. They say, “I’m not competitive, but I’m going to win.” It’s such a joke because I’m one of the most competitive people you may ever meet. Even a friendly game of cards turns into a no-holds-barred contest. I treat my racing the same way: I do everything I can to have the best race possible and come out on top. Okay, end side note :)

So how did putting my best effort forward at my first triathlon of the season end up? Well, I finished in second place, just 14 seconds behind the winner. As someone who lives by the motto, “If you ain’t first, you’re last,” it’s tough to say that I was happy with finishing second. But when I finished in a time of 1:55:48 and had my fastest run ever (33:29), I was happy with my effort; I simply got beat by someone who was a little better than me that day.

After that race, it was onto a big block of training. The last few weeks here in Michigan have been HOT! I’ve found that my body does not respond well to training in the heat. Just the other day, I went for a run and it was only 73 degrees when I started, but got up to almost 90 by the time I finished (with 70 percent humidity). It wasn’t a tough run (five 7-minute tempo efforts), but my average heart rate during the tempo efforts was 88 percent of my heart rate max. That is just way too high for the effort I was putting in. I even did loops so I could get a drink and pour cold water over my head. I seriously need to figure something out for dealing with this heat because Omaha will be just as hot, if not hotter! I would hate for my performance to be determined by the weather so I’m going to do everything I can to prepare myself to race well on Aug. 13.

Because the weather has been so hot not only in Michigan, but across most of the U.S. as well, the early word out of Omaha is that the swim won’t be wetsuit legal; the water temperature is already 85 degrees. As a triathlete who is allergic to the water with no wetsuit for protection, this puts me at a big disadvantage. Okay, so I’m not really allergic to the water, but the swim is not my strong suit and the wetsuit really helps me stay afloat. I know wetsuits help everyone, but for the super swimmers out there, it doesn’t help them as much as it helps a land-loving triathlete like myself. This means that the swim in Omaha will play more to the strength of those fast swimmers and that I will have even more catching up to do once I’m out of the water than usual!

Since wetsuits for AGNC race will likely not be allowed, I wanted to get some practice in an actual race to see how I fared without my floatation device. Fortunately, I was able to race without a wetsuit just a week ago. My swim pace suffered a little (about 4 seconds per 100 yards), but my transition was freaky fast! Sometimes I have trouble getting out of my wetsuit, so this was a nice change of pace being able to just hop on my bike without having to worry about getting the wetsuit off fast. The only problem without being able to wear a wetsuit is that even with just a 4 second difference per 100 yards, that time adds up to 70 seconds slower for the entire swim. Seeing that the difference between fourth and eighth place at last year’s AGNC was separated by that exact amount, that could be the difference between … well fourth and eighth! (Which is where I finished last year).

So what’s my game plan for the race? For the swim: find some fast feet and hold on! On the bike: get uncomfortable and try to limit the damage. On the run: let ‘er buck and run ‘em down! I first heard the term, “Let ‘er buck” in the movie “Hidalgo.” Viggo Mortensen’s character, Frank Hopkins, would say it to his horse, Hidalgo, during a race. It simply means bring on the challenge and let it throw you around while you try to conquer it and that’s exactly what I plan on doing. 

Like I said before, I’m going to do everything I can to prepare myself for the heat we will all experience in Omaha. At the same time, I know I need to be smart during the race itself and maybe go a little slower than I normally would. I’m hoping to improve on my eighth-place finish from last year, but there is really nothing I can do about where I place because I can only control my race. I just need to go out there, give it my best effort, and let ‘er buck!

Read more from Todd at toddbuckingham.com/blog.

Want to learn more about the 2016 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships in Omaha, Nebraska? Find information about Olympic-Distance Nationals at usatriathlon.org/agnc16oly and Sprint Nationals at usatriathlon.org/agnc16sprint.