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My Journey to the Triathlon

By Andrew Nielsen | March 07, 2014, 12 a.m. (ET)

Andrew Nielsen grew up in Minocqua, Wis., which is a small town in northern part of the state. A former collegiate swimmer and USA Triathlon collegiate recruit, Nielsen began swimming at the age of 7 and ran track and field and cross country in high school. He eventually concentrated on swimming while attending the University of Wisconsin. After two years of swimming he found USA Triathlon’s Collegiate Recruitment Program as a means to maximize his potential. So far his experience has been filled with amazing coaching and a community that’s hard to beat.

Over the weekend, Nielsen placed first in a pair Under-25 Developmental Races as part of the ITU Pan American Cup in Clermont. He shares his journey as part of the Collegiate Recruitment Program below. You can follow him on Facebook and on his website.

I have come a long way since I started triathlons in May of 2013. My preparation started eight months ago when I met my future coach, Cindi Bannink, in a coffee shop to discuss the possibility of this triathlon journey. Since that day it has been a steep learning curve of training, racing and skill development that has given me enough experience to be successful on race day

When I traveled to Florida this past weekend for the first two Elite Development Races (EDR) of the season (Draft-Legal Challenge at Clermont), I knew I would have to use all of the tools I have acquired in the past year. I also knew that this would be a huge learning opportunity since the EDR would be my first draft-legal experience. Going into the weekend I was confident and a bit nervous. Specifically, I had faith in my training but I knew that the draft-legal format and level of competition I would be facing was more than I had ever experienced in the past. By the time I got to the race venue on Saturday, I knew I had done everything I could to prepare. All there was left to do was race.

Going into the Saturday race I had discussed a race plan with another swimmer; to work together on the bike and hopefully put enough time on the chase group to give us a cushion for the run. Not surprisingly, that plan never happened. Here I come sprinting through transition, grab my bike and get to the mount line as fast as I can, only to hear that I am 28 seconds ahead of the next racer. I wasn’t sure what to do. Do I wait up or do I try to time trial? I made one of those split second decisions that you have to make in a race. I didn’t wait and I went for the solo time trial. I knew that I would need a large gap on the bike to stay ahead of the swift runners in hot pursuit. I was able to pull ahead each lap and finally ended up 1:50 ahead going into the second transition. My legs were tired but there was plenty of adrenaline going through me. I finished with a solid 5-km for the win. That was a lot of hard work and it paid off.  By placing top three I had earned my elite card.

Winning Saturday’s race allowed me to try something a little different on Sunday and take advantage of a new learning experience. I wanted to race in a pack on the bike so that was my primary goal. I was fortunate out of the swim to get in a group of three and we worked together to create a large gap over the field. Drafting allowed me to conserve some energy and run 30 seconds faster than I had the previous day, pulling off another win for the weekend.

Each day was great in its own way and I couldn’t be happier with the results. I was able to put my bike skills to the test in two very different ways and I won both races. I got to feel how my body responded in different situations and test the limits of my current ability. With all of the excitement the race brought, it’s easy to forget how far I’ve come. It seems like yesterday I was working on pulling a water bottle out of my bike cage without looking down or tipping. As I apply for my elite license and begin racing at the next level, I’m confident the draft-legal experience and level of competition I faced in Clermont will help me progress to the next stepping-stone in my journey. In my opinion, the journey never ends, there is  always something to be done, something to work on, something to shoot for. My triathlon journey has just begun and I hope you will follow along with me as I pursue my new passion in triathlon.

As we gear up for another exciting race season, what does your next stepping-stone look like and and how does that fit into your triathlon journey? Feel free to comment below.