I haven’t competed in or even been to many triathlons, but I can’t imagine the atmosphere at Collegiate Club Nationals can be found at many other races. From the team aspect representing the University of Illinois to the support of fellow teams, it was simply an amazing weekend (although very exhausting). In addition to my official team, I am a part of a more or less unofficial team of collegiate recruits. Fellow recruit Jack Felix and I are good friends from our time running together for a couple years at Tennessee. While he was competing for Clemson, he still helped me get acclimated after traveling and especially giving me pointers about the course that he was very familiar with.
After traveling down two days before the race (earlier than my team), Jack picked me up from the airport and we immediately went out to run and ride on the draft-legal course in preparation for Friday. He let me borrow one of his bikes since my team was driving mine down. The next day as the course was starting to take shape and everything was getting set, we went back out for a ride on the Olympic-distance course and tested out the lake in preparation for race day. By this point, I felt comfortable in Clemson. Finally my team arrived, so I picked up my bike and then went out to grab a pre-race dinner with my parents.
It was threatening to rain on race day and we got a few sprinkles while warming up but luckily it held off. As I got out of the water fourth and ran toward transition, all I could hear was a deafening roar of the fans. This persisted every time we biked and ran past the transition area. I heard teams in our region cheering as well as many others who wanted Illinois to do well. I biked in a large first pack, but made a crucial tactical error at the last U-turn, getting out of my shoes too early. As the pack attacked out of the turn, I lost them, and then I was not as aggressive from there through T2, so I lost even more time. After that, I was only able to run back into 10th. As the fourth amateur, I narrowly missed earning my elite license. This was a little disappointing, but I couldn’t dwell on what I could have done better because I still had another race to go.
The next day my legs felt sluggish from racing the previous day as I had experienced racing back-to-back days at the Clermont EDRs. But I was excited to get back at it. We had perfect weather in the 80s, so I was just enjoying being outside, let alone racing. After starting in wave two and exiting the water first in my wave, I was out onto the tough bike course. Without a TT bike, the non-draft bike portion of the race was a little more difficult than it should have been. And with much larger loops than the draft-legal race the day before, the intense cheering section was passed less often. After two loops and knowing my bike split wasn’t going to be as good as most of the guys in wave one, I was ready to get off the bike and hammer the run. As soon as I started running, I knew I was going to have a good day on my feet, passing people left and right for the entire run. I was in the zone! Every time I ran past one of my teammates going the opposite direction, we’d give each other a high-five, which only helped me to keep on rolling. I ran the fourth best run split but with a less than stellar bike split only ended up 28th.
On the surface, my finishes aren’t as good as I would have liked going into the weekend. There are obviously things I need to continue to work on but there were some very good aspects within each race as well that I can take away. In addition, it was an incredibly fun weekend of racing and experiencing Collegiate Club Nationals. As with each race, it is a learning experience. It’s hard to be too upset with the weekend as it was only my third and fourth triathlons ever. Each race just makes me hungrier to race again, keep training hard and keep improving! Going forward, my coach Sean Edwards and I know what I need to work on and have a pretty heavy training block planned in preparation for races this summer.