Friday, April 23, 2010

Collegiate Nationals Race Report

Today I have a guest blogger - Kelley Hess. A runner (marathoner!) and cyclist, she recently decided to take on the world of triathlon and competed in the graduate student division USAT Collegiate Nationals. She's also one of the Girls Heart Rockets founding members.  Below is her race Olympic medalist is not the only one who is impressed!

2010 Triathlon Collegiate Nationals - A Race Report

This weekend was epic--in the sense that the weather gods really did not seem to want us racing. My car (with Kelly Egan and Steve Smith) arrived in Lubbock, TX on Thurs afternoon. As soon as we hit the city limit sign it started pouring rain, and it didn't let up for...what felt like days. By Friday morning, our team of 17 racers were all safely in Lubbock--minus one bike. Chase Kettler's bike flew off the roof rack of his car at some point during the 20 hour drive south and did not survive--the fork was destroyed, one of the wheels may have taco'ed...I never saw it, but it did not sound good.
Friday afternoon we headed to the course at Buffalo Springs Lake for a preview. It was still a torrential downpour. There were tons of other teams at the course--some people were crazy enough to be on their bikes, several others were out running, but the majority of people were swimming. We huddled under the back of my car to pull on wetsuits before jumping into the 55 degree lake. We swam out into a head wind and choppy waves. This was my first time swimming in a wetsuit, and my second open water swim ever. Allow me to emphasize that I am NOT a swimmer. It took me the majority of the swim to settle down and feel like I could breathe without sucking in water or hyperventilating. That really is not to much of an exaggeration. I always knew the swim would be the toughest part, perhaps mentally more than physically.
We survived the swim preview--minus one car. Bill Martin's car would not start and had to be towed. I ferried bikes back to the hotel with Steve and Andrew Bossler. On the way back the second time, we drove the bike course. Aside from the 20-30 mph wind, and the fact that two parts of the course were under flowing water, it looked "alright". Only a video can do the status of the bike course on Friday justice: ( Pictures from the course preview adventure courtesy of Kelly Egan: Her full race report (and more pictures!) can be found here: (
Friday night was a free pasta dinner and team meeting. It also finally decided stopped pouring rain and just drizzle.

Saturday morning was an early breakfast around 6:10 am before heading to the course. At some point on the drive out to the course, the rain stopped completely. We were able to rack our bikes and set up our transition areas on relatively dry pavement. The idea of a transition area is to be minimalist: bike, helmet, cycling shoes, running shoes. Optional are socks, sunglasses, any other clothing, extra food, etc. I included sunglasses and socks and cycling gloves. A couple packets of race gels were already taped to my bike frame for easy access.
While we were getting ready, the race director announced over the loud speaker that due to the cold weather conditions, the swim would be shortened from 1500 meters to 750! I was standing with Jess Yurchich, and I jumped up and down so much in celebration that I broke one of the straps on my new USA Triathlon race bag. Doh! Haha--oh well, it was worth it. I will be honest: this decision by USAT may have significantly helped my final result.
It was cold, overcast, and windy, so I waited until ~8:40 to put on my wetsuit. I was in the fourth start wave, so my race would begin around 9:15. In the seeded waves, there were ~90 people. They started with an air horn every 5 minutes, and they alternated men and women, so I was in the second wave of women. The start is pretty crazy to watch--a stampede of people down the beach into the water, running/wading out until it was deep enough to swim or until there was enough room between you and the person in front of you to do a stroke. I started on the outside so I wouldn't have to wrestle too many people. I was not looking forward to the full contact swimming, but I held my own. The visibility in the water might have been six inches, but it seemed like less. It was a brown field of view unless you were breathing--or sighting the big yellow buoys that marked the course ahead. I (surprisingly!) was not the last person out of the water in my wave, although there were only a handful of people behind me--I managed better than I expected. We learned after the race that 10 people had been pulled out of the water for hypothermia! 9:08 for what ended up being something closer to a 500 meter swim, and 164th woman out of the water.
Getting out of the water was the second happiest moment of my race. There were volunteers to literally grab you under the arm and pull you up, and undo the velcro on the wetsuit. I unzipped on the run to the transition area, worked the suit off my shoulders, stopped when it was around my waist, pulled it the rest of the way off, then ran/sprinted to the spot where my bike was racked. The goal is to do everything that you can in motion so the transition takes as little time as possible. It is made more difficult because going from horizontal in the water to vertical and running is incredibly disorienting--like spinning around in a chair then trying to walk in a straight line...but worse. At my spot, I made the executive decision to wear socks on the bike because my feet were already freezing. I also kept my swim cap on under the helmet for a little extra warmth. I put on the helmet, sunglasses, grabbed the gloves and headed for the mount line. About 100 meters into the bike, I dropped one of the gloves and had to go back and get it. I may have lost ~30 seconds, but it is a bigger time penalty if you abandon any equipment. I didn't even end up using the gloves. 2:36 for T1.

The bike ride was great! Much of it was into a huge head/crosswind, but it I was infinitely more confident in my abilities here than in the water, and I passed people like mad...nearly my entire wave, and people from the first women's wave. The course was an out and back, and I saw (and heard) a couple fellow Badgers on both sections. My only reservation is that I really feel like I could have done this portion faster, but I had no computer on my bike and I was unsure of how to pace myself with the run coming up. 1:15:41 for a little more than 40K bike. 19.9 mph according to the results, good enough for 7th female time on the bike, and 2nd in the female grad student division. Regardless...such a slow pace!

Getting off the bike I managed a flying dismount! (Get your feet out of the shoes and on top of the pedals, swing one leg over the bike and step off while still moving.) I re-racked the bike, slipped on my running shoes and took off. I had only eaten one energy gel on the ride, while I had planned to do two. I left transition hoping that was not a mistake. 1:32 for T2.

Before the race, I would have considered the run my best event, but IT SUCKED! Maybe it was the cold weather, a lingering cold from a week and a half ago, or my body was sufficiently shocked that it was forced to do the third sport of the day, but I have never had the sensation of not being able to breathe while running before. My chest felt restricted (like a corsage?) and I could not take a full breath to safe my life. I unzipped the tri suit a little, and it least mentally, but I never felt comfortable on the run. And, left over from the bike ride, my feet were blocks of ice until ~2.5 miles in, when they started to regain feeling and began tingling. At any rate, the whole run I wondered HOW THE HELL COULD ANYONE THINK THIS IS FUN?!? Because of the conditions, the course was changed from a 10K out and back, to two loops of a 5K course. There was a head wind at times here too. I tried to duck behind a big guy who was running about my pace, or a little faster. It worked well, and he paced me back to the finish line for half a mile (I beat him in the end. ;) ) 45:33 for a 6.66 mile course according to Kelly's Garmin (what was supposed to be 10K), 22nd fastest female time. Despite feeling miserable, 6:50 min/mile pace.

2:13:34 for the race: 13th overall female (of 327), 3rd in the graduate student division (of 55). The overall winner did it in 2:03:10!

Full results can be found here:

That evening we went to the awards ceremony. Bill Martin won the alumni division in the sprint triathlon race (500 m swim, 17.6 mile bike, 5K run, but they cut the swim out completely because of the weather). For my third place finish, I was called up to the podium and won some free stuff. But the best part was Kelly Egan calling out "It was her first triathlon!!" from the crowd, which the announcer, 2004 Olympic bronze medalist Susan Williams, echoed, surprised, "And apparently it was her first triathlon", to which the crowd cheered louder.
So, it is definitely a good thing that I am already signed up for the Wisconsin Ironman in September and paid the ridiculous $585 entry fee, because I do not know if I could have convinced myself on Saturday afternoon to punish my body like that again. The next day, I am still tired, albeit not exhausted, and really sore. Sitting in the car for 20 hours cannot help. Meanwhile, my stupid, competitive self is wondering what I can do better/faster for the inevitable "next time"...also, no thanks to a certain guy who pointed out that finishing within the top 5 and within 8% of first place would've qualified me for an USAT Elite License. I finished 10% back. Sheesh. I AM crazy.

Kelley (aka KHess aka Hesser)
follow Kelley on twitter (@KHesser)

1 comment:

Christi said...

Great guest blogger. I enjoyed the blow-by-blow of the race. Congrats to her on a great finish!