Race Coverage

"Stay Committed, No Regrets"...

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ED. Rachel Mensch grew up in Edina, was college educated in Virginia and currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin. After her stunning victory at  USAT Age Group National Championships last month, we asked her to write a race report. Here it is:

 

By Rachel Mensch

Pre-race:
Race morning I had my alarm set for much earlier than any person should be waking up. I dragged myself out of bed and had my usual pre-race cup of coffee and overnight oats, and got my stuff ready to head over to Edgewater Park. Luckily, my boyfriend Vant is from Cleveland Heights, so we were able to stay at his parents’ house for the weekend, which is about 15 min from the race venue. Vant's dad dropped us off so we didn’t need to worry about parking or shuttles. Once in, I overheard some speculating about the swim getting canceled, but I tried not to worry about it. The...

swim has always been a strength for me, but at this point my bike is often just as good depending on the field, and I knew that the top competition in my age group (Gaby Bunten and Grace Alexander) are also former (and faster) collegiate swimmers so if it did end up being a duathlon, I figured it might actually be to my advantage in AG placing at least. After a bit of a wait they made the announcement that they were shortening the swim to 750m, so while I wasn't thrilled, it was still a bit of a relief that we were still going to get to swim.
 
 
Swim (10:57, 2nd AG, 4th F):
I met up with Gaby and Grace as they were corralling our wave, commiserated a little about the shortened swim, but tried to stay positive! We knew from nationals and worlds last year that we'd likely be coming out of the water together so lined up all together at the start line so we could work together as a group. 
 
After a slightly nerve wracking few minutes the cannon finally went off and we sprinted out. The water was definitely not calm, but it didn't seem nearly as choppy as it had been for our wave last year. The 3 of us quickly formed a pack and there was another speedy lady out front for much of the way. Like last year, there weren't a ton of sighting buoys out there so I decided to mostly just sight off the girl in front of me, trusting that she was swimming straight, rather than wasting more energy trying to find the buoys. Thankfully this strategy seemed to work well, and 750m flew by.
 
rachelwater.pngT1 (2:50):
I had a quick moment of panic when I realized I didn't start my watch (if it's not on Strava, did it even happen?), but probably only wasted a second or 2 fiddling with it to get it started as I ran to my bike. I think most of the other top girls gained a few seconds on me in T1, but I've been known to lose a lot more than that, so overall a solid transition.
 
 
Bike (1:00:58, 1st AG, 1st F):
I was about 10s back from Gaby starting the bike and was ready to put in some work. I knew Grace was likely close behind and both are stronger runners than me over 10k, so if I was going to win this, I was going to do it on the bike. The course has a quick mile or so out and back distance grab at the beginning and then it's a long, mostly flat out and back with only a few turns, which definitely plays to my strengths. 
 
I caught Gaby pretty quickly and made the pass shortly after the first short turnaround about a mile in. At that point I knew I was in the lead so I put my head down and just tried to focus on keeping the power up and picking off people from earlier waves. Around the 10 mile mark I ended up catching a guy from the wave ahead and we went back and forth for pretty much the rest of the ride. I'm a pretty cautious going around corners (read: brake early and probably a lot more than is necessary) so he'd pass me around/out of pretty much every turn and then I'd reel him back in and pull ahead on the straightaways. When we hit the main turnaround, I checked my watch to get a ballpark of how much of a lead I had. Grace was not far behind Gaby, and they were both around a minute back. I was glad to know I was putting in some time, but I knew I had to keep pushing the watts to stretch out that lead as much as I could. The second half was more of the same back and forth with the guy from the earlier wave, with some added fatigue creeping into the quads, but overall the legs were feeling good and before I knew it I was sailing back down the final hill into transition. 
 
 
T2 (1:14): 
My bike dismount went smoothly and I sprinted back to my rack to drop off my bike. I pulled on my running shoes, grabbed sunglasses, visor, race belt, and a packet of Honey Stinger chews (this was new to me, usually I just drink Gatorade endurance on the bike and nothing but water on the run, but after the stomach issues I had at Minneapolis, my coach and I decided to try a lower concentration of Gatorade on the bike and try to get in a few calories of something solid at the start of the run, which seemed to work great), and was on my way. I actually managed to put a few seconds into the other top ladies in T2, so another solid transition for me.
 
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Run (40:48, 7th AG, 18th F): 
They changed the run course this year which I was extremely happy about. Short steep hills on the run are basically my kryptonite, and the old course was 2 loops with 3 of them per loop. The new route added a mile and a half out and back along the bike course (not flat, but a more gradual up and back down) followed by 1 loop of the old course. The mantra for this race, and especially the run, for me was "stay committed, no regrets". I've only done 6 other Olympic distance tris in my life, and have nailed the run in exactly 1 of them. I generally prefer sprints, and can hold my own against most for a 5k, but add in a second 5k and more often than not I fall apart. Sometimes it's mental, sometimes physical, but either way, my goal here was to try and keep it steady, not blow up in the 2nd half of the run, and stay committed to being in this race, no matter what. 
 
I hit the first turnaround feeling strong, but knowing there was still a long way to go and a lot can happen in 4.5 miles. To my relief, it was at least 45s before I saw Grace running the other direction, which meant I had at least a 90s lead. Still, I knew she had put a couple minutes into me in the final 5k last year so I couldn't start celebrating yet. Right around the 3 mile mark things started getting hard, as expected, but I kept pushing along, knowing there was another turnaround at about mile 4. I checked my watch again as I made the 180 turn and started scanning the people running towards me. To my surprise, Grace really hadn't gained much time, maybe 10-20 seconds, and at that point I was pretty confident the AG win was mine. I knew she was going to have to outrun me by almost a minute/mile to catch me in the last 2 miles, and while I was slowing some, it wasn't that drastic. 
 
At that point I was just focusing on "stay committed, no regrets". Last year I went in with the goal of placing top 5 in my AG. I ended up 4th after leading the wave out of T2, partially due to running ability and pacing issues (having only raced the Olympic distance twice before), but also due to mentally quitting when it started to really hurt in the last few miles of the run once I realized I was comfortably going to finish top 5. I was initially happy with my result, but in the end came away regretting not having given it my all up until the end. This year I came in wanting to win it all. I knew, especially when they shortened the swim, that it might not be realistic, but I wasn't going to let myself ease off the pace now and be happy with the AG win only to come away with a bunch of "what if"s. Trying to just think about keeping my cadence up and playing every mental game in the book to convince myself to keep moving those last 2 miles, the finish line was finally in sight. I made it through the shoot, exhausted and still somewhat in shock that I had really won my age group.
 
 
Post-race:
I was immediately pulled aside by a USADA rep to go get drug tested. Long story short, I spent a lot of time hanging out with a few other AG winners in the USADA tent (you aren't allowed to leave their supervision until you produce 3 oz of urine, which took a lot longer than I would have expected), a little bit of time in the med tent, and learned that chugging 4 bottles of plain water immediately post-race is not a good way to rehydrate yourself if you are a heavy/salty sweater (PSA: electrolytes are important!). Finally got out of there, learned I had actually won the overall title, and made it home for a much needed shower and nap before the awards ceremony.
 
All in all, could not have asked for a better day out there!

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