Sheikh and Reynolds Post PRs and Earn Place on Team USA at USAT Age Group Nationals
August 25th, 2015 by Team OAM NOW / Athletic Mentors
By Elaine Sheikh, Team OAM Now Triathlete,
One week prior to USAT Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I found myself facing some complications. First of all, I was headed to the emergency room in the middle of the night with acute abdominal pain indicative of either a) the onset of gastroparesis, a condition that nearly killed me in 2011, or b) appendicitis, which would require surgery. In either case, I was well aware that my ability to race the next weekend was in jeopardy. However, the doctors were unable to find anything wrong, and as my symptoms resolved to random bouts of dizziness, nausea, and gastric cramping throughout the week, I decided to race. Secondly, my plans for carpooling and sharing a hotel had fallen through. I contacted teammate Brian Reynolds to see if I could possibly carpool with him, and he graciously agreed. Friday morning, then, we met bright and early, picked up Brian’s dad, and headed to Milwaukee. I had no idea how well I would be able to race, but I was certainly ready to give it my best shot!
We arrived in Milwaukee with plenty of time to pick up our packets, check our bikes into transition, and go for a quick 2.5 mile run to loosen up after a long day in the car. Then we met up with a friend of mine from Michigan State Triathlon and her family to get our pre-race pasta dinner.
The next morning, we needed to get to transition at 6:30 am, despite the fact that Brian’s wave was at 9:02 and mine was 10:12. We walked to the race venue, then I quickly lost contact with Brian. I found a couple of friends from the MSU triathlon team, and we laid around under a tree to relax until around 9:30.
As usual in Milwaukee, the swim starts with a countdown, followed by the statement: “You are now in the hands of the starter” and a heartbeat sound effect blared over the speaker system. The heartbeat made my heart sink and a rock settle in my stomach every time it played, so when I was in the water with my hand on the pontoon, I was prepared for the sensation. The heartbeat seemed to play much longer for my wave than it had for previous waves, but eventually the starting horn blew and I let go of the pontoon and shoved my way into the melee of over 100 women, attempting to sprint towards the first buoy. The problem with having so many women line up in one row was that when I started to swim, I was actually crawling over other women. With each “stroke,” instead of slicing through the water, I was actually pushing off the shoulders and backs of the women around me. Soon though, I was actually swimming and tried to settle into a good pattern of breathing and sighting. After swimming under the famous bridge that forced everyone to funnel in together to pass, the swim wasn’t bad and soon I was sighting the beach. I came out of the water hot on the heels of a friend from MSU, and breathlessly gave some encouragement as I ran past her… and promptly slipped and fell on the wet grass turning into transition. I bit back a frustrated yelp and continued trying to get my arms free of the wetsuit. Still, my transition wasn’t overly clumsy and once I hit the bike course, I was ready to rock and roll.
I felt strong and remembered to keep my cadence high to spin easily up the first big hill. I was passing other women in my wave with ease, and conserving my legs going up hills allowed me to hammer down them and maintain my speed across the flats. I didn’t know what my average was, but later found out that I posted the fastest bike split in my age group! Before I knew it I was barreling down the final hill into transition. T2 was a bit more clumsy for me.
The run, which used to be my strength, was not as pleasant as my bike had been. It was hot and humid and I immediately began to experience pain in my diaphragm and stomach. My first mile was on pace, but then I started to gain 10 seconds every mile. I ended up finishing with an average 15-20 seconds per mile slower than I had projected. Once I crossed the finish line, my tunnel vision became blurry and I staggered into a golf cart. I hunched over, gasping and heaving. A medic pulled me into the med tent where she had me rest until I could sit up without being overwhelmingly dizzy.
Finally, I looked at my watch, which I had stopped when I crossed the finish line. Although I had no idea where I placed, I did know that I had a big PR. I left the med tent to find Brian, who was on his phone checking times. He too had gotten a PR and was tenth in his age group. I was fifth. After penalties were assessed, he was bumped up to ninth and I was bumped up to fourth. We both made Team USA for Cozumel, Mexico 2016! We didn’t stay up too late to celebrate as I was racing the sprint the next day. I placed fourth in my age group in the sprint, again making Team USA Cozumel.
Age group nationals is an incredible experience. The entire host city is swarming with incredibly fit people passionate about triathlon, and no one teases you for wearing shorts and compression socks!
It was fantastic to have to opportunity to share the experience with a Team OAM Now teammate, and although it’s only been a week since the race, I’m already excited for nationals next year in Omaha!
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