Three Years in the Making

Three Years in the Making

by Tyler H.

My story starts three years ago (2009) before I met Coach Joe.  The prior year, I attended the Naperville Tri with my dad to watch one of his friends race.  I said right then and there that I was doing this race next year.  The year went by and as we approached the next summer I was still telling my mom to sign me up.  At packet pick-up, Experience Triathlon had a table set up so we grabbed a flyer even though I had no concept of triathlon training.  My race strategy was, “I’m 14 and already know how to swim, bike and run – just go do it.”  (Ok, I obviously didn’t know what a race strategy was either.)  I finished in 1 hour 27 minutes with no idea whether that was a good time other than my place relative to the other kids in my age group.  I decided it wasn’t too bad for a 14 year old competing in a division with kids up to 19 years old.  However, I’ve got the “competitive monster” in me and knew that I could do better.  That day, I decided I was doing it again next year, but if I practiced a little before hand I would finish with a faster time. 

I kept talking about the race for the next few months still having no idea about triathlon distances, training, nutrition, or transitions.  My mom had saved the ET flyer ever since packet pick-up and dug it out when she realized I was serious about improving my time over last year.  She looked over the ET website to get a feel for the group and emailed Coach Joe.  She didn’t even know what questions to ask, but jumped in to telling Coach Joe about me.  He called her back right away and gave her a brief education and told her about some of the things ET had to offer.  We started with private swim lessons because that was definitely my weakest area.  I had had swim lessons when I was little and hung out with my friends at the pool, but I didn’t have any true swim experience.  The first lesson I couldn’t even swim 2 lengths of the pool without being winded.  I played club soccer for 7 years, football for 4 and track and wrestling for 2 years.  I was in good shape.  How could this swimming thing be so hard?  Coach Joe fixed that.  He taught me the proper technique and built my swim base.  I made huge improvements in just 6 weeks.  We kept swimming for another couple of weeks and at the beginning of May, I switched over to monthly training where I would also work with Joe on the bike and run.

He suggested I do the Batavia triathlon in June, followed by Pleasant Prairie and Evergreen sprints in late June and July.  This would give me a few races under my belt before I tackled Naperville again in August.  He posted my workouts online and I went to all the group activities so that I could be ready for these races.  He taught me about fast transitions and the flying dismounts (my mom says a good thing about being young is you have no fear).  I was pleased with my times at Batavia and Pleasant Prairie.  Evergreen was a tough race for me.  I had an awful run and knew I didn’t do what I was capable of.  Three weeks later with a couple months of training and three races down, I was ready to take on Naperville again.  I lined up for an early swim start and felt strong coming out of the water.  I had a perfect transition spot and was out tearing up the bike course.  My T2 was fast and then off to start the run.  The run is definitely my hardest part of any race.  As I crossed the finish line, I felt like I had a pretty good time.  I checked the results and finished in 1 hour 12 minutes.  That was a full 15 minute drop from my time the previous year.  I was pumped!!  Without Coach Joe’s training, guidance and encouragement in those few short months a 15 min drop would have been impossible.

When Coach Joe and I met at the end of the season to set goals for 2011 I knew I wanted to attempt the Olympic distances.  Naperville was back on the race calendar too.  During off-season training, I presented Joe with some unique scheduling challenges because I play soccer and run track for the high school.  Just for fun I threw in a winter soccer league.  It’s amazing how he can work around my schedule to get the right amount of training and rest so I can participate in all my sports.  Winter training was great because I was able to work out with all of my ET teammates at Master Swim, CompuTrainer and Run Club.  (My mom wishes he could work in a little ACT prep “coaching” this year since I’m very committed to getting all of my ET workouts done.)

Galena was the first race of the 2011 season and I was a little worried going in because I was just recovered from a track injury at school.  It was a hilly bike and run course and knew it would be a good test of my fitness.  I was happy with my time and was immediately looking forward to my first Olympic distance race at Pleasant Prairie.  I knew the Pleasant Prairie venue and was ready to tackle the longer distances.  It was even better because there were so many ET teammates in that race.  Evergreen was a few weeks later and I was determined not to let the run get the best of me this year (and this time, it was twice as long).  We had excellent weather and I finished strong.

The kicker this summer was Naperville.  Soccer tryouts and the fitness test collided with the Naperville race.  Last year the race was a week earlier so tryouts fell after the race.  This year they were the week before.  I made the soccer team and was having two a day practices for a total of 4 – 5 hours a day out in the hot sun, so I was pretty exhausted.  On top of that, I ripped up my feet during the fitness test.  Mental note for next year – speed laces are great for straight running, but awful for shuttle runs.  The side to side movement kept pulling my shoe off.  I was determined to pass that darn test no matter what so I ended up doing the shuttle runs on the track in my bare feet.  Trust me, it was as bad as it sounds.  My feet were covered in blisters with skin torn off.  Also, I knew I wasn’t getting my normal rest day on Friday and then found out we had two practices on Saturday. This wasn’t shaping into a good situation heading in to the race on Sunday morning.

My mom could see this coming.  She didn’t tell me why, but when Coach Joe posted the article about Breakthrough Performance – Embracing The Pain on the website the week before, she suggested I read it.  When she asked me questions about it and I couldn’t answer all of them (and then admitted I had read it early and might have been half asleep – sorry, Coach), she sent me back to read it again.  She’s smarter than I thought – she knew I was going to need some mental toughness the week before the race.

I saw Coach Joe at packet pick-up on Friday afternoon.  As always, he knew the right thing to say.  He reminded me that my training was done. I’d already put in the work and I was ready.  All I had to do on Sunday was go out on the course and give it everything I’ve got for an hour.  I knew he was right.  I was familiar with the course, knew I was ready and I can do anything for an hour.

As my mom and I browsed through Naperville Running Company, I found the compression sleeves for your calves that I just knew would help leading in to the race, so we picked up a pair along with a few gels.  Now if I could just convince her that I NEED those new race wheels.

I rested as much as I could after practice on Saturday afternoon, had an early dinner and went to bed early.  I was up at 4:00 am and at the race site by 5:00 when transition opened.  I was happy to see all of my ET teammates that morning.  I decided I was going to go all out and see how the day played out.  No excuses!!  I went off relatively early in the swim and felt great coming out of the water.  My transition was fast and soon I was out on the bike.  There was more wind this year than in the past, but I was able to keep a fast pace.  After two Olympic distance races this one felt really short.  Soon I was back in transition and heading out on the run course.  This would be the real test.  I settled in and it felt good to be “racing” the run, not just hanging on to get through it.  I crossed the finish line in 1 hour, 9 minutes.  I PR’d my time from last year by 3 minutes and had my best 5K run ever.  I was happy to hang out with teammates and the cheer crew after the race.  When they posted the results, I couldn’t believe I got second place in my age group out of 35 competitors.  The event organizers did a great shout out to Experience Triathlon when Tyler Woodward and I came up to accept our age group awards.  It turned out to be a fantastic day.

This race taught me that you are capable of much more than you think.  Even if everything is stacking up against you leading in to a race, believe in yourself and in your training.  Coach Joe gets you ready throughout the entire year – you just have to get it done on race day.  Thanks, Coach Joe (along with Coach Sue, Suzy and Karli).  I couldn’t have done it without you!!  I had a fantastic season and was happy to end it with such a positive race result.

Enjoy all the photos from the 2011 HRMS Naperville Triathlon on our Photo Gallery!


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