My Journey to Age Group Nationals
My Journey to Age Group Nationals
by Jeff R.
After some good performances in a few races, I realized qualification for AGNC was within reach. I decided to focus on short course racing in 2020 and try to race once a month during the season. I was self-coached at the time but was satisfied with how I was performing and found an online training plan that I would customize to get me ready.
June 18, 2020: Age Group Nationals are canceled due to Covid-19
Most of the 2020 race card was wiped out due to the pandemic by June of 2020, and AGNCs were officially canceled too. 2020 was a hard year for a number of reasons. I definitely pushed my body too hard during the summer months when I should have incorporated more easy days, recovery, and rest.
July 25, 2020: I earned a Sprint distance qualification to 2021 AGNC at the Abe’s Oly Triathlon in Springfield
This might have been the only triathlon to take place in the state of Illinois in 2020. Looking back, I actually had a pretty good day. There were a lot of external factors that impacted me that day – work stress, pandemic stress, lack of swimming, lack of sleep, weather conditions- and I didn’t account for any of them in my mental prep. Left the race feeling awful but placed well in my age group and earned a sprint qualification to AGNC. Soon after, I reached out to Coach Joe LoPresto of Experience Triathlon Coaching Services, and we began working together. While the physical stuff and data are important, Joe and I spend a lot of time talking about ranges of goals, flowing through races, leaning in when it’s tough, but not fighting external conditions. These mental skills have made me a healthier, more balanced athlete.
July 17, 2021: I crash my bike in Madison and fracture my shoulder
My first Experience Triathlon (ET) Summer Training Camp turned out to be pretty rough. I crashed my bike a quarter of the way through the long ride and fractured my scapula. Ego and stubbornness kept me going that weekend, but I was down for the count for a few weeks after that. The ET family had my back and got me through some low moments.
August 7, 2021: I get a “Did Not Start” at Age Groups Nationals
My second ever “Did Not Start.” Absolutely heartbreaking, but three weeks after my crash, my shoulder was not stable enough to swim with my right arm, ride outside, or run. No choice but to miss out on the fun. I went up to Milwaukee to get my packet, just to have it. But being there knowing I wasn’t going to race was a serious blow.
September 5, 2021: I win my age group at ET Pleasant Prairie to earn an Olympic and Sprint distance qualification for the 2022 Age Group Nationals.
7 weeks after the fall, I returned to race my last triathlon of the year at ET Pleasant Prairie. What began with a grateful heart and modest expectations turned into a Sprint PR and my first age group win in a triathlon. Still one of my most meaningful medals earned to date. Coach Joe’s guidance built me back and allowed me to have the best day possible.
With 2022 being my first Ironman year, AGNC went from my prospective A race in 2020 and 2021 to a “let’s enjoy the weekend and have fun” B race this year. The training has remained focused on the Ironman distance and finishing the 140.6 in September 2022. Still, this weekend carried a lot of meaning for me in my triathlon journey. And a chance to realize a goal and cross a finish line I had been chasing for 32 months.
I was very emotional the week leading up to it. I continuously visualized crossing the finish line each day, collecting that medal, and hugging my wife after. This weekend was more about being part of the triathlon community and much less about times and PRs. While I don’t think I’ve ever walked to a start line not wanting to PR, first and foremost was to enjoy the day and give my best effort.
August 6, 2022: AGNC Olympic
It was a hot, humid day, but I approached the day with gratitude and love. I walked out of the hotel, and tears streamed down my face. I had made it to race morning. My wave start was at 9:05, which means I had about two hours from when transition closed to my start time. Instead of being a ball of nerves, I enjoyed the time and chatted with my fellow athletes.
As we were loaded into the swim start, lots of the guys were cracking jokes. It was great. Just have some fun – that was my thought as the music swelled and the horn went off.
The swim was a mosh pit. But the ET open-water group swims at Centennial kept me calm and steady in the water. I had a great swim.
Onto the bike. My key here was not to blow my legs and push fluids due to the rising heat. Both key points Joe and I discussed the Friday before the race. The course was hillier than I expected, and the wind from the South was a nuisance, but I executed the bike exactly like I wanted to.
Runs have been tough for me in Olympics, but as I came out of transition, I felt really good. I kept the pace easy for a few minutes and then started to crank it up. I swear for the first two miles my feet never touched the ground. I ran very well through mile 4. Had to push hard, dig deep, and lean in for the final two miles, but kept the pace high and finished strong.
Turning into the finisher chute was amazing. Crossing the finish line was so special. The emotions came spilling out. Just an amazing day at an amazing venue. Made possible by a smart plan, years of hard work, and the guidance of my coach.
August 7, 2022: AGNC (Super) Sprint
It was a little before 2am when I woke up. I’m not sure if it was my sore legs or the rain, but I woke up. I tried to not look at my phone, but I couldn’t help check the weather. Lots of green and yellow on the radar. The Sprint race looked to be in doubt. My brain and body were awake for a few hours before I finally caught another hour of sleep before my alarm.
Just as I woke up there was a message from USAT, the Sprint was now a Super Sprint. “Ok cool,” I thought. Today’s distances were a little untraditional for a Super Sprint – 380m swim, 10.7km ride, 2.5km run.
Coming off of a great race and now being thrown a curveball at 5am I quickly thought through my gameplan for the day. “Just flow with it,” I thought. Swim hard, bike smart, see what’s left for the run and give it a go.
They scrapped the mass start for a time trial start to get all the athletes in the water before the next round of storms. I launched into the water and gave an all out effort for 100m. I settled in and before I knew it I was out of the water.
The bike was short but intense. My number one priority was to stay upright. I gave extra attention to the slick roads and some tight turns. Happy with the bike and moved to the run.
Took me a second to get going on the run. My legs were very tired by this point and I didn’t have my top end speed. But I ran well and decreased the pace as I went. Pushed the whole way through the line; again leaning in when my legs started to fatigue. Amazing chance to race on back-to-back days and cross this finish line again.
This race was everything to me. It haunted me when I didn’t think I would qualify, and when I didn’t start the race due to injury in 2021. I was humbled and honored to be there this year. Proud I earned it. Ecstatic with how I raced all weekend.
Experience Triathlon and Coach Joe were there for me through every step of the journey. I don’t think I would have performed like this without him and his guidance and support.
It was a daring goal I set out for in January of 2020. It was a journey of unexpected twists and turns, and one I wouldn’t change. There was a reason I wasn’t supposed to race in 2021. I didn’t know why then, but I do now. It was to have this weekend. A weekend I will never forget.