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Will Walker is the 50-54 USAT LC National Champion!

***This is Will Walker's race report from the USAT Long Course Age Group National Championships***

USAT Long Course Nationals, AKA “Miami Man” Race Report

As Greg posted, I raced Miami Man last weekend.  It was the end of a long and very encouraging race year for me.  I sat down with Greg about a year ago and we went over my past race results and my workout data.  I wanted to know if a goal of top 10 in my age group and Olympic and Sprint Nationals was attainable because if not I would just take it easy and have fun in local races.  Short version is he said yes, I said let’s do it.  I think it was a long build phase that laid the groundwork for improvements as the year went on, but early season results were a little short of what I thought I needed.  We picked up the intensity some in June/July and Nationals came off mostly well, with 16th and 9th place finishes.  But clearly there were people there racing at another level from me.  Greg and I sat down again and I said let’s not shoot for top anything anymore.  Let’s just say if someone is my age, let’s beat him.  I knew that was a tall ask but it felt good to just be going all out.  The fall workouts were exactly what I needed.  Although we didn’t test, I’m pretty sure I added almost 10% to FTP since August.  Meanwhile, while I was focusing most of my mental energy on getting stronger on the bike, Greg was giving me run workouts that I would just do as written without really thinking much about it, and was having some amazing runs heading into this race.

The winner of my age group in this race last year (who went on to win the World Long Course Championship in Canada), had a preposterously fast time.  A little of that was because of race day conditions and that the bike course was 2 miles shorter last year, but mostly because the dude is fast.  As the race approached, I didn’t see last year’s winner on the start list, but I did see this year’s Olympic Distance National Champion from Omaha and 3 other guys who were ranked ahead of me on the USAT national rankings, so it looked like a similar challenge.  The nice thing was I knew I had done everything I could do to prepare and all that was left was to see the results.

Pre-race, I hit the venue, packet pickup, had a good practice swim, and a confidence-building quick run, and a test ride on the bike.  There was a fair amount of traffic on the roads so I didn’t attempt to do any of the actual bike course, which I had hoped to, but rode around to make sure bike was working well.

Long Course Nationals is definitely not the kind of spectacle that Sprint/Oly AG Nationals is.  Not yet at least.  There were about 50 racers per age group compared to 100 or more in Omaha.  Also, the bike course was not closed to traffic on race day, so even though intersections were all policed, there were times, mostly in the 2-3 miles just outside transition, where you had to sit up and get around vehicles who were waiting to get around other bikes.  I think those are the only negatives.  Otherwise, the venue was good – a spring-fed lake that felt clean, a super flat course, and at least half shade along the run course.

Though the forecast threatened rain, race day was hot and windy.  The water temp was 78.8, so no wetsuit.  It was a beach start and I lined up alongside a guy I know from other races who is a faster swimmer than me, so I knew whose feet I wanted to be on.  As it turned out, he didn’t really sprint to the water so I started out in front of him and I saw him pass me at the first buoy.  I’d say I stayed with him for maybe 100 yards and that was it.  The course was packed with people from waves in front of me, so there was no way I was going to be able to follow anyone.  Worse, when I rounded the buoy to come back on the long rectangular course, I mistakenly sighted toward the middle buoy on the going-out side.  I figured it out eventually, but I probably added 50 yards to my swim as a result.  What was nice was that with all the work I did this fall, I had so much more confidence in my bike and run that I just didn’t feel any stress for being behind the lead guys.  As it turned out there were only 2 guys in front of me, though I didn’t know it at the time.  I had a super fast T1, so I moved into second place at the start of the bike, though again I had no idea.  Very early on I saw and blew by fast-swimmer guy which was super encouraging since he out-biked me twice at New Jersey State.  

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I have almost no race data as I go.  Just my heart rate monitor, and my watch “laps” every 3.35 miles (1 loop around Prospect Park).  I know that roughly 8:20 is 24 mph, which is what I wanted to hold.  (I know aggressive goal, but you gotta shoot for something!)  My first lap clocked in at 7:39.  Whaaaaaat?  I’m flying!  Second lap, 7:29 – almost 27 mph.  Just about then it occurs to me – uh oh, I’ve got a tail wind.  So I enjoyed the first 15 or so miles at an average 26 mph.  Somewhere in there I think the Olympic National Champion passed me, but I must have passed him back.  I was not keeping good track.  Then there was a long stretch with cross-winds from the left (scary with the disk wheel I must say), and I knew I was about to turn into it.  Into the wind was a slog and still buffeting side to side.  I finished my front water bottle on that stretch and decided to wait for the next turn before sitting up to refill it from the rear bottle.  I came around the corner, to get the wind from the right side this time, and was a little nervous doing the refill and dropped the bottle before I got any transferred.  I was going slow already so I decided to turn around and get it.  Maybe 30 seconds altogether.  No big deal.  I was just disappointed that my next lap readout was going to be a bummer.  Yup, 9:42.  The rest of the way was mostly into the wind or with a side wind.  I may have slipped on my power output a little too (but no power meter so who knows?).  It all pulled my average speed down to 22.6, for a 2:28:44 bike.  I knew it was slower than I hoped for but I also knew that was the effort I wanted to put in, so I was totally happy heading into T2.  

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I started the run fairly sure there was one or maybe more people ahead of me, but just settled in for the long haul.  I raced with “cooling sleeves” and a visor which I think were helpful but you never really know.  It still felt hot.  My first 2 miles were 7:21, which was exactly what I was looking for.  My dream scenarios was to start there and just slowly tick faster.  I have such good dreams!  I could see my heart rate was already zone 3.5 and not settling back down after transition, in fact it was just barely creeping higher, meanwhile the miles started coming in in the 7:30, 7:40 range.  By mile 5 I was already into zone 4.0.  Miles are still getting a little slower.  I tried to just stay the same, but my heart rate was up in zone 4.4 by mile 8 or so and I could feel hamstring cramps just waiting to bite me.  I got my heart rate down to around 4.1 and started clocking in at 8:00, 8:10, 8:20.  Around mile 12, I saw a guy in front of me with compression socks, holding a pretty decent pace, but I could just creep up on him.  Since the socks covered his race age I asked him his division as I pulled beside him.  He told me and it was mine.  I go “fuck! I guess we’re sprinting to the finish then?”  He says no, he’s only on his first lap of the course.  Yippee!  After that it was just keep it easy to prevent a hamstring lock up.  The left one did in the 13th mile but I worked through it and just kept looking over my shoulder as I ran out the course.  

I probably sat for 10 or 15 minutes drinking water and eating race food before I realized the results were posting live.  It took a while to find them, still assuming there were people in front of me.  When I got there, there were 10 or so names finished and I was the first one!  Whaaaaaaaaaaaat?  I felt that race etiquette would not be to jump up and down yelling “I won, I won, I won!!!!” but I sure wanted to!   Since the absolute time for everyone on the course was slower this year, I just hadn’t thought I did it.  Looking at the times of these guys who I had thought were out of reach and knowing I had just beat them was unbelievable.  I mean, who goes to a race like this with a goal to win, and then does?  

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It was so satisfying and it sets up next year with the potential to compete in all 3 ITU World Championships (Sprint, Olympic and Long Course).  It will be my last year in this division and my goal is to make all of them glad that I’m aging out!  Greg- more detailed race stuff for you later.  Thank you!  And thanks to all my TriBy3 teammates too!

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Greg Close