All Photos Curtesy Eric Willis (AKA Dad)

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The days leading up to the race were some of the best I have had. Tyler, Michelle, Noell and I hung out and we all get along very well. Myra (from snowshoe nationals) works at Nike and she took us for a 30 minute run/tour of Nike and then got us into the empolyee store. Everyone really enjoyed picking up a few new garments, but the run around Nike was epic. That place is AWESOME!

Friday was all about race prep. We biked one lap of the bike course, scouted the swim and run, picked up packets, checked in our bikes. We got all the loose ends tied up so that we would be ready to race. We had a little Chicago movie party in our room that evening before heading out to Noddles for our final race meal. The evening ended with my parents dropping by, as they just got into town, and Michelle, Tyler and I getting our race bags together and staying in a generally giddy mood.

Tyler and I trying on our swim caps.
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We had some flawless execution on race morning. Our time line was spot on, we left the hotel perfectly, got on the shuttle to the race site perfectly, got to transition in perfect time, and were out of there with minimal time to chill before starting into our warmups. I was able to warm up on this awesome single track running trail through the woods. I could tell my body was happy, rested and ready to go. I was able to pick it up on my warm up and shake out a few of those nerves. Next I found my mom and handed her my stuff while I wet suited up and got in the water to warm up. I am always glad when I warm up in the water too because I remember I can swim and seem to start much calmer. It was great to have my parents there, just that familiarity and to be able to look in the crowd and see them smiling back at me…very reassuring. Last year I cried before the start of the swim as it was going to be my first time swimming a mile, but this year I was calm and ready to go.

Michelle and I having our pre-race calming pow-wow.
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We lined up on the boat dock and there was a spot for everyone. With a few seconds to go they had us get in the water and keep one hand on the dock. Not two seconds later they blew the horn and we were off. I went out hard.

Here is a series my dad took of the swim start. I think it’s really cool to see the progression. It’s also neat how we all start as a big mass, happy and fresh, and two and a half hours later, you either executed your race plan…or you didn’t.
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Last year I didn’t start out aggressive enough and the entire field left me immediately, so this year I wanted to take it out hard before I settled into my rhythm. I wanted to find feet to swim on. It went exactly as planned, I settled in after a couple minutes and I proceded to swim as hard as I possible knew how. The first turn bouy came up very quickly and I still hadn’t found feet. I made a hard push to get up to some ladies that had been swimming my speed but several feet ahead and I found feet. I stuck to those feet like glue. I even hit her feet with my hands and I knew there wasn’t much she could do about it b/c we clearly swam similar speeds. She pooped out a little bit and lost the feet she was following, so I passed her and got on that ladies feet. She then got on my feet b/c I felt her hitting them. It all was very polite and I really felt like we were pushing each other in a good way. Also WE WERE SWIMMING STRAIGHT. That’s my biggest issue and it was such a good feeling to know I was swimming straight for the first race EVAH! Coming down the final stretch we got off each others feet and just pushed. There was a guy from the wave behind me and I matched him stroke for stroke coming down the last stretch.

The start of Tyler and Anthony’s wave. This is one of my favorite pictures that my dad took. I think it belongs in a magazine.
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I got out of the water and for the first time I didn’t check my watch, because…I didn’t wear it. Nope I was going solo! My mom was at the top of the ramp and she yelled at me that I was in 39th. I was so ecstatic because I finished 40th last year, and now I was exiting the water in a better position than I finished. I was right in the thick of it and that really has been my goal this whole year: “To swim fast enough at Nationals to be IN the race when I exit the swim” CHECK!

The hill out of transition on the bike.
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The lake was much lower this year so we had to run up this long boat ramp to the transition. I found my bike quickly and was off immediately. Wetsuit off, helmet on, grab the bike and go. I was pumped for the bike. I knew I had to go hard, like really hard. I was excited to start passing ladies so I pushed from the start. I just got in my most aero, not so comfortable, position and made the legs go as hard as they knew how. I preteneded I was on Wasdworth and that I was hanging onto Steve and Tyler’s wheels. I just didn’t let up. And, I started counting. One girl in my age group, two girls…5 girls. I got to the turn around of the little dog-leg on the course and hit my breaks to navagate the turn and I fish-tailed. What the heck? I though I was going down and I was a little confused. It wasn’t until the middle of the big hill that I remembered Steve adjusted my brakes and they are much tighter so I have to pull on them very gently or I will lock my wheel. By the end of the first bike lap my count was up to 9. I was feeling pretty good, but I knew that the girls in my age group were going to get fewer and farther in between.

Between laps. Notice my mom in the background signaling to my dad to take a picture. She was the scout. Oh, and by the way, sometimes on downhills I feel more comfortable in my drops than in my aero-bars. I am so NOT a triathlete.
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On the second lap there were some drafting issues going on. A guy came up on me and was riding pretty erratically. He would pass me, then he would slow way down. He was making it difficult to get my three bike lengths and 15 seconds before I re-passed. There was also a motorcycle with an official lurking. I really kept my nose down and was sure to follow the drafting rules. I passed him back legally and within seconds he made another pass on me. The motorcycle sped past me, pulled up next to him, wrote down his number and told him he got a penalty. It took me another couple minutes to reassess and assure myself that I didn’t do anything illegal, talking about questioning yourself. After putting that behind me, it was time to resume a strong pace. Tyler passed me about 2/3rds of the way through the second loop. I used his momentum to pick things up from there and I hammered it home. My dad was out taking pictures on the final part of the loop and my mom was cow belling up a storm! My pass tally was up to 12.

Second transition was cake and my legs were not happy with me. Luckily there is a big hill coming out of transition and Myra and Patty (from Snowshoe Nationals) were there cheering for me big time. I always like a hill out of transition because I feel like it reminds your legs what they need to do. 7 more girls is what my legs needed to do. I got passed by a super quick girl at the top of the hill and I just decided to go with her. She was in the age group behind me (so she was 8 minutes faster, wowzer) and I knew we could drag each other to a great time. The run gets a little fuzzy at times but I remember getting girl after girl. There is a large hill in each mile of the race and my quads were not happy. I though that they were going to break going up a few of those hills.

Going out on the run.
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I remember seeing a girl that I am usually always neck and neck at the finish with (remember the Loveland lake to Lake girl…that was her) and I went by her just after the 5K mark. So I knew it was going to be a good day. I finally saw the 7th girl…or I guess the 19th girl and she was running next to Tyler. I thought that was uncanny. So I pulled up next to Tyler, and I couldn’t get much out verbally, but I didn’t need to. He picked it up with me and on we went.

Coming home on the run.
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With less than a mile to go I passed one more girl in my age group. But then she passed me back. There was that moment of doubt. I don’t often get “passed back”, and I wondered if I had it in me to give it one more push. It seemed like everyone I knew was yelling at me to “go get her”. My dad (taking pictures and yelling at me to get her) mom, Myra and Patty, Priscilla, Michelle, EVERYONE. As we came around the final corners I thought about how frustrating it would be if I had counted wrong and was in 21st, or if every time I looked at the results I would see a girl several seconds ahead. No, it was time to get her. And, I did. I just surged, I thought about track, and the sub six minute miles I’ve run, and she didn’t even battle me. I got her on the turn to the finish.

The end of my race. Don’t you love triathlons, the clock is always wrong because of the wave starts.
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Mom was at the finish, my feet were bloody and nasty from running in brand new racing flats. I was spent, I was done, I was really happy. Even if I had been 21st, I had so much fun racing, and being competitive, and putting my heart into the entire race. It was epic, it was awesome.

Mmmmm. Blood and Goose-Bumps
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Watching the rest of my teamates come in was very cool, but the best part was finding out with teamate after teamate that every single one of us had great races. Every one. It’s really a testament to Steve and Andrea. They brought so many of us here to Nationals and every one of us raced at a top caliber level, in the most important race of the season. They have really trained not only our bodies well enough to compete at a high level, but they have trained our minds to handle the pressure, to rise above the intensity, and to honestly self-evaluate our efforts. It’s a pretty amazing gift they have given us.

I would like to show you some of my favorite pcitures of my teamates. These are the folks that push me on a daily basis and keep me accountable. They all had great races and I would like to celebrate them. This is my team, and we are all in the best shape of our lives. Enjoy.

Anthony…no wait, probably Tony.
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Steve-O, aka fearless leader.
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Andrea, I am so sad. She wore a warm top over her Practical Coaching top so my dad didn’t get any race pics of her. I’m super bummed about that b/c it was her first Nationals.

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Noell. These are two of my favorite pics. Noell is running STRIDE for STRIDE with this UBER-TALL dude. She is FIERCE.
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Jenna, is a total RIOT. She’s equal parts peace and hilarity.
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Michelle, my PIC, my bed-buddy. I really could go on all day about her, she took 16 minutes off her last year time at Nationals on the same course, and apparently did it while SMILING!
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Jewels, she’s got her game face on.

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John, check out the hamstring. Nationals new-bie, had a T-riffic race.
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Bethie, threw it down. The intensity, the focus. My stomach still hurts from laughing at all her jokes this weekend.
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Tyler, leader of team “Where’d ya go +1″ of which I am miserably trying to gain admission into. I just love him. Check out the fierceness. Rarr.
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After the Age-Group race was the Professional race. Here is Andrea, Beth, and Jewels watching. I love the looks.

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And here is the crew watching Matt Reed win the overall pro title.
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Jenna, Noell, Michelle, Tyler
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And my favorite pic. Michelle, me and Tyler. My peeps.
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Results:
Total Time: 2:25:15
Swim: 27:30
T1: 1:43
Bike: 1:11:42 (20.8mph)
T2: 0:50
Run: 43.32 (7:01 pace)
F25-29: 19th

Results are here.

web galleries (if you use any of these photos please credit my dad: Eric Willis)
Age Group Gallery

Pro Field Gallery

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9 Comments

  1. Hey–I toook the picture of the Wheaties box! hahahahah just wanted to get the credit!
    We LOVED being there and seeing everyone do so well, it was a blast!
    Luv u tons

  2. Great job on the race!!! I was so glad to be there to cheer you on. I have more pics for you that I will get to you as soon as I get home. Just like I thought, my Mom is totally inspired by the people she saw racing and one of the first things she told my Dad is that she is ready to get a bicycle.

  3. Thank you for sharing – it was a great weekend and an awesome race. I feel priviledged to be able to share those experiences with you, my PIC:) Congratulations on a great race!!!
    P.S. I love your parents!

  4. Great weekend, I am happy to share with it with such fun people. I agree it’s easy with the team and I am looking forward to many more races in the future years. BOOO YAAAAA

  5. Whew! A great story and awesome photos — love the last one too; it says it all! I felt like I was there.

    As always thanks for sharing a great tale with the peanut gallery.

  6. Hey Sonja, now i know i have to go bck and add some pictures to my blog! I was worried i would have too many but i LOVE all the pix you put on! Your reflections are awesome! You really are amazing after only a little over a year at this silly business! Congrats! I hope we get to ride in Aussie land together!

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