We arrived in Cleveland a few days prior to the race and checked in to our Air BNB. This was definitely the right call as there was so much more room in this place than any hotel we had stayed at. We set up bikes and checked in for the races. Alexa and I did a lot of relaxing and hanging out in the apartment before the race saving up for the big day. AJ and Whitney came over and hung out for a while and tried our Air Relax system and we went to Pier W for some incredible calamari. If you want THE best calamari you’ve ever had, that is the place to go! The next day we tried to make check-in fast as we did not want to sit in the sun too long. We checked the bikes in and tried to get a quick swim in, but we were cut off. They cancelled the swim race that was scheduled and got all of us out of the water. We all thought it was for rough waters but after looking it up, I found out it was due to the E.coli bacteria concentration being very high
Race day was here, and it was go time. AJ and Whitney picked us up and we headed to the venue. We were unsure if we were going to swim or not as the waves were not too bad but rising, as well as the E.coli had not been measured. All three of us went to go set up our transitions and then headed to the water. I stopped at the expo on the way to the water to pick up some speed laces for my race shoes. I tried them on the night before and they were impossible to get on with normal laces, so I laced up my shoes quick before going to the swim. Finally, we found out the swim would be a shortened swim. 750m swim and the rest of the distances would be normal. Wetsuits went on and we went to the start! I was in the first wave, which was super nice because every turn I would get to see where I was overall and not have to guess at people’s ages. We stepped into the water but the course was not clear on which buoy we were supposed to head to… finally someone pointed down the beach and we saw an orange buoy 200 yards down the beach that we were supposed to start at, but we only had 1 minute until the gun. All of us got out of the water and sprinted down the beach to the buoy and the announcer had no idea what to do. Finally everyone realized they didn’t even tell us where to line up correctly and gave us another couple minutes to prepare and get to the real start 200 yds down the beach. The heartbeat grew loud and fast before BOOM. The race had begun! I tried to grab some fast feet and hopefully pull a good swim split but the swells kept throwing me off the feet I was trying to stay on. Sighting was a real challenge with the swells and getting the timing right was tough. Once we rounded the first buoy, as usual, I found I was definitely in the back half of the race. Sighting was twice as tough now because we were swimming into the sunrise, so instead I found some feet and kept my head down. Rounding the last buoy I knew I was going to have my work cut out for me. I got out of the waster a couple minutes later and it was time to play catch-up.
On the bike I locked in as fast as possible and began throwing watts around. I was not going to stick around with anyone on this ride. One guy in my age group went back and forth with me but we both made sure we kept our 5 bike-length draft zone. About 6 miles in I dropped them and never saw them again. At the 8 mile mark I passed a VERY large group of guys all drafting off each other clearly taking turns on the front. I saved up a couple seconds, took my nutrition before getting to them, and laid out around 400 watts for the next minute while passing them. Only one guy reacted and grabbed my wheel, and not like he jumped on and used me as a pacer, but actually hopped on and drafted off me. Nothing pisses me off more than cheaters. I tried to lose him around some corners but he gave everything he could to suck my wheel. We reached the turn around and as I counted I realized I was WAY back. Like 30th or worse. I took off again, went around the turn-around and tried to make up time. The guy on my wheel was pissing me off so much that I sat up, pulled off to the side and made him go around. His comment as he went by was “Ill try to do my part for a while now” which made it clear he thought this was a draft party, and I was going to draft. He tried to pace as I sat back 6 bike lengths back and was barely hitting 200 watts. This was WAY too slow. He clearly couldn’t bike well without the help of someone else. So again I saved up and went around him 3 minutes later at 400+ watts. But he came out to suck my wheel again. I held over 330 watts for a few minutes but he wouldn’t get off the wheel. For those that don’t know, drafting can reduce the effort needed by over 20-30%, so he was doing 2/3 the work I was to keep up, as long as he stayed in contact with me. I continued to look back and shake my head at the blatant cheating that was happening and he kept yelling back “you're fine” so I sat up, turned around and told him “Get the f*** out of the draft zone.” He stayed on for another minute, so I sat up and yelled again. Finally he backed off a little and within 2 miles I turned around and he was nowhere in sight. I cruised up to the next pack and found them a few miles from transition. I put in another big effort to get around this group of 12 guys and left them up the final hill. I came to transition alone and threw on the run shoes. I needed to have a top notch run that I knew I was capable of to even break the top 20 at this point.
Mile 1 was good but really hard. It was uphill and caused my legs to feel super heavy. Seeing my buddy Andrew running as fast as he could with 2 cameras in dress shorts, trying to get in front of me to take pictures, was literally my favorite thing i saw all day. Dude is completely dedicated to making incredible shots and its awesome. I took in nutrition as much as I could and grabbed every cup available at aid stations to throw on myself and take little sips. Mile 2 was downhill and the legs opened up really well. I started to pick people off one by one and kept my legs rolling. Mile 3 and 4 flew by and before I knew it I had one mile to go. I could see a bunch of guys in my age group so I continued to push and pass people. I came to the finish feeling strong but that I had more to give and places to improve. I went from 95th overall to 39th overall during the run and secured my spot on Team USA with a 16th place Age Group finish.
Wake up, same thing different day! Its race day again. Legs felt great despite the race yesterday and I was pumped to get another shot. After looking at my age group there was a very very small chance I would ever see the podium at this distance as the swim would be the same length, but I had half the time to make up ground. We set up the same way and I realized I forgot my race chip… so we went to the start, I found a new one and got pumped to race again!
The water was so calm this morning which meant great things for me!! The gun went off and I was thrown into the washing machine of every male under the age of 30 going balls out to the first buoy. The group pulled me along like a dog owner yanking the pup into the vet. I barely had to swim to the first buoy and I knew I was making much better time. I got kicked hard a few times and had to sit up and get out of where I was and all the sudden I was spat out the back of the group. I found a couple other guys and we cruised to the beach taking over a minute off my time from the day before on the same course. But now I needed something special to get me to the finish as fast as possible. I hopped on the bike and my legs were nowhere to be found. They were absolutely dead from the Olympic and the hills were a bit of a struggle, I found my power falling off a bit and having to remind myself how quickly this would be over. Half-way on the bike I realized I was actually up near the front, already in the top 20! I held decent power all the way back and sprinted into transition. That was the best power I have ever held but I knew I could have done way more. Overall 15th fastest bike of the day
Running shoes were thrown on in a hurry and I took off. I came off the bike 26th overall and 9th in my age group. This was a sprint, and I was going to have to sprint this whole thing if I wanted that podium spot. I have been to nationals for 3 years in a row, last year I was kicked off the podium by one spot after an hour of thinking I was on the podium after the race. I was not letting that happen again. First half mile was 5:20 pace. Not going to cut it. I pushed harder and passed more people. Next mile I cut down to 5:13. Better, but I needed more. I saw Alexa as I passed more people so I slowed down to pat her on the back quick and offer some words to keep her going. One kid saw me slow down and latched on to my side, running extremely close to my and breathing down my neck. I knew I could leave him so I pulled an old XC trick. I settled in at a 5:40 pace for a couple hundred yards, I let his legs adapt to that pace, and as we went around a turn, I cranked it up to 4:30 pace for the next quarter mile and got the separation I needed. He was done. I saw 2 more guys in my age group with a half mile to go. I pushed as hard as I could but a huge downhill limited the ground I was making up. I passed one of them around 30 seconds later, and pushed as hard as I could. I was within 30 feet of the next guy when I ran out of space. I crossed the tape and knew I had put out a good run. Travis Wood came over to me and all I heard was “ I did it….OMG I DID IT” we both celebrated Travis absolutely crushing the field and becoming the Overall Sprint National Champion! A few people came over to me and told me my run was insane, I had no clue what I had done, so I pulled up my watch. I had run just over a 16 minute 5k and ran my way on to the podium!! My run was the top in my age group and 2nd overall for the day. I waited to celebrate my 5th place in my age group as this showed on the results last year but somewhere an hour after I finished, I ended up losing a place, so I waited for Alexa and cheered her in to the finish. Alexa ran one of the best runs of her life and ran her way to a Team USA slot! She also controlled the bike course with a top-20 overall women bike split both days! I never lost my spot on the podium and after 3 years was able to step up and share it with my buddy Travis, couldn't have asked for a better day at the sprint!
We celebrated our wins and the weekend and are now gearing up to head to Europe!! Many special things going on in the next month so stay tuned! We fly out of the states on august 26th and will compete on the 1st of September in the ITU Standard Distance World Championship in Lausanne, Switzerland! Then we will be headed to France where I will compete 7 days later in the 70.3 world championship in Nice France.
Thank you all for your amazing support!
Chris Heise with Americna Family Insurance
And Sanford health
For all you do!