The morning of the Sprint National Championships, Jeremy and I woke up on the campus of Alabama University in Tuscaloosa. We were both filled with nerves as the day prior we had watched the pros compete in the blistering sun. Some were being hauled off the course due to heat exhaustion.
We headed out of the hotel at 6 a.m. with a slight drizzle. This is never ideal weather for any race that includes cycling. When roads are wet, crashes are always in the forecast. “At least this will drop the temperature a few degrees,” I thought, trying to remain positive. Jeremy and I looked at each other and lifted up our prayers for the rain to slow down. We then headed to our usual pre-race caffeine stop: Starbucks. When we went to the first Starbucks listed on the GPS it was in a Barnes and Noble, which was closed, and I was hoping this was not a bad sign. “No big deal,” we thought, there is another one on campus.
We headed to the second Starbucks, which was no longer there. As we scrolled down the GPS to the third Starbucks, I was beginning to panic. I decided to save time and call them to make sure they were open. To our dismay it was the Starbucks located in the Target shopping center, and yes, it too was closed. I came to the realization that we would have to proceed without the caffeine vigor. I panicked briefly before Jeremy calmed me down. I knew that if he could make it without coffee then I could do it too.
We parked our car and made our half-mile walk to the race site in the rain. Setting up in transition was pretty breezy. We experienced no major malfunctions and we were ready to go out on our warm-up ride, another race day ritual, but we were informed that we were not allowed out of transition with our bikes. "Great,” I thought, “these people are trying to kill me!" We continued to remain calm and put our bikes back on their respective racks. No coffee, no pre race ride, it’s okay…we are trained triathletes. A kink or two with a little rain in the mix was no big deal, right? Wrong.
We were about to head down to the swim start when I saw the head race official and my closest competition chatting over my bike helmet. I could see the official holding my helmet with one hand and gesturing to the girl racked next to me aggressively. FYI: Anytime a race official has your gear, particularly your helmet, it is not a good sign. I made my way back over to my area in time for the race official to tell me that the nice young lady next to me had pointed out that I did not have the correct American manufacturing sticker in my helmet. It appeared that my aero helmet had been made in Europe and was illegal for the states. If I could not produce the official American sticker that was supposed to be in the helmet or find another helmet—which I neglected to bring—I was to be a no-go for National Championship day.
Jeremy and several others had the same helmet I had, and no one had ever heard of the sticker rule. Apparently this is something they enforce at National Championships. At that moment, I started to break down! Jeremy had me calm down. "Don't do this. Hold it together.” Then he said the single most romantic thing of the whole weekend. "Linz, If you can't go. I am not racing today!" It was a total Ruth and Naomi moment, except husband-wife style. Praise God the race officials were awesome and sympathized with my welling tears. The head marshal found me a loner "training helmet” they happened to have on site. Not exactly ideal for Nationals, but at least I was going to race.
We were now good to go with ten minutes to spare before race start. Jeremy and I rushed down to the water entry where we were able to jog about a minute and get a few hip throws in before his group was called into the water! I watched Jeremy go off and felt good about his position in the water. I turned to look around at my competition, as I knew I had 12 more minutes before it was my turn. I saw one Team USA jersey after another. I started glancing at the back of their legs praying they would be in a different age group. My nerves are always the worst before the race, but before I knew it I was able to make my way to the water. The water is my safe haven and my favorite discipline in triathlon. I had a good swim as did Jeremy.
The bike was a hilly, wet mess, turn after turn perfect for beautiful crashes, one of which coach Jeremy narrowly missed. I felt slightly out of place with my trainer helmet, but I tried not to let that hinder my confidence. The rain, wind, and hills were enough to deal with. Jeremy and I were both ready to get off the bike and on to the run. We were happy to make it back alive. The run was nice. The rain was picking up which helped take some of the focus off of the pain. Jeremy even did a few surges to drop the competition. Not a bad strategy for a first time National Championship participant.
The finish line was amazing with big screens, USA flags, and all the flags of the states represented. We had come a long way this summer and despite the small trials of the day the Lord taught us this very valuable lesson: don't trust your gear or your pre-race rituals, just trust me and I will get you through! Praise God for His strength.
I finished the day with a National Championship title in the 25-29 division. I stood with my little girl (Hallie) on the top of the podium and nothing felt better than that moment. The race marshal that disqualified my helmet even came over to shake my hand. As for Jeremy, he beat several people in his age group. Who would have thought that the once 260 lb collegiate defensive lineman would be racing one day at the National Triathlon Championships. What a stud!
Thank you to Linzie Herbert for writing this story. Do you have a story about how God showed up at a race? Let Joe know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on Mon, November 22, 2010