Hundreds of the country’s best triathletes will be heading to the USAT Age Group National Championships this weekend and for Chicagoland triathletes this year means more than ever.
For the second consecutive year they will be held in Milwaukee, making it especially easy for local triathletes to make the drive. However, to further incentivize Chicagoans, a strong performance could qualify them for the World Championships held at the 2015 ITU World Triathlon Chicago.
“Each age group will be very competitive because everyone will want to go to World’s in Chicago,” local triathlete Jennifer Garrison said. “I think that raises the bar for everyone across the board.”
Garrison will be one of many who are returning to Milwaukee after last year’s championships. With experience on the course the Naperville native hopes to improve on her time, however that won’t be easy. Despite feeling like she didn’t have the best race possible, Garrison finished second in her age group and 12th overall. Garrison said she felt like she could have won her group out-right and has that as her goal this year.
Also returning to the Milwaukee beachfront is the overall men’s winner and Chicagoland resident Colin Riley. Last year Riley finished the Olympic distance in 1:52:54, holding off the second place overall finisher by just 10 seconds. With a repeat performance in mind, Riley knows the unique setting of the National Championships will force him to go all out during the race. Unlike other races, the championships are split up by age groups with each one starting at a different time. While this benefits those competing for the top spot there, it puts added pressure on anyone trying for an overall championship.
“It’s definitely unique,” Riley said. “It would be nice to go head-to-head so you know where you’re at and essentially racing. At the same time you know you have to give it 110% and just go. Last year I just kept telling myself you don’t know who is going to be ahead of you or behind you. In that aspect, it’s not easier but you have to give it everything you have and sprint to the finish. That was the difference last year.”
Riley said that while his training has been up and down, he feels good with where he is heading in to this weekend. Both he and Garrison said they feel like they have had a strong summer leading up to nationals and will have fresh legs ready to go. Riley said he feels stronger and like he has improved since last year.
The first wave will kick off at 7:30 Saturday morning with waves coming every seven minutes after that until 10:12.
While Riley and Garrison will have the added bonus of being familiar with the course, not everyone will be as lucky. Fiona Carlon will be competing in her first ever Age Group National Championships and her first race in Milwaukee. The 29 year old said she is setting her goals on improvement. Carlon said she hopes to beat the 2:29 time she posted at the ITU World Triathlon Chicago earlier this summer. To do that, she is going up early on Friday and taking in as much of the course she can. Her biggest concern, Carlon said, is the temperature of the water. After an unusually cool summer, the Lake Michigan water may be significantly cooler than typical.
With everything on the line, the three triathletes all said they are excited for the level of competition. For more information and results following the race, click here.