Category Archives: Race Recaps

2016 HITS Hudson Valley Recap

Two weekends ago, I took on my second swim-bike-run event of the season, the HITS Hudson Valley Triathlon.  One of my training buds has a house in the area, so even though the race course changed from last year (which I didn’t realize until 11 p.m. the night before), I still escaped New York City with a few friends for a sportz-filled weekend.

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Hardware for everyone!

After a tough season opener at Quassy, I was excited to race again and execute across the disciplines. Between a high volume training weekend in Lake Placid and moving apartments, Earl and I decided the best course of action was to simply let the race happen: go out, see how my body felt, and make adjustments from there. Needless to say, I was carrying both physical and emotional fatigue into the race, so I was relieved the strategy didn’t center on splits and paces.

On Friday, I left the city around 3 p.m., drove “upstate,” and picked up one of my friends from the Rhinecliff train station before we headed to dinner in Woodstock. It was at dinner I learned the race was completely different, which made it easier to let go of expectations; Saturday would be all about having fun and enjoying swimming, biking, and running with friends.

This mentality was perfect because pre-race logistics on Saturday were not smooth: Google Maps led us astray, and we were almost late to the race; one guy who was doing the half forget his water bottles; and another guy forget his goggles—and forgot to register for the race all together. (Luckily, there was race-day registration.) Race-morning craziness is not ideal, but in a strange way, it helped me relax, let go, and let the race happen.

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The race was an adventure, but I had a relatively good day out there.

Swim – 1500m – 26:27 (2/35)

The main characteristic that sets HITS apart from other triathlon race companies is the variety of distances offered: sprint, Olympic, half, and full. This spectrum meant all Olympic-distance athletes started later (8:20 a.m.), and it also meant we would merge with long-course folks during the two-loop course.

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Kind of confusing, but I swam around the four buoys to the far right twice.

It was a “mass start,” and even amongst the dudes, I positioned myself near the front and swam aggressively when we were released. There was a lot of action within the opening 200m, but everyone eventually found packs. And I found myself in no woman’s land:  slower than all the dudes (and the one female pro) who exited the water in 23 or 24 minutes, but faster than everyone else. I did draft off a dude for a few minutes during the second loop, but I eventually overtook him. Overall, I felt really smooth, but I’d like to be closer to 25 minutes at Nationals.

T1 – 1:51 (15/35)

Yeah … totally botched both transitions.  I couldn’t find my bike and obviously left a lot of time here. No excuses.

Bike – 40-K – 1:24:05 (3/35)
How would I describe this two-loop bike course? Punchy.

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There were a couple of kickers.

And it was fair. Because it was two loops, it gave everyone who was unfamiliar with the route one lap to take it all in—which was great because it was a rolling and technical course. My first loop was on the slower side: I rode the descents very conservatively and noted where I could tuck in and hammer the second time around. When I completed the first loop, a volunteer told me I was the first female, but I knew the female pro was far ahead, so I focused on riding my race. On one of the kickers, one woman zipped by me. I’m not used to that, and she was moving! (We talked after the race, and she’s local and rides the course often.) It also started to mist about three-quarters of the way through, but I’ll take 65*F and rain over heat and humidity any day. Anyway, it’s all about progress, and I felt much more composed and confident during this ride than Quassy. In short-course racing, course knowledge is a huge advantage, and unfortunately, that isn’t a luxury I’ve had this year—so I am OK with the split since we know it does not reflect my fitness.

T2 – 1:48 (15/35)

Again, not totally sure what I was doing here.

Run – 10-K – 51:30 (3/35)

This is a first:  the run was my favorite part of the race.  None of us read the course guide beforehand, so we were surprised to learn 90 percent of the course took place on trails, including a stretch that took racers through a cave. Did we sign up for an XTERRA race?!

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Again, per “letting the race happen,” I let go of expectations, embraced the conditions, and simply ran. I was surprised how comfortable and confident I felt navigating rocks and roots—maybe because of the trail running I did in Denver?—and I had a lot of fun out there. I chatted with other athletes and thanked the volunteers. And when it started down pouring, I refused to become frustrated. Everyone had to contend with these conditions, and the rain/trail run combo helped me enter a meditative headspace. It was not my fastest 10-K, but it was one of the most cathartic and enjoyable ones I’ve had in a while.

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Running like a basketball player

Official finishing time – 2:45:43 (3/35)

Overall, I feel good about this outing. In terms of performance, there was time left out there (i.e. what the heck was I doing in transition?), but this race reaffirmed that you can only control the controllables. There were points where a less athletically mature me would’ve become angry, but I was really pleased with how I accepted and adjusted without letting my emotions get the best of me. This was also the first race in a long time where I explicitly thanked the volunteers and cheered for other racers—and it totally made my experience better.

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Cheesin’

Less than one month until Nationals—time to get it locked in!

2016 Rev3 Quassy Recap

This past Saturday, I took on my first triathlon of the season, Rev3 Quassy. Held in Middlebury, CT and marketed as “the beast of the Northeast,” this event offers challenging Olympic- and 70.3-distance races. (The Olympic takes place on Saturday while the half-Iron occurs on Sunday.)

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Obligatory transition photo

So yes, although it was a race, my game plan for the day did not center on “racing” for a few reasons. As my season opener, this event gave me an opportunity to dust off the racing rust—and honestly, get out a few bonehead mistakes before my target race. Two, this race would be my first time truly riding my tri bike outside this season. And riding for the first time in a race environment was not ideal. Three, this race simply did not suit me; in fact, it is the worst race I could’ve done. Not to be dramatic, but basically, this was a perfect storm with the potential for plenty of things to go wrong.

From the beginning of the season when Earl and I were planning my calendar, he made it very clear Quassy would not be a “race” for me, but rather a tough training day. (And not having insurance and the ability to ride my bike outside further supported this outlook.) He developed the metaphor of a boxing match to illustrate our strategy: the hilly course would punch me hard and often. When this occurred, I was tasked with covering up, playing defense, and absorbing the blow. And then, when the opportunities presented themselves, I could punch back, go on the offensive, and make up some time. Overall, it would be an outing filled with strategic moves and countermoves. I would not be “racing” anyone else; it was me against the course.

And this time, the course totally won. Here’s how it went down.

Pre-race:

As I mentioned a few days ago, the week leading up to Quassy was not normal. Due to Memorial Day weekend, we were working on overdrive at the office, and my sister and I also spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights looking at apartments. This life stuff obviously took priority, which led to missed/abbreviated workouts and extra mental/emotion fatigue. And even though Earl and I addressed the bike situation, I was still worried about riding for the first time on a technical course. Honestly, as Friday approached, all I wanted to do was sleep. But once I met up with my Flat Feet guys, and we started talking about the race, my outlook started to change. This outing would not be an accurate reflection of my fitness. This outing would be a long and challenging grind. And by putting myself in an uncomfortable situation now, I would set myself up for success in the future.

Swim – 1,500m – 26:56 (9/28)

Due to an impenetrable fog on Lake Quassapaug, the swim start was delayed 30 minutes.

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Tailwind family photo

My thought process: ‘I hope they don’t cancel the swim! Wait, this also means I’ll be running 30 minutes later in the day, which means it will be hotter. Oh great.’

Luckily, the swim actually happened, and my wave of women 39 and under was aggressive. There was a lot more bumping, grabbing, and jockeying for position within the opening 400m than I anticipated. It was Nationals-level aggressive, but my basketball instincts kicked in. The field spread out quickly, though, and aside from that initial contact and sighting into the sun at the first turn buoy, everything went smoothly: I found my rhythm, drafted when possible, caught the Wall of Dudes who started five minutes beforehand—just another day in the open water.

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We started at the green point and ended at the red.

Even though I thought I swam a tight course, it felt like I was out there for a while, which was reflected in my slower-than-usual split. Everyone who Garmin’ed the swim had a distance between 1,650 and 1,800m, which could be due to swimming off course, but the consensus was the course was long.

Transition 1 – 1:56 (2/28)

Exiting the water is one of my favorite parts of the race, especially when your training buds and coaches line the chute. “Now your race can start!” yelled one of the Tailwind coaches.

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Fist pump

This was probably the only time I smiled during the race.

Bike – 25.7 miles – 1:34:47 (13/28)

Under normal circumstances, I love anything to do with watts—but not this time. First, the positives: in accordance with our boxing strategy, I executed relatively well. I “absorbed” the course’s punches on the climbs. I became reacquainted with my small ring and did most of my overtaking on the ascents. I rode in aero when I could. And I definitely stayed below 85 percent of my FTP per Earl’s instructions.

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Hilly, but fair:  I just could not capitalize on the downhills.

I made a few bonehead mistakes. My bike computer and power meter weren’t working properly so I rode the course “blind” and didn’t have access to total time, average power, etc. I lost a bottle within the first four miles, and luckily, I was riding with an extra. (For Olympic-distance races, I take in one bottle of nutrition, but knowing we were estimating a 1:30 bike split, I brought two bottles.) I taped my gel to the top tube of my bike, but couldn’t get it off. Basically, I made every “first race of the season” mistake possible so let’s hope I got everything out of my system.

My main shortcomings on the bike were my handling skills and simply riding with confidence. Although I paced myself on the climbs, I didn’t feel comfortable descending and truly making up that lost time. So many people passed me on the downhills. So, so many. There were a lot of technical turns too, and since I didn’t ride the course ahead of time—like a lot of my friends did—I lacked the knowledge to know when I could relax into aero and when I needed to move onto the hoods. Although I had prepared for a long ride, I did not think about what it would feel like to be riding timidly for 90 minutes and how that would affect me mentally. When you can’t execute your ace-in-the-hole discipline—and not only fail to execute, but also feel twitchy—it wears on you. Bottom line, I left a lot of time out there. And mentally, I should’ve left that experience out there too—but I carried it with me onto the run.

Transition 2 – 1:07 (7/28)

All I noticed were a lot of bikes back in their racks. That’s not a sight I’m used to.

Run – 10-K – 1:01:08 (18/28)

Grind, grind, grind. I don’t want to say the wheels came off on the run because they weren’t ever really on.

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Oh mile three …

The first two miles were downhill and flat, and there were some friendly faces out spectating, so it started off OK. Mile three was when the course had its initial “punch,” and the combination of the hill and the sun (remember we started 30 minutes later) caused my heart rate to skyrocket. Per our boxing strategy, I had to “cover up,” pump the brakes, and get my heart rate under control. Full disclosure: there was a lot of walking on the hills. In hindsight, I definitely did not need to walk as much as I did—or at all—but thanks to a mentally fatiguing bike, I could not access the headspace necessary for a strong run.

Official finish – 3:05:54 (14/28)

Yeah, three hours is a long time for me to be out there for an Olympic-distance triathlon. But after debriefing with Earl and my Flat Feet guys, here’s what I’m taking from this experience:

My swim put me in a great position to do some serious smashing on the bike. I was within two minutes of six girls ahead of me, and under normal circumstances, I can erase that deficit in the saddle.

That was the toughest and most mentally and physically challenging bike course I will face all year.

That was the toughest and most mentally and physically challenging run course I will face all year.

I left a lot of time out there. (I probably left 2-3 minutes on the swim, at least five minutes on the bike, and 8-10 on the run.) Not to be dramatic, but given the factors leading into Quassy and the race itself, this was the worst possible combination; yet even on this tough day that was not my day, I finished in the middle of the pack—which for most people is not bad, ha! Basically, if I’m able to put myself in a situation with several factors that are working against me, and I’m still able to put together an “average” outing, then hopefully this means I can totally smash a course that works in my favor. Onto the next!

2016 Seneca7 Recap

On April 23, I returned to my old college stomping grounds in Geneva, NY with six New York City friends for the annual Seneca7. (Sidebar: I can’t believe this race happened nearly one month ago! Time sure does fly.)

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Lakeside at Camp Hoho

I’ve referenced this seven-person, 77.7-mile relay on the blog a few times, and last month’s outing was my first time doing it since 2012—a.k.a. my senior year of college. Now that seems like a lifetime ago!

That race four years ago easily makes it onto my “best days ever” list, but even so, I struggled to field a team and head back to the Finger Lakes region. For the past few years, the Seneca7 fell on the same weekend as the South Beach Triathlon. And although the majority of my NYC friends are runners and triathletes, it was tough to find seven humans who could commit tin February to a race in April. Luckily, though, our schedules worked out, and “Joe Paulik’s Inaugural Fun and Senexy” (it’s an inside joke) was one of the 283 groups who made the cut; when registration opened, it sold out in 31 minutes! When I did this race in 2012, there were about 1,200 runners compared to the nearly 2,000 this year. Clearly, the Seneca7 has become well known over the past four years, and I wondered if this growth would affect race day. Spoiler alert: it was an amazing day.

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Each race medal has the leg engraved (1, 2, etc.) so you can collect all seven!

As our team organizer/head Sherpa, I was responsible for pre-, during, and post-race logistics including, but not limited to getting a rental car, making hotel reservations, and navigating our minivan through Upstate New York. The drive from NYC to Geneva was uneventful, but long; we left around 9:30 a.m. and arrived at the pre-race briefing site at 3:30 p.m. I was really looking forward to the trail mix bar, but most of it was gone by the time we got there, which is totally our own fault. Packet pick-up went smoothly, and Jeff Henderson, the race director, kept everyone laughing during the race briefing. He definitely had the line of the weekend: “There are not enough port-a-potties in the state of New York for this race.”

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Buncha port-a-potties because we “can’t get enough!”

We grabbed an early dinner at one of the restaurants downtown, and I took everyone on a tour of campus. And that’s when worlds collided: being back on campus four years removed from graduation with friends from NYC. It was crazy to think back to where I was four years ago, what I was doing, what my goals were, and where I ended up.

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Ah, Quad life …

Just like the Armory Indoor Marathon, our number one priority for the Seneca7 was having fun. Everyone on the team was a runner, but we were at very different fitness levels. Case in point: one girl ran a 3:25 at Boston while another hadn’t laced up since December. So for us, the day centered on hanging out, having fun, and doing a little running.

For us, race day began at 6:45 a.m. Like years past, start times were staggered based on projected paces, and I selected a conservative 9:30 min./mi. team average. I wanted to start as early as possible because we’d be making the drive back to NYC immediately afterward. In the end, we averaged 8:25 min./mi., although we received a penalty too much of a differential between our projected pace and actual pace/finish time. We were pleasantly surprised with our average, and although receiving the penalty was a bummer, it didn’t break the day—it was all about having fun. The high-energy start line and the super friendly volunteers set the tone for the day, and I even reconnected with several college classmates and a few tri friends.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Seneca7, each team of seven covers a total of 77.7 miles around Seneca Lake, a.k.a. the mileage is divided up. And since it’s a relay-style race, you don’t log your entire mileage in one stint: runner one runs and passes off the slap bracelet to runner two; runner two runs and passes off the slap bracelet to runner three; etc. This cycle repeats three times as the team makes its way around the lake.

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Exchange point at mile 37.8: Clute Park in Walkins Glen

Each person covers somewhere between nine and 15 miles, and as runner six, I logged 12.4 miles total. When discussing the pace plan with Earl, we determined each leg was essentially its own race: my first leg (4.6 miles) was flat and fast; my second (4.9) was a gradual climb; and my third (2.5) was rolling. And the goal was to run each as fast as possible. As to be expected, the terrain affected my pace—my first and flat leg was the fastest, and my second and hilly leg was the slowest—but I averaged 7:50s for the 12-ish miles. Also, breaking up the mileage and running it relay-style added an extra challenge: sitting in a car and then running on fatigued legs. On my third outing, my legs felt totally trashed—but it was great practice for running off the bike, ha. It made me wonder if the cycling teams—the folks who *biked* around the lake instead of drove—were onto something!

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Grinding it out on hilly leg number two. Imma runner?!

Overall, it was a super fun day, and we’re already looking forward to heading back next year.

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Unpictured: delicious post-race chili, cornbread, and homemade chocolate chip cookies

Have you completed a relay race?

2016 Armory NYC Indoor Marathon Recap

This past weekend, I ran my first marathon—as part of a relay team known as the Flat Feet Social Club. (Check that link—race organizers interviewed us!) Comprised of endurance athletes, our group convenes for quirky events and turns off our collective competitive switch. Having fun at the inaugural Armory NYC Indoor Marathon was our top priority, but we still finished third in our division. (There were options to run the 26.2 miles as an all-male, all-female, or mixed relay.)

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What a bunch of 3:15 marathoners look like–when each person runs 6.5 miles.

At first glace, this seems like a crazy event. After all, who would willingly run a marathon around a 200m indoor track? That’s 211 laps! But endurance cray cray loves company, and when my friend proposed the idea, I didn’t shoot it down right away.  In fact, I was intrigued.  A team relay, the 26.2 miles would be broken up four ways. ‘OK, I can handle 6.5 miles on a track.’ Plus, since we were going into the race with zero time goals, I could treat it as a workout. And if this was going to be a solid sportz day, then asking my coach for permission to brick—and riding on my indoor trainer beforehand—seemed like an even better idea.  So I may be a little endurance cray cray …

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Round and round we went.

A few logistical notes:  there were more than 500 athletes registered  (either solo or as part of a two-, four-, six- or eight-person relay), and to avoid congestion, each team selected a date and time to run. The event started Friday morning and continued through Sunday, and although Flat Feet Social Club originally signed up for the “graveyard” shift from 6-9:30 a.m. on Saturday, we ultimately ran at 9:30 a.m. (We also considered the Friday evening shift from 8 p.m. to midnight, but one of our members had a work commitment.) For the relay division, each person could run a total of three times, so we decided to break up the individual workload into 20 loops, 20 loops, and 10 loops.  And during the race itself, each runner wore a bib and affixed a timing chip to their ankle (á la triathlon), and there was an exchange zone sectioned off with cones. There were timing mats at the start and end of the exchange zone that registered who was running and their split.

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It felt weird to be wearing a timing chip and not have a bunch of swimming and cycling gear with me too.

All right. I could write a play-by-play of every loop or mile or leg, but instead, I’ll share a few takeaways that made the experience memorable.

The DJ was on point.  If you have 18 or so relay teams running in a circle for hours on end, then the music has to keep everyone pumped.  There were a lot of top-40 tunes, but one of my favorite moments was when Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream” played. During my high school basketball days, that song was our theme song during sectionals. I loved remembering those times, and I also loved how I was running, and Tom Petty was singing about running down dreams.

Race logistics were smooth, especially given the relay component and inaugural event status. My team totally overthought the whole keeping track of laps aspect—we talked about buying a whiteboard and marking off loops—but we eventually realized we could use the lap feature on our Garmins. (Who said all triathletes are tech geeks?) The hand-off section was clearly marked on the track, and there were various screens that displayed time, distance, and laps to go. We didn’t look at them a ton given our self-described “non-competitive” status, but it was neat seeing how we stacked up against everyone else.

I viewed the “race” as a workout; I went in very loose and without a pace plan other than to run on feel. (I had my Garmin, but only used it to count laps.) Plus, being on a 200m track provided valuable race simulation experience. I practiced reeling in people ahead of me and made a conscious effort to focus on form. I hung tough when rough mental patches arrived (like when I was ready to be off the track after 10 laps during my first stint).

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Somehow, I managed to not get any official race photos, but this is a screen shot from a video clip one of my teammates took.

And overall, it was a great workout:  I covered the 6.5 miles in 48 minutes (7:23 min./mi.). The track was fast, and I felt smooth, strong, and in control of the effort the entire time. And this feeling gives me confidence I can hit and hold a similar pace when I run off the bike at Nationals.

Bottom line, the Flat Feet Social Club had a blast, and we plan to return next year—and we’re also researching our next relay. (Hint: there’s camping involved.)

I should mention that although we didn’t stick around for the individual marathon heats, both the men’s and women’s indoor records were broken. One of our NYAC runners smashed the women’s record and ran a 2:44:44!

Have you completed an indoor and/or relay event? What did you think?

2016 NYRR Spring Classic 10-K Recap

This past Sunday, I ran my first race of 2016:  NYRR’s Spring Classic 10-K.  Normally, I wouldn’t pay to run in Central Park, but the entry fee was only $10. (It was open only to NYRR members, and there weren’t t-shirts, medals, etc. ) And that’s a cheap pricetag for quality racing experience. Also, Earl and Coach Pat wanted a check-in race to gauge my running fitness.

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No photos during the race, of course–I snapped this one as I cooled down.

Of course, I wanted a strong showing, but Earl and Coach Pat made it very clear the main objective was executing the race plan and running on feel (i.e. not shooting for a PR).  With this in mind, we decided that although I would turn on my Garmin to capture data, I would not look at my watch during the race.  Running is extremely mental for me.  Although I’m becoming fitter, faster, and stronger, seeing certain values (read: anything in the sevens) intimidates me and makes me second guess whether I can sustain the pace.  And as we determined from my splits below, thank GAWD I didn’t look at my watch.

Mile #1 – 7:56 – “Let it happen”

The opening mile contained Harlem Hill, so we figured this would be my slowest mile of the race.  I didn’t complete a long enough warm-up, so I was still finding my rhythm here, and I was pleasantly surprised how smooth I felt while climbing the hill.  Thanks to my Sunday Snowman Challenge, I’ve run Harlem Hill frequently so I knew how to pace it:  I broke it up into three sections and gradually increased the effort as I neared the top.  “Let [the first mile] happen,” Earl advised.  “It was going to be what it’s going to be.”

Mile #2 – 7:43 and mile #3 – 7:32 – “Let the course do the work.”

A few days before the race, Earl and I talked strategy, and he said it was important to let the course do the work.  That meant absorbing the “punches” on the uphills and making the necessary cadence adjustments and then smoothing out the effort on the downhills.  My mantra during these two miles along the West Side Rollers was “let the course do the work” and “smooth, strong, and controlled.”  If I had seen my splits during these two miles, especially the 7:32, I would’ve freaked out and eased off the gas—I didn’t and continued to run on feel.

Mile #4 – 7:58

With Cat Hill coming up, I ran the little hill conservatively.  This was also the point in the race the lactic acid started to make itself known in my legs.

Mile #5 – 8:07 – “Hang on”

Dun, dun, duuuun: Cat Hill.  Like Harlem Hill, I broke it into three sections, but struggled to find the next gear as I neared the top.  In hindsight, this was the race’s TKO punch.  My legs felt dunzo, and although “hang on” was not the most positive mindset, that’s exactly what I was doing.

Mile #6 – 7:45 – “I’m dragging.”

Again, I’m really glad I did not look at my watch.  My legs felt heavy, and I felt like I was running through molasses; it felt like a 9:00 min./mi. pace.  It’s important to run your own race, but around this time, I listened to the people alongside of me; they were totally gassed.  I was still breathing easily.  And that’s been the story of my running life—feeling the burn in my legs and not my lungs.

Last bit – 2:04

As per usual, I was feeling a lot of feelings when I finished.  I was surprised with my average pace because it felt like I was running 7:40-7:45 throughout—which, if you take out the Cat Hill mile, is exactly what happened.  It also gives me confidence to know that when I thought I was “dragging” I was actually fine and running a 7:45. It comes down to dialing in my mental game and trusting myself. As Earl said post-race, becoming a better racer physically is the easy part—the challenge is getting your mind to catch up.

How do you power through tough workouts and races?

 

My 2015 Running and Triathloning Recap

So long, 2015! I have mixed feelings saying goodbye to this year. It felt like a roller coaster ride right out of the gate, and almost immediately, there were some big triathlon and work changes. The highs were high, and the lows were low—and I was always on my toes. I did a lot of learning, growing, contemplating, and of course, swimming, biking, and running. Let’s take an easy, zone two jog down memory lane.

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Christmas Eve lakeside bliss

Best race experience

Several factors comprise an awesome race experience. Of course, there’s the training—dedicating yourself to the process and doing everything in your power to prepare for a successful outing—but there’s also the traveling, hanging out with friends, and soaking in the overall race atmosphere. In 2015, I didn’t complete an event that rose above the others as the pinnacle of racing. Whether that’s good or bad, I’m not sure. But I enjoyed every race.

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Post-trail run in Denver. This is why people wear trail shoes.

When I went to South Beach in April, I had a blast hanging out with friends before and after the hotter-than-hot classic-distance event (a.k.a. eating all the food). At Kingston in July, I had fun getting to know my Tailwind Endurance buddies more and executing a decent race given the weather. At Nationals in August, I loved trying on “autopilot” and doing me. A few weeks later, I returned home and did the same course that served as my first triathlon ever, which was a neat way to look back and see my progress. And at the Philadelphia Half-Marathon in November, I proved to myself I am a mentally strong runner who can execute 13.67 solid miles.

Best swim

Swimming and I have an interesting relationship. Simply going to the pool for a workout requires so much logistical coordination: getting my cap, goggles, swimsuit, towel, and flip-flops together; walking the 17 minutes to the facility; jumping in the freezing water and attempting to warm up. It’s a wonder I manage to swim at all! (Full disclosure: I still haven’t been in the water since September.) But I never struggle to swim when I’m in Lake Placid.

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Swimming in Mirror Lake is therapeutic. During these mile outings, my mind wanders. I reflect on the past year or so—the last time I was in Placid is usually the baseline—and what was going on in my life then. I love getting this headspace. Hitting paces and making intervals are the last things on my mind.

But as far as those lung-busting swims go, the best one I had during a race was at Nationals. Not only did I lay down a respectable split, but I also knew within a 15-second ballpark what my time was. (Related: I plan to start swimming again next week.)

Best bike

Thinking back to the time I spent in the saddle, a few things jump out: starting my training early at Tailwind Endurance; sustaining a crash (and concussion); recovering from said crash physically and mentally; logging blissful rides in Placid; and executing a decent 40-K at Nationals. The happiest miles I rode definitely occurred in Placid, but I can’t discount the comeback process.

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Everyone loves a good #TrainerSelfie, especially when it showcases a black eye.

I vividly remember my first outdoor ride post-crash, and even though I was a bit twitchy, the outing restored my confidence.

Best run

I didn’t run to my potential off the bike this year; I never found that effortless, invincible feeling, and I failed to execute strong, mentally sound miles. But that’s OK. These “close, but no cigar” experiences helped me fully devote myself to Philadelphia Half-Marathon training.

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… and refocus my run training

The goal was to run strong and bring home a PR, and this running block catapulted my 2016 triathlon training. And during the race itself, I felt smooth, strong, and confident in my ability to execute.

Best piece of new gear

Santa delivered: hello, power meter!

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Watts, watts, WATTS!

Obviously, I haven’t used it yet, but this tool will revolutionize my racing. I’ll be able to see how many watts I make!

Best piece of running/triathloning advice you received

This year will go down as the year of the bike crash, and as I mentioned previously, it really forced me to let go and trust the process.

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Head down and getting to work

The crash affected me mentally too, and as I recuperated and approached my races, Earl gave me some sound advice: “Confidence is a choice. You need to choose to be confident.”

Most inspirational runner

Like last year, I continue to train and work with some stellar humans who also run—and they run fast, far, and a lot.

 If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be?

Challenging, humbling, and memorable

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#2015bestnine

Thanks for following along this year–bring it on, 2016!

2015 Philadelphia Half-Marathon Recap

This past weekend, I once again escaped New York City for a race. However, this one did not follow the normal swim-bike-run format: on Sunday, I ran the Philadelphia Half-Marathon, a.k.a. a 13.1 miles through the city sans swimming and biking.

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Obligatory

This was my second time doing Philly, and like last year, it was supposed to be a low-key race weekend with family and friends. Unfortunately, my immediate family was sick, so they were unable to make it. And my entire friend group was simply on a different timetable: some of us were doing the marathon; some of us weren’t leaving NYC until Saturday afternoon; etc. This combination translated to pre- and post-race experiences that were much different from what I anticipated, but it turned out to be totally fun.

A few Tailwind Endurance training buds and I discovered we were taking the same Friday night train, so we traveled south together, went to the expo, and grabbed dinner. The next morning, we met up for a shake-out run, and we linked up race morning too. (And we reconvened after to go to Geno’s for Philly cheesesteaks.) I have to give credit to my diverse triathlon arsenal on this one because I would’ve been flying solo otherwise—and since this was not a goal race, I wanted to socialize a bit more.

So more about that “not goal race” part. The Philly Half has become a late-season staple in my schedule because it keeps me running during the off-season. This year, Coach Pat and I were able to be more aggressive with my run training, and after my last tri in August, we slowly increased my weekly volume to about 30 miles per week. That’s the most I’ve run ever! My “engine” (cardio base) from triathlon season carried over quite seamlessly too, so even though this was not a goal race—it was a “C” priority, but we did taper a bit—we planned to be more aggressive and execute the most perfect race possible.

Thinking about the most perfect running race intimidated me—just ask Jen or any of my work friends. After reading over the plan and calculating the splits, I realized if the stars aligned—if I felt great, ran smart, and stayed mentally sound—we were looking at a 1:43 half. Wait, is this me we’re talking about? Mind games ensued, but as soon as I hopped on the train, my outlook changed. Coach Pat has not steered me wrong. Earl has told me time and time again, “having confidence is a choice. You need to choose to be confident.” And as I reflected on my roller coaster of a triathlon season—leaving my former team, assembling my triathlon arsenal, sustaining a bike crash—I realized I was strong enough to overcome anything on that course.

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And on race day, I simply had so much fun I ran an extra half-mile—ha!

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The race plan: we would start easy (miles 1-2) and build to tempo effort (miles 2-6); relax on the first hill (mile 7); build the effort again (miles 8-9); relax on the second hill (mile 10); and then hang on and finish strong (miles 11-13.1). According to my Garmin, I ran 13.1 miles somewhere in the 1:44-1:45 ballpark and logged a total of 13.67. Unfortunately, this data did not translate to official race results. (Chip time was 1:49:40.) However, after reviewing the outing with both Coach Pat and Earl, we are viewing this (1:44-1:45 Garmin time) as PR.

Honestly, the race was a blur, but here are a few bits and pieces I remember:

Miles 1-2 – relax, settle in, and keep the pace easy

Target – 8:15; actual – 7:39, 8:01

Well, whoops. ‘Slow down, Red—this is not a 10-K off the bike.’ I didn’t feel amazing during these first two miles, but I felt strong. It usually takes me four or five miles to settle in and feel decent so I wasn’t worried.

Miles 3-6 – take advantage of the flat course and build the effort

Target – bring the pace to 7:40; actual – 7:56, 8:03, 8:13, 7:52

Within this chunk, I realized my watch was off. At first, it was only a 0.1-mile deviation, but it ballooned to 0.5. I felt like I was doing everything right: I was in control of the pace, I took a gel at the 45-minute mark as planned (hence the slower split at mile five), etc. My paces matched my effort level, but I couldn’t figure out where the extra mileage was coming from. Looking back, I realize I was probably bobbing and weaving too much.

Mile 7 – relax at the hill and run with confidence

Target – 8:15-8:20; actual – 7:38

Due to the Garmin deviation, this was not at the actual hill. This happened on Chestnut Street where the crowd lined up Tour de France style. This is one of my favorite times during the race, and I even ran into one of my old work friends. You know you’re a runner when …

Mile 8 – increase the effort

Target – 7:50-8:00; actual – 8:30

This is when I actually ran up the hill. The wind at this part of the exposed course prompted me to really back off the effort; I didn’t want to burn too many matches here. My hat also blew off, so I actually backtracked a few steps to retrieve it.

Mile 9 – relax at the hill and run with confidence

Target – 8:15-8:20; actual – 6:42

Yep, totally not at the hill. There was a big downhill here, and my legs simply took over. Muscle memory kicked in, and it was a really cool moment. It just happened, and I just ran.

Miles 10-13.1 – hold strong

Target – 7:30; actual – 8:51, 8:10, 8:13, 8:23, 5:36 for the last little bit

During this span, I actually hit that second hill and again eased off the gas. It wasn’t until after the hill where I let myself attempt to calculate my finishing time. (I do words, not math.) According to my Garmin, a 1:45 was totally within reach. ‘I’m doing it! I’m a runner!’ But my watch was off. Sure, the distance, time, and pace it recorded were accurate, but those values did not match up to what the course actually measured. When my watch went off for mile 13, and I saw 1:44:17, I was feeling all the feelings. An unofficial 13.1-mile PR somewhere between 1:44 and 1:45 was huge. Absolutely huge. But I couldn’t even see the finish line. It took me several seconds to realize that although I just logged a major PR on my watch, I may not even break 1:50 according to the race clock. That was an incredibly bizarre realization.

My mental game had been locked in the entire run, and only after hitting 13 miles on my watch did it begin to wander. I was incredibly frustrated, and I realized this would be the biggest mental test I’d face: I could check out and ease off the gas; or I could hang tough and stay in it. Granted, my legs didn’t have a finishing “pop” in them so I mostly cruised to the finish line. My first thought? ‘OK, so that happened. Now what?’

 It took some time to fully process everything and come to terms with the official race results. I learned I can run strong for 13-plus miles. I can stay positive and mentally engaged for 13-plus miles. I can execute even when things go awry. And if I can run a 1:44-1:45 half, then I can definitely run faster than my current 45:xx 10-K PR off the bike. All good things!

And with this 13.67-mile run through Philadelphia, my 2015 racing season is officially over. I will be slothing around for a few more days (#SlothWeek), and official base building for 2016 begins next week. Bring it on!

But first, bring me a piece of apple pie …

2015 Cazenovia Triathlon Recap

This past weekend, I experienced a pretty sweet homecoming at the Cazenovia Triathlon. Held in my teeny tiny hometown, this sprint-distance (0.5-mile swim, 14-mile bike, and 3.1-mile run) event was my first multisport race in 2012, and upon finishing, I was instantly hooked. In 2013 and 2014, this tri took place the same weekend as USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals so it didn’t make my race calendar. This year, though, I was able to swing it—and I notched a big PR: I placed 15th overall, 5th female overall, 1st in my age group, and I shaved nearly 20 minutes off my 2012 finishing time!

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All photos courtsey of my Mom!

Even though I registered for this race in January, I kept it on the DL. I told myself if I had a strong showing in Milwaukee, then I would mostly likely feel OK with ending the season and not doing it. Nationals didn’t quite go as planned, and although I’ve come to terms with what happened out there, I did not want that outing to be the final one. Coach Pat and I have talked at length about Milwaukee and developed a game plan for this race, which was to have fun and hopefully notch a big PR—mission accomplished!

Swim – 800m – 14:41 (6th female overall)

2012 time – 18:43

Unlike the triangular 2012 course, the route this year was a simple out-and-back.

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My wave contained several age groups (women ages 16-39), but I could pick out the “actual swimmers” pretty easily. Right off the bat, I hopped on one girl’s feet and drafted off her for the majority of the swim. I didn’t feel as smooth as I did at Milwaukee—probably because I didn’t warm up—but I was able to find my groove quickly. The best part was hearing my parents cheering for me as I came out of the water.

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They said I was number three, which I felt good about considering my strongest of the three disciplines was next up.

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Time to make watts!

T1 – 1:27 (6th female overall)

2012 time – 1:59

Not making excuses, but this was a slower transition because we had to walk our bikes up a hill to get to the mount line.

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I haven’t attempted a shoeless, flying mount yet, but that could’ve saved me some time. Maybe this is something to start practicing.

Bike – 14 miles – 44:23 (6th female overall)

2012 time– 54:15

Obviously, I wanted to smoke the bike, but within the first few miles, I could tell my legs didn’t have the “pop” they did for Milwaukee. Plus, this was a hilly and somewhat technical course so I adjusted expectations. I don’t feel great, but this isn’t the “A” race; let’s still put forth today’s best effort.

As I climbed one of the opening hills, I saw a dude wearing longer shorts (i.e. not tri apparel). As I passed him, he called out, “Hey, Carrie Stevens!” I turned around and realized it was one of my high school classmates! You know you’re doing a hometown race when …

Anyway, the rest of the bike was uneventful. I passed one of the girls who beat me out of the water and played leapfrog with another. She broke away, though, and beat me into transition.

T2 – 1:00 (6th female)

2012 time – 1:36

Again, due to the hill, I was cautious.

Run – 5-K – 23:39 (7th female overall)

2012 time – 28:20

I know this run course very, very well—part of it takes place on the 4th of July 5-K route—so I was mentally prepared to deal with the brutal hill about a mile in.

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And the hill coming out of transition

My pace dropped big time, but I was able to hang tough and settle back in at the top. I was also able to hang tough mentally when an older woman caught up to me as we neared the turnaround at mile 1.5. Her breathing indicated she was working a lot harder than me, so as she made her move, I hopped on her shoulder and challenged her to keep the pace. Ultimately, I was unable to stay with her, but I played the game (and played a little defense) and threw down a 7:05 for my final mile, which felt a lot better than I thought a 7:05 would feel.

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Am I a runner?

This confirms that top-end speed is there, but I need to be mentally strong enough to tap into it.

Official finish – 1:25:11

2012 time – 1:44:52

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Obligatory 

I couldn’t have asked for a better “homecoming.” I was able to string together a pretty solid race, and being able to see and feel the improvement has totally reenergized my triathlon outlook. (And this progress transcends triathlon.) The overall podium is within reach, and I’m knocking on the door. Let the hard work continue! And this off-season, that once again means focusing on the run … more to come … and I’m coming for you, 2016!

2015 USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships Recap

Milwaukee, you really know how to humble and inspire an athlete. Last Thursday, I headed back to Wisconsin for my third consecutive trip to the USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships.

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Yes, I bought race photos.  No, I have no idea what my leg is doing.

As always, competition came standard: between Saturday’s Olympic-distance race and Sunday’s sprint, about 4,000 folks put their training to the test.

Even though my season saw transition—I “aged up” into the 25-29 category, plus I broke off from my former team and did my own thing—and adversity—when I sustained a bike crash—training went well overall, and I had a great pre-“A” race build. In the week leading up to Nationals, I felt fit, strong, and ready to rock.

Plus, since this would be my third time swimming, biking, and running at this venue, I knew what to expect. It almost seemed routine: once I arrived in Milwaukee, I went into autopilot, checking into the hotel, wandering to the public market for fresh produce and green juice, retrieving my race packet and bike. Like my most recent trip to Lake Placid, I was flying solo, which gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do. This was perfect and helped me stay loose, relaxed, and focused.

Race-day conditions proved to be perfect too: overcast and about 74 degrees Fahrenheit. Although it was windy, it was not hot and humid like last year, and thankfully, the weather held steady for my 8:55 a.m. start time. My training/fitness, the course itself, and weather conditions were the perfect PR combo.

I’ve given this race a lot of thought. Initially, I was not happy with my performance. My not-so-good run overshadowed the solid swim and decent bike I executed. All I could think about was the mental breakdown I had on the run. But after talking with my coaches, we figured out what happened and where improvement needs to happen. And above all, I am not tying the success of a season to a single race. Here’s how it went down:

Swim – 1500m – 24:28 (55/141 in AG)

Even though swimming and I have a complicated relationship, I knew it would be a strength during the race. And plus, since I’ve been training with a masters team this season, I was excited to see how much time I could shave off from last year.

Aside from the 63-degree Fahrenheit reading, this portion of the race was relatively uneventful. The start was not as chaotic as I anticipated—maybe because Kingston was such a zoo—and I was able to surge ahead, settle into a groove, and actually draft effectively. (One of the perks of aging up?) I felt smooth and strong the entire time and could not have asked for a better swim. I even passed dudes who started before my waves and caught a few of the older women too, so I knew I was executing fairly well. My goal was 24-25 minutes, and I nailed it.

Transition 1 – 2:54 (59/141)

I was high on life coming out of the water and immediately picked off a few girls ahead of me during our long run to transition. My heart race was though the roof, though, so I calmed down and eased off the gas. In T1, a lot of the bikes were gone already, so even though my swim felt great, I assumed it was a middle-of-the-pack time and knew my work would be cut out for me on the bike—let #Hammfest2015 begin!

Bike – 40-K (24.85 miles) – 1:09:38 (38/141)

As the strongest of the three sports, the bike was where I planned to go for it.

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#LetsTalkWatts

There was an unrelenting headwind the entire ride, but I stayed in aero for 95 percent of the time and focused on the feeling. And I felt invincible. There were a ton of people in front of me, and I passed a bunch of girls (and only two passed me).  Above all, I felt confident: I knew I could push, I knew I could hang tough, and I knew I could execute.

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Locked in

Aside from one of my contacts falling out due to the wind and one 42-year-old dude hitting on me, it was an uneventful ride. My mental game was on-point, so even if anything notable occurred, I don’t know if I would’ve noticed. As I approached transition, I felt like I executed precisely and really thought I rode a 1:07, which was my goal. When I looked up my split post-race, I was a little bummed; one of my coaches even said a 1:05 was doable. If it hadn’t been so windy, then I think a 65-67 ride would’ve happened.

Transition 2 – 1:31 (56/141)

This felt like the fastest, most efficient T2 I’ve had all season: I slipped on my shoes, grabbed my stuff, and got the heck out of there.

Run – 10-K (6.2 miles) – 53:18 (107/141)

Remember how I rode my way to the nearly the top quarter of my age group? All those girls ran me down—and then some. Sigh. There really isn’t much to say. I was trained to run a 48. The first two miles were on pace, and I was able to hang tough mentally. But each time a pocket-friend passed me (and there were a lot of them), I came out of my headspace. There goes another one. Man, she’s fast. Look how smoothly she’s running. Nope, get back in it. Run your race. Focus on the feeling.

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Unfortunately, being run down is nothing new. I wish I could say it didn’t affect me. Even though I knew it would happen—it’s a national championship, and a lot of these girls simply don’t have weaknesses—I did not mentally prepare for the constant stream of girls effortlessly passing me. At first, I was able to regroup. But being run down wore me out mentally, and after 2.5 miles, I could not get back to my headspace. “Mentally checking out” is not the right phrase, but based on how dialed in I was during the swim and bike, I know I was not in that headspace for the majority of the run.

Overall finishing time – 2:31:50 (63/141)

It’s been five days, and I’m still feeling all the feelings.

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Overall, I had a solid swim that set up a decent bike: I rode my way from 55th to 38th, which is great; I played my strengths, and both these times are faster than last year’s splits. However, my mental game during the run (or lack thereof) is unsettling. But instead of sulking, I’m ready to regroup, refocus, and rededicate myself to the process. And that’s exactly what this sport is all about: progressing and trusting the journey.

2015 HITS Kingston Triathlon Recap

This past Saturday, I completed the HITS Kingston Triathlon, my second swim-bike-run race of the season and my first Olympic-distance one.  It was a pretty good outing.

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The Tailwind crew

Originally, I was supposed to do Stamford a few weeks ago, but my bike crash altered those plans. Shortly after going to Lake Placid for training camp, I started searching for another pre-Nationals tune-up, and one of my Tailwind friends mentioned this race. Not only was it a short two-hour drive north, but it was also one month out from the Big Milwaukee Dance, and it was a more challenging (read: hilly) course. He also has a house about 20 minutes away. Sign me up!

Even though the HITS Series produces races nationwide, its Kingston inaugural event felt very much like a yokel local race. Combined, the sprint, Olympic, half-Iron, and full-Iron distances saw maybe 300 people, and the race director told us at the athlete briefing only 85 folks registered for the Olympic. (Also, the Iron Cowboy was there!) Therefore, it was small field, but that didn’t affect my race plan: work the swim, push the bike, and see how long I could hold it together on the run. My coaches gave me the go-ahead to redline the bike and ride at 85-95 percent, which made me excited in a twisted, sadistic way only endurance athletes would understand. Why? Well, I needed to see what kind of split I could throw down prior to Nationals. And two, the only reason it would make sense to hold back on the bike would be to run fast off it. Thanks to my bike crash recovery and lack of speedwork, I did not have the top-end speed that would warrant being conservative in the saddle. Basically, I was physically and mentally prepared to blow up on the run. (Spoiler: I did.)

Swim – 1,500m – 26:39 (2/6 AG and 5th female OA)

A two-loop route, this course’s challenges included the mass start and the Hudson River’s current. Let’s start with the mass start.

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Only a handful of races I’ve done had mass starts—most notably Nationals—but even then, it’s a mass age-group start. At Kingston, there were a ton of burley dudes to deal with. Even though I’m a relatively strong swimmer, I situated myself conservatively because I didn’t want to get pummeled. So much for that. Hands down, this was the most aggressive swim start I’ve experienced—so much kicking, punching, and grabbing. At the turnaround buoy, one dude grabbed my shoulder and shoved me underwater! (“That’s some real ITU s***!” my friend told me after.) Luckily, my basketball instincts kicked in, and I was able to hold my own. Unfortunately, the Wall of Aggressive Dudes never relented because the 70.3 and 140.6 guys started beforehand; just as I’d swim away from one pack, there’d be another surge.

Second, we had to contend with the current not once, but twice. Gotta love loop courses! Initially, I didn’t think it would be strong, but I swam far, far left my first loop because the current pushed me toward the shore. My timing chip also came off during this portion, so I spent 30 seconds fumbling around and treading water trying to put it back on.

Overall, this was not a great swim, but it was effective from a tune-up perspective. Sure, the split was slower than I would’ve liked, but more importantly, it reminded me what it’s like to be in an aggressive open-water environment—and I was able to hang tough and stay mentally sound.

Transition 1 – 1:30 (1/6 AG and 5th female OA)

My transitions weren’t efficient at South Beach, so I focused on moving through these sections quickly. Case in point: I came out of the water with another girl, stayed on her shoulder as we ran into T1, and beat her out on the bike.

Bike – 40-K – 1:18:00 (1/6 AG and 3rd female OA)

As outlined in my race goals, I planned to redline the bike and ride hard miles. Although I was physically prepared to enter the pain cave, this ride ended up being much more mentally demanding than I anticipated.

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Elevation profile (also #LetsTalkWatts)

I saw only four people on the ride: two girls who I passed, and two dudes who passed me. This meant I was riding completely solo without anyone in sight. The super fast dudes were ahead of me, and I figured I was in the top five for women. A few times, I even wondered if I was still on course because there were no signs, volunteers, or fellow athletes.  That’s when it dawned on me:  I am racing myself. This was a great opportunity to dial in and execute, but I had to work harder to stay mentally engaged and not ease off the gas just because no one else was around.

Focus on the feeling. Focus on the feeling. I don’t have a power meter, but I’ve spent enough time at FTP to know what it feels like, and I was there. I also focused on pushing a bigger gear and maintaining 90 RPMs as opposed to downshifting and spinning at 93-95 RPMs, which I do by default.

Overall, I felt strong, and I also felt like I was out there a long time. This is a decent split (and the woman who had the fastest bike and won the race is a pro so …), but I was not planning to spend 78 minutes at FTP; I was actually hoping for 70. Did this extra pain cave time affect my run? Probably.

Transition 2 – 0:50 (1/6 AG and 3rd female OA)

Get in, drop stuff, and get out.

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Not sure what my tri shorts are doing, but …

While running, I fumbled with my watch and failed to press “start” at the right time, so I knew the distance would be off.

Run – 10-K – 53:10 (4/6 AG and 13th female OA)

So … there’s not much to say. It was a double, out-and-back course with each loop spanning about 1.5 miles.

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In theory, this structure would make it easier to divide the run into mini sections, but in reality, I was again left to my own metal devices.

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Where is everyone?!

The first loop was relatively OK. My splits were where they needed to be, and I spotted two blazing fast women making moves and heading back while I went to this turnaround. This meant I was the third female overall. And when I started running back, I didn’t see another women for a long, long time. I am racing myself, and it’s my race to lose.

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Watts?  Where?!  Not totally sure what I’m doing here.

However, I knew if I executed the bike right—and rode at FTP for an hour-plus—then I would eventually cook on the run. It was simply a question of when it would happen: mile two, mile three … I really hoped I could make it to mile four, but the halfway point was where things started to go downhill. It was hot. My heart rate was jacked up. It felt like I was working much harder to hold my splits. I made the rookie mistake of drinking too much water, and my stomach was sloshing. Bottom line, I went into survival mode for the final three miles. There were cones set up on the ride of the road that I used to keep myself in it mentally. OK, make it to that cone. Good. Now get to that one.

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And as the story of my triathlon career thus far goes, I yet again got run down in the final stretch. With less than a quarter mile left, the woman who eventually took third overall passed me, and I couldn’t answer. Some days you have it, and some days you don’t.

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Official finishing time – 2:40:11 (1st AG and 4th female overall)

All and all, this was a productive outing. I reconfirmed I can handle aggressive swims. I also reconfirmed I can, in fact, “grind it out” at 90 RPMs on the bike. I proved I cannot ride at FTP for 78 minutes and expect to hit and hold my target 10-K race pace after. And I learned you sometimes need to race yourself.

Time to lock it in. Next stop: Milwaukee!