Tag Archives: race recap

2017 Coney Island Aquathlon Recap

On Saturday, July 15th, I completed my first swim-run event, the Coney Island Aquathlon.  As its name suggests, the race took place in Coney Island, and it ended up being my first trip to the Brooklyn neighborhood that’s famous for its boardwalk, amusement park rides, and carnival foods. More importantly, this competition served as an introduction to the swim-run world; my “A” race this year is SwimRun VA in October.

All calm at the swim start

The event offered several distance options with solely open-water swims (0.5 mi., one mile and two miles) and swim-run categories (0.5-mi swim and three mile run; one-mile swim and three mile run; two-mile swim and six-mile run) offered. Three of my Bearcat masters buds registered for the race, and we all opted for the “long course” two-mile swim and six-mile run. Although there were difference between this race and what I will be doing this fall, the main similarly I wanted to experience was the transition from swimming to running: how my legs would feel, what my heart rate would do, and how easily would I settle in to my desired pace.

My race plan was simple: warm up the first mile of the swim; build the effort through mile two; and keep my heart rate under control during the run. From the “Trial By Fire” races I completed with my old triathlon team—where we alternated between swimming and running—I knew this third goal would be the toughest. Without fail, my heart rate would skyrocket as I exited the water and started to run so I expected the same experience.

Overall, the swim progressed smoothly. Well, the water was choppy—I felt like I was in a washing machine—but there wasn’t a lot of jockeying for position or contact with other swimmers. Competitors were released based on which distance they were doing, and even though there were only about 40 people doing the longer race, I swam solo for the majority of the time. There were a few opportunities to draft, but I got impatient swimming in the pack. In hindsight, I should’ve been more assertive in terms of joining a group off the bat, but since I had never raced two miles in the open water, I wanted to be conservative. For what it’s worth the top two women did the swim in 55 minutes, and my split clocked 1:01. (The woman who placed third completed the swim in one hour.)

In an effort to keep my heart rate under control, I took my time as I transitioned from one sport to the next: jogging to the transition area, peeling off my wetsuit, slipping on my running shoes, and ultimately heading out onto the boardwalk.

Locked in and finishing strong

I settled into my pace fairly easily, but I immediately had issues with my breathing. During a triathlon, it takes me about a mile to feel “good,” but my lungs were still burning when I hit the 2.5-mile mark so I backed off the pace. I told myself I’d increase the effort once my heart rate was OK, but that didn’t happen until mile five. (When my coach and I talked about this challenge after the race, we were able to identify a few ways to key my heart rate in check.) On the bright side, the weather was perfect. The sun came out around the mile five, but I finished the race strong and sans sunburn.

Where is everybody? Ha!

I also won my age group (full disclosure: I was the only girl in my age group, ha!) and placed fourth overall among women. My Bearcat buds crushed it—one guy won the race overall, and the other two took first and second in their age groups—and I had a blast seeing them out on the run course. It was a great day of doing sports with friends, and I’m excited to apply the lessons I learned to my swim-run training and beyond.

When’s your next race?

Guiding for Achilles at the 2nd Annual Queens Marathon

On Sunday, March 26th, my Achilles buddy and I negotiated turns, avoided potholes, and dodged puddles en route to running 26.2 miles (26.8 according to my Garmin) at the NYCRUNS Queens Marathon.

Pre-race with the Achilles Queens group

Held in Corona Park and co-sponsored by the Queens Distance Runners, this event offered both a full marathon and 20-mile tune-up option and welcomed about 300 athletes.  The Achilles cohort had five athletes participating and 18 guides who ran anywhere from one to all four loops of the course.

If you’ve been reading for a while, then you may recall my renewed perspective on the 2017 triathlon season, and one of my guiding principles: service.  I want to give back to the community that has given me so much.  My experience volunteering as a handler with the Challenged Athletes Foundation during the NYC Triathlon in 2016 rejuvenated my outlook on sport, and functioning in this type of capacity is something I plan to do on a regular basis.  Several of my triathlon friends are involved with Achilles—a nonprofit that aims to enable people with disabilities to participate in mainstream running events—so getting involved was easy.  Achilles NYC hosts two workouts each week (the group meets Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings in Central Park), and I started attending sessions in December and gaining experience as a guide.  There is a rough guiding framework, but its execution varies from athlete to athlete.  I can only speak to my experience so this post will focus on what I do for the athlete I guide.

My Achilles buddy and I first ran together in December—he was the second person I guided, ever—and we hit it off immediately.  He’s an experienced runner and triathlete who’s tackled marathons and even completed Ironman Lake Placid, and we have a lot of mutual tri friends.  He is visually impaired and legally blind, so when we run together, we use either a tether or a race belt that we both hold.  By pulling the device, I can make adjustments to the direction he runs, and we also communicate a lot. (More on that in a bit.) Anyway, when he asked me to guide him for the Queens Marathon, I was honored and honestly shocked—I had yet to run a marathon myself!  He knew, though, and had no concerns or reservations so I said yes.

As the marathon approached, we ran together on a regular basis, usually doing six miles on Tuesday evenings and going longer on Saturday mornings.  Prior to race day, the farthest we ran together was 11 miles. (The weekend before the marathon, he did the NYC Half, which was his longest pre-26.2 outing.) For me, my coach said to think of this event as an ultra-marathon:  I would be running at a much slower pace and would be on my feet for much longer.  In addition to my normal tri training, we increased my run mileage, and I capped off at a 15-mile long run.  We knew from my training load my engine would be able to run (ha!) for close to five hours, and we also knew I would be OK muscularly.  Sure, there would be pain, but nothing debilitating.  The challenge for me, however, would be mental: being out there for a long time and staying present, focused, and engaged.

Out there: this is loop three or loop four.

At this point, I will disclose this is neither how I would’ve trained for “my marathon” nor how I would recommend training for a marathon in general.  I should also disclose there was a discrepancy in our training paces. (I did my solo long runs in the 8:40 min./mi. range, and when we ran together, we were in the 9:30 min./mi. ballpark; for the marathon, we were targeting 10:00 min./mi.) Finally, my buddy knew the training wasn’t there for a PR, so it was all about having fun and enjoying the experience.

That said, though, I didn’t know what my body would do after 15 miles. This outing would be one of the toughest things I had ever done. The buildup was far from perfect, but I put my body through some brutal workouts—power tests, race-simulation workouts, swim meets. (The 100 IM at Harvard was one of the most painful things I have ever done.) I knew there would be pain during the marathon, but I knew I could handle it.  I mentally prepared for dark patches, and to work through those times, my coach told me to remember:  “this is a gift you are giving someone else.”  Maybe it was naïve, but I knew that sentiment would carry me through the darkest of times.

There were no dark times.

Heading to the start line: almost marathon time!

As the race begun, I entered a space of intense focus.  My job was to get our team across the finish line.  Mile after mile passed, and I found myself in a state of flow.  No thinking; just doing.  Calm confidence. The looped nature of the course brought both positives and negatives. On the plus side, our Achilles team did not face new terrain after six miles, and there is something to be said for comfort in repetition—just not in terms of this course specifically.  There were tight turns, including some traffic circle-like patterns, and the road itself contained potholes and speed bumps.  Several times per loop, we had to go off-road onto the grass to avoid running through puddles.  These obstacles could’ve been disastrous, but luckily, my buddy and I communicate well:  I would announce turns, terrain changes, etc. at least 20 seconds in advance; I would audibly count down as we approached speed bumps (“Speed bump coming in three … two … one”); and I would give clear instructions on our general plan (like veering right, making a sharp left, stepping onto grass).  Basically, I was the primary guide/navigator/coach, so I was responsible for maintaining our formation, delegating jobs to our supporting guides, and making sure everyone was feeling OK throughout the race.  Our team had two guides per loop, and having that extra person was incredibly helpful.  In most cases, I had the second guide run slightly in front of us to create space and announce to fellow athletes that a blind runner was approaching.  The second guide was also tasked with running ahead to aid stations and getting hydration/nutrition needs sorted.

See the race belt? We used it as our tether during the race.

As we grinded through the later miles (my buddy hit the wall at mile 18), I found myself repeating sayings my coaches have told me over the years, and I had no reaction when we reached uncharted distances for me.  Everything after 15 miles was new, but there was no internal dialogue or narrative. Instead, it was all about making sure my athlete was doing OK:  asking if he needed nutrition, inquiring about how the pace felt, listening to his breathing pattern.  The only time the miles got “personal” was when we hit mile 25 because that was my number for basketball, a fun fact I relayed to our team.

We did it!

We crossed the finish line in 4:45:45, and the experience seems surreal.

What was the most memorable moment during your first marathon or most recent race?

2017 New England LMSC Short Course Yards Championship Recap

From Friday, March 17 through Sunday, March 19, my Bearcat masters teammates and I traveled to Boston for the New England LMSC Short Course Yards Championship.

Hello. It’s me.

A staple event for my team, this competition was my first multi-day and short-course yards meet. (My first two meets were measured in meters.) Suffice to say, it was a weekend of learning, absorbing, and growing as an endurance athlete, and I had a blast butterflying, backstroking, breaststroking, and freestyling.

Even though I took swimming lessons as a kid, I cannot compare myself to folks who logged laps through high school and college.  The competitive swimming learning curve is steep.  Yes, I had goals for the meet, but they centered on execution as opposed to performance-based, numerical values.  As I’ve learned with triathlon—and to paraphrase legendary basketball coach John Wooden—when I focus on doing the little things right, that makes the big things happen.

I went to Harvard … for a weekend for a swim meet. (Don’t worry, Mom: the tattoo is temporary.)

Speaking of John Wooden, I had flashbacks to my basketball days as we rode the bus from New York City to Boston on Thursday night: heading to another city for a weekend of competing, cheering, and hanging out.  During the 4.5-hour drive, my teammates talked me through the structure of the meet and gave me tips for warming up, cooling down, and staying composed during the eight-plus hours we’d be spending at the pool each day.  We also talked a lot about eating and team dinners, and it became apparent food was a top priority for swimmers.  Full disclosure:  I quickly hopped aboard the all-you-can-eat bandwagon and had two breakfasts every morning.  I even went to an amazingly delicious diner after finishing my final event.

So metabolically inefficient, so not caring. Thanks to The Breakfast Club for making this spread possible.

To be fair, swimming five events (50 free, 100 free, 200 free, 500 free, and 100 IM) over the course of three days revved my appetite.  I spent the most time in the water on Saturday, swimming the 500 free, 50 free, and 100 IM.  On Friday, I swam the 100 free and 200 free relay.  On Sunday, I did the 200 free. Heading into the weekend, this line-up seemed doable.  After all, I was “racing” 1000 yards over three days, and we typically swim 3000m each day during practice.  But when you calculate warm-ups (800 yards or so each morning) and cool downs (100-300 yards after each event), it was a lot of swimming:  high intensity swimming, slicing through the water swimming, searing pain swimming that made my muscles scream.  But that’s when the race starts, and that’s what makes it fun:  when your body begs you to relent, slow down, or stop all together, what do you do?

Just do it

As the weekend progressed, I became increasingly comfortable and confident reading the heat sheets and remembering my lane assignment, developing a warm-up and cool down routine, and managing my nerves and excitement.  This was a big meet, and the events progressed quickly:  the competition pool contained eight lanes, and each event saw as few as 8 or as many as 20 heats. (For example: the women’s 400 IM wasn’t a popular event; the men’s 50 free, however, was the polar opposite.) There were two adjoining, but separate pools, which were designated as warm-up and cool down areas.  Sometimes, I had a lane to myself; others, I was circle-swimming with six people.  I liked how there was a specific time each day to practice starts off the blocks.  I need a lot of practice with dives.  One of my teammates helped me adjust the blocks and gave me some pointers, and I could feel myself progressing throughout the weekend.  I enter the water with a little more pop and authority these days, although I still have plenty of room for improvement.

#WannabeSwimmer?

I had the most fun swimming the 200 freestyle relay on Friday afternoon, and I confirmed my partiality toward the longer distances of the 200 and 500 yards.  One of the coaches said people either love or hate the 200, and it’s an event that plays to my strengths as an endurance athlete—it demands speed, endurance, and the ability to hurt.  These characteristics matter for the 50 and 100 too, but elements like getting off the blocks (I may be the slowest swimmer off the blocks) and breathing patterns (apparently, you aren’t supposed to breathe every stroke during a 50 because it slows you down) matter more, and I simply have not developed those skills yet.  Again, those little things—starts, turns, breathing patterns—make the big things happen, and those little things mean more during shorter events.  If I’m the last one off the blocks during a 50, I can’t make that up.  Plus, I like the pacing strategy behind the 200 and 500.  The 200 was my final event of the meet, and it was the one I executed the most precisely: redline off the blocks for 50, settle in to 87 percent for the second 50, and then build through 100 by 25s.  I had a similar strategy for the 500: use the adrenaline off the blocks, settle in, and then increase the effort at the 300-yard mark.  Overall, my triathlon background translates better to those longer distances, so going forward, that’s what I’ll be focused on.

A complete race recap needs results so here are mine:

Friday
100 free – 1:05.68 (seed – 1:06); 10th AG

Saturday

500 free – 6:32.29 (seed – 8:00); 11th AG

100 IM – 1:24.40 (seed – 1:30); 21st AG

50 free – 30.90 (seed – 32.00); 10th AG

Sunday

200 free – 2:25.28 (seed – 2:48); 8th AG

When is your next race?

2016 Metropolitan Short-Course Championships Recap

This wannabe swimmer once again reported for duty: two weekends ago, I competed at my second meet, the Metropolitan Short-Course Meters Championships. Held at Asphalt Green (AG) on the Upper East Side, the meet sounds intimidating, but with about 100 swimmers—25 of whom were Bearcat teammates—it was an ideal size for a “Sunday night practice.” That’s how I viewed it anyway, especially since my team didn’t taper. Rested or not, my goals remained the same: gain more racing experience by soaking in the details, getting some quality starts off the blocks, and posting good-for-me times. Overall, it was a fun and successful evening in the water: I learned a lot and set new PRs across my events.

Waaaah! Still can’t believe that’s me.

After surviving my first meet in October, I outlined areas of success and identified opportunities for growth. First, I realized it may be a good idea to be more discerning about which events I swim. It turns out most folks opt for one, two, or maybe three events, but not four like I did. This time around, however, I still registered for four events—50m freestyle, 100m freestyle, 100m IM, and 200m IM—but I at least looked at the schedule of events and determined I’d have “enough” time between each. (At my first meet, there were a handful of quick turnarounds.) I’m definitely still figuring out what constitutes “enough” time though: my closest swims were about 15 minutes apart, which seemed fine; however, one of my teammates was stressed because it wasn’t enough. Bottom line, when I swim targeted meets—like Harvard in March—I will do only one or maybe two events per day. This outing was all about gaining experience, so if I was a little flat for my later events, then so be it.

Second, I did a better job warming up and cooling down overall. Before the meet began, I swam at least 1000m with some drill and tech work, and I also dove off the blocks four or five times. Figuring out my nutrition plan was also important, but it actually didn’t play as big of a role as I anticipated. I ate carbs all day—cinnamon raisin bagel for breakfast, sweet potatoes with kale and black beans for lunch, and a bowl of oatmeal with a banana around 3:30 p.m.—and felt fueled for the 5 p.m. start time. During the meet itself, I drank my electrolyte mix to thirst and felt fine (read: not hungry like last time).

The essentials, but I did not eat the bananas.

Aside from swimming faster than last time, my primary goal was to become better at controlling my adrenaline and navigating my emotions. This world of competitive swimming is so new, but I felt much more calm, composed, and confident. I knew how to read the heat sheets. I’m in the process of developing a warm-up and warm-down routine, plus an “at the blocks” ritual. I had an idea of how painful each event would be. Thanks to my super small amount of experience, the atmosphere was less foreign—still nerve-wrecking, but comfortably uncomfortable.

I’ve recently started a meditation process—that’s another post entirely—and one principle that has resonated with me is the willingness to allow our thoughts, feelings, and emotions to come and go. Rather than fight them, let them flow. So as I waited for my individual events, I let myself feel the excitement, the nervousness, the anxiousness, the happiness. As I stepped onto the blocks, I quieted my mind and visualized my race: I saw myself diving cleanly into the water (with my goggles staying on) and executing perfect stroke after perfect stroke. I imagined how each flip-turn would feel—catapulting off the wall and dolphin kicking for momentum—and where the lactic acid burn would surface first. As I adjusted my goggles—fiddling with the lenses and ensuring they suctioned to just the right spot—the world vanished.

It was just me and the water.

Results:

50m free – 33.80 (seed 34.32)

1st place AG

100m free – 1:11.73 (seed 1:14.89)

2nd place AG

100 IM – around 1:33 (seed 1:37)

3rd place AG

200 IM – 3:24.72 (seed 3:40)

2nd place AG

When’s your next race?

My First Swim Meet: 10th Bearcat Masters Invitational

A few Saturdays ago, I reached a turning point in my life as a #WannabeSwimmer:  I dove headfirst (six times to be exact) into a wet world of intense adrenaline and searing pain at my first-ever swim meet.

2016-bearcat-swim-meet

Time to fly! Er, do the butterfly.

Although I’ve been swimming with the NYC-based Bearcat masters for two years, I had yet to partake in a swimming competition. I really do identify as a wannabe swimmer—proficient in the pool thanks to taking swim lessons most summers as a kid, but not a “real swimmer” because I never did the sport competitively growing up (high school, rec meets, etc.).

So why am I all for the swim now? First, from my performance at races throughout the year and at Nationals, we confirmed: I’m a strong swimmer locally, usually exiting the water in the lead group; but, I’m extremely average for the outing we ultimately want to put together, logging a very solidly middle-of-the-pack split in Omaha. In order to improve my 1,500m open-water times, I would have to swim more. Crazy concept, right?

2016-cazenovia-triathlon-swim-exit

Chasing this feeling of being first out of the water. Is this what Andy Potts feels like all the time?

Second, I avoided the pool after the 2015 season for about three months because there was no concrete reason for me to be there. (And I take full responsibility for what happened—well, more accurately didn’t—during the off-season, and it honestly took several months to re-familiarize myself with the water.) I know myself: if I sign up for a race, then I am in 150 percent.

Finally, this triathlon off-season centers on building my portfolio as an endurance athlete and exposing myself to as many different experiences as possible.  Basically, we’re building the foundation for long-course racing by taking on new challenges—and training for a swim meet was perfect.

2016-bearcat-masters-cap

It became officially official when I received my Bearcat masters swim cap.

Once this was decided, the next task was to figure out which events I’d swim at the 10th Bearcat Masters Invitational. The distances themselves would not be challenging; after all, swimming just 50m or 100m or 200m at a time would be doable since I swim 1500m during tris. Rather, the details intimidated me—those specific to the physical act of swimming in a competition and those regarding the logistics of the meet itself: could I dive off the blocks without losing my goggles?  How many times should I dolphin kick underwater off flip-turns?  Should I touch the wall with one hand or two when finishing an event?  Also, how do I decipher the heat sheets and figure out when I was swimming each event?  I had never even attended a meet in-person, and luckily, my coaches and teammates helped me navigate everything.  Bottom line, simply attending the meet would be a new experience.

During our season review/off-season planning meeting, Earl and I identified which events to target: all the freestyle (50m, 100m, and 200m) was a no brainer, and we also decided an individual medley (IM) would provide a challenge because it demanded all four strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle). This also ensured I’d work on each during practice (a.k.a. not revert to freestyle). Although Earl was gunning for the 200 IM, the 100 IM seemed more “comfortably uncomfortable” to me, mostly because it called for only 25m of butterfly. (The joke was on me, though, because my masters coach put me on a 200m medley relay, and I had to swim 50m of butterfly!) In addition to these four individual events, I also indicated I was “available” for relays and was placed on the aforementioned 200m medley and 200m freestyle for a total of six events. At my first meet. Go big or go home!

With my race plan solidified, I discovered a greater sense of purpose, dedication, and connection to swimming. No longer was I just swimming to swim; I was logging laps with care, conviction, precision, constantly concentrating on technique, engaging the proper muscles, and aiming for efficient stroke after efficient stroke. By becoming more invested in the process, I grew to love it, and I found myself willing to embrace challenges. For example, after doing four, 100 IM repeats, it was tempting to revert to freestyle for the fifth.  But my goal—surviving this upcoming competition—held me accountable; I needed to make the next repeat happen.  Yes, it would be uncomfortable.  Yes, it would cause some self-doubt.  And yes, it would not be easy.  But that’s what this sport and life is all about—persevering through the challenge in front of you and doing whatever it takes to come out the other side.

2016-bearcat-masters-empty-pool

Hello. It’s me.

The masters coaches warned me the meet would be more mentally and emotionally taxing than I anticipated, and I aimed to act like a sponge throughout the afternoon: soaking up everything about the experience, learning as much as possible, and hopefully not belly-flopping off the blocks, losing my goggles, or finishing last. I arrived at the pool around 2 p.m. for the 3 p.m. start and immediately exclaimed, “I’m feeling a lot of feelings!” when one of the coaches asked how I was doing. That statement basically summarizes the entire day: I got swept up in the adrenaline, the happiness, the pain, the uncertainty, and I loved it.

My nerves slowly subsided as the day progressed, but my heart was in my throat for my first few events.  I thought it would explode during the 200m medley relay, my first event ever at a meet. Not only did I not want to let my team down by doing something stupid (there are a ton of rules for relays), but I also had to swim 50m of butterfly.  Yikes.

My senses heightened as I carefully stepped onto the blocks.  My heart pounded, my teammates’ cheers reverberated around the pool.  Amidst this sensory overload, I quieted my mind for a few moments.  As I looked out onto the water, I couldn’t believe how I far I’ve come as an endurance athlete. When I started triathlon, I couldn’t even flip-turn, let alone swim 100m continuously in a pool. That’s the thing about this journey: there are no wrong turns, only paths we didn’t know we were supposed to take.

Heart racing and adrenaline surging, I reminded myself this uncomfortabilty was good:  it was this feeling—raw, intense, and daunting—that hooked me on triathlon, and inherently, I knew I was on the precipice of something good here.  This is where the magic happens.

My goggles stayed suctioned to my eyes as I hit the water cleanly.  Muscle memory took over:  I dolphin kicked, I broke the surface, and I swam with urgency, riding the excitement to the opposite side of the pool.  I am doing it.  I am doing the butterfly.  I am a swimmer!  Then the pain set in—as did my experience as an endurance athlete. I knew I could hurt.  I knew I was supposed to hurt.  I knew I could hurt more and longer.  I knew I could hurt for 25m.

That’s how my six swims went:  hopping aboard the pain train and refusing to relent even when my lungs were searing, when my legs were screaming, and when my arms were ready to fall off.  My body was trained, and my mind recognized this pain and knew it could be endured.

2016-bearcat-masters-tweet

Rocking a pink cap and catching a quick breather between sets.

Looking back, I’d describe my 2016 triathlon racing season as a culmination of repetitiveness. I’ve been doing the same Olympic-distance races for the past few years, and although it was my first season working with a coach, there was a sense of routine: we did the same workouts in an effort to best prepare me for the same “A” race I’ve targeted for the past three years. However, my experience training for and racing a swim meet rejuvenated my outlook on the sport. It was new, fresh, and so much fun, and these factors will be the driving force behind the rest of my 2016 off-season and beyond.

I guess I should include results:

50m free – 34.32

First in my age group!

100m free – 1:14.89

200m free – 3:09.97

Inaccurate because I did not hit the timing mat hard enough coming into the wall, and the clock wasn’t stopped until I exited the pool. A few teammates said I was closer to 3:04 or 3:05.

100m IM – 1:37.84

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.

2016-hits-hudson-valley-hardware

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.

2016-hits-hudson-valley-olympic-distance-award

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.

2016-hits-hudson-valley-swim-course

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.

2016-hits-hudson-valley-olympic-bike-course

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 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?

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!