On Sunday, I completed my sixth triathlon and second Olympic distance triathlon. And I couldn’t be happier with my performance. Success!
Let’s take a minute to revisit my last Olympic triathlon, this exact weekend one year ago. Upon crossing the finish line, I felt like this:
Fast-forward one year:
What a difference a year makes! Recall that my goal for Olympic Triathlon #2 was to feel “stronger and less miserable when I cross the finish line” than last year. I not only met that goal, I smoked it! I didn’t just feel better than last year; I felt as good, if not better, than I have in any of my sprint (read: half as long) triathlons. And my total time proved it! I swam as well as I did last year (always my strong suit), biked 2.6 MPH faster, and ran almost 2 min/mile faster. Simply put – I owned it!
Let’s back up a few days, shall we? The race festivities started Saturday, when Matt and I dropped off our bikes to the swim start / transition #1. After checking in, picking up our race packets and timing chip, and racking our bikes, we decided to walk down to Antrim Park Lake, the location of the swim (about 400 yards from the transition). This beautiful scene greeted us. But don’t be fooled – it’s harder than it looks! The buoys you see are just part of the swim course – there are more to the left. When we arrived the next morning, they had been readjusted to form a triangle shape spanning 1/2 mile. Seeing the swim course laid out like this always feels overwhelming – “I have to swim that far? TWICE?”. Although I regularly swim three times that amount, it’s always in a lap pool and thus, I don’t have a perception of the physical distance I’m actually swimming. Woah.
Afterwards, Matt and I decided to cool off in another body of water – a local pool. We enjoyed spending a couple of hours playing around in the water and practicing our swim strokes for the final time before the big race. That evening I met up with my family – parents, Karen, and BROTHER, who had flown in from NYC for the occasion! It was supposed to be a suprise, but D accidentally sent me his flight itinerary instead of my Mom – oops. Surprise or not, it was still very special to have him support me in both my first and second Olympic triathlons! The five of us had dinner at Marcella’s so I could carb up on homemade gnocchi and crusty bread before hitting the sack early.
I slept surprisingly well, and when my alarm went off at 4:30 I was ready to go (although could have easily kept sleeping…)! I got dressed, poured some coffee, made my to-go breakfast, and grabbed my T1 & T2 gear bags that I had prepared the day before (and this isn’t even everything!). Triathlons are complicated.
I picked Matt up and we headed to the stadium, which was the location of both T2 and the finish. We entered the ‘shoe in the wee hours of the morning to drop off our T2 gear: running shoes, hat, race belt, and headphones. It’s not every day that you get to be in an empty, quiet, dark Ohio Stadium.
From there it was to the buses to be shuttled to the start of the race. We checked our bikes and arranged our T1 gear (a much larger feat than T2 – towels, water bottles, gloves, watch, helmet, socks, shoes, sunglasses, etc.) before heading down the sloped hill towards the swim start. One major annoyance of this race was the lack of pre-race bathroom options. There were lines of at least 50 people in two areas waiting for porta pottys! With the clock quickly approaching the start time, I took one from my Dad’s playbook and joined a much shorter line to use the park’s porta pottys – I have no idea why more people weren’t in this line, but I’m not complaining! Before we knew it, it was time to part ways and get into our swim corrals.
The Ross Heart Hospital’s Tri Fit Challenge consists of three distances: Tri (.25 mi swim, 13 mi bike, 2 mi run), Fit (aka, sprint: .5 mi swim, 13 mi bike, 3.1 mi run) and Challenge (aka, Olympic: .9 mi swim, 25 mi bike, 6.2 mi run). The swim was a wave start, with the Challenge distance going first, then Fit, then Tri. They allowed group of five at a time to enter the water, waiting a few seconds in between each group. I can’t say enough good things about this strategy; there wasn’t the crowded, frantic attempts to clear away from the mass of people as in most triathlons. I entered the water about five minutes after the start, around 6:35 AM, with four men – see me in the middle?
HUGE thanks to Ron O’Brien, Franklin County Prosecutor, regular at my spin class and triathlete himself (he did a Half Ironman last year!), for being my personal photographer! Ron was at the race supporting a friend, who also competed in the Olympic distance. Ron was supposed to be competing in the race himself, but sadly had a cycling accident a couple of months ago that has kept him sidelined – but not from being a spectacular spectator! Thanks, Ron!
The swim was good. For the first time ever in a race, I hit my stride right away. The water was the perfect temperature, clear (you could see the bottom in parts!), and not too choppy. It was a bit crowded at times, especially during the second lap when the Fit distance athletes joined us Challenge athletes. The turns were easily my least favorite part – the course got really crowded as people were trying to hug the turns as tightly as possible. But overall, I felt calm and strong during the entire swim. Not exactly super fast, but completely on my game. About 34 minutes later, I ran out of the water, under the 315 bridge (on muddy concrete), and up the slippery grassy hill to T1.
Total Swim Time: 36:17
Total T1 Time: 3:21
My transition was pretty slow, per usual, but I didn’t feel as though I was dilly-dallying! And then it was off to sport #2: the bike.
The bike course was very crowded for the first 13 miles – almost annoyingly so. People were riding two by two, which is technically illegal but there really was no other option – there were just too many people on the course for everyone to ride single file without drafting (which is also illegal). I almost felt bad for the super fast cyclists who were trying to navigate the crowded course. I had three separate cheering squads on High St.: first, my cousin Katie and her dog Mavis, then a couple of miles later, my family, and then a couple of miles after that, my other cousins Emily, Jim, and their daughter Julia. It was so fun seeing everyone and was a huge motivator to keep pushing ahead! I don’t think any of my competitors had multiple cheering squads lining the bike course 🙂
The course cleared out after the Fit and Tri distances broke off to head to the Stadium at mile 13. We Challengers forged on, and almost immediately I was completely alone, the nearest cyclists at least 20 feet ahead and behind me. I hunkered down and focused on navigating the choppy terrain of Kenny Road. A big, scary, dark cloud loomed ahead in the distance, and I began to worry that it was going to attack me, but luckily I turned east and then back south on High St and managed to avoid it. I’m told that it moved further south as time went on and some of the later finishers did get wet – I got lucky! And before I knew it, the remaining 12ish miles were complete (the course was short – my watch showed 22.7 miles instead of the 25 it was supposed to be) and I was back at the Stadium!
Total Bike Time: 1:20:39
Biking is generally my weakest sport of the three, despite teaching indoor cycling for almost five years. In past races, every stroke felt like a struggle, my inner thighs weak and tired. But that wasn’t the case for this race! Here’s another first: I actually felt great on the bike the entire time. Sure, maybe it’s because I trained more this year (more on that later), but my performance can be attributed mostly to ideal course conditions. The course was largely downhill, with some short rolling hills and only a couple of really tough spots. And the wind, which is typically my arch nemesis, decided to sleep in. Combine that with my lack of kickstand and additional training, and I was on fire! Of course, it’s all relative – my avg MPH of 18.6, while very speedy for me, placed me in the bottom quarter of all finishers. But I’m proud to say that for the first time ever, I passed more people on the bike than passed me. Boo-yah!
Transition #2 took place in the stadium – so cool. I had some trouble racking my bike, which probably added at least 30 seconds – it’s always something! I switched from my bike to run shoes, threw on my hat and race belt (an easy way of dealing with the race bib, as opposed to pinning it to my shirt) and grabbed my headphones and phone. On my way out of the stadium I saw (and heard!) my family cheering from the south stands, and then saw my Dad as I exited the stadium. What a boost!
Total T2 Time: 2:57
Starting the run, I immediately knew it was going to be a better run than last year. For one, I didn’t pee my pants this year (in fact, I didn’t even go to the restroom until I got home a couple of hours later…), so I wasn’t starting things off on a disgusting note! When I started running last year, I felt awful almost right away – every. step. hurt. But that wasn’t the case this year. I felt good right away – like I usually do during a sprint triathlon. My legs always feel a little weird, of course, but my back didn’t hurt and I felt strong. My pace held steady at less than 10 min/mile as I kept forging ahead.
Not long into the run, I passed a women who yelled to me, “you’re not supposed to be using headphones!”. I said, “oh, I didn’t realize that”, to which she grouchily responded, “you obviously didn’t read the race materials, then”. Wow! What was her problem?! First of all, headphones were only illegal during the bike -it’s perfectly legal to listen to some sweet tunes during the run! And second, where was her sportsman like conduct?! 99% of the time, people are so friendly and supportive of eachother on the course. We’re all lunatics, choosing to do this to ourselves – we’re in this together! I kept on running, far past that nasty women, with a smile on my face – I was feeling great!
Not long after, I ran passed my freshman (and sophomore) year dorm, Bradley Hall, where my dearest Ashley and her husband Johnny were cheering me on, along with my Dad and brother! It was so amazing to see them there. I ran into them again on their walk back to the Stadium a mile or so later, as well as my fellow Girls on the Run coach Amy and her husband Nate, who were spectating on the Oval. The support on the run course was amazing!
I did something on this run that I’ve never done before – I drank Gatorade at some of the water stops instead of just water. I hate Gatorade – it’s too sweet and weird tasting for me – but I think it really helped. I was starting to feel a bit lightheaded, and I needed the extra boost. I also ate some of those energy chews that long distance runners use (I used to eat them when I ran half marathons). I probably had ~200-300 calories between the Gatorade and the chews in total – calories that I didn’t take in at all during my run last year. It really made a huge difference. The Challenge distance was two loops of the run course, which I expected to hate but I actually kind of liked. I knew what to expect, and it gave me a feeling of “I’m over halfway there!” I felt remarkably good – my back didn’t hurt at all, and while my legs were definitely getting tired, nothing was bothering me too much. At the very last quarter mile, I ran past Matt (he had finished the sprint distance earlier), who cheered me on with Tim and his parents. It was really special to see him!
Total Run Time: 56:58 – a 9:12 pace!
Total Time: 3:00:10
8/20 in Age Group
53/96 in Gender
I cannot properly express how much better I felt at the end of this race than last year’s. Last year, I had to sit down immediately. My back was killing me and I was completed exhausted. This time, I was like, “oh, hey, what’s up”. Ron captured this feeling well – look at that smile!
A lot of people have asked me why I think I was able to shave off a whole 26 minutes from my time last year. First things first: all races are not the same. This course was significantly shorter than last year’s. The bike was about 2 miles shorter, and the run a whopping MILE shorter. My watch showed 5.8 (supposed to be 6.2), and last year’s race was 6.8 (supposed to be 6.55). That being said, the transitions for this race were longer than last year. In short, it’s difficult to compare apples to apples with triathlons. Instead, I like to compare pace and overall feeling – both of which were greatly improved year over year.
So, then, what to credit for the improvement? I attribute it to three things:
- Training: As I wrote about in this post, I didn’t follow a specific training plan. They just aren’t my thing (although necessary sometimes). However, I did ramp up my training significantly. Last year, I did a couple of 25 mile bike rides, tops. This year, I did two 40-mile rides with Columbus Outdoor Pursuits and multiple shorter rides of ~20 miles. I think the two longer rides really made a difference in my comfort level on the bike – if I could go 40, I could certainly go 25. But the run is where I made the biggest changes. Last year, I took the run for granted. It’s always been pretty easy for me in sprint triathlons, so I assumed the same would be true for the Olympic. False. So this year, I ran. And then I ran some more. I upped both my distance and my frequency. I ran multiple 6 & 7 mile runs throughout the past couple of months in addition to more frequent 3-5 mile runs. Basically – I took this race more seriously, and it paid off. (Side note: I didn’t swim more than normal – I already regularly swim 1.5 miles / week)
- Nutrition: You would think that after five triathlons and three half marathons (back in the day) this would be a no-brainer, but I think I’m finally understanding the importance of hydrating and fueling properly. After a very bad run Fourth of July weekend, I discovered Nuun (thanks to Amy!), a sugar-free electrolyte drink that has really made a difference in my training. I drank a bottle of it during the bike. I also made a real effort to take in more calories during the race. It’s hard to make yourself eat when you’re exercising, but it’s so so important. On this race, I ate three dates stuffed with PB and sprinkled with sea salt (mmm) and at least 200 calories worth of sport gummies (I like honey stingers and Cliff shot blocks) during the bike and run. And as I mentioned earlier, I also drank Gatorade during the run. Sports nutrition is super complicated and super important – I still have a lot of work to do in this area! But it’s clear that my increased attention to it this year made a difference.
- Massage: As someone whose general state of being is tense, I am a huge believer in massages and get a deep tissue every three weeks. I have a contract (read: decent pricing) with Massage Envy and can’t say enough good things about the chain or my masseuse, Chris. Chris convinced me to try something for this race that I’d never done before: instead of waiting until after the race to get a recovery massage, why not get one before the race? And specifically, a hot stone massage! The heat loosens up the muscles and allows the therapist to work deeper without causing as much pain. I was a bit nervous, as I often feel lousy for a day or two after a massage (they can be really painful), but Chris assured me he wouldn’t do anything that would make me worse off. I’m so glad I took his advice! The massage wasn’t painful in the least, and I left feeling relaxed and loose. It’s still paying off – my level of post-race soreness is at an all time low! I highly recommend hot stone massages, and will be working them into my routine (although notably less often – they are not cheap!).
HUGE shout-out to everyone who came out to cheer me on! In addition to my parents, brother, and Karen, my Aunt and Uncle also joined at the Stadium, as well as previously mentioned Ashley and Johnny! And my cousins along the bike course, Amy and Nate along the run course, and Ron along the entire course!
And a very special shout-out to my dear friend Matt, who completed his very first triathlon and ROCKED it! This is a photo my family took of Matt immediately following his finish. As my brother put it, “he looks like he just came out of a business meeting”. Ha! Matt said he had a fantastic time and will definitely be doing it again next year. Maybe the Olympic distance?! Lord knows he could do it – this guy placed in the top quarter of all male finishers! So proud of you, Matt. Thank you for the companionship!
And for those of you who are like me and only read these blog things for the food porn, here is what I ate post-race! Brunch at Northstar – my Dad and I shared the mushroom frittata and the Big Burrito, aka the best burrito in the world! And then, just five hours later, I treated myself to chipotle, aka the best gauc in the world. It was a good food day!
If you’re still reading, you get bonus points. Thanks, everyone for your support! It was a truly great day. Next year, half ironman?! (just kidding….maybe in a few years. or maybe never).
You are SO AMAZING. I want to frame your post-tri pics from last year and this year side-by-side. I just sent an email to a student where I *literally* typed the sentence, “It’s not just “try again,” but sometimes, “try again, and again, and again, and again…” You are awesome. You’re going to be an anecdote in my class next fall, not to mention a personal inspiration.
Thanks Katie! More like “TRI again”! Xoxo
Way to go! You’re amazing!!!
Congrats on a great race! I want to do this one someday, and have been curious about it. Looks like fun! Go for the half ironman! I was training for an Olympic one summer that got cancelled and ended up doing a 70.3. Totally doable, and totally awesome. 🙂
You are awesome, I can only dream of being able to do this
What an amazing pace for your run after all that other work! I’m so glad this was a huge success for you. 💪😄
You are an inspiration. Way to go girl. Great pictures,I especially like the one at T1.
Sarah, you amaze me. And yes, I love the food porn😊!
And maybe you could convince Northstar to open a location up here in Cleveland!