Monday, August 10, 2015

Richard B. Russell Olympic Triathlon Race Recap

On Friday afternoon, I ducked out of work a little bit early, came home, finished packing up my excessive amount of things for a one night trip, strapped my bike to my car, and head out to pick up my friend Brick and head to Athens, Georgia.

This past weekend was the Olympic distance triathlon that was my summer goal to complete and the race I competed in was the Richard B. Russell State Park triathlon which was in Elberton, GA a few hours from Atlanta on the South Carolina border.  I planned to stop and spend the night in Athens, since it was about 45 minutes from the race, which is a lot closer, and because it is supposedly a cute little city where the University of Georgia is located and I am trying to see more of Georgia outside of Atlanta!

Brick and I drove out and arrived in Athens just in time for dinner, which we did some research on in the car thanks to some recommendations by her boyfriend and ended up at a place called Trappeze Pub.  It was a really cute atmosphere and the food was good (especially the fries) and it was right in the middle of a downtown area next to the campus.  I tried beer from the local Athens brewery - the Creature Comfort wheat beer.  It was eh, but still hit the spot.

I always love exploring college towns so after dinner, we walked around the campus a bit which was really gorgeous, grabbed a drink at another bar, and dessert at a little place called The Last Resort.  We had the caramel cake, which was to die for!  I had to stop myself from eating every last bite of it reminding myself that I had a race in the morning and that was the real reason we were in Athens!

I'll have to go back for that caramel cake though.

We went back to the hotel and went to bed early, but not before running into someone in the parking lot who was also doing the triathlon.  Well - not him, but his son.  We saw him parking and he had a bike on his car, and I love that Brick is so outgoing she asked if he was going to do a race and he said yes, a triathlon in the morning that his son was doing.  They were in town from Memphis for the race and had driven out that night to go see the course (45 minutes from the hotel!) and he also mentioned they were planning to leave the hotel at 4:00 a.m. the next day!  What!  I told him I thought that was crazy as the race didn't start until 7:30 a.m. and registration didn't even start until 5:30 a.m.  He said that they like to be there early and prepared.  Yeesh.  It made me a little nervous because I hadn't intended on leaving the hotel until 5:30 a.m.  However, we just went to bed and moved on from there (however, keep this interaction in mind because it will come back later.)

In the morning, we got up, packed up our things, loaded the car, and made our way out to Richard B. Russell state park.  It was dark and the roads were quiet and I could just tell we were headed out to the middle of nowhere.  However, it started to get nice once the sun rose.  As we got close into the park there were some big hills and I said to Brick, "I sure hope that I don't have to run or bike up this hill.  I want NOTHING to do with these hills!"

We got there, parked, unloaded the car, walked to registration, realized I needed an ID to check in, went back to the car, got the ID, checked in, got marked, got my chip and my bib and then went to transition to unload my things and set up.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the way that triathlons work, generally there is a sanctioned off official "transition zone" where bikers are either given a specific location or find a location to leave their things that they will need to switch from swim to bike and then bike to run.  You are timed while you are in the transition area and those times all count towards your overall finish so it helps to be fast and having an organized transition area can really help.

I felt like a definite newbie here because the people at this race were far more organized in their stations than I have seen at other races.  Many people had specific mats with the Ironman logo on it and I saw more than one Ironman tattoo on other competitors.  Just from walking around before the start of the race, it was definitely a different atmosphere than the sprint races I have done in the past.  Oh, and P.S. you may notice that I bought a new top!  I thought a new race distance was cause enough for me to invest in a different triathlon top rather than the same single lime one I have been wearing since 2012.

After I felt sufficiently set up, I went to the bathroom, and then walked down to the water where I said bye to Brick and went and met my two friends who were also doing the race in the water.

They are training for a full Ironman and have done a number of 1/2 Ironman so their endurance is through the roof and talking to them before we started in the water gave me a great vote of confidence.  They told me I was going to do great, to stop worrying, and to have fun.  Their upbeat energy was exactly what I needed because I definitely definitely was starting to get some pre-race anxiety and nerves.  My first reaction when I saw the course buoy-ed off in the water was, "Oh that doesn't actually look too bad, I thought it would be further, I can handle this!" and then the announcer said that we were doing two laps around the buoys.... well okay then.

Still, I felt a bit better that we were swimming counter clockwise around a triangular set of large orange buoys that were clearly marked.  It was definitely going to help with me trying to sight/view the buoys while I was swimming to have them to the left of me, because I breathe to the left.  That had been a big stress of mine, so that felt good to see.

Before we knew it, we were off, and I headed into the swim staying close to the buoys and just tried to focus on staying upright in the swim.  I just wanted to keep my head down and go for it and not break out of swimming formation all that often.  I also didn't want to go out too hard because I've never swim this distance in a race before and wasn't entirely sure how to pace it.  I just tried to be strong and keep moving forward in the most efficient way possible.

After the first turn it got significantly harder to see because we were swimming into the sun so I couldn't see any buoys whatsoever.  Some of the swimmers around me were picking their heads up and I tried to just focus on some of them telling myself "Let them do the work" to sight the buoys and just keep moving.  We rounded the corner and I made my way back in towards the beach and then looped around to get back into my second lap.  I swam strong the first lap, super easily spotting the buoys and feeling confident.  I knew it would be a little harder on the next turn with the sun, so I tried to go harder in that first third of the second loop ("first third of the second loop" -- sheesh... are you guys following?! haha, sorry!)  Indeed it was harder on the second part, but I did my best and literally swam directly into the buoy before making the last turn and powering hard into the shore.

I came out of the water feeling really good - I could have kept going or I could have gone harder for sure, but not having known what to expect, I was just happy I was feeling strong!  My chip time for the swim was 32:52 but my watch time was 31:21, which is more accurate to use to check my swim pace since I stopped it right out of the water.  Based on that, I swam at a 2:05 pace per 100 meter or a 1:55 per 100 yard.  I like to be under 2:00 on a 100 meter so I think I can push harder next time around.

The race actually had a long run from getting out of the lake to going to the transition area.  It was a bit odd because all that time was factored into your official swim time.  I passed a girl on the run to the transition and was thinking about how it would be weird that now my swim time would be faster than hers.

Anyways, I threw on my socks and bike shoes, helmet, gloves, put on my race bib, grabbed my bike, ran out of the transition area awkwardly in my clipper shoes, and then jumped onto my bike when I was allowed to mount.  I actually had a really easy time clipping in and was able to wave to Brick before heading out on the bike.  While in transition I had switched my watch from swim to bike and began tracking my ride as soon as I took off.  If you guys have been longing for pics of me in action, today is your lucky day.

It was also just a short ways in that I realized there were markers every 2 miles on the 22 mile route.  This was pretty nice to see.  Except I also realized that we were going to be going up the damn hill that I was saying that I wanted nothing to do with!  Blah!

I used the 2 mile markers as points of reference, counting backwards how many miles I had left.  The first 8 or so miles went by pretty fast and then I told myself I had only a few 5 mile segments left.  I have been trying to pay more attention to nutrition lately during races so I carried a bottle of water and a bottle of Gatorade Endurance with me on the bike, starting to switch off taking sips of each every 5 minutes or so.  About 20 minutes into the bike I ate some Gu Chomps and just tried to keep myself comfortable and strong on the bike.  I reminded myself to switch between pushing and pulling, utilizing the fact that I was clipped in to the pedals (make it worth it!!) and also continuing to put power into the strokes, standing up when I needed to, etc.

My legs felt heavy and it was hard to push hard at times but I just kept at it doing the best I could.  My feet went numb and I wasn't sure if it was because the shoes were too tight or too lose but I had to keep wiggling my toes to keep feeling there. A good number of people passed me at the beginning of the route but they were all guys and whenever I would hear someone pass me and then see it was a guy, I just told myself I didn't care about them.  Around miles 10-12 I started to feel like I was crawling and barely moving on the bike.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe a slow elevation gain or just mid-bike fatigue.  A couple females passed me.  And I reminded myself of something that I had read in my friend Katie's blog entry about her recent race at Ironman Lake Placid.  She said before the race her coach had told her that sometimes she would feel awesome and sometimes she would feel like crap during the race, but both feelings would pass.  Thinking that kept me through the part where I felt tired and it did pass, which was great.

When I felt like crap also I just reminded myself to look around.  It was BEAUTIFUL.  And truly, for the majority of the ride, I was alone on the road.  There would maybe be a rider way ahead of me, or maybe behind, I'm not sure.  But it was a quiet route.  Barely ANY cars, none that I can think of, and a pretty farmed, shaded, treed route.  It was quite enjoyable!  OH, and the BEST part was that at around mile 11 I saw an armadillo haha!!!!!  I have never seen an armadillo before and an armadillo crossed the road right in front of me.  I actually thought that I might hit it but it wiggled into the bushes as I got closer.  It was exciting to me and I was tempted to stop and take a picture, but I remembered I was in a race...

The back end of the race went by pretty fast with some great downhills that I really tried to push my speed as well as some climbs.  Right at mile 20 and right before a big climb, as I was biking I saw a biker on the side of the road.  Now, as I would in any situation, I naturally shouted out, "Are you okay?" however, as I got closer I also realized that this was the young 17 year old kid who was the son of the man we'd talked to at the hotel the night before.  He shouted back, "No - blah blah blah."

Which, I didn't really hear what he said, to be honest, but it wasn't "Yeah! I'm fine!"  He needed help.

At this point it wasn't something I even thought about, I just slowed down and stopped.  My heart rate was up and I was trying to be quick but he was clearly in distress too, talking really fast telling me that he had flat tires and needed a tube.  I carry a tire repair kit or something like that in my bike bag, to be honest, I have no idea what it is or how to use it, but I pulled out what I had and offered it to him.  He said that he had gotten TWO flat tires so he had just repaired one tire with his spare tube but didn't have a second.  He took my spare tube and said thank you and that he would get me back.

I honestly wasn't really thinking to even ask his name or look at his number, I could just see a bunch of people passing me and at this point it was sinking in that I was in a race.  Unlike when I made the decision not to stop and take a pic with the armadillo, I didn't really think about this.  I recognized him and had talked with his dad, he was young, he seemed in distress, nobody else was clearly stopping, so I just did what was natural and stopped to offer help.  As soon as I got back on the bike I went into power mode though and tried to make up some ground.

I haven't loaded anything onto my computer yet but I am curious to see what my times and paces were throughout the ride.  I don't think that I stopped for too long helping him, to be honest, but there were a number of people that passed me while I was on the side of the road.

There were only about 2 miles left, if that, after I stopped, and I beasted them trying to get back to the transition area to get to the run.  I tell you, most days I have to force myself to go out and run and there is not a time that I have had the thought "I wish I was running!!!!" More than while I am on the bike during a damn triathlon.

Finally I made my way into the transition area, down a hill, and had to slow down and stop and then run a ways towards the transition area.  My bike time was 1:23:09 for 22 miles.

It was super awkward to run with my clip shoes but I hobbled over to the transition and changed my shoes, took off my gloves and helmet, grabbed a bottle of water, and head off on the run.  When I saw Brick all I could think to tell her was about the kid on the side of the road I'd stopped to help.  I was looking for his dad too so that I could shout to him and tell him.  The kid obviously showed up there to compete, arriving at 4:45 a.m. in the dang morning and was clearly doing pretty well in the race when he had his tires go.  I figured his dad was probably really worried wondering why he hadn't arrived back in on the bike yet and in my mind I was trying to tell Brick so she could tell the dad.  Especially in case whatever I gave him didn't work and he was still stuck there.

Anyways, I head out on the run and initially it was a trail run.  This totally threw me off and my already wobbling legs after swimming 1500 meters and biking 22 miles were totally in a mess trying to step over branches and roots and land carefully on rocks.  We got out of the woods about .4 miles or so in to the run and then were on a road on a golf course for an out and back loop.  I knew it was out and back since there were lots of runners returning, but what it took me a while to realize was that we had to do two loops of it.  I just kept thinking people were really, really fast.  And then I saw a 4 mile marker and knew I was not that lucky to be so far into the run and realized it was a two loops of a 5K each.  There were a few water stations on the route and when I saw that I ditched the water bottle I was carrying.  My legs did not feel good during the run and I wanted to walk but I refused.  I told myself that when I did my first sprint triathlon I walked through a portion so it would be okay to walk a portion of this one, but I didn't listen to that voice.

At this point when I was off the breeze from the bike and it being later in the day, I felt the heat and the sun.  It started to get hot and I was glad I put on sunscreen before the race started.  When I got back to the transition area after my first lap, Brick ran with me a little and again I tried to tell her about the boy with the broken bike, I am not sure why that was all that was coming out of me.  She told me it was my last chance to pick up some ground and I went back into the last 5K just hoping to hold out.  One lap left!

I survived the stupid trail portion, and also was energized by the fact that I got to cheer for and see other runners I knew during the out and back.  I enjoyed that and got multiple high fives from the people I knew and I also enjoyed that the water that they were giving out was ICE COLD.  I have no idea how they made that happen but it was hot and the cold water felt amazing.  I took two cups at each stop drinking some and dumping some on me.  My legs wanted to be done but I knew I was going to finish.

As I came back after my last turn around so I had 1.5 miles left I passed the kid who I had helped on the bike.  He saw me too and shouted, "Thank you 49!" (my race number) and I just shouted you're welcome!  He was going fast!  I was glad that he had made it back in though.

I pushed myself toward the end of the race.  There were fans along the route.  I was able to pick off a few runners.  And I knew that the end was near.  The end of the race felt so good.  There were no tears or anything but right now as I right this and think back, I feel really proud and a little teary. I completed my first Olympic distance triathlon!  And not only that, I followed through on a goal that I had set for myself months and months before to accomplish breaking 2:00 hours on a half marathon this spring and now finishing my first Olympic race.  My time for the 10K was 56:18 and my overall finish time for the race was 2:55:31.9.  I had estimated a 3 hour finish (30 minute swim, 1.5 hour bike, 1 hour run) and I beat some of that by a bit but also forgot to factor in transition times.

They handed you a cold water bottle at the end, which was great then I went over to talk to Brick and catch my breathe.  I wanted to wait for my friends to finish and I thought one of them would be right behind me but after a while I didn't see them.  We went to my bike to get my phone because I wanted finish line pics (see above) and I also ate a banana and some oranges and a cookie.  I finished the rest of my Gatorade that I hadn't finished during the bike and then went back to the finish to take a whole bunch of pics and cheer for my friends who finished.

Eventually the young kid finished and found me and got his dad and they thanked me and gave me $20.  I legitimately have no idea what the thing I gave him cost so I just said thank you.  I would have given it to him even if I didn't think they were going to pay me back.  It wasn't a conscious decision I made, just something that happened out of instinct.

It was hot, I wanted to get out of the sun, and I also wanted to be ready to hit the road so while we were waiting for one friend to finish we packed up my stuff and loaded the car.  One friend who saw us asked if we were staying for the awards, she told me I was surely getting something.  I said no way.  I had looked up the times from last year and all the run times were under 50 minutes. I figured there was NO WAY I was going to be winning anything.  Plus, Brick told me that the top finisher had been a female.  A female won the WHOLE triathlon!!!  The women start at least 6 minutes behind the men and men are traditionally faster at all these sports so she not only beat them all outright but beat them all with a 6 minute window!!! I guess it was a fight to the finish and she won, which is really pretty cool.  But also, means fast females.

However after putting my bike away we went over to the race results and saw that I had placed second in my age group!!  Now, I will qualify with saying that this race had a lot of categories you could run under.  A lot of the fast people my age were probably racing under elite or for overall finish or something along those lines.  So my category only had 4 people in it... but I still came in 2nd and beat two of them in my first Olympic race!!

We stayed for the award ceremony and to see my friend finish.  I got a cool silver medal and got to take my picture with the winners of the race - which included that super fast lady who is an Ironman world champion who races in Kona.  Craziness!

My friend Di also won an award for 3rd place in the Athena category.  It was pretty funny because she actually hadn't even finished the race when they announced her as the winner.  We looked around like, "huh?? Has she even come in yet??" but apparently there were only 3 women in the category!  She finished a few minutes later, literally jumping and leaping across the finish line and getting the entire crowd going and then immediately went over and got her medal.  It was amazing and so fun to watch and she is an inspiration with her determination and positivity in these races.

Shortly after, Brick and I packed up and head back to the car.  I did a towel change of clothes in the woods and hopped into my little coche for the 2ish hour drive back to Atlanta.  We planned to stop for a real meal but after a little bit of driving, only seeing real country type places, and not even any options for food beyond gas stations, I made the executive decision while Brick was napping to stop at Subway because I needed food fast and the cookies and bars we had in the car weren't going to cut it.  I wanted protein.

I got a 6 inch turkey sub and devoured it and later found a Dunkin for a glorious iced coffee on the ride back to the A.  My first Olympic distance triathlon was a success and a huge accomplishment for me.  I'm really proud of myself for just finishing and actually for even going after this goal in the first place.  I have been training for this a lot.  Pushing myself outside of my comfort zone on the bike especially.  I have been taking what someone would call an already aggressive marathon training plan and adding in swims and bike rides and cross training to the point of having very little rest days to get in everything I wanted to get in this summer.  And I did it!

I see where I can improve as well.  My transition times were slower compared to others.  I think I could have gone harder on the swim from the beginning. And of course my bike has a lot of work to be stronger and feel more confident.  I also have to work on my nutrition on and refueling.  I maybe should have done more on the bike and I definitely should have done something different on the run.  The last two miles I felt pretty lightheaded and tired.  I have never even had a salt tablet before but I have heard of them and was craving them.  I knew I needed more than water but it was almost all I had.  I ate a few more Gu Chomps during the run but I think that if I had Gatorade with me it would have helped.  With the advice of friends and my own experiences this summer in the heat and the challenging races and runs - I am learning the importance of mid-race nutrition.

Thanks everyone for reading this far into this super duper long post.  I wanted to get it all in here because it was a memorable race for me.  Any race that is a new distance and new experience and new challenge is going to be extra meaningful, but I also can't say enough how much it meant to have the support of friends.  Brick was so wonderful cheering for me and helping me with whatever I needed.  She texted my mom during the race to give her updates.  She made friends with the announcers/timers at the race and some of the fans!  My friends who I knew were nothing but encouraging leading up to the race as well as even moments before.  And when I came back, the reaction of everyone I know in my running group Movers and Pacers and the running community/family I am a part of in Atlanta was so great.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who helped make this a fun day!


  1. WAY TO GO! I am so proud of you - this is so incredible. I really think you are superhuman! But I am also just as proud of you being so true to yourself - of COURSE you stopped for the distressed kid! I love that you are your wonderful and selfless self no matter what you are doing or where you are. What a treasure you really are.

    PS: Please tell Brick I love her for supporting you and being such a wonderful friend! I love your little Atlanta family!

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks!! I am excited for bigger things to come!

  3. I love race recaps for this reason! It's so fun to relive someone's personal challenge and hear about the race from an individual perspective. Well done on completing your first Olympic distance...I'm just hoping one day I'll work up to doing a tri *period*. Transitions scare me! :o

    1. You can do it!! Thank you - I love race recaps too, which is why I have been doing them ALL THE TIME lately haha. Glad you enjoy it, thanks for reading!

  4. Sounds like you had a great day! My husband was there too; he won the male 45-49 category. To speed up your transition, try not wearing gloves for the bike--that helps me.

    1. Yes, the gloves definitely take some time! I think I just need more practice, I am excited for more races though!! Congrats to your husband!