Monday, May 8, 2017

Tri the Parks 2017 John Tanner Sprint Triathlon Recap

On April 29th, I officially kicked off my triathlon season with the first race of the year - the John Tanner Sprint Triathlon, which is part of the Tri the Parks series around the Atlanta area. I have done races as part of this series in the past, specifically my first Olympic distance race at the Richard B. Russell Triathlon in 2015. I was excited to do a local race, since last year the only sprint triathlon I did was in Upstate NY and I was excited to do a local triathlon where I now actually know people! It was my first triathlon with a team, racing with my ITL coaching kit on! I was so proud to be a part of the group when I saw everyone supporting, encouraging, and cheering for all the athletes out there at the race.

Going into the triathlon, I felt like I didn't care about it. I have had my eyes set on my Half Ironman and saw John Tanner as just another day of training for that. The distances seem so short in comparison to what I am training for in Chattanooga and I honestly was a little worried that I was missing out on a bigger day of training to do this race. My Saturday workouts have been 3:30-4:30 hours long lately and I expected the race to only take me about 1:30 hour.

The night before when I did that math, I decided I was just going to go hard as possible during the race. Not that that's ever not the goal with a race, but in longer distance things, pacing is important. My goal for John Tanner was to have a strong swim, go as hard as possible on the bike, and see what I had left to give when it came to the run.

I left my house at 5:30 a.m. and planned to get to the triathlon at around 6:30 a.m. as I wanted time to get settled in my transition area before it closed at 7:30 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. start. As soon as I pulled in, I saw the presence that ITL had at the race. In addition to having a lot of athletes there, ITL Coaching and Performance was a sponsor. ITL sponsors this race as it is a series that helps encourage athletes get started in triathlon, which the leaders of ITL love, and personally, I do as well! Our group had 3 people doing their first ever triathlon this day which I may have been more excited about than anything else (and 2 of those people have already signed up for a full Ironman, by the way!)

Before checking in for the race and getting marked, I had put my bike on the ITL bike rack near their sponsorship tent. A few of the coaches were walking around and getting things set up and when I returned from picking up my registration and getting my body marked with my number and age, I found Adam, who I ran with during Publix Half, putting grease on my chain and checking my bike to be sure it was ready for the race. I didn't ask him to. He, and other people in ITL, just do things to help and I love that. I also asked Adam for some last minute advice and he helped me out by ensuring my bike was in the right gear to start the bike course. It is an uphill start so helped me to put my bike into a lower gear. I was very appreciative for all the help and once I felt comfortable in my set up, I walked around and said hello to people I knew. It was so fun to know so many people at a triathlon!

A bit before the race, we all started putting wet suits on. I had felt the water before we started and although it was deemed to be "wet suit legal" - the water was actually really warm. There was definitely (in my opinion) not a need to wear the wet suit temperature wise, but I wanted to wear it to get the extra buoyancy and speed since I knew my competition would all have them on. I was a bit worried about trying to take the wet suit off fast (I didn't have a good experience doing that the one other time I had to!) but hoped that the time I gained in the water would account for any stumbling I had there.

For the first time ever at a race, I got into the water and did a warm up swim. Through my experience training with ITL, I have known how important a warm up is before doing any hard effort workout and wanted to get my body moving a little bit. I felt good in the water and after posing for a few pics with my teammates, I made my way over the start. I wanted to be well positioned for the swim and I also sometimes need a few moments to myself to get my mind right.

The Swim: 10:28 finish (Top 3 out of the water!)

There were 3 waves of men before we swam, and as the first wave of females entered the water, I walked towards the outside of the group and a little to the front. I typically try to get to the front of the pack of swimmers but I was also a little nervous because I knew this crowd was really competitive triathletes who blow me out of the water with times on longer distance races. I wasn't sure how I would compare in the water and for a shorter distance swim. I gave the better triathletes a bit more space than I would have in other races, but still was near the front. Once we were officially started, I went out hard to get away from the pack and settled into a rhythm and locked eyes with the first marker.

Sighting has never been a strong point for me in races so I was pretty happy that for the first part of the swim I had a pretty good eye on the buoy marker and on every breathe I could pretty much lock eyes and ensure that I was heading in the right direction. It wasn't long before I was catching up to the male swimmers from the wave ahead of me but I did my best to just keep steady and charge forward. I braced myself for there to be congestion around the buoy as it usually gets crowded with everyone trying to make as tight a turn as possible, but it was surprisingly pretty clear. After the first turn though, I had a much harder time sighting and couldn't lock eyes with the buoy. I tried to follow some of the other swimmers and swim without having a lock on where I was going, which was fine but internally I was panicking a little. Finally I caught sight of the buoy and kept it in my gaze until I had to make the next turn.

I, again, couldn't exactly see where the finish was. I knew that we were swimming towards the beach, and that is usually the hardest part for me because I find it difficult to identify exactly which part of a large sandy beach I am supposed to be swimming towards. I luckily spotted a swimmer to the left of me in a pink swim cap, which was the color of the female wave of swimmers. I knew I was swimming strong and could see that this woman was swimming strong so I took her to be a seasoned triathlete and let her do the sighting towards the shore and I just kept her right beside me and raced her in.  It is always a bit of a gamble to let someone else sight for you and follow a swimmer or pack of swimmers but I figured following this woman would make for a better swim time that trying to look around for the target at the beach. Pretty sure that's me in the bottom left with my head out of the water coming up to the shore... that'd be my friend Jodi looking awesome running out of the lake!

T1: 1:32.9

As I hit the shore, I stumbled a bit getting out of the water and fell onto the sand but quickly got myself up and head towards transition. There were two women in front of me running out of the water and one of them was my teammate Jodi. I saw our coach Adam, cheering for him and then he noticed me, which I think surprised him a bit to see me out of the water so soon but was great to have him cheering me on as well!

My teammate Jodi's husband is a photographer, so I also learned at this race that if I can just manage to stick behind her, I will wind up in the background of some of the photos :) This will likely never happen again, but love that in the background of the photo, you see the moment where Coach Adam (in the blue shirt) realizes that I'm coming out of the water in my ITL kit as I pull off my wet suit.

I heard someone shout to the two women who were a second or two ahead of me "First women out of the water!" which was pretty cool to hear since I was right behind them. I shouted to Jodi as we all entered into transition, knowing that she'd soon smoke me and I wouldn't see her again once we got on our bikes.

At my transition area, I stumbled a bit with getting my wetsuit off. I knew it was going to be an issue trying to pull it over my ankle timing chip and I almost fell down a bit trying to get it off, but once I did, I went to threw on my shoes. I thought I could get my feet into my bike shoes with the top part clipped at the lowest level, but it turns out I can't, so I had to unclip them and then put them on, which caused me to lose momentum a bit as well. I made a mental note to myself to remember to leave my shoes unclipped in Chattanooga. Once they were on, I grabbed my bike and helmet and ran out to the bike mount area. I could tell that a few people had come into transition not long after me and beat me heading out so I started to get flustered trying to move as quickly as possible, trying to get out on the bike ride and maintain whatever lead I may have been able to snag with my swim. I saw a few teammates and people that I know beat out of transition but tried to just focus on myself.

My friend Melana and others that I knew were cheering me on which felt so good. As I got to the bike mount area, I realized I hadn't put my helmet on yet and just had it in my hand. I needed two hands to snap it together, so I put one leg over my bike to balance it, put on my helmet and then head out onto the bike course.

The Bike: 44:22.7 (18.6 mph average over 13.8 miles)

As soon as I was on the bike, I started fiddling with my watch to try and get it to start timing for the bike. I really would like to get a triathlon specific watch in the near future to avoid that. I also immediately realized that my HR was really high. This was the first race, or time ever, that I wore my HR monitor in the water. I have always been a bit nervous to do that but wanted this race to be a test race in so many ways, so I tried it out and it worked great. My HR picked up immediately, although I could have told you without any gadget that my HR was really high as I started on the bike. It was awesome to have my bike in the exact right gear as I pedaled off and worked to take deep breathes and get settled as I started the first mile.

There were some rolling hills and I worked to focus on my cadence, continue pedaling through the downhill, staying in aero, and not letting up on the bike. The course was 13.8 miles which felt so short compared to the longer bike rides I have been doing! I just pushed through it, hoping that no females would pass me.

I passed a few men on the bike which was sort of cool and a few females did pass me. The head of Atlanta Triathlon Club passed me early on and when she, or any other women did, I held my breathe a little until they were enough ahead of me to see their calves and know if they were in my age group or not. I was happy that no women in my age group passed me throughout the whole bike course.

It was a really nice route, with only right hand turns, which works out awesome for me since I am far more comfortable turning right than turning left. Towards the end, a few other women I know passed me on the bike from the 40+ age group who had started their swim behind me, but nobody that I knew and still nobody in my age group, which was starting to surprise me a bit.  I told myself to get some fluid in me so I drank a bit of water and Gatorade on the bike but that's it. The majority of the time I spent focused on trying to go hard, but I also was worried a bit thinking back to how I had mounted the bike before I put my helmet on. I know sometimes races can be strict and I wasn't sure if having put one leg over the bike would count towards getting disqualified. I had this in the back of my mind for the whole bike to prepare myself in case it happened.

When we got to the last two miles, I told myself not to let up and keep pushing hard even until the finish. For a split second on a couple pedal strokes, I started to feel pain in my hip and I just thought to myself, "NO. This is NOT happening" and refused to recognize or think about it and it somehow went away. I passed a guy on the homes stretch into transition and I wasn't sure what the etiquette of that was but didn't want to let up.

T2: 1:01.5

As I came in off the bike I saw (and heard!) my friends Melana and Di cheering for me as well as my name being called a bunch of times from throughout the cheering section. It was SO fun to have so many people shouting my name and it felt really good. I knew I was still well positioned with much fewer females passing me on the bike than I thought so I knew I had to do whatever I could to just hold on during the run. I threw my stuff into transition, forgot to grab a hat or a visor or anything, but just put on sneakers and took my race bib and head out on the run.

The last thing I heard as I head off the trail was one of the coaches Adam yelling "Run, girl!" I took that to mean, "You're in a good spot and you'd better move fast if you want to keep it!"

Not sure if Adam meant to convey as much in his two word cheer, but I booked it out.

The Run: 25:25.9 (8:10 pace)

My first mile I felt good, we ran around the lake and it was shaded and nice. I could still hear the transition area and finish line and lots of cheers and I heard them announce one of our super speedy other coaches name, as he must have just finished. I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be so nice to just have to run around this little lake and go back to the transition?" but alas, after going around the lake, we turned off onto a trail before heading into a hilly out and back section of the run.

I first thought to myself that maybe I would count the number of women that I saw returning back in, to calculate exactly where I was but then I realized that required too much mental energy and I needed all my mental focus to be on telling my legs to not let up. As soon as we hit the hills I felt like I was crawling up those. I kept thinking to myself, "Welp, this is where it happens. This is where you explode and people come pouring past you." as I was in a lot of hurt from that 2nd mile on.

I swear, it felt like my legs were barely moving as I tried to push up the hills, and the downhill wasn't too much better. A couple more females passed me, one 29-year old who I had been passing back and forth with on the bike, but still, nobody in my age group. I saw people that I knew, including my two teammates, Jaclyn and Jodi, heading back in on the run and just couldn't wait to get to that point myself. Eventually I hit the turn around and I knew I had to just do everything I could to get back.

Running back in, I don't think I even registered that I could possibly try and scope out who was behind me and if any women in my age group looked like they were catching me. I was in my own world of hurt at this point and mostly focused on just trying to run and also shouting out a word or two to the teammates in blue that I was crossing on my way back in from the run.

With a quarter mile or so left, I turned towards the finish with the end in sight. I was pushing so hard and still just trying to hang onto whatever age group position I had in the race, that I had spent the entire bike and run trying to hang on to. Mentally, I thought I was maybe 4th or so as I knew that at least Jaclyn and Jodi were ahead of me and was unsure of the ages of the others I knew were ahead. I had been trying to protect that position the whole race, but in that last stretch I thought, "Okay, if anyone passes me now - they can have it. I am going to collapse."  At the end, everyone was telling me that I looked strong running, which I was glad I either looked strong and/or they are kind enough to tell me otherwise, because I was hurting!

I came through the finish where all the ITL people were cheering and immediately gasped for breathe as I crossed the finish. It was a hands-on-my-knees, bent over, trying to catch my breathe and regain composure type of finish. I couldn't walk far and needed to breathe and lower my HR before I could do anything, which caused me to feel bad because I barely responded to a runner I know who told me I had done a good job. My mile splits according to my watch were 7:57/8:49/8:20 (second mile had a lot of uphill!)

Overall time: 1:22.43

Once I could breathe a bit easier, I went over to the ITL team and said hello to everyone and congratulated the others on their race. I didn't look at my paces or times on my watch at the moment as I wasn't really thinking about that - I knew based off of effort that I had given the race everything I could. It was a good feeling and I enjoyed getting to cheer the rest of the people that I knew into the finish and home stretch. I was proud of myself.

The finish was really fun getting to celebrate everyone else and I loved the feeling of being a part of a team and all being in our team kits. I must say, that they looked awesome and I loved how my kit felt during the race. It didn't ride up at all and felt very comfortable. Like with many other things, I was using this sprint triathlon as a test race for wearing that kit during Chattanooga 70.3 and I was so excited about how much I liked it.

After cheering a bit, I went out to my car to start to load some of my bags and bring my bike over. I ran into my friends Melana and Di again and thinking I was leaving, Di said to me, "You aren't going to wait and get your medal?!" I joked with them that I didn't think I would get a medal, and Melana, who had been watching the majority of the race (they competed as a team) told me that she was pretty sure I would.

I was surprised - and a little unsure - but I had also been in this position before, at my last Tri the Parks race, when I came in 2nd in my Age Group at my first Olympic Distance race. Melana said the same exact thing to me then and I didn't believe it until I actually got the award.

After putting my things away, I went back to the posting where they had the official results and browsed through for my name. They didn't have the results posted based on age groups or categorized in any way, it just showed the list of finishers. By scanning through, it looked to me like the only two women in my age group ahead of me were my teammates, Jaclyn and Jodi. I saw it on the paper but I didn't really believe it. They are both SO fast and there had to be some mistake if I was the next finisher in the age group right behind them! They are at elite level in my mind, so to be somehow bucketed immediately next to them had to be a mistake. Surely, there was someone in between where they are and where I am.

I didn't really say anything to anyone else because I didn't quite believe it, but a couple other people, Melana included, noticed it on the results and congratulated me on taking 3rd. I tried not to think about it or get my hopes up, but also was sure to stay nearby when they announced the winners and I was so excited when they got to the 30-34 year old age group and my name was called as 3rd place! I know that placing in an age group shouldn't be entirely what it is about and I should be just proud of my own progress, but I was so excited because I never thought I would get a podium again after turning 30. Going into the race, it was not in my mind whatsoever as an option, even when a few friends put it in my head the night before. I was totally sure of myself when I told that that was not going to happen. The whole time I was racing, I was expecting to maybe be fighting for 4th place. I was happy to be wrong in this case.

I was happy with how I did and felt so lucky to be able to get a podium spot alongside two amazing triathletes, teammates, and all around amazing people. And overall, just loved being a part of ITL at this race and competing with so many inspiring athletes and friends. It was unlike any triathlon I've done before to be there with the group and I was proud to wear that kit. I heard from others how amazing the ITL cheering section was and I love that I am a part of this organization.

My swim for the race was a 10:28 and was the overall 3rd female out of the water. The two women ahead of me had a 10:26 and 10:27 so I am phenomenally proud of that swim. On the bike, I finished in 44:22 and for a course that was written as 13.8 miles, that is a 18.6 mph bike. I have only seen speeds in 17 mph one or two times, so to see 18 was pretty cool! However, as far as my biking goes, there is still a lot of work to be done as my bike was significantly slower than others. Finally, my run was a 25:25 - which I am really happy with! My 5K PR on its own is 24:57 so to be within 30 seconds of that, I thought was pretty darn good.

This race was exciting for me. It was a day that I saw that the work that I have been putting in has been making progress. Last year I did a sprint triathlon and my bike speed was 16.9 mph and my 5K time was a 27:35 so definitely saw significant improvements there.

I was proud of my sighting on the swim, my execution on the bike, and pushing myself to the last bit on the run. I had a great time being able to cheer on and support my teammates and was overwhelmed by the support from my friends (non-ITL included) and teammates with the support they gave to me. The night before the race, Brick messaged me telling me to let her know what place I came in and I told her she was crazy. After the race, Melana told me that she made a bet with her wife, Diana, knowing that I would come in much sooner than expected on the bike. She said she's seen how hard I have been working and how much I put into it and believed in me. Those words meant so much. And on a different wave length, I also loved being able to surprise Adam and some of the other triathletes with my swim, since I know that many of them don't ever see me train in the pool.

I knew that my coach was busy in the morning but I was checking my phone eagerly waiting to talk to him and tell him how I did. I was so excited to share with him my race report and celebrate with him as his help has been so significant. I also felt like I needed to thank him, because earlier in the week I was resisting the "rest" that he had put on my schedule. I say "rest" in quotations because I was still working out all week, but just at a lighter load. After doing well and having the boost of confidence and adrenaline from the John Tanner Sprint Triathlon. I knew that he was correct and wanted to share my excitement and thank him.

So, with my test race done for the year and the triathlon season officially kicked off, what's next is Chattanooga 70.3! I am excited to wear my new ITL kit and race with some fun and awesome people in a couple weeks and I learned a few lessons/reminders before going into the next race. A few things that I tested out / learned from this race:

- Wear my HR monitor underneath my kit and wetsuit during the swim
- Wear my clear goggles during the swim (sun wasn't bad and they fit the best)
- Leave my bike shoes unclipped at transition
- Put my helmet on BEFORE I pick up my bike
- Put my bike in the gear that I want it to be in to start the course
- Put a visor/hat on and take my sunglasses off for the run
- Don't focus on any pain... mind over matter

Thanks for reading my long race report and have a lovely evening!


  1. Great job! You're right - definitely the result of all the hard work you have been putting in.

  2. Awesome race report - thank you very much. I'm planning on doing this race this year (2018) and you described what to expect very well. Very good race - thank you for taking the time to reflect and share.