Liberty Half Iron Distance Triathlon Race Report

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In case you haven't guessed from my recent posts, this race was an "A" race for me. Most of my training this spring has been in anticipation of this race. I did this race for the first time last year and had a lot of fun. It's a beautiful course with a relatively clear swim. The bike course is hilly and beautiful, and the run is an out and back on a paved trail.

Friday, Steve and I drove to Lake Nokomis so try out my new wetsuit. I got my new 2xu wetsuit in the mail a little over a week ago, and I was hoping to wear it for the race, but I wanted to make sure that there wouldn't be any issues. Steve and I have done 2 open water swims this spring, and Square Lake has been nice and warm. However, it has been cold here the last week or two, and we've gotten A LOT of rain. This has cooled down the lakes considerably. I did not have a warm swim, and I was in and out in 10 minutes. The new wetsuit is AWESOME!!! The rubber is so much softer than my old one, and I feel more buoyant. I'm not sure if I really am any faster in it, but it's fun to think I am :)

Not long after Steve and I got back home, we heard a knock on our door. One of our new neighbors, a college kid, was coming over to warn us that they were going to have a party. I not so subtly told him that we appreciated the warning and that we would be getting up at 4 AM for a race. We were up the next morning before they went to bed. Thankfully, the noise wasn't anything that a fan and an air conditioner in our bedroom couldn't drown out.

Our alarm clock went off at a time that seemed way too early. We had laid all of our stuff out the night before, so all we had to do was get the car packed, get dressed, eat breakfast, and hop on the freeway. Transition opened at 5:30, and we were there shortly after. We saw tons of friends as we were getting ready. I said hi to all of them, but I was a little nervous and wasn't feeling super conversational.

Transition area - I'm on the right getting my stuff ready

Steve and me before the race

I was really hoping to PR at this race. My previous PR was at Chisago last summer, where I smashed my finishing times from all 6 of my other 70.3s and finished in 6:06:59. Even though that course was short, it started to make me wonder if I would be able to see a 5 at the beginning of my finishing time in the near future.
Walking down to the swim in my new 2xu wetsuit
Smiling and ready to go!
Ready, get set, go!

The Swim: I said goodbye to Steve, kissed him good luck and hopped in the water. All of the rain we'd been having combined with a spell of cool weather had cooled the lake down quite a bit. I tried to draft when I could, but I didn't have much success. It seemed that all of the women swimming in my time frame were choosing to zig-zag it! The morning had seemed pretty calm, but the water got really choppy once we got out there. I knew my swim time wouldn't be stellar. I haven't spent much time in the pool this spring. That fact combined with my usual slow swim times left me happy with the 45:05 (with about 30 seconds of that running up to transition) that I saw as I hit T1.
Out of the water and ready to hit the stairs

T1: My theme for the day was "7 seconds." I beat a girl in my age group by 7 seconds at Gear West. That 7 seconds could have come from any part of my race, but you can't always gain it in a sprint to the finish. Translation: Don't waste time. I was out in 2:24 - about a minute faster than my T1 time from last year.

Hitting my watch just out of T2

The Bike: "Seven seconds," I just kept repeating to myself. "Make the most out of every uphill. Push through the downhills when you can." My goal was to see an average in the high 17s, maybe even close to 18. In order to get anywhere near the 6 hour mark, I would need a good showing on the bike. The plan was to ride steady but comfortable on the first loop and kick it up a little on the second loop. It's definitely a hilly course, and I didn't want to blow up early. The weather forecast had been saying 70s with a 30-50% chance of rain. The thought of me being cold out there really hadn't crossed my mind. When will I learn from IM WI '06????? I was wet, and it was chilly. I don't think it got above 60. I couldn't feel my fingers very well, which made eating and drinking quite the challenge. I should have packed warm clothes just in case, but I was out there in just my bike shorts (with tri shorts underneath), sports bra, and tri top. I wasn't even wearing socks. Nearing the end of the first loop, Steve caught me (he was doing the Oly and had started significantly later than me). We wished each other luck, and I passed transition with a 17.5 mph average - time to kick it up a little. Mark Bongers, the race director, cheered for me as I passed transition. I waved, smiled, and prepared myself for round two. That's when my heart sank a little. I turned into a wind. Drat. It had picked up, a lot. I tried to stay positive. That's when the nagging feeling of having to pee started, and so began the saga that lasted the next 20 miles. It was all could think about, and I really thought that if I just concentrated and relaxed on the downhill, I could pee on the bike. Seven seconds. No time to waste. I was shooting for a 5 at the front of my finish time. I tried and I tried. I wasted so many good downhills and ended up having to power up the hills that much harder because I had lost momentum. Then I realized that it was starting to affect my nutrition. I wasn't eating or drinking as well as I should have been because I had to pee so bad. Around mile 42, I finally gave up and pulled off into some bushes. It took a full 2 minutes, which made my 7 seconds mantra seem minuscule. I felt SO much better and cursed myself for waiting so long. The wind, the having to pee, and the lack of downhill (and thus uphill) speed had dropped my average to 17.3 mph. I stared at that darn 17.3 average for the next 30 minutes. It wouldn't budge. I finally got it up to 17.4, then it started raining. No more flying down those hills. The goal for the last 6 miles became "don't wipe out." I pulled into T2 wet, freezing cold, and feeling defeated. All of that hill training had left me with 3:17:28 bike split (17.02 mph average - 0.2 mph slower than my computer's average because of the potty stop).

T2: I saw Steve cheering and told him that I wasn't having an ideal race. I was definitely feeling sorry for myself, but I still tried to hurry. I slipped off my extra bike shorts, got rid of my helmet and bike shoes, and grabbed a hat, my race belt, and my running shoes (thankfully the rain had not yet drenched my socks). My fingers were frozen, and it took a lot of work to get my shoes on. I was out in 2:12 - just a few seconds faster than the 2:18 I posted last year at this race.

Trying harder than I should be to put my socks on
Running out of T2
Just a few hundred feet into the run
Ready to tackle that first big hill

The Run: I told myself to suck it up and get running. One thing I do well in the cold and the rain is run. I told my brain that it was only allowed to cheer for people and pick people ahead of me to pass. There would be no more feeling sorry for myself. I told my legs that they were in charge of running, and the rest of me wouldn't think about it. This strategy worked really well, actually. I had seen the first place finisher coming down the wood chip hill just as I was starting, so I literally got to cheer on everybody out there (it was an out and back course). It made me feel good to be encouraging and joking around with so many of the racers as I was meeting them and passing them, and for the first time all day, I started to feel good. Around mile 10, my times were slowing up a little and I had to pee...again. In retrospect, I'm sure I was hypothermic. I really didn't drink much all day, but cold diuresis kicks in, and you can actually end up fluid down. I ducked into the bushes for the last time. Then I pushed through the pain for the last 5K to cross the finish line in a run time of 2:05:39 - a new 70.3 run PR by over 6 minutes.

Striding in to the finish
Done with my soggy run!
My hard-earned medal :)

Total Time: 6:12:49 - my second fastest 70. 3(not counting Steelhead 08 which was a du). My time was nearly 40 minutes faster than my Liberty race last year.

Final Stats:

Swim: 45:05
T1: 2:24
Bike: 3:17:28
T2: 2:12
Run: 2:05
Final time: 6:12:45 192/234 overall, 52/80 women, 11/16 AG

Final Thoughts:

* No finish time with a 5 for me this time around, but I am getting closer. I cut nearly 40 minutes off my time from last year. In retrospect, I picked a pretty aggressive course to try to see this happen. I'm hoping that with some more consistent work in the pool, a better (sweet!) new bike and wheels (which will hopefully be in my hands soon), and my new coach, attaining this goal won't be too far off.

* In retrospect, my goal on the bike was probably a bit too aggressive. My bike time at this race last year was 3:22. I was significantly faster this year, even with a duck into the bushes. I know I'll keep getting faster, and I would have loved to see my time had I not needed a potty stop so bad.

* Steve had already packed up our stuff and was ready to go.

All of our wet soggy stuff was loaded up!
The park's campground had WONDERFUL warm showers. We cleaned off, dressed up, and got in the car to drive to Steve's cousin's wedding. Unfortunately, that meant that we didn't get to catch up with our friends at the finish. Everyone did really well though!

* I know what I need to do for Rev3. Bring on the training!

My First Ever Bike TT

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Holy whirlwind week! I'm still beat from this weekend's half iron distance race, so I figured I'd get back to posting by writing up a quick blurb about my first bike TT. I did it last Tuesday, and since I'm still formulating thoughts about the half, I thought I'd put this up first.

I had a super crazy day at work on Tuesday. The nurses in some local hospitals were preparing to strike, so many of the hospitals were diverting their patients to us in anticipation of the strike. I ran around all day and checked my email just before I left work. Steve wasn't feeling well, but he though the GI issue he was having might be over. We headed out to the western suburbs knowing that we might be facing a wet time trial. We found Matt in the parking lot, got registered, and spent way too much time lallygagging before heading out to warm up on our bikes.

I should back up and say that it's nearly a miracle that I agreed to sign up for this thing. Gear West's Tuesday Night Time Trial (TNT) is an 11 mile out and back hilly ride where cyclists and triathletes come out to push themselves and drool over each other's gear. I went out to watch Matt and Steve last year and vowed that this thing is not for me and that I myself would not be doing it in the near future. I am admittedly a very slow biker. The top guys out there typically pull somewhere between 27 and 28 mph over the 11 miles. I've never actually averaged over 20 mph on any ride. I was hoping to change that for this ride and resolved that I didn't care if I finished DFL, I was there to push myself. I struggled with the decision of whether or not I should wear my new Evotri jersey that I'd gotten in the mail a couple of days earlier. Quite frankly, I was afraid that I would shame the team by wearing the jersey and knowing that I would very likely finish at the very bottom of the field. I decided to wear it.

Steve and I headed out to warm up. We know the area well since the Gear West Du is out there, and the TNT is part of Liberty's half-iron course. Steve explained some of the hills, some landmarks to be aware of, and a plan of attack. He also mentioned that they usually get started a little late (they start around 7 pm and let a new rider go every 30 seconds). I took that as meaning we had plenty of time and asked Steve to go just a little further before turning around on our 5 mile warm-up. That turned out to be a huge mistake. On our way back, we started seeing numbers that were getting very close to ours and realized that we weren't going to make our designated start times. Steve raced to the start line and got going right away (they calculate your overall time based on what your start time was supposed to be). I took a few seconds to rip off my long-sleeves, reset my computer, and GO!

I paid attention to what Steve had told me and tried not to blow up on the first hill. I took it fast but not out of control. I've never really tried to push myself this hard on the bike before and didn't know what to expect. I quickly realize that one granola bar before the race would have been fine. Two was too much, and my stomach revolted. A couple of miles in, I was shifting to get up a hill and dropped my chain. I don't know why. It wasn't stretched. I think I was just putting a little too much pressure on the pedals when I shifted. My bike is a little finicky like that. So, to summarize, after just a few miles, I had made the following mistakes: eating too much before the race, missing my start, and dropping my chain. Great. You'd think I'd never been on a bike before. I got passed by so many people but just kept riding as fast as I could. I saw Steve just before the halfway point. I shouted, "I love you!" which was my way of apologizing for making us late for the start. I felt terrible through the whole race knowing I had made such a silly mistake. At the turn around, I had just over a 20 mph average, but we turned into a wind on the way back. I kept pushing, but my average dropped to 19.6 by the time I hit the finish line.

Biking down the final hill to the finish line. I've got my hand ready to stop my watch.

Hitting the finishers' chute.

I was breathing hard when I finished. After I caught my breath, Matt and I stopped for a photo.

The aftermath on my leg. I'm not even sure how I got this - maybe when i dropped my chain?

Steve, Matt, and I traded war stories about our rides and went back out for another 10 miles or so to spin out our legs. I was pooped at that point and was hoping that my bad day on the course wasn't a sign of what was to come at Liberty. We discussed going to DQ vs Taco Bell, but Steve and I made a Subway stop on the way home instead.

We snapped this photo before hopping in our cars and heading home.
Final Thoughts:
* I didn't finish last! Somebody finished after me, even though my time was off. Using my actual time and not the late start time, I would have finished ahead of two whole people out there :)
* I still can't believe I made so many mistakes out there. Guess it just sets me up for a much better race next time.
* I know it sounds cliche, but I really am proud of myself for showing up to race in the first place. There are some pretty intimidating people out there.
* I cannot wait to get my new bike and wheels. I'm crossing my fingers that I'll get a chance to try them out on this course this summer. It will be interesting to see what a change in equipment does for my time. I'll still be at the bottom, but I know they will make some difference.
* No 20 mph for me this time. I'll keep it on the list of goals.
Stay tuned to see how my race at Liberty went...

Gear West Duathlon Race Report

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So I finally got a few minutes to sit down and write up my experiences at the Gear West Duathlon a couple of weeks ago. The race was actually on May 23, but then it was full speed ahead for my sister's wedding on the 29th.

I went in to the weekend really excited to finally be able to do the race myself but also realizing that this was not an "A" race. It was a "train straight through to the race" kind of week so that I would be better prepared for this coming weekend's Liberty half iron distance tri. Knowing this, I ran an easy 10 miler with my friend Maddy the day before the du. I was hoping that it wouldn't ruin my race, but I knew it would help my endurance for my half.

I have watched Steve and my brother Matt tag-team this race for the last couple of years, and the timing finally worked out so that I could do it too. From Steve's and Matt's past descriptions, I knew what I was up against - a hilly cross-country 5 K run followed by a hilly 28 K bike and another cross-country 4 K run. The course is known for being pretty brutal, and the competition there is fierce. It's not necessarily a race for beginners. Nevertheless, my good friend Jess had picked this race as her first. I had warned her in advance what to expect, and she showed up trained and ready to go.

Steve, Matt, and I arrived soon after transition opened up. We wanted to get some good spots, and we wanted to be have time to chat with all of the people we knew who would be racing. Jess showed up around the same time, and she and I set our stuff up next to each other. We went over how to lay your stuff out and how to pick a good spot in transition. Then we picked out landmarks that would help us find our stuff on the first run in and on the bike in (coming from 2 separate corners of transition).

We were in wave 4, so we got to watch the elite men, the elite women, the teams, and a few others start before us. Before we knew it, we were off!

The 1st Run:

I tried to settle into a good, hard pace. The first 1K was on asphalt, but the rest of the winding, hilly course was a mixture of grass, dirt, gravel, a little more asphalt, and wood chips. I remember thinking 2/3 into the first run that it really wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. I guess part of me was picturing the terrain from my 50K last fall - rocks, ruts, roots, and gravel. This run was much more normal. Don't get me wrong - it was still tough, and that bear of a hill at the end seems to go up forever! There were no mile markers on this course, so I was just going on feel. I came into T1 with a 26:49 5K (an 8:56 average) - right around where I should have been for that run.


In T1, I took off my socks, slid into my bike shoes, and I was out in 1:11. I know that messing around with my socks is not an efficient use of my time, but during a tri, I won't have to be taking them off and putting them on. I prefer to bike without them, and my feet turn to hamburger if I run without them, so off and on it is. I used the talc in my bike shoes this time around, and it worked SO much better.

The Bike:

I am not a strong biker. I never have been, but I knew that a 17 or so mile bike was going to be my shortest race distance for the rest of the year. I really wanted to break 18 MPH in race at Cannon a few weeks ago, but that nasty wind threw my plans out the window. So... goal of 18 for this bike it was. The bike course is hilly, but they are usable hills, and I've gotten a lot better at downhills in the last few years. I got passed by quite a few guys from the wave behind me, but there were only a couple of women who passed me on the bike. Overall, I probably did just as much passing as getting passed. I realized a few miles into the ride that my computer hadn't cleared properly when I reset it that morning, so my average and distance were both off. I reset it and just kept pushing. My run is in decent shape right now, and I was trying not to hold out out on the bike. I drank some NUUN/Carbo pro mixture and took in the scenery. The course is just beautiful out there, and Liberty shares parts of it, so I was taking notes. It wasn't long before we were heading back into town. I finished the hilly bike in a time of 54:49 (18.6 mph average). I met my goal!


I donned a new pair of socks, slipped on my running shoes, and booked it out of transition in 1:15. I felt great. Twenty feet or so after exiting transition, I heard, "Go Sarah!!" Steve had nearly missed me :) I guess it's a sign of a good race if your support group isn't really even looking for you to come in yet.

The 2nd Run:

There was a woman in a coral colored top that had passed me near the end of the bike. She was 50-100 feet in front of me coming out of T2, and I was gunning for her. I know I've mentioned this before, but my tempo runs with my brother have really taught me to run through a lot of pain. I was pushing hard. The second run is shorter than the first, but the part that they cut off is the flat asphalt part, so proportionally, it's harder. Slowly, I continued to gain on the woman in the coral top. I didn't know whether she was in my age group, but I knew I wanted to catch her. I was breathing really hard but feeling strong. All those feelings I'd had after the first run about it not being as bad as I'd expected disappeared. I was pushing, and it felt so much harder. The no mile markers threw me off a little, and every time I thought we were nearing the end, they'd send us back into the woods for more. I finally caught the woman in coral about a mile into the race. "You've been my rabbit through this whole run!" I told her. Then I whispered to her that we could both catch the woman in front of us, which we soon did. I had now passed both women and was determined not to let them catch me again. I fought my way up that final hill and kicked as hard as I could without looking back.

I held them both off for a time of 24:22 (9:12 avg for 4K). My final finishing time was 1:48:24. They took my chip. I looked behind me to see the woman in coral finishing. I thanked her for the push. We hugged and finally introduced ourselves. Her name is Julie.

I passed out on the ground catching my breath while talking to Steve and Matt like this for the next 5 minutes. I was spent!

After catching my breath, I chatted with Jumper and several other locals before walking to the top of the hill and waiting for Jess. It was only a minute later that I saw her emerging from the bushes, and I got a little emotional. She was about to finish her first multisport race! Jess powered up the hill and ran it in to the finish.

We hung out at the finish line enjoying some tasty food before packing up our stuff, watching the results and the drawing, and driving home for a well-deserved nap!

Final Stats:

Run 1: 26:49 248/380 overall, 61/134 women, 9/18 AG
T1: 1:11
Bike: 54:49 233/380 overall, 60/134 women, 7/18 AG
T2: 1:15
Run 2: 24:22 190/380 overall, 47/134 women, 8/18 AG
Final time: 1:48:29 218/380 overall, 51/134 women, 7/18 AG

Final Thoughts:

* I think all of the hill work I've been doing on the bike this spring is paying off. I felt good out there, and this was the first time I've ever done anything over 18 mph in a race.

* The woman in the coral top was in the age group above me. I was a little bummed to find this out at first. In overall time, she beat me by nearly 6 minutes. However, this means that she is significantly faster than me, and I still outkicked her on the second run. This realization made me happy :) I wasn't very excited about my time on the second run at first. Then I started looking at the numbers and realized that I did really well compared to much of the other field.

* The girl in the black top that I passed on the second run was in my AG. I beat her by 7 seconds. I'm realizing more and more that transition times really do matter. I couldn't have run any faster.

* I ran 10 miles the day before this race and didn't notice it at all in my legs. I'm hoping this is an indication of my overall fitness for my upcoming race.

* I ran this race in my trail shoes. I felt a little self-conscious at first. It seemed that everybody else was wearing racing flats or regular running shoes, but I was SO glad to have them for this race. The terrain was nasty at times. After the finish, a woman commented that she wished she would have had a pair out there!

* I am SO excited for Liberty in 5 days - first half of the year, 8th ever. Wish me luck!