2022: Ten Years of Triathlon

As we enter into 2023, I had a realization the other day that 2022 marked 10 years of triathlon. My journey of triathlon started with a bet and a Groupon voucher for a race in Silverstone, Colorado. I showed up, had no clue what to do or even what to expect. My father proudly stood by my side and watched the suffer-fest begin…

I finished.

The Rocky Mountain Triathlon was a modified Olympic distance race (800m Swim, 20 Mile Bike, and 6.2 mile run). I got into the cold lake and experienced a shocking intro to triathlon. I don’t remember the temperature, but it wasn’t warm, a lake at high altitude in the Rockies. Yep.

Even though I had a timing chip, the race organizers didn’t have my swim time. I guesstimate it for around 20 minutes. I genuinely can’t remember and have zero recollection where I was in the pack. I was probably faster than that, but not by much. When I exited the water my dad was right there asking me how it was…I repeatedly answered: “F*ck, F*ck, F*ck” and ran to T1. I hated the swim.

I enjoyed the bike and then hung on for the run. I remember the ache in my quads when transitioning from the bike to the run (there was walking too). It was one of the first times I really felt that discomfort and didn’t know how to handle it. I also want to note, that I didn’t really have a structured training schedule. I was relying on pure grit and determination at that point.

I finished in a time of 2:43:10. If you think of a standard Olympic distance race, that time looks good, but you need to account for the fact that it was shorter. That lulled me into a false sense of security. A day after that race (might have even been the same day) I signed up for another triathlon, this time it was a true Olympic distance race. The post-race endorphin kick (or ‘high’) is a real thing.

Instead of racing at high altitude, I chose a race closer to Denver, still a mile high, but more to the climate I was used to. The first race was absolutely death by fire, so I did a bit more training for the second race, but really I just used the feeling of the first race to suck it up and show up to the second race, they were a month or less apart.

For this race, my mother flew in to watch me race. With one race under my belt I felt confident, except that I’d need a wetsuit for the reservoir swim. I rented a wetsuit (used it for 5 minutes in Boulder Reservoir in 93 degree heat) and then just showed up on race day. Ignorance really can be bliss.

The next Olympic race was the Rattlesnake Triathlon. My finish time was 3:29:43. This race featured a 1500m swim, 24.9 mile bike ride and 6.2 mile run. At this point in my life, I hated the swim. I love water, I’m an avid scuba diver, I just can’t swim laps or show any form other than that of a drowning rat. My splits were a 43:21 swim, 1:38:04 bike and a 1:05:33 run. The best part of that race were the people that I met. Off the back of that race I met Susan Yasuhara who would set me on a trajectory for success. She is still running Karma Multisport, an awesome group of female triathletes based in Colorado.

I finished two races on very little training. So, in my post-race endorphin explosion I signed up for a my first 70.3 in Haines City, Florida. At the time I was living in Colorado and committed myself to actually training. Signing up for a race is sometimes the motivation we need. I contacted Susan and began to work with her on my swimming. It was there that someone showed me a bit of technique and I had people to train with.

I had the motivation, but life threw a curveball at me. I was made redundant from my job, and I needed to change my life. I’m not one to sit on my heels, so I picked up and moved to the UK (without going into too much background, I had setup an LLC and started with some consulting before I was let go because of the circumstances around my job).

All the changes…

As I moved country and started my life anew. Everything around me was different: the food, how to train, the weather, cycling on the wrong side of the road. I did train with what I had in front of me. I lost my community that I had back in Colorado, but I kept in touch with Susan. I trained at the local leisure centre that had ONE swim lane, the rest of the pool was filled with old people doing breaststroke in a circle. I couldn’t keep up in the fast lane, so I often swam front crawl with the old folks. Boy was that fun.

I cycled to the offices that I was working from on occasion, getting lost, a lot. I bought my first Garmin bike computer (which after 10 years I still have and use) to navigate the twisty roads that change name for absolutely no reason.

Running was the easy part. I could run almost anywhere. This is also how I learned about nettles and even if you look for them before going to pee, they jump out and find you, I swear.

I flew back to the US for my race and my mother and stepdad were there, my mother brought her pom poms to cheer me on (read more about that here). I rented a bike that was the absolute wrong size for me, but I just shut up and got through the day.

I remember lining up for the swim. I was petrified. WTAF was I doing? How bad could this be? Oh crap, the 70 minute cut off!

The face of a petrified triathlete

I got through the day on pure grit and determination. My nutrition plan was a joke. I think I had a Hammer gel before the swim, I had mashed up PB and Banana on the bike (yep, that’s as appealing as it sounds), Hammer Endurance in my bottles, and Hammer gels for the run.

I finished in 6:51:36. My swim time was 49:26 (Getting through the well before the cut-off), I also swam over a disabled athlete that did not have any legs. Whoever you are, I am so so sorry. I had no idea what I was doing and I am forever haunted by not knowing how to sight and move around people). My bike time was 3:20:34 and my run was 2:33:13. I finished that is all that mattered.

Finisher photo from my first 70.3 in Haines City

Time to Figure Out How to Triathlon

In 2014, I had signed up for Ironman Lanzarote 70.3 (another half Ironman) and had also relocated to another town. I found a local tri club and began training with people. The group effort was great, it got me to club sessions (spin sessions, run and swim sessions), it was the boost that I needed. Training in a group helps push your speed.

While I enjoyed training with those people, I also made a lot of friends. I needed more structure. I also said I would never do an Ironman and in 2015 I had signed up not for 1 Ironman, but TWO. Yes, TWO (there was lots of alcohol involved in that decision).

I changed clubs, moving to my current club, Berkshire Tri Squad and then after another couple years I got a coach. Someone to put together a structured training plan and to delegate what types of sessions I should do. I should probably write a blog on how to choose a coach and the benefits, but I’ll sum it up. I delegate the planning and structure of my training cycles, I have someone who tells me to gear it down when I’ve pushed too much or kick me in the butt when I need more encouragement. They know the science, I just need to show up and do it. For me, a coach really works. I currently am coached by Richard Laidlow, he’s the right personality fit for me, and I love his style. I grumble and sometimes curse him during certain sessions, but I have to trust his plan (and I have severe trust issues to begin with). Richard gets results. For me, consistency in training is my downfall. There are many factors for that (health, work, life), but that’s why I love the challenge.

Every season brings forth new challenges, I set myself new goals and enter new races. It’s learning about my body, its limits and how far I can push myself.

In my 10 years of triathlon I have worked with nutritionists, coaches, clubs, physios, engaged in yoga and Pilates classes, foam rolling, acupuncture, chiropractors, swim coaches, run coaches, and bike fits. It really isn’t a solo sport, it takes a team of people to help you learn your body, how it performs and how to improve yourself.

Still Clueless

What makes triathlon enticing for me is wanting to always be faster, get stronger and beat myself. Yes, I’d love to place higher in my age group, but really I am racing myself. I am also going to say that it’s pretty much impossible to compare your races. Different terrain, different weather, road conditions, wind, hormone cycles, nutrition during the race, fatigue, etc the list goes on… The takeaway is that it’s impossible to compare different races due to so many factors. However, in the few races that I’ve raced more than once, that is a great measurement of my progress.

Personally, I like to use my power and output (and pace) to help measure myself against myself. My training has vastly changed and each race has a different priority for me. For example, in 2022 my ‘A’ race with Ironman Frankfurt (read the blog on that here). Everything else was just training. I completed a half Ironman/middle distance effort in training, but it wasn’t a race. I also completed a metric Ironman as part of my training (2.4k swim, 112k bike and 26.2k run) leading up to my race day. Those are check in points, not races. I am only competing against myself, but most importantly, I only have me to talk to on those days and it’s purely about mental toughness and nutrition practice for my ‘A’ race. I also picked up a few races just to be around people and blow out some cobwebs in my head. For me, a spontaneous race tests where my own fitness level is at and it’s just for fun. No expectations, just go out and give it hell.

Comparing the Numbers

I love stats and numbers. So I’ve put together some current stats and comparisons. It’s important to not dwell on the past, but for me I like to see how I’ve progressed on my journey, because I know the difference is how I FEEL on race day:

In 10 years of triathlon I have completed:

  • 5 Ironmans
  • 15 Half Ironmans (official races – this does not count the distance completed in training or club ran events that are not sanctioned)
  • 14 Olympic Distance triathlons
  • 6 Sprint Distance races
  • 5 Duathlons
  • Countless running races, trail races, marathon swims, time trials, cyclo-cross, and cycling sportives.
  • I’ve podiumed and reach the top of my age group in various races, competed in the IM 70.3 World Champs, but I’ve never placed first female overall…yet.

Looking at the times from the Rattlesnake Olympic distance triathlon (my first actual Olympic race) to Windsor Triathlon from 2022 (my most current Olympic distance race):

 Total TimeSwimSwim SplitBikeBike SplitRunRun Split
Rattlesnake Tri3:29:4343:212:53/100m1:38:0415.3mi/hr1:05:3310:34min/mile
Windsor Tri2:49:0028:231:53/100m1:14:3519.8mi/hr55:108:56min/mile
Windsor Tri (2022) vs Rattlesnake Tri (2012)

The races were completely different, so really, I can’t compare them, but I am going to. I raced Windsor as a last minute entry and didn’t train for it. It was off the back of my Ironman training, I needed a training session around others and a bit of a confidence boost before my big race.

The swim: I have gone from a nervous and tentative swim pace, to being able to swim in a river with about 1/3 of the race AGAINST the current. Even looking at my CSS and training times in the pool, my swimming is massively different. I didn’t have a swim capable watch back in 2012, but I can tell you that now, I can comfortable swim 3k three times a week.

The Bike: The weather and road conditions are completely different. I also invested in a TT bike and cycle with a lot more ease. At Windsor Tri this year there was a hefty head wind, a road filled with potholes and people that missed the turn off trying to take me out at the same time. I held that pace comfortably despite the conditions and I’ve really learned how to hold that power. I learned strength on the bike and how to hold a certain power. I also found that my legs loosen up on the bike and how to embrace the heart rate changes transitioning from the swim onto the bike.

The run: My run is not near where I want it. I’ve faced injuries, other health issues and it’s become my weakness. This is an area of focus for me in 2023. I know it will take time, consistency and patience (not sure where to find patience, but that’s where I have to just trust the process and my coach).

I learned this past year that zone 2 training is key (albeit boring at times), but my endurance efficiency was awesome this season and I was able to push my limits without any specific ‘Olympic distance’ training.

My half ironman improvement is where I keep chasing, it’s the race distance that I enjoy the most. I am comparing my first HIM to my Cotswold HIM, as the courses are the most similar amongst my races of recent. This past year I opted for a very hilly HIM (Zell am See, Austria), so it’s near impossible to compare them.

 Total TimeSwimSwim SplitBikeBike SplitRunRun Split
Haines City 70.36:51:3649:262:36/100m3:20:3416.75mi/hr2:33:1311:41min/mile
Cotswold 1135:42:1634:371:49/100m2:53:0219.42mi/hr2:13:5410:13min/mile
Cotswold 113 Finish

Again, these races are very different, but both took place in sunny weather and were fairly flat. The Cotswold 113 was not as hot as the Haines City race, but it was warm and sunny for the UK and race day temps were probably 5-6 degrees Celsius apart from each other, both races took place over 24 degrees Celsius.

The Swim: I have made major gains in the space. Swimming efficiency has vastly improved. I enter the water confident, knowing that it’s the shortest and easiest part of the day (the water is cool, and you can float your way to the exit). Despite hating swimming, I have started to enjoy it and find it cathartic. I’ve gone from swimming like a 3 legged water buffalo, to learning to glide and become more efficient. Gaining time in the swim is tough, but efficiency and fitness I have learned to be crucial

The Bike: Very different bike set ups, but I’ve learned to get comfortable and aero on the bike. On the day of the Cotswold race, I lost about 5-6 mins at a toilet stop, just missing my sub 2:45 bike cut-off. I need to learn to hold a higher power on the bike, and get just a little bit more uncomfortable, but not too much so I don’t overbake my cookie for the run.

The run: This is where I need to improve. It was a poor run in the Cotswold race, there was some walking and run fitness issues.

The Cotswold race was in 2020, I was home, not traveling and my consistency increased. But… this was at the time of Covid. I was swimming in rivers, cycling a lot and running pretty well. This was a turning point in the relationship I had had with my previous coach. He was VERY conservative in my training as the world was pretty uncertain on the impact of Covid, immunity and training. In 2020, a few weeks before my race, I changed coaches (not to my current one either).

I can honestly look at my power data now and get more information of how I am cycling versus just a pace. How I train has changed and the metrics I use to measure success has also changed. I am going to keep chasing my goals and put in the hard work. This is my second season with Richard and I trust his methods. I am also conscious that various health issues have changed how I train.

I’m looking forward to the next few years in my triathlon journey. I don’t know how long I can keep doing this, but I’m going to enjoy it all while I can.

Moving Forward

Whenever people say to me ‘I wish I could do that!’ Well, you can. You can absolutely complete a triathlon, never say never. It is just a matter of how much want it to hurt, or not. 😊  I have learned to embrace the suck. Find the training style that works for you. It is a journey, sometimes we have small successes, and that is okay.

Start small, find a race, sign up and enjoy it. Learn from the experience and take on your next challenge.

And yes, I still have my finishers’ t-shirt from The Rocky Mountain Tri

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