Adventures in Triathlon

Multisport as art and science

Thoughts on Iron Girl Columbia

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I have done the Iron Girl Columbia Sprint race three years in a row now. Each year my time has improved. My training, though, really hasn’t improved. My training consistency, while a lot better than my blogging consistency, is totally haphazard and lacks any true focus. I keep telling myself I will train based on a structured plan but I haven’t managed to realize that goal. Fortunately, I have been able to improve my triathlon abilities over the last few years simply by running, biking, lifting weights, and (very) occasionally swimming. Here’s a play by play of my Iron Girl Columbia 2011 race.

Iron Girl Columbia Race Report

The weather started out just fine as I drove to Centennial Lake at 5:30am to set up my transition area. As I pumped up my tires and debated the exact configuration of cycling shoes, running shoes, helmet, sunglasses, etc on the towel I thought to myself how nice it would be to finally have a race in this venue where my shoes won’t be soaked from the rain. Every time I race I feel a bit nervous about leaving transition because I wonder what I have forgotten and how that will effect my race. I couldn’t figure out anything wrong, other than my crappy bike rack location. It truly was crappy. Way over to the edge of the row and far from the bike exit and return. Last year I had a really nice bike position, very close to the aisle. I guess I was due for some bad luck in this respect. I thought about the rack position and wondered what I could do to speed up my transitions despite the location. It occurred to me that many triathletes start the bike with their shoes already clipped in and skip socks altogether. I knew I couldn’t try the shoes clipped in without some practice, but I toyed with the idea of going sock-less. I wandered around the start area, taking in the scene of hundreds of women and their friends and families, I started to feel some sprinkles. I called the hubs to suggest he bring an umbrella. Not a moment later, the sprinkles became a downpour and I took some cover under one of the club tents. It wasn’t just a downpour but it was a thunderstorm. A check of the radar on my iPhone showed that we were right under an isolated thunderstorm. It would pass before the start, but it was going to delay things a bit. That actually turned out to be good for me because my family was going to be cutting it close and likely to miss my start time. They made it in plenty of time and I didn’t have to worry about where to stash my tri bag (with my phone in it!).

When I started seeing orange swim caps clustering by the start area I said goodbye to my family and headed over. The pre-race nerves started setting in… We entered the water and began treading. And treading. And treading. It seems like the Iron Girl waves are really far apart. I also was one of the first into the water because I wanted to get a decent start position. I ended up starting pretty much at the front and fairly far left. This was close to an ideal start location for me. We took off and a handful of strong swimmers immediately cruised right past me. I settled in to a good rhythm quickly and it didn’t take me long to reach the purple swim caps ahead. I didn’t get passed much more by women in my age group and spent most of the swim trying to dart around purple and then pink swim caps. I felt good and I had a feeling this was a much better swim than in past years. I emerged from the water and started jogging towards transition. I heard my name and looked over, excited to see my family cheering me on!

In to transition, where’s my bike again? Oh yeah, way the hell over. There it is. Now’s the time to decide between taking the time to put on socks or risking something I’ve never practiced. The full racks of bikes and the knowledge that my swim was nice and strong was enough to convince me to shave off a bit of time and skip the socks. More on that later. I pulled on my shoes, helmet, and glasses, grabbed my bike, and started running. You have to run up a pretty steep hill with your bike to get to the bike out area. I hate this part! I made it and I didn’t slip, even though the grass was wet. I mounted my bike and started pedaling. When I got out onto the road I got into my big gear and began to pass the slower people from the previous waves. I was a bit tentative on the wet roads. I turned the corner to begin the first big descent and as I headed down the hill a woman from my age group flew past me. That cured me of my tentativeness! I’m not used to getting passed on the bike at Iron Girl! I knew it would probably happen, especially since my new age group is super competitive, but that doesn’t mean I have to take it lying down! From that point on I was more aggressive on the bike. I reveled in the fact that I was catching up with this girl on the uphills, but she would regain her lead pretty much every time we were headed down again. It wasn’t until one of the last fairly big hills that I overtook her going up and she wasn’t able to catch me. I think a couple of other very fast women passed me and there was one woman from an earlier wave who leapfrogged with me for a while, passing me on the downs and losing ground up the hills). Overall I felt like I had a good bike ride. My Garmin told me I was under an hour, which is about where I had wanted to be. Next year, I want that to be several minutes faster!

Now back into the transition area, again irritated by my rack location, but heartened that I didn’t see any other bikes around. Momentary thoughts of putting on socks. Nope, just pull on the race belt and running shoes and head out. As always, I felt like crap starting the run. I tried to do some bricks this year in training, but that pretty much consisted of riding the exercise bike in the gym and following that with a mile on the treadmill. Better than previous years, but not enough to get me used to running off a hard bike ride. Do you ever get used to it? Especially when you’re not a strong runner in general?

The trail winds around Centennial Lake and is open during the race to anyone who wants to use it. In previous years when my wave left later in the morning I have had plenty of other runners all around me. This year I left the transition area and started around the trail with nobody else racing near me. I passed a few people out there for a walk or with their dogs. I passed a volunteer pointing me in the right direction at a fork. But for the first mile I saw only one other Iron Girl participant. For me that was very hard. I rely on the high level of support and encouragement from the pack to keep my spirits up on my least favorite leg. The swim is a completely individual effort. You’re submerged in water with just your own thoughts to move you along mentally. The bike is fast and furious and always exciting for me. But the run is just hard for me. I want to be able to see everyone else fighting their own fights, smile at them, encourage them, soak up their good spirits and the encouragement many share with me. I didn’t like being alone. At the water stop at mile 1 at least the volunteers were there to cheer me on. I keep going, but felt like my run was super slow.

I made it to the first big hill (Gatorade Hill) and slowly dragged myself up. I reached the top, where the water stop is always full of cheering supporters and volunteers. Just what I needed! At this point the course backtracks so I was finally seeing a bunch of other racers (who were on their back in from a little offshoot in the course). I always get passed on the run, but even though I felt very slow I didn’t see too many of my age group pass me. I just slogged on through and ran my own race. Up another hill, then down, then up up up the big long return up Gatorade Hill. The woman in front of me was wearing the same tri suit as I was. Too bad I couldn’t possible stop my heavy breathing long enough to say something to her about wearing the same dress to the party as I passed! Finally to the top of the hill and for the first time I stopped to walk through the water stop and take a drink and catch my breath. I knew I still had close to a mile to go, but that the worst was behind me. I still felt pretty awful, though, and couldn’t bring myself to pick up my pace. My least favorite part of the run is the section close to the end where you leave the woods and go around the edge of the lake. It tends to be windy and you can see how far you still have to go. For some reason I find it discouraging. It feels hard, even though I’m not sure why. When I got to the other side of the lake I reached the crowds. Much better! Except that there’s a hill at the end. A small one, but it feels huge. Everyone was yelling for us and saying this was it, the last hill, then we’d be done. I was slow, so very slow up that hill. Then as I turned the bend to the straightaway towards the finish I heard my family yelling my name. I didn’t really get to wave or say hello because a woman in my age group passed me. That close to the end I wasn’t about to take it lying down and I immediately kicked into a sprint. I passed her and she took off as well. We raced to finish. She was stronger than me and had more strength left. She made it about a second before me. She definitely earned that spot! I got my medal and let them take my chip, then found my family. I was still trying to calm down my breathing. The wet towel they handed out at the finish felt wonderful and I enjoyed the most delicious ice cold sparkling tangerine beverage (called R.W. Knudsen Spritzer). I felt fine after a few minutes and spent the rest of the day waiting for them to post results. The overall times were posted later in the day and the full split times appeared a couple of days later.

Age Group: Female 35 – 39
Time: 1:53:12
Overall Place: 55 / 1633
Age Group Place: 9 / 278
Swim: 20:11
T1: 2:17
Bike: 58:36
T2: 1:27
Run: 30:42

Iron Girl 2011 Finisher's Badge

I’m happy with my performance, but I am going to challenge myself to structure next year’s season around the Columbia Triathlon in May and the Iron Girl 2012 Sprint in August of next year. I’m going to get some kind of help in creating a training plan, and I’m going to join a training group to make sure that I have some accountability. I’ve already got the buy-in from the hubs to figure out how we can work the training group sessions into our schedule.

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Written by lieberwoman

August 28, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Posted in Goals, Race Reports

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