Tough Women take on Tennessee

I am pleased to say that I got to end my season on a high note this year at the Tennessee Toughman Half. To be completely honest, this race wasn’t even on my radar until a few weeks ago when NC 70.3 was canceled due to damage from Hurricane Florence. How relieving it was to find another half on the same weekend within driving distance! Clearly a lot of other former NC 70.3 athletes felt the same; the race had a strong presentation of other last minute registrants. The race director and crew put on a great race that didn’t leave me feeling like I was “missing out” compared to an IM-branded race.

Myself and two other teammates arrived in Knoxville a couple of days before the race, with plenty of time to scope out the course and get situated. I’d be lying if I said my nerves weren’t firing up at this point. This was my A race for the season and I had put a lot of pressure on myself to do well here; I have been feeling the fittest and the fastest I’ve ever been, and I really wanted something to show for it.

On race morning we woke up to chilly air temperatures and a light rain, which would continue throughout the day. After sleepily downing breakfast, we made the drive to the race site. The ride was less than 30 minutes, but I was wishing it could have been longer so I wouldn’t have to get out of the warm, cozy car. Our gracious sherpa dropped us off right by transition, where we unloaded all of our gear and picked up our packets. We were some of the first to arrive, which ensured us prime real estate since the rack spots were a free-for-all. In the light of my headlamp, I got most of my gear set up before heading out for a quick spin on the bike.

I immediately noticed that my front brake was slightly rubbing, which had not been an issue at all in the days prior. Concerned about tinkering on race morning, I brought my bike over to the on-site mechanic. The mechanic fiddled and fiddled, but my brake was only getting worse as he worked on it. I started to feel a bit of panic at this point – I had put so many months of preparation into this race, was it really going to be derailed by a mechanical issue before it even started? The start of the race was encroaching, so I left my bike behind and scrambled to get into my wetsuit. With less than 10 minutes before my wave start, I ran back up to the mechanic and saw him running towards me with my bike – “IT WORKS GREAT NOW!” he shouted as we made the hand off, and I thanked him graciously as I ran back to quickly rack it and get down to the swim start.

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Much to my advantage, the race start ended up being delayed about 10 minutes, which gave me enough time to do a short swim warmup and orient myself to the course. I found my teammates and we all said our final “good lucks!” before our wave was released. Despite the fact that we did not start near one another, within the first 100m I found myself tucked into a draft right on the feet of my teammate Cath. To sweeten the pot, Cath was riding the heels of another swimmer in front of us. Riding this draft train kept me focused and motivated throughout the swim, and I stayed right behind Cath for the entire two-loop course. She was quick to call me out later for how much I was slapping her feet at times… sorry, Cath! I am not a subtle drafter.

It was just a quick run up from the swim to transition with a pitstop at the wetsuit strippers (insert wetsuit stripper appreciation here). Less than a minute later I was on my bike riding away. The bike course was a T shape, with two loops along the upper bar of the T. The stem of the T, which we started and ended on, had some pretty steep hills. The road was beautiful and winding, and I’m sure it would have been quite fun on a dry day, but the wet roads had me playing the descents fairly conservatively. Once the course turned to the top of the T, we were actually on a fairly large two-lane highway. I was little concerned about this when we had been driving the course the day prior, but the road had a huge shoulder and traffic was minimal on a Sunday morning. This part of the course was just gently rolling, and it sure felt fast – I ended up really enjoying it despite the wind and the rain and the cold. I couldn’t feel my feet, but my legs were holding up their end of the bargain well enough. Approaching the first turnaround I looked for other women, I realized that I was in second place behind Cath – there were no other women ahead of us. Despite some volunteers telling me to go chase her down, I focused on racing my own race and pacing as I had planned. I made sure to keep fueling and hydrating throughout, which is easy to forget when the weather is grim, and came off the bike feeling prepared to run.

During T2 I really got an appreciation for how difficult it is to take off a helmet and put on socks and shoes when you can’t feel your fingers or your feet. After an embarrassingly long struggle with these tasks, I finally made it onto the run course. The course was a double-out-and-back, decently hilly but nothing too extreme. Early on, I tried to be patient and let my run legs come under me. By the end of the first mile, I started to feel pretty good and worked my way into the lead. From there, I let my legs do the thinking and went along for the ride. It was just one of those magical days where everything comes together; I felt strong and was even more energized by all the support I got on the course from other athletes cheering me on. Not to mention that while the mid-50s, overcast, rainy weather had been unpleasant on the bike, it was downright perfection for running. And well-stocked aid stations (with competent volunteers) were every mile, which made it easy to keep up with nutrition and hydration. As I got towards the end of the run, I realized that I was on track not just to win the race, but to beat my open half marathon PR and well exceed my time goal for the whole event. That realization was enough fire to keep me going strong through the finish, even as my legs started to really feel the burden of the effort.

In the end, despite the fact that the weather was grim, my bike almost didn’t make it transition, and it wasn’t even the race we had originally signed up for, the Tennessee Toughman ended up being exactly the race I wanted it to be.

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Ironman Chattanooga Race Report.

Ironman Chattanooga Race Report. Completed my 5th Ironman Distance event. I’ve learned a lot in the 2 Ironmans I did this year. After my first Ironman in 2015, I set a goal to do at least 1 Ironman a year, get stronger/faster and learn a lot to be ready to put it all together in 2019 when I move up to the next Age Group. Despite having my 2 slowest* Ironmans ever this year, I feel like I’m right on track. The big takeaway from this race was that I think I nailed my nutrition, finally! When I finished the race, they asked if I needed to go to medical and I said: No, I’m fine. It was a nice way to finish the race…followed by a big hug from my Mom (Valerie Lehr) & brother (Jeff Lehr)!!

Hamstring: Since straining my left hamstring on September 1st, I’ve had numerous PT sessions & dry needling (both in North Carolina at The Running PTs) & in Ohio) done to try to get it in shape to run the marathon. I rested it some and did elliptical “runs” too. Tried a longer run on Sept 13th, but had to stop running just before Mile 15 because of soreness. More PT & Dry needling, rest & elliptical “Runs”. A week before the Ironman, I rode 2 hours and then attempted a brick run. Had to stop 1 mile in due to soreness. That didn’t give me a great feeling about running an Ironman in a week after a 116 mile bike!! It’s possible it was sore due to dry needing 2 days before. The week before the race, I enjoyed my taper. Also had a 2 hour massage that ended up going to 3 hours by Lynn at Seoul 2 Soul Massage Therapy. She was AWESOME and really helped/stretched me. I ended my therapy the Friday before the race in Chattanooga with a light/laser treatment that is supposed to reduce inflammation & I also had them apply KT tape to help limit the stretching of the hamstring during the run. I wasn’t optimistic in being able to run the full marathon after an 116 mile bike, given I had to stop the training runs and that it hurt only after a mile run a week before the race. But surprise, surprise…it held up the whole race! Thanks for all the prayers & well wishes. They worked! 

Titanium-man

clavicle2018 wasn’t the year I was expecting. This year, I had two bike crashes and some complicated injuries as a result. The first crash brought about an inflamed (possibly torn?) hip labrum and a broken rib. The second crash was even worse, and resulted in a broken clavicle requiring surgery and 3 broken vertebrae. Both crashes seemed like flukes, but in an instant, my plans, training, and goals all drastically changed.

In times of an injury or forced time off, it’s too easy to feel like you’re falling behind. I’ve been there before; I think many athletes have. I didn’t want to let myself go down that rabbit hole again. I could have written a whole blog post on what I went through for each injury. Being forced out of the sport for most of the year, I’ve learned a lot. In some ways have a new appreciation of triathlon. I thought about sharing this new view in a blog post, but it didn’t feel organic. I realized that everyone has their own views, goals, and desires for sport, and to share my ‘enlightened’ view felt too preachy.

Instead, I want to extend gratitude for all those in the sport who helped me in ways I couldn’t have planned on. I instinctively wanted to retreat and not acknowledge triathlon. After all, it’s hard watching people achieve your goals. But after discussions with other TMS-IOS athletes, employees at Inside Out Sports, my coach (Dave, of Triangle Multisport), and the kind folks at FS Series, I realized that almost everyone had stories like mine. No one wants to get injured; but the reality of it is if you do the sport long enough, crashes and injuries happen. Time doesn’t stop moving – injuries heal, training resumes, fitness comes back, and everything will work out. The most experienced and successful triathletes I know have all gone through a time like this, and hearing their stories (some a lot worse than mine) gave me confidence that I will be just fine.

And so, I look forward to next year. I am looking forward to having fun getting back into the sport and training with such a good group of teammates and being back in the triathlon community.

New Baby, New Races

Pushing a baby stroller is a great way to stay in shape, apparently. That is the only explanation as to why I was able to maintain any semblance of fitness throughout this year. Prior to my son being born I was able to train on my own time table. I could easily fit in long rides and run with friends throughout the week. Not this year! I knew this was going to be the case and, as such, determined sprint triathlons would be the best option for me this year (well apart from the beer-mile which is perfectly suited for me).

There will be a common theme throughout these quick race recaps: the swim was terrible, the bike was tolerable, and the run was painful. Add up those ingredients up and it makes for a fun race!

Season Results:

NC Beer Mile – 24th OA

Rex Garner – 1st OA

Rex Wakefield – 4th OA

Rex Knightdale – 1st OA

YMCA Wrightsville Beach – 8th OA

NC Beer Mile:

I entered this race having done three previous beer miles. I might have forgotten about how painful these races are! Four beers in 7:34 is not my typical drinking pace. My wife and son came to watch the race so IMMEDIATELY after the race it was time to go home and put my son to bed. This becomes a struggle when a wave of beer flushes over your nervous system the second you get out of the car from the ride back home. Needless to say, my wife thought I was less than helpful that night!

Rex Garner:

My parents were in town for this race so it is always fun to race with family supporting you. This race was in July. I had not swum one stroke since September. I was a little scared of what would happen even during a 250m pool swim. My worst fears were realized when I flipped at 150m in to the swim. My back was DONE. The rest of the swim seemed like a doggy paddle that took forever. Sign number one that not training is not the way to get fast. The bike is a straight forward out-and-back route that takes you over some rollers. I had a blast seeing all of my teammates out on the course since they were all so far ahead of me after the swim. I knew my only chance at these races was to chase everybody down on the bike and run so I just gunned it from the beginning. My bike time was slower than the year before but the effort was much higher. Again, training apparently is important when it comes to racing! Finally, we got to the run and my legs showed up! It was the first time I had run hard in a few months and most certainly the first time I had run without pushing a baby stroller in a few weeks. I felt as if I was running on clouds without the added weight of my son slowing me down. With the race only being a two-mile run, I knew I could push the pace and hang on.

Rex Knightdale:

I had not done this race before so the course was new to me. I looked at the course map online and decided it was simple enough and that I would just “hammer it out” and hope for the best. That was a mistake. This course had many more turns and hills than Garner did. It was fun and fair but I wish I had driven the course at a minimum. The swim was even worse than my previous race! My back decided after 100m it was done so my swim time ballooned and my heart rate followed! I tried to push on the bike and run but my body never recovered from the abomination that occurred in the pool. I was happy to start my run prior to Dwayne finishing his run. This, however, was the first race I was at that the IOS-TMS team showed up in full force. The team had a great day as we had five of the first six men and two of the top four women!

Rex Wakefield:

A swim finally was not a complete disaster! I seeded myself higher in this race to avoid the pool zombies (triathletes who start walking during the swim portion) and it worked! I made it to the 200m mark before my back decided to quit on me! I am not proud to admit it but I was thrilled to have made it that far. It is wild what a difference a positive attitude can have on an entire race. Since I had seeded myself higher, I expected to be able to catch the front of the race during the bike portion. The legends, Dave Williams and Marty Gaal, were both having great races up front and kept a gap on me the entire bike leg. From my experience at Knightdale, I knew the importance of nailing my transitions in such a short race. I made it my goal to have a quick transition and get on to the run as quickly as possible. As I was running out of T2 I put my hat on and started to clip my race belt when it snapped. I had to stop, turn around, and tie it in a knot around my waist before starting to run again. This blimp in the race actually helped fire me up and jump started what was a very good run for me.

YMCA Wrightsville Beach Triathlon:

I was VERY nervous about this race. Not only do total studs show up to race but it also has a 1,350m swim! How in the world was I going to survive that? Hurricane Florence took care of that for me. However, it also took care of my strongest portion, the bike, as well. Hurricane Florence caused massive flooding and damage throughout the area and as such the race organizers were using the race as a community building event. They collected goods and donations for those impacted by the storm and also gave the families a chance for normalcy by hosting the 5K portion of the triathlon as a standalone event. It was great to be able to take part in the race even though this was my first open 5K since high school cross country! I always swore I would never race one again but I had to make an exception under these circumstances. The weather was perfect and the course was fun. I was able to maintain a very consistent pace and finish my season on a high note.

Time for beer and rest. On to big things in 2019!

Thank You!

Throughout my many years of training and racing triathlons (this year was my 28th consecutive season!), I’ve had many great training buddies, unforgettable teammates, and made countless friends. In general terms, this year was no different. But, on the other hand, there were some stark contrasts.

For several reasons, before this season I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to race and, after two years of very little training, came into it in the worst shape of my life. But, after finding out in April that I was going to be staying in the area, I was excited to start thinking about trying to jump in some races. In addition, I’ve struggled with a very painful hip issue for numerous years which made running difficult. However, when Monette asked me to run with her as she started to get back into it after several years off herself, I noticed that if I ran at a pace that felt really slow I could run more often and relatively pain-free. Yes, I know this sounds obvious, but I had to learn the hard way, I guess. While I could go out and average sub-7 pace, I wouldn’t be able to walk normally for days afterwards if I did so. I let go of the ego, or as much as I could, of running faster and embraced being able to do what I could without pain and while staying healthy. No, I didn’t miraculously run faster at races. Not by a long shot. But, I was able to enjoy training runs more and get outside more often, which I always appreciate.

That leads me into the big difference this year. I’ve always had a blast training for all three disciplines, and that hasn’t changed, except possibly that I appreciate the gift of being able to do what I do even more so than before. What is different, though, is that I didn’t stress about my own workouts at all, choosing instead to take advantage of training with friends and teammates whenever possible. Don’t get me wrong. I did put some great work in, especially on the bike. But my goal was more about enjoying the time with whoever I was with, soaking in the sunrise or new route, sticking with and supporting a friend who may be struggling during a workout, and embracing the occasional stoppage when someone wanted to chat in the pool, rather than making sure I was training as hard as I could/should be or doing whatever workout I felt was best for me personally. And, do you know what? It was so much fun!

As for racing, it was a similar story. I went to one race at the last second simply because a friend asked if I wanted to go down with him. And, at every race that I did, I was reminded of how lucky I am to have friends and teammates that make this stuff so enjoyable. As an example, I had what I’d call one of my worst races ever at nationals after hoping to bring back some old magic. But, when I think back on that weekend, that’s not what comes to mind. No, instead I first remember meeting up with an old friend and his family, my teammates and clients crushing it on the course, and hanging out before and after the race. Each race was a similar story in terms of the fact that what I remember most is sharing the experience with familiar and friendly faces.

The team aspect of the UNC Triathlon Team and the Triangle Multisport-Inside Out Sports Team made this year very special for me during a season that I didn’t know was even going to happen. I wish to extend a heartfelt and sincere THANK YOU to everyone involved, to everyone that joined me in a workout, to the race directors, such as our sponsor FSSERIES, that put on amazing events, to the phenomenal athletes on the team that continue to inspire me, and to our amazing sponsors that offer much appreciated support. You all are amazing. You make me realize how extraordinarily lucky I am. Let’s keep it going!