Kelsey Noll

About Kelsey Noll

New Jersey native, UNC Chapel Hill Graduate Student, oatmeal enthusiast

Return to Lake Logan

They say “you never forget your first,” and I can verify that is certainly true when it comes to triathlons.

It felt like things had come full circle this year for me to return to Lake Logan Half, the race that was my first ever half iron four years ago. I very distinctly remember the experience of training for and racing this event the first time. The distances were daunting and my volume was higher than ever before. I was all kinds of excited and all kinds of terrified. Race day was full of successes but also mistakes; I over-biked and under-fueled, leading to one very painful and miserable run. After a 5:35 finish, I was equally exhausted and euphoric. Just over a month later, I was signed up for my next 70.3.

Fast forward 4 years, and I’m driving down the same roads to the same race site, feeling a lot of similar feelings. I’m excited and I’m nervous. But so much more has changed. I’m more comfortable and confident. I have more experience, more concrete plans, and much more ambitious goals.

I arrived at the race site early and got set up efficiently, with enough time to get down to swim in a not-last-minute-hectic-rush, which is a nice change for me. I jumped right into the lake, which was just as stunning as I remembered, and got in a warmup before lining up to start with my wave. We took off quickly, aided by a strong burst of early race adrenaline. I ended up swimming directly next to my teammate Tom for a bit before shifting over to catch a draft that I rode for almost the entire swim.

Many strokes later, we made it under the bridge, where the water temperature drops at least ten degrees to give you a nice chill before you finally haul yourself out of the water and onto the dock. I slipped out of my wetsuit and moved briskly through transition, and heard that I was the first woman as I hopped onto my bike.

That’s when I gave my first real, big smile of the day.

I was excited for this bike course. It’s hilly and dangerously beautiful – so much so that it’s easy to get overly excited and bike way too hard (I’m looking at you, 2015 self). I had a simple race plan to stick to target power numbers as best I could, accounting for modulation for climbs and descents. That was really the key for me: to race my own race. When I was passed by another woman 10 miles in, I just let her go and tried not to dwell on it. If I was going to beat her, it would have to be on the run. The rest of the ride was beautiful albeit uneventful; I saw a few other riders but otherwise was mostly alone on the course, steadily chugging along at my target power as the course climbed uphill through the second half.

After my second pass through transition, I started the run feeling pretty good. Soon I heard that I was 5:30 behind the leader, which felt like a lot of ground to make up. Again, I told myself that I needed to race my own race at my own pace, and either I was going to catch her or I wasn’t. Maybe I could take a risk later, but for now it was too soon – I needed to be patient.

I was surprised when I saw her in front of me only 4 miles in, and I made the pass not long after. That’s when I knew that, barring catastrophe, I could win the thing. At the halfway turnaround, I came up behind Tom and momentarily raced alongside him for the second time of the day. After some words of encouragement, I was off to finish the second half of the run on my own. By this point, I was hurting physically and mentally and definitely slowing down, but I forced myself to smile and grit it out – I had a solid lead but I didn’t want to get too complacent. After a few short eternities and not much else to note other than general suffering, I finally made it to the finish line, in just short of 5 hours.

In between gasps for breath, I was beaming.

Returning to the course where I raced my first ever half made this win especially meaningful. For me, it symbolizes so much of the progress I’ve made as an athlete. Physically and mentally, I’ve come a long way – and I’m still going.

Half Iron, Full Send

Hello and welcome to the second installment of “races I did in Tennessee because NC 70.3 was canceled” (see first installment here).

I was excited to make the trek back to Tennessee with both current and former teammates to race Chattanooga 70.3. I had a pretty strong build leading up to this race, featuring memorable workouts such as 3×20 min at threshold on the bike and an 18 mile long run (“Hey coach, people keep asking me if I’m training for a marathon…”). Still, I didn’t go into this race feeling totally confident in myself – lots of ups and downs happen in any training cycle and leave little seeds of doubt. But regardless, I approached the race with a positive attitude and a plan to get out there and just do my best, whatever that might be on the day.

My race plan was pretty simple: “have fun, go fast, don’t die.”

On race morning, we arrived to transition early to set up our gear, then boarded buses to take us to the swim start. With over an hour to kill before the start of the race, I took in some caffeine, got in a warmup jog, liberally applied lubricant all over my body, and got into my wetsuit before lining up for the rolling start. My teammates and I seeded ourselves towards the front, and even then it took over 20 minutes before it was finally our turn to descend the ramp and jump off the dock into the Tennessee River.

In the lead up to this race, whenever I’d have a bad training day in the pool, I’d remind myself that this swim course would be mostly downstream – so hey, swimming would barely matter, right? That turned out to be the case even more than I could have imagined! On race morning, the current was deemed too strong for us lowly age groupers, so following the pro wave the buoys were towed in and the upstream portion of the swim was cut out. That lead to an extra short, extra fast swim. Despite not having been able to warm up, I felt pretty good in the water. The rolling start meant it wasn’t too crowded, and I held a good steady effort while hopping onto anyone’s feet to draft whenever I had the opportunity. In just over 1300yds and just under 17 mins, we were already exiting the swim – I wasn’t kidding when I said short and fast!

I made the long run up to transition with a pitstop at the wetsuit strippers, and managed to totally run right past my bike. After a brief moment of confusion, I located my trusty steed and soon after we were on our way along the bike course.

The course starts out going through town before it really opens up into some nicer rolling countryside. It was definitely a little bumpy at times, with a fair number of railroad crossings (did someone say “Chattanooga Choo Choo?”) – I was grateful my water bottles stayed put the whole way since many others were not so fortunate. The first half is predominantly uphill, so I just tried to keep a steady, controlled effort and not burn out too early. The second half of the course felt like a reward, featuring some really lovely winding downhills that were just a treat to ride. When I started to get inside my head about hitting specific power targets, I just let those thoughts go and went by feel, which worked out for me – even with lower-than-planned watts, I came in with a faster split than I had anticipated.

I hopped off the bike and ran into transition feeling pretty solid, and managed to find my rack spot on the first try this time. At this point in the race, there was just one thing left to do – run 13.1 miles. Just 13.1 miles under the hot, Tennessee sun.

Despite my plan to take the run out relaxed and ease into it, the excitement of the crowd and the day lead me to breeze through the first few miles under my goal pace. That magic started to fade though, and I was left to face the heat, the hills, and the heaviness in my legs. It was a lot of grit that took me through the rest of that run course, desperately trying to keep myself moving when all I wanted to do was to stop or slow down. I was taking water, cold sponges, and ice at every aid station I could (special shoutout to the volunteer who dumped ice straight down into my sports bra). Miles 10-12 were a true ride on the struggle bus, but I did manage to find some fire within for a strong final mile and a big kick down the chute to the finish.

After catching my breath, walking around a bit, and taking advantage of an amazing free post-race massage, I picked up my phone and saw a slew of messages from friends who had been tracking me, congratulating me on my race. “TOP 10 OVERALL!!!!!” they said, and I was confused, thinking there was no way that could be right. Because of the rolling start, I hadn’t any idea where I was placed relative to my competitors over the course of the race. But despite my initial disbelief, my friends were correct – I finished 8th amateur female overall, and second in my F24-29 age group.

Other highlights of the day included strong finishes by my TMS IOS teammates Sloane and Tom and the solid pound of loaded french fries that I consumed post-race.

Until next time, Tennessee! 🤙


Swim – 16:48
T1 – 3:33
Bike – 2:33:46 (22.2 mph)
T2 – 2:17
Run – 1:36:06
Total – 4:32:30

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.

tenneesee_panorama

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.

tn splits

IMG_7513

Fun in the Sun at Beaverdam

After a disappointing swim cancelation at Collegiate Nationals, I was eager to do a triathlon that was, well, an actual triathlon. And so I was excited to find that Beaverdam was only two weeks later, and would indeed feature all 3 legs – what a concept!

A convenient local venue meant I got to sleep in my own bed the night before, which is always a plus. On race morning, after rushing around to set up transition despite the fact that I arrived early with “plenty of time to get ready,” I lined up for the start. Funnily enough, despite the face that I had signed up for this race primarily because of the swim, suddenly facing the 1500m course I wasn’t so excited to plunge into the water and get racing. Despite my qualms, the gun went off and the race was underway.

I ended up being quite comfortable in the water; the lake was pretty calm and a nice temperature for a wetsuit legal race. I drafted off a couple different fellow teammates early on before splitting off and navigating the rest of my way solo, doing my best to sight the far-away buoys as we headed straight into the sun.

Out of the water and onto the bike, I was the third female out of transition. The course was a rolling out and back that started and ended in the park; I’d speak to the scenery but to be honest I was a little more focused on my bike computer and the athletes ahead of me I was trying to chase down. I maintained a steady power output for most of the ride, until the end when I got to do a bit of freewheeling as we hit some vehicular traffic coming back into the park.

I had been nervous about the run since I had started looking at the race day weather forecast days beforehand. The forecast had called for heat and sun, and it certainly delivered. By the time I got out to the run course, despite it still being relatively early in the day, it was already getting quite toasty. Fortunately, the run course, which was a rolling double out-and-back, was at least partially shaded. I started the run in second place and felt good for about a mile until I hit some uphills and full sun. My non-heat-acclimated body rebelled and I started to slow down, slipping back into third place. I was grabbing ice and cold water at aid stations, but by the last couple miles I was really started to feel disorientated. Despite the struggle, I managed to hold things together enough to maintain my place and crossed the finish line with a podium finish.

Despite not feeling my best towards the end of the race, I still consider it a great wrap-up to my spring season. It was a blast to see all my other TMS-IOS teammates out on the course putting in work! I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the summer holds, and promising myself that I will be at least a little more heat acclimated for whatever comes next.

beaverdam