Sara Larson

About Sara Larson

I am a native South Carolinian that moved up “North” after college. I met my soon to be husband,Tom, when I moved to Chapel Hill and have been here ever since. We now have 3 awesome children that keep me busy along with coaching xc, swimming, track and field, and triathlon. I have dabbled in the sport of triathlon since 2003 (in between pregnancies) but decided to take things more seriously in 2011. This is my fifth year on the TMS-IOS elite team and I have enjoyed every year. It is fun to train, race and support the Triangle community of triathlon with this group of folks.

Sampson County Supersprint

FS Series puts on some of my favorite races! This was my second time racing in Clinton, NC with FS. It is a small town with big charm and friendly faces. Our race packets included handmade drawings from local children. Nice touch! Thankfully, this was an indoor pool swim because the air temperature was around 39 degrees that morning. It was just a tad chilly coming out of the pool to the transition area. I was glad that I took the time to throw on a jacket before heading out on the bike course. Despite the cold temperatures, I had a blast racing and getting to cheer on fellow teammates and friends. Thanks again for a fun race FS Series!

Specialized Turbo Cotton!

I recently received the weekly email from Inside Out Sports where Cid Cardoso recommended Specialized Turbo Cotton tires. I have a full ironman coming up in 3 weeks, so I decided to go ahead and give them a try. Yesterday, I did my last long ride on the new tires, and I agree with Cid. These are indeed “special” tires. They provide a smooth ride with very little rolling resistance. Thanks for the tip Cid. And thanks to Cory at IOS for installing them for me. Thanks to Specialized for making them! Now I’m ready to rock and roll at Ironman Texas!

FS Series 1206 Battle of Buckhorn

FS Series has been a long time sponsor for our Elite Team and it is always fun to race one of their events. Jason and Brent have wonderful courses set up and Dawn Dixon does an excellent job with the many volunteers required to make a race day successful!

I have heard about the infamous Belt Buckle prize of the Battle of Buckhorn race but have never been able to make the timing of the race work for my schedule until this year. Most times when you build something up in your mind, the reality is not as good. This was not true for Battle of Buckhorn. FS Series folks do not disappoint. The swim was well organized from well spaced wave start to the direction of the swim being modified race morning so that we wouldn’t be swimming into the sun on the return leg back to shore, thanks Brent! The bike course was fun. The turns were well marked and well staffed by volunteers (shout out to Whit Hughston!) The elevation on the bike was enough to make sure you are working hard but no crazy climbing. The run had a slight uphill that you run twice but the 2 loop course makes sure that you have plenty of friends to cheer on as you run by each other multiple times.

But the thing that really sets this race apart is the awards ceremony! FS actually gives prize money for the Top 3 Overall and Top 3 Overall Masters. Prize money is rarely seen, so this is always fun for athletes:) And even if you are not speedy enough to manage an overall podium finish, FS still has plenty of awards left to give. There is also prize money for the fastest swim split (male and female), fastest bike split (male and female) and fastest run split (male and female). And to show that FS Series keeps up with the current trends in our sport, there was also a Strava segment on the bike that produced KOM (King of the Mountain) and QOM (Queen of the Mountain) awards from those who had properly prepared their Strava account beforehand.

Thanks again, FS Series for another wonderful event and another year of sponsorship for our team. You guys rock!!

Hot Weather Racing

This racing season has been filled with speed suits and lots and lots of sun and sweat! Raleigh 70.3 was the beginning of hot races for me. I had a slow but steady swim without my trusty HUUB wetsuit. Then I had a great bike split for me but had to ration fluids a little towards the end. Lastly, I THOUGHT I was good to go for the run but very shortly I realized I was in trouble. I was already thirsty coming off the bike and to make matters worse, I left my Base Salt electrolyte replacement on my bike.

Normally one water bottle an hour on the bike does the trick for me but I did not realize that with the increase in temperature I would go through my fluids a lot quicker. So, even though I had a great bike split without pushing myself into the “red zone” I was still toast coming off the bike. On the run, I normally cruise through the aid stations grabbing a cup for each hand on the move and keep on trucking. I do not walk the aid stations unless it is absolutely necessary. For a half, that is not until at least mile 9 or 10 if at all. On Raleigh race day, I was walking by mile 3. The cloud cover and potential rain that had been forecasted was no where to be found and instead Mr. Sun was in full force. I was not only walking part of the aid stations but walking the full aid station so that I could take in as much fluids as possible. I mistakenly thought I would be able to get some sort of Electrolyte supplement on the course but Ironman DOES NOT provide any unless Base Salt is on the course and they were not on the course in Raleigh. So, be prepared to carry your own if you are planning a hot weather Ironman Brand race. I finally resorted to asking people if they had any salt, and I was lucky enough to get an acquaintance to toss me an extra vial of Base Salt from across the street! Thank you Sophie Evans!! This helped get me through the end of the first loop and back out for the second loop. When I got the end of the second loop I did get the courage to run through the last aid station and made it across the finish line running. It was my slowest half marathon time to date but I felt good about my decision to take it slow through the aid stations so that I wouldn’t shred my body. Recovery time after the race was much easier and given that this was not my “A” race, it was a great learning experience kind of day.

I have gotten lots more practice with hot weather training this summer so I have been able to experiment a bit more with what works for me on a hot day. I was able to weigh myself before and after a bike and figure out that I sweat 30+ ounces an hour on the bike on a hot day so I know that I need to go through at least 3 water bottles every two hours. Knowing how your body responds to different types of weather is key to having success on the run and the whole triathlon in general. Thanks Raleigh 70.3 2016 for the life lessons!!

Does every second count??

This summer I competed in the UNC Wellness Center Supersprint triathlon. It is a great pool swim triathlon put on by SetUp Events each year in Chapel Hill, NC. I highly recommend it for a midseason tune up race to be able to practice transitions and all 3 disciplines in a supported environment or as a first time triathlon experience. For me, it is also in a very convenient location, just 2 miles away from home, which meant I could easily ride my bike to and from the race.

I was pleased with my performance. I went out strong on the swim, I rode well and my run was solid. Then, the official results were posted and I found out that I had come in second place by ONE SECOND! (Have you ever heard the expression, “Comparison is the thief of joy?”) With the race being a pool swim, the person who beat me started about 20 minutes after me so I had no idea that she was that close to me time-wise. If it had been an open water swim and I had started at the same time as my competitor and I had actually seen her on the run, I like to think I would have come in first place. But, that is not how a pool swim triathlon works so the “If only’s” don’t really apply!

After seeing the results, I immediately started analyzing my race trying to figure out where I could have gained one second. Once I started the process, it was amazing how many little things I found I could have done differently. I could not have taken the second in the water to fix the strap on my watch. I could have practiced my flip turns under the lane lines a bit more. I could have racked my bike differently. I could have pushed a little harder on any one of the uphills on the bike. I could have put a little more effort into the second half of the 5k. I should have known the end of the run course so I wouldn’t almost miss the last turn onto the bike path…on and on. It was not much fun to realize how many ways I could have raced better or smarter. But, it was a good mental exercise and I will be more aware of these things during my next race.

The challenge now, is to move on from this experience and not allow my brain to continually replay all the mistakes I made in the race. My tendency is to to bash myself with negative self-talk and allow my mistakes to come back and haunt me in other workouts and races. What I am learning is that mistakes are okay, and can even be a positive thing, as long as you learn from them and move on and don’t let them define who you are.

So, does every second count? Absolutely. But, for me, what counts the most is how I choose to view my experiences. Am I letting my mistakes define me as a racer/person? OR am I learning from them? Knowing that I am a better racer/person for having had the experience.

World Competition

Thanks to my roll down spot, I was able to compete at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship race in Mont-Tremblant, Canada this year. It was a special time to get to travel with my Mom as my sherpa! We had fun traveling and it was great to get to share my passion for triathlon with her. We arrived a few days early so we got to enjoy the beautiful scenery and the fun shops and restaurants in the village. We also attended the opening banquet, complete with musical and acrobatic performers! The race itself was a ton of fun and also a chance to learn again! The swim start was the most aggressive that I have been a part of as of yet. I got knocked around quite a bit and almost ended my day before it really began by swimming too hard too fast. My lungs do not really care for cold water and will revolt if I ask too much of them too quickly. I had to stop and tread water for a minute and get my breathing under control. After that I got into a good groove and tried to stay on the feet of all the crazy fast guys that came up behind us. I have to say, the bike was a bit of a surprise. There was a lot more drafting than I was expecting. So, after getting passed by folks on the swim and groups of 30+ guys and gals on the bike, I was really happy to get on my own two feet and run with no worry of my “space bubble” being invaded;) My calf was totally healed and I had a spot on nutrition plan which all led to great run. I was able to move up 35 places on the run (finally my turn to pass a few folks:), and finish in the top third of my age group. This was a wonderful experience and I am thankful to have been able to compete against the top Age Groupers in the World!

Mission Man and Mayo Lake

One of the many things I like about the TMS-IOS Elite team is that we are committed to supporting local races. SetUp Events Mission Man and FS Series Mayo Lake were great summer sprints for me. Mission Man is a great charity event that also supports the local church, a double bonus for me: supporting two of my passions at one time. Mission Man has a nice swim, pretty fast bike course and a cool, shaded trail run. Personal fun was having my first newspaper interview as the overall female winner 🙂 Mayo Lake was also a nice venue. I was glad I got to race there this year, FS will not be holding a race there next year. I got to drive and race with a good friend at Mayo Lake. It was her first open water swim race and it was pouring rain pretty much the whole race. She came across the finish line beaming. I told her if she could race and have fun in those conditions, she could conquer any triathlon race!

Nutrition is key to a strong finish!

My third race of the season was Ironman 70.3 in Raleigh. It was a day of being good enough and lessons learned. I had been battling a strained calf for a few weeks and was not sure I was going to race the Tuesday before the race. I finally decided I didn’t want to completely waste the race entry fee, so I decided I would swim and bike and start the run, knowing I might have to DNF. My first lesson learned was that you should get your transition spot setup completely before going to the port-a-john! The lines were so long that I only had a few minutes to get back to my transition area and make last minute changes. One wrong change I made was to take my whole t1 bag out of the transition area with me. So, I had to have one of the volunteers put it back for me after transition had closed. My next lesson was that you should always leave your bike food nutrition on your bike. I also took that out of transition with me and had to stuff it all inside my wetsuit and swim with it! Thankfully, I stayed calm during all of these pre-race mistakes and was able to have a good swim and continue on to the bike portion of the race. I had the “home court” advantage on the first half of the bike course but had never ridden the second half. The second half was more hilly than I had expected and I eventually got to the point where I dreaded a downhill because I knew that meant I was going to have another uphill very soon! I figured out later that I did not take in enough fluid calories on the bike and was also low on sodium so that made the second half of the bike even more challenging. I was glad to see t2 but also still wondering if my calf would hold up for a mile much less 13.1. Amazingly, my calf did fine, but with my deficit in calories from the bike, it was a mental battle to keep moving. I knew I could stop and no one would fault me because of my calf issues but I kept telling myself you are not stopping unless your calf starts to hurt and it never did. The run course was 2 loops and it was again a mental battle to go out for the second loop but I was able to dig down deep and keep moving. I was so glad to see my teammate, Dan Young, with his crazy wig and cold towels cheering from the side! (TMS-IOS team members are the best!) My quads tightened up the last few miles, again faulty nutrition, and made for very uncomfortable running but I was able to cross the finish line. I finished 6th in my age group. My original goal had been to finish in the top 3 to qualify for Worlds but I knew with my calf injury that that was a long shot. What I didn’t know about was the roll down process of Ironman. It took a few more hours of waiting but I was able to get a spot to Worlds! So, it was a good enough day! Not a great day or stellar performance but good enough to meet my goal of being able to go to Worlds. Thanks to team sponsor Jason Pirigyi of Elite Chiropractic for the ART on my calf that got me to the start and finish line!!

BeaverDam Fun

My second race of the season was the FS Series BeaverDam Olympic race. Great competition on a fun and challenging course. I met Jeanna Chain, long time triathlon competitor and IOS employee, for the first time and did my best to try and catch her on the run but was too far back from the swim and bike! I did have a strong enough run to make the podium with a pass in the second half of the run to move from 4th place to 2nd place. One of my favorite things about the TMS-IOS team is the support and camaraderie of racing together. Everyone is encouraging and giving shout outs on the course and pushing one another to do and be our best. Thank you to FS Series folks for being a team sponsor once again. BeaverDam is one of my favorite races of the this series. It is close to the triangle making for a cozy night at home sleep;) and it is a good hilly challenge on the bike and run to get you ready for 70.3 distance racing, particularly good timing for Raleigh 70.3.

Hometown racing is the best

I began my 2014 racing season with a return to my southern roots. Columbia, SC hosts the Downtown Tri every year in and around the University of SC campus. It is a very spectator friendly venue: the swim is in the USC natatorium, the bike is a 3 loop course and the run basically has 2 out and back sections. It was fun to get to have my 3 children to get see me race for the first time. My favorite part of the swim is that they let you dive start into the pool! The bike has some good ups and downs and lots of turns making for almost a criterium style feel. And the run is great for seeing everyone in front and behind you. This was my second time competing on the course and it was just as fun this time as the last. Thanks SetUp Events South Carolina for a great race!