Allison’s Virginia 70.3

I’m Allison Paul, and new to the team this year.  I’ve been running since I was 12 and started doing triathlons in my mid-twenties, since I suffered from overuse running injuries. My husband, who was a world-class speedskater & PT, got me on the bike doing long group rides. We often rode our tandem from Milwaukee to Madison and back over a weekend. Reluctantly, I learned to swim in the open water, started doing local triathlons and eventually Ironman Wisconsin. We had 10 bikes, no kids and lots of time to train!

A dozen years later, 3 kids & a move across the country, I got back into triathlons and started racing again. With a full-time (traveling) job in medical sales, homeschooling kids and a few dogs, I wasn’t sure there’d be enough time to train sufficiently, so I didn’t invest in triathlon gear but rather raced on my road bike with clip on aerobars. 

After winning a handful of local triathlons over a few years, I joined the TMS IOS team and decided to invest in a bike. Cid and his bike experts at Inside Out Sports helped me find a sweet ride that makes my training and racing rewarding. (It’s a FELT IA with disc brakes and electronic shifting, BTW). 

My preferred triathlon distance is 70.3 because of the longer run and I started this season with Ironman 70.3 Virginia. It was the first year Ironman put on this event, but in typical Ironman fashion, it was very well organized with a big turnout. 

In the early hours of the morning on race day, a storm rolled through Williamsburg and soaked our gear. Thankfully, the rain held off for the swim start. 

The swim was choppy and it felt like we were swimming against the current. According to my Garmin, I swam nearly 2500 yds, (which is how I justify my 5 min slower swim time!)  There’s a long, uphill run to transition packed with wetsuit peelers and sunscreen appliers. Again, race support was great. 

As soon as I mounted my bike, the rain started. The course was pretty flat, with lots of turns that required us to slow down considerably (due to the rain). Unfortunately, my teammate, Millie crashed on the bike course, but amazingly she still finished in a great time! 

The run was a 2-loop, out and back course along the paved Virginia Capital Trail. It was mostly flat with lots of aid stations and support; however, there was a short distance we had to run (twice) on the mud-soaked grass. The sun came out just in time for the run and finish. 

I ended up third in my age group (out of 91 and missed Worlds by 1 spot), with an overall time of 4:58:08. 

Swim: 34:07

T1: 3:51

Bike: 2:37:25

T2: 2:49

Run: 1:39:57

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.

3… 2… 1… GO!

Being my first year competing on the TMS-IOS team, I was absolutely thrilled to get ready for the upcoming racing season. However, this excitement was not without reservations—over the summer of 2018, I developed a pretty nasty medial tibial stress fracture while training for NC 70.3 2018. The timing was kind of odd—I received news of the stress fracture about two weeks after Hurricane Florence devastated the Wilmington area of NC. Not long after the immense damage of the storm was assessed, Ironman emailed all the eager participants to inform them that the race would be cancelled. Surprisingly, Ironman offered race deferrals due to the circumstances under which the race was called off, so I was fortunate enough to be able to defer until the following year (I’m coming for ya, NC 70.3 2019!).

The following weeks were tough, as my teammates and ride-or-die training partners (Kelsey Noll, Sloane Tilley, and Cath Ruckeis) were able to find another race on the same day as NC 70.3 was supposed to take place. While I was at home moping about my bum leg, the people I had spent tons of hours training with were off to conquer Toughman Tennessee 70.3. The typical mixed bag of emotions that comes along with being sidelined due to injury (self-pity, jealousy, frustration, anger, sadness—you know what I mean) was completely wiped away when the three of them absolutely dominated the course and landed in top placing spots (HELL YEAH!). Their performances made me so proud to be their teammate and also motivated me to do the best that I could to get healthy. For most of the summer, we had all been pushing each other through some tough 70.3 training, so it was very exciting to think that I could get myself there again if I made the necessary changes to my training to stay healthy.

I won’t lie—the next few months were tough. This was my first serious injury as a triathlete (so honestly I shouldn’t be complaining at all), and it totally caught me off guard (I know that seems ridiculous with a stress fracture, but I had very mild displaced pain until one day it suddenly hurt very bad all up and down my tibia—yowza!). I did not realize exactly how much I had been relying on training to deal with life, until I was forced to cease and desist all training and don Das Boot (what I affectionately called my air cast). My only outlet for stress and processing my thoughts/feelings was ripped out from under me, and I didn’t have any other tools at my disposal. After a few really bad mental health days, I realized that this was not going to fix itself, and that it probably wasn’t healthy to rely on exercise as the sole source of mental health care. So I got set up with a therapist (can not recommend this more strongly as a life-changing way to care for yourself), started going to a yoga class (Monday mornings with the 65+ crew of mostly little old blue haired ladies, who are so impressive!), began learning the practice of meditation (the Headspace app is what got me started), and embraced the newfound free time to enjoy other activities that had fallen to the wayside during intense months of training.

Honestly, getting injured was probably the best thing that happened for me this past year. It forced me to face some inner demons, make intimidating but important life changes, and re-center my focus and priorities outside of triathlon/training. Sure, there were days where I hated every second of it and there were many bouts of ugly crying and “Woe is me” rants (both internal and voiced aloud), but it was an important process to move through, the kind where you come out on the other end stronger than before.

When I was cleared to run again, I didn’t start up right away. Things still didn’t feel quite right in my leg and I decided to trust my body. Thanks to Dave William’s wise coaching and my newfound training mantras of “less is more” and “listen—no, really LISTEN to your body”, I was able to slowly (albeit sometimes painfully) and safely build back into a training plan. Things were different this time around—full days of rest (often more than once per week!) and a new attitude towards body maintenance allowed me to spend more time on things like proper stretching, strengthening, foam rolling, and sleeping. There were a few minor setbacks along the way, but I listened to what my body needed and took the right action (often, adding in another day off training for recovery and routinely visiting Dr. Jason Pyrigi). Dr. Jason Pyrigi and the team at Carolina Pain and Performance played an integral role in my path to recovery, and I still go in on an as-needed basis to check in on things. Dr. Pyrigi and his team truly worked wonders on the problem areas of my leg and in doing so, have taught me so much that I never knew or fully understood about how to sense when your body is recovered and ready for another grueling workout, or when you need to take the day off or cut your workout short and focus on other recovery habits (as mentioned above—foam rolling, strengthening, and proper stretching).

After many challenging weeks that tested my patience and willpower, I slowly built back into structured training, and things felt good enough to start setting my sights on spring races. With Dave’s blessing, I set my sights on the inaugural Crystal Coast Half Booty 70.3 in May, which would require a very conservative low-volume training approach but would be doable. Since I had been training for a 70.3 when I got hurt, I was very hungry to tackle that distance. I also wanted a tune-up race, so I signed up for the Beaverdam Olympic, a super fun course I had put down one of my best performances on in 2018. For funsies, I also ended up signing up for the Triangle Sprint since I have raced that one on and off since 2014—another wonderful local race!

It turned out that all the pain, anger, sadness, and frustration that resulted in taking a long, hard look in the mirror (which subsequently led to making some major changes to both self-care and training practices) ultimately paid off in a big way. I am not accustomed to landing overall podium spots at the local race level, so you can imagine how humbling and emotional it was to pull off:

3rd—Beaverdam Olympic (gotta love the squishy beavers)

2nd—Inaugural Crystal Coast Half Booty (a race so wild it is deserving of its own blog post)

1st—Triangle Sprint (made extra special since my parents happened to be passing through town and got to see me race for the first time since my first ever sprint triathlon in 2013)

Looking back on the journey from a solid 70.3 training regimen, to a serious bone injury, to a period of relearning how to care for mental and physical health, to the slow transition back to a new “normal” training schedule, to being able to race competitively again… it’s been quite a ride.  

The takeaways from this whole experience have been impactful. I’ve developed new ways to take care of my mind and body, deconstructed some of the toxic ideologies I had towards training and replaced them with a much more balanced approach, and gained so much confidence in myself as an athlete along the way. I strongly encourage you (whether you’re a “serious” athlete or not) to take a few steps back to examine whether your training and athletic lifestyle are truly in balance with other important aspects of your life. You might be surprised at what you learn about yourself!

Ready? 3…2…1… GO! 

Rex Wellness – Garner Race Report

I meant to write this blog after my “A-race” for the year, an ultra-marathon in Key West, in May. However, as that race didn’t exactly go as planned, I decided not to dwell on the negative and wait for something positive to come around. That day came with a perfect race, in perfect weather, only a few miles away from my house at the Rex Wellness Sprint Triathlon in Garner.

Last year I raced in all three Rex Series races that FS Series put on. They have always been one of my favorite races in town. The swim is in a pool so we get wall breaks. The bike is on good roads so you can put your head down and hammer. The run is only two miles so it’s done before you know it.

The Rex Garner race was on July 7th. There was no wind and it was 70 degrees. I slotted in behind teammates and superstars Cari Soleo and Stephanie Sullivan for the time trial swim start. I was nervous about the swim as I have not swum, at all, since the final Rex Series race of last year. I kept the stroke long and efficient and ended up with the 20th best swim overall (3:53 for 250 yards). I was glad to be done swimming and sprinted through T1 as quickly as possible.

The bike has historically been where I can catch up from my swim deficit and build a little gap on the competition for the run. I knew my legs had good endurance from the ultra-marathon training but was unsure about the top-end power needed for these sprint races. My legs felt AMAZING all day. I kept my head down and pounded as best I could. I knew I had good legs as I watched my splits on the Garmin mid-way through the 10-mile bike. On the way back, I focused on keeping the pressure on as every second counts when the entire race is only 40 minutes long! I finished the bike very pleased with my effort and had the fastest split of the day (24:10 for 10 miles). I cruised in to T2, racked my bike, and took off.

For the previous 6 months, all my training was based around running. I was routinely logging 80-90 mile weeks during the build-up for my ultra. I knew my legs could withstand any beating I threw at them on a 2-mile run. The question was if I could get them to turnover quickly enough for a sprint. It felt incredibly strange running at that pace; fun but also uncomfortable. On my way out to the turnaround, I saw teammate Kerry Martin absolutely flying on the way back! I knew I had to pick it up to have any chance at beating him. Just after the turnaround I was able to catch and briefly run with another teammate, this time it was Kelsey Noll. It was a nice mental break seeing that Kelsey was destroying the women’s field and making it look easy. I kept pushing and made it to the finish with the 2nd fastest run of the day (11:44 for 2 miles).

I could not have had a more perfect race. The swim was smooth, the bike was fast, and the run was over before it started to hurt. It was encouraging to have this happen after my ultra-marathon that did not go as well… to say the least! It was a great day individually and also for the Inside-Out Sports Elite team as we finished 1-2 overall on both the men’s AND women’s side.

Redefining: Ninja Racing

Merriam Webster, June 2019: Entry: Ninja Racing

noun

plural: ninja racing

Definition of Ninja Racing

: deciding to race at the last minute without properly training or informing your coach

I’ve been competing in triathlon for 4 years now. Almost 3 years to the date, I was hit by a car on a training ride resulting in 3 fractured vertebrae, a fractured tibia, and a partially torn meniscus and ACL. I will never have a physiologically normal body. I will not be able to handle the typical high-volume training that many of my teammates do. I may be facing another surgery in the coming months. I may never be the athlete that I theoretically “could have been.”  

It is okay for me to be sad about this. It would be strange for me NOT to be sad about this. But it is also okay for me to claim and be proud of the athlete that I am. But, for 3 years, I’ve been trying to fit into the mold of what I see as the dedicated, typical triathlete. I feel like an imposter every time I earn a podium spot for a race I decided to do 3 days prior. I don’t kick in the pool, and I haven’t done bike intervals in 8 months, and I don’t train my run.

I’ve done 3 races so far this season and exceeded my own expectations in all of them, including a 70.3. I’ve done them all sneakily, deciding to race and signing up last minute because I love and miss the sport and the community. I was scared to race because I was afraid to finish badly, or, perhaps, not finish at all. What I’ve learned is that sometimes the mental toughness it takes to get yourself to the start line far exceeds that needed to get yourself over the finish line. I would never discourage another person to race because they were worried about being slow, so why was I doing it to myself? I don’t know what is next for my body, but I do know that as long as I can safely make triathlon a part of it – I’m in: full send.

Merriam Webster, July 2019: Entry: Ninja Racing noun

plural: ninja racing

Definition of Ninja Racing : racing to have fun and admitting that the endorphin boost doesn’t suck either

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

Time Trials and Tribulations

I sat in the middle of the crosswalk, holding the back of my head, confused as to what just happened. People around me were talking but I couldn’t pay attention to what anyone was saying. As I saw blood now streaming onto my leg from the back of my head, my first thought was: “I guess I’m not going to get to run tonight”.

Minutes before, fresh off my muscle physiology exam, I was walking back to my car to go home for an evening run. I was excited. It was a nice evening, I finished my last class of my PhD program, and I wanted to go enjoy the nice weather while pushing some intervals track. As I was crossing the most dangerous intersection in Greensboro (in the crosswalk, with the “walk” light on), a vehicle struck me from my back right, sending me up and over the front corner of their car. I barely remember getting hit, but distinctly remember landing almost exclusively on my sacrum, catching a little bit of the weight with my elbows, and whipping the rest of my momentum through my head onto the asphalt.

Since there has not yet been a settlement, I will not go into much more detail. I’m about a week after the accident and still dealing with concussion symptoms and a broken sacrum. Needless to day, I’m not racing for a bit. Hell, I still can’t really bend over much.

I didn’t want to have to write another blog about being injured. In fact, it was supposed to be some triumph story from the last injury blog. Well, okay, I actually did have a good build from my last injury, which is the good part. The bad part is I only really got to race one triathlon since that accident.

But rather than an injury blog about ‘moving forward’, I’ll still do a short recap blog.  During major injuries, I find it is better to reflect on past experiences for confidence, rather than the uncertain future.

After my injury last year, I put in a ton of hours on the indoor trainer. I did a lot of Zwift racing, intense workouts, and recovery rides all from my home. It wasn’t what I pictured as glorious, but in the early stages of my recovery, it was really helpful to have my space. I was strong. I set a new FTP by a sizeable margin, even at a lighter weight than I used to be. Once I introduced running back, my focus was set on speed, and it sure came easier than I thought.

I did the Frosty 50k relay with a fast group of guys (12.5k each), and even managed to PR my 10k time and sustain it the rest of the 2.5km. I had a bit of plantar fasciitis after this race, but I was able to run through most of it. I shifted focus back to cycling for a bit and did a number of criteriums (just to accumulate race experience and get out of Cat 5 – not really to win), but still managed to be competitive in a number of them.

In April, I did the Riverlights TT triathlon in Wilmington. It was a 20km bike TT, a 1000m swim tt, and a 5km run TT, all separated by ~40 min. I loved this format. I am a big fan of ‘non-traditional’ multisport races – they allow you to try new things and come up with new strategies, rather than the standard formulas.

Of the triathletes, I had the fastest bike time, which is rare for me (one guy beat me but only did the bike, not the triathlon). I had been aggressive on the bike. I had sprinted out of every corner and really didn’t let off. I was worried about how that would affect my swim and run, but I just wanted to focus on one thing at a time.

They got to the swim start before I even had a chance to warm up so I went in “cold”. My legs were already vaguely wanting to cramp but I just sucked it up and went hard. I definitely held my own, only really losing time to the overall winner, who is a fantastic swimmer. Otherwise I had a fairly good swim, especially for my training.

My legs getting out felt exceptionally bad but I didn’t have much choice. They got started with the 5k a little early too, so I only got a 2 minute warmup and a couple of strides, which felt… bad. I just decided to give it whatever I had left. I caught and passed the race leader, but due to the timing system, I didn’t know how much of a gap he had on me in the standings. I knew a couple of guys were close to me in time, and they were literally right behind me from the start of the 5K. One of the guys (who usually beats me) made an early pass at the one mile mark and started stringing the race out. I could tell I overcooked the first mile at ~5:30, but I thought “whatever, just keep going as hard as you can in each moment until you get to the finish”. It was a reckless mentality but it paid off. I finished the 5K in 18:08 [on gravel]. Not my fastest 5K, but faster than I thought given the efforts I put in already.

Nobody knew what the final placings were, so there was about 10 minutes of us speculating and chatting at the end of the race. Then someone came and pointed “1, 2, and 3” at people around me, but not me. I was a little bummed – I felt suspiciously good. Then I found out they had trouble with my timing chip. Once they correctly located my chip number (which got mixed up pre-race), my name popped up in 2nd place. I was very happy about that. It felt like things were going right. I even pushed myself past what I thought was capable given my ‘untested’ fitness. I mean, I hardly raced last year so it had been quite awhile!

That’s what makes my current situation tough. I knew I was fit and I was ready to use that fitness for some races! I put in months of long, hard work. At the time, I enjoyed the challenge of building myself back, but it’s more fun to be fit. And now, I sit here, knowing that I’ll have to do it again. I know I can do it again, but this time seems different; partially because I just did it and I know how hard it will be, and partially because this time isn’t my fault – I went from a great fitness level to hospitalized all because of an inattentive driver.

I plan on posting again by the end of the year to hopefully have the real triumph story, but as of now, the path there is unclear. It’s hard to know exactly how long it will take before I can even think about training again, but I know it’s out there. Call it resiliency or call it stubborn, I will keep fighting my way back.

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.

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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.