Iron Girl Columbia Tips and Tricks

IG-Columbia-tri-10thI’ve had a lot of hits to my site coming from people looking for information about Iron Girl Columbia.  The race is in less than a month (August 16th) and you can sign up until Friday, so if you’re on the fence, now is the time!

I am racing again this year and it will be my third year.  I’ve learned a lot since my first Iron Girl Columbia (which was only my second triathlon and significantly longer than my first tri).  I, of course, blogged about both years:

2013 Iron Girl Columbia

2014 Iron Girl Columbia

I really like this race.  Obviously, since I’m coming back for a third year.  I have a soft spot in my heart for it since it was my first big race (my first tri was a beginner race) and because it supports the Ulman Cancer Fund.

Now, I won’t lie.  It’s not a super easy race.  The course is challenging, but you can definitely do it.


At Iron Girl Columbia, you have to rack your bike the day before.  Don’t worry, there are people out there with your bike all night so it won’t get lonely.  You don’t put out the rest of your gear until race morning, so don’t think you have to leave your running shoes out all night.  Those can stay with you til race morning.

If you have any questions in transition, just ask.  There are plenty of experienced racers at this race who are happy to help, and the volunteers are phenomenal as well.

There are a lot of people in this race.  Last year, there were over 1000 racers.  So transition can seem big.  Just remember where your bike is.  Take a look at transition.  Where do you come in from the swim (hint, it’s the side near the lake)?  When you run in from the water, which way will you go to your bike?  How will you get your bike out (hint, it’s up the hill)?  And so on and so forth.  Some people will say to tie a balloon where your bike is racked – that isn’t allowed at this race, or at most races.  So you have to figure out another way to remember.  Brightly colored transition towels help.  One year, I was racked near a tree, so that was my landmark.  Another year, I was five rows in.  Worst case, the bikes are racked by race number, so take a look at the number written on your arm and find your spot that way.

The day before the race, when you rack your bike, I recommend walking transition, getting an idea of what you will be doing on race morning.  Coming in here from the swim, out there for the bike, back in from the bike, and then out this way to the run.  The visualization always helps me.

The Swim

Last year, UCF instituted a new type of start known as a Time Trial start.  What this means is that you go into the water two-by-two instead of each wave starting in a mass start.  This helps spread out the people and for a lot of racers, takes away some of the stress of the mass start.  Unfortunately, this means you can’t get in the water to warm up before the race.

What I did last year, that I think helped, was that I dumped a bunch of cold water on my head and down my kit before the race.  It may have looked ridiculous, but then getting into the water wasn’t a shock to my system.

Some people will tell you that Centennial Lake is gross.  It’s not the clearest of lakes, that’s for sure, but it’s also not the grossest water I’ve been in for a triathlon.  Besides, you’re just going to go get sweaty on the bike and the run.  Who cares!

This swim is probably the best supported swim I’ve seen.  There are so many kayakers out in the water ready to help anyone who needs it.  If you need to stop for any reason, just grab onto a kayak.  Maybe you need to adjust your goggles, or you’re coughing on some water or maybe you just need a moment to get out of your head.  It’s all okay.  And don’t worry – the more races you do, the less you’ll need it.

The Bike

Columbia is hilly.  If you can, go ride the bike course before the race.  Princeton Sports does course previews every Sunday morning.  Right now, they’re actually riding the old Iron Girl course, which is similar and gives you a good taste of Columbia hills, but I believe as the race gets closer, they will start doing the current course.  You can also go out without a big group, but don’t go alone.  And be careful on Route 40.  Race day will be fine, but every other day, it’s all open to traffic, as most roads are.

If nothing else, drive the course before the race.  Get an idea of the course.  The hills aren’t too bad.  Worst case, you get off your bike and walk.  My first year, I saw a girl running her bike up a hill.  More power to her.  And besides, what goes up must come down.  Enjoy the speed on those downhills!

The Run

Remember those hills?  Yeah, they didn’t go away.  There’s one glorious hill known as Gatorade Hill, and you get to go up it twice.  But you can do it.  And the best part is the spectators at this race.  There are so many people out there cheering you on.  Enjoy the run!  You’ve made it, and you’re going to have an awesome finish!


What’s in my Transition Bag


I finally finished putting away all the stuff that was out drying from last weekend’s triathlon.  No, it didn’t take that long to dry.  I was just that lazy.  And if you’re wondering, stuffing your shoes with newspaper and replacing it every few hours really does draw out the water quickly.  (And the smell.  My poor bike shoes.  I do not understand why they smell like they do, but they are horrifying.)

I’m a chronic over-packer, and that can become problematic with triathlon.  You only have so much space at your transition point, and you don’t want to 1) take up too much space or 2) have so much stuff that you can’t find what you need.  But part of the reason I’m an over-packer is because I’m always worried I will forget something.

So I made a list.

Triathlon Packing List - Sheet1

Click to make bigger

This is my overall “I need these for a triathlon trip” list.  It doesn’t include things like pajamas and toiletries and such.  Those I can remember on my own.  And this is also an all-encompassing list.  Not all of the races I do have a practice swim, so that category can often just be dropped.   Some of the stuff doesn’t come to every race.  The wetsuit and earplugs are only for cold water races.  If the water is warm enough to not wear a wetsuit, I don’t need the earplugs either.

There is a lot of stuff on this list.  One key is that I don’t keep it all at transition.  What I like to do is put out the necessities at transition, then drop my bag back in my car or at my team tent.  If that isn’t an option, then I pair down the items.  Just about everything in the “other” category doesn’t need to be at transition, and my bike pump is never left at transition. That just takes up too much space.  Same with the post-race gear.

One weird thing that I do keep at transition is a little makeup bag.  Inside, I have a spare pair of contacts.  I’ve never needed them during a race, but once during a practice swim, I managed to lose a contact, and my vision is so terrible that it would be unsafe for me to ride a bike without my contacts.  So it’s my “just in case” item.  It doesn’t take up much room.

One other slightly unusual thing I have is a spare bottle of water and a small towel to clean off my feet.  I don’t always need it, but depending on how sandy or muddy the run to transition is, it’s nice to be able to clean off my feet before putting on my socks.  Some people would say this takes too much time.  I think those people have never tried to bike with a sock full of sand.

Oh, and what’s the headlamp for?  For setting up transition before the sun comes up if transition isn’t well lit.  Not always necessary, but it lives in a pocket of my backpack just in case I need it.

I’m well aware that in about a year, I’m going to look back on this list and think “Man, that is way too much crap.”  But I’m also the girl who always has a spare bike helmet in my car, just in case someone needs one.

Recent Blog Reads

It’s been a busy week and I didn’t get a chance to put together a post for today.  So here are a few of the blog posts that I’ve saved in Bloglovin over the past few weeks.

And a picture of one of the reasons I’ve been so busy.

That was a phenomenal concert.

A photo posted by Megan (@elbowglitter) on

Breakfast at Wimbledon – It’s really good I don’t live near Chrissy anymore because I would weigh 100 pounds more.  Her food blog is phenomenal.

1000 ferris wheels – The Bloggess really knows how to write.  And I love her writings on depression and struggles.  These issues get hidden from public view, and I applaud her for bringing them into the public sphere.

How to clean up your blog – Something we could all stand to do. It’s on my list.

My 7 Favorite Strategies for Slowing Down – I especially love the idea of limiting multitasking.  I’m always doing five things at once, and I should really get better about that.  Really focus on one thing at a time as much as possible

Katie K Activewear Review – I didn’t know much about this company before this review, but I know that bigger athletes struggle to find cute workout gear, and this company makes sizes from Small to 3X.  Hooray for variety!

Wednesday Workout Recap

Well, this week was pretty easy, workout wise.  Gotta love taper weeks.

Monday – Rest Day

Tuesday – 3 mile run with a few pickups.  39:30 on the treadmill.

Wednesday – 45 minutes on the trainer.

Thursday – Rest!  And packing.  I am a terrible packer.

Friday – Rest and travel.  Jogged a bit and spun on my bike in the morning (mostly because I forgot to put the bike into the right gear on Wednesday and knew I’d forget by race morning).

Saturday – Colonial Beach Sprint!

Sunday – Rest

Well, this was an anticlimactic post.  As a thank you for reading, I leave you this picture of my cat.


When a Lost Kid Appears At Your Door

Sunday, something crazy happened.  I’m going to excerpt an email I sent to some friends.

I was in the kitchen eating a snack when the doorbell rang.  I went to answer it and heard the door open.  What the hell?  So I rush to the door and there is a kid, maybe 6 years old, walking in.  I’m all “Excuse me?  Excuse me?”  And I realize very quickly that he is nonverbal and maybe autistic.  (I know, I’m not a doctor, I shouldn’t diagnose.  But this was my first thought.)  So I look out the window to figure out if anyone is looking for this kid and he starts running circles around the house.  He’s wearing a button down shirt, khakis, and no shoes, so I figured he escaped pretty quickly from someone and wasn’t just an abandoned kid or a kid who had come a long way.  But I don’t know what to do with him.  I keep trying to catch him and I grab his arm, but he pulls away and I don’t want to hurt him.  Plus I don’t know him and don’t know what his parents might do or who they are.  He keeps trying to run upstairs, and I block him from that, and finally I convince him to go outside.  I’m on the verge of calling the police, but don’t want to get anyone in trouble.

The kid goes dashing off across the street and I see a guy out working on his car. I follow the kid because, well, he’s paying no attention and the kid runs up to another house and tries the door.  He’s laughing the whole time, so he doesn’t seem distressed.  I try to talk to the guy working on his car, but he doesn’t speak English. Why have I not learned Spanish yet?  I manage to communicate to him that this kid isn’t mine and I don’t know who he is, and I think he’s lost.  So the guy goes with me following the kid, trying to keep him out of the street and stuff.  He goes to another house and tries the door and I try to stop him.

At this point, I call the police, who are very confused as to what I’m trying to do.  “Lost kid, not mine, don’t know who he is, don’t know what to do,” when I see a guy in a suit walking down the middle of the street towards me.   I think “Oh man, please be looking for this kid,” and it turns out he was.

All told, four adults and a teenager come up to get this kid.  They were at a church party celebrating the kid’s mom’s birthday and he was sitting playing piano and then all of a sudden, disappeared.  The house they were at was about a block from mine.  They were so nice and so thankful and kept saying I was so wonderful for staying with him.  I got so many hugs  I’m like “I’m not going to let a little kid just run aimlessly through the street.”

I can’t imagine the horror they went through trying to find him.  It was just crazy and I’m glad that he found his family because I had no idea what I was going to do with him.
This gives me a new respect for parents in general, and especially parents of special needs kids.  These parents just kept saying “He’s never done this before.  He’s never done this before.”  I don’t know how far he would have gotten if he hadn’t ended up in my house, but he was headed towards a much busier road and a tree-lined creek.  Definitely a troublesome direction.
I don’t think I did anything special. I think I did what any good person would do.  Maybe someone else would have just called the cops while the kid was in their house, which would have also been a good option.  I just figured that he couldn’t have come from very far, and I hoped that by going outside, we would find the people looking for him, which is exactly what happened.