Race Report – 2019 Patriot’s Olympic Triathlon

This weekend, I finally returned to the race stage after crashing on April 20th. Early in the year, I registered for the Patriots Olympic Triathlon, and it was the one race I opted to not defer after my crash. I really wanted to have something to work towards. I knew it would be tough, but I was dedicated to completing it.

Of course, the incoming hurricane had something to say about it. We were very lucky to not get hit, but thanks to Dorian, the swim was cancelled. The rescue boat was required elsewhere, so we know about the cancellation mid-day Thursday (the race was on Saturday). There were plenty of angry athletes, but I was just disappointed. Obviously, the important thing was that people were kept safe, so I’m glad the rescue boat could be prioritized to where it needed to go. And I was glad to know early so that I could mentally prepare.

My biggest worry was probably the swim. My elbow and shoulder still hurt when I swim. It’s not bad, and swimming doesn’t make it worse or better, but it’s just something I’m going to have to deal with for a while. So having the swim cancelled removed that worry.

It also really removed another big worry, which was a super fast cyclist coming up behind me after the swim. The race turned into a time-trial start, all self-seeded. While there weren’t signs indicating where people should line up, I figured there wouldn’t be any crazy cyclists whizzing past. Sure, there would be some jockeying for position, but nothing like a slow swimmer/expert cyclist coming out of the water later and then trying to crush the competition.

This race, I also had my boyfriend with me as chauffeur, carrier of heavy things, captain of the cheer squad, anxiety battler, and all around super supportive person. I think that definitely helped as well. He kept me out of my head and prevented a lot of stress.

eric shark
He took his cheer squad responsibility very seriously.

He also very proudly wore the shark head, much to the delight of many a toddler. After the race, I asked him how many people he took pictures with, and he said something like “Not too many, only maybe ten or so.” TEN? That’s a lot of people to ask a random stranger for a selfie!

The race also had a half-distance before the olympic, so we got to watch the half athletes go off first, which was helpful in understanding how they were going to do the time-trial start. The bike didn’t actually use the original “bike out” path, so I was confused for quite some time until things got started. I was ready to leave and return the same way, so the description of how the time trial would start made no sense to me until I saw it happen.

I ended up lining up with some other friendly Athenas. We chatted and had a lovely time as we waited for our race to start.

For the start, we walked to the start line and were told to go in pairs in 15-second intervals. We walked/ran across the line and mounted our bikes. And then we were off.

patriots bike mount
Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall.

The start was a bit scary because we rode along a very narrow path along the side of the road (that would later be part of the run). There wasn’t any jockeying for position because there literally wasn’t any space for it.

Thankfully, that didn’t last terribly long, and then it felt like the race really started. I had done the race before, back in 2017, so I knew it was flat save for one bridge (that I had also ridden many times during Rev3 Williamsburg) so there wasn’t a lot of unfamiliarity here. Flat was a bit of a misnomer – there were some small rollers, and as someone who has done the majority of her training inside this year, they felt larger than they really were. My only goal for this ride was to at least try to stay in my racing zone – though I’ve not done a new FTP test since before my accident, so it’s possible that’s a bit high. My watch is set to beep at me when I’m out of the zone, and well, it did a lot of beeping! I wasn’t really watching my pace, but I knew I was doing well based on the time it was taking me to complete each 5 mile set (my watch beeps and gives me the time for each 5 mile “lap”). My only real goal was to keep to at least 15mph and I was absolutely doing that.

Of course, even with the time trial start, there were still a number of riders (male, of course) who came flying up from behind me. The whole point to the time trial start was to put everyone in generally the right spot pace-wise, so waiting til last to start is kind of a jerk move. I know plenty of people who do it running, and that doesn’t bother me, because there really isn’t much of a safety risk to a fast runner passing you, but as I can attest, a fast cyclist coming past you can cause all sorts of damage. Naturally, there was the expected shifting of positions, where I caught up to other riders or others caught me, but it was the number of riders who came blasting past that I found very frustrating.

Around mile 20, I started to get cocky. I hadn’t crashed! I had made it through the bike! Except not yet. No getting cocky now. I needed to finish the ride first.

And I did. Just under 24 miles (the course was a bit short the last time I rode it too) at 18.1mph.

Bike: 1:17:27

I was off the bike and running into transition. I couldn’t believe I could actually run into transition. I think I was just so excited to have not crashed.

In transition, I just felt like I was moving through molasses. I was sure I was in there for nearly five minutes. It felt like it took me forever. But it didn’t.

T2 (or T1, depending on how you view it): 1:45

I had looked at the run map for this race because I remembered that there was a weird turn and that the last time I raced, a bunch of people had missed it and ended up running a loop backwards. What I didn’t look up was what the course was like, so I had forgotten that a good chunk of it is through a wooded area, on a dirt path. It’s actually really pretty, but it also feels pretty darn deserted.

My goal on the run was to hold my intervals (1:1) and to keep to a sub-14 pace. I really wanted to be closer to 13, but I know where I’m at right now, and knew that might be pushing too hard.

The other thing I forgot about this race was how lonely it feels at some parts of the race. It definitely starts to feel like a bit of a mental challenge, when you feel like you’re the only one out there, no other runners, no spectators. I had to work hard to stay out of my head. I’m a slower runner – there’s no way around it. And I’m okay with that. But when I feel like I’m totally alone while racing, it becomes a mental game. So I just started doing race math. Each mile, how far under 14 minutes was I? How much time was I “earning” each mile? Whatever it takes, that’s what I did.

Look at that air!

I managed to ultimately keep a 13:09 pace, which is fantastic! I was super pleased with how well things turned out.

I made the final turn into the race and pushed myself to cross the finish line strong. I won’t lie – it hurt. But it felt so great to finally be crossing a finish line again.

Run: 1:21:42

Total race time: 2:40:56

I’ve never done a bike-run race before, so it was hard to say just what that time meant, but given that my main goal was to finish under 3:45, I’d say that even if there had been a swim, I would have been safely under that time. So all in all, a great race back! I also came in smack in the middle of the Athenas, which was an awesome place to be (and it was so great to see so many of us out there!). Now I have something to work towards for next season. And a great cheerleader to join me on the adventures.

Ditch the plastic with GoSili Straws

Disclaimer: I received GoSili straws to review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find, and write race reviews!

I am very vocal about the fact that I am not a fan of outright straw bans, because there are people who do need disposable straws. That said, I’m also a fan of doing what I can to reduce my own plastic waste and I have the physical ability to carry and clean a reusable straw. Even though it might be only a small dent in the overall picture, every little bit helps.

Last year, in an effort to try to reduce my plastic consumption, I picked up some plastic straws and some metal straws. I wasn’t a huge fan of either of them. They weren’t very flexible and with the metal straws especially, I was convinced I was going to somehow chip my teeth on them. Still, they were better than disposable. A lot of places have gone to paper straws, and I have to admit, I kind of hate them. They absorb liquid and get mushy pretty fast.

I had initially avoided silicone straws because in my mind, they were going to be overly squishy and annoying to use. But when the chance came up to try GoSili straws for BibRave, I agreed to try them out and decide on silicone straws for myself.

I was very wrong about silicone straws. These things are great!

First and foremost, they are much more firm than I thought they would be. They are, of course, still squishy and foldable and GoSili has some super cute versions that come in tins that make them easy to carry.

The squishyness is also a way that you can clean them. Because of my prior straw collection, I own a few straw brushes, but an easy way to clean GoSili straws is to put them in soapy water and sort of squeeze and rub sides of the straw (so the interior sort of scrubs against itself). Because they’re a bit translucent, you can also see if the straw is clean, something I definitely can’t do with metal straws.

And of course, the softness makes me much less concerned about hurting myself with the straw. I even felt comfortable enough driving while using a cup and a straw, something that I wasn’t comfortable doing when I was using a metal straw.

GoSili straws come in regular, wide (great for smoothies or boba tea), and extra long. I have mainly used my regular length, and currently have them stashed in various locations (my desk drawer at work, my purse, my kitchen drawer). I don’t understand why, but adding a straw makes it so much easier to drink water throughout the day, which has definitely helped me stay hydrated as I’m picking up my training.

So if you’ve been considering trying out silicone straws, I definitely recommend GoSili. They’re inexpensive, easy to transport, and GoSili even has a recycling program for them once they’ve outlived their usefulness (though I’m not sure how that might happen). They’re easy to clean, dishwasher safe, and can be used in hot or cold liquids. I’m certainly going to continue to use mine and hope to come across someone in a bar or restaurant using one as well.

Getting Ready to Race Again

While a normal summer for me is filled with fun and training and racing, this summer has been filled with fun, but slightly less training and zero racing. I’ve not raced since my crash on April 20.

But that’s about to change.

This weekend, I’m racing my last triathlon of the season (and hopefully the first one I will finish for the season). I’m headed back to Williamsburg for the Kinetic Patriot’s Olympic tri. Initially I had planned to do the oly and the sprint this weekend, but on the advice of my coach and my PT, pulled back to only one race. Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I chose the longer of the two races.

Okay, I actually chose the oly for two reasons.

  1. I hate sprints. I don’t like going all out for an entire race.
  2. I wanted the challenge. I needed something to force me to push my recovery.

About that recovery. How’s it going? Well, things are improving. My elbow hurts every single swim stroke, which is fun. It also hurts when I ride. Doesn’t hurt when I run though, so maybe the run won’t be the part of the race I hate the most this time. I’m working with a PT to rebuild strength and it’s pretty shocking how weak my upper body still is. Considering that when I first got out of my arm brace, I couldn’t do a single press up (not a push up, but just pressing my upper body away from the ground with my hips still on the ground), the fact that I can now support my weight on my arms is pretty amazing. Over the winter, I’m hoping to be able to do some strength work to really rebuild and rebalance.

The race will be interesting. I’m definitely nervous, though not particularly nervous about crashing. I feel like it was such a fluke to get hit by another cyclist that the odds of it happening again aren’t high. Am I going to be nervous at bike mount, which is always crowded, and will it likely freak me out when other racers come flying past me? Absolutely. (Though my swim has gotten slow enough that it may not be an issue.) But mostly, I’m just nervous if I can actually do this. Can I make it through the swim? Open water isn’t like swimming in a pool. Of course, I can always stop at a kayak if my arm needs a break. Will I be fast enough to make cutoffs?

The thing is, the race could go incredibly well. I’ve put in the training. No, I’m not going to be setting any new PRs, but I could have a solid race. But there are a lot of unknowns that definitely have me nervous.

Sleepy pre-ride selfie. Mornings are hard.

But I want to show up. I want to see what happens. If I don’t finish, I don’t finish. I would like to not end up in an ambulance. But honestly, if I manage to cross the finish line under my power, it’s a win.

A long overdue update

I have opened this window to type an update so many times over the summer. Crashing my bike and ending up on the injured list for the second year in a row definitely threw me for a loop (figuratively speaking – there was no looping in my crash, just a direct impact with the ground).

To recap my injuries, in addition to some abrasions that left some cute scars, I managed to fracture my elbow and permanently dislocate my collarbone at the sternum (I didn’t even know that was possible). I had surgery to remove gravel from my arm and prevent a bone infection. I still have some bone bruises and my elbow hurts about 75% of the time.

I’m not going to lie, recovery has been slow and mentally challenging. Rehabbing my hip labral tear was mentally much easier because there were things I could do. I could push myself and really work for that recovery. This has certainly been slow going. It took a while, but while I’m not back to my full weight lifting routine (and won’t be for quite a number of months), I’m back to swim/bike/run and recently swam my first mile since April.

But that’s not to say that the summer hasn’t been fabulous. I’ve had a lot of great adventures and I wouldn’t trade any of it.

As you may remember, I was aiming for 70.3 Ohio this summer. For the second time in a row, I had to drop out of a 70.3 due to injury. But for the second time in a row, I still went to the race to cheer and hang out with friends. And that was worth every second.

I got to hang out with a bunch of friends and cheer many of them through what proved to be a very tough race, both physically and emotionally. Instead of wishing I were out there, I was just glad I could still be part of the day.

Landshark!

I’m not going to lie, there were definitely moments where I thought “Perhaps I should register for another 70.3 next year.” But at this point, I think I’m committed to racing local next year, mostly Olympics. I want to make sure that I’m properly rehabbing my arm and my shoulder and not pushing just to make a distance.

I will, however, likely still go to some of the big races to cheer on friends and strangers. It’s so much fun to be part of a big race environment, whether or not I’m racing. I’m lucky to know so many awesome people.

So next up, I am finally getting a chance to race this year. I’ll be racing the Patriots Olympic the weekend after Labor Day. It’s not going to be pretty, and it’s probably going to hurt, but I need to get back out there. I don’t want to go a full year without racing if I can help it. And of course, once tri season is over, I’ll be out doing running races once again. And looking forward to the 2020 season (and beyond).

Tracking my progress with Strava

Disclaimer: I received a Strava Summit account in exchange for a review as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review, find, and write race reviews.

I’m a huge fan of tracking my workouts. I’d love to be one of those people who keeps a great training notebook, logging every workout in every detail. I’m not great at that. Every time I’ve tried, I end up not having the book with me when I want to write something down.

I tried the spreadsheet formula. That didn’t work either. I wasn’t motivated to get it done.

Enter the internet. By tracking my workouts online, I could enter data from anywhere, and if I wanted, I could make that information sharable so that my friends and training partners could see my workouts. It helped keep me accountable to myself and to others.

Strava is simple

I started using Strava in 2015. What I love the most about Strava is how incredibly easy it is to use. You can track all sorts of workouts – standard running, biking, and swimming, but you can also track other workouts – walking, yoga, weights, whatever you want. And you can enter as much or as little data as you want. Maybe you just want to log that you lifted weights for 30 minutes. You don’t need to put in the reps or the weights, just log that 30 minute data. Maybe you went on a 20 minute walk. You don’t know how far you went, but you want to log the walk. Other sites would push you to enter the pace or the distance. Strava lets you enter what you want.

Of course, I love data, so I love that I can import directly from my Garmin or from Zwift. And the best part is that I don’t have to actually do anything. Once I got direct import setup, when I finish a workout, it ports into Strava where I can check it out and analyze the info. I can customize it if I want by adding photos or comments, but I don’t have to.

I use also Strava to track the mileage on my shoes, which is an awesome feature, especially for someone who doesn’t run a steady number of miles every month. I set my current pair of shoes as my default, and Strava logs each run on those shoes (which I can go in and change if I wore something different). It helps me figure out when I need to think about breaking in a new pair.

Share what you want

Strava lets you be as public or as private as you want. You can put all of your information out there for anyone to see, you can have a purely private account, or you can be private and add friends who can see your workouts.

Personally, even though I’m a pretty open book, I do have my account set for friends only, just for safety. If you want to follow me, please feel free to request, and if you appear to not be an axe murderer, I’ll probably friend you back. And if you are an axe murderer, if you could just put that in your profile info to make it easier for me, I’d appreciate it.

One thing I do very much appreciate are the privacy zones. When you do a workout and track your distance by GPS, often times, you’re starting pretty close to your home or your work, and maybe you’re just not comfortable putting your exact location out there. Strava lets you set privacy zones up to 5/8ths of a mile from a specific address, and then any activity inside that zone won’t be shown.

Tracking Improvements

When I agreed to do a review of Strava, I figured it would be very easy. After all, I’ve been using Strava for four years to track my running, biking, and swimming. It’s what I use to track my annual mileage goals.

Then I crashed my bike and was unable to train. No training = no workouts logged. (And the annual mileage goals also went out the window.)

But now that I’m getting back into the swing of things, I’m starting to track again. It’s certainly slow going (and I’m still not back in the pool or riding outdoors) but what I’m loving is being able to see the progress that I’m making. Sure, my speed and distance aren’t what they were, but I’m doing better than I was two weeks ago.

I can also look back and see where I was after recovering from surgery last year, which gives me an idea of how long this rebuild may take. And I can look further back and see that hey, maybe things aren’t so bad after all.

Strava tracks your best efforts, and it’s always a great feeling to log on after a bad run and see that hey, you just did your third best 5k effort as part of that run, or you ran a certain segment of your running route the fastest you’ve ever run it. I find these stats especially helpful on days where I feel like I’m not making progress. Maybe I don’t feel faster, but I’m certainly getting faster.

And the best part of all of this tracking is that in a few months, I’ll be able to look back to where I was and be proud of how far I’ve come. It’s so easy to look back at a previous race result and think “Oh, man, look at all the speed I’ve lost,” but by tracking my short little runs as I’m recovering, I have something solid to look back on as I track my recovery.

And you had better believe that when I finally get my bike back outside, I’m going to be shouting it from the rooftops and I expect all the Strava accolades to be coming my way.