Miami Man - Finishing Up The Season With My Dad

It was SO fun to finish off my racing season, in Miami, racing with my father! He was doing the Aquabike in hopes of getting a Worlds slot - but I think mostly the two of us were just happy to be racing together. Last year I finished off my season racing the Duathlon Long Course Nationals with him - so it was nice to finish off this year with him too.

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The weather was absolutely perfect. Not too hot, or humid, or windy - just perfect. And, once again, it seemed there were a lot of people I knew that were racing - which always makes it really fun.

The 1/2 Ironman and Aquabike nationals were both being held as part of the Miami Man - and after much back and forth with the race management, I was entered to race both. The 1/2 Ironman racers went first, and as I was doing the Aquabike I started almost an hour behind them with the Aquabike wave - which combined the men and women. Now, I have done a lot of races, in a lot of places, and a lot of mass starts - but for whatever reason, this one was one of the most challenging for me. I got dunked, pulled, punched, elbowed, swam over - you name it. I very nearly pulled to the side to let the masses go by just so I could swim - but I managed to hang in there until I got some space. It was a two loop swim, and going in on the first loop was straight into the sun - my goggles fogged and I could see nothing. I just tried to follow the splashes ahead of me and hope they were going the right way. There was a short run before starting the second lap, so I took some time to clean my goggles - and the second lap was SO much better (probably because everyone was ahead of me, but at least I could swim, and see). Suffice it to say - it was not my best of swims.

Bring on the bike. Which was absolutely fantastic. Flat, and fast. I enjoyed it - too much. There were a lot of girls ahead of me after that swim, so I knew I would have to put in a good solid bike to be in contention for the aquabike. So - I rode as hard as I could, and then some. But, it was great. I couldn’t catch the lead girl, but she’s a solid athlete and I am happy that she had a fantastic race!  Great way to end up the season.

So, in all my bright ideas, I really wanted to do the 1/2 Ironman as well - largely because the run went through the zoo. However, digging that deep on the bike left a toll - starting that run I knew I was in trouble. But - the zoo was awesome. The first lap there were about 10 giraffes all running alongside the fence right beside me. Of course, on the second lap they were gone and there was a tortoise who was moving faster than me . . .
For about the last mile and a half I found a guy running about my speed and we pushed each other on to the finish - that helped (and hurt) immensely.

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By the finish my calves and feet were cramping so badly - I honestly have to say that I gave that race everything I had left after a long, crazy racing season. I was 5 seconds off the top women’s finisher for the half. It is one of the things I constantly say to myself when I’m racing: “Every second counts”. I said that while I was out there running, and knew I was slowing down. Did I have another 5 seconds in there somewhere? Maybe. But - it is equally true that had I tried to push any harder my calves would have completely locked up and I would have lost a lot more time. So, I have to conclude that I gave what I had at that time, I raced as hard as my mind and body would allow, I got to race with my dad, and - I got to run through the zoo!!!!  I really can’t ask for too much more than that!

That evening we met up with a group of friends in South Beach for a little dinner and post-race celebration. My dad (and most everyone in the group) got a slot for Worlds. And - that pretty well sums it up. Race hard, test yourself, spend time with your family, meet up with old friends, and make new ones...and when given the opportunity - run through a zoo.   It has been a great year. Life is good.


And . . . I am already excited for Penticton!!!!

 

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California meets Tennessee - in Florida

 

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John and Maday Lines - I owe most of my racing season to John's assistance - and...he beat me in the swim

 

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My friend, Kevin Elmore (and his wife), who I raced with last weekend in New Orleans, also made the trek to Miami

 


New Orleans and The Thin Line Between Amazing and Crazy

NEW ORLEANS DRAFT LEGAL TRI/DU TURNED ‘DOUBLE DU’
THE THIN LINE BETWEEN AMAZING AND CRAZY

I would like to share a story with you. It is about a girl, named Kimee Armour. You see, Kimee has a burning desire to compete in the World Championship for Duathlon to be held in Penticton, Canada, in 2017. At the Duathlon National Championship qualifier which was in Bend, Oregon in June, she missed qualifying. Her only other chance was going to be at the Draft Legal race in New Orleans on November 6th. The challenge? She was entered to race Ironman Florida the day before… November 5th. Did that stop her? No. She prepared her Ironman gear, and packed a bag for the Duathlon the next day. She set an almost 2 hour PR for her Ironman, and hit the road with her husband driving from Panama City to New Orleans, and raced the Duathlon mere hours after finishing an Ironman. AFTER FINISHING AN IRONMAN. Most of us are doing good just to walk after finishing an Ironman….maybe just stand up. The race announcer recognized her at the starting line - and stated, “There is a thin line between amazing and crazy”.

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Pre-Race - with Kimee


 As for me - well, I had a great time in New Orleans. The children are beyond their max allowable days of school missed, so Jeff graciously allowed me to go race. I met up with my friends Bruce Heiser and Dan Hammond from Nashville when I arrived - and they took such good care of me. Between the two of them we found some of the coolest restaurants with the best food off-the-beaten-track that you can imagine! Kevin Elmore and Marc Mone from Cali joined us on Saturday night - and it was a wonderful evening swapping stories and laughs (and a really funky restaurant).

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Bruce, Dan and I after the "Tri" turned Du
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Bruce, myself, Marc, Kevin, and Dan

And the races! So, the weather turned on us Saturday morning and the race mgmt and officials were faced with the tough call of canceling the swim. There were numerous upset folks, but I have to agree with the decision. While the water itself was swimmable, it was more the exit that was the deciding factor (as far as I could tell). With the chop crashing on the concrete embankment, there was a huge risk for getting people out safely. Could it be done? Sure. Could everyone do it safely? No way. It just was not worth the risk. So - the triathlon became a duathlon. 5k run, 20k bike, and 5k run. Ironically, the very same race that was to be held the next day. For all those triathletes that have been hesitant to do a duathlon - there ya go!

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Beautiful morning . . .
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Pre-Race with Rachel Capshaw


Draft legal is just a different type of race. The men raced first and it was fun to cheer on all the guys I knew racing and see how the draft format played out. In my race, running that first 5k there were several girls out in front and my ‘strategy’ was to try to finish with the lead girls and hopefully work together on the bike, then see what was left for the last run. By the end of the 5k there was one girl about 10sec up - I managed to head out of transition ahead of her and called to her to come and let’s work together on the bike. There was a short hill out of transition beginning the bike, and I slowed up to see if she would catch up -when she hadn’t by the top I just decided to go ahead. There was a pretty sweet tailwind for the first mile to the turnaround, and I figured she would catch up there. The turnaround came, and she was still behind me, so I just settled in and decided to ride my race. If she caught me, great - we would be able to work together. If not - well, what would be would be. It was a two loop bike, and there was a stiff headwind as well (the price you pay for a sweet tailwind). A chase pack had formed behind me, and I kept expecting them to catch me at any moment. Somehow I managed to hold them off and had enough of a lead to make it through the last run. Might I add - the crowds were just fantastic! The 2 loop course on the bike meant going by the main staging area several times - and the cheers helped SO much!

 

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The guys - Bruce, Kevin, Marc, and Dan
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My photo bomb attempt on Kevin - was laughing to hard though....

Sunday morning I have to confess, I REALLY enjoyed watching the men’s race. There was a group from Memphis that came down to race together - and I almost forgot I was racing I was so excited to see how it all played out (and they did fantastic)! My race ended up about the same - several girls ahead of me on the run, entered transition with one, hoped to work with her on the bike, didn’t work out, rode as hard as I could, expected to be caught any moment, somehow wasn’t, crowds were even BETTER than Saturday (including the Memphis contingent who stayed to cheer which REALLY made my day, and Tim Yount who I always love to see!), and in some unimaginable way, I managed to defend my win from last year!

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The Memphis BPC guys
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Pre-race with Pam Tate (also from Memphis)

 And, (yes I made you read all that to get to the main point of my story) Kimee Armour raced. She raced with everything she had left. Not only did she race, but she got her slot, by 42 seconds.

 And that, my friends, is what life and sport are all about. You find something you are passionate about. You dedicate yourself to it. You dare to dream, you push yourself, you test your limits, you do what others might deem impossible. And, yes, you may have to walk that fine line between amazing and crazy. Otherwise you might never know . . . nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Walk that line.

Anything.Is.Possible.

 

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And a few more random pics . . . just 'cause:

 

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The 'Best Seat in The House' from the restaurant Saturday night
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Running across the levee
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Saturday's podium

 

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I may have mentioned this . . . but I really love this bike!
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and this is what I came home to . . .





 


Ironman Louisville 10/9/16


“The difference between possible and impossible lies in a person’s determination”.
Tommy Lasorda


I have a confession to make. The thought of doing an Ironman still scares me. Just the distances by themselves are a challenge - much less putting all three together. But it goes further than that. Not only do you have to make it through the distances - you have to have your nutrition and hydration dialed in. If you have the physical and nutritional aspects where you want them, then comes the psychological - pushing through the questions and doubts, being able to dig deep and keep going even when everything tells you to slow down or stop. And then you still have all the unforeseen uncontrollables - how do you handle things when they do not go as expected? And, you might as well plan on at least one unplanned thing happening - and a large part of your race is going to depend on how you react to and handle whatever is thrown at you.

I never, ever thought I would do an Ironman. My father had. I thought he was crazy. I remember after his first one (The Greater Floridian) - he told me how he was walking around that lake on the run and people were walking faster than him. He decided it was completely insane and he was going to finish it and that would be it for Ironmans. No sooner did he cross that line and he was already thinking that surely he could go faster the next time. It was just a few years after that we did Ironman Florida together.

Maybe it is because of all of the above challenges. Maybe it is because there are so few things in life that you invest so much time and dedication to that come down to a single day - and you have to take what it gives you. Whatever it is, when it all comes together and somehow, amazingly, you overcome and persevere and make it to that finish with the streets lined with cheering crowds and hear those oh so magical words, “You Are An Ironman” - there is no way to truly describe it, you have to experience it. My father told me, that is something that can never be taken away from you. Once you achieve it, it is yours forever. The rest of your life - whatever the challenges or obstacles, you can draw on the memory of that day that you were able to stay strong and accomplish something that most people never dream of doing. That is an amazingly incredible thing.

And - wow. Just - wow. Signing up for Ironman Louisville was somewhat of a last minute decision for me. Training for the ITU Long Course Worlds (OKC) I realized I was basically doing what I would have been in preparation for an Ironman. And I knew all kinds of people doing the race - my hometown crowd: Gwin Anderson, Tami Winston, Patrick Dilday, Bobby Baker, David Hatler, plus my friends Michael Ross and Jeff Fejfar. With OKC being my ‘goal race’ I figured I could do Louisville ‘just for fun’ and to do a race with my friends, no pressure, just see what happens. Never, ever would I have dreamed . . .

 

 

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Tami, Gwin and I


Louisville delivered a perfect day. Clear skies, cool temps, downstream current for part of the swim, beautiful bike course with rolling hills so similar to the ones I bike at home, and a basically flat run course. Spirits were high as Gwin, Tami, Bobby, Patrick and I hung out waiting for the swim start - everything just felt like we were all going to have a great day.

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On our way to the swim start (determined NOT to be cold!) - Tami, Gwin, Patrick and I
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With Patrick and Bobby



So, in theory, this was all well and good - a great idea. However, in reality, there were a number of questions going through my mind. I had trained hard for the swim and run, but hadn’t really spent as much time on the bike as I would have in prep for an Ironman. I was two weeks out from my biggest race of the year where I had dug really deep mentally and physically - was I really recovered? Would that surface out on the course when things got tough? Would I be able to hold together for the distance or would I crumble on the run? Did I really have any business out doing an Ironman which I generally start planning for a year in advance? Yep - there were questions. My answer (that I clung to) was - what will be will be. It’s a beautiful day. I am racing a sport I love and my friends are out here racing too. I would much rather be racing than watching them on the computer screen. What better way to spend a Sunday than swimming, biking, and running with several thousand like-minded people (2,467 finishers to be exact) — with no pressure other than to complete?

I won’t lie - those questions came back several times during the day. Walking down the line to the swim start (Really, Kirsten?)... swimming around that island (Should I really be out here) - and each time I would turn my thoughts back to what I was doing - focus on technique, can I hold my form, let’s see if I can keep long and smooth right to the end . . . and I was SO happy to be out there!

In 2014 I did this race, and it took me until around mile 80 on the bike to start feeling good. So, I was really excited to START the bike feeling good. I just settled into a ‘happy pace’, and enjoyed it. Yes, the questions came up periodically, (This pace is good now, but will it be at mile 60? Are you going to be able to run after this?) but then I reminded myself it was a no-pressure race, it felt good then so just enjoy it and what comes will come...and I LOVE to ride my bike!  Was very excited to come across my Memphis Thunder friend Lesley Brainard out on the course too!  The countryside was beautiful, the crowds were great, and (despite my fears) I was able to hold it steady for the duration. I credit that largely to the awesome training partners I have in cycling, to my ‘local’ group bike rides and TN bike racing.

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Have I mentioned how much I love my Merckx?????

Off the bike and into transition and the crowds were going WILD. Like, seriously - I have NEVER had such a reception into transition. High fives all around. What in the world was going on?

 

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Into transition....

Put on my running shoes and headed out and everyone is yelling that I am 3rd female out on the course and that 2nd was just ahead. No way. Those crowds were so incredible (and I was feeling good) that it was all I could do to try to make myself run slowly. I spent the first 3 miles trying to slow down (and the remainder of the race trying not to). I even had a bicycle escort!!!!! 2nd place was indeed just ahead of me, but I knew I was still running faster than I should, and there was NO way I could hold that pace for a marathon.

So, I tried to exercise the ultimate rule of the Ironman - patience. Just before the first turnaround the number one female passed going the other direction, high-fived number two, and said “Come catch me”. OK - game on. I passed number 2 right after the turn, said, “Come on, let’s go catch your friend”. She just kinda laughed, but just before the turn around for the second loop, I did. OK, seriously, when you go through downtown Louisville with a bicycle escort yelling “First place woman” and the crowds are cheering wildly - it is REALLY hard to run your goal pace and not speed up. I was just shaking my head - no way could I be in first. With the time trial start, there is bound to be someone else faster who is just further back on the course. Plus - I still had another 13.1 miles to go - would I be able to hold what had already been faster than my goal pace? Certainly a gamble. But, heck, how could I NOT try?

I was fading, but having the time (and race) of my life so I just focused on form, drew energy from the crowds, and thought about all the people I knew watching for those time markers to show up when I crossed a timing mat (and telling me NOT to slow down - lol). I kept seeing friends out on the course that were having awesome races - and that was hugely inspiring. At the aid station before the turn I discovered my friend George Van Meter which was very exciting! I was slowing, by the last four miles I was seriously worried I was going to get passed. If nothing else I figured this was the best chance I would ever have to be the first female to cross an Ironman finish line, even if someone did beat me time-wise.

Slow and steady, I just dug as deep as I could, drew on every ounce of strength and support I could from the crowds, the volunteers (there were 3,300 volunteers for the race - amazing!), and my vast support system that I am oh so lucky to have . . . and I made it to mile 25 where the crowds really got going. I took it all in - let me tell you. First female - really? High fives, disbelief, and yes, some tears. Doing an Ironman still scares me - how could I have finished first? Breaking that tape at the finish was so incredibly amazing beyond words. THAT is the power of an amazing support system - friends, family, faith, belief, good coaching, determination, testing your limits, keeping it fun, and (maybe) a little craziness.

Anything.Is.Possible.

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My friend, Michael Ross, waited at the finish for me!
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With Jeff Fejfar . . . Hawaii bound!
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And with Michael . . . also Hawaii bound!

  

 

As always, none of this would be possible without the amazing number of people who stand behind and beside (and in front) of me.  My husband Jeff let me come out and race with my friends.  My children (Bella and Sebastian) allowed their mama to do 'one more big race'.  My coach, Suzanne, shakes her head and calls me 'incorrigible' - but lets me go ahead.  My nutrition was never a question thanks the the incredible power of UCAN.  I was FINALLY able to try out my ROKA wetsuit - which was just awesome (and the first time I have ever escaped without chafing on my neck).  My Merckx bike (delivered back to me by Raceday Transport in time for the race) to which I owe huge thanks to Lynn Greer at Gran Fondo Cycles (Nashville) and Heather Rizzi (Have I mentioned I love that bike???).  And, of course, I had to sport my TN socks - thanks Swiftwick!  Brock Martin and Rena Schlegel - you guys help keep me functioning (sometimes I wonder how....).  And, quite honestly, I would not have done this race without the generous support of John Lines - I cannot thank you enough.  That's just the tip of the iceberg - don't think I take for granted the countless people who take the time to wish me well, send encouraging words, watch as the time splits appear, and cheer tirelessly . . .  you keep me going and inspire me to keep testing the limits - I am lucky beyond words.

Thank You.

 

 

 

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I had such a fun weekend with these two. Thank you Tami and Gwin for letting me hang with you!!!!


 

 


ITU Long Course Worlds - OKC

Oklahoma City, September 22, 2016 - ITU Age Group Long Course Worlds

   The amount of support I had for this race was so amazingly over-the-top that I (almost) don't know where to begin.
Last year, I competed in the Redman Triathlon in order to qualify for the ITU Long Course World Championships, largely because it was the ONE race my coach, Suzanne Atkinson, requested me to do. I race a lot, and have often asked her if there was a race she would like me to do - and this was her first and only request.
    I was fortunate to race last year with two great friends and amazing athletes - Travis Newton and Chris Fetter. Despite starting at different times, the three of us crossed the finish line at practically the same time. This is one of my all time favorite race photos - I am so happy the moment was captured. It is one of the many things I love about the sport of triathlon - while in a lot of ways it is an 'individual' sport, in so many more it is about being part of a larger whole and supporting each other; about friendship, about daring to toe the line, test your limits, give your all, and congratulating each other when it is all said and done.

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Finish Line Redman Triathlon (9/2015) - with Chris Fetter and Travis Newton
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Chris and Travis and I - cleaned up :) 

    So - back to OKC. Have you ever done a race that was really tough, and by some chance of fate (or amnesia) you end up back to do that race again? It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached the race course - memories came flooding back . . . windy bike, heat, heat, more heat, trying to coax my fading legs to just keep a steady pace on the run . . . yeah, acknowledge and then try to forget again. And this race, the World Championship, was even longer - a 4k swim, 120k bike, and a 30k run. However, I knew that I had done all I could to prepare, and would just have to take whatever the day gave me.

    This year, I raced as part of the great Team USA. I was racing for them, for my coach, and for myself. I trained to the best of my ability and, just like everyone else, I had to make some decisions along the way about things I could and could not participate in. I would especially like to thank my family, my Tante Marylou Van Beek-winkler and Uncle Peter W.H. Winkler, and my dear friends River Byrd and Mark Duncan. I am lucky beyond words to have family and friends who understand when there are decisions I have to make, who stand behind me and support me and allow me to chase my dreams and follow my passion. I cannot thank you enough.

    There is something that makes a race so much more fun when you know people out there competing. Travis was racing, I ran into a long-time friend of my dad’s, Jeff Skinner, and made some new friends - Joella Baker, and Jennifer Tullis.  Plus racing with the Team USA as a whole, with Tim Yount, Lauren Rios, and Meg Weagely cheering us on - it was a pretty amazing group!!

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Team USA
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With Travis
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With Jennifer Tullis

 

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Joella Baker

Race morning. I like to get to the race site really early. So, I’m sitting in my car and it is literally rocking due to the wind gusts. Yep, it’s gonna be an interesting day. The swim course was 2 laps - and the water was ‘sporty’. I have done ocean swims that were calmer. Plus there were shallow areas where people were standing and walking. Well, I did not want to walk, so determined I would swim wide of that area, while staying on the buoy line. Great in theory, until I started swimming and lost sight of the buoys in the swells. Finally found one only to discover it was on the opposite side of the swim course. I corrected, but a kayaker spotted me and was concerned I was in distress. She kept checking on me while I kept assuring her I really wasn’t drowning - just off course. I had to find the situation slightly humorous.  By the first turn around I realized it was just going to be a crazy swim. I relaxed (as much as possible) and went with the swells, rolled almost completely onto my back and looked at the sky to get a breath, and actually really enjoyed the swim. I certainly was not fast - but I got out of the water feeling great - and very ready to get on my bike.

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The bike - was windy. True to form. However, the volunteers and aid stations were fantastic, and there were crowds cheering - can’t ask for much more than that. And then... the run. Three 10k loops, right by the finish each loop. First loop - started ok, but quickly started slowing. Came through the first turnaround and there was Tim Yount, “Happy thoughts, Kirsten” he says. Crowds were, again, fantastic. Seemed I was constantly seeing someone I knew racing coming from the opposite direction - all of us trying to encourage each other. Focused on run form. Saw people everywhere stopped with cramping or succumbing to the heat. Decided I didn’t care if I had to slow to 10minute miles I did not want to cramp or stop. Felt much better (although kept slowing) on the second loop. Water stops were crowded and a lot of times had to get my own water - seldom was it cold. Came through the 2nd turn around, and was feeling great. There was a rather interesting mishap with my water as I was coming through - but I will save that story for another time. Suzanne was cheering and had created a whole cheer section with her. Out for the last lap, was enjoying every minute despite the persistent slowing, and crossed the finish line in great spirits. What an amazingly difficult, ultimately challenging, utterly fantastic race!!!!!!

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Suzanne cheering me on!
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Always happy to cross that line!
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Didn't quite cross together this time - but still found Travis at the finish!
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Even found my Raceday Transport crew!
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For my Coach . . .
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Mission Accomplished! :)

 


ITU Age Group World Championships - Cozumel, September 2016

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Cozumel, Mexico. September 15, 18. ITU Age Group World Championship

Mexico! Hot. That pretty well sums things up. Thank heavens that the Team USA hotel was VERY kid friendly - Bella and Sebastian were quite happy! I was again amazed at everything that the USAT team puts into these events . . . daily updates, chiropractor, massage therapist, bike mechanic, organized course rides/runs, meetings, socials - you name it, they had it! I was also REALLY thankful for Raceday Transport. As we had a last-minute change in plans that included bringing both children with us, I really don’t know how we would have juggled them, luggage, and bikes - especially flying into Cancun, taxi to ferry, ferry to Cozumel, taxi to hotel. And, as I was racing both the draft legal sprint and non-draft legal standard, I would have only brought my road bike . . . so to have both bikes ready and waiting for me when I arrived was just priceless! On top of that, the day before the standard I found a gash in one of my tires which they quickly replaced and I was race-ready. They are just amazing!!!!!

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The sprint - well, it was draft-legal. My strength is the bike, so this definitely put me at a disadvantage. I ended up with an Aussie girl that I just couldn’t shake off my wheel, and she was the stronger runner. However, I have to say - I raced my best race for the circumstances, and was still able to look around on the run, with the streets full of people cheering in different languages, and think how very incredibly lucky I was to be racing, in Mexico, doing a sport I LOVE to do, and represent the US. Pretty amazing. I ended up 2nd in my division, and was well-pleased. Just to race in a World Championship, much less podium, I still find a little beyond belief.

 

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Just in case you were wondering - it was HOT!!!!!

     The standard - well, it was non-drafting . . . enough said. :) I was (slightly) fired up after the draft-legal, and ready to give it all I had, especially on the bike. There was a Mexican girl who had done the sprint as well (ironically her last name was Corona . . . ), and I knew she was a better swimmer and had a strong bike. The currents were really strong on the swim, and the course was shortened because of this. It still took me a while to get through, and I was SO ready to get on my bike! I had a great ride, but never caught Corona, so knew I would have to have a pretty good run. It was hot, so I just focused on my Bobby McGee run form and made sure to take in fluids (and pour on head) at every opportunity. The spectators were beyond amazing, and I had some TN friends out on the course too - which always helps! I tried to encourage every US athlete I saw as well. The run was 2 loops, and I caught Corona towards the end of the first loop. However, I still did not know if there was someone ahead of her or not, so had to just keep going as fast as I could. On the second loop there were girls just starting their first loop - so it was really impossible to tell where I was in the standings - so I just raced as hard as I could and hoped it was enough. The amazingly wonderful Tim Yount was handing out US flags for the finish line stretch - which is always my favorite part of the race. Heading down the blue carpet, through the stands, hearing the rest of the USAT team cheering (Lauren Rios and Meg Weagley are also truly amazing) waving that flag and knowing that I raced as hard as I could (and hoping that it was enough), and crossing that finish line . . . words just don’t do it justice. I am so, so fortunate to be able to participate - and I encourage, urge, beg and plead with anyone able to do the same. It is the experience of a lifetime.

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Yep - still hot.

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My cheering squad (also hot)!

 

Being that the sprint and standard were a few days apart, we were able to spend some family time enjoying Cozumel. We met up with some friends (‘Spider’, Ginger, and Sage Sillery) the day after the sprint race and did some snorkeling. We spent some time in one place and were then told we were being taken ‘somewhere really special’. So off we go only to stop at . . . . the race swim course. Yep. I thought it was pretty funny. However, I must say it was pretty nice to just be able to swim around and enjoy . . .

 

And now for lots of pictures...

 

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In the presence of greatness!!!! With Bruce Heiser, Jennifer Huffman, and Captain Thad himself!
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The USA Triathlon Team USA support crew (and I managed to get a rare photo with them all out of their usual uniforms!)
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With my fast TN friend Jeff Fefjar

 

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My husband, Jeff (Elvis), celebrated another birthday between the races . . .
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A little glass bottom boat excursion

 

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It was really tough . . .
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Entertainment . . .



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My little Sebastian
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Had to include - my comic relief the night before the sprint race - watching Cpt Thad enthralled....



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Always amazed to be on this podium!
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With Jeff Fejfar - very awesome.




Triathlon Age Group National Championships 2016

Omaha, Nebraska. August 12-13, 2016. USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. What a weekend.

     I was deeply honored to be recognized on the Thursday evening beforehand as the Amateur Female Triathlete and Duathlete of the year for 2015 - and especially so because my coach (Suzanne Atkinson) made the trip from Pittsburgh to be there with me.

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Coach Suzanne!

 

As I sat in a room surrounded by the best athletes in the nation - from age 7 to over 80, I was so very proud to be a part of the sport of triathlon/multisport - and very, very inspired. I think it is especially a testament to USA Triathlon that they recognize greatness no matter what age - and it was most interesting to hear from each athlete that was recognized. If an opportunity ever presents to attend an ‘Athlete of the Year Banquet’ - seize it! You will not be disappointed.

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Athletes of the Year 2015


 




 

     

 

 

And then came the races. Despite my participation in numerous National Championships, somehow I never feel ‘qualified’ to race. To toe the line with the best athletes in the U.S. - and probably the world - it is very awe-inspiring and slightly intimidating.

IMG_6285My desire generally becomes to podium in my age division and take what the day gives me - and this go-round was no different. Race morning (Saturday) dawned bright and beautiful. Though not furnace-hot as it had been 2 days prior, it was still a hot one. The first racers started slightly after 7:30am - my wave was not until 10:18 or so due to a 15 minute delay. By that time, it was HOT. For the first time in a race I was trying out a swimskin (finally - I know), the ROKA viper. It was absolutely amazing. I cannot believe it took me so long to try one. Definitely made a difference in my swim. I was very happy to be able to hang with the lead swimmers for the first half (never have I hung on that long before), but by the second half they had begun to pull away and I just couldn’t keep the pace. I came into transition over 2 minutes behind (not that I knew that), and was very happy to get onto my bike for my favorite part of the race. I was also very happy to have 2 bottles on my bike, because it was HOT. Shortly after the 1/2 way point I caught my main competition, and just had to hope I had a strong enough bike left in me to have a good time cushion going into the run. Then, the run. Have I mentioned it was HOT? It was. HOT. The aid stations had been running full tilt all day - and by the time we got there, were running dry. Mile 4 I didn’t even get any water - there was none. And, it was hot. But - thank heavens I have done some heat training over the past few mos (thank you TN summer) - so I definitely had an advantage. I just channeled Bobby McGee and my running form - and kept it going as fast as I could for as long as I could. Good enough to win my age group - and post the 2nd fastest female time. Way beyond my expectations! Ecstatic.

 

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     Sunday was again a beautiful morning. I was sore all over, and slightly fatigued, but the energy at the race venue was high - and I was really excited to be racing!!!!  Faced with some fierce competition who were mostly fresh (i.e. not doing ‘the double’) - I really didn’t have much in the way of expectations. Again, my biggest hope was to make the age group podium - and (if I dared dream) to top that podium would be better than I had done in years. I was lucky enough to start in the second wave (so EARLY) - and the swim was deja vu - hung with the fast pack for the first half, then lost it in the last half. Didn’t lose as much time going into the bike though (thank heavens). On the bike I kept looking for my big competition again (same as yesterday) - and I just never caught her. That worried me. Going into transition people kept telling me I was the lead female and I was thinking “Nope, she is out there - I never passed her, they just didn’t see her”. I hit the run hard - legs were tired and sore, but I knew it was only a 5k and I had to give it everything I had. So, I did. The crowds were fantastic - many, many more people out there cheering and enthusiastic - I cannot begin to tell you what a difference that makes. I raced my heart out. When I hit that finish line I was thinking “every second counts” - and I held nothing back. The banner was stretched across - and that REALLY made me smile, because to be able to run through any finish line tape is super exciting - Nationals is beyond belief. People kept asking me how it felt to win the race and I kept saying, “All I won was my age group”. There is sure to be a faster time in one of the later waves. I never DREAMED that I would actually keep the fastest time for the women. But, I did. Somehow. Beyond. Belief. I am not sure of how many triathlon national championships I have competed in now. Probably close to ten. I started at the bottom of my division, and every year tried to improve, to get a little closer to the podium, hoping to make the top 10 in my division, then maybe just to break the top 10 overall, in the back of my mind daring to dream of standing in the top overall - but never seriously thinking it would ever happen. I have never (and still do not) consider myself as that fast. Maybe on the bike - that is my favorite - but never among the fastest swimmers or runners. To finally have made it - to stand on that 1st place box and know that somehow all the years (and years, and years, and YEARS) of training had come together and paid off - well, it is still a little hard to believe.

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     I train and I race because I love it, I love the personal challenge of pushing myself and testing my limits, of racing hard on one day and then turning around and doing it again, of experiencing different races in different places and joining in with thousands of people who love the same thing, looking around race morning at the variety of people competing and watching the various pre-race rituals, to hear stories from athletes from all over the country, to meet up with old friends and make new ones, to hear the words of encouragement from others out on the course and try to offer some in return (one of the things I still find most amazing about triathlon), and to watch the expressions of accomplishment as the finish line is reached. Those are the things that keep me going. 

 


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The awesome Raceday Transport crew -definitely check them out!
 
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My friend Kimee - brings joy to every race!



 


Music City Triathlon - July 16, 2016

Nashville, TN.  This was SUCH a fun race because it was like a big reunion.  I had my father and my husband racing with me - as well as a number of friends.  Some doing their first triathlon, some doing their 100+ race.  True to form, it was HOT.  

 

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My friend (and Team WE teammate) Lisa

     So - this race epitomized many of the things I love about triathlon.  First - having my family racing.  

Second - seeing so many of my friends racing, and having so many other friends cheering.  And third - well that is a longer story...

   

The swim portion of the race is in the Cumberland River.  After some past 'current issues'  the race organizers changed the sprint distance race to a 300 meter downstream swim this year, which (in my humble opinion) was perfect.  The racers line up on a concrete dock and jump in one by one every 2-3 seconds and start swimming.  While the last of the sprint distance racers were starting off, the Olympic distance racers were lined up waiting to start - all lining this dock.  I was watching the last few swimmers, and noticed one was definitely struggling.  She managed to take about 5 strokes, and then started looking around wildly for a kayak, who appeared right on cue.

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My father, myself, and Tami watching the sprint swimmers

She held on, (and although I could not hear any of these conversations, I am pretty sure this is how they went) and the kayaker gave her some encouraging words.  She nodded, then started swimming again - made it about three strokes and was grabbing the kayak again.  Again the kayaker offered her encouragement, but this time she was shaking her head no.  Another boat was being summoned to come pick her up.  At this point the two swimmers who started behind her came up, encouraged her, and offered to swim along beside her.  OK, that might work, so she started off again.  Made it about 5 strokes, stopped, shook her head, and grabbed the kayak.  Suddenly, from the crowd lining the overhang above the river, there were cheers and shouts of encouragement.  One of the other swimmers said, 'Look, you have a cheering section'.  The cheers spread like wildfire, through the crowd, and every single racer on that dock waiting to start began clapping and cheering.  It was like a switch was flipped.  "Am I?" became "I AM!!!!", this huge grin came across her face, she nodded to her companions, and off she went.  Still stopping every few strokes, but making definite forward progress.  And - she did it.  I don't know how the rest of her race went, but she made it through that swim; and no matter what her time was at the end of the day - she was a winner.  

That's pretty cool.

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The 'Music the Moves' team - let me hang with them :)

 

     The other thing I just love is to see the variety of people that race.  Everyone from aero helmets and disc wheels, to mountain bikes with running shoes.  Each with their own goals, and each out there trying to race to the best of their abilities.  One of my friends was the 'designated last finisher' - so she swam, biked, and ran with the last person so no one was actually 'last'.  She had so much fun - and I'm sure was a great support to whomever she was accompanying.  

     So - swim in the Cumberland River (mostly downstream for the Olympic Distance), bike on a closed-to-traffic Parkway, and finish it off with a scorching hot run.  Surrounded by a bunch of crazy people (most of whom I know) doing the same.  It was great fun!  

I think I'll do it again next year.... 

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My speedy friends - Tammy and Vicki

 

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Elvis with Emily and Brad







Duathlon National Championships - June 25, 2016

Duathlon National Championships - Bend, Oregon. Tested the limits big-time. Beautiful city, challenging course, great competition, wonderful time meeting up with old friends and making new ones, and an absolutely fantastic job by USAT, Tim Yount, and the Duathlon Team putting on a top-notch event. If you can run and ride a bike - make this your goal for 2017. Go to Bend. Test yourself. It will be worth it! Sunday morning, waiting for my flight home, I met a girl (Kirby Heindel Adlam) whose 2nd duathlon EVER was the world championships in Spain. Now THAT is incredibly inspiring. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The opportunity is yours for the taking - why not seize it with both hands!?!?!
I am thankful beyond words for my husband, Jeffery M Sass (most of you know as Elvis), who is my constant support and cheered tirelessly all day for everyone out there competing; for my family who watched the children so we could pursue this adventure; my awesome coach (Suzanne Atkinson) who has put up with multiple texts and questions and always has the right answer; to Raceday Transport (goracedaytransport.com) who got my bike from Spain to Bend so all I had to do was show up at the event and my bike was ready to ride (I cannot even begin to say what a fantastic job they do, definitely worth checking out!); Bobby McGee - what I learned from him in running was all that got me through that second race (whew!); UCAN nutrition also saved me for that second race, Lynn Greer for the awesome new race suit/helmet/shoes/all my biking needs; to John Lines for all the support and encouragement; and to ALL of you who cheered from near and far - you keep me going!!!! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

‪#‎USATDU‬ ‪#‎steelcityendurance‬ ‪#‎UCAN‬ ‪#‎kask‬ ‪#‎fizik‬ ‪#‎racedaytransport‬ ‪#‎testyourlimits‬ ‪#‎Elvis‬ ‪#‎ilovemybike‬ ‪#‎hills‬ ‪#‎lifeisgood‬

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My Pillars of Support . . .

 Below is a list of the products and companies I am proud to be an ambassador for.  I use them - and I believe in them.  Check them out - and try them out, they are some of the best available!

Feel free to contact me if you have questions regarding any of them - I will be more than happy to share my experiences with you!

 

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generationucan.com

This product has revolutionized my nutrition.  It is my go-to before any race I do, and has saved me in my longer afternoon training sessions.  It is amazing for any distance, but especially the longer races when nutrition becomes more and more important - and if you don't like to bonk.  

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So, I hate traveling with my bike unless I am driving.  Taking it apart, packing it up, paying airline baggage fees, worrying about who is unpacking and repacking it in security, who is throwing it around, whether it will make it to my destination (and in what condition), hoping it goes back together correctly... the list goes on.  Enter Raceday Transport.  These guys do an amazing job.  They took care of getting my bike to Spain for the ITU Duathlon World Championships (2016) - and all I had to do was pick it up, go for a ride and make sure all was good, then hand it off to them after the race!  To seal the deal they then transported said bike from Spain to Bend, Oregon for Duathlon Nationals which was just a couple weeks later - and it was back on my doorstep (fully assembled) a few short days after the race.  I am a HUGE fan.  
 

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eddymerckx.com

I have been fortunate to have ridden a number of different bikes over the years.  In spring of 2016 I started riding the Merckx San Remo 76 road bike - and haven't looked back since!  I could tell an immediate difference in the handling - especially on corners and descents.  For someone who has a solid background in triathlon, the extra confidence in handling curves/corners (think - crits) is more than welcome!  I also started riding the Lugano68 triathlon bike, and I have to say, it corners almost as well as the road bike, and much better than my previous bikes.  Suffice it to say - I am planning to ride Merckx bikes for a long time.

 

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granfondocycles.com

I'm not even sure where to start in trying to describe Gran Fondo Cycles out of Nashville, TN.  The owner, Lynn Greer, has been incredible to me beyond words.  Starting back one day in spring of 2007 when I walked into his store and begged him to let me race for the Gran Fondo team - to shortly after that when he put me on his own bike to finish up the Edgar Soto Stage Memorial Stage Race (he didn't approve of my aluminum Schwinn with a broken spoke and shifting that was hesitant at best for some reason) - he has been by my side through all kinds of adventures.  He carries top of the line products, has bike fitting down to a fine art, and designs some of the coolest kits available.  Clayton and the bike service department go above and beyond - and keep my bikes (and me) very happy!  If you are ever in the Nashville area, definitely go check them out!

 

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 swiftwick.com

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These guys know socks.  And - I am slightly biased, but the TN socks just rock.  Period. 

 

 

 

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rokasports.com

Fastest wetsuit on the market.  Enough said. 

 

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https://www.bestbikesplit.com

Predict your race performance.  Create the perfect power plan.  Hit your best bike split ever.  Sound good?  These guys can help make that happen.  Pretty freaking awesome.

 

 

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steelcityendurance.com

My coach (Suzanne Atkinson) is the mastermind behind Steel City Endurance.  A great, supportive group of athletes and coaches.  I am not good at a highly structured training schedule - there are too many little things that happen daily - between work, kids/family, racing/recovery;  basically life.  Suzanne has been wonderful in keeping things flexible - sometimes we take it one day at a time (sometimes just half a day at a time), and she keeps the training FUN which is just priceless.  I know it's going to be interesting when she asks me if I feel like "something spicy" . . . 

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www.totalimmersion.net 

This is a swimming technique that teaches efficiency, which translates into faster swimming with less effort; leaving more energy for the bike and run.  They have weekend workshops, triathlon specific workshops, and (my personal favorite) open water workshops.  My father, sister, and I did an open water workshop in Maho Bay, St. John (a bucket-list trip) which was just amazing beyond words - one of my favorite memories and one of the best things I have ever done to help my swimming.


2016 Multisport Racing Photos

 

 

 

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ITU Age Group Worlds - Cozumel 9/16

 

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ITU Age Group Worlds Cozumel 9/16

 

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ITU Age Group Draft-Legal Worlds Cozumel 9/16

 

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ITU Age Group Worlds Cozumel 9/16
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Cozumel Cheering Squad
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Muncie 70.3 (7/2016)

 

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Muncie 70.3 (7/2016)

 

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Muncie 70.3 (7/2016)
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ITU Duathlon Worlds, Aviles (6/2016)
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ITU Duathlon Worlds, Aviles (6/2016)
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ITU Duathlon Worlds, Aviles (6/2016)
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ITU Duathlon Worlds, Aviles (6/2016)
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Cape Girardeau (4/2016)

 

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Los Locos Duathlon (4/2016)