Race Reports

ITU Age Group World Championships - Cozumel, September 2016



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!!!!!



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...


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


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


It was really tough . . .
Entertainment . . .

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

Always amazed to be on this podium!
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.

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.

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. 


The awesome Raceday Transport crew -definitely check them out!
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.  


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.

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.

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.... 

My speedy friends - Tammy and Vicki


Yep - ElvisIMG_6129
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


Flashback to Ironman Louisville - 2014

                                                           Ironman Louisville
                                                               “The BIG One”

     Let’s start with a little background. My father, Volker Winkler, has carried a dream with him over the 25-30+ years that he has been doing triathlons - to do the Hawaii Ironman. Unfortunately, he has not been able to get a slot in a race, so last year (2013) decided to try the “Ironman Legacy Lottery” where those who have completed 12 Ironmans (and signed up for a 13th) are entered into their own separate lottery for Hawaii slots. To do so he had to complete 4 Ironmans last year - and he did (Texas, Cour d’Alene, Mount Tremblant, and Florida). He turned 62 this year (2014), and he got his slot through the lottery. Now, my father has been my coach, training partner, best friend, and inspiration since I began doing triathlons. I did my first Ironman with him (Florida in 2003) and when I was lucky enough to earn a slot to Hawaii he covered my race entry, travel expenses, and went with me to cheer as I did the race he dreamed of doing. I was SO excited when I heard he finally got his slot. My next immediate thought, of course, was “I want to do it with him”! Having already committed to a full summer of racing, I had to settle for an Ironman that was 1) still open 2) relatively close to home 3) convenient to the race schedule I already had. Louisville fit the bill. It was never an Ironman that was high on my list - but I had to give it a shot. Of course an Ironman is a long race, and anything could happen - no guarantees I would be lucky enough to get a slot - but if I didn’t at least try I would forever regret it.

So . . . August 24, 2014. Everything leading up to the race went as smoothly as possible. We (Jeff and the children of course!) drove to Louisville on Thursday, and stayed in the incredible Galt House Hotel. I have to admit I was pretty impressed with Louisville. I have driven by it on the interstate countless times, but never stopped. EVERYONE was SO friendly! Whole-heartedly supporting the Ironman, and the other competitors were also extremely friendly - I have never encountered so many waves and friendly words prior to a race before! My father and Bertha (a close family friend) drove in late Friday night and we all had breakfast together on Saturday morning. My friend Gwin Anderson and his girlfriend Tammy also came in Saturday evening - I have never had such a large cheer squad at a race either!

Ironman Louisville is rather unique in that it has a ‘rolling’ swim start - meaning athletes line up and jump in the river in that order. The line is a first come first serve type of deal, which meant getting up REALLY early to secure a spot towards the front of the line. I was (again) lucky enough to do so, and then it was just a matter of waiting the 2+ hours until the swim start.

The swim goes upstream, around an ‘island’ then turns back downstream to the swim exit. Having done the practice swim the day before, I knew that current was pretty strong, so my plan was to go hard until I turned back downstream, then recover while keeping a strong/steady swim to the exit. Felt pretty good through the swim, and was ready for the bike.

The bike was through the rolling Louisville countryside complete with hills and horse farms - very similar to my biking territory in TN. It was 2 loops, then back in to Louisville. As sometimes happens in a race like this, it was not my best bike. I just did not feel that great - not sure if it was nutrition, chance, or what, but it took me about 80 miles to find myself out there. I focused on nutrition, hydration, and kept turning the pedals until I started feeling better - and then all was good. Again the community was very supportive, lots of nice cheer stands and a whole town where they blockaded the road for us and announced who was going by on a loudspeaker. We were lucky with some cloud cover for the first part - but as the day wore on the sun came out - full force.



Off the bike - there were all my cheerers urging me on. Felt pretty good starting out the run, again it was 2 loops - right by the finish line - then a finish on the ‘4th street live’ section of downtown. Around mile 7-8 the sun was bearing down and my race started to be affected. If there was shade or a cloud, I could pick it up, when the sun came out, down I slowed. By the time I finished my first lap around mile 13 where all my supporters were, I was really suffering. My dad took one look at me and knew I was - but they all urged me on, I was still in the lead of my age group (although the next girl was gaining fast - ended up she got within 4 sec of me), and that helped me mentally. I was able to rally a little after that, kept focusing on hydrating and trying to get some nutrition in - and shuffling along as fast as I could. By the time I hit 20 miles I actually felt a lot better and continued to do so - shuffling along as fast as I could without my legs cramping. I was so excited to see Jeff, the kids, my dad and Bertha at the finish - I knew I had given it my all out there. On the back of my race bib I had written “4 My Papa” - and I flashed it at him as I ran towards the finish chute. I don’t know that you will ever find more energy than at the finish line of an Ironman race - it is truly magical. I soaked it all in - let me tell you!









End result - won my age group, 9th overall female (2nd overall amateur female), secured a Hawaii slot, and exceeded every expectation I had. Found many areas that need some fine-tuning prior to Hawaii, and am most inspired for the rest of the season.

So basically it cost an Ironman entry, hotel stay, food, days off work, a lot of sweat and physical/mental effort - but the opportunity to race in Hawaii with my father - priceless!