Race Report: Monticelloman Olympic Triathlon

On Sunday, I raced the Olympic distance race at Monticelloman for the second year in a row.

Last year, I had a strong race at this event. My goal for this year was to try to improve on my times from last year, knowing that I have put in a lot of time and effort in the past year to improve my swim, bike, and run.

I’ve been challenging myself by going to early morning masters swim once a week; going to evening group rides once a week (even though I often get dropped during these rides); and pushing myself on the run with lots of speedwork on the treadmill. This March, I went through a bit of a training slump, but I’ve come back strong.

Despite knowing I’ve put in the work, leading up to this year’s Monticelloman, I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to replicate my strong day from last year, particularly on a challenging course with rolling hills on the bike and run.

Race goals aside, I was super excited for race weekend because I was racing with two of my favorite people – Taryn and Megan.

Volunteering with Megan & Taryn at IM Maryland last year (someone didn’t wear her costume!)

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We were staying together for the weekend and I knew we were going to have a lot of fun hanging out together. The three of us met up at packet pickup at Lake Monticello on Saturday and did a shakeout ride and swim and then went to dinner. 

My pre-race routine was a bit different for this race. On the Friday night before the race, I went to a wine tasting party. I normally wouldn’t do something like that so close to a race, but I really like this group of ladies and wanted to go. The night before the race, the forecast was calling for thunderstorms and we were sure the race was going to be cancelled. So, we went to Ben & Jerry’s and got ice cream after dinner (if you haven’t tried their new vegan ice creams, you should!).

Of course, by the time we got back home, the forecast had cleared and we were expecting rain, but no thunderstorms, on race morning. Whoops! #sorrynotsorry

I called my husband before I went to bed on Saturday night. He said I should really work hard to have a good race because then I would have an excuse to drink wine and eat ice cream before every race going forward. Good point by the hubs!

On race morning, we woke up to pouring (I mean seriously pouring) rain and, of course, there was lots of discussion about what this would mean in terms of what we should wear (arm warmers? vest? jacket?), how we should alter our racing strategy, why are we even doing this crazy sport, should we just go out for pancakes instead, etc. We decided to go the race and hope for the best.

Luckily, shortly after we got into transition, we ran into my Team HPB and Ignite Endurance teammate, Nate, and he talked us through some of the questions we had (thank you, Nate!). I have to say, I did feel better about the rain after talking to him. The rain actually let up a bit as we were getting set up, but it was still quite cold. I was glad to get into my wetsuit, which kept me warm.

Megan was racing the half aqua bike, so she started in an early wave. Taryn and I were starting together in a later wave, so we were able to walk down to the beach to the start together.  When we got there, we both noticed we did not see a lot of pink (female athlete) caps. There were a lot more men than women. We did start to see some ladies trickle into the water and we ran into two athletes who live locally to us, Karen and Kate. Karen and I are making pre-race meets ups a habit – we hung out before the start at Atlantic City last year. It’s always nice to see familiar faces at the start of the race when nerves are a bit high.

One of the really nice things about this race is that Lake Monticello has a smooth sandy bottom and is shallow enough to stand for the start. The water in Lake Monticello was cold. I knew once we got moving we would warm up, but standing there was less than pleasant. Two waves of men were starting the Olympic in front of us, and, of course, as we were waiting, the rain started again – just in time to make things difficult for sighting on the swim course!

I’ve been working a lot on my swim, both with Alyssa and by attending masters with Machine M3 Triathlon every Thursday morning at my local rec center (I need to give a shout out to the Machine coaches – Andrew and Cindy – for helping me improve my swimming over the last several months), so I was hopeful that I would have a strong swim. I didn’t start off great (story of my OWS life!), but I eventually settled into a rhythm and was able to try to actually think about my stroke and the things I’ve been working on over the last few months.

Side note: I think I’ve mentioned this before, but for anyone who has open water swim anxiety, I highly recommend investing in a more expensive wetsuit. It has helped me so much to not feel so restricted in the water. Triathlon is expensive and you need to pick and choose what you want to spend money on. I still don’t use power on my bike, but I bought a nice wetsuit and that has really been worth it to me.

Sighting on the swim course was difficult in the rain, but generally speaking, the swim went by pretty quickly (is that the first time I’ve ever said that?) and soon enough I was back at the beach. I purposefully didn’t wear a watch for the swim, so I wasn’t sure of my time when I exited the water, but I knew I did the best I could on the day.

I scurried into transition and tried to get ready for the bike. It was POURING at this point and trying to get in and out of clothes and organized for the bike was a struggle. This was not the speediest of transitions for this girl (sorry, Alyssa!).

I headed out on the bike going a bit conservatively because of the rain, particularly because I knew there was a fairly steep descent within the first mile of the course. I took it easy there and on a few other tricky spots, but at the same time, I tried to push myself to go hard. Eventually, the rain stopped and the sun came out, and I was able to really push myself on the bike as the miles went by. The best news of the day is that I didn’t get any flats!

My only mechanical issue was that the velcro strap holding my aero bottle in place came undone after I hit a bump in the road. I am paranoid about following the rules and didn’t want to get a littering penalty, so I was trying to hold the bottle in place with my hand. The problem was that I couldn’t use my brakes with my hand holding the bottle in place. I finally figured out a way to wrap the strap around the bottle in a way that loosely held the bottle in place (better than nothing!) until I got back to the transition area. I slowed down a bit to deal with the bottle issue, but I tried to pick it back up as soon as I could.

I rode back to transition, dismounted, trotted back into transition with my bike (I was not about to try to run fast on wet pavement wearing bike shoes!) and just as I rounded the turn, I saw Taryn leaving transition. I shouted “GO TARYN!,” but she didn’t hear me.

This second transition was much quicker than the first (thankfully!) and I was able to get out on the run course in pretty smooth fashion.

I knew the run course was going to be brutal with all of the hills, especially after pushing myself on the bike. But, I also knew I just needed to focus on the task at hand (good form, fueling, etc.) and not let myself get distracted thinking about the hills or where I may or may not be in terms of my overall time or age group place.

Before the race, I was worried that a lot of the volunteers weren’t going to show up because of the weather. I wouldn’t need them for nutrition on the bike (I can carry plenty of nutrition to cover a 90 minute race), but I would for the 10k run. There were probably less volunteers than last year, but it didn’t negatively impact my racing experience. There were two adorable little girls – maybe 4 and 5 – volunteering on the run course and I ate a gel as I was approaching them. One of the girls must have seen me do that because she said something like “you can just drop your Gu packet here, we’ll get it for you!” So darn cute! 

In any case, I kept motoring along and would occasionally glance at my Garmin. I was hovering right around 9:00 mm pace, which was good, but nothing spectacular. I tried to push a bit harder.

A woman in my age group came running past me around mile 4-ish. I tried to stay with her, but I couldn’t. I kept her in my line of sight though and kept pushing. I always have to pull out all the stops in terms of positive thinking when I’m trying to push hard in a race. This time, I thought about an especially challenging workout I recently did with my friend (and Team HPB teammate), Beth, that finished with us running a mile as fast as we could. I ran that mile MUCH faster than I thought I was going to be able to during that workout. So, I told myself I could push harder than I thought I could to maintain my run pace to the finish.

I crossed the finish line and knew I had given it my all on the run because I felt like I might puke (luckily, I did not). I met up with Taryn right away and we talked about our days. We both knew we had strong races, but we anxiously awaited the posting of our times to confirm. Thankfully, it was good news for both of us!

My finish time of 2:42:22 was over 12 minutes faster than my race last year and I had improved my times in the swim, bike, and run.

2015     33:17     1:19:23     57:47     2:54:34

2016     26:07     1:16:26     54:14     2:42:22

I also ended up finishing in 2nd in my age group, which meant I would be standing on the podium for the first time ever. Now, full disclosure, the weather kept a lot of athletes home this year. They haven’t posted results by Age Group yet, but I saw very few women (of any age) out on the course on Sunday. However, even in last year’s women’s 35-39 field of 20 athletes, I would have finished in second place. Yes, I checked. I can only control what I can control. I can’t control who shows up on race day, but I can control my own performance. Small field or not, I am very happy with my day.

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Huge thanks to Alyssa and Team HPB; Ignite Endurance and our amazing sponsors; Andrew and Cindy at Machine M3; Bobo’s Oat Bars; and, of course, my fabulous husband for his continued support of this crazy hobby of mine.

Shout out to Taryn, who CRUSHED it and finished 1st AG in her first race back after she was hit by a car on the bike last year; Karen, who finished 2nd AG behind Taryn; and Nate, who won the half. Megan fought through the cold rain and finished the half aqua-bike, despite a rough day. 

I’m so glad I came back to Monticelloman for a second year. I definitely plan to do this race again in 2017.

Race Report: Monticelloman Triathlon

My triathlon season officially started last Sunday at Monticelloman in beautiful Lake Monticello, Virginia.

As I said in my preview post for this race, I really wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of my performance, particularly since I haven’t done an olympic distance tri since 2013. My last tri of any distance was in September, which feels like forever ago. I’ve also had some nagging physical issues and those three things combined left lots of question marks for me leading into the race. I had no idea what to expect in terms of my times.

I got down to Charlottesville on Saturday, picked up my packet, and talked to Alyssa about my race plan. Before I knew it, it was Sunday morning and I was on my way to the start.

Swim

With the water temperature in Lake Monticello being 64-65 degrees, Alyssa kindly let me borrow her sleeved wetsuit for the swim. The suit – a ROKA Sports Maverick Pro – fit me perfectly. If I ever take the plunge and buy a sleeved wetsuit, this is definitely the suit I will get. It was amazing.

If you have read my blog before you know that I have a lot of open water swim anxiety and that’s something I was really concerned about going into this race (that’s right – I had anxiety about anxiety). The long story short is that, with coaching advice from Alyssa, I was able to do much better this time. I still stopped and did the good ‘ol “tread water and think about quitting” routine, but it was a much shorter stop than normal and I never felt like my chest was tightening and I couldn’t breathe. That’s a huge step in the right direction for me with my open water swimming. The wetsuit kept me warm and wasn’t constricting, which I think helped a lot, too. I’m 100% on the ROKA bandwagon after this experience!

I finally got going and tried to just get into a rhythm with my stroke. Almost immediately, I realized my first mistake of the day. I knew I was going to forget something with this being my first triathlon in so many months, and sure enough I did! I forgot to use Body Glide on my neck to prevent the wetsuit from rubbing. That’s an omission I have been paying for every day since. Ouch!

Once I got going, I caught back up with the back of the pack and I was able to stick with them and even pass some people. The swim felt long, but I made it to the beach and knew the hardest part of my day was over.

As I ran in to T1, I saw Alyssa and she cheered and told me I had a great swim.

Running into T1. Alyssa gets the photo credit for all of these pics.

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Total swim time: 33:17, 10th in age group

(I think the swim time included the run into transition because my Garmin showed me at 32 and seconds coming out of the water.)

I fumbled around in transition for a bit, which was kind of frustrating, but I did finally get my stuff together and get out on the bike course.

Getting ready for the bike.

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Bike

I would characterize this is a challenging course. While there weren’t any super steep sections that I can recall, there were lots (lots!) of rolling hills and this required me to be on top of my shifting throughout the ride. I am still working to improve my shifting skills and this was definitely good practice.

As is the case at most (all?) triathlons, the bike course was a bit congested at points, particularly at the beginning of the ride, but once things spread out, it was generally okay. There were only a couple of times where I felt I was being held up by folks in front of me, and in one of the cases, the culprit was actually a car (the bike course was not closed to traffic). I did a lot of passing, especially in the beginning of the bike. Not being a super strong swimmer, I’m fairly used to that routine.

The course was quite scenic and the road quality was very good. I would also note that the bike course was well marked. Portions of the half and oly courses overlapped, but it was clear when they split and reconnected.

Overall, I was happy with my bike and that I was able to push myself to really work throughout the whole ride. I didn’t force myself to hold back and “save” something for the run.

Total bike time: 1:19:23 (18.1 mph pace), 4th in age group

My prior oly bike PR was 1:25:14 at Culpeper International in 2013. I rode a 1:27:18 at the Columbia Tri in May of last year, but that race had no swim. So, this was a big improvement for me.

I saw Alyssa again running in to T2 and she said something about me having a great ride, which made me very happy.

My transitions were definitely slow at this race. I had been fumbling around in transition with my Garmin, so I ended up just putting the face of my Garmin in the pocket of my shorts for the run. I got my belt and visor on, and off I went for the run.

Run

As I noted above, I had really pushed myself throughout the bike and didn’t hold anything back for the run. I think with all of the running races I did this spring (one ten miler and two half marathons), I wasn’t worried about cranking out just 6 miles. However, somehow I missed the description of the run course on the race website as “a roller coaster run,” and that was certainly an accurate description! It was a tough one, and it had started getting warm.

I had gotten a sports massage the day before the race and I was a bit sore from that as I started the run, but otherwise felt okay. I felt like I was moving along fairly well for the first two miles or so.

Then, I gradually started feeling more tired and I definitely slowed down at points, particularly some of the uphills. I tried to keep focused. I took a gel and actually started to feel a bit better – at least momentarily – around mile 4. As I mentioned, it had started getting warm, so I took water or Gatorade at each aid station and tried to make sure I really took it in, as opposed to just spilling on myself (although I unintentionally did some of that, too).

Luckily, the hamstring issue I’ve been dealing with for many months now held off until about the last mile. I saw Alyssa near the finish and she was cheering, but I couldn’t really respond because I was just focusing on getting to the finish line at that point. There were some spectators cheering for me and I tried to acknowledge them with a little wave. The last quarter mile or so was not pretty, but I was able to cross the line in a time I am happy with, particularly in light of the difficulty of the run course and my effort on the bike.

Total run time: 57:47 (9:19 pace), 6th in age group

My prior 10k PR (granted, from 2011, which is the most recent 10k I have run, but still…) was a 58:07.

In the end, I finished 7th in my age group of 20, in 2:54:34. That beats my prior Olympic PR of 3:07:40 by over 13 minutes. I was very pleasantly surprised with this result.

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I had the pleasure of meeting a fellow #50WomentoKona supporter (and #TriEqual board member), Kent, at the race.

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I have lots of positives to take from this race and I’m looking forward to building on them in Atlantic City on June 28th.

I want to thank Alyssa, for her awesome coaching and cheering on race day – it was such a treat to have her there! I also want to thank MooMotion for my beautiful and comfortable kit. I even got a compliment on it out on the bike course from another competitor during the race. And, last but not least, my hubs for his continued support of my passion for triathlon.

The next event on my calendar is a charity ride in Loudoun County on May 17.