Board Certified Sport Dietitian, Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, 25-year Vegetarian, Writer/Speaker, 11x Ironman finisher including 4x IM Kona finisher, Doggy-mommy, Wife to an amazing Czech cyclist turned Ironman Kona finisher, Triathlon Coach.
Almost every triathlete wishes to be a faster runner off the bike. Perhaps if the swim was the last sport in a triathlon, athletes would all wish to be faster swimmers and would spend more time in the water doing speed work and long workouts.
I use to wish to be a faster runner. I would create workouts in my endurance training plan that I felt would help me be a faster runner. I would add more miles to my weekly and long runs to make myself feel more ready for race day. Sadly, I found myself either injured or never able to run what I felt was my "true potential" on race day.
Rather than changing my goals, I changed my plan.
I learned how to train and race smarter.
For the past few years, I have developed a great appreciation for seeing what my body is capable of achieving in training without getting too stuck on the end result. I enjoy goal setting to keep me motivated but rather than training at all costs to move closer to my goals, I really find great joy in the developmental process.
Every season is different with new races and new goals. Every past season provides an opportunity to reflect, learn and grow.
Challenge Williamsburg proved to be a CHALLENGE with extremely hot and humid temperatures and a run course that included an up and down, mostly shaded rocky gravel trail for a little over 1.5 miles followed by almost 1.5 miles of running under the hot sun on the sidewalk with a slight incline followed by a decline and then another incline and then flat road to start the loop again...and again....and again. Four loops of this very challenging run course.
Without any expectations for pace (or goals) for the run, my only focus was to take care of myself. In between each aid station, I would sip my flasks from my Nathan hydration belt which each contained 80 calories and 300 mg sodium. I also had a tube of electrolyte/salts to lick as needed. I kept Clif Bar margarita blocks and a gel in my belt pouch in case of an emergency.
When I approached the first aid station, I grabbed just water and took a lick of salt and continued to alternate calories from my flask in between aid stations and water at aid stations for the first loop.
I can't really exactly say how I felt on the first loop because 1/2 of it was on the trail which I absolutely love (running on trails) but when I got outside of the trail, it was so extremely hot that I could feel the sun sucking my energy.
My legs felt ok, not super fresh but also not tight and as the miles clicked away (without any focus on my pace), I started to feel a bit better with every foot strike.
When I exited the trail, I spotted Amy who was looked to be leading the race and then Jen who appeared to be behind Amy. Both girls were running really strong and I really wasn't positive if I was 3rd overall amateur or maybe I missed someone ahead of Amy. Because of the loop course, there was only one opportunity for an out and back (on an incline/decline) on the sidewalk to see the competition.
As I was making my way out of the trail, Amy and Jen were so far ahead of me that I didn't really focus on catching either one of them. After I made the turn around, I could see my competition behind me so that became my big focus - don't get caught!!
As I made my way back on the long hot stretch of road to start loop 2 of 4, I spotted Karel who gave me a big cheer. My mom was down the road and she gave me a big cheer too. Campy was chilling on a chair under an umbrella and my friend, Katie Thomas (who was racing pro and did amazing) had her parents on the course and her mom was babysitting Campy.
When I started loop two, I found myself wanting to be a bit more competitive. But although my mind wanted to race, my body did not want to respond to any "hard" efforts in the heat (and I didn't blame it!).
When I got to the first aid station to start the loop, I took a sip of coke and began to become quite diligent at grabbing ice to keep myself as cool as possible. Whereas on the first loop I took ice from the aid stations and grabbed a few pieces in my hand to hold and the rest went down my sport bra, I made sure to constantly keep myself as cool as possible so every aid station, ice was under my hat, in my sport bra and in my hands. I continued to stay well hydrated with water/salt, my nutrition in my flasks and every now and then I would take a sip of coke as needed.
As I made my way out of the gravel trail for loop two, I didn't immediately see Amy and Jen. The gap was closing and I was beginning to feel stronger with every foot strike. My pace didn't feel fast but I didn't feel as if I was fading - despite the heat sucking away all my energy with every 1.5 mile segment of this looped run course. Seriously - it was so hot I felt like my insides were shutting down.
Rather than thinking about how exhausting it felt to race on this run course, in these conditions, I approached Karel and he gave me the pick-me-up that I needed. He told me that I was gaining on the girls ahead of me and he said I was racing so strong.
Yes - strong is the word for the race. Not fast, not speed, but strong.
Looped courses work really well for me as I don't find myself counting miles throughout the race. With 4 loops, I strategically broke down this race and tried to build my effort so that the last loop was my "strongest".
Despite feeling stronger, there were certainly low moments throughout the race. I choose to minimize walking in the trail at the aid stations as this was my opportunity to gain ground on my competitors. There was one aid station in the gravel trail section that I choose to walk each loop and then I walked every aid station in the sun. I didn't think twice about passing up an aid station without walking and some aid stations I took a bit longer than I would have liked but I was all about trying to keep my body in the best shape possible.
When I got to loop three, I was on a mission.....still not sure about catching the girls ahead of me, I needed to make sure the girls behind me didn't catch me. My only goal for loop three was don't get caught. I had no choice but to try to pick up the pace in the gravel section to gain any ground that I could.
The gravel section included several ups and downs with one steeper climb and then downhill. It was certainly a challenging run course but the heat was just so intense that it was hard to really feel "recovered" in the shade. With so many athletes walking all over the course, I often found myself thinking "oh walking...that looks like a great idea!" But I convinced myself to keep moving forward and that I could rest at the finish.
When I got out of the trail section, I found myself passing Jen. She still looked strong and I told her that she looked good. Not sure what position I was in, I spotted Amy and I guessed that based on our 1/2 overall finish at Knoxville 4 weeks ago (with Amy beating me by several minutes) I may be second overall female amateur.
Karel could not have been more excited when I saw him. He kept saying how great I looked and reminded me that I loved racing in the heat. I was so ready to stop racing in the heat as it was a fight with every foot strike to stay as strong as I could for 13.1 miles. Oddly, I never once counted miles and there were many times on the course when I had no idea what mile I was at and that didn't even phase me. As hard as it was to "race" in the heat, I was really loving this run course. I loved the challenge of the trail and then putting myself in "survival" mode in the hot blazzing sun.
As I made my way into the trail for my final loop, I just told myself to go as hard as I could until I exited the gravel. With a few strong girls behind me chasing me down, I didn't focus on Amy but instead, just stayed determined to not get caught. I really pushed as hard as I could on the gravel as I knew there would be little left in my tank for any type of hard effort for the last 1.5 miles.
As I was nearing the one aid station in the trail section, I spotted Amy. She was in my eye sight and I wasn't sure when I should make my move. Managing my effort was my only goal for the run but somehow I found myself being the one who was slowing down the least on this extremely hot day on this hard run course. I decided to make one quick stop at the aid station as I told myself that would be my last walk before the finish. I stayed behind Amy for the rest of the gravel trail and made my move when we were climbing the incline before the turn around.
(oh - I saw a turtle on the trail and said hi to him - I forgot to mention that in loop three).
As I was running by Amy, she told me great job and I told her she was running so strong. I asked her what place we were in and she wasn't sure if we were 1/2 or 2/3. Either way, we were both supporting each other. There's just something so special about racing which brings out the best in all of us - without a push, we never discover our true potential.
After the turnaround, with less than 1.5 miles to go, I found myself in the lead. I no longer thought about my sub 5-hour time goal but instead, GO FOR IT!!
I was on a mission to not slow down but with a real-feel of 124 degrees and between 85-100% humidity, I made sure to not take too many risks as I was entering a very dangerous zone with my body to "race" in this heat. I grabbed ice/water and a sip of coke at the last aid station with less than a mile to go and had one last lick of salt and finished off my flask to make sure I was well fueled/hydrated for the last mile. Yes, even with 1 mile less, I did not assume an easy finish and I still made sure to keep up with my fuel/hydration and electrolytes.
As I made my way to the finishing chute, I gave Karel and my mom a tall hand raise as they didn't see me coming. They both were smiling super big and so was I....
I couldn't believe it....sub 5-hours for the first time and overall female amateur.....by 37 seconds.
It only took me 68.8 miles, but I achieved something that I never thought was possible by my body at this race, on this day.
Once again, I proved to myself that racing is not always about who is the fastest. When it comes to training and racing, it's all about who slows down the least.
We all have our strengths and weaknesses as athletes. Never let a weakness stop you from using your strengths wisely in training and racing.
My love for hills, loops, trails and the heat paid off on this run course and even though I didn't have the fastest run, I ran strong enough after 1.2 miles of swimming and 56 miles of biking and that's all that matters when it comes to racing.
After the race, Karel, my mom, Campy and I went back to our hotel to shower and relax before awards. It was so fun to have all of the Trimarni athletes at the awards ceremony - and congrats to Elizabeth, JoAnn, Rob, Danielle and Karel for great races!
Great job Amy and Jesse - two amazingly strong athletes who really pushed me to my limits at Challenge Williamsburg!
I had only one goal for this race on the bike and that was to break 2:40. In 10 half ironman races, I can't recall myself ever riding faster than 2:42 in a half ironman and based on how strong I felt at Challenge Knoxville, I went into this race with confidence that I could achieve a PR bike. All I wanted to see was a 3 behind 2 hours and I would be happy.
Aside from my first three half ironman races (at Disney), the majority of my races have been very low-key events. Rather than racing with 2000+ athletes, the typical athlete count is around 500 or less.
Because of the low number of athletes on the course, this always provides a very fair race yet also an very individually paced race (with minimal drafting).
With most of my rides averaging around 16.5-17 mph in Greenville, I went into this race with excitement to see what my body could do on flatter terrain. Karel has worked really hard to help me learn how to "chase" athletes but still stay within my own abilities. After feeling like I was able to "stay" with others on the bike (yet still drafting legally) at Knoxville 4 weeks ago, I really wanted to settle into a rhythm but still feel like I was racing and taking smart risks at Williamsburg.
The entire bike course was beautiful. Tall green trees and miles of green grass surrounding us whereas we turned. The course was not entirely flat but instead, there were several false flats, just a few gentle rollers and punchy climbs and then one long-ish climb (well more like punchy if you had good speed on the previous downhill) within the last 5 miles.
All in all, it was not a "hilly" course by no means but it was not pancake flat.
I really enjoy this course - in addition to the well-paved roads (well, most of them), there were minimal cars on the road and the volunteers at the aid stations were outstanding (throughout the entire race). I don't know if it is just me but I find the athletes at Challenge races extremely nice. Maybe it's because athletes are not chasing "slots" but I have felt such a great vibe at the last two Challenge races.
For my endurance triathlon races, my strategy when I get on the bike is to wait 15 minutes until I drink from my first of three bottles (each containing ~300 calories) and to allow around 10 minutes for my legs to wake-up before settling into a rhythm.
Within 10 minutes of the bike, my legs felt heavy. I wasn't anticipating super fresh legs but my legs were not feeling good on the bike when I started my ride. I felt like my RPE was higher than what I wanted. Looking back, I ended up riding my highest power and speed in the first 20 minutes of the bike (177 NP watts/22.5mph) but in the big picture I do not feel it compromised my race as I was trying whatever I could to wake up my legs.
I ended up using the first 20 minutes to do a few fast and heavy gear intervals. There was no specific time for each interval but just to help wake up my legs on flat terrain, I would electronically shift into a heavy gear and that would slow down my cadence to around 80 for maybe 30-90 seconds and then I would switch into a lighter gear (all still in the big chain ring) for 30-90 seconds at around 95+ rpm. I was not focusing on my Garmin, just listening to my body. After around 20 minutes, my legs finally began to wake up.
Somewhere in the first 20 minutes of the bike, Karel passed me. It was great to see him but he was too fast for any type of conversation. Because he was doing the aquabike, he could take as many risks as he wanted but seeing that Karel was never a good time-trialing cyclist when he raced Cat 1, he didn't find himself crushing the bike like he wanted.
Around 10 miles into the bike, a guy passed me and then I found myself right behind him - staying 3 bike lengths behind him, I told myself to just try to "stay" with him as long as possible. It felt like we were a good match and sometimes I would pass him on a climb/hill but it always seemed like he would end up ahead of me and I was just unable to pass him and ride away.
Three times I noticed a race official passing us while riding along the course and never getting a look as if we were doing something wrong. This guy and I really rode well together - still always staying draft legal between one another. Whereas in a bigger race, there may have been 10-20 people around us, it wasn't until around 25-30 miles that another guy passed us and it was great motivation to know that I was able to stay with 2 guys on the course.
Most of the time, we were riding alone. I can't recall more than 5 guys passing me on the bike course.
Although drafting legally did not provide me with an "easy" ride, it did push me to not let up when I found my mind questioning if I was riding too hard. This is exactly what Karel has been trying to help me with and finally I felt as if I was taking smart risks and really racing.
I have four cages on my bike and in a half, 3 cages are for bottles (one cage is for my spare tubular tire in a cut water bottle). I consumed 1 bottle sport drink each hour and grabbed two bottles water on the course (at aid station 2 and 3) for sipping and cooling. Although some sections of the course were shaded, the majority was not but instead, in open fields or roads and it was starting to get very hot.
I wore COOLA suncare spray (SPF 30) and it always seems to protect me in the heat for long races and I never feel sticky with it on.
When I got to the out and back section of the course, around mile 42, this was the first time that I was able to see athletes ahead of me. I first spotted Karel and gave him a big thumbs up - he later told me after the race that he couldn't believe that I was so close to him. Over the past two years, we have seen some huge improvements in my cycling. Training in Greenville has contributed to most of those improvements as well as strength training and continuing to get dialed in with my bike fit from Karel (with his RETUL fit system). Karel last fit me in late April and since then, I have been riding much more efficient and stronger.
I spotted Amy and another girl (Jen) who were leading the women's amateur race and all of a sudden, my goals shifted. I didn't want to lose sight of my two time goals of breaking 2:40 on the bike and finishing sub 5 hours for the first time but I questioned if maybe, just maybe I could squeeze in top 5 amateur female. I didn't push my luck thinking I could be top 3 as I wasn't sure what would happen on the run and with the heat, this would not be the race to "race" the run - it would be all about survival and managing efforts.
For the next few miles, I found myself with a lot of mind games, wondering what kind of run times would be needed for a top finish by the athletes, also not knowing the run course, how much of the course would be shaded and how technical would the gravel section actually be? Gloria always tells me not to jump ahead with my thoughts so I made sure not to convince myself that I would fall apart on the run just because I was pushing the bike. All my thoughts were bottled into one big thought to help me race smarter.
Miles 50-53 were welcomed with a nice downhill and then long-ish uphill before heading back out on a main road for the last two miles of the 56 mile bike.
Within 56 miles, I easily finished all three of my bottles (600 calories) plus a small bite of my wafer (100 calories) and consumed about 1/2 bottle of water (between the two aid stations where I grabbed water and sipped and cooled myself). I hit lap on my Garmin every 20 min and never looked at my total time....until the last 2 miles. After turning on my Garmin 910 to get ready for the run, I switched my Garmin 510 over to the main screen (instead of my interval screen) and I couldn't believe what I was seeing for my total time.
As I rolled into the Sports Complex, I eased up just a bit and then unclipped my shoes, stopped my Garmin and got off my bike at the dismount line.
I rolled my bike to my rack and there was Karel at the fence talking to me. It felt like I was taking the longest time in transition but for some reason, I was in no rush to start running. I really wanted to compose myself before running 13.1 miles in the hottest temps I have ever experienced (including Kona - somehow it felt hotter than Kona).
Karel told me that Amy was a few minutes ahead of me so I counted her out as a good target. Karel said that he thought there was 2-3 girls ahead of me which was exciting knowing that maybe I could place top three amateur. I told Karel that I biked 2:32 and he said "That's great - you were so strong I couldn't believe how fast you were riding." As I put on my dad's hat and running shoes, I put on my race belt and then grabbed my Nathan hydration belt and started to make my way from the first race for bike-in all the way to run out on the other side of the transition area. Again, I took my time and was just not ready to run yet.
Karel reminded me that I do well in the heat and this course was perfect for me but I wasn't quite ready to believe him just yet. My legs were not too excited to run but once I crossed that line for run out, I started running (with my hydration belt on) and I grabbed water at the first aid station around 10-20 yards or so from the run out to cool myself on my head. I also grabbed ice and dumped it in my sport bra and took a few pieces in my hands to hold to try to keep myself cool.
As soon as I hit the gravel and felt the shade, I was instantly relieved to feel some shade. Although it was still hot and the gravel terrain was far from being flat, it only took a few minutes before I felt myself excited to see what I could do to see if I could come close to achieving my sub-5 hour goal.
It would be a few miles before I would see any of my competition so I shut out the thought of placing on the overall amateur female podium and decided to just run happy for the next few miles of our 4-loop run course.
Marni stats - 56 mile bike2:33:02 (21.95mph)
Karel stats - 56 mile bike
2:20 (23.78 mph)
Stay tuned for my 13.1 mile race recap......surviving the heat, staying fueled/hydrated and running my way to overall female amateur winner!