[This race report is from No Limits Athlete Stephanie Riis, who competed in the 2015 NJ State Triathlon – Olympic Distance. This was a tune-up race for her on her way to her first 70.3 at Timberman, 2015.]
I asked Maria if she would be interested in this write up for her webpage because I wasn’t sure that an Olympic Distance triathlon was “wimpy” compared to the events that most of her athletes compete in all over the country.
[Note from the coach: Under no circumstances do we think Sprint or Olympic distances are “wimpy.” All distances bring their own challenges! All distances require us to push our limits in specific ways.]
I was unsure anyone would want to hear about a race that is not quite the Ironman caliber nor distance; however I really wanted to write about it because I felt that this was an awesome race, for any athlete; here is why:
I am almost done my training for the Timberman 70.3 in New Hampshire on August 16, 2015. I have been training for about 4 months and when I was planning my summer training I knew I wanted to complete a “training” race. I have completed a bunch of sprint triathlons in the past few years; however, I have never had the nerve to go any farther due to my insecurities with the swim portion. This race looked like a good one because it wasn’t quite the 1.2 miles in the water (.9 miles, I think), but it was close and this would give me a good indication of how the A race was going to pan out.
The race was sold out when I went to register, having waited a little too long to commit. I ended up wait-listed and figured if it was meant to be I would get in. I did. I was super excited because this race looked like a good production, it was somewhat local and it was a lake swim (necessity in my book). So on the calendar it went, approximately 6-7 weeks away from the Ironman. The bike was 23 miles and the run was six. Not necessarily ‘easy’ for me, but the least of my concerns if you are following along with my swim issues.
The race takes place at Mercer County Park near Princeton, NJ. The expo was also set up at the venue the day before to pick up your swag and browse the 10 or so vendors set up to sell you various tri equipment and accessories. I’ve been to approximately 1 million expos and I must say I wasn’t that impressed, but I also wasn’t expecting much because this was not a huge race as far as participants go so I knew it would be small.
After getting my bib etc., my friend Kelly and I set out to scope out the swim course in a paddleboat, which you can rent right near the swim start. This was a great feature of this race; it allowed me to see what the course looked like from the water and we were also able to see how many buoys there were marking the distance and how they were close together and in a straight line, which is basically best case scenario for sighting, staying the course, yadda yadda yadda. I was feeling good after our ‘tour.’
The morning of the race was essentially stress-free in terms of logistics. Parking was not a problem and the transition area was very well organized. We were given about an hour to set up before we had to clear the area and get ready to start the swim waves, of which there were a bunch.
While waiting for my wave to start, I had about an hour to kill and was able to get in the ‘practice’ area near the boat ramp of the lake facility. Another perk. All was looking good so far – water temp was about 80 degrees, so no wetsuit needed – slightly daunting for me, but Maria had already talked me off that ledge earlier in the week so I was mentally prepped for swimming sans suit.
Once in the water for my start, all went even better than I could have imagined. I had lain awake all night worrying about how many people would be in my wave, would I have room to settle in, would I get kicked, …., but none of these fears were realized that morning.
My wave had about 50 people in it and we all had plenty of room to spread out after the first 100-200 meters and it was essentially smooth sailing from there. Having the buoys every 100 yards really helped ease my nerves and helped to see the progress I was making and I completed the course. Before I knew it, I was heading toward shore and I could not even believe that I had just done what I did and not only lived to tell about it but felt awesome running into bike transition.
This particular day in July proved to be extremely hot and humid. Heat advisories were in effect and I was very nervous about how this would play out; I am horrible when it comes to racing in the heat – we just don’t get along. Heat toys with my head and actually camps out there for days leading up the event.
There were many people that listened to me gripe that week about the conditions predicted for that day, and again, I was talked off a ledge or two from some close friends who know my plight.
This being said, the bike was hot. I made sure to hydrate as best as I could and enjoy the breeze as I cruised along. The course was cut short by about three miles due to storm damage the day before, but I wasn’t complaining. The 20 miles were in the books before I knew it and I was on to the run.
Six miles is not a daunting distance for me at this point in my life, as I have run numerous half and full marathons; however, on this day I was not feeling as confident, again, due to the excessive heat and the fact that I had just done the swim and bike portion of the race (a little different than just going out and running a 10k).
The run course ended up being somewhat shaded in certain areas, the aid was placed in the appropriate places, and they even were so nice as to give out wet towels (not really so cold after a few hours outside, but the gesture did not go unnoticed).
I also made sure to grab ice and stuff it in my bra and hold extra in my hands, as I had just read John’s article on how this really helps in the heat. There were also plenty of water cups dumped over my head, which proved to have a cooling effect, but left me with soggy shoes (note to self). By the last two miles or so I was pretty much in the ‘bite me’ zone and was so fortunate to have my biggest supporters and close friends running along with me to pull me through. With their encouragement, I was able to ignore the ‘voices’, forge ahead and come running through the finish line with a smile!
As I mentioned before, this race was a decent production. I feel like they did a great job with the event, but the one detail that trumped all of the rest of their efforts was the cold-water showers that were about 100 yards after you came through the finish. Manna from heaven, if you will. I’m pretty sure these alone saved my life that day.
In sum, this race was great. It was a huge confidence booster for me as far as the swim went and, aside from the heat, the course was beautiful. Mercer County Park and Lake are nice little gems that we have here nestled in the Garden State. Having completed an Olympic distance race feels good going into the 70.3 and I’m glad I was able to participate in this event – registration date is already on my calendar for 2016.