Monday, May 7, 2012

Race Report: A WIN at the Smith Mountain Lake Sprint Triathlon

This was a breakthrough race for me, a home run. I hit significant PRs on the bike and run resulting in 1:13:03 race -- a 5:33 improvement over last year’s time (2:21 off last year's run and 4:18 off the bike). That was more than enough for the overall female WIN! My first ever!

Simply said, things came together in a way that exceeded my expectations. I am still shocked by how this race unfolded.

I had the fastest bike split, fastest T1, and second fastest run among the women. Here are my times and rankings compared to the women and the men in the race (Full results here):

  • Swim (750m) – 00:15:16 (20/120 among women; 80/215 among men)
  • T1 – 00:01:23 (1/120)
  • Bike (20k) - 00:34:36 (1/120; 16/215)
  • T2 – 00:00:56 (6/120)
  • Run (5k)– 00:20:53 (2/120; 19/215)
  • Total – 01:13:03 (1/120; 20/215)
Now for the back story, for those who care to continue!


This is essentially our “home town” open water swim triathlon so it’s a really welcoming and supportive atmosphere where I get to catch up with all the local characters. This would include race organizer Mike Morris, who I met at this venue a year ago and who was the guy who talked me into Nationals! I'll always be grateful to him and for that bit of serendipity.

I also caught up with Betsy Henderson who was the Grand Master champion at Sprint Nationals last year. I first met her at this race two years ago when I was a newbie and I was blown away by her performance and state of fitness. She beat me soundly then, and narrowly last year. This year she flat out said, “It’s your year to take it, Cortney.” That brief exchange was deeply meaningful and a valued affirmation from a triathlete who I very much respect.

The first race of the season is tough for anyone, and certainly for me. After a pretty successful season last year and a solid winter of training (minus the 6-week run layoff) I couldn't help but feel some pressure that left me wondering if I still had “it”. You know, that ability to dig and be tough and really race!

With about an hour to go till the race start, I withdrew from the social scene seeking some quiet solitude. Coach Jim had the right words ready for me and then he took me through a swim warmup to get me prepped.


Is there ANYTHING quite like that feeling when you hear “ten seconds”? I think not. I took a deep breath and at the sound of the horn, exploded into the water.

I had positioned myself at the front of the pack for the first time ever, not wanting to have to pick through people at the start. The plan was to hold back for the first 250 but dig in after that. I settled in quickly and found my space. I reminded myself to reach and roll and to keep high elbows and not resort to “scrappy swimming.” I found myself a little wide after the first turn buoy and never got into a good position to catch a draft off anyone. We were too spread out and it didn't seem worth it to hunt someone down. Despite feeling generally solid and aggressive on the swim, I was about 35 seconds slower than the previous year. One thing's for sure, I’m always glad to get the swim done to move to my favorite events and so I love the sprint up to the transition area.


The wetsuit gods were smiling and it was a smooth "extraction". I threw on the glasses and helmet, ran the bike up the hill (passing people), and did my usual step-over mount, with my shoes pre-clipped in and the left one tied up, ready for my foot. Best T1 of the women!! Woohoo!


My Garmin data has me at 22.2 mph over 12.66 miles. It’s a somewhat twisty course, not closed to traffic, and one section heads out to a busy boat landing. On two occasions I saw trucks up ahead hemmed in by bikes fore and aft. Right or wrong, I made the decision to pass these vehicles on the left, the only option that I felt I had. I know there is a rule about not crossing the yellow line, and I may have, but what does a person do in that situation? I knew I was taking a chance, but that’s what racing is all about.

I passed a LOT of people on the bike! Man, I just LOVE the thrill of the hunt! The whole ride was basically just one big pass for me and no one passed me. Any time I hit a downhill, I said out loud to myself, “Free Speed!!” and squeezed everything I could out of it. I never let up, and I kept my cadence from creeping up too high as is my tendency. I never ran out of gears either thanks to my new cassette.

On the last mile and a half I had a friendly passing duel with my friend Stacey Ballowe, also from Blacksburg. I edged him out on the final uphill. All part of the fun!

In a sprint I give no thought to "saving" anything. It's all-out effort, hinging on faith that the training will have left me with enough leg to get through the finish strong. My average HR on the bike was 167 as compared to 169 on the run. Up until now, my bike HR has been significantly lower than on the run, so this is good news that my biking quality is catching up to my run quality.

In case you were wondering, nope, no aero helmet. But I did break out the nice Giro Ionis helmet that Steve Hetherington (my bike guru from Just the Right Gear) had passed along to me. So I was on his old bike and in his helmet and with the new wheels. A winning combo! Oh, and another big first...I finally gave up my glasses-mounted mirror for racing. The time had come! My last remaining piece of original equipment from my first race is my bike shoes. Three years of sweaty bare feet in get the picture.


6th ranked T2. I blame the socks!


This was my best 5K EVER (Garmin Data here), in a triathlon or road race, my first sub-21 minute one, done at a 6:43 pace. Splits were 7:11, 6:53, and 6:19. 6:19!!! In the last month of running, I tapped into some kind of newly discovered wellspring of speed that I could hardly contain. I chalked it up to the 6 weeks off running that left me doubly hungry. I am also racing leaner than I was at the end of last season, and I know now I want to maintain that. I stayed relaxed and pushed to run what I thought I could sustain for a 5k, leaving a little for a final kick.

Like last year, I met up with Mike Morris on the run, but this year there was no time for a photo-op. I kept on accelerating all the way to through the finish chute.

I didn't tell Coach Jim or ANYONE but I had a secret goal of a sub 7:00 paced tri 5K this year, I just didn't think it would happen at this first race and certainly not that far sub 7:00.  It felt awesome!


Coming through the finish I saw 1:25 on the clock, not recalling that I’d started 12 minutes off clock time in the fourth wave of swimmers. Betsy asked me my time so I said 1:25:something and she said no way. I had no idea. I didn’t need results to tell me I had run a great race, surpassing my own expectations, and I was positively giddy. Results were posted and I saw a few females on the list and figured my name would show up on the next sheet. It didn’t really matter, I was content. Some time later my friend Tanya looked me in the eye and said, “You WON.” “Won what?” “WON it…the whole thing.”

My next closest competitor, friend and teammate Crystal, was 1:20 back, and everyone else was 4:30 or more back from me.

That was a moment of glorious shock I hope never to forget. It was completely unexpected and not something that I even thought was within my realm of possibility. So cool!! Natascha Badmann won IM South Africa last month at age 45. Maybe at 45 I am just hitting my stride too!

General pre-award hubbub

Thanks, Coach Jim!!

Coach Jim and the girls...the boys had vanished!

Post-Race Fun

After the awards ceremony, and flying high on adrenaline, I went on a 20-mile bike ride (Garmin data here) with Mark Taylor and Mark Long who are both training for the Kinetic Half IM next weekend. It was meant to be an easy ride but I was so jacked up that I couldn’t help throwing in some surges. Mark T. later wrote that I “still did not want to let off on the gas.” I felt like I could have gone forever, except for the fact that I was suddenly ravenous and ready for copious amounts of solid food!

After the bike ride I met up with my family back at our State Park Cabin for some R+R (and food and yes, beer!). The boys' good friend Davis was along and it was nice to shift gears to just playing with them. (more on that...) I wrapped up the weekend with a 90 minute sunrise kayak trip from the cabin to the site of the race swim and back, enjoying my breakfast afloat! Then it was back home to unpack, do laundry, and get back to reality. No resting on the laurels, it's back to the gym Monday morning and on the bike Monday afternoon.

The kid flotilla - kayak, blow-up boat, alligator! No wetsuits for them!

Final thoughts

I said in my last blog post that I race because “I love the speed, the search for flow, the need for mental and physical toughness, the solitude, and the suffering.” With this race I found the whole package and then some. That surely doesn't happen very often so I will treasure this experience.

This was an expectation-busting race that reminded me not to think in terms of limits, only possibilities! It left me motivated and fired up --

Thank you!

Many thanks to my family who make this entire venture possible and who provided the great after-party at the lake cabin! The sport would not be half the fun it is without great friends and teammates to share it with. I am deeply grateful to:
  • Coach Jim of One-on-One Endurance, who has seen me through thick and thin for three years now.
  • Kurt Weidner, for guidance and accountability on strength and fueling.
  • Bryan Walsh of Solar Connexion for sponsoring my race season and feeding the "need for speed"
  • The Endurance Films Racing Team and our sponsors Training Peaks, Champion System, Eco Bottles, Jack Kane Custom Racing Bicycles, and Sweat Vac.


On with the season!