A Needed Finish: Women’s Philadelphia Triathlon Race Report

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You know how certain things in life can feed your soul? For me those moments are usually things I do to help others. Yesterday was the first time that I felt that way about something that was really just for me. I competed in (well, “participated in” is probably more accurate) the Women’s Philadelphia Triathlon (PHLTRI). It wasn’t the most challenging race I’ve ever done and it won’t be the most challenging race I will do this year. It was, however, one of the most fun races and 100% the most soul feeding. I needed this finish. Ever since the New York City marathon last year, I have had a string of very painful and very discouraging training and racing moments. I DNF’d a race this year for the first time in my life. Twice! Every day was a new pain and a new challenge. I am used to pain. After breaking my back about a million years ago, my normal included a constant pain in my back. It was usually dull but it was always there. These new pains were different. They were (hindsight is 20/20) basically alarms from my body to tell my stubborn brain that I needed to revaluate my plan and take care of myself. The final alarm was when I was walking (Just walking. Just. Walking.) around beautiful Lake Galena at Peace Valley in our hometown. Derek ran. I was aware my body was having trouble so I decided to walk. I wanted to make sure I could hold a pace that could complete the run portion of my upcoming IRONMAN races (at the time it was one half and two fulls, one being Placid). About 3/4 into the 6 mile loop around the lake, I began to walk up a reasonably decent hill. I had felt pretty good to that point and was on pace. Half way up the hill my right calf and left hamstring seized up. It wasn’t the same as a cramp. I drank this little sports drink shot that is intended for cramping and usually works awesome. It didn’t do anything. This was something different. My muscles tightened up and no amount of stretching or massaging would loosen them. The pain was awful. I started crying and hobbled the rest of the loop, stopping occasionally to breathe through it all, hiding behind my glasses when someone passed and faking a smile. I wanted to throw up. It occurred to me this was something much more. If it hurts this much to walk…

I cried in the car and Derek and I had a long talk about necessary next steps. I began regular visits to the chiropractor and started seeing an incredible functional strength coach (CFSC). The chiropractor fixed the immediate problem to allow me to move. The Functional Strength work began to get my body to cooperate as a whole again. Whatever I had done to myself during the NYC marathon (due to lack of proper training) combined with residual injuries from my T12 break and about 30 pounds of weight gain from the previous year had caused my body to start to go into a protect mode. That mode caused everything to tighten up and I think the intention was to stop me from moving so I would not hurt myself. Unfortunately it also shut down muscles and flexibility needed to be able to do the things I love. The CFSC did some tests and identified some concerning imbalances in my body, specifically my core. There is a scale to rank performance in these exercises/tests to determine your likelihood of injury based on your body’s imbalances. I was in the highest percentage. So I was given some odd looking, challenging but corrective exercises to do at home. In the FSC gym, we started working. This included (still does) some rather painful (in that way you know is helping) massage and stretching to break down the muscle barriers my body had created. I feel amazing after each session. I’m not sore. In fact, I can work out now without pain (aside from that sweet and normal pain from hard work). The moral of this part of the story is…Self Care!! Don’t take for granted what you have been given. You are lucky to have the chance to be able to do this. Stretch, take Yoga, get massages, see a chiropractor, get a CFSC, cross train and include strength and core work, meditate, do anything and everything you are able to do BEFORE things start to hurt.

After my two DNFs (a short duathlon and Connecticut 70.3), I realized my dream to have Lake Placid be my first full IRONMAN was not realistic. I was pretty upset because I had wanted it so badly. I’ve volunteered there for the past three years. That finish line! There is nothing like it.  I could not see myself crossing that finish line. I couldn’t visualize it. That wasn’t a good sign. So I deferred to IRONMAN Maryland. Maryland is two months later than Placid and is a much flatter course. It is more of a fair shot for my body. I keep hearing how fun it is also so I am finally really excited for it. And more importantly, I can visualize myself crossing that finish line. Any doubts I had about that were wiped away yesterday. Again, I needed that finish.

On Saturday we went to the expo for PHLTRI. There was an excessive heat advisory and it was about 1000 degrees outside but the vibe from everyone was so positive. The crowd was a range of  women athletes including podium finishers to women who had never run a 5k. Everyone belonged there. The men who were there were either volunteers or sherpas for the athletes. It was cool to see a 180 flip from so many other races where there is such a male athlete presence. While many races are increasing their female entries, this race showed hope that it would continue. Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae has said it on multiple occasions…something like “Women are made for this sport. Our bodies are better at adapting to endurance sports”…something like that (not a direct quote). We just need more women to believe they can do it. This race showed just how true all of those things are. Such a great vibe.  And everyone was sweating. Did I mention how hot it was? So we didn’t stay long. Emma (my 5 year old stepdaughter) looked like she was about to melt so we left before the athlete briefing. Turns out that was a great idea. Shortly after we left, the city evacuated the expo due to severe thunderstorms and a tornado warning (not the Philadelphia norm) so we didn’t miss anything other than getting electrocuted or something and I’m ok with that.

The race is run by Delmo Sports. Stephen Delmonte (Race Director, CEO, founder) puts on some amazing events. I have spectated at his races before but this was my first time racing one of them. The communication and attention to detail is world class. There was never a moment that I did not know what to expect or what was going on.

Race Day:

We got up at 3:15am. Emma was such a trooper and was so excited to be able to see me race. She hadn’t been to a triathlon since she was a baby at one of her dad’s races. The full distance races are still a bit of a long day for her now that she isn’t in a stroller. This was the perfect opportunity for her to see one of us in a triathlon. I think it was even more cool and important for her to see this all women’s race. I’m generally always smiling and happy doing everything in life. Today I needed to make sure Emma saw that.

There were some road closures and traffic delays but we still were parked by 5:15a. I kissed Derek and Emma and headed for transition. They were hoping to snooze a little more in the car before the race. Later I found out they were too excited to sleep. Emma says it like “too essited”. So cute.

On the way to transition I met a women who turned out to be in one of the tri clubs I belong to. She was so nice and the perfect amount of mellow to match my morning mood. She let me borrow her air pump (left mine in the car). I found out later she won her age group in the Aqua-bike portion of the race. So cool!

Transition was the most pleasant pre-race experience. Women really should run the world. We make things so very easy. If someone has a question we answer it quickly and simply. No bragging or fluff. If someone is nervous about something we listen, ask a couple of questions, and tell them why they will be just fine based on their own answers. We provide mental tools, useful tips, kindness and support. We are confident and assertive. I am not a man basher and I actually hate when people man bash. Having said that, I can’t help but notice a difference when men are taken out of an equation. And maybe that is on us and not them. It’s almost like some of our guard can be let down. We can still be badasses but there is an openness that seems to be missing in other races. A confidence to say things we are thinking out loud. It’s tough to explain. It was interesting and refreshing. It makes me want to be more self aware for the next race I am in and keep that vibe going no matter who is around. Change the vibe around me at least. Be the change instead of blaming the men. We can only control ourselves. Hopefully that makes sense. Continuing that, Cheers to all of the men who were out there supporting their friends, wives, partners and family members. It was so awesome to see you out there with all of the kids. I know some of you do this all of the time. I’m lucky to have a guy like you all. Great example of support to set for all of the tiny dreamers watching mom race yesterday. Thank you!

Transition closed at 6:30a and everyone headed over to the pool. I was really happy that my friend Karin found me and we were able to pass the time waiting to get into the pool with some great conversation and motivation. A pool swim in a race is interesting by itself.  The volunteers gave the signal to keep everyone spaced apart then we jumped in the first lane two athletes at a time. We serpentined up and down the lanes until we hit the wall at the last lane (6 lengths of the 50 meter pool). I was really slow but felt like I had placed myself in the proper spot based on my pace. I had to pass a few people but also got passed by a few other people. I tried to treat it like a road. Stay right. Pass left. It got a little clogged and tough to pass when people were breast stroking. I got kicked hard by a back stroker (I seem to always get kicked hard by a back stoker). The back stroke is actually not allowed for most pool swim races so I heard her get the heads up from an official as we were switching lanes. All good. Lesson learned. I felt confident during the swim and my breathing seemed to be perfect. Way too slow though. I 100% need to work on speed between now and September. Lots of mental notes. I was so excited that I almost missed Derek and Emma coming back into transition. Seeing their faces was awesome. I was having fun. I told Derek later that even though I was so happy to have him out there, having Emma out there was so special. I can’t explain the way she was looking at me. I think she got it. She’s a very wise tiny person. I tried something different coming out of the swim to try and counteract the usual dizziness I get. Instead of trying to catch my breath I just kept moving quickly and ran to transition without walking or stopping. It helped! I was able to get on my bike without feeling like I was going to fall over and could catch my breath and get my breathing rhythm back. Good race to take the time to learn some things.

I also tried out a new saddle in this race. I think it is going to help out a lot. I was actually getting bruising and severe pressure pain from my other saddle. This new one seems to encourage proper form to eliminate those pressure points. My hip ached a little on the ride but it felt like it was because of the new position and not anything to be concerned about. I was right. I felt great later too.

I felt amazing on the bike. Strong. I knew my swim was slow and I knew my run would be slow. I still haven’t run much since I have been feeling better. I needed to fly on the bike to feel like I was giving this race everything I could. So I did. It felt like I passed about 100 or so other athletes and oddly or to my surprise and excitement was not passed by anyone. I made up a ton of time. I looked later and saw that my ranking had me in the top 3rd for the bike. That is a huge accomplishment after some previous times. Not so much for the swim and run but who cares. Still good stuff. I felt like myself again. And I’m not done yet. I know I can improve more and feel good in all of these things. I forgot to put on my gloves and my bar tape was still soaked from the previous day’s rain.  My hands kept slipping so I had to grip tighter and in a different position than normal so my wrists kept going numb. Another lesson learned. Always gloves. Slow down and look at your gear in transition. Don’t let excitement cause you to miss something. It was all good though. I was having so much fun that I was bummed when I realized I was coming back to transition. I used what I learned earlier and kept moving quickly through transition. I was so excited that I completely forgot to put my bib on. Luckily they were not that strict in the race (or no one noticed) so I was able to finish without any penalties. I saw Derek and Emma again several times before the run and at the beginning of the run. I knew immediately I would have to walk a good portion. My body isn’t in run shape yet. Not even for a 5k. I said this out loud to Derek and he reminded me that it doesn’t matter I am still going to finish. He was right. It didn’t matter. So I gave the run everything I had while being smart. If it hurt, I walked until it stopped. I met a women on the run who turned out to be an amazing person and support. We were supposed to run together. She had hurt her knee doing the same race last year and this was her first race since the injury. She was having a great time but also wanted to be smart. So we talked about everything for 2 miles. We cheered on others and were cheered on by others. We yelled “Go get it! You got this!” and the response was (from all around) “We ALL got this!” followed by “I love this race!”, “The people here are amazing!” and “We are doing more than 99% of the world right now!” We ran when we felt good and walked fast when we didn’t. We crossed the finish line together and wished each other the best of luck in life. We were given the most GIANT finisher medal I have ever seen. No joke. This thing is huge. Later I was given advice for possible uses. Things like “dessert plate” or “beer mug coaster”. I joked about needing to reinforce my medal rack so it will hold up now. I joke and it is ridiculously big but I think I get it. I can guarantee I wasn’t the only person who needed that finish. The medal is a reminder of the accomplishment. It’s funny. I have some pretty impressive medals in my collection but this one will always stand out and not just because it is the size of a salad plate.

When I crossed the finish line the announcer called my name and I think I smiled with every single one of my teeth. I was happy. It felt good to be back. It was also cool to hear him say “Our next finisher is Erin Sheridan! Congratulations! Erin is also getting married to Derek in a little over a week so congratulations to both of you!” Emma heard this too and told me it was her favorite part of the race. It made her “So Essited!”.


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