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Author Archives: Elizabeth Waterstraat

Chicago Area Masters & Triathlon Swim Program

Are you tired of swimming alone?  Needing some stroke feedback?  Looking to improve your swim fitness?

Join us this fall for a motivating, structured and open to all levels swim program at Naperville North High School.  With four practices a week and a coach always on deck, this program will offer you a structured swim workout, feedback and encouragement from other swimmers. 

Fall Session Information

Dates:              September 12 – November 21 (Winter Session begins November 25)

Fee:                 $240


Tuesday            7:30 – 8:30 PM

Thursday           7:30 – 8:45 PM

Saturday           6:30 – 7:45 AM

Sunday             9:00 – 10:00 AM

Saturday Only Option:

Fee:                 $90

Dates:              September 23 – November 11

Schedule Notes:

Due to school events, there will be no practice on the following dates –

Tuesday, October 31

Thursday, October 5

Saturdays, September 16, October 21, November 4, November 18

Sunday, October 22

Frequently Asked Questions

 I don’t know how to swim.  Is this program for me?

Participants should be comfortable swimming up to 100 yards continuously.  While the coach will give you feedback to improve your stroke & adapt the workout based on your skill level, this is not a ‘learn to swim’ program.

I only swim freestyle.  Will I be able to do the workouts?

Some workouts will contain a mix of strokes.  However, the coach will gladly assist you in adapting the workout to meet your needs or swim only freestyle.

I don’t want to swim more than 60 minutes.

Two of our practices last 75 minutes but you are welcome to participate in as much of the workout as you’d like.

How many yards will we swim?

Workouts are written for the fastest swimmers in the pool.  In a 60 minute practice, the fastest swimmers may cover over 3000 yards.  There will be options to adapt the workout to a shorter or longer yardage.  The coach will also assist you in adapting the workout to your current fitness & skill level.   

Do I need to swim all 4 practices?

You are encouraged to participate in as many practices as you’d like each week, there is no requirement.

I’ve been to other swim programs before & the lanes are crowded. 

The beautiful NNHS pool has over 12 wide lanes that we may use during practices.  At most, we have up to 3 swimmers in a lane.  Some of the lanes are in the shallow end while others are in the deeper end.  You may choose a lane based on your comfort level with water depth.  

I’m afraid I’ll be too slow.

We have all speeds of swimmers & will put you into a lane appropriate for your speed, comfort & skill level. 

Do I need any equipment?

The pool has a variety of kickboards, fins, pull buoys & paddles available for your use.  You may bring your own or use items in the equipment closet. 

Do I need to bring a towel?

Yes, you should plan to bring a towel & any other toiletries you may need for after swimming.  There are several showers available in gender-specific lockerrooms.  You may wish to bring a lock for a locker or leave your personal belongings on the bleachers on deck during practice?  

Where do I park?

Parking is available on the NNHS campus at the corner of Mill Street & Ogden Avenue.  After parking, enter the school at the door labeled AQUATICS.  Once inside, the pool is on your left. 

I’m not sure I want to commit, can I try a practice?

You are invited to drop in & try our program.  The coach will have you sign a waiver & then you may participate in the workout.

I’m not interested in swimming in meets or racing, can I still sign up?

Our program is not designed to prepare you for competition.  However, some of our swimmers do participate in masters swim meets or triathlons.  You are not required to be a competitive swimmer.

I’m a triathlete.  Is this program for me?

Yes.  We have many triathlete swimmers.  As open water/race season approaches, we will include open water skills to help with your preparation.

I have a few more questions. 

Please contact Liz Waterstraat (multisportmastery at yahoo dot com).


A Different Path

I have spent the last 5 weeks injured.  For the first time in 42 years.  FIRST TIME!  When my doctor delivered the news, he looked at me and said, “42 years with 3 kids and no injuries?  Liz – it’s been a good run.”

And just like that, I was booted.


The good news is that I have only one more day remaining until I can remove the boot.  The bad news is that the boot became a symbol of everything that was wrong with me – my obsessiveness to be one of the best took away my ability to listen to myself, take care of myself and rest.  Fortunately, before we really hurt ourselves, life has a way of throwing obstacles in our path that force change.  Thank goodness the universe looks out for us like that.

And so the boot became a daily reminder to slow down.  Take care of your body.  Respect yourself.  As easy it is for me to see and accept those lessons in retrospect, the first few days were a rough and drastic change of shattered expectations, decreasing endorphins and fears – about losing fitness, gaining weight, missing opportunities, disconnecting from friends …. I could go on but at some point you realize that life goes on and to keep longing for what you had or looking too far ahead is a waste of time.  Instead, I looked at what I could do – read more, take classes, try new activities, day drink on the weekends, see the sport from an entirely new perspective.  Obstacles as opportunities, problems as possibilities.

Life in a boot.  How did it go?

First, let’s talk about the daily living obstacles – the stairs.  Between the first and second floor in our house stands a steep and treacherous set of stairs that I began to look at as The Enemy.  Each trip up and down the stairs required a sideways effort of trying to avoid pain while also trying to be as quiet as possible as to not wake the baby.  My children, entertained by my lumbering misfortune, called out warnings:  The Mommy Monster is coming!  But the joke was on you children, by week two I had learned how to descend the stairs backwards and more delicately when you least expected.

Next, the unexpected – better than Tinder?  If you are a single woman I suggest you get yourself a boot and walk around with it.  The boot is a man magnet.  A conversation starter! Though the average age of the men was around 60, I couldn’t believe how many random men talked to me.  What happened?  That’s no way to spend a summerYou must be an athlete.  My favorite included the guy in Starbucks who looked at the boot, looked at me and said “skiing?”  Another time in Target when a man looked at me and said, for a moment, I thought you were wearing cowboy boots with THOSE shorts (note to self: never wear cowboy boots with striped Athleta running shorts?).

Third, how to make the most of the self-induced pity party.  How many times in life do we, as women, as mothers, get to demand TAKE CARE OF ME?  The tables were turned – so when the husband suggested a trip to the Arboretum, I agreed upon one condition: rent and push me around in a wheel chair.  I thoroughly enjoyed the light breeze on the 80 degree day as he huffed up the hills.  If you can’t push me up this hill, how are you going to push your own ass up Barlow!?  Those doing Ironman Wisconsin will appreciate that Coach Liz nugget of encouragement.

Mason’s expression accurately captures how I felt about the boot.

So how did this happen?  Turns out, you shouldn’t keep running on something while saying to yourself maybe it will go away!  It won’t.  It doesn’t.  It didn’t.  It wasn’t one thing, it was a lot of things that led to a stress reaction (not a fracture, thank goodness!) in my right tibia.  ‘Tis the mystery of injury, a complex intersection of bad choices, bad luck, bad timing.  I’ve explored everything: training error, hormones, bone health, blood markers, equipment, age, nutrition.  I’ve come up empty.

Not surprisingly there were activity restrictions.  No running.  This felt like a blessing – it had been so long since I had run pain-free or even enjoyed running that to be told stop running was relieving.  Permission to swim as much as I’d like.  Between outdoor pools and open water season this was exciting – long swims, double swims, I’ve been swimming as much as possible.  Permission for cycling (but riding mostly easy, no being on the trainer and no cycling shoes so that meant using Hokas on top of flat pedals).  I stayed mostly on the path enjoying the sights of summer – every ride has been pure freedom, invigorating!  I’ve explored a new route or path every time I’m out riding.  I’ve become the kind of athlete who slows down to take really bad selfies.

“Really bad selfie.”

And then I sent them to the husband.  Who would reply:


But I can’t!

Let’s be real, though, putting the positive attitude aside – the hardest part has been the restrictions to my every day.  I lead a very active life with 3 small children.  Parenting from a chair is not easy (not to mention ineffective!).  I had to lean on the good people in my life and lean on them hard.  Gone were the walks to the park, walks around town, light housework, gardening – the little things.  I let myself cycle through the range of emotions on that – and there were lots of emotions.  Uncharacteristically, I let myself feel pain, physically and emotionally.  As someone who has spent a lifetime ignoring and pushing past pain, knowing that my resistance to pain is what makes me a good endurance athlete – to finally say it’s ok to not be ok and then sit in that space and not rush it or run away from it?  That was more freeing than the freedom I ever felt when running.

While there were a few tears, some wine, I’ve mostly stayed on the side of when one door closes another one opens.  The obstacle as an opportunity.  Or as Ryan Holiday would say “what if the obstacle is the way?”  Being injured meant more down time to simply enjoy life.  More time spent outside on my bike, unstructured. More time doing what I love – swimming, especially with friends.  More time to study for a sports nutrition certification.  More time just being me.  Not sweaty, hard charging, goal driven, Liz.  Just simply the Liz who signs up for a mosaics class (let’s just say I am NOT missing out on a career in mosaic artistry), Liz who goes to trivia night at the local bar (I’ve never felt less educated), Liz who now attends pilates (how can something that feels like nothing be so challenging?).  There’s an entire world out there beyond racing.  Of course, we all know that but it was actually refreshing to be forced into that world to prove it to myself.

Finally stopping to appreciate the beautiful late summer sunrise.

At some point, I’ll make a slow and gradual return to running, triathloning, racing.  But I’m in no hurry.  I’ve “comeback” three times from babies and know that if you want to comeback right – your heart needs to be into it.  Not just your body.  And not just your head.  You can put yourself in motion and talk yourself into it but if you’re not “feeling” it – you exist in this uncomfortable space of dissonance and self-doubt.  I’m pretty sure I just spent the last year in that space.  My heart just wasn’t into chasing being the best.  And I’ve realized that I can be at my best without obsessively chasing the need to be the best.  As someone who has lived so attached to competitive goals for so long, it’s nice to just focus on existence day to day and to simply be enough just being myself.

But truth be told – if we both entered the grocery store at the same time on a Monday, no doubt I’d beat you out of that store in under 10 minutes.  You can take the athlete out of the competition but you can’t take the competition out of the athlete …..

Madison 70.3 Race Report

The other day, one of my athletes asked how to go into a race and race well when you didn’t have any confidence.

Here’s how …

This is my Madison 70.3 race report, a race I trained for over a very long time.  Too long.  11 months ago, I had baby #3.  With 3 kids, my “goals” became much smaller than qualify for Kona, win this or that – I aimed to simply make it through every day!  And, if I could do that, my secondary goal would be to qualify for 70.3 Worlds.

It’s been a struggle.  I don’t talk much about the struggle because we chose to have 3 kids, we chose to wait this late in life to have kids, we chose to compete in triathlons and by the way WHO out there isn’t struggling?

(if this is you, please go away quietly to enjoy your struggle-free life without making the rest of us feel like failures!)

Truth be told, I experienced depths of fatigue and struggle I didn’t know were humanly possible.  The kind of fatigue where 16 ounces of strong coffee laughed at me while saying you think I can fix this?  I was tired and as an endurance athlete my resistance to fatigue had been my strength, ignoring fatigue is what I did best!  But in the last 11 months I experienced fatigue that sent me to several doctors for many different blood draws to arrive at this very unsatisfying conclusion: there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just tired.

Honestly this wasn’t at all surprising since I didn’t sleep for a year.  Starting around 20 weeks pregnant, my back would wake me up every night.  Chalk it up to one of those fun late pregnancy symptoms – a rib kept getting out of place because of pressure from the baby.  Then, baby came early.  I can handle this, I know babies!  Unfortunately, everything I knew about babies was completely useless because baby #3 was different.  He was premature, he wouldn’t latch, he needed to be fed every 3 hours and he slept very, very poorly.  Finally, in late February, when I had been woken up – AGAIN – every freakin’ hour of the night, I remember thinking to myself this is no way to live, I cannot continue like this.  I was, as they say, at the end of my rope.

The next day, I hired a sleep consultant.  It was an admittance of defeat – after having two children who were (and still are) perfect sleepers, I had one of those.  One who didn’t sleep.  Who the more we tried to get them to sleep, they more unsettled he became.  Who was now sleeping in our bed and STILL not sleeping!  $400 and a phone call later – I had a plan.  And a week later, I finally had a sleeping baby.

(it really was that easy, why did we wait?!)

Mid March – it was then I felt like I truly I started training.  Not just going through the motions of swim, bike, run.  Sure I had been exercising for months but here’s something shocking – when you train and don’t sleep, you don’t really gain much fitness.  My swim times were stagnating.  My bike – I could power through it but it was mostly stubbornness and frustration.  My run was a complete mess.  It wasn’t until I finally started sleeping that I finally started gaining fitness, losing weight, feeling more like me.

At this point, Madison was about 12 weeks away.  I was scared.  I’ve never been scared before.  None of my times were anywhere near where they’d been in the past and I went into this year knowing one thing: I wanted to beat the former version of myself.  Problem was – I was nowhere near the former version of myself.  In fact, if you see her, would you let her know I AM LOOKING FOR HER, at times, desperately?  Whether it’s age, life, fatigue or just too many miles on this body, there was a part of me missing.

At times, that made me sad.  Every training day became a drag of how slow will I be today?  How far will I get before my HR shoots up and I’m forced, yet again, to slow down?  Why can’t I keep up with my old lane? What am I doing wrong?  At times like this, one’s natural reaction is to want to push harder but we know that tends to have the opposite reaction you’re seeking.  The only thing that really works is, gulp, patience.  As cliché as it sounds, I focused on the process and the enjoyment that I’ve always gained from the (at times painfully slow!) process of bettering myself.

Still the closer I got to Madison, the more my confidence tanked.  I had been training for nearly a year – A YEAR – and didn’t feel ready.  In fact, I felt nothing but fear about the race.  I thought about skipping it.  I couldn’t imagine how I was going to complete a half Ironman let alone RACE it.  Even worse, my goal was to qualify for Worlds so I knew I had to be in the top 3.


Race week I knew I didn’t feel fit but I decided (finally) to control what I could control – focus on your details, use your experience, focus on how you can outsmart them.  Study the course map.  Scope out your competition.  Talk to those who know you best.  It was there I found the best advice – not about paces to hold, HR’s to hit, this advice was insightful, heartfelt and reassuring:

You are a racer, when the gun goes off, do what you do best.

I traveled to the race with Jen Harrison.  We spent most of the day chatting and eating.  She insisted we drive the course.  Thank you, Jen, for talking that sense into me.  We drove the course and I thought about advice from my husband – he told me how to ride based on my build and ability.  The course itself was midwestern beautiful – hills, tall grasses.  We even had to stop for a herd of cows crossing the road.  Besides being beautiful, the course was also a challenge – with long climbs, sweeping descents and rough roads.  Add to that a swim in Lake Monona which is always slow, an undulating run around the lake and a projected windy and warm day.  This course would be all about making good decisions.  I didn’t feel fit but I knew of the 2500 people racing, I could make better decisions than 100 of them.

The night before the race I slept terribly.  After existing for so long in sleep deprivation, that did not at all bother me.  The morning moved by too quickly, so quickly, I left the hotel without coffee.  And without a trip to the bathroom.  And still without my usual beaming confidence.  I couldn’t believe I had to race a half Ironman – today.  How?  Where do I even begin?


Once in transition, I put myself on autopilot.  Do what you do before a race and don’t think about it.  Everything was set up.  Check the boxes, Liz.  Vaseline in the shoes.  Salt tabs in the Bento Box.  Visor.  Helmet.  Then, I stood in line for over 30 minutes for the porta-potty.  Meanwhile, I watched as people lined up for the practice swim.  Time was wasting.

When an ambulance didn’t show up to monitor the practice swim, they cancelled it.  All of a sudden, things moved even quicker.  I finally made it through the porta-potty line.  Threw on my wetsuit and got into the corral for self seeding.  Two choices:  27 minutes and under or under 30 minutes.  I went somewhere in between.  The gun went off and the rolling start began.

30 seconds later, I was running into the water.  With no warm up and what felt like cold water, I felt panicky.  It took me a few hundred yards to settle down and find rhythm.  But once I found my rhythm, I kept veering right.  And then I realized I forget the most important thing when swim racing – previewing the course!  I had no idea where I was swimming – the buoys, the turns.  The orange turn buoys turned into orange sighting buoys.  The shore wasn’t getting any closer.  I was still veering right.  I felt like I was in the water for well over 30 minutes but looking around noticed very few pink caps.  Hmmmm….

I didn’t wear a watch in the water and I had no idea where I emerged other than having a feeling of not having a great swim.  Lake Monona is usually slow for everyone.  It’s just the swim – move forward and get going.  A quick transition and on to the bike course.

The bike starts out on the bike path.  I knew from doing IM Wisconsin that the bike path is the worst part of the course – narrow, bumpy and slow going.  All of a sudden, I hit a bump and (for the second time in 20 years of racing!) launched a bottle.  I don’t drink what’s on course so I had to stop, dismount my bike and run back.  In that time, Jen Harrison passed me asking if I was ok.  It was at that moment that I realized I wasn’t just ok – I was doing ok!  Jen is a great swimmer and I knew if I beat her out of transition, I had a competitive swim.  What turned into a negative (bottle dropping) turned into a positive for position – now let’s get racing.

The first part of the bike course was directly into the wind, which was building to a steady 15-20 mph force and by the afternoon gusting to 35 mph.  A coincidence.  You see, every outdoor long ride I’ve done this year has been out to Morris where I experienced the infamous Morris shift.  That would be when you’re riding out into a 15 mph headwind, turn around, enjoy about 5 miles of tailwind before the wind shifts into something wicked like a 20 mph north wind that completely sucks the life force and not to mention the fun out of the ride.  I was not only used to the wind but looked forward to it.  I knew I could ride into the headwind harder and handle it.  I knew the wind would make people make very bad decisions – like overwork or under drink.  Let that wind keep blowing.

I also knew the course didn’t get hard until mile 30.  Though it tilted upwards the entire way, all of you guys blowing by me with disc wheels – THIS COURSE GETS HARD AT MILE 30 – did you hear that?  MILE 30!!!  I rode smart, using my energy knowing that at mile 30 it was time to dig in for the real challenge.

I also knew that I would be out on course about 15-20 minutes longer than usual.  That meant bringing along an entire extra bottle of my sports drink.  This also meant I couldn’t bring along water.  So I went through a rhythm of drinking 24 oz sports drink between aid stations every 45 minutes and jamming down a bottle of water in the next 15 minutes to go through 3 bottles of sports drink and nearly 3 bottles of water in nearly 3 hours (why do people fight me on hydration?  IT CAN TAKE THIS MUCH, FOLKS, TRUST ME!).

At mile 30, sure enough it got hard and I was ready.  Coming up were 3 longer and grinding hills.  Not only did the course go up but the real gains on this course were in the descending.  I don’t ride outside often but I have plenty of experience to draw from – I needed to be fearless.  A wise coach once told me: momentum is easier to gain than maintain.  Take the corners fast, clean and look where you want the bike to go.

In the last 12 miles, I could see fatigue in every rider I passed.  The roads were a pot-holed mess from the midwestern winters.  The course had some ups (but mostly downs).  The last part was uninspiring through the Alliant Center parking lot and back on the bike path but I knew this from doing IM Wisconsin and prepared for it.  Before I knew it, I was dismounting and suspecting I was in a good position.  Though technically the race was time trial start (meaning I had no idea who started where) – only 2 women passed me on the ride.  And out there, once into the course, I suspected that I would need to maintain over 19 mph on that course to be competitive in my AG.

Out on the run course, my legs quickly reminded me that we had to run.  And lately running did not make me happy.  To prepare for this, I didn’t wear a Garmin.  Or a HRM.  Or a watch.  I just ran.  I didn’t want the chatter or feedback.  And honestly – it didn’t matter.  At this point, I was simply running for position.  I knew there were two women in my AG who I simply would not be able to beat on the run but suspected I could get close on the swim and bike.  I was now in a race of just hold them off.  The good news is that I knew they both already had slots to Worlds.  The bad news is that I told Jen Harrison if I didn’t place top 3 in my AG, on the ride home I would be cranky.  This run’s for you, Jen!

The run was not hard.  It was not hilly.  It was not even hot.  But I was not moving.  I really missed my former legs – the ones that settled easily into sub 7:30s and now struggled to break 8:00s.  But on this course, it didn’t matter.  Move forward, manage the conditions.  If anything, I felt steady.  I kept cool with my “peppermint sham wow” (I cannot give away all of my secrets – ha ha) that I held in my left hand.  I did my gels.  I told myself to get to mile 4.  Then, mile 6.  Mile 8.  And then mile 11.  At mile 11 I found myself running into the now gusting to 35 mph headwind thinking – there’s mile 11, Liz.  Now what.  NOW WHAT!?  I suppose we run to that big hill they put right before the finish line.

Eventually I crossed the finish line 3rd in my AG and 10th overall.  Earned my slot to Worlds.  Ate ice cream.

At first what felt like disappointment turned into an odd sense of accomplishment.  3rd in AG – that’s where I expected to be.  But 10th overall – that was surprising.  I looked at the names of the athletes ahead of me and I felt proud to be up there.  Forget overall time (and as a guy in transition the day before when racking my bike insightfully said to me – this isn’t a PR course – oh to be so wise …), to be 41 years old and still ‘in the mix’ as they say, I’m proud of that.  This much work to do but I finally let myself feel satisfaction.

So to answer my athlete’s question: that is how you race without confidence.  You simply put yourself on the start line  and set yourself in motion.  Along the way, you control what you can – pacing, knowledge of the course, managing the conditions, executing proper fueling and once the race starts – you race.  Above all, you don’t think about it.  You go through the motions of racing.  While confidence certainly helps en route to the finish line – you don’t need it as much as you need to manage all of the other things that make a bigger difference (like fueling, hydrating and – RACING).  The biggest challenge in racing long course is getting caught up in your head.  Box it up before the race start and think about the process.  Process, process, process.  What do I need to do now.  What do I need to do next.

It’s that simple but as we know –  never easy.


Dig the Pig(man) Race Report

West on I-80, Iowa rolls out in historic red barns and lush green hills of a classic midwestern landscape.  The names of small towns light up my memories of Ragbrais from years ago – Maquoketa, Storm Lake, Anamosa, Hiawatha, Coralville.  I can’t cross the border into Iowa without feeling an incredible urge to get on my bike or scream “rumbles” as a warning to anyone about what lies on the road ahead.

This particular weekend, we were headed towards Cedar Rapids to compete at the Pigman Sprint Triathlon, a quintessential midwestern sprint race.  With an elite wave incentivized by a prize purse, it has historically drawn some of the best amateurs and pros from the Midwest. To me, it seemed like the perfect final “hard” workout before I simmered down into next weekend’s half Ironman.

The 3-hour drive was a nice respite from the noise of my daily life.  I spent most of the time in the passenger seat on the Beer Advocate website.  I suppose this is the new Liz Waterstraat, 40+ with 3 kids, triathlete.  The kind of athlete who emails the race director the night before the race because she forgot to sign up.   The kind of athlete who rather than obsessively checking NOAA for wind and precipitation potential predications, spends the drive googling “Best Iowa craft beer” and trying to convince her husband that they should eat at the local brewery.

Race morning we woke up to the 50% chance of rain that was predicted.  5 am, a heavy rain was pounding outside.  I’ve done enough Ragbrais to know that in less than 30 minutes that storm would pass by leaving a thick blanket of humidity and stillness in the air.  Sure enough by the time we reached the race site, the rain had nearly dried up on the roads and the air was, well, thick.

Pigman takes place at the beautiful Pleasant Creek State Park.  My last visit to Pleasant Creek to, as they say, dig the pig, had been back in 2006 when I did the Pigman Half Ironman in preparation for my first Kona.  It was Jen Harrison who convinced me the long rolling hills and humidity would prepare me for a race on the Big Island.  She was right.  It was a trip with great memories – my mom accompanied me only to reveal her new “spectating triathlons chair” (lightweight with a table & a cup holder), finishing 3rd overall, being in the money, getting to hold a mega check on the podium (still remember Michael Boehmer who also finished 3rd overall – I’ve never seen someone so excited to hold a mega check).  Ridiculous memories of triathlon years ago …

Back to the race.  We situated our gear in the elite rack.  I’ve got to be honest.  Racking in the elite wave over 40 gives great perspective.  I sat there applying sunscreen (because at my age, you don’t mess around even in a sprint race at 7 am, if there’s sun, there’s sunscreen) and triathlete watching.  I know, I know, you’re all fast and important.  You, guy trying to rack your bike the wrong way by the seat – yes, you, I did indeed ask if this was your first rodeo because, cowboy, this is about my 100th rodeo and I’m old enough to be your mom.  Let me help you rack your bike properly.

I warmed up in the cool water of Saylorville Lake.  After draining the lake last summer, the water level was much lower and getting in involved a hike through what can only be described as soupy muck.  After the warm up, I stood by the start area.  The elite women started first.  It was a small wave.  As we stood there, no one seemed to know where the start line was so we decided it was in water.  And once in the water, we decided it was near the first buoy.  Before I knew it, we had 30 seconds left and like it or not, my far left position became my start position.

The gun went off and the pro (Heather L.) took off.  After about 200 yards I worked myself into her slipstream which became further and further away.  By the turn buoy, I realized she had 30 seconds on me and I had 30 seconds on everyone else.  The pace was hard to the finish and then I did my best huffy run up the hill into transition.

My wetsuit decided to not play nice and didn’t want to come off.  Even with this being my 100th rodeo, I had to sit down and yank it off.  GET OFF OF ME!  At that point, I had almost lost my 30 second lead on everyone else as the women started to enter transition.  Get out of here & go!

Mounted my bike and with a few pedal strokes, went to shift into the big ring and – dropped my chain.  In almost 20 years of racing I have never dropped a chain let alone in the first 100 yards of the bike in a SPRINT!  Not only did I drop my chain but it jammed to the point where I had to dismount and wrestle it back on.

I caught up to two women and paced off of them.  My legs, however, didn’t want to keep the pace.  They were thinking back to the long rides, run hills and said – nope, we’ll just sit here at Olympic watts and enjoy the scenery.  Come on legs!  At 30 minutes into the ride, Chris caught up to me which I took as a good sign since he predicted he would catch me by 20.

The bike was over before I knew it and it was time to run.  Not flat, the course had a few good rollers and plenty of thick air.  I ran without a Garmin, even a watch, because I just wanted to run.  I’m currently in a strained relationship with running.

We’re working on it.

In the end, I finished 4th overall and took home $150!  In the past month I think Chris and I have made more than a lot of pro triathletes (and, guys, that’s kind of a sad thing about our sport – this shouldn’t be the case!).  After the race, we headed straight to a bar we saw off of 380 into Cedar Rapids – The Sag Wagon.  A Ragbrai-esque bar situated along a bike path that served cold beer and cheap sandwiches under – of course – a white tent.

Because when in Iowa, you beer and bikes.

Another race done and another fun weekend with my husband.  We chat about races ahead, races behind and sometimes we just sit quietly.  I’m not sure what goes through his mind but sometimes I naturally find myself longing for the days when I was younger, faster.  That’s what happens when you’ve been doing the sport since 1998.  But at the same time, I know well enough to keep myself grounded in reality – the fact that I am 41 and still mixing it up with women 20 years younger than me and pros – this is not lost on me.  I realize that I’m not as fast but I’m fast enough to stay competitive and engaged.  And, more importantly, I still enjoy being a part of the game.

On to the next one!


Memphis in May

Somewhere south of Effingham, where the roads turn reddish brown and the sweet gum trees line the highway, the south welcomes me with a warm hug and much race success. Some of my best and favorite race memories have been in Texas, Alabama, Tennessee.  I like the south.  There, I said it.

The funny thing is, if you live in the north and tell someone something good about the south, they look at you, nose turned up, eyes narrowed, while saying cautiously:

Yeah, but the people.

I’m not quite sure what that means but as I walked into a gas station Saturday night to purchase Fig Newtons and Gatorade, I got a better idea as a woman declared to the entire store that a) although she was a burly, large woman (her words), she was not actually interested in women, b) which means she also didn’t understand why women might like women, and c) pointed to me and explained, “that there’s a pretty woman but I don’t want to be with her” and d) informed us that it was her good Baptist upbringing that taught her to make choices like that.

Needless to say, I exited without Fig Newtons and Gatorade.


A few weeks ago, Chris told me he was traveling solo to Memphis to participate in the Memphis in May triathlon.  I thought to myself, I need another 3 hour trainer ride like I need a hit to the head.  And so a plan was made.  I invited myself, dispersed the children and dog to assorted helpful relatives and signed up.

What’s better than one race?  How about two races – the “amateur challenge.”  That would be a sprint triathlon on Saturday followed by an Olympic triathlon on Sunday.  Since I have my sights set on doing the “double” at Nationals this year, I figured I would give it a go.

Early Friday, we embarked on the 590 mile drive to Memphis.  Chris equipped with his laptop to defend his colony of threatened citizens on War Robots, myself with a laptop to complete my work.  It was a drive we had completed countless times since 2003.  You see, back in the day (and please don’t ask me to define exactly when “the day” was – all that you need to know is that if you were around back in the day, you know precisely the moment in time I’m talking about) – back in the day, Memphis in May was THE triathlon that kicked off the start of the upcoming season.  It was a who’s who of the best amateurs and pros in triathlon.  Up to 2000 athletes use to participate.

(fun fact: even further back in the day, the amateur winners of the race got slots to the Ironman World Championship!)

We arrived early evening at Edmund Orgill Park.  After a quick and simple packet pick up, we took a walk around the lake.  I told Chris I hadn’t taken the time to give much thought to how I was actually going to race.  Chris then told me he doesn’t worry about the micro, just the macro.  A very Chris thing to say.  I asked for clarification.  Liz, I don’t worry about the details, I just do what I need to do to get to the race. That settles it, I’m going Chris Waterstraat for the race. Race plan written.  Show up and … well, race.

Race morning rolled around and we headed to the park.  Everyone was so – friendly.  By the time we had made it to transition we had made a new friend.  People say hi to each other, chatting it up, engaging in (GASP!) conversation.  After spending my last season racing the BIG races, it was refreshing to feel the spirit of homegrown triathlon.

With warm water, it was not wetsuit legal so I wore my new speedsuit (this time it did go above my knees).  With a time trial start, we lined up according to number which was given out based on when you signed up.  Unknowingly, Chris and I must have signed up within moments of each other because I was number 227 and he was number 228.  With a mere 3 seconds between us, I revised my race plan.

Run into water.  Wait 3 seconds.  Let Chris pull me for 500 meters.

That’s exactly how it went.  I can’t say I agree with the line my husband chose but I am impressed with this stealth-like ability to turn around a buoy.  I followed his feet until the last turn, lost the feet but kept on his distinct stroke just ahead.  We exited the water within 20 seconds of each other.

On to the bike.  Not surprisingly, after so many hours in the car on Friday, my bike legs felt flat.  I was moving along but never found a rhythm.  Chasing watts was difficult, I was passed by two women and I generally wanted to be off of my bike immediately.  The run was even worse.  Knowing that every second would count, I had to push when my legs didn’t want to push and didn’t ever feel “there.”  But I read an article recently about giving 100% of whatever you show up with on race day.  So I gave it 100% of the 1% I think I had as far as sprint race-ability on that day.

In the end, I finished 1st in my AG/4th overall.  Choked down a bunch of recovery powder and then discovered, sadly, that the best place for breakfast in Millington is an IHop (yuck?) before spending the rest of the day – imagine this!!! – relaxing.

It’s not a trip to Memphis without an Elvis sighting. This poor man had to stand around

in the heat & humidity of Memphis wearing polyester for two days.

Sunday morning.  Time for the Olympic.  I woke up feeling good, oddly like I didn’t even race.  Perhaps it was the scoops of recovery powder followed by the coach directed over 100 ounces of fluids.  But more likely what I’ve learned from coaching over the years.  Most athletes race short course better with a little work in their legs.  In fact, some of my best sprint races have been with a seriously negative training-stress-balance!

Overcast skies on Saturday meant the temperature dropped just enough to make Sunday’s race wetsuit legal.  Another time trial start.  Another start with Chris right behind me.  I ran into the water and again chose the cleanest line to the buoys.  Started swimming when I noticed someone coming up to the left of me plowing right through the line of chaos – meaning, everyone else.  That was Chris (afterwards: that swim course was a mess!  True, when you swim right through the middle of everyone!).  I picked up the pace to keep him in my sights but lost him before the last buoy.

After a decent swim, it was time to bike.  I knew the top woman from the swim started behind me so I tried to see how long I could stay ahead.  After 15 minutes, here she came.  And today instead saying, “There goes Kirsten S.!” I said “There’s Kirsten S., GO WITH HER!

Funny thing when you start to follow someone who is really, really fast.  You realize what makes them fast.  She pummeled those pedals like I’ve never seen and had impeccable handling – not missing a beat into or out of the corners.  For 15 minutes I played the game of chase, now holding watts over my sprint average from yesterday.  At some point, she pulled further away but the chase was what I needed to stay plugged into the race and ultimately also push a pace faster than the sprint too.  What can I say, it takes special talent to race an Olympic faster than a sprint.

And this is exactly WHY I need to race!

The run.  I forgot how hilly the course ends up being in Memphis.  After a run around the lake, you hit 2 decent enough hills that I wanted to tell myself – WOULD YOU STOP WHEEZING AND COUGHING (I seem to be allergic to everything in the month of May and spent the entire weekend coughing up the same piece of phlegm over and over again).  And, right before the turnaround – a relatively nasty hill just in case you were just starting to find your rhythm out there.

And just like yesterday, the race finished right along the levee where you run about 400 meters in grass with the finish line arch feeling like it was about 2 miles away.  I crossed the line 1st in AG/5th overall.  Good enough to secure my spot as 4th overall in the amateur challenge for both races.

Afterwards, we mingled with friends, old and new.  Chris had the pleasure of walking around as the rock star of the race as he took the overall win for the Olympic distance race and ultimately the amateur challenge.  Together, we went home with 4 awards and $650.

It took a few days to recover from but at a certain point, more training just becomes draining.  This is especially true once you’re over 40.  You have the base fitness, skill and drive.  You just need opportunities to put them together.  I’m glad I raced.  The lessons I learned – mentally and physically – out there were lessons I could not have learned in training.  Training is too comfortable these days.  Especially if you do most of your training solo or indoors, you miss out on the things that make for good racing – handling the conditions, dealing with adversity, staying engaged in the chase.  These are the things that take you to the next level – not hitting xxx watts on the trainer or x:xx pace on the treadmill.  While those things can definitely be confidence building, if you’re in control, it doesn’t always translate to racing.  Get out of control a bit, enter the discomfort zone and find out what you’re really made of.

On to the next race!

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