Loopty Loop Trail Run Recap

2019-07-27 - loopty loop medal

I give full credit to my friend Lisa for getting me on board with this race. I told her to feel free to share info about any good races she sees and she certainly has done so. She shared a link to Move It Fitness’ Loopty Loop trail run a month before the race. People could sign up to run a 6.3-mile loop at Bloomer Park (in Rochester Hills, MI) for 4, 8, or 12 hours, or whenever they chose to stop. Lisa pointed out that they would have pizza and cake which immediately got our attention. One of their other races in June nearly drew us there for the same reason but we didn’t make that one. An easy way to attract me to a race is to offer good post-race food!

Loopty Loop hadn’t been on my radar because I thought I would either do a triathlon or swim/run race that weekend. Saving money has been a higher priority lately (but not enough to keep me away from racing altogether) and both of those races were far enough away to need a hotel. I would only get 3-6 miles of running out of those races and I had 16 miles on my training schedule for October’s Chicago Marathon. Loopty Loop would only be a few miles from home. I wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel, plus it would keep me on track with my running mileage. Lisa and I debated signing up until a week before the race. That’s when I had a 10-mile long run and decided to do part of the run at Bloomer to help me make a decision. Just after I left the park I saw Lori from Move It Fitness wearing this year’s Loopty Loop shirt. I figured it was a sign that I should go for it and Lisa and I finally committed to the race.

Since the park is so close to home, I stopped by the early packet pickup on Friday afternoon to get my bib and shirt.

2019-07-27 - loopty loop shirt

Saturday, July 27th was the day of the race. The 12-hour runners started at 7am while people running 4 or 8 hours started at 8am. The race started and finished at the Hilltop Shelter where there was a pavilion with picnic tables and bathrooms. Although I wasn’t running an ultra (any distance that’s longer than a marathon) plenty of people were. It was a new atmosphere for me. Some people set up tents since they would be there all day. Some runners had support crews hanging out with them and the tents also provided a good place to swap gear or rest in between loops.

2019-07-27 - loopty loop tents

Everyone gathered on a sidewalk a few minutes before the start for a pre-race meeting. If there was a minute left before your time would run out you could still start another loop and have it count. In addition, there was a “one more mile” loop you could add at the end if you wanted more distance but not a full 6.3-mile loop. As we prepared to start our race, it was exciting to see a couple of the 12-hour runners come through as they completed their first loops. I’m sure they appreciated having such a large cheering squad!

It seemed like there was a really friendly, laid back vibe all around. Most people didn’t seem too concerned about starting near the front of the group. Since there was plenty of space and I was a little worried about the narrow trails getting congested, I figured it was wise to start ahead of the crowd.

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As we took off into the woods there were a few stretches that were wide enough for people to pass fairly easily. However, most of the course was made up of flat, single track dirt trails. Within the first mile or so I passed a person or two and some passed me, but I was holding my own and it seemed like I had started in the appropriate spot. It was kind of cool to know that I was doing well, but I kept in mind that plenty of people were going to be running much further than I was going to and I’m sure they planned to take it easy. Right from the beginning I had the thought that maybe this would be the day I discovered a new kind of event that I would really enjoy.

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My breathing was a bit heavy for the first couple miles and I knew I should be careful. I didn’t want to get out of control too early. I only ran a couple miles that were faster than a 9:00 pace during this race and the first mile was one of them. Running on trails is completely different from running on roads. I don’t have any kind of goal pace like I do on the roads because there are so many twists, turns, climbs, and trip hazards. I just wanted to make sure I was running comfortably and that my breathing wasn’t too labored.

Aside from the fact that we were running multiple loops, this race was named appropriately because of all of the loopy turns we made along the way.

2019-07-27 - loopty loop map

One woman passed me in the first mile or two and remained within my sight for a while. Sometimes I lost her in all of the twists and turns and I reminded myself that I needed to pay attention. It’s easy to mindlessly follow someone else during a race. When I couldn’t see her, I needed to make sure I was paying attention to the turns. The course was marked really well with flags and signs but I still had to make sure I wasn’t so lost in my own little world that I’d miss a turn.

I didn’t take any pictures while running the race, but here are a few glimpses of the trails from my run there a week earlier.

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It was in the low 70s when our race started and my face was dripping for much of the first loop. I realized later that it stopped at some point. The humidity probably broke as the morning went on and it was actually a pretty nice morning for running. It really helped that nearly the whole course was in the shade.

The woman who was ahead of me gained enough distance that I was on my own for a bit. Eventually a couple of faster guys came along and I moved aside at an aid station so they could go ahead while I stopped for a few seconds to drink a cup of water. It was nice to have other people around and have someone to follow again. I made it through the first loop in 58:56. I had guessed that it might take around an hour per loop and I was right on track.

One great thing about running loops was having access to a bag drop area. After completing the first loop I ran just off the main path to my insulated bag with ice, swapped my half-empty bottle of GU Brew for a fresh cold bottle, then I took off again. 6.3 miles wasn’t enough for me to finish a full 21 oz bottle but it was nice to know that I wouldn’t run out if a grabbed a new bottle. I realized that the woman and the guys who had been immediately ahead of me took longer stops, so I was off on my own. I thought maybe there was the chance I was actually the lead female!

Although I came across some people to pass during the first loop who were probably doing the 12-hour race, it happened a lot more during the following loops. Some people were walking and some were jogging at a slower pace. Most people were really helpful and moved off to the side if they heard me coming so there would be enough room to pass. I usually tried to give people a heads up and ask if it was okay for me to come along and pass them on the left. I was very thankful and encouraging to the people I saw. I figured we were all doing something challenging and it’s nice to have that sense of camaraderie and know that we’re rooting for each other.

One thing I always worry about while running on trails is the risk of wiping out. I’ve done it a couple times and it’s no fun. I managed to come away from this race without hurting myself, but I did have one really close call when I nailed a root with my foot and thought for sure that I was going down. Somehow I managed to save myself but it got my adrenaline flowing for a few minutes. I kept telling myself over and over to pay attention and lift my feet. Still, I dragged my feet across some other roots and was lucky I didn’t fall when I took some awkward steps over a fallen tree.

Most of the course was flat aside from a couple of hills. Nothing too crazy, but one hill was a decent climb with some twists and it felt more challenging with each loop. It’s probably for the best that we weren’t warned about those hills ahead of time!

I had stopped for water at one aid station during the first loop and made a point of stopping at two of them during the following loops. I had plenty of GU Brew in my bottle but it was good to change it up and get some water too. I stopped for maybe 5-10 seconds to drink and made sure I threw the cups in the garbage boxes they had provided. It wasn’t like a road race where I could toss the cup to the side of the road and someone would come sweep it up. No garbage left behind on the trails! There were some treats for people to eat at the aid stations as well, but for my shorter distance I was fine with the Clif Shot Bloks in my pockets. I’m sure the food was helpful for the ultrarunners.

I came through my second loop with a split of 59:50 – only about a minute slower than my first one. I was pretty consistent if you account for my bottle swaps, water stops, and dodging a few more people the second time around. I still felt strong as I started my third loop. I kept toying with the idea of continuing for a fourth loop. I had a feeling that I was the lead woman for the 4-hour race and was pretty excited about that. I was feeling good and was really happy with how my run was going. Going into the race I told myself that I was there to do a long run. I wasn’t there to race. If I felt fine for two loops, I’d continue for a third and maybe go for the extra mile at the end. That would bring me to nearly 20 miles, which would already be four miles longer than my scheduled long run. I knew that it would require four loops to win the race, but I also knew that pushing to 25.2 miles would be a bad idea. I haven’t been battling any injuries lately and I’d like to keep it that way. Still…the thought was tempting. Toward the end of the third loop I could feel that my lower back was getting a little annoyed and knew I shouldn’t do anything stupid.

I finished my third loop in 1:01:24 and let a volunteer know that I was going out for the “one more mile” loop. I felt strong enough that I figured I’d fly through that. Then I realized that the mile loop was probably more challenging than any part of the main loop! There were some stretches with rocks and steep climbs that made me curse parts of the trail. I still finished strong and somehow I squeaked in with an 8:59 mile at the end.

I received a medal and chose a pair of finisher’s sunglasses.

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Then I saw Lisa, who had done two loops and the extra mile. She’d had a good run as well and had been hanging out near the finish for a bit. I also got to meet Jessica in person for the first time – a friend from Instagram who does some awesome ultrarunning. She was going for five loops and was taking a break in between.

Lisa and I talked about our races and were very thankful to dig into the awesome cake. I was starving!

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Towne Square Pizza arrived 20 minutes after I finished and it was delicious. I had several pieces and downed a couple bottles of water as well.

2019-07-27 - loopty loop pizza

Lisa and I hung out for a while until I decided it was probably time to head home. I assumed I wouldn’t win anything since I didn’t do four loops, but thought I’d still stop to ask about the results. They told me that I was currently the top female until the others came in from their fourth loops. They confirmed that I probably wouldn’t get an award and was safe to leave, but if that changed they’d let me know. I let Geneva and Lori from Move It Fitness know how much I had enjoyed the race. The course was well-marked and easy to follow and I loved the whole experience.

I was pretty happy when I saw the official results the next day. My final time was 3:09:10 for 19.9 miles, which was an average pace of 9:30. Everyone who finished ahead of me completed four loops for a distance of 25.2 miles.

I was pretty curious how all of the numbers broke down in terms of participants and how far they ran. The 4-hour race had 55 finishers, the 8-hour had 22 finishers, and the 12-hour had 126. That was a total of 203 finishers. The 8-hour and 12-hour races were almost evenly split between men and women participants, but there were quite a few more women in the 4-hour race versus men.

In terms of distances covered:

4-hour – the top female ran 25.2, male ran 31.5

8-hour – the top female ran 37.8, male ran 50.4

12-hour – the top female ran 51.4, male ran 56.7

It’s pretty impressive to see how far so many people ran. There aren’t a ton of ultramarathons available around the area so I suppose this was a good opportunity for ultrarunners.

I said that maybe this day would be the day I’d discover a new kind of running event to love, and that was definitely the case. I really enjoyed this race. I’ve always said that I’m not prepared to consider an ultramarathon until I feel like I’ve mastered the marathon a bit more. I was solid through nearly 20 miles but I usually tend to hit some kind of wall soon after that distance. The whole atmosphere of this race was laid back and it was nice that I didn’t have expectations for my pace. I think this race should automatically go on my calendar for next year and hopefully I can aim for higher goals. Maybe I can prepare myself to go for four loops. Or maybe I’ll even be crazy enough to consider running longer? I’m not sure, but this event reaffirmed that I really enjoy endurance running. Many thanks to Lisa for informing me about this great race!

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– Janet

Follow me on Twitter @reidphotography and Instagram @janetboltz

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Cannonball Run Recap – Round 2 of 3

I’ve had a string of solid races recently but sometimes I have one that reminds me that they’re not all going to be great. This was one of those. It’s not that it was bad, it just didn’t quite go how I had hoped.

There are three Cannonball Run races in the series – one in June (recap of that race here), one in July, and one in August. It’s the same course each time so it’s easy to compare the results from race to race. The second one took place on Wednesday, July 17th. Like last time, I left from work and made the long drive up to Saginaw, stopping at a rest stop to change into my tri gear along the way. I had a little more than half an hour to spare before the 6:30 start.

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We had a number of hot days and the water was so warm I wouldn’t need my wetsuit for the swim. It was around 81° outside at the start of the race and the water was around the same temperature. I knew I’d lose the advantage of the buoyancy, but maybe I’d pick up some time with a quicker transition since I wouldn’t waste time struggling to get out of the wetsuit. It would be interesting to compare how I did with the wetsuit at the last race versus without this time.

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I participated in the longer race again, which involves a 1500m swim followed by a 3-mile run. The longer race started first and people doing a 500m swim and 1.5-mile run would start somewhere around 10-15 minutes after us. It was a warm, sunny day and I was sweating just standing on the dock waiting for the start. I thought about how it might be smarter to keep doing loops in the lake and skip the run since it was bound to be uncomfortably hot!

Like last time we jumped in the lake one by one a few seconds apart. The water felt good and I didn’t have any thoughts about it feeling too warm. I noticed that the outside of my left leg was a little tight. For some reason I seem to notice that IT band when I start the swim during a lot of races. At times it felt like the lower half of my body was sinking and I wished I had the wetsuit to help keep me afloat. Other than that, it seemed like the swim went fairly well. I stayed on track with the buoys and didn’t have many run-ins with other swimmers. I realized that’s because most of the people were faster and had left me on my own! It did seem like the swim dragged on for a long time though. We had two loops and I told myself that maybe the first one would feel long and the second would fly by. It was a little tricky to spot one of the buoys initially as I swam toward the sun, so I slowed down a little bit as I tried to get my bearings. There were a few people to go around as I started the second loop where the people doing the shorter course had just started. Otherwise it was pretty uneventful as I finished the second loop and ran up the beach to the transition.

As I took off for the run, I remembered how winded I had felt when I did the race in June. I seemed to have a better rhythm from the start this time which was reassuring. Between being soaking wet and having a little breeze, I was happy to find that I didn’t get as hot as I thought I would during the run. My pace was in the 7:40s which is where it was during the triathlon I had done a few days earlier and I figured that must be my pace for multi-sport races. I caught some people during the run and also knew a couple of speedy guys would pass me when I saw them flying along during the early out-and-back stretches. I had a strong finish and felt like it had been a pretty good race.

I had received a t-shirt at the first race and knew that was good for all three races. It was a fun surprise to find that we all received a mug at the finish this time around.

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It was also fun to find that they had boxes of donuts from Tim Horton’s this time too. They also had granola bars, Rice Krispies Treats, fruit, and fruit snacks.

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While I ate my snacks, I checked my Garmin to see how I had done. That’s when I discovered that the race hadn’t gone as well as I had thought. I finished in 59:42 with a swim time of 36:40, a transition time of 0:59, and a run time of 22:03. The run was good – splits of 7:44, 7:41, and 6:38 (which was 7:34 pace since it wasn’t a full mile). I had the exact same run distance as last time – 2.88mi. A little shorter than the supposed three miles, but at least it was the same. That time was 17 seconds slower than last time, but it was also cooler outside last time. My transition time was 41 seconds faster this time without a wetsuit to deal with.

The swim time is what left me baffled. 36:40 this time versus 28:02 last time for 1500m. I’m usually around 31 minutes or so even when I do a casual pace for 1600m in the pool. How could I have been SO much slower? I know I felt like my legs were sinking at times, but aside from that, I didn’t feel horribly off during the swim. I realized maybe I should consider that I had raced hard during an Olympic distance triathlon on Sunday and was attempting to race again on Wednesday. That might be pushing it a little. My run was fine though, so what on earth happened to my swim? I was really bothered by it.

I placed fourth out of nine females last time and didn’t stay for the awards ceremony because they were just for the top three. I figured with a time that was over eight minutes slower I wouldn’t win one this time either. However, a couple of the fast women from last time didn’t race this time and I was the second female out of five. I was kind of hoping to hit the road since it was a weeknight and I had nearly an hour and a half to drive home, but I couldn’t complain too much about sticking around to get an award!

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The next day I felt the need to look through all the statistics and see if I could figure out what had happened. I realized the swim had probably been long. Although I know I can’t rely on the accuracy of my watch for an open water swim, I had a distance of 1410m in June versus 1627m this time. That helped explain some of it. Plus, I noticed that a bunch of the people who had raced both times had swim times that were 3-5 minutes slower this time. Eight minutes slower for me was still really extreme, but it was what it was.

Even though I was frustrated that my swim time was so out of the norm, I knew I didn’t need to beat myself up. I got a good swim/run brick workout in regardless of my time. Racing a couple times within a few days probably isn’t ideal and I should accept that doing so might be pushing my luck. I’ve had plenty of running races where I’ve gone slower than I hoped. This time it hit me during the swim. It was still pretty cool to get out there for an adventure on a work night and I enjoyed myself. That’s what should matter most. When the final race of the series rolls around in late August, I’m hoping to end on a stronger note.

– Janet

Follow me on Twitter @reidphotography and Instagram @janetboltz

Caseville Triathlon

On Sunday, July 14th I raced the Olympic distance at the Caseville Triathlon – my first triathlon of the season. Caseville is in Michigan’s “thumb” area and it’s a beautiful place for a race. I did the Olympic distance there in 2015 and returned to do it again in 2017. That year Lake Huron’s water was too rough, the swim was cancelled, and I ended up doing the duathlon. I really enjoyed the race both times so it’s been on my radar each year. When TriToFinish offered a 10% discount on the 4th of July I decided it was time to commit to this year’s race.

I opted not to pay for a hotel and drove nearly two hours the morning of the race. I knew it was doable since I did the same thing in 2017. It didn’t take long before the sun started to rise and it was a really pretty drive.

I went out on the beach first thing to check on the water conditions. I was bummed when I saw the rolling waves and whitecaps. I figured the swim would be cancelled like it had been in 2017. All I could do was wait it out and see if they made an announcement.

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After checking in, I took my stuff to the transition area and set up my bike and run gear. I left my swim gear in my bag since I didn’t know if I’d need it yet. As I walked out of the transition area and headed toward the beach, I ran into my running/triathlon buddy Lindsay. She decided to switch to the duathlon when she saw the water. She had me debating if I should do the same thing. After all, when I initially saw the water I just assumed the swim would be cancelled. There still hadn’t been an announcement one way or the other and I wondered what I should do. If they cancelled it, the decision would be made for me. If they didn’t cancel it, would I really want to try swimming in those conditions? I was pretty wary, but at the same time, maybe I should use the opportunity to see what it’s like to battle rougher conditions and gain some experience. I was on the fence but leaning more toward braving the swim as long as it was an option.

7:45 came and went without any announcements and that’s when the transition area had been due to close. I think they were still checking everything out and trying to determine if the swim could be executed safely. Eventually I decided to put my wetsuit on and figured I’d just take it off if they cancelled the swim. A number of people were out in the water and I thought I should probably get out there too so I could see what I was in for. Temperature-wise, the water was perfect. I worried that I might swallow a bunch of water while breathing if a wave rolled along. I didn’t have any problems with that but it was hard to get any rhythm going as the waves kept rolling in. I’m sure I played in waves like those as a kid, but it’s been a long time since then and it’s different when you’re actually trying to swim.

Eventually they made an announcement. If we didn’t feel comfortable swimming we could switch to the duathlon. We could try going out in the water and if we felt uncomfortable, we could come back in and let someone know that we were quitting the swim. We wouldn’t get official race results but could still continue with the bike and run. They said that there were plenty of shallow spots we could go to where we could still touch the bottom. Lifeguards were out in the water in kayaks and there was a boat as well, so people would be looking out for us. I decided to give it a shot!

Half distance (70.3) athletes started in the first wave. Rather than starting men and women in separate waves like they typically would, everyone started together based on the race distance. A couple minutes after the half started, I joined the Olympic athletes in the water for our start. We worked our way out to a sand bar where we could stand. I always prefer wave starts that are as small as possible to ease congestion in the water. Results showed that 67 people finished the Olympic distance and I was a little worried that the waves would cause us to crash into each other even more than usual. I made sure to start at the edge away from as many people as I could.

We swam counterclockwise around a rectangular course for two loops. The waves kept coming on my left side as I headed out. They didn’t push me into anyone else or back toward the shore. Instead, it was just a matter of bobbing up and down a bit. I finally realized that I was exerting too much energy trying to fight them and I ought to walk/bounce through the water along the sand dune like most everyone else. It seemed like the cheap way out but the conditions were so screwy that I figured it was fair for us to do whatever it took to feel comfortable. I swapped between attempting to swim and jogging through the water until I reached the first buoy. Then we turned into the waves and the water got a little deeper. I mixed in some breaststroke at times when freestyle wasn’t working so well for me. It seemed like the waves weren’t as bad farther out and I was able to truly swim the second “L” shape of the rectangle. It was back to a mixture of whatever worked for the first “L” of the second loop, then more swimming. I reached a shallow spot as I approached the shore on my way to the finish and began to jog like a guy by me was doing. I thought I’d be proactive about getting my swim cap and goggles off early. Then the water got deeper. I had forgotten about the sand bar – oops. I kind of threw my cap back on until I got closer to the shore where it actually stayed shallow.

Usually I’m pretty wobbly as I jog out of the water and into the transition area, but this swim was so inconsistent and screwy that I didn’t have any issues. I had only swallowed water once, which is bound to happen to me during any race, and I never felt insecure or worried in the water. Aside from someone swatting my feet a couple times, I wasn’t too close to other swimmers and it all worked out reasonably well. I didn’t feel like I had really raced the swim, but I guess I got from the start to the finish and that’s all that mattered. I finished the 1500m swim in 26:34 which is on the fast side for me. Maybe the waves helped push me along and the aquajogging must not have hurt either.

As I tried to get my wetsuit off, a woman near me commented on how she could never get it off over the timing chip on her ankle. I’m glad I wasn’t alone! I struggled with the ankles a little bit, but I wasn’t as horribly slow as I have been at some races. I ate a couple of Clif Shot Bloks, then dealt with my socks, shoes, helmet, number belt, etc. – the usual transition stuff. I spent 2:13 in transition then took off on the bike.

The bike course was nice and flat with pretty views of cottages and the lake. The road was open to traffic but the shoulder is wide enough for at least two people to ride side-by-side. I just moved over a little if there was some sand or other debris at the edge. I noticed the wind at times but it didn’t seem to slow me down. I was pretty happy that I was cruising along around 17-18mph because that’s about the fastest I ever get. I haven’t been that fast out on the trails recently, but I guess the crosswalks and stoplights usually slow me down. The bike ride for Olympic athletes was a 40K. We went out 12.4 miles then turned around and came back. I spent plenty of time counting down the miles and calculating how much longer it might take me, but it never felt too bad. I finished the ride in 1:25:53, which was an average of 17.36mph.

I got a little squirmy on my bike seat at times but I didn’t really hurt until I got off and tried to run. Ouch. After the race I had the revelation that I’m used to riding that bike in my cushy bike shorts. The padding in my tri suit is minimal so it doesn’t soak up a ton of water, and that lack of cushioning left me a bit sore!

I flew through transition in 35 seconds and started the 10K run. Although I was a little warm and my face got really salty, the weather was pretty good. It has been especially hot and humid lately which has made my training runs pretty uncomfortable. It was somewhere around 70°F with lower humidity for this run which was more tolerable. Still, I appreciated the few short patches of shade along the route. Again, it was an out and back course. Since it was my third time doing this race I was plenty familiar with the course. Somehow I managed to maintain a pace in the 7:40s for the first few miles. The run is my time to try to catch up to the people who passed me on the bike. It was tough, but it helped to have people to aim for to keep me moving along. I slowed down to an 8:00 pace for the fourth and fifth miles as I started to tire out and lose momentum. I managed to get back into the 7:40s for the last full mile, and a downhill stretch back into the park always helps. I finished the 10K in 48:21 and completed the race in 2:43:35.

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Here are the final stats:

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I placed third overall for females! I was pretty excited about that. I was really wiped out after I finished and needed to pace around for a bit, then I sat in the pavilion for a few minutes. This one took a lot out of me!

Eventually I went to get some (wonderful) pizza and saw Lindsay. I thought maybe she’d be long gone since her race was shorter, but she had placed second in the duathlon and had to stick around for the awards ceremony. It was pretty cool that we both had such good races. We spent a while chatting until Lindsay realized they might be giving out some of the awards. We made it over to the beach right as they called her name. I had to wait a bit longer since they wanted to leave time for more of the Olympic athletes to finish their races. Lindsay stuck around and it was nice to catch up and enjoy the pretty day. Of course the waves died down AFTER the race.

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Then it was my turn for the podium!

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Later I was curious to see how this race compared to my 2015 race. I was excited to see that I had shaved 4 1/2 minutes off my time. Then I realized almost all of that was from the swim. Somehow this crazy, wavy swim must have worked in my favor. My first transition time was 45 seconds faster this year, so at least I’ve gotten a little faster getting out of my wetsuit. My consistency from race to race blows my mind though. My 2015 bike time was 1:25:51. This time it was 1:25:53. How do I do that?! My second transition time was only a couple seconds off between the two races as well. My run this year was a little slower, but only by 23 seconds. It’s cool that I got a little faster overall, but pretty crazy that I’m so consistent too. I sure haven’t improved on the bike, but I guess at least I haven’t gotten worse either?

I was really happy with how this race went. The swim sure made it quite an adventure and I’m glad I gave it a shot. It was a good way to gain experience racing in different conditions. It was nice to get back to doing a triathlon and now I’m anxious to do more. Before I do, I have another mid-week swim/run race tomorrow night – the second in a series of three races. I sure have been keeping myself busy this summer!

– Janet

Follow me on Twitter @reidphotography and Instagram @janetboltz