Racing with Women

Yesterday I completed my first Iron Girl triathlon, my second ever sprint triathlon outdoors. Iron Girl is NOT an Ironman, which is a much longer race. It is a trademark that bought the Danskin women’s triathlon series.

Sometimes I look back on what motivated me after 40 to start training and take on these challenges, and each time I think of specific people: A friend at my 25th high school reunion who was a high school swimmer had just done one, or Ironcelloman, my cello professor at the University of Iowa who went from sprint triathlons in his 40’s to Olympic to half-Ironman to complete the full Ironman in Madison the year he and his second wife had a baby.

People inspire me. I love reading about another man who went to junior high with me who does 7 mile swims, or a member of my endurance club, Iowa HEAT, who just placed 8th in her age group in Nationals. My bike friend who does really fast (30 mph average) rides shares them via Garmin video camera that he uploads to YouTube and those are almost as fun to watch as Le Tour. Or Candyass, who has completed two marathons since we started dragging ourselves through 2 mile runs four years ago. My brother-in-law, a Boston Marathon finisher and Ironman, or a friend who plays French Horn and knocks off Ironman races and ultramarathons as a hobby.

All of these people have day jobs and lives around their training, but they make time for their passion that is also a lifestyle. They motivate me, awe me, and give me a small idea of what I can strive to be.

Sunday as I swam 1/2 mile, biked 12 miles and ran 3.2 miles, all of these people were on my mind at different points.

As I waited on the beach for the swim start of the Iron Girl Pleasant Prairie tri, I met another inspiring woman. She was trying to give a pep talk to a stranger next to her who was very nervous. She showed her that she had a broken wrist, and got teary when she said that she had thought this would be her PR (personal record) race, but that she wasn’t going to be able to shift into more than 3 gears on her bike leg. She had to swim with a closed fist because of tendon issues in the broken wrist.

An all women’s race had never tempted me since I’m not intimidated by male athletes and count many of them as friends and training partners, but there was something very special about the race Sunday. Women are not afraid to congratulate and encourage each other. Our names were printed on our bibs, and as I struggled through the run which was not easy for me on Sunday, complete strangers would pass and say, “You got this, Amy!” or “You’re almost to the turn around.”  There were mother-daughters, friends from work, friends from running groups, lesbian partners and many women attempting their first triathlons alone in a “safe” environment.

What made a women’s race special was not pink or glitter, but the support. It was also the first race I’ve ever been to where there was a basket of tampons outside the port-a-potties! Very considerate.

On the bike women were cheering and yelling things like, “Nice work on that small hill (the course was VERY flat, yay!), Ladies!” or just “You go, ladies!” I went full out on the bike, knowing it was only about 12.2 miles and pretty flat. I was happy with my average pace of 18.75 mph considering that there were many types of cyclists out, ranging from people going faster than I on tri bikes with racing wheels, to mountain bikes weaving in and out of the bike lane. I even saw some very heavy Raleigh bikes out there, and I felt pretty awful passing a 69 year old lady. I found myself yelling out encouraging things like, “Nice age and nice outfit!” when I passed someone with my same age–47–on her leg wearing exactly the same pink top and black shorts I had on.

The women next to me in transition were also super friendly, saying “Have a good race!” as they took off.

Swim to bike transition
Swim to bike transition
Start of bike leg
Start of bike leg


All in all, I was very pleased with my race.  I was very nervous on race day and the day before, but when we passed Six Flags I decided I’d much rather do a triathlon then go on one of those roller coasters. My transitions were much faster, even though I had to rack my bike at the start of the transition area, far from the “out” exit.

My same swimmer friend from high school had invited me to meet up with her team, Team Turtle, from Bettendorf, Iowa and we had a nice dinner the night before the race.  I learned why they were doing their race in memory of a certain Paul. One of the women from the group had dated a man three years ago and he had asked if he could watch her do a tri since she had done some in the past. He died that winter and never got to see her. It took her a while to recover from her grief and get back on her feet, but she did great Sunday and I think that training group became a sort of support group for her. I wish they lived closer to me so I could train with them!1795787_10152324939266025_6856969005433455862_n

My race splits! Better transitions than last time.
My race splits! Better transitions than last time.

My goal was to beat my old time of 1 hour 51 minutes and do faster transitions. In practice my swims in open water had taken me from 25-30 minutes, but yesterday I swam the 1/2 mile in 23 minutes. I’m sure I can get faster, but mostly I was really happy that I put myself at the front of my wave so I wouldn’t get kicked. We went in waves of about 50-100 people every 5 minutes and they split my age group into two groups since it was so big. My only problem was that we swam directly into the sun, and although there was a lot of support at the start of the race, the buoys were hard to see for the rest of the course and I felt like I zigzagged a lot. Cheering on the opposite shore helped direct me and I was thrilled to see the shallow water at the end. My outfit kind of sucked; I felt my bra sloshing around under my top at the beginning of the swim and it was frankly not enough support during the run. I want to get  a tri suit and wear a better bra next time!

Of course, I tripped getting out of the water. Unfortunately the Brewmaster didn’t get a shot of that.

The only leg I think I could have done better on was the run, but my legs were lead and my breathing like Darth Vader for the first 1.5 miles. There was no water until then, and I probably should have drank more on the bike and grabbed my inhaler at T2 (transition two). Lessons learned. I will get faster on the bike, but with four turnarounds and some slight inclines, that was probably as fast as my current body will take me. Swimming, well, I’ll keep working on my kick and practicing in open water, but maybe not in E. Coli country. A wetsuit would be great, but I need sponsorship to afford all of the equipment I want. Zoot? Tyr? Aqua Sphere? Garmin? Bueller? Anyone out there?

The Brewmaster said a lot of women were talking to themselves at the finish. One was saying, “You can f*@#cking make it!” over and over again. Another was just yelling encouragement to herself. I guess I’m not the only one who does this, but usually I try to keep it internal during a race.10403167_10152324938056025_5339631248723815874_n

It was fun to hear, “Amy Phelps, you’re an Iron Girl!” and meet up with the rest of the gals from Bettendorf and see how proud the Brewmaster was. I finished 3 minutes UNDER my goal of 1 hr 45 inspite of my slow 5k, and I’m ready to train hard for another race.

As soon as I can get more money in my pocket book for race entries (the next tri in my area in September is up to $75  for a single entry now!), I would like to sign up for another tri and a local half-marathon. First I need to see sport’s medicine at the University of Iowa about this nagging left arch pain to see how to treat it and verify it’s not a stress fracture.

All in all, I would highly recommend an Iron Girl race. In spite of there being 1050 some people on the course, it went smoothly. We were not allowed to clear transition until the last cyclist came in. We were all waiting to go in when she came through, and everyone cheered her on like crazy. I hope that our cheers helped her as she was struggling and that she didn’t feel ashamed. She was a heavy woman and the Brewmaster heard her telling the support crew that she didn’t think that she could make it on the run, but I saw that the race page on Facebook posted a picture of her finishing. Kudos to a company that posts a picture of the last place finisher, because we all know that it was probably more of a struggle for her than anyone else. I know it was really hard for me carrying twenty pounds more than my last race.

The finish line
The finish line

It was great to see all the body types out there, and much more normal than looking at a women’s fitness mag. The good swimmers have broad shoulders, the strong cyclists had strong thighs and legs and the good runners tended to be quite thin. Some people are able to combine all of these attributes, but might only win in the triathlon arena, not in individual events.

I hope that I in turn can inspire people to be brave and strong. Choose a race and train wisely, and everything is possible. Find good support, like the Brewmaster who drove me all the way to Wisconsin and back and got up at 4:30 a.m. with me on race day. The Brewmaster also wore an awesome emerald green t-shirt with symbols for Eat Sleep Trumpet on it, making it easy for me to find him on the course all morning. Find training pals or groups through your gym like the gals from Bettendorf.

Then you can say, “I’m an Iron Girl!” just like me. And feel so strong and brave!10576922_10152324937731025_7592758018880408998_n




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