My Amazing Tri

Sandy Sanders - US Tri NationalsThis past summer I competed in the US Triathlon Olympic Distance National Championships and had one of the most amazing experiences. I had the opportunity to race against the best of the best. Was I intimidated? Definitely. Was it awesome? MOST definitely.

Because of my love of mud runs with non-competitive PARTY atmospheres, I’d slowly been removed from the world of triathlons; however, qualifying for the National Championships from one of the few triathlons of the season that I had done ignited my competitive fire.

The intimidation set in when I went to pick up my race packet at the “Tri Village.” I was used to seeing Mohawks, costumes, tattoos, and crazy fit commandoish frat guys screaming “HELLZ YEA,” and sucking down beer. I didn’t run into any of those types in the tri village. Instead, I found myself in a sea of competitive athletes who seemed focused, serious, and ready to race. Although I earned the right to be there, I felt out of place. I didn’t feel as though I belonged amongst such “qualified” looking competitors. It felt comforting to discover that I wasn’t the only one. A few of the competitors I spoke with as we set our stuff up in the transition area felt the same way. Even the cashier at Whole Foods, who noticed the freebie tri socks that I was wearing, assured me when I relayed to her my nervousness, that at least three customers who had been there earlier also felt intimidated.

My intimidation soon gave way to my competitiveness the minute the horn sounded, and I took my first stroke.

The swim, funny enough, was no longer my strongest leg. I find it funny because for years, swimming had been my go to sport. Lately I kind of freak out during open water swims, and have to calm myself down. A friend later pointed out that as she lost body fat through her workouts, she had to fight harder to stay afloat. Regardless of the validity, I liked being able to have an explanation – which has helped in subsequent open water triathlons. But in this particular triathlon I did initially freak out, but was able to calm myself down and finish my 1500-yard swim in 27 minutes. I was only one of two athletes WITHOUT a wetsuit. Prior to entering the water I walked by one of the spectators who tried to take my mind off the chill in the air “You look beautiful,” she told me. Haha, I jokingly wanted to tell her that I would keep that in mind – that it didn’t matter that I was freezing my tushie off – at least I looked beautiful as I froze… but I was too nervous.

Next came the biking – probably my weakest leg. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t done so badly on the swim… until LOTS of athletes in my division started to pass me. As I pedaled, I cursed myself for not having taken my bike for a test ride prior to the race. It had been in storage up until a few weeks prior to the race, when I brought it to a bike shop for a tune up. A SMART person would have test driven the thing but with a hectic schedule, I was just happy that I found the time to get it TO a bike shop. However, despite pedaling with what seemed like my knees by my cheek, I seemed to go out pretty strong… until I realized, “Wow, I have to go back, don’t I?” For a while I did Indian sprints with this amazing athlete as we continued to pass each other, back and forth at different points along the course; cheering each other on – briefly complimenting the other on being such an animal on the course. Her name was Christine and we had briefly met during transition setup prior to the race.

Christine soon gained momentum she left our game and left me behind in the dust.

When it finally came time for the run, I felt my strongest, and was happiest with this leg. I was able to hold a 7:50 pace during my 6.2-mile run, and made up time as I passed some of the athletes who bested me on the bike – including Christine. I even had enough in me for a super sprint finish as I ran past two more ladies in my age group. Haha I jokingly tell my friends that I could be DYING in the middle of a tri, but the important thing is looking strong at both the start, and at the finish – you know, where most of the spectators are. 😉

If I were serious about training and had time in my schedule – in between my full time job, my part time job, and my kids with their academics and extracurricular activities, I would DEFINITELY work on my swimming and biking. Overall, I was really happy with my performance that day. I finished 1784th out of 2677 competitors, 509th female out of the 1131 women competing, and 72nd out of the 160 in my age group.

Looking back, I remembered it to be an AMAZING experience, and definitely one for my Sandy, ‘Herstory’ book!


November 20, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Thanks for sharing your story, Sandy! I always enjoy Harriet Anderson’s posts and am encouraged by yours, as well. What general advice do you have for us novices on tackling our first Tri? 🙂

Sandy S

November 20, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Lucyland, I’m glad you were encouraged by my story and I’m EXCITED that you’re about to join the world of TRIs!! You’re about to enter a world of fun! Not knowing your background — are you a strong swimmer or like many venturing into the world of TRIs; a runner who wants to add cycling and swimming to the mix; a strong swimmer who wants to branch out into cycling and running; etc. I would say start small and build. If you’re not a strong swimmer, I’d suggest starting with duathlons (run-bike-run events) and work on your swimming. This will show you that you have it in you to multi-sport. If you’re ready to add swimming to the mix, then find a TRI where the swimming is done in a pool. That was my first ever type of tri, and it built my confidence. Sometimes open water swims can be intimidating because the environment isn’t as controlled as a pool. When you do these TRIs, it’s ok to push that competitive nature down a bit and focus on proving to yourself that you have it in you to TRI it — and SUCCEED! If you need any swimming tips, check one of my previous blogs — which includes a link to running tips from Carri Uranga, a fellow Athleta blogger. Glad you’re gonna give this a TRI and just remember, when you cross that finish line, it’s not the end of your race, but the beginning of your newest sport! Go get ’em girl!!! 🙂


November 27, 2013 at 11:58 pm

VERY inspiring. You seriously did this with two jobs AND kids? THAT’s empowering! I just want to run a 25-minute 5k one day!


November 30, 2013 at 10:53 am

Thanks, Sandy. This Tri bug has been building! I blame a few October visits to Kona and watching IMKona folks train (although I’ll be content with completing a Sprint or Olympic, thank you). While training for the Maui Half this year I substituted my last 10 mile run for a 30 RT mile bike ride so I’m not worried about those legs. Swimming is my absolute weak point which is exactly why I want to do a Tri 🙂

Sandy S

December 01, 2013 at 8:50 pm

Robyn, your message made my day. Thank you for your kind words and can I ask what your 5K time currently is? I’m by no means a professional running coach, but I do have a few tips I can share. Let’s see how far you are off your goal, and let’s see if we can’t get you in the 25 min range for your 5K!!!

Sandy S

December 01, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Lucyland, you were able to visit Kona and watch the IMKona folds train?!?! OMG I too would be inspired to try an ironman if I were in Kona too!!! One of these days I may try to do one that distance. Can I say that I LOVE the fact that what’s driving you to do a TRI is the fact that one leg of the tri is your weakness that you want to conquer — AWESOME!! If you’re near a YMCA, I’d suggest some swimming classes, and eventually work your way onto a Master’s swim team. Years ago I ran with a marathoner whom I kept teasing. I jokingly kept telling him that he wasn’t a “true” athlete until he added swimming to the mix. Next thing I know, he learns to swim; eventually joins a masters swim team; and proceeds to give me a run for my money in the world of TRIs. (I would say he kicks my butt, but in the event he stumbles upon this blog, I’d rather not give him that satisfaction 😉 ). Go Lucyland. Nail that swim, and OWN that tri!!!!


December 11, 2013 at 8:17 pm

Hi Sandy! Well, I havent run a 5k for a couple of years and at that time it was like…32 mins. 😐 But, I’d just recovered from Valley Fever a few weeks earlier, I dont know if you know what that is, but it’s not good — I probably shouldnt have run it at all. In the two years since then, I’ve dabbled with running mostly as a “condiment” to a for-fun-and-fitness smorgasbord of crossfit, biking, swimming, hiking, walking, weights, yoga and Jillian Michaels videos. 😉 I LOVE the feeling of running for just 10-30 mins and trying to improve my own speed. (I once ran a marathon, when I was in my 20s, and dont feel the need to do that again! 😉 ) I’ve been running between an 8.5- and 9.5-minute mile for a couple miles in last year or so, and a month ago ran one perfect 8-minute mile–right before (literally hours before) my bigheaded 65-pound American Bulldog goofing around playfully slammed into my left knee. It’s been a saga since then…got almost better and then a bad trainer had me do jumping jacks to warm up (BAD!); another two weeks of healing/taking it easy and a massage therapist TRACTIONED my leg (NOW it’s a whole new injury, dont get me started — I’m under care of chiro and great acupuncturist but no running yet) I’d LOVE to hear your tips! Motivation from any direction is always welcome! 🙂 You are definitely an inspiration. If I could start running again within a few weeks, it’d be great to try to run a 5k in the spring and run 8-min miles for 3 miles!


December 20, 2013 at 11:10 am

Yep, I signed up for the Tri. We do have a masters at our gym so I will look into that and become a “real” athlete, lol.

A reassuring thing happened the very day I signed up for the Tri (Mermaid Series in Capitola)–we were in Santa Cruz sitting on the balcony of the Beach Street Inn and the folks from the room next to us started chatting to us about the open water swim they had participated in earlier that morning. When I told them I had signed up for a Tri to be held 6 miles away from where we were all sitting they had nothing but encouragement about getting to know open/chilly water and what a welcoming community they are. I took that as a positive omen.

Sandy, when you do sign up for an IM 140.6 please promise to share with us Chi gals so we can cheer you on! And if you do IM Kona I hope I get to watch YOU training out there. 🙂

Sandy S

December 29, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Robyn, OH NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! I hate to hear the mixture of bad stuff that went on with you — BUT love your attitude!! Love the fact that you haven’t just thrown your hands up altogether. Now can’t stress enough, ALWAYS check with your doctor before you attempt something as I would hate for my advice to further injure you. I train for my 5Ks; 10Ks, and half marathons by NOT running. I focus more on endurance than anything — find it saves my knees. indoor spin — which you should be able to do has worked wonders for my endurance. It took me teaching it to learn how to do it properly. My first classes left me feeling discouraged because I seemed to be such a weakling. Well, had the instructor taken the time to show me how to properly set my bike up, or even “do” the class, I would have experienced what a good workout indoor spinning was. Anyways, indoor spin proved to be a great cardio endurance workout for me. The elliptical may also be a good machine for you that will simulate the running motion, without the impact of your foot striking the ground. So what’s your take away for training — endurance training (for me) is key. It doesn’t work so much for me with 5Ks, but for longer distance runs like half marathons, I listen to music that calms my breathing as regulated breathing helps me not be so out of breath by the end. I downloaded Gregorian chant cover songs and that was waaaaaaaaaay more beneficial to me than more upbeat music with its uptempo beats/ min. Also break down your 5K into the 3 miles that it is, with that .1 bonus at the end. Set a goal for yourself/ mile and keep that goal. Maybe now’s too early to shoot for that 25 min 5K, but you can work up to it. So for now, maybe go in between your pace and shoot for 9 min miles. When you hit your first mile, I don’t care how good and excited you feel. If you run anything less than 9 min, SLOW.IT.DOWN. If you’re over 9 min, see if you can pick up the pace just a bit, so that when you hit the 2 mi marker, you’re closer to your 9 min/ mi goal. Nice Epsom salts soaks afterwards are a nice reward. Ok, that should be a bit for you to digest. Remember, I’m not your doctor, so please don’t take my words as gospel as the LAST thing I’d want to do is hurt someone when I think I’m helping. Again, LOVE your attitude and I’m TOTALLY cheering you on!!!!

Sandy S

December 29, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Lucyland — WHOOOO-HOOOOO!!!! I’m so excited for you!!!! I’m smiling from ear to ear at the fact that you signed up for that tri!!! It starts with the Mermaid series, and before you know it, next season your race calendar will be filled with TRIs!!! As far as the words of encouragement, I wouldn’t expect anything less from fellow triathletes.

Haha, glad you’re looking into the masters program so I can consider you a “real” athlete. ;-P

We’ll see about me doing Kona one day. My interest has kinda shifted to mud runs, and possibly a run at American Ninja Warrior. (tee hee hee, I just started doing parkour classes. Can I just say: SO.MUCH.FUN. 😉 )

but back to you. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE check back with me during your training, and DEF right before your first ever tri. I intend to cheer you on during your training, and will be standing by to offer you ANY needed advice. And I intend to cheer you on as you take on the Mermaid series!!!!! GO Lucyland go!!!!!!! 😀


January 03, 2014 at 11:00 am

American Ninja Warrior would be awesome. Pretty much as bad *ss as IM Kona. 🙂

Anyhoo, thanks again for being part of the equation that has inspired me up to sign up for a Tri and the Oakland Tri Club. I will most certainly check back with you! Happy 2014!


August 09, 2014 at 6:01 pm

OK, Sandy. This is the week I can officially don my Oakland Triathlon Club gear without feeling like a fraud considering the swim lesson, swim sesh a couple days later, wetsuit rental, and the hilly ride I took today. I hope you’re training for American Ninja Warrior… 😉

Sandy Sanders

August 12, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Lucyland!!! And now I can officially say to you, CONGRATS on the tri workout!!!! WHEN is your first tri??? so coincidental that you touched base with me because I JUST got my bike out of the shop for my first tri of the season this sun.

As far as American Ninja Warrior, I AM!!!! I’m one month into training at this new gym that has ninja warrior obstacles — quintuple steps; salmon ladder; cliff hanger; trampoline to pipe hang; 14 ft WARPED WALL; and MORE!!! lol can you tell I’m excited!!! (shhhh, haven’t told anyone, but abc2news just did a story on me and another ANW enthusiast who’ve been training out there. if the story comes to fruition, i’ll share the link here. 🙂 )

Ok enough about me, back to you. THANK YOU for keeping in touch with me and sharing your TRI progress. and for the record, you were never a fraud — just a triathlete waiting to happen. and now you’re happening. PLEASE let me know when you finally register for your first tri. GO LUCYLAND GO!!!

Sandy S

September 03, 2014 at 8:50 am

Lucyland!! Hope your TRI training is going well. I’m finally able to show you some of my American Ninja Warrior training!!! ABC2 just did a news story on me and this fellow athlete as we train for ANW!!! Lol even my kids got in on the story. Here’s the link to the video article!

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