I first met Suzanne when she was the race director of the TKO Melanoma 5K, a race near and dear to my heart. Previously, we had chatted online when she had some questions regarding my JFK 50-Miler plaque after seeing a picture of it on social media. It intrigued me that Suzanne, a runner herself, had transitioned from running an ultra into completing triathlons, and I wanted to learn more about how that came to be.
I also knew I had a lot to learn about the life of a triathlete and wanted to soak up as much as I could from this ambitious athlete! I would have loved to interview Suzanne during a run or bike ride, but knew that would be impossible, so I chose instead to send questions her way.
Thank you, Suzanne, for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly. I learned so much about triathlons and this non-swimmer almost wants to sign up for a race. Almost.
Without further ado, here’s my interview with Suzanne…
Early Running Days
Deb – I met you through running, when did you get interested in the sport?
Suzanne – I first got into running in college when I had to take a P.E. credit and heard that the running class was easy to pass. You just had to show up three times a week and run. By the end of two semesters of my running class, I had started enjoying running and ran my first 10K with my dad.
Deb – What distances do/did you race?
Suzanne – I have done sixteen marathons and one ultra (JFK 50). And I’ve done a bunch of half marathons. Each marathon I claim is my last, but I can’t seem to keep that resolve for long.
Deb – What was your favorite race (or races)?
Suzanne – The Shamrock Marathon, the first time I did it, was one of my favorites. It’s the closest I came to breaking four hours. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to repeat that years later when I ran that race again.
Deb – Are you a member of any running groups? Triathlon groups?
Suzanne – I used to run with the Brambleton Road Runners, but lately with my three kids’ schedules and my work schedule, I have to fit in running when it works and haven’t been able to sync with running groups. I run with my husband in the evenings a lot of the time.
Transitioning To Tris
Deb – How did you get into the triathlon scene?
Suzanne – In 2010 I was having knee issues and kept getting injured. My husband had just started getting into triathlons and found out about the NYC Triathlon that was known for its easy swim. (I am NOT a swimmer and could only doggie paddle at that point). The joke was that a bag of Cheetos finished the swim in 24 minutes because the current was so strong. I signed up, but I also joined a master’s swim class at the gym and starting going twice a week to learn how to swim. I survived that swim in the Hudson river (with lots of panic leading up to and during the swim) and discovered that crossing the finish line in Central Park was so fun. I was hooked!
Deb – What advice would you give someone thinking about getting into the sport of triathlons?
Suzanne – As a non-swimming runner, I’d recommend signing up for a sprint or Olympic distance triathlon and finding a triathlon group or a swim group to train with – the cross training has been great! And after all these years of triathlons, I’ve come to enjoy the pool swims and I don’t panic quite as much for the swim portions of triathlons. I’m hoping the more I do them, the less I’ll panic.
Deb – What are the different tri distances and which is your favorite?
- • Ironman/140.6 – 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 run
- • Half Ironman/70.3 – 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 run
- • Olympic Triathlon – .9 mile swim, 26 mile bike, 10K run
- • Sprint Sriathlon – these can vary a little; the one I did was 800M swim, 12 mile bike, 5K run
I’m not very fast, so I prefer the Half Ironman distance. The full ironman was an amazing experience, but training for it was challenging to fit it around my schedule with the family.
Tris Under The Belt
Deb – What tris have you completed?
Suzanne – I did the Louisville Ironman in 2015; eight Half-Ironmans (Eagleman in MD twice, Raleigh twice, Chattanooga, Augusta twice, and Kinetic in Lake Anna); three Olympic (NYC, Reston, and Make-A-Wish in Bethany Beach), and two sprints (both in Broadlands/Ashburn, VA).
Deb – Do you own a fancy racing/tri bike? If so, how did you decide which one was right for you?
Suzanne – My husband bought me a new bike for Christmas in 2016 from Transition Triathlon in Leesburg and I LOVE it! The fit of your bike is key to a bike purchase so it’s important to go to a place that specializes in triathlon bikes to make sure you get a good fit. Steve and Alex, the owners are great at educating you on every aspect of triathlons if you’re new to the sport, and they were great with helping me find the right fit for my bike.
Deb – What other equipment do you need as a triathlete?
Suzanne – “Need” is a strong word for triathlon gear and the cost can ramp up quickly as you start adding all the gadgets to help you with the sport. A bike and running shoes are key needs, but the following items can be added to your wish list for birthday present ideas!
- • Wetsuit – A lot of triathlon stores have a “rent to own” option. I rented my current wetsuit for the weekend, loved it, and paid the difference for the full cost.
- • Tinted goggles/clear goggles – For out door swims, tinted/mirrored goggles will help with the glare on the water; whereas, clear goggles will be good for indoor training swims
- • Pull-bouy – For non-swimmers like me, I do a lot of swim training with a pull-bouy between my legs and just use my arms. It helps me build my arms and focus on just one portion of my swim while eliminating the kick. Also, most of my races I wear a wet suit which is buoyant like the pull-bouy so this training gives me the same feel of my race.
- • GOOD bike shorts – If they’re cheap, they probably aren’t great bike shorts. I personally like the Desoto 400-mile bike shorts. They’re worth the investment when you start doing the 40-100 mile distance.
- • Bike shoes
- • Bike trainer – Most tris start as early as April. You’ll need to get some training rides done indoors and it’s helpful to ride your own bike on a trainer so you get used to your bike saddle, etc.
- • Chamois butter – This is as important as the bike shorts. Similar to body glide but in a tube that you apply liberally to your bike shorts before a ride
- • GPS watch for multisport – Mine can keep satellite connection even in an open water swim with my hand submerged. It also does lap counts for swimming. This was a birthday/Christmas/anniversary present from my husband a couple years ago as it was pricey. 🙂
Deb – Which is your easiest leg?
Suzanne – My background is running so I feel most confident with the run. I also know that once I reach the running leg of the event, I don’t have to worry about a flat tire or equipment elements that are out of my control. That said, most 70.3 races have me hitting the run at around 1 PM in the heat of the day so for triathlons, the bike tends to be my strongest leg of the race.
Deb – Which is your most difficult leg?
Suzanne – The swim will always be my struggle. I still deal with full blown panic before the swim starts – I hyperventilate and try to think happy thoughts. Once I’m in the water and start swimming, I’m usually fine. I’m a slow swimmer so I’m always nervous with the 1:10 cut-off time for the 70.3 swims, but each race I feel my swim getting a little stronger. And before each race, I am a little more confident. I’m hopeful the panic will one day not be part of my pre-race ordeal.
Finding Time To Train
Deb – How do you find time to train for three different sports?
Suzanne – Finding time to train for all three sports is definitely challenging. A typical training week has my long ride on Saturday and my long run on Sunday. Monday is an “active recovery” day where I do a long swim with the pull-bouy giving my legs a break. Tuesdays/Thursdays are shorter bike ride days, Wednesday is a mid-length run day, and on Friday I do a hill repeat run and swim. Any time I can fit in more swim training, the better. During the summer, I try to get additional lap swims in when I take the kids to the pool.
Deb – What goes through your mind during your transitions?
Suzanne – My transitions between each leg are an area in need of improvement. An old coach used to tease me that I was getting a pedicure and doing my makeup between legs of the race. After the swim, I am emotionally recovering from whatever stresses were faced with the current, chop, aggressive athletes, etc. so I tend to move a little slowly getting into my bike gear. My transition from bike to run goes much smoother because I’m going into what I know best, and it’s generally just a change in shoes and head gear.
Prior to the race, I’ve laid everything out in the order I need for each transition, and I’ve made mental check lists for both transitions. I still tend to go into analysis paralysis and hyper-analyze every element of gear before heading out the gate for the next leg so my transitions are still a work in progress!
Deb – Do you reapply sunscreen after you come out of the water?
Suzanne – Before the swim, I generally only have sunscreen on my face since the rest of me is covered with a wetsuit and swim cap. After the swim, there are volunteers to help you apply sunscreen. I reapply sun screen before the run, too.
Deb – Which tris are on your 2017 calendar?
Suzanne – For 2017, I did Chattanooga 70.3 in May and I’m doing Augusta 70.3 in September. This will be my third time doing Augusta and I’m hoping for cooler temperatures!
Deb – Which tris are on your bucket list?
Suzanne – I would love to do Arizona 140.6; however, I need to find the right time in my life to train again for a full ironman. The time commitment is huge and with a high school kid, middle school kid, elementary school kid, part-time work, etc., and now is not the right timing for it.
Deb – Do you have anything additional you would like to add that I failed to ask?
Suzanne – I feel like the swim is the big deterrent for runners considering triathlons. I have a huge fear of water that I’ve had all my life. I wouldn’t even go under water until I was ten years of age, and as I mentioned, I could only doggie paddle until 2010. I am so grateful my husband encouraged me to consider triathlons because I’ve come to really enjoy all three sports, even the swim! The pool swim has become a relaxing, stress-relieving form of exercise, and I’ve had some open water training swims with friends that were actually fun! The cross training has really helped my running, too. When I’ve had injuries that prevented running, I was able to bike and swim during those recoveries.
Please note that all race pictures used in this post were purchased by Suzanne from Ironman with permission to use as she pleases.
- • What additional questions would you like to ask Suzanne?
- • Have you completed a tri?
- • Triathlon athletes: What’s your favorite leg?