Esprit de She Sprint Triathlon

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The Esprit de She Sprint Triathlon took place on Sunday morning in Naperville, bringing together over 700 women of all ages, ranging from 12-year-old McKenna Ellis-Garcia to 74-year-old Sandi Campbell, to celebrate “the spirit of her” through swimming, cycling and running.

The Esprit de She Sprint Triathlon in Naperville is a special race for me as it is where I first dipped my toe in the water at Centennial Beach in June 2014 and began my triathlon journey.  I have completed the Esprit de She in Naperville each year since that fateful day when I took my share of hits and kicks in the swim, vowing never to do a triathlon again.  It has always been a favorite race of mine and a great start to the season.

Mandatory packet pick-up took place at Naper Settlement on Saturday.  I arrived a little after noon and found the packet pick-up to be much quieter and smaller scale than in past years.  Course talks were offered throughout the day to guide athletes through the courses, clarify rules and answer questions.  I grabbed my packet, double-checking that it contained my run bib, timing chip, swim cap and bike stickers, before doing a quick tour of the sponsors’ booths and chatting with my friends and teammates at the Live Grit tent.  This year’s swag was a black cotton tank top, which was a drastic departure from the Moxie cycling tanks of years past, which many participants have raved over and come to expect from Esprit de She.

Given that the race was considerably smaller than previous years – about half the number of participants-  I was surprised how crowded my rack in transition ended up being.  After a couple seasons struggling with REALLY slow transition times, I’ve become quite the minimalist when it comes to my gear and set-up.  I filled my aero hydration system with water, hung my bike on the rack and set up transition beneath the rear wheel with my running shoes on top of my unclipped race belt and my bike helmet upside down on top of my cycling shoes right behind the running gear for easy and quick access

Esprit de She did a phenomenal job with taking additional measures to reduce the impact of the impending heat on athletes.  In the swim start area, athletes were able to grab ice-cold bottles of water to stay hydrated while waiting for their wave to be called into the water.  Additionally, they combined some of the waves to get athletes on the course faster.  Consequently, my wave began about ten minutes ahead of schedule and I entered the water around 7:25 a.m.  After discovering that I am a relatively fast swimmer during that first race in 2014 when I made the mistake of lining up in the middle of the pack, I placed myself in the very front of the wave on the left side with a clean line to the first buoy.

The swim portion of Esprit de She is really one of the key reasons it is such a great race for first-time triathletes.  First of all, the swim takes place at Centennial Beach, which is really a converted quarry, more or less a glorified swimming pool.  One end is so shallow that I had to stop swimming and walk around the turn buoys, because even with taking REALLY shallow strokes my fingers were scraping the sand.  (This annoyed me a bit as it slowed me down to go from swimming to attempting to run through the water and back to swimming.)

Second, there is actually a slippery slide at the beach—how can you be intimidated by the swim when there’s a slippery slide?  Third, there are life guards on platforms in several locations throughout the swim, so a tired or less confident swimmer has many opportunities to pause, hang on to something and catch their breath before getting back to swimming.  Finally, Esprit de She offers “swim angels,” which are experienced swimmers that will swim alongside less confident swimmers to encourage and help keep them calm as they make their way through the swim portion.

The nearly 1/4-mile long run from Swim Out to my spot in transition was a little rough and I slowed to a walk for a bit as my feet haven’t toughened up enough to handle the somewhat bumpy pavement and occasional pieces of loose gravel that my bare feet found en route to my bike.  Upon arriving at my bike I quickly shimmied out of my wetsuit, threw my helmet on and stuffed my bare feet into my bike shoes and hustled off to the Mount Line with my bike. Once across the Mount Line I clipped in, stepped down hard on the pedal prepared to fly off on my 13.3-mile ride….and nearly went over the front end of my bike.

Moderately strong winds didn’t help the situation either as it seemed about 2/3 of the two-loop course involved either a headwind or cross-wind.  Over the course of 13.3 miles I hopelessly watched as woman after woman with a number between 35 and 39 on her calf passed me by.  I was off the bike in just over 45 minutes, more than five minutes slower than I originally anticipated, and had lost a lot of ground to my competitors, going from third in my age group going into the bike to thirteenth going into the run.

I was not feeling very optimistic about the run when I hit the Dismount Line as my legs were absolutely trashed from the futile effort on the bike.  I had trouble with a hurried and very awkward walk back to the rack to switch over to my running gear. Grabbing my race belt I began to move in what may have resembled a run or shuffle to the far side of transition to Run Out, catching up with another teammate from the wave ahead of me on the way out.

I was torn between “running my race” and seeing if I could catch any of the women in my age group that passed me on the bike, and going for a nice 3.1-mile run with my teammate at a slightly more comfortable pace.  I decided it was best to salvage the race and make it an exercise in mental strength and perseverance so I urged my legs to pick up the pace and set off in pursuit of any woman with a 35, 36, 38 or 39 on her calf.

Mile 2 of the run course runs parallel to the bike course for a little bit and it was great to hear athletes on the bike course shouting words of encouragement to those of us on the run.  During this second mile I managed to catch another woman in my age group, as well as pass the teammate that I’d ridden to the race with.  With about 3/4 of a mile to go the run turns back into the park.  It’s a nice little stretch with some shade, and a short downhill section.

I knew I was getting close to the finish line when I passed by Centennial Beach, where there was some nice shade. Upon crossing the finish line a very nice volunteer removed my timing chip, while another gave me my hard-earned medal.  The medal was the same as previous years just with an updated ribbon.  However, where a charm-unique to that year’s race-usually hung there was nothing.  At first I thought I had just received a defective medal, but soon learned that the medals just didn’t have charms this year, which seemed to disappoint many of the Esprit de She veterans. While I was disappointed in how my race turned out, I did manage to PR both of my transitions, so I guess I’ll take the little “wins” wherever I can!

Grabbing a bottle of water, I hung around the finish area for another hour and a half cheering in my teammates and strangers alike, until transition reopened so I could pack up my gear and head back to the city.  The post-race festivities featured live music, as well as a great brunch spread of fresh fruit, meat, cheese, pita chips and dips, as well as a tent with computers where athletes could instantly check their results.

The Esprit de She is an excellent race for first-time triathletes and is well-executed from a logistics standpoint.  Registration for the 2018 Esprit de She Sprint Triathlon in Naperville will open this week with special early-bird pricing.

Overall Winners:

  1. Jennifer Garrison, 1:08:27
  2. Eryn Kubinski, 1:09:07
  3. Heather Glynn, 1:12:48
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Kristan Huenink has been exploring the city in her running shoes for the better part of a decade and coaching runners from beginners to marathoners nearly as long. She enjoys road racing at all distances, having completed countless short-distance races and nearly 20 marathons. When injury demanded she seek alternative physical activity, Kristan took her PT’s advice and decided to give tri a try. She has fully embraced the multi-sport lifestyle, completing multiple sprint, 70.3 and Ironman-distance races, as well as qualifying for USAT Age-Group Nationals and earning Ironman All-World Athlete Bronze status. Kristan is a USAT-Certified Coach with Grit Endurance in the West Loop, where she coaches Computrainer sessions, group run and triathlon training programs of all distances and levels, and one-on-one personal coaching. When she’s not training or coaching, Kristan can be found devouring the latest endurance sport literature and studying training data from her Garmin in pursuit of her next PR.

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