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Athleta Iron Girl Sandy Hook, NJ Race Recap, 9.8.2013 with Karen A. Brown

Karen A. Brown decided to join the triathlon world this year by registering for the Athleta Iron Girl race this fall.  Empire had the privilege to guide and coach Karen on her journey to success as a member of our Beginner Program over the summer.  Karen’s competitive spirit and drive lead her to a great race in her triathlon career in addition to her already successful professional career in wedding and event planning!  For more information on her company visit her website at

Was this your first tri? What was your athletic background going into this race?

The Athleta Iron Girl was my first triathlon, which is a sprint distance race and took place on September 8. I’m not a natural athlete by any means. I grew up dancing with ballet being my main discipline. However, a few years ago I got into cycling and have done several long distance rides, including centuries, but never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined doing a triathlon!

What were your thoughts going into the race? Were you nervous? Excited? Did you feel prepared?

I was excited going into the race and believe it or not I didn’t feel very nervous, not even with the swim. I had several people tell me to trust my training and that’s exactly what I did. With my background in dance I have been accustomed to training for performances, visualizing and going over each move in my head, allowing my body to flow in the rhythm. I used those same techniques to prepare for race day.

What was your favorite part of the tri?

The bike was my favorite leg of the race because it’s my strongest discipline, but ultimately my favorite part was the sense of accomplishment and the support from friends and family that surrounded the race.

What was your least favorite part / what did you learn from this race that you’ll do differently next time?

My least favorite part was the swim. We were up against 25+/- mph wind gusts the day of the race, which made the swim challenging with the strong current. When my wave started preparing for the swim I noticed that a large portion of the group positioned themselves a far distance from the starting buoy. At the time I didn’t understand why but I soon realized they were anticipating that the strong current would force them out past the buoys, knocking them off course. That’s inevitably what happened to me and I lost a crucial amount of time trying to get back on course before I could continue advancing forward. In hindsight I should have asked why they were starting so far away from the first buoy so I could have been more prepared myself.

How do you think your training helped you throughout the race?  (mentally? physically? race tactics? nutrition?)

For me, training was an essential part of being prepared for the race. I toyed around with the idea of doing a triathlon but never really thought it was something I could do. It was the thought of not being a natural athlete that was haunting me. The minute I decided to take on the challenge I knew I had to figure out a training plan. In February I joined 24 Hour Fitness and began taking Justin Sanchez’s endorphin pumping RPM (spin) class and met an amazing group of friends (aka, FitCats) who continue to inspire me with their fitness goals. At the end of April I began running in Central Park on Saturday’s with my friend Gina, and mid-May I signed up for group swim lessons at the McBurney YMCA. By the end of June I decided if I was serious about doing a triathlon I should join a club that is dedicated to training for such events and after being referred by SBR and hearing wonderful things about the coaches at Empire Triathlon Club I decided to join.

I was in the beginner’s program and really got a lot out of the group trainings and clinics. The coaches were very encouraging and took time to break down each workout, explaining what we would be doing and how we should pace (or push) ourselves. The open water clinics that we did at Coney Island were also extremely beneficial. The coaches had us do several drills that prepared us both physically and mentally for race day, such as having us swim in close proximity to one another so we would know the feeling of being hit in the face or our feet touched by someone else’s stroke. They also gave us great advice on race tactics, such as drafting, knowing our ‘go to’ stroke when we get tired or panicked, and to just keep moving forward even if we have to tread water or back stroke the entire time.

Any advice you’d like to share with someone doing their first tri?

The advice I would share with someone doing their first tri is to have a good training program. Some people might like to train alone but for me I find that it’s beneficial to do it with a group so you have accountability and support from others.

I would also recommend that if swimming is new to you, or not your strong point, to start training as early and as often as you can. Join a swim class or sign up for private lessons. City pools are also a tremendous resource because they’re free and you can sign up for lap hours during the summer. The Mr. Smooth animation on is another great tool for learning and visualizing the perfect freestyle stroke. I’m a huge proponent for incorporating visualization into training, so much so that I made a triathlon ‘vision board’ that listed my times for each leg of the race. I continued to adjust my time on the board throughout my training as I got stronger and faster, and my race time was just one minute over of my goal.

Vision Board Time = 1:27:58  |  Actual Race Time = 1:28:55

If we weren’t up against the strong winds, I think I may have actually beat my goal. Either that or I need to spend less time during transition!