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Tales from a Beginner – Mona Rayachoti

Empire Tri Club’s first Beginner Program Session of the season has just finished! Here is what some of those participating athletes have to say about their experience in training with the team and completing their first triathlon.

Newbie triathlete Mona Rayachoti shares her story:

Q: Tell us about your journey with Empire Tri Club in preparation to your first race?
A:  When I decided to take on a triathlon, I was looking for a training program. I’ve been a runner for the last 3 years, doing several half marathons and a few marathons, but the triathlon world was a whole new game. I was looking for a program that was beginner friendly and Empire has a beginner program. I hadn’t ridden a bike in 2 decades, so the bike workouts with the coach were very helpful. Also, while I’ve been a runner for a while, I found the run workouts with speed work very helpful. My running pace improved since joining Empire. Overall, I felt mentally prepared for my first triathlon. Besides the workouts, I learned all about the logistics, like how to set up transition and be efficient, etc.

Q: What was the first thing you did when you crossed that finish line?
A:  I was so happy to finish and officially be a triathlete! I think I joined the rest of the Empire group at our area after I finished

Q: What inspired you to take on a triathlon?
A: I’ve done a few marathons and I thought the triathlon would be a whole new challenge. I’d have to relearn how to bike and swim. I volunteered at the NYC triathlon last year to get entry for this year. I’m glad Empire’s beginner program trained me for a sprint first and now I can take on the olympic.

Q: If you had to do it over again, what would you do different on race day? Or not change?
A: My biggest mistake was panicking during the swim part and that slowed down my entire race. If I hadn’t panicked and just stayed calm and focused, my swim might not have been as long. However, I’ll have a chance to practice a few more open water swims before NYC triathlon, so hopefully I’ll be better prepared mentally.

Q: How were the nerves on race day?
A: Pretty high, because it was my first ever triathlon.

Q: Did you feel prepared for the race?
A: For the most part, yes.

Q: What was the greatest takeaway from your experience with Empire’s Beginner Program?
A: I went to the majority of the group workouts and followed the training plan and it make me feel more prepared. I wouldn’t have been able to do this on my own, so the support of Empire was a huge help. The triathlon world doesn’t intimidate me as much. Also, the coaches were so encouraging! I was afraid that they’d only cater to the faster people, but that was not the case at all. I got so much encouragement and support from all the coaches.

Ready to complete YOUR first triathlon?!  Sign up here.
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Tales from a Beginner – Miriam Ranells

Empire Tri Club’s first Beginner Program Session of the season has just finished! Here is what some of those participating athletes have to say about their experience in training with the team and completing their first triathlon.
Newbie triathlete Miriam Ranells shares her story:

Q: Tell us about your journey with Empire Tri Club in preparation to your first race?
A: The journey has been amazing! I always felt I could ask and they always were there to answer and guide.  I couldn’t have done it with out Empire!

Q: What inspired you to take on a triathlon?
A: I wanted to spend more time outside.

Q: What was the first thing you did when you crossed that finish line?
A: Told my mom I finished 🙂

Q: If you had to do it over again, what would you do different on race day? Or not change?
A: I’d do an open water swim before the race. I think it’s important to go swimming in your wetsuit before the actual race.

Q: How were the nerves on race day?
A: Nervous, once I got through the swim part I was much better. Alison and the rest of the club were supportive and helpful through out the race.

Q: Did you feel prepared for the race?
A: No, but that’s because I didn’t do it as a race, I did it as a workout since I never did the swim. I felt prepared for the bike and run.

Q: What was the greatest takeaway from your experience with Empire’s Beginner Program?
A: The people and the coaches and ambassadors are all amazing people. I now have more confidence in my training thanks to Empire.

Ready to complete YOUR first triathlon?!  Sign up here.
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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!

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My First Half Ironman – One Athletes Story on her Road to 70.3

My first Half Ironman (without the swim)
written by Linda Martello (Empire Member since 2011)

First, I want it to be known that I would NEVER have made it to the finish line if it weren’t for Empire Tri’s coaches, Alison Cooper and my wonderful Teammates– Megan and Yael—Paula and Paul — who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

It was my first Half Ironman and I was freaking out!  When we were informed that the swim portion of the race was cancelled, 90% of me was happy, but the other 10% thought about all the swim-training that I went through and I was disappointed. Let’s face it–I was beyond being scared of being in the open water, but found that the open-water swimming coaching with Coach Alison, helped me to relax and gain strength (endurance) because she was extremely patient, understanding, and supportive during these open-water swims.  But, that part of the race was out–now came another hurdle–I had to face the bike portion of the race.

When I heard of the technical turns we would be facing out there and with the wet roads, this was not looking good for someone who had problems with turns.  During the bus ride to T2, I made a big mistake by sitting in front of two men who decided to discuss the bike route.  (Comments like:  “It’s a dangerous course; there are extremely difficult turns, hills that are dangerous”).  I swallowed hard as panic and doubt set in.  In my mind I screamed at myself:  “Why are you doing this?  Why didn’t you drop out like your friends did?  You have nothing to prove”.  Yet, I found myself in T2 setting up for the first leg of the race.  I ran into my Teammate Jay, and told him that I was thinking of dropping out.  His advised me to, “just treat it like a long training ride; don’t drop out.”

Before I knew it, they were calling waves.   My heart started to beat faster and as the wave in front of mine was called. My heart went into overdrive and a wave of panic hit me.  Next thing, I was running out, hoped on my bike and “bam!” my chain dropped.  I managed not to fall; unclipped and fixed the problem; got back on my bike, made a left turn and off I went!

I was riding for awhile during this period and calmed myself down by saying:  “You can do this!   That’s when I encountered my first technical turn…I unclipped my right shoe just in case…I made it and thought to myself, “Alison would be so proud of me.”  Before I knew it, the miles were passing me by. I made turns I thought I would not be able to.  Then, I hit a hill (please note that, to me, these hills looked like mountains!)  I felt myself slowing down and I knew I was going down.  I managed to unclip and somehow prevent a really bad fall.  This caused a chip in my confidence somewhat, but I found myself getting right back on the bike.  I encountered another very big hill promptly, unclipped and walked up.   (Don’t tell Coach Alison!)  [LOL]  When I looked behind me, there were others walking up behind me.  Ok, so I’m not the only one that had to walk.

Then there they were familiar faces calling my name and cheering me on–Coach Alison, Megan, Yael, and Sascha.  They have no clue how much I needed that boost! It had me ride faster and, once again, built up my confidence.  Then there it was–the technical hill and most difficult turn I faced during the course of the race.  I felt myself slowing down and I heard myself yelling for help.  But, no one was there to stop me from falling.  I went down in a ditch filled with rocks.  I stayed there a moment then unclipped, sat up and assessed the damage.  They called the EMT and they informed me I either broken or fractured my hand/or thumb.  I was advised that I would not be able to ride because my hand was too swollen, that shifting and breaking would be extremely hard and very painful.  The pain was so bad I felt as if I was going to faint and had to lay down for a bit.  As I laid there, I had to make a decision–quit or go for it.  I heard myself tell the EMT “Wrap it!  I’m going for it!  I walked the rest of the way up the hill and mounted my bike.  I was off once again.

Every time i breaked or shifted of my gears, it hurt so badly that I wanted to give up, but something inside of me just would not quit.  The last 20- something miles consisted of more technical turns, which I was determined to make and I did.  I also managed to get up over the more challenging hills.  Yes, another challenging hill came up where I slowed down and I started to pray, “don’t fall, you can make it”, and I did.  And, there, just in front of me, was the finish line for the bike race.  I pretty much threw myself on the ground–I was so happy to be off my bike.

As I racked my bike and started to get ready for the run portion, I looked around and saw all those bikes.  I lost my composure for just a second and bent over and just started to cry, and said, “I can’t do this”.  A guy walked up to me, patted me on the back and said. “just 13.1 miles to go–we can do this”.  I went to the medical tent where they checked me out a second time and was told that I couldn’t run like this.  Once again, I started to cry and said, “just bandage it so I can run”. They did as I asked; they also give me a painkiller and had me sign a form stating that I chose to disregard their advice.  As I exited T2 to start the run, there they were again–Coach Alison, Megan, Yael and Sascha , screaming my name–another boost!  For 13.1 miles I ran, walked, and fought the urge to quit.  Mile after mile was nothing more than pain on top of pain.  Then, there it was–the turn- around point, right there I knew I was going to make the cut off–just 6.1 miles to go.  Then mile 8, then mile 9 and so on and there it was–the mile I was looking for–mile 12.  “Okay,” I told myself.   ”You have people who are waiting for you; waiting to cheer you on those last couple of steps”.  As I was running that last mile, I rounded a corner and there was Paula and Paul screaming my name, telling me “you are almost there!”  Then there was Jay, my teammate, I screamed his name and we ran the last scratch together, crying, cheering, in pain, sweaty, but most of all proud of ourselves for not giving up even when that little voice in the back of our minds kept screaming “STOP!!!”

As I crossed the finish line, I was so proud of myself.  I am now a Half Ironwoman.  Right there still screaming my name: Awesome Teammates and Friends.  I could not have crossed that finish line without my teammates, coaches from Empire Tri and friends.  Thank you all!