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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Toughman High Cliff Half Iron Aquabike Race Report

Toughman Half Iron Aqua bike High Cliff State Park

" You have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations- not just as a player but as a person. Take risks and don't be afraid to fail. That's where we learn to better ourselves. It is the only way to grow."- Ali Krueger, U.S. soccer player competing in the 2016 Olympics

I like to challenge myself and take risks. Taking a risk gives me a high even if I'm not successful. It feels good to stretch myself and see just what I can achieve.  Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't.

Early in the season I set goals and pick races. Last year I was ranked 12th in my age group in the U.S. for Aquathlon.  I had no idea until I looked at the rankings when they were published.  I will be a member of the U.S. team at the age group championship for Aquathlon this September in Cozumel.

Both those achievements were possible because I took a risk and signed up for the Aquathlon National Championship. That meant tackling a 1600 meter swim in open water.  Thanks to my coach I successfully conquered that risk.

So this year I decided to tackle the half iron aqua bike distance at the National Championship in Miami in November. That will be a 1.2 mile swim and a 56 mile bike.  No run. I have been fighting tendinitis on both ankles for over a year. Right now I am not doing any long distance running.

I did not want the national championship race to be my first event at this distance.  The High Cliff race would be my test race. Do it well and I would sign up for the Miami race. The ultimate goal is a top three finish in my age group and a top three national ranking in my age group.

I trained for 16  weeks for the High Cliff race. The bike training was the biggest challenge. The weather was too cold much of the spring for outdoor biking. Much of my cycle training was on a trainer in my basement.  I was not sure that would leave me well prepared.

The 1.2 mile swim would be the longest I have ever done in open water in a race.  The race would take place on Lake Winnebago. It is very shallow and can get very rough on a windy day. If it was rough I was worried about being strong enough to cover the distance.

I took my sleeping drugs too early the night before the race. I was sleepy at 6 pm and crawled into my tent.  It was really smoky from the campfires and a kid in the next site was bouncing a basketball. I knew I would get my revenge when I got up early the next day to get to the race.

I often don't sleep the night before the race, but I had a dream about having a dream about someone breaking into my tent. By 3 am I was wide awake. I got dressed and was at the race parking lot by 4:30 am. I knew parking was limited and did not want a long walk to my parked car after the race. Since I was awake I thought why not just go.  I was the first one to arrive even beating the race director. I was the first one in transition.

I got set up and chatted with some of the other athlete. A 18 year old guy next to me was doing the aqua bike to train for Ironman Wisconsin. A woman about my age was complaining she was doing the 1/2 aqua because she was too hurt to run. She was expecting to do the 56 mile bike in 2 1/2 hours.  I kind of felt like it was indirect bragging.

I walked down to the swim start to have a look at the lake. There was almost no wind and the lake was calm.  I went in for a warm up swim and was amazed at how shallow it was. The buoys looked so far away for the swim course.  A smaller 400 meter course for the swim start was also set up inside the 1.2 mile course.  I was able to walk well past the first turn for the 400 meter course.  The water was warm.  As I warmed up I felt I would have a good swim. I had done much longer distances in the pool then I would cover in the race.

I was also relaxed because I thought I might be the only woman in my age group for the aqua bike. I had checked results for many of the other Toughman races over the last year. For most there was one women in my age group.

Soon I was lined up at 7 am. My wave would go second.  I watched as the athletes in the wave before me walked and ran until the first turn for the 400 meter course. My wave did the same. Soon I was swimming.

To concentrate I would count to 100 strokes and swim easy and then the next 100 strokes I would go hard. Swimmers would bump into me and it did not matter. I just kept counting. It got choppy with all the swimmers around me and I swallowed water a couple of times. It did not matter, I kept counting and swimming.  I just kept swimming to buoy after buoy. Swimmers kept running into me. I would put out my elbows or kick to give myself space.

I kept swimming and took a tight line on the course. Usually I go wide to stay out of the way. But on such a long course I did not want to swim any extra distance. I kept swimming and after what seemed like forever I was swimming right up on the beach. I looked at my watch and I had done the 1.2 mile swim in 49 minutes. Not fast maybe but way under my goal time of 70 minutes. I was off to a good start.

It was a long ass haul to transition up a steep grass hill. I was out of breath so I slowed down telling myself I was the only one in my age group. I walked. A mistake that probably cost me a podium spot.

I got on my bike and I was off for the 56 mile bike ride. It starts with a huge hill that just kept going up and up. I was promised the rest of the course was flat. It was not. Lots of rolling hills and long climbs. The wind picked up just a bit.

The course was beautiful. Part went around the lake and the rest was in farm country.  Since headphones are not allowed in triathlon I can actually talk to other athletes. I talked to several women and we changed the lead back and forth. I watched a pack of guys go by drafting which is illegal. I saw may instances of drafting.  I did not see a single USAT official.

The only problem I had on the bike is I seem to swallow air when I swim. It gives me pretty bad gas pains. I started to get tired at the end and then I would get a burst of speed. I was almost out of water when I hit an aid station. The sports drink I had along was not sitting well on my stomach. It was 84 F and humid so I may have been a little dehydrated.

I traded the lead one last time with one of the woman. She was right behind me in transition. She was sad when she found out I was done for the day. She still had 13.1 miles to run. I felt glad I did not have to run. I was tired. I averaged 16 mph on the bike. I had hoped for 15 mph. It was good for a first effort on a hilly course.

Too bad when I checked the results there were 4 women in my age group and I missed out on 3rd by 2 1/2 minutes. I was happy I was competitive and knew there were a few things I could have done better. It was a good learning experience.

I met allot of great people both before and after the race. I am glad I took the risk. The next day I signed up for the Aqua bike National Championship. I start training the last week in July.

I am looking forward to the challenge. I have some things to work on, but this race was a good growth experience for me as an athlete.  It makes me look forward to finding new challenges, both in life and as an athlete.


Chris Wodke
Founder & Manager Team CMT

Chris is a triathlete and long distance runner. She is a three time participant of the Boston Marathon.  In 2012 she finished 2nd at Boston in the Mobility Impaired Division. She was on the course in 2013 when the bombs exploded.

She has appeared three times at the Paratriathlon National Triathlon Sprint Championship. She was the 2012 and 2014 National Champion Paratriathlon Open Division Champion.

In 2014 she was the PC Open Champion at the Duathlon National Championship. She represented Team USA at the Aquathon ITU World Championship in Chicago in 2015 and will represent the US at the World championship in Cozumel in 2016.

 In 2014 she represented  the U.S. as a paratriathlete at the Pan-American Triathlon Championship in Dallas, Texas.  She has won state championships in cycling and triathlon.

She travels around the country raising awareness of CMT.

She is the author of the book, “Running for My Life” that details her experience as a CMT affected athlete.

You may visit her author page at:

Team CMT is a group of athletes and supporters working to raise awareness and to find a cure for CMT. We have 196 members in 37 states. We also have members in Australia, England,Scotland, Canada, Vietnam, Turkey, Finland, Scotland, France, Poland and Iran. If you wish to join us visit our web site; or

CMT or Charcot-Marie-Tooth is the most commonly inherited peripheral neuropathy. It affects over 155,000 Americans (as many as MS).  It is a disease of the nerves that control the muscles. It is slowly progressive, causing loss of normal function and or sensation in the lower legs/feet and arms/hands.

Symptoms include; muscle wasting in the lower legs and feet leading to foot drop, poor balance and gait problems Atrophy in the hands causes difficulty with manual dexterity.

Structural foot deformities such as high arches and hammer toes are common.

Poor tolerance for cool or cold temperatures and many people have chronically cold hands and feet.

Additional symptoms may include fatigue, sleep apnea, breathing difficulties and hearing loss.

Additional Link
Follow CMT affected Paratriathlete Timmy Dixon

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