When: 6:30 a.m. today Where: Clinton State Park Course: Swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, run 13.1 miles
A year ago at this time, Meghan Graham was working at the Ironman 70.3 Kansas, helping check in athletes and pitching in during the athletes’ expo.
Seven months ago, she was working at the Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Clearwater, Fla., when she happened upon a tent full of folks touting her hometown race. She ended up wearing the Cowardly Lion’s costume — from the “Wizard of Oz;” get it? — pitching the race to passers-by and trying, semi-seriously, to wrangle a discounted entry into the 2009 Kansas race herself.
Today, she and about 1,999 other ridiculously fit multisporters will swim, bike and run 70.3 miles in the event’s second edition. It all begins at 6:30 a.m. at Clinton State Park when the first competitors dive into a 1.2-mile swim in Clinton Lake, followed by a 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run.
The event has drawn a big field, up more than 700 from last year. Included are two of the biggest names in triathloning: elites (and Ironman world champions) Chrissie Wellington and Tim DeBoom.
“It’s a great pro field,” trumpeted race director Ryan Robinson. “It’s a great course. We’re very happy and proud.”
And it’s going to be new ground for the 28-year-old Graham, even if it is going on in the Lawrence resident’s back yard.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” she said. “I’ve done a couple of other triathlons, but nothing of this distance. It’s a bit of a step up for me.”
That’s a bit of an understatement.
On May 2, Graham competed in her first triathlon, the Smith Mountain Lake (Va.) Triathlon. She swam 750 meters, biked 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) and ran 5 kilometers (3.1 miles). Graham placed third in the “Athena” division in 1 hour, 32 minutes, 34 seconds.
She has competed in two other sprint triathlons since, placing third in her age group in the Heritage Triathlon on May 17 in Olathe and fifth in her age group two weeks later in the Kansas City Triathlon.
Today’s event is considerably longer than those three events. Combined.
“It’s a lot longer,” Graham said. “At that length, it’s such a mental thing. I’ve ridden the course before. I’ve done 56 miles on the bike, then the next day I did the Lynn Electric Half Marathon. So I’ve done all the distances. It’s just a matter of putting it all together, getting my nutrition right. And a lot of it’s mental, going out there and exercising for 61⁄2, 7 hours. I’ve always been a sprinter. In college I ran track — sprint events — and played soccer. So this distance thing is new to me.”
Here’s a discipline-by-discipline look at how Graham hopes her day will pan out:
Swim: 1.2 miles
Graham learned to swim as a youngster and says she “grew up in a pool,” but she never swam competitively or even swam laps until she started training for the triathlon.
Even with that training, her first competitive open-water swim was startling. She found out quickly that swimming in a murky lake — surrounded by hundreds of stroking arms and kicking feet — was a far cry from cranking out laps in a pristine pool.
“I freaked out,” she said. “I wasn’t used to that many people being around me. I got a little claustrophobic. I wasn’t used to that at all. Now that I’m used to it, the swim’s not too difficult to me. I just need to get into a routine.”
Also key, Graham said, is pacing, even though the swim is by far the shortest of the three legs in distance and time.
“I know I don’t want to get kicked, so I know to start to the outside of the pack,” Graham said. “And once the gun goes off, I have to tell myself not to go out too fast. If I do, I’ll hyperventilate. I can’t get my heart rate up too high. I have to tell myself to stay calm; ‘Just do your strokes that you’ve practiced so much.’ You can’t race everybody around you. If you bonk, you won’t be able to finish.”
Then it’s off to the first transition, when Graham will strip off her wetsuit, take off her goggles and swim cap, dry her feet, slip on socks and bike shoes, strap on her aero helmet and head out on the second leg.
Bike: 56 miles
Again Graham stresses the importance of pacing herself, but she expects to get a little competitive once she starts turning pedals. As the longest leg of the triathlon, the bike portion provides an opportunity to make up lost ground or pull farther ahead in the overall race.
“I need to keep myself calm and keep my heart rate down, get in a groove,” she said. “But I’m the type, because of my competitive nature, I’ll pick somebody ahead of me to catch and pass. Then I’ll pick somebody else. It doesn’t matter if they’re in my age group or not. I’ll just keep trying to pick people off, one by one.”
The bike ride also will allow the triathletes a chance to eat and drink.
“I have to make sure I take on enough fuel and hydrate so I don’t cramp or bonk,” Graham said. “If you bonk, you end up walking in the end. So I have to take in enough electrolytes and energy gels.”
Then it’s on to the second transition, where Graham will park her bike, change into running shoes, trade her helmet for a running cap and head out for the final leg.
Run: 13.1 miles
Cycling places demands on specific muscles in the legs.
Running taxes another set of muscles.
“It takes a little bit to get my running legs after cycling,” Graham said. “It usually takes me a couple of miles to get my running legs, to find them. A lot of times, you start out really fast on the run because you’re used to going so fast on the bike. You’re running a seven-minute mile, and you have to slow down. You have to make sure you’re running your race.”
If all goes according to plan, Graham expects to cross the finish line between six and seven hours from the time she started.
“I know that’s a broad range,” she said. “But it all depends on how things go. I did the training ride in 31⁄2 hours, and the next day I did the half marathon in 2 hours, 8 minutes. Based on those — and I think I can swim it in about 45 minutes — I’m thinking I can get all of that done in six to seven hours. Obviously, there will be a little more time added in there because I’m going to get tired.”
Whatever the time, Graham’s primary goal is simple.
“I just want,” she said, “to finish.”