Now presenting our next Featured ATC Athlete - Sheelah Cochran! Sheelah completed the Gulf Coast 70.3 a few weeks ago and is now training for the Worlds 70.3. We recently had a chance to chat about her race and how triathlon came into her life…
Interviewer: How did you get started in triathlon?
Sheelah: I always had an interest in doing triathlons for many years. It was not the right time for the family or financially until my kids got older. My employer, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta offered the TriPossible program, and they've been doing that for many years. So finally in 2018 I said “This is the year!!”
I had to sign up for the TriPossible program and do it. I'm the kind of person that when I decide to do something I'm committed to it. I was in the program the first year but I had been having some trouble with my running due to back pain. I struggled with my run the first year just because of back pain but I managed to do my first triathlon after six weeks of training.
My first race was the Georgia Peach Ladies Triathlon and I won second place in my age group.
And then my next triathlon was totally different. It was an introduction to a more long course event. Unfortunately, I did wind up having to watch it on the run. Just because I felt like it was really stinking hot out here. I was not trying to kill myself.
I ran behind Michael Schlund, another Atlanta Tri Club member. I would see Michael up there ahead - and I'd run to catch up to him. And then I'd walk. I’d see him up ahead of me again, and then I’d run a little bit more. And then I was able to finish running fairly hard that last mile but it was really hot. Being a beginner of course, I didn't necessarily have my hydration or my nutrition down at that point. Although I didn't cramp, I probably did not drink enough. The next two races I tried to improve upon that.
The next race was a super sprint - not really a lot of nutrition needed there. And then the last race was a Tri The Parks race.
As part of the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta TriPossible program, they do pay for my races and some training every year so of course I take advantage. It’s a fantastic program.
Interviewer: So thinking about your most recent race - You just completed Gulf Coast 70.3 , in which of course there were some disappointing moments because of the cancellation of the swim.
Tell me about the day and some of the challenges that you overcame to complete the race.
Sheelah: I had convinced a fellow triathlete to participate with me. We had gone down there early to practice our swim and felt pretty competent. Come race day - double RED FLAG, swim was cancelled.
For me personally, I feel like the swim is probably my strongest leg. I feel like I get an advantage especially when it's a longer distance swim. So mentally, I felt like I needed to push a lot harder on the bike since the swim was cancelled. I lost my advantage and even though we'd been training for the flats, it's different when you have to go straight into 56 miles in race mode.
There were some headwind issues and some race order issues because the race began in a time trial start on the bike.
Our race number was in the 1100s- it was a long wait to get started. The longer we waited , the hotter it got and the nutrition from prerace was gone. By the time we got rolling, there were already 1100 racers out on the course in front of us.
Interviewer: How did you deal with the nutrition issue? By actual start time what you'd eaten pre-race wasn’t necessarily in your system anymore, because it had been two hours. The nutrition plan was all off by then due to the cancelled swim.
Sheelah: I know in the past I have not eaten enough on the bike. So this time I tried to focus on eating the bars and taking in something every 30 minutes, like my Garmin was telling me - I managed to take in three bars. And once I got closer to the end, four gels.
Unfortunately , I ran out of water - I had my Speedfill which has 40 ounces - And I had another bottle that was 24 ounces. I was drinking every 15 minutes taking a few sips and I had just filled up my speed fill with my 24 ounce bottle and I thought okay, you've got 24 ounces. It's good to go. Well, I passed the last aid station with about six miles to go and I should have grabbed water at the last aid station.
Interviewer: Yeah - then that would put you in a little bit of a deficit heading into the run trying to play nutrition/hydration catch up for the first three miles. Trying to get those nutrients back in becomes an interesting race in itself. But you did complete the race and you did fantastic!
Sheelah : Now fortunately for us, on the run, the course went right by our villa!! I asked the race director beforehand - Is it legal for us to go into our own Villa and use our own bathroom??
He said - “Oh, wow. That's an interesting question. I've never been asked that question.” He thought about it for a minute. Then he said “Well, as long as you come back onto the course exactly where you left! “
So I made two stops - the first stop was less than a mile from from the transition. I stopped and I made myself a bottle of Nuun to try to get back some hydration. Unfortunately because of the cramping, my running style was not the best , but I finished it when so many other people did not even make it to the start. And hundreds didn’t finish. I wouldn't say it was my best run it was my best bike!
Interviewer: Excellent. Well, great job on finishing that race. How do you feel in a general sense that the sport of triathlon has affected your daily life?
Sheelah: I feel like obviously I'm in a lot better physical condition. I wouldn't say I was in poor physical condition prior to starting triathlon, but obviously not at the fitness level for the completion of endurance events. I feel like I've improved my body composition. Leaning out a lot and losing some of that body fat, which is hard after menopause . It’s especially hard because the weight tends to stick in the middle. I feel like doing endurance events has helped me control that aspect a lot better. Also mental health-wise. I'm a lot more relaxed and a lot more focused. I'm trying to work on my sleep patterns because exercising that hard requires more sleep. Family wise I feel like it hasn't taken anything away from my family because my kids are grown. My husband has been my biggest partner - he comes to all the triathlon races . I told him to skip the running races but he's a big help for that too.
Interviewer: Having that support system is so important, especially from your spouse and the people that are closest to you. Absolutely. Well, what are your next goals? What are you doing next?
Sheelah: I'm doing several sprints and Tugaloo Olympic again. Of course I'm always trying to get a time PR at Tugaloo. The first time I finished in over three hours - three hours and 16 minutes. The second time I did it I finished in 2:50. Even despite having a mechanical issue on the bike I still bettered my time by 25 minutes, so I'm hoping again to do even better. I'm always looking to get a better time - not necessarily a better place. I’m racing against myself. Always trying to get a better bike split this time. Let's see if I can get a better run. Those are the things I'm looking forward to in the race.
And then the big race I'm going to be training for is Worlds 70.3. I’m going to be focusing so much on hill training - I don't feel I have my hill legs under me yet because Gulf Coast 70.3 was a flat course. Now I'm going to start really focusing on hills for the bike and run.
Interviewer: Excellent. Good luck on everything. Thank you so much for sharing some of your thoughts with me today. I appreciate you.
Sheelah:Thank you for asking.