Monday, November 3, 2014

Triple Threat Profile: Erin Feldhausen - Wisconsin

Whether she's crushing Ironman Wisconsin, a cyclocross race, or the local zombie/color/mud run (her specialty), one thing holds true... Erin Feldhausen is FAST. You may not know it, but Wisconsin is a great state for triathlon, and it is represented well on our national team!

What’s your background and how did you get into triathlon?

Given that my dad coached collegiate cross country for 25 years, I grew up running. My brother, sister and I have done local "fun runs" with my dad since we were about 7 years old. Naturally, I ran cross country & track through high school and college and when over-use injuries got the best of me, I turned to the bike to cross-train. My college cross country coach also did triathlons and she kind of got me motivated to try them.

Like camera technology, Erin's running skills have been on the rise over the past 25 yrs 

How would you sum up your 2014 season, and what was the highlight/lowlight?

My 2014 season was mostly focused on Ironman WI. In the past I have tried to fit in a marathon in the spring before an Ironman season, but this year I did the American Birkebeiner (50k cross country ski marathon) at the end of February and that cut down the amount of long runs I could do for a spring marathon. In any case, my big focuses were the Door County Half Ironman in July and Ironman Wisconsin in September. I finished the Door County Half IM as the 4th overall female in a personal best time of 5:07. My Ironman WI race came together very well on a perfect day and I finished 8th in my age group with an 11:14.17.

To what do you attribute such a stellar performance at IMWI? Did you do anything different from past years?

Mostly, I would say a combination of hard work and experience. I knew what I had to do and I knew what it was going to take to get there. I don't have a coach and I don't follow any specific training plan, but I am a very good record-keeper. I jot down notes about workouts in a running log nearly every day and have done so since I was a freshman in HS (1996). I often look back at the things I've done in training for my last IM's and look at what worked and try to push it a little more or lay off more, depending on what things are feeling like. I was not as motivated to get in the pool last year and figured that my swim time was going to be slower than it has been other years when I focused on the swim more, but I was willing to sacrifice a little bit of time there. I felt really strong on the bike all year, and while I had friends passing me in the first 15 miles on race day who I knew weren't as strong as me on training rides, I let them go, stuck to my own agenda and ended up putting significant gaps on them towards the end. I kept a steady effort on the bike and managed to get in under 6 hours (on a hilly course) and was happy with that. I felt good off the bike and while I hadn't planned out my strategy for the run, I decided in the first few miles that I was going to go as far as I could before walking, whereas in past years I told myself I'd walk at the mile 4 aid station.

I made it into 5 miles, took a brief walk on a hill and tried to minimize the amount of time at the aid stations and when there are 20+ of them in a race, just a few seconds adds up. My good friend and frequent training partner, Greg, got off the bike at the same time as me but took longer in transition. Given that there are a number of "out & backs" on the IM WI run course, I had a good gauge of where he was at and in a friendly competition sort of tried to race with him. He caught me about 16 miles in, we ran together for a few miles, then I let him go. He ended up exactly 60 seconds ahead of me at the finish. I PR'd my marathon split for an IM with a 3:47. Nutrition is obviously also a big part of the race and I practiced a lot of different things this summer and didn't have any issues with what they had on course, so I mostly "lived off the course," took my gels, salt tabs, Pringles and PB&J. :) I thought about what I was doing the moment I was doing it, and tried not to worry about what was to come. Going in, I didn't set any time expectations, but I knew that if all of the non-controllables were in place (they were), it was going to be a good day and it really was.

For people unaware of IMWI, can you give a brief summary of the course/race? What makes it sell out in 9.5 seconds every year?

The IMWI venue is totally all-around awesome! Perhaps I'm biased because it's fairly close to home, but Madison is just a beautiful city and they put on a world-class event. The swim is one loop in Lake Monona, with a stunning view of the state capitol building as well as the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Monona Terrace. The sun comes up over the lake as you get ready in the morning. The transition for IMWI is significantly longer than most IM's because you actually go inside the Monona Terrace ballrooms to get your gear and change. You run through a massive parking structure to get to/from transition and to get to your bike on the top level of the parking deck. The bike course is a "lollipop" formation (stick with two loops), largely through farm country with passes through a couple of towns where the volunteers & community go all out to cheer/spectate. When you think WI farm country, you think pancake flat, however, this is the western part of the state where the glaciers have sculpted it into a land of rolling hills and technical turns. It's a big advantage to know the course, knowing the gears to be in and where the hills and turns are. You have to concentrate hard on not burning out your legs on the climbs to save them for the run. The run course is incredible - around the state capitol, through downtown Madison, through the college football stadium, on lakefront bike paths, and up and down the city's pedestrian-only party street. It is pretty much shoulder-to-shoulder with spectators in many parts of the run course, which is very motivating. It is very spectator-friendly and helps to have a hometown crowd and lots of family/friends there to watch.

I saw something you wrote this summer about how getting up early to ride the course used to be “romantic,” but now it was a painful chore. Have you fallen out of love with the race? Are there other IMs in your future or will you continue to rekindle the fire with your old flame?

So this was my 4th Ironman. The first (2008) one was all-around excitement and nerves, the 2nd one (2009) was great because I knew I just had to build off the first and with experience could improve. The third one (2011) was fun because I had a lot of friends training and some who hadn't done it before - it was fun guiding them. Being that it was my 4th one (that I signed up for because of peer pressure with some friends over beers), it didn't seem to have as much excitement for me as the other ones had. Maybe I was just being dramatic about it, but I just knew as soon as I submitted my payment that I was going to be in for a summer of hard work and sacrifices. When I really wanted to go mountain biking or just hang out with friends, I knew I'd have to opt for the safer, more Ironman-focused workout. Again, I had a lot of friends doing it and when you can combine social time and workout time, it makes it 100 times better, so it all worked out in the end. The race was great and I had a lot of fun and I'm glad I did it, but I was just feeling a little like I wanted to try some new stuff this year. Mostly I was probably just being dramatic, although I will say there are times when I get surrounded by "type-A" crazy ironman triathletes and it just turns me off from it all. I am sure there will be at least one more IM in my future, but right now I'm interested in seeing what other fun stuff is out there. I will still be doing tri's for sure and really like the HIM distance, but would like to also try some off-road tri's. My younger brother lives in Baltimore and has been a good runner all his life and he's recently been bitten by the triathlon bug. He did his first HIM in Maryland this past fall and finished in 5-flat. Apparently he has been inspired enough and has signed up for IMWI next I won't be too far away from it.

I know you race a wide variety of events… what are some of your favorites?

The good old fashioned 5k is one of my favorite events. No zombies, no monsters, no neon, no color, no frills, just a local 5k with friends. I like to say my favorite races are the ones where you sign up with paper and they hand out awards from a picnic table. There are great aspects of almost all races, but I really enjoy the authentic joy of just a basic running race. 

Aside from that, I've gotten into cyclocross racing in the past 4 or 5 years and have really come to love it. It's full-out red-lining for 45 minutes. If you're not sure what cyclocross is, think road bike with knobby tires that you ride on a course at a park somewhat like a cross country course. It's a European race and as Wikipedia explains, it “typically takes place in the autumn and winter and consists of many laps of a short (1.5–2 mile) course featuring pavement, wooded trails, grass, steep hills and obstacles requiring the rider to quickly dismount, carry the bike while navigating the obstruction and remount.” Anyway, the races are really fun and so is the race environment surrounding them. I have seen a few triathletes take to the sport and do quite well.

Rank the 3 disciplines from your personal strength to weakness, and what’s been key to improving in each?

1. Running - key to improving when working towards a race is incorporating speed once/week and longer distance once/week...the rest is just filler.

2. Cycling - key to improving is time in the saddle. I don't do a lot of interval training and I don't train with power. I believe riding with people who are faster than you and trying to keep up is a great way to get better. And fueling right on the ride to enable you to go longer. It's about the engine, not the machine.

3. Swimming - I just don't like to get into the pool. Especially if I'm doing a workout on my own. I'm much more of a social workout person and it's hard to be social when you're swimming. I'd much prefer open water swimming than the gym. I think quality time in the pool is key to improving for me.

What’s your strategy for winter training in Wisconsin?

During the last couple of winters, I have done cross country (skate ski) training for the "Birkie," which has consisted of getting out for long, hilly ski outings on the weekends to train. As much as I don't like the snow, it's a great way for me to get excited when we get dumped on. Good ski conditions! In addition to skiing, I do group spin classes at the Y and group computrainer workouts with friends at a local bike shop. I don't typically spend any more than 90 minutes on my bike inside, though. My attention span doesn't last that long. I do not like running on treadmills, so I'll do my running mostly outside all winter long. We are fortunate in Milwaukee to have the US National Speed Skating center and along the outside of the skate track is a nice 2-lane 440m track that is a great alternative to icy sidewalks. It's about 50-some degrees in there, too, so it's pretty comfortable for running.

Can you tell us a bit about your day job, and what hobbies do you have outside of work and triathlon?

I am a financial analyst at MillerCoors (formerly Miller Brewing Co). I sit at a desk 90% of the day and work on excel spreadsheets. I also get 3-4 free cases of beer each month and it's not unusual for my boss to declare at 4:30pm that we're going to the employee pub. I am the president of the local triathlon club (380+ members) - TriWisconsin. Outside of tri's, I really enjoy cross country skiing, mountain biking and cyclocross racing. I also play on an ultimate frisbee team during the spring & fall. I'm pretty much down to try most active things.

I lived in Wisconsin for several years so I know there’s a great triathlon vibe there. How would you describe it, what makes it so great?

I grew up in Green Bay and didn't really get involved in triathlons until after college. I moved to Milwaukee and eventually connected with TriWisconsin through a guy I used to run cross country with. It introduced me to a lot of great training opportunities and a lot of really, really great people. There are a number of clubs in the area and I am also friends with some folks who started a multisport club in Green Bay and the triathlon scene is really great around here. Everyone is very supportive of one another. There are a number of organizations who provide coaching and training and it seems as though all work together in some respect and do what they can to promote the sport. Every year there's even a huge "Multisport Expo" where vendors and races from all over come and there are team time trials, endless pool swim demonstrations, fastest transition competitions and other triathlon-related things. I guess it's fun and I don't really know any different but have come to love it. In TriWisconsin alone, we have ~385 members this year.

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