Monday, May 16, 2016

Kirsten Sass, Champion Triathlete Readies for Memphis in May Triathlon

Posted By on Mon, May 16, 2016 at 9:35 AM

Kirsten Sass knows triathlons. The 37-year-old mother of two will compete in this Sunday’s Memphis in May Triathlon as the defending women’s champion, having completed the Millington course — a 1.5-kilometer swim, 40K bike ride, and 10K run — in 2:02:18 a year ago. The victory was her sixth in the event since finishing last in her age group in 1999 (the first time she competed). In 2009, Sass completed the triathlon while four-months pregnant with her first child. She was twice named Women’s Triathlete of the Year by USA Triathlon (2013 and 2015).

click to enlarge Kirsten Sass with husband, Jeff, (as Elvis).
  • Kirsten Sass with husband, Jeff, (as Elvis).

Having completed more than 100 triathlons, Sass has more than a little insight about the endeavor. The McKenzie, Tennessee, native shared some thoughts on what invigorates a modern triathlete.

What’s your favorite element of a triathlon?

My passion is the bike. My dad got me running when I was little, but there’s something about the bike that I really love. When it comes to bike, I’m where I want to be.

How about the most challenging?

Swimming is my challenge point, the [leg where] I feel I have the most improvement to make. I’m still working on that. The most painful part is the mental aspect, even more than the physical. Being able to push through those barriers. You can actually go faster if you can get through that mind block. It’s the fourth aspect of a triathlon. When you train for individual parts [of a race], you know what you’re capable of doing. But there’s something during a race, when your mind is constantly telling you to slow down, or it’s hurting. To a certain extent, you have to know when that’s true and when it’s just your mind telling you that . . . that you can push through and reach your true potential. A lot of us limit ourselves because we back off when we have the potential to do more.

At what stage of a triathlon do you find yourself “in a zone,” that place endurance athletes fight to achieve?

You can get into a flow state, where you know you’re where you need to be for that point in the race. It’s like a sweet spot, where you’re pushing yourself to your capability but not over that red line. You let your mind shut down, your body take over, and go with it. Sometimes you can go a whole race like that. Other times you start the swim and you’re in the flow, something happens, and you fall out of it. Gotta find that spot again. It can be in and out.

What’s your diet during training?

I try to eat as fresh and natural as possible. I don’t eat a lot of meat anymore. I limit my grains; I don’t eat any pasta. Basically my only carbs other than vegetables is white rice occasionally. I’m lucky that I have a husband who loves to cook, and he cooks that way. That makes it easier. [Kirsten’s husband, Jeff, also makes a decent Elvis impersonator, as pictured here.]

[On race day], I use a product called UCAN, a super-starch. It helps me avoid blood-sugar spikes and bonking. I get up, have a couple of boiled eggs, a little bit of rice, a banana with almond butter, and I drink a UCAN with protein in it. Even in a marathon, I don’t have to eat anything after that. Now, recovery is paramount afterwards. I’ll have a salad with boiled eggs and another UCAN after I finish.

How much sleep do you get?

As much as I can. I get teased. I have two little kids, and the earlier I can get them to bed, the better. Ideally I’m in bed by 8:00 or 9:00 and usually I’m up by 4:00 or 5:00 to train before getting the kids to school.

Tell us about the Millington course. What’s the most challenging stretch?

I love that course. The most challenging stretch is the run; it can be pretty hot. You’ll know if you pushed it too hard on the bike. The best part of that course is the finish-line stretch, running across that levee. It’s pretty cool.

Do you have a favorite memory from the Memphis in May triathlon?

I went to the University of Western Ontario, and that’s where I first got into triathlons. For years and years, I had a group of friends who would come down from Canada for the race. Those are my best memories. The first thing we’d set up was our transition area for after the race. We’d set up our blankets and chairs so we could enjoy the food and music. The guys would have Elvis chop competitions; see who could grow the biggest chops.

Your kids (Alyssabella is now 6, Sebastian 4) are nearing an age when they can begin endurance sports. Will they be triathletes?

They love to swim. They love to ride their bikes. And they love to run. But right now, they have no interest in racing, not even a fun-run for kids. I’m okay with that. They’re active, and that’s the main thing. If they come into it one day, that would be great. They’re playing soccer now.

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