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Athlete Spotlight: Rhiannon O'Connor


Name | Rhiannon O'Connor


What is your favorite sport/activity?

My favorite triathlon sport is swimming. It is my go-to to reduce stress, soothe aching muscles, and provide a great workout. Besides triathlon, I like to ski (mostly downhill), walk, and sail.


Outside of training with Tri Fitness, what are some of your favorite hobbies?

I love to cook. I like nothing better than planning a huge feast! This past year I have been perfecting my baking skills with help from The Great British Bake Off. So much for making race weight.


I read a lot — especially mystery thriller and espionage, but also biographies and historical.


We have watched a lot of TV this year. Some good (British TV shows especially) and some not-so-good. I still can't believe we watched all the Sharknado movies, and all the Marvel superhero movies, in order! When I do my bike warmup or EZ spins, I watch Grey's Anatomy. As a retired anesthesiologist, I can hardly believe how bad it is, but it gets me through mindless workouts.


I have been scrapbooking for years, but never seem to catch up. It's been fun looking at the pictures of our two daughters as they have grown up.


Scott and I downhill ski together, and we also share a love of sailing. We have our bareboat certifications, and hope to learn about offshore passage making in the future. We hope to get our daughters and their significant others certified, as well, so that we can all share sailing together.


What is your favorite motivational quote?

"When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

"One more mile" is my long race mantra.


Favorite gear for summer/winter racing?

In the summer, I love my MamaDocsTri race outfit. I have an Aquaman Gold wetsuit that I love. It has a reverse zipper (you pull the zipper up to undo) and it comes off really easily. And then my bike — it is a Women's Trek Speed Concept 7.5 that Pete Ellis has souped up with electric shifters and ceramic stuff. It's a thoroughbred, and when I have my HED racing wheels on it I feel like I'm flying. I have a between-the-handlebar water bottle, to which I have added a soft silicone tube so it doesn't go through the roof of my mouth when I'm riding and drinking. For the run, I need all the help I can get. I have a pair of lightweight Zoot triathlon shoes, but I am anxious to try a pair of Nike Vaporfly's that I bought at the end of last season.


I don't race in the winter!


What keeps you going when you really don't want to?

The thought of having red in my Training Peaks workout plan — realizing skipping a workout here or there can become a slippery slope leading to a disappointing race day (or even workout) performance.


I am a member of a Facebook group, Mama Docs Tri. You have to be a mom, an MD/DO, and do a triathlon to be a part of it. We cheer each other on through our posts and race reports. It's probably the best Facebook group that I belong to. We range from newbies to very experienced. I was surprised to see some of them cheering me on as I raced Steelhead 70.3, and then IM Wisconsin 2019. One even delivered some post-race IM cookies to my hotel room in Madison!


What got you started with training/racing?

I have always been "sporty." I started running around the Minneapolis lakes when I first moved here from the UK. I signed up for the Star Tribune Get In Gear race in the Spring, and ended up running the second Twin Cities Marathon. Later on at a Masters swim program I heard Steve and Annie Hed talking about triathlon, and thought that sounded pretty cool. Then I had 2 children and triathlon was put on the back burner until 2004. I did Square Lake with a friend and had a blast. The next year I raced LifeTime Minneapolis and was totally hooked. I discovered Tri Fitness in White Bear Lake and have been buying gear and training with Vicki and friends ever since.


When you told your friends/family about beginning your journey, what was their reaction?

Oh, you mean like that woman who crawled across the finish line in Hawaii?


My biggest fan and supporter is my husband, Scott. It is very easy to overlook the help and support of loved ones. Scott is always there for me cheering me on and carrying my gear. He is always willing to rescue me from long bike rides, and drives the pontoon boat alongside me on my long swims in White Bear Lake. Both my daughters have done shorter triathlons, and my parents were competitive swimmers when they were in high school.


How long have you been training/racing?

I did my first triathlon in 2004 and have essentially been training and racing ever since.


Were you involved in other competitive sports prior to your adult years?

I was fortunate to grow up in a family where my parents encouraged my brothers and I to swim and participate in sports. My parents were both collegiate athletes — my mother a swimmer and my father a rugby player. I continued swimming and running when I was in medical school. Our locker rooms were sketchy at best, but we did have fun commiserating together. When I moved over to the US in 1980, women's running was in its infancy. I happened to see and sign up for the Star Tribune Get In Gear race. Living in Minneapolis with its chain of lakes and parkway system made running easy. I ran in the Bonne Bell 10k race in the Twin Cities, and also participated in the Melpomene Institute research done by Judy Mahler-Lutter. The experience from these races spurred me on to do the second Twin Cities Marathon in 1982. I have now done 3 marathons and Kona will definitely be my last!


Best tip for a newbie?

Find a Tri Club. The camaraderie and support you will get from everyone there is invaluable. Don't be afraid to ask questions. We were all beginners once.


What is your favorite pre/post workout snack/drink?

Pre- regular workout — nothing special. I try to have finished it at least an hour before I swim, run, or do strength training. If I know it will be a long MF workout day, I will have a bowl of overnight oatmeal made with Greek yogurt, extra protein powder, and fruit. Pre-race meal is usually an Egg McMuffin, orange juice, and coffee (you can find McDonald's anywhere). Immediately before I get in the water, I will have a gel and off I go.


Post-workout — depends on the time of day. I will have a glass of chocolate milk on my way home from Tri Fitness or the pool, then usually whatever meal comes up next with extra protein.


Post-race meal — can't beat Dave's burger at Saks and a beer (Spotted Cow, if in Wisconsin).


Who is your biggest inspiration?

In swimming, Janet Evans, Dara Torres, Mark Spitz, Michael Phelps, and Katie Ledecky. In cycling, Greg Lemond. In running, Joan Benoit. In triathlon, Gwen Jorgenson, UK's Brownlee brothers, and that woman ahead of me on the run!


What is your biggest struggle?

The run...it's always the run.


What is your pre-race routine?

Week/night before — checklist, checklist, checklist. I set everything out and organize, and visualize setup, start, T1, bike, T2, and then the run.


I have breakfast at home or on the road depending on the race venue. Again, I visualize the race and go through it mentally. I get my wetsuit on, and get some quiet time away from the crowds to calm and think the swim through. I then swallow a gel and GO!!


Goals for the upcoming year (2021)?

Staying healthy and injury free, getting the COVID vaccine, and looking forward to having a race season again. My "A" races are the USAT AG Nationals in Milwaukee in August, and then the IM World Championships in Kona in October. I'm also planning on doing some local MN races that I have not done before.


Is there anything else you would like to add?

This has been a difficult year for all of us. I am honored that Vicki has asked me to be a featured athlete for January 2021. I am looking forward to getting my COVID vaccine so I can once again feel comfortable with the group classes at Tri Fitness.


Some other thoughts...


When I did IM Wales in 2013, I was intrigued by the mix of athletes competing. There were less than 30 total from the US, and the majority were from the UK. Only 9% of the athletes racing were women, which is much lower than IM events in the US. I believe that the biggest factor in this discrepancy is the enactment of Title IX in the US in 1972, guaranteeing equal opportunities for women and girls attending schools or universities that receive federal funding. Even today, in 2021, no such equivalent legislations exists in the UK or in the European Union.


The running and biking trails here in Minnesota are an incredible resource that I think we sometimes take for granted. I did practice runs in the UK in London, and also in Wales. There were plenty of scenic trail runs in Wales, but no safe roads for running along, let alone biking. I had a whole load of respect for the local athletes who trained on the narrow shoulderless roads, risking life and limb at every turn.

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