March 6, 2018

Behind the Scenes of the Indoor Winter Tri with Event Director, Katrina Ladd

Katrina Ladd is one of two Assistant Fitness Directors with MIT Recreation, and the mastermind behind the new Indoor Winter Triathlon program. As a triathlete and long-distance runner herself, she knew that there was a large triathlon community within the Boston area – and that the facilities at MIT Recreation had the potential to fill a void within that community. Over the last two years, she has started to build up a multisport/endurance sport program, which has also included workshops & clinics, a Multisport Instructional Program over IAP, and a Half-Marathon Training class.
Indoor Winter Tri Katrina Ladd

Why I love Triathlons

I grew up running city road races and fun runs starting at the age of about 6. My mom was always running and so our family would attend races together. Starting in middle school, I ran Cross Country and Track & Field. That was when I started to really like longer races, which at the time meant running the 2-mile.

During my freshman year of college, my mom convinced me to train for a half marathon. She said it would be good and that I “wouldn’t get the freshman 15 that way” (Thanks Mom). I decided to follow her advice, and through it realized that I enjoyed exercising for long periods of time.  In fact, often times when I go out for a run now, I’m just getting ready to go at about miles 4 or 5.

When it comes to triathlons though, I have always been amazed at the sport; the dedication, commitment, and technique to be good at three sports to complete one race. I vividly remember watching the IRONMAN World Championship on the NBC Sports Recap while folding laundry. I remember seeing these athletes push their bodies to the limit, stumble over their feet, puke their guts out – and thinking, “I want to do that someday.” So, it became a life goal of mine to complete an IRONMAN (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run).

Fast forward to 2012, and I did my first triathlon, the MIT Ironnerd. It was a blast! From there I bought a bike and started to learn how to freestyle swim (thank you for all the tips, MIT lifeguards). Every year after, I competed in a new triathlon distance, from the Sprint in 2012, to finally the IRONMAN in 2015.

Indoor Winter Tri Athlete Lounge

What Inspired Our First Indoor Winter Tri

A couple of things inspired me to try out an Indoor Winter Tri at MIT Recreation. At the University of Minnesota (my Alma Mata), we always put on a large indoor triathlon around Super Bowl Sunday. It was always a full and fun event to put on. I wanted to be able to replicate the experience for the MIT community.

I also really wanted to offer an opportunity for individuals interested in the sport to give it a try. The cost of a real triathlon can be daunting (get a bike, wet suit, etc.). I wanted our event to be a low-barrier, introductory one for anyone interested in the sport of Triathlons.

I also know how hard it is to stay motivated to train during New England winters. The Winter Tri would allow active triathletes to have something on their race calendar to train for, or train through, with a hard workout.

Indoor Winter Tri

Year One

Last year (2017) was the first year we offered the Indoor Winter Tri. We had a total of 72 participants: from beginners, to collegiate athletes, to seasoned triathletes. There were even athletes that traveled from Yale!

We chose our smaller facility for the event, the Alumni/Wang Center. The facility can be – and was – a bit challenging to find, but we were able to open it specifically for the event. The Winter Tri athletes were the ONLY ones using the facility. If we had had it at the Zesiger Center, there might have been 2-3 other large events going on. I think the smaller facility size at the Alumni Center helped reduce any anxiety or stress athletes might have had about managing transitions, or navigating the building.

For the day, we grouped all our athletes into small heats of about six. They began with a 15 minute lap-swim in the pool. With a set transition time of 10 minutes, each heat then moved upstairs to our spin studio, where bikes were setup for the next leg. Each rider was told to ride as much distance as they could in the allotted 25 minute time slot. Finally, our athletes transitioned (with a set 5 minute time) to the main fitness floor onto the treadmills. Each treadmill was set at an incline of “1,” and athletes ran as far as they could in the 20 minutes allotted.

We posted each heat’s results on the wall of the center, encouraged our athletes to grab a snack in the ‘lounge’ after their race, and generally had an amazing time that first year. We had great feedback from participants too. It was  such a great day, we knew we would have to bring it back for the next year.

Indoor Winter Tri

Year Two, Double-down.

For 2018, we decided that not only would we bring back the Indoor Winter Tri, we would add a Spring race. And we had learned a lot from 2017. We emphasized and gave better directions to the Fitness Center, shifted the location of the athlete lounge/post-race area, realized that less volunteers were needed, and tried out different suggestions for presenting results. One thorn in our side – the frustrating inability to equalizes the bike portion of the race to our satisfaction – continued, but we did our best with the equipment on hand.

Year two was another success! Our athletes gave us great feedback, offered great suggestions for the future, and overall it was another awesome day. Some of the most encouraging responses I got were from our new-to-triathlon athletes. I had set out with the goal of making these events especially accessible to them. Twenty-two of our 60 competitors had never attempted a Triathlon before! When I asked them why they had a positive experience with us, they told me it was because of the lack of “pressure of transitions and expensive equipment,” “Because it is time-based” (and therefore more approachable for less-trained athletes), and, my favorite comment, that it was “AWESOME and totally got [them] hooked on wanting to do more!” It’s comments like this that make me very excited and proud that we were able to put on an event for them.

Indoor Winter Tri

The future of the Indoor Winter Tri at MIT Recreation

The Indoor Winter Tri is here to stay, I think, at MIT Recreation. As the program continues to improve and evolve, I would love to start working with other Massachusetts universities; maybe put together a collegiate Bean Pot tournament. This year I learned that BU and BC put on indoor triathlon events and there are about 5-10 collegiate club triathlon teams within about 1-2 hours from Boston. I think it would be really cool to put together some sort of winter series for them, as most of the triathlon season takes place while school is not in session. It would be a good way to grow the sport at the collegiate level.

Who knows where we will go from there!