Episode 99 - Erin's Secrets to an 11 minute Personal Best at Eagleman 70.3

Erin's Secrets to an 11 minute Personal Best at Eagleman 70.3

Everything Erin Byrge touches turns to gold. As an age-group triathlete from North Carolina, her triathlon season has only just begun. And every time she toes the start line she lands a spot on the podium!

With an 11 year history as a triathlete, this girls got goals! And she has a great methodology for setting goals and celebrating her wins. A strategy everyone should implement for long term success in the sport. 

So what are her secrets to having such successful races? I asked her to shed some light on what she’s been working on recently and in particular, how she managed an 11 minute personal record at Ironman 70.3 Eagleman.

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Episode Transcription

Episode 99: Erin's Secrets to an 11 minute Personal Best at Eagleman 70.3

Taryn Richardson  00:00

Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. The show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy-to-digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.

Taryn Richardson  00:41

Welcome to the podcast Erin! Woohoo!

Erin Byrge  00:45

Yay! So excited to be here.

Taryn Richardson  00:47

So I wanted to get you on because honestly, everything you touch turns to gold. Like you just having epic race, after race, after race and I'm like, man, this chick races a lot. But every time you do it, you're like dancing on the top of the podium. Oh my god, what is going on? What is the secret? So I want you to share some of that like secret sauce with the listeners today because honestly, you are on fire!

Erin Byrge  01:11

Thanks. I'm happy to share. It's been so much fun and talking about it will be fun, too.

Taryn Richardson  01:16

To give people a bit of a background, how long have you been doing triathlon for? Where do you live? How'd you fall into this crazy sport, all those sorts of things?

Erin Byrge  01:24

All that good stuff?

Taryn Richardson  01:25


Erin Byrge  01:26

So this is my 11th year of triathlon. I started back when my son was actually getting into running. So I always kind of like to bike and swim nothing competitive. But I kind of hated running, still kind of do. But with my son wanting to do some running and he was young, I did a 5k because he wanted to do a 5k. And so it's kind of like, hey, I'm doing all three sports now, why not? And so I did my first triathlon in 2012 and was addicted from go. Just loved every minute of it, the finish lines feeling that camaraderie, just everything about it. And honestly, the feeling of accomplishment was huge for me. So yes, stuck with it. 

Erin Byrge 02:11

For a lot of years, I've gotten to do some really cool races, I got to do Kona, I got to do World Championships last year. And getting into World Championships last year, there was a race here locally that I wanted to do and I had a coach at the time that wouldn't let me, it was too close to World Championships. So I did it as an aquabike, my first ever aquabike. As the girl who hates running, I never wanted to do an aquabike because I didn't feel like you'd get that finish line feeling. Well when you win, it's still fun.  So, that last year was actually my first year doing aquabike. And so that's what you're seeing all of these race after race wins are all on these aquabikes. So that's why it's a little easier to do so many races. But honestly, I did this many races last year with running, too. I just wasn't always on the top of the podium.

Taryn Richardson  02:19

Totally. Don't undersell yourself. You're still got to swim and bike. That's like my ultimate race format, swimming and cycling only and not having to run. So I feel like we get along for that reason, too.

Erin Byrge  03:14

Yeah, exactly. Oh, and I have done, I did Eagleman 70.3 two weeks ago, which Ironman don't have an aquabike option. Of course you can relay if you've got a runner, but they don't have that aquabike option, so I did have to run at that race. And I've done a couple of other triathlons this year, so it hasn't been only aquabike but...

Taryn Richardson  03:34

And you didn't die running?

Erin Byrge  03:38

I didn't die and I had an 11 minute PR.

Taryn Richardson  03:41


Erin Byrge  03:42

So yeah, it was a good day.

Taryn Richardson  03:44

So good. And so what are the sorts of things that you have been working on to be performing as well as you are at the moment?

Erin Byrge  03:52

Yeah, I mean, honestly, like I said, I've been doing this for 11 years but I'm still learning something every single year and kind of the big learn this year has been my nutrition. And it's not like I was having like, epic fails with nutrition in the past but I definitely kind of segmented things a little bit, not treating my training and my everyday nutrition as kind of part of the big picture. And so being in the Academy and learning that it does all kind of like all these puzzle pieces actually fit together, yeah, I've been able to train a lot stronger and sustain through race day even when race day is every weekend and sometimes twice on a weekend. So yeah, this year, nutrition has been the biggest change. And what specifically do you think, well, can you pinpoint the things that you think are making you perform better and backing up faster?  Yeah, I think that, I mean, you obviously know what you're doing when you teach us recovery first because I have always  tried to lose a pound or two like most people and I always would not only do recovery meals well, but also kind of not do recovery meals at all. Because in my brain, I'm still burning calories from my workout so I shouldn't put any calories in because that will burn some of the, you know, the fat on my body. Yeah.  So when I actually heard you on a podcast with TriDot talk about, like, if you're crashed in the afternoon after your long sessions, you're probably not doing something right. It's like, oh, wait, that's me. I'm the one that's dying after long sessions on the weekend. So I think I mean, honestly, like I said, every piece of the puzzle has kind of fit in. But starting with recovery was the smartest, because I do think that that was, at least started that ball rolling in the right direction.

Taryn Richardson  05:50

It's amazing how many people do suck at recovery. And I always talk about it in that way, like triathletes just suck at recovery. Because it is a mindset shift to go from thinking that not eating is going to help you reach your goals, when really, we need to flip that script all together and make sure you're putting the right building blocks in your body at the right time to then drop some body fat. Let it relax, let it actually do that after burn in inverted commas, that is,you know, I don't even know if it's a thing. But just making sure that you are actually putting the right things in your body so that you can get the most out of it, it’s so important. And it's just a hard mindset shift when you come from a dieting culture, dieting mindset, like restriction is going to help you get there and it's the complete opposite end of the spectrum that we need to be focusing on.

Erin Byrge  06:40

Yeah, and I think that it didn't take too many good recovery meals for me to see a difference. So then, of course, that got me excited to learn the next thing, and the next thing. Being able to put it all together at Eagleman a couple of weeks ago was, I mean. I still have one more phase, I can't even imagine how much better it's gonna get. I literally used every piece of the puzzle for this, you know, of the first two phases for this race. And like I said, 11 minute PR, felt great the next day, it was awesome!

Taryn Richardson  07:10

Yeah and running, too. Woo!

Erin Byrge  07:13

And I ran, exactly. I ran the whole time. I only walked the aid station, that is huge for me.

Taryn Richardson  07:19

Yes. I love your goals that you set for yourself, like you have these different tiers. Can you walk me through your tiers of your goals and what you call them?

Erin Byrge  07:28

Yes. I am obsessed with goal setting. I used to be a teacher so I even would help my kids set goals. But I have three goals and they are a rock star goal, a super happy goal and a happy goal. And the rock star goal is kind of what most people set for their goals. Maybe it's a PR, maybe it's, you know, that's what think they can do but it's always kind of that stretch goal is the rock star goal. And then kind of the lowest one, the happy goal is just like something I'm pretty sure I'm going to be able to do that way. I'm celebrating no matter what, like I'm trying to set myself up always to celebrate something. So for some races, it's legitimately finished with a smile. Other races, you know, I will put a time to that happy goal. And then honestly super happy, it's just kind of somewhere in between. Because you know, when I know I'm not going to hit that rock star goal, I don't want to give up. So that's what that super happy goal is for. So yeah, I've had a few super happies this year and lots of rock stars. So it's been fun.

Taryn Richardson  08:26

Yeah, I love that methodology. And I think a lot of people could take that away and use it themselves because we often set ourselves up to fail. Whereas you've got different tiers that you're always feeling successful and like you're achieving something, which is why we do the sport anyway, right? We're age group athletes. We do it as part of our entire life in addition to work, family, all those sorts of things. And then we set ourselves out and set our sights on something that maybe somebody's talked us into, or we think we should be able to, but something happens on the day or whatever it is. And so you end up disappointed, and it's this big, vicious circle. Whereas if you set some tiers to yourself, then you're always going to be happy. And honestly, you should be happy anyway, if you can piece together swimming, cycling and running in your life. A lot of people can't do that.

Erin Byrge  09:13

Right? Legitimately finishing with a smile is something to be happy about, right? So.

Taryn Richardson  09:17


Erin Byrge  09:17

Yeah. That's why for the big races, that's often my happy goal because that's what we should be.

Taryn Richardson  09:22

Yeah, I love that. So you are just finishing up Phase 2 of the Academy program and about to head into Phase 3. So one of the things that I've loved to watch is your carb loading practice evolve over the last few months. And you've actually become like, the go to person in our community group for some ideas around that because you share your plan in our community group and people like oh, that looks really easy, and that looks really achievable. So I could do that, too. And thanks Erin for your help. What sort of things have you been learning about carbohydrate loading for yourself? And then how have you felt as you've practiced it multiple times over time?

Erin Byrge  10:01

Yeah, so I mean, I think the biggest learning part of it was that it is so individualised, right? Like, the way you carb load, it's probably not going to be anywhere near what the way that I'm kind of carb loading in terms of how much we need and how long we need. So I have always carb loaded with a, now that I know that that's not really what I was doing. But with a pancake breakfast for dinner the night before, I'm happy to say that that still fits into the bigger plan. But I was doing that regardless of the length of the race, right? Like sprint, Olympic and 70.3. and even a couple of fulls that I've done.  And so yeah, I love that you teach us that, you know, it's not just doubling, it's not just, you know, it shouldn't be the same and it's not just as simple as double every time. So once we learned carb loading at that week's masterclass, I, of course, was in the middle of my crazy race blocks and so I was able to incrementally increase and not only the amount, but the days and get myself to what works for my body. And so I was able to test it out before the race on Eagleman a couple weeks ago. And that's not even my most important race this year. So the fact that I was able to practice at that level and work on it a little bit more before the next one is awesome.

Taryn Richardson  11:20

And did you feel physically different carb loading versus what you used to do?

Erin Byrge  11:24

So I think probably the place that it showed up the most was on that run and the fact that I was able to actually run every step except for the aid stations, I did let myself walk, you know, there was no bonking and it was a super hot day. So to have the energy and not bonk at the end. Yeah. And like I said, I still felt great the next day. It wasn't even like I was beaten up. Of course, I did my recovery, right as well. But I wasn't beaten up and just exhausted. I was actually more exhausted from my last vacation than I was my last race.

Taryn Richardson  12:00

And you do race a lot, like you fit in a lot in your life. You seem to be racing every single weekend. In fact, you told me that you sacked your coach because they were like, you're racing too much and you're like, no, what are you talking about?

Erin Byrge  12:13

True. So North Carolina, which I don't think I said that earlier, but I live in North Carolina and North Carolina's race season is kind of funny. We have a kind of an early season. I come from Michigan, so way earlier than Michigan. But we have an early season and then we have a summer break because it's so sick and hot.

Taryn Richardson  12:31


Erin Byrge  12:32

And then we have a fall season. So I actually just finished up that spring, early summer season, the Eagleman a couple weeks ago as my last race for two months. So I've actually got a little bit of a break here. I was able to periodise my meals correctly because it's a little lower training load right now. And then I'll ramp back up into the fall season starting in August. So.

Taryn Richardson  12:57

On the hydration thing, like you're a relatively heavy sweater, I think so far with what you've done in that space. So that's probably not a bad strategy for you.

Erin Byrge  13:06

Yeah, so that was the last masterclass before my training or before my race. And so I dived in knowing this wasn't my big race. And I tested it basically on race day, I did a little bit of practice on one training session beforehand. But I did everything you talked about in the masterclass and it was great. I did sweat a lot, but I was not dehydrated at the end of the race.

Taryn Richardson  13:29

Okay, that's good. That might also be why you didn't feel absolutely trashed the next day, too, because you weren't in a dehydration hall.

Erin Byrge  13:37

Yeah, definitely. And a lot of people that I raced with definitely complained about how much the heat affected them. And I mean, I was hot, don't get me wrong. But I survived it in a way that I didn't expect to.

Taryn Richardson  13:51

Yeah, so good. Would you plan to do some hot races in that little gap? Would you travel for anything? Or do you think it's a good strategy for you going forwards to have a little bit of a break through the really hot months and come back after adaptation phase in the middle of a block?

Erin Byrge  14:07

So far, it's worked out. So this is my third year in North Carolina. And so far, it's worked out that I have actually taken the break and not traveled during that time. I actually wasn't originally planning on doing this August race, but I earned a spot at Nationals so I'm going. So that was an add on race but it kind of depends. I try to do different 70.3s every year. So once I get to the point that the only ones left are during that middle hot days. I maybe I will but it's kind of depends on when I do those races.

Taryn Richardson  14:41

Yeah, so cool. So for 2024, to think about what you are in, I've heard some whispers that you coming to Australia, what's on the cards for you in the next 12 to 24 months?

Erin Byrge  14:57

So once I realised that aquabike something I'm pretty good at I actually did a second race last year because here in the US, you only have to have two races to be ranked. And so I earned my spot on to Team USA for Worlds this September. So I'm going to Ponte Vedra, Spain this September. And then my plan for next year is to earn a spot at the Long Course Worlds in Townsville, so that's August 2024. And for the long course now, I should earn it by rankings anyway. But I won't know for sure the race for it is December 3rd of this year. So I won't know until the very end of the year if I earned it that way. And if I don't earn it that way, then I won't know until February, but I'm fully planning on going.

Taryn Richardson  15:48

Okay, amazing. On the download, this is going on like a podcast, I'm going to try and organise a TNA Day around the Sunny Coast 70.3, which is September. I don't know if the dates are released. So if you're going to come, you might need to like take a month off work and stay for a bit and maybe do Worlds and then do Sunny Coast 70.3.

Erin Byrge  16:14

If it's the beginning of September, I wouldn't have to be too long, because I think Worlds is the end, so maybe. We'll be there for at least a week or two because I'm not flying all the way over there only for a race.

Taryn Richardson  16:25

No. And you want to come like at least a week early acclimatized, get over jetlag, and all those sorts of things as well.

Erin Byrge  16:32


Taryn Richardson  16:33

So what are you working on now? Like, we've done a lot over two phases of the Academy program so far. Is there things that we've done that you want to kind of jump back into and dial in? Or are you setting your sights further ahead to what we've got coming up in Phase 3?

Erin Byrge  16:49

So a little bit of both is the honest answer to that bwe don't actually do the 70.3 race nutrition until Phase 3. So I'll be curious to see anything that's different than from what I did. But because I was in race phase, pretty much all of Phase 2 and a little bit of Phase 1, I do want to go back and rewatch the periodisation pieces. Because I've been eating mostly hard plates and I need to remember what it's like to not be on in race build phase for for a minute.

Taryn Richardson  17:30

Are you going to take an offseason?

Erin Byrge  17:32

So after my race in December, to try to qualify for next year's Worlds, I will probably take the rest of that month off of running completely. I'll swim and bike because I love those things. And then maybe look at slowly building because we won't have races here until April. So that's kind of my offseason because it's summer through April.

Taryn Richardson  17:59

Not many triathletes have an offseason. But it's something that is important to have that periodisation with your training. So you have got some peaks and some troughs so that you can actually adapt.

Erin Byrge  18:11


Taryn Richardson  18:11

Particularly for someone like you who just loves to race all the time.

Erin Byrge  18:15

It is the best part. Common.

Taryn Richardson  18:20

Yeah, that's right. I actually don't love racing. I'd much prefer the training, I don't know if that's weird. But I just love training with triathletes. Like we're crazy, like, get a lot of work done in a short space of time. I love the training. But when it comes to racing, I don't love that as much as I love the training. It's weird.

Erin Byrge  18:39

It's interesting. I do have one friend that I trained with and swim that she's the same way. And she's like, I just don't know how you train or race so much. Like, I don't know how you never raced. Like we just totally don't get each other.

Taryn Richardson  18:49


Erin Byrge  18:50

So yeah.

Taryn Richardson  18:51

Too much pressure for me. I think I need your like three tier goals to not set my expectations too high.

Erin Byrge  18:58

Yeah, you should try that. And you should try an aquabike.

Taryn Richardson  19:01

Oh, so they didn't exist when I was in my peak racing career. And I actually like petition for Triathlon Australia to put them on the calendar, and they did. And then I had to retire. I think if I make a comeback, it'll be with aquabikes for sure.

Erin Byrge  19:17

Yeah, you can always come out of retirement.

Taryn Richardson  19:19

I came out of retirement for a race and hit the podium with no training. So I know I've got it in me, but this body is not designed to run at the moment. But I will come out of retirement one day. One day, not anytime soon, but one day,

Erin Byrge  19:33

Maybe when your littles aren't so little. Like I'm very lucky my littles are taking care of themselves now.

Taryn Richardson  19:39

Yeah, they're big littles.

Erin Byrge  19:41

Yeah, they're not so little.

Taryn Richardson  19:43

So what's the grand plan for Erin? Like, what's the big goal for triathlon? Where do you see yourself in five years time? I know that's a pretty like, first aid question, but...

Erin Byrge  19:55

So earning a spot on Team USA and aquabikes is really did great and all. But when I first went to US Nationals and oh gosh 2015 I think was the first year, I thought this is something I want to learn someday, Team USA for triathlon. So I think that's still kind of the big goal. I mean, I get the kit with my name on it, which is really all I really wanted. But to earn it in triathlon, I think would be like the ultimate Rockstar goal for me.

Taryn Richardson  20:26

Okay, and Kona again or anything like that?

Erin Byrge  20:30

No, Kona. I mean, it was a really amazing race. Don't get me wrong, but I had a little bit of the race blues after it. I actually took a year off after it because being bashed. It's the biggest race, what do you do now? So I'm glad I did it. It was amazing. I did it in a charity spot for Women for Tri and raised $27,000 for that organisation. So it was a worthwhile experience. But I'm not in a hurry to get there again.

Taryn Richardson  21:02

Yeah, fair enough. And you know, maybe they'll put a different sort of event on the cards, or they'll do an aquabike in Kona or something like that to you know, dangle the carrot a little bit more for you. They'll always be something for you.

Erin Byrge  21:16

And definitely a carrot chaser. There's no doubt about that.

Taryn Richardson  21:18

Yeah. And so do you have any advice for the triathletes listening for how to be so awesome at triathlon, and nutrition and all the things? How do you do it all?

Erin Byrge  21:30

I mean, honestly, just no, I mean, like I said, it's 11 years, I'm still learning something every year. So I guess being open to learning something new whether you're brand new, obviously, everything feels like you're drinking out of a firehose. But even after doing it for so many years, just being willing to learn something new. And yeah, for me choosing to do nutrition this year, it was super smart and I'm glad I did it. And so wherever you are in your journey, you'll regret not doing it sooner, is honestly the truth. Because 11 years is a long time to wait to figure it out.

Taryn Richardson  22:04

Yeah, I hear that all the time. Like, because you've never worked on your nutrition with anyone before now have you?

Erin Byrge  22:10


Taryn Richardson  22:11

That's crazy, because it's what I think would be like one of the first things. I know I'm very biased in that but you know, you swim, you bike, you run and then you've got to figure out your nutrition. But honestly, like Lee has done 20 Ironman or something. And she's never worked on her nutrition, but then there's always regret that like people didn't do it earlier. Like, why did I not do this earlier? Like it could have been so much better earlier.

Erin Byrge  22:37

Right, for sure. And I mean, I've done two full. So I mean, I thought about nutrition and I read about nutrition. And I talked to all of the other triathletes about what they were doing. But like I said, I mean, one of the biggest learning things is that we are all going to do it. We have different needs and thankfully, you teach us how to figure out what our needs are. Their data, which I love!

Taryn Richardson  23:01

You do write a good carb loading plan out. I've seen the numbers. I love it.

Erin Byrge  23:07

I love me a calculator and an Excel spreadsheet.

Taryn Richardson  23:10

Yes, most people do. And articularly triathletes like love the numbers, want to do everything exactly right and make sure you're doing things perfectly for you. But when you don't know what you're doing, then you kind of just winging it the whole time.

Erin Byrge  23:25

Right. Yeah. And when you race with a bunch of dudes, that's certainly not what's gonna work best for us.

Taryn Richardson  23:30

Absolutely not. Well, thank you so much for joining me and sharing your story. Like I just wanted to put you on a pedestal for a while because honestly, you are absolutely killing it every week. And I'm like, oh my God, let's see how Erin's going this weekend. Like she's got all these photos hanging out on the podium. I think one race, they didn't have a podium and you just made your own with humans, right?

Erin Byrge  23:54

Yes, one of my team members, we were all so sad. There was no podium. So he got on his hands and knees and I stood on his back. And I'm a large human so for me to stand on his back. He was willing. So if you let me and I did.

Taryn Richardson  24:07

Yeah, you got to celebrate these things. Celebrate. Yeah, thank you so much for sharing your insights. And I love your three tier goals thing. I think everyone can walk away with just that from this episode. Set yourself some goals around what you want to achieve but make them achievable, and have a few different levels so that you don't set yourself up for failure. Set yourself up for success, because then you'll just love the sport even more.

Erin Byrge  24:33

Yeah, yeah. Just another reason to be excited at the end of a race.

Taryn Richardson  24:37

Well, I look forward to seeing you in Australia in 2024.

Erin Byrge  24:41

At the very least, I'm going to drive through Brisbane when I'm going from Townsville to Sydney. So we'll have to meet for coffee if nothing else.

Taryn Richardson  24:49

Definitely. I'm down for that. Thanks, Erin.

Erin Byrge  24:53

Thank you.

Taryn Richardson  24:56

Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned, email me at [email protected]. You can also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media, @dietitian.approved, so I can give you a shout out, too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smashed in the fourth leg - nutrition! 

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