Angi Axmann has duathlon on her mind

While duathlon has long been considered the "little sister" of triathlon, this run-bike-run event is beginning to boom in popularity. On Saturday, April 30, du star Angi Axmann of Phoenix (and Germany) took home the win at the USA Triathlon Duathlon National Championships. She talks to espnW about training, competing and takes us on a trip through her "race brain."

espnW: Congratulations on winning the U.S. National Duathlon Championships on Saturday. Can you tell our readers what a duathlon is and how your race went?

Angi Axmann: A duathlon is a run-bike-run event. There are different distances. This one was a 5k-35k-5k. Duathlon is a great way to compete in a fun, but exhausting, event -- especially for triathletes like me, who were not born to move like a fish. My race was great, I could not have asked for a better day in Tucson. I pushed hard from beginning to finish and had a lot of fun doing it.

espnW: What's the most challenging aspect of duathlon? Why do you enjoy this sport so much?

AA: Probably the second run. It is really important to pace yourself on the first run. The bike is tricky. You want to push hard, but still have some power left over for the last 5k. The last 5k you just have to push and try to ignore those tired muscles.

I enjoy duathlons because I don't have to swim. I have to be honest, I am more nervous before a duathlon than a triathlon. Duathlon is fast-paced from the gun, but I like that challenge.

espnW: How did you get into the sport? When did you turn pro?

AA: I got into the sport through my husband, JR Grabinger. I was a runner and he thought it would be fun for me to try triathlons and duathlons. I was a runner at that point and only went to pools to dive off diving boards and have fun. The bike part? I preferred walking or running.

After running for four years collegiately, I decided to give triathlon a shot and signed up for a half Ironman (1.2-mile swim, 56-m bike, 13.1-m run). All of the sudden it looked like a lot of fun to me. I think the training for three sports is what made it really interesting. I qualified to become a pro after my first race in 2008 and applied for my pro card in 2009.

espnW: What's a typical training day like for you?

AA: With triathlon and duathlon, it is different every day. Monday through Wednesday I usually get up at 5 a.m. and have training sessions until I go to work. Thursday and Friday they are spread out more during the day. A typical training week is around 25 hours, and I wish I could add on hours for stretching and recovery but there is not enough time in a day.

espnW: What do you do when you're not training?

AA: Monday through Wednesday you can find me at work. I'm a physical therapist tech at Endurance Rehab in Scottsdale. I like to spend my off time with my husband. I take my puppy for a walk. In the off season, I like to go on backpacking trips in Northern Arizona. I also try my luck baking things and I am currently working on a vegetable garden.

espnW: You're a German living in Phoenix. How did you get there?

AA: I met a cute American soldier in Germany in 2002 -- my future husband. I applied for college in the U.S., and got a student visa for four years. I received a scholarship for running, and went to Black Hills State University in South Dakota, then transferred to Northern Arizona University. JR and I got married two years ago and I am now a "legal alien," living in Phoenix, where we can swim, bike and run all year round. I have a German pro triathlon/duathlon license and an American foreign elite license.

I have been in the U.S. since 2003 and have not competed over in Germany in a while. On Saturday, I was awarded the winner of the National Duathlon Championships, but not the status of U.S. National Champion. I was told I needed a release from Germany to become the U.S. champion, but unfortunately I didn't know that.

espnW: Well, no matter the verbal title, a win is a win. So tell us, in a sport like duathlon, where the race is usually upwards of two hours, what do you think about while you're competing? Take us on a trip through Angi's Race Brain.

AA: Oh Angi's brain is a lot of fun! It is like brainstorming.

Before the race: I am nervous and I look around at other competitors and think: oh man, she looks fast. … Ahhh, more nervous. … I like those shoes. ... That bike is cool.

Then, during the race, I think: Uh oh ... Man, we are going fast. ... OK, I am with the front group. ... Who is that cheering over there? ... What, I still have two more miles? ... Boy, it is hot out. ... Focus, Angi (this lasts for about a minute). ... Hey, this is fun! ... I love biking! ... Look, there's a lizard. . What is the time gap? ... Let's skip the water stations. ... Where did that hill come from?

Saturday, I got to experience the best question: Where and how do I hold up this finish line banner?

My brain is pretty entertaining. I try to always stay positive, smile, say thank you to the volunteers and have a good time -- and of course I like to be in the front.