One of the things that has surprised me most about Ironman training is how all-consuming it is. Once I’m out the door each day, with all the right gear, the workouts are tough but doable. It’s the rest of life that’s being squeezed in between larger and larger chunks of training time. If I’m not running, riding or swimming, I’m commuting to and from the pool or trail, uploading workouts, running to the bike shop, or organizing gear. At home, the natural chaos of kid-clutter has taken over with nothing and nobody to stop it. Meals are starting to be on-the-go. I go to bed before my girls, almost every night. Stuff is piling up on my desk, stuff that needed to be taken care of days ago.
Maybe this crazy-feeling schedule is because it’s my first Ironman, and I’m experimenting with the best way to accomplish everything that needs to be done. I know plenty of amazing Ironman athletes who hold down full-time jobs, marriage, and kids of various ages, and still arrive at the start on race day fully trained and prepared for their race. I don’t feel quite that organized yet, but at least I’ve scheduled my race during a year when a bit of slacking outside of training won’t have dire consequences. My girls are old enough to get their own breakfast and do laundry, and I’m also willing to slack a little on screen-time limits – at least it’s summer.
It’s ten weeks out from race day, and I’m still struggling to find the right balance. A few things that have always worked for me in the past still work. Doing workouts early in the day, prepping all gear the night before, and not planning to do much of anything around 8 PM are all small strategies to make life easier when I’m training during a regular season. For Ironman, these things still work, but they just become exponential: Don’t even speak to me after 8 PM – I’m done! Prepping gear the night before gets magnified ten times: prep for three different workouts, plus an unrelated meeting (clothes and makeup!). Don’t forget the girls need to be in two places at the same time I need to be somewhere else. My car is loaded up as if I’m gone for a week. When I manage to get everyone where they need to be, including myself, I feel just as satisfied as when I hit my paces on a run workout.
Yet, I’m excited to forge on with all of it! I believe this has a lot to do with how much I really want to do this. Two or three years ago, I was still unsure I’d ever do an Ironman. I was busy meeting some other racing goals along the way, and busy with the rest of life, too. Then, suddenly it was time to start thinking about which year and season would allow me to be successful at full Ironman training. My girls’ ages and school situations, my husband’s work schedule, ending a three-year volunteer commitment, and being settled in a new house all contributed to my decision. 2015 was it. But also, almost twenty years after doing my first triathlon, it’s just time. There is not another year or season I would have wanted to start this journey, crazy schedules and all.
Victoria has been on my radar since last year when I heard how much fun people were having there. It worked with my Ironman training year, so Victoria it was for the first 70.3 of the season. I’ve done a few half-iron distance races by now (six), and was feeling more comfortable with each one. My goals were to have a successful day, test the training so far, and maybe get a 5-8th place in my age group. I was looking at it as a stepping stone to Ironman CHOO, so I didn’t have a ton of pre-race nerves and wanted it to be all about fun. I was also feeling more easygoing because I was traveling with a group. I’d be on someone else’s schedule for warmups, check ins, etc. – a sure way to relax and go with the flow.
I traveled up to Victoria with a racing friend on the Victoria Clipper, bringing my bike along on the boat for a small extra charge. When we arrived, we walked a couple of blocks to our hotel, which completed our long but super-easy race commute. We met some of our tri team for dinner at Olo in downtown Victoria, and enjoyed the delicious farm-to-table food, even if some of the portions were too small for a table of triathletes.
My disc wheel sometimes tends to make me nervous because I can’t personally handle a successful tire change 100% of the time. (Or pump the tire enough because it has a tiny access opening and air leaks out when I take the pump valve off.) I needed to change the tube to a different length valve, so I did that Friday night after dinner, and sure enough, it was flat again when I woke up Saturday morning. I had the race bike tech change it again for me when we got to the transition area for check-in, and I then rode about 35 minutes. The roads were rough, but not as much as in Augusta. After I checked in my bike, I swam part of the course in smallish Elk Lake.
Race morning, the weather was cool, in the sixties. As yesterday, it would warm up but not be hot. My friend’s husband drove seven of us to the course, which is about 15 minutes from downtown, and dropped us off in the dark. I saw that my bike Garmin had been on all night and only had a 10% charge, but that was the only unexpected thing that happened during setup, and I could still use my running watch for the whole race. Everything was ready to go, so I topped off my tires (again, trying to get the pump off the valve without leaking all the air out), used my swim cords to warm up and then swam a few minutes in the lake.
I started just to the left of the right-side start buoy, which was the most direct line down the course, and also not crowded. When the gun went off I started as strong as possible, got on someone’s feet and decided to hang out there for at least a couple of the buoys. Once I felt “warmed up” I went around her and continued on, feeling good and smooth. When we turned around the far end of the course, the sun became a problem and I couldn’t really see the buoys though the direct sunlight. Every three sightings or so I could catch the outline of a buoy and that was fortunately enough to keep me relatively on course. The swim didn’t feel as smooth heading back as it did heading out because of the extra energy expended in getting around people and trying to sight through the sun.
Div. place: 1
I grabbed my bike and headed out just as I had in warmup the day before. The bike course was two absolutely gorgeous loops with incredible views of the water, and lots of short, steep hills and some flat areas. The small hills were a little bit of a problem for me the whole time. My chain was prone to dropping, and after it happened once I tried to not shift to the little ring unless I had to, even though I knew that it was causing me to pedal too hard at times. Hoping that since it was just for short periods of time I’d be okay. But, the rear cassette wasn’t doing all that well either, not catching properly. I began to feel stronger and was able to ride more smoothly once we got onto the flat sections of the course. I was able to keep my pace up without worrying about shifting.
Div place: 2
Run The run is two loops on a nice, shady trail around Elk Lake. I started the run feeling really good and it felt easy to keep my pace to 8:30 for the first mile, as prescribed in my race plan. I was tempted to go faster. After the first mile I brought it down to around 8, like I was supposed to, and kept my heart rate in the 150s. The trail was narrow in places, but nice and shady. On the second lap, I opened it up a bit more, but really couldn’t push my HR past 160. I thought that was kind of strange, but my pace seemed good, so I just did what I could. With about 4 miles to go, I downed a gel and prepared to push for the finish. I ran through the finish line, not knowing there was a woman in my age group only 7 seconds behind me!
Run time: 1:43:33 (12.9 miles)
Final Time: 5:02:52
Div. Place: 2
Pre-race dinner: Italian (pasta, salad)
Bike: 3 bottles, 5 gels, 2 salt tabs
Run: 3 gels, water at each stop, and 2 salt tabs.
Some soreness Monday, dead tired Tuesday, turned the corner Wednesday. No colds/illness during the following weeks.
Ironman 70.3 Augusta – the largest 70.3 in the US!
September 28, 2014
Augusta was a fun, low pressure half-iron distance race for my friend Laura and I to do together. We’d picked Boise before, which turned out to be hot and difficult. Augusta would be nice and easy! Georgia had mild September weather, southern charm, a downriver swim, and would be an awesome way to close out the season. Brian and the girls would meet me there after visiting family in Kentucky.
All of race morning, though, I’d been feeling off. I’m usually nervous before a race, but this one was low key with no expectations. So why were my nerves still killing me? During the morning’s setup, I couldn’t seem to follow my routine. I lost my bento box and didn’t know how I’d carry my salt tablets. It was too dark to see anything, and by the time we needed to get to the swim-start shuttle, I still didn’t have my transition area set up. And then when we finally got in the shuttle line, Laura noticed that I didn’t even have my wetsuit with me. I had to run back into the now-closed transition to get it. I was a mess.
Just the day before I was enjoying being in the Southern atmosphere. There’s nothing like visiting a town you’ve never been to before on a race weekend. It’s full of energy and new things to see, all magnified by race anticipation. Augusta is right at the head of the navigable portion of the Savannah River (the part that the alligators supposedly DON’T live in). It’s one of the oldest cities in Georgia, maybe a little more unassuming than it’s fancy neighbors Savannah and Charleston, but still packed with charm: old brick buildings, fountains, and restaurants with tons of outdoor seating. We’d get to run back and forth through the historic, old-style downtown. We pass Augusta’s biggest claim to fame – the Augusta National golf club — every time we drive from the hotel to the course.
I felt better when we queued up for the swim. We 40-44 year old women (and so many of us, they divided us into two waves) shuffled down a long ramp to a dock under a bridge and jumped into the dark, churning water. The physical sensation of hitting the water turns my bad nerves to good at that point in any race. It’s a river, so before we knew it, the current was carrying us away from the start kayaks. I scrambled to take some strokes back to the start line. I’d lined up on the outside, closest to the middle of the river. The group began to move, and I realized I was too far away to hear what must have been the starting gun.
One girl took off and I couldn’t catch her feet, but as far as I knew, I held onto second for most of the swim. My plan was to swim this course as hard as possible. (It turned out I was 4th among the two waves). There were few crowds, I stayed next to the buoys and pretty soon caught some people in the wave ahead. Due to the current, I PRed the swim by about 6 minutes.
Swim Time: 22:08
Division place: 4
My All-World-Athlete status got me a nice spot in transition: Third row, right next to the pros, para-athletes and the bike-out gate.
I jumped on my bike and soon crossed the bridge heading for the state line toward my first ever visit to South Carolina. We cruised along the rough and bumpy surfaces of rural roads, under the Spanish moss hanging from the trees, spectators sitting on their front porches, watching the world of cyclists go by. We passed a church set up with a loudspeaker about finishing the “ultimate race.” I was loving the local ambience. The ride was breezy and my bike seemed to move around on the road quite a bit even though I tried to keep it steady. My HR was within range in 7 minutes, but I had a hard time keeping it middle of the range, and I saw 160 too many times, though my watts seemed low: 160s. The rollers took us gently up and down. Miles clicked by, and my head felt pretty clear at first. I was prepared with my food and water consumption and ready to grab the water at the feed zones at miles 18, 35 and 45. A few times I spiked my power too much as I had to get around a slow pack or try to pass someone without crossing the yellow line.
The roads were rural, so they were narrow and crowded, with many people not riding to the right. I got stuck to the right a few times myself while large groups of faster guys passed me. The road surface was rough and cracked in many places.
I leapfrogged the entire ride with people I nicknamed the Ninja and Pink Helmet. Ninja once yelled as he passed me that he always had to wait until the uphills to catch Pink Helmet and I. The whole ride was very social, with people from transition saying “hi” as they went by. It reminded me of that same generalization about the South. A Zipp-sponsored guy I’d met in transition recognized me as he flew by said “let’s go for those Austria spots!” Well, that’s interesting. As I pedaled and focused on my power output, I finally realized that maybe that was it. Maybe my nerves were killing me because I really wanted that Austria spot.
Aside from keeping track of my effort, other thoughts ran through my head: My bike isn’t comfortable. I need to have a fit done. Also, do I really want an Austria spot? No, I just want sub-5. I’m halfway through the ride and no mechanicals! The guy who raced for Zipp told me I’m possibly inflating my tires too much. What if I skid out on a corner? I am not taking the corners as fast as I could. Or should. Everyone is slowing down too much! Shoot, I just surged to 300W….
I kept my HR steady but it did creep up and I spiked my power a few times. I may have fatigued my legs too much. But, I had good energy coming off the bike, and thrilled when I saw my time!
Bike time: 2:41
Bike pace: 20.9 MPH
Division place: 3
Started the run too fast, in the 7s. I kept telling myself to slow it down, let the nutrition settle. I had a little tummy sloshing that went away after a bit.
The run itself was packed with spectators. We came out of transition and headed to downtown Augusta, an old-style wide town street lined with shops and restaurants on either side and a huge median in the middle.
I ran all the way up the pretty downtown, circled around, ran back down, circled by the swim finish, then repeated all of that four more times, one block off each pass. The only lonely and long parts were when we looped around the end of the road.
I became really thirsty halfway through the run. Actual thirst that presented itself as thirst and not cramps or churning stomach. Never felt such huge thirst before in a race. I gulped water at the aid stations.
During the second lap I was supposed to push my pace, but by then I was fatigued. Just kept trying to go, be steady, focus. I decided I’d better wait until mile 9 to increase my pace, rather than mile 6 as indicated in my race plan.
Brian, who was spectating with the girls, wasn’t saying anything about how far in front the second place was, and I was getting tired fast. Shoot, will I get that Austria spot, or have I dropped back? Heart rate holding at 165, but the air temp was rising and my pace was heading downward to 8:30, :40, and :50. Legs didn’t want to move. Should I eat more? Drink more? I began to grab ice in my palms. It helped. I decided that at mile 9, despite feeling fatigue, I would push it as hard as I could go. I could do anything for 4 miles.
“I ran. I ran until my muscles burned and my veins pumped battery acid. Then I ran some more.” -Tyler Durden in Fight Club.
I swung my arms in rhythm to help me. I knew my sub-5 would be close. There was nothing to do but pick it up.
Coming into the last few miles, you see the blue Ironman finish chute straight ahead and tantalizingly close. but before you get to it, you wind around by transition again for another couple miles or so, which seems long. But I had a close eye on my watch and knew if I could keep it at 8 minute pace or under, I’d be under 5 hours.
I crossed the line under five hours, thrilled! Dying, dizzy, but thrilled.
Run pace: 8:09
Total Time: 4:57:07
Division Place: 3
This is maybe where my early nerves came from. I really did want a sub-5 hour race and I wanted to qualify for 70.3 Worlds, meaning I’d have to get probably top 2 or 3 in my division. It was all exacerbated by my denial of wanting anything at all out of this race but fun.
We waited for rolldown and my AG was granted a slot that wasn’t taken in a different group, so that left us with 3, and I took it. How could I not? The winner in my age group, as she walked up to get her spot, told me there’s nothing like riding your bike in Europe. It seemed a no-brainer at the time to take my spot, but after writing the check, I found I couldn’t discuss it. I felt like it was all too much after a long season of racing and training. I’ve always been drawn to competing and challenging myself in this way, but I always try to work around others, and do my workouts when it’s not interrupting something or someone else. Signing up for Austria would be a major family event and I needed time to get used to the idea. However, Brian and the girls didn’t need time to get used to it – they were jumping up and down with excitement, and their enthusiasm finally rubbed off on me through all of my race fatigue. So, Austria, here we come!
Laura, her husband Dennis, Brian and the girls and I closed out the evening with beers and a great meal at the Mellow Mushroom, with Laura and I both celebrating our big PRs and talking about the next season – a season that would involve Worlds and Ironman!
Getting to Age Group Worlds has been one of my biggest goals over the past five years, and after what seems like forever, race week is finally here. The past few weeks have been filled with tons of speedwork on the bike and run, trying to hit paces I never thought I could hit, and I’ve warmed up with a couple of local sprint triathlons. I’m as ready as I’ll possibly be. I’ve come into this week prepared to work hard, but also to completely enjoy the experience of being a part of Team USA.
The race is in Edmonton, Alberta, yet another place that I likely wouldn’t have the opportunity to visit if it weren’t for this racing thing. I flew up on a little Horizon Air plane along with a few other triathletes, including to my pleasant surprise, the famous Sister Madonna.* I heard that Edmonton is known for hosting these kinds of large events and the Grand Final was held here once before, in 2001. These are a few other notes I made about it:
It has a population of about a million people
It’s surrounded by flat plains as far as you can see.
The half-mile wide, winding Saskatchewan River separates the downtown and the race venue in Hawrelak Park.
Several tall bridges span the river and the banks of it are built up with running trails and green space.
It’s very pleasant and beautiful.
It has the largest shopping mall in North America, and yes, we checked it out.
My friend and long-time race partner, Heidi, and I spent the pre-race days keeping busy. We used the free-for-athletes public transportation to travel between downtown and the race site, scoping out the course, practicing the swim, and watching some of the Elite and Sprint races that were happening the same week. I stayed at the Westin Edmonton, home of Team USA and the British national team, both of whom had “office space” set up on several floors of the hotel. Among the things Team USA provided for us were three dedicated bike mechanics, a team coach and a team doctor. The team headquarters distributed gear, daily schedules, maps, daily ride plans with the coach, and stationed USAT employees there to answer all of our questions. We felt quite pampered and taken care of.
The parade of nations was first up; 6,000 athletes from 70 countries marched through downtown to the opening ceremonies, during which we had a flyover by a Canadian Air Force snowbird to get us excited, in case we weren’t already. The day before our race, we checked in our gear at Hawrelak Park. Each piece of our gear had to be looked over by an official, including our wheels, helmets, and kit. One of the officials told me that if it was windy enough, disc wheels wouldn’t be allowed, and if I chose to check in my bike with the disc, there was no turning back. I stuck with the plan to use my wheel, and took my chances.
When the morning of the standard-distance AG triathlon and the last one of the week arrived, I headed to the race venue about 5:00 AM, catching the train and shuttle from the hotel. The temp was maybe low 40s at the race site, and I hoped I’d be able to stay warm enough until my start at 8:30. It felt really cold! My bike hung where I racked it last night, covered with dew. I did a thumb-check of my tires, which I’d slightly over-pumped the previous day, and then wiped down my bike. There seemed to be no wind, so I was safe with my disc.
Everything done in transition, I headed back to sit on one of the shuttles to try to stay warm, and ran into my parents. Dad gave me two of his jackets to keep warm and we found a spot to hang out while we waited for my wave. I shivered probably from nerves just as much as the cold. My one hope, which was mostly out of my control, was that I wouldn’t have a mechanical issue. I’d attached a flat kit to my bike just in case. Normally I wouldn’t carry one for an Olympic distance race, but this was one race I needed finish no matter what.
At approximately 8:00, I warmed up with swim bands, put on my wetsuit, dropped my clothing bag at the staging area, and gathered around with other 40-44 year old women for the start in the small-ish lake in Hawrelak Park. Our wave had 60 participants. Canadians, USA, Australia and New Zealand made up most of the wave, with Mexico and South Africa also well-represented. There were also a few athletes from several European nations, Russia and Japan.
When our wave was 30 minutes out, a bagpiper began playing, and we marched behind him across the park lawn toward the lake and to the tent where we would chip in. My friend Heidi and I were all smiles as we walked – this is it! We waited in a corral for about 20 minutes while other waves went off, and my HR was elevated to zone 2 the whole time. Finally, it was time to head down to the lake shore.
Per my plan, when we walked out to the platform starting area at the lake shore, I headed directly to the right. An official said to me, “Go left, that’s where the elites went!” I paused for a split second. Why would he say that? But I’d decided the day before that the right had two advantages: a more direct line to the first buoy, and less pinching at the turn if I didn’t happen to be out ahead by then. To the right it was. I stepped up on the blue-painted platform in spot #59.
I’d practiced the start the day before: Two steps and a dive. When the countdown was one minute to go, I started my watch, pulled my wetsuit sleeve over it and took a deep breath. We were asked to step onto the sand with one foot touching the platform, then we heard the words “On your mark, get set…” and then the horn. False starts were a big deal here, so I made sure I heard the horn before moving a muscle. I took two steps, then dove, then hard strokes. After a minute I could still see people on either side of me but another minute and I pulled away. Another girl also pulled away far to my left and by the first buoy I’d moved in behind her feet along with one other girl. I thought about “fighting” for the feet, but decided to just stay in a triangle pattern with the third girl. By the second buoy the other drafter had disappeared and I had the fast feet to myself for almost the entire first loop of the swim. I was feeling good and almost as if I could pass, but knowing that I’d better wait until the second lap. We caught some swimmers from the wave ahead of us during the second half of the swim loop. When we rounded the buoy near the start to begin our second lap, a bunch of the green caps we’d caught (wave ahead of us) veered too far left and I was caught in a wall of swimmers. I had to correct almost 90 degrees to make it around the buoy. The second lap was uneventful, except that I’d lost the drafting feet. I concentrated on strong but smooth strokes and as usual, when I saw the exit ramp 2-300 yards away, I ran through the swim-to-bike transition in my head. I swam until I was in knee deep water and then stood and jogged up the ramp, past the cheering spectators, along the side of transition and finally to my bike, about twenty steps down the row as I’d practiced.
Swim Time: 21:59
I put on my shoes and clipped my helmet (ITU rules) before touching my bike. Grabbed the bike and I’m off, ready for that starting uphill. Praying for no mechanical!
The bike course followed two loops, starting with an uphill. Per race plan, I didn’t worry too much about my HR as we knew it would be high with the long transition and the starting hill. I stayed in the small ring until the hill was done, and then to the big ring for the rest of the loop. I concentrated on passing those I could, holding my speed, keeping my back relaxed and my HR in target (159-164). I was thrilled that though I was being passed, it didn’t seem like a LOT of women around my age who were passing me. Nobody had their age body-marked here, so it was almost impossible to tell. The roads were rough, with cracks and small potholes marked with spray paint. I worked on staying focused, and the second loop went as well as the first. I sucked down a gel at 20K and another at 35K, plus about 20 ounces of water.
Bike time: 1:07:38 Bike pace: 22 mph
At the dismount, my front wheel rolled over the red line and the official made me roll it back before I could go. As I ran my bike down the row, I glanced around. There were maybe ten bikes already racked, but hard to tell. But I was thrilled that I seemed to be in the top part of my wave at least. Reverse rules at racking: rack bike completely before unclipping helmet. Done, and done. Run transition is always quick. Slip feet in shoes, grab bib, visor and gel and take off running.
I was supposed to run around 7 minute miles on this course, so I was disappointed that my run pace, though I was working hard, was hovering above 7. The run was also two loops, all in the park. One side of the loop was a gravel path through trees, and the other side was pavement and more open. The gravel seemed a bit sluggish and slow and perhaps that’s what slowed me down. It was fun to see my parents and Doug screaming for us at several points on the run. Again, I concentrated on passing anyone I could or staying with someone who passed me (as per my plan). If someone passed me, I’d stare at their back and try to match their pace for a bit.
The second half of the second loop I really began to feel fatigued. I’d already taken a gel but was having a hard time sucking down any water from the FULL plastic bottles they were giving us. I’m used to half-full paper cups! But remembering coach Ben’s words: I’d have to be prepared to work very hard in the last part of the run. It was almost over. I kicked it up a notch. Two Canadians were ahead of me and I would catch them! When I rounded the corner to the finish chute, I saw the grandstand wanted to grin hugely. I’d done it! And no mechanicals. I didn’t know where I was in the placings, but it didn’t matter, I’d done my best. The Canadians were still ahead of me, and I caught sight of someone holding out the stars and stripes – is that for me? – yes, it was Kris Swarthout, the Team USA coach. I grabbed the flag, he said, “You got it,” and I took off after the one Canadian near me and passed her before the line. YAY! My biggest race ever, finished!
Run time: 45:14 Run pace: 7:07 Total time: 2:21:09
Division place: 5
It wasn’t until after I saw my parents and Doug that they told me I was in fifth place.
After a bike and run workout two days before the race, I did a ten-minute ice bath.
Complete rest the day before as there was nowhere to do a swim workout.
Chicken and risotto as pre-race dinner, and the usual bagel, peanut butter and powerbar before the race.
Qualifying note: Trying to qualify to race for Team USA had taken me about five years. In 2008 I tried my first USAT Nationals in Portland, OR, trying twice to get into the race, and then placing 27th in my age group. Two years later, in 2010, I tried again in Tuscaloosa, AL. I thought I’d qualified for Beijing Worlds with a 17th place, but the age-up factor added additional racers who’d be in my category next year and edged me out. At that point, the fire was lit and I had to keep trying. I raced again in Burlington, VT and didn’t even come close with a place in the 30s for London Worlds. I began to work with my coach, Ben, from the end of 2012 on, and Milwaukee, WI in 2013 was my ticket with a 13th place for an automatic qualification.
*Sister Madonna Buder is a finisher of over 300 triathlons and the oldest person to complete an Ironman!
My friend and I stared at the red cliffs in the distance, lit up by the 90-degree sun. “I hope we’re ready. We’re going to be out there a long time tomorrow,” she said.
Maybe the view of mountains baking in the sun, or maybe gusts of hot wind when we got off the plane, or the knowledge that this was one of the toughest 70.3s out there – I was starting to feel nervous. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get my head in the game for this race, couldn’t picture myself getting up the next day and putting my entire physical bodily effort into hours under the sun. It seemed completely impossible.
Ironman St. George has hills, unpredictable weather, and lots of competition. If I wanted to start off the year with a little “test” of my training, it was perfect, and somewhere under the nerves, I was definitely excited for it.
Sometimes I just have to have faith that my nerves are a byproduct of loving this racing thing and wanting to do my best, and if given enough time and allowed to follow enough of a routine, the worst of it will pass. Three days ago I was beyond excited to travel to the desert again to race. My daughter once asked me why I would race if I feel stressed and nervous beforehand. It’s a good question; one I’ve asked myself before. I said that because the positive emotions – joy, sense of community, overcoming obstacles, realizing a goal – are so worth it that some tension beforehand is a price I’m willing to pay.
Anyway, I finally shook the bad feeling, or I should say, my friend shook it for me, by cracking me up over dinner so that that the nerves had nothing to do but disappear. So, I was able to go to sleep truly anticipating the next day in the best way possible.
On race morning, we got up at four o’clock, ate in the Best Western lobby, whose awesome staff set out an early breakfast for the athletes. We walked over and dropped our run gear in the bike-to-run transition in the historic downtown and then hopped aboard the shuttle to arrive at the reservoir with about an hour to set up the swim-to-bike transition. The sun rose in almost perfectly clear sky while I pumped my tires and went over my race plan. Then, it was time to do the run warmup, swim band warmup, drop off the morning clothes bag and zip up the wetsuit. The reservoir water was calm, deep blue, and, I knew from the previous day, would feel cold. The course stretched out in a long u-shape around the back side of a rocky island. The announcer said the water was 60 degrees.
As soon as the wave ahead of us went off, we were allowed to swim from the shore to the start buoys a hundred yards away. With thirty seconds to go, I had lots of space and turned to see that some of my wave was still swimming toward the start. At the gun, I kicked forward, into the sun. After a few sightings, I was on my own and swimming hard but had no idea where I was going. With the sun in my face I couldn’t catch sight of any object, until finally I realized I was too far to the left, near the kayakers. The first buoy was way to the right. I corrected my aim and swam on. Once we turned and began the long stretch behind the red rock island, I could see better and swam buoy to buoy. I finally began to feel warmed up and relaxed. By the last buoys, I could hear the cheers of the spectators on shore.
Swim finish: 29:02
Division place: 2
I jogged up the exit ramp, pulled my arms from my suit, and plopped down by the wetsuit strippers who yanked it over my ankles. Wetsuit in hand, I ran to transition, trying to remain calm as I arrived at my bike. After getting sunburned in at the Boise 70.3 last year, I’d decided to wear a sun shrug. I grabbed it and stuck my arms in. Even though it had worked the day before, now, of course, it was taking me forever to stuff my arms into it. One side of it ripped a little as I shoved an arm in. I jumped on my bike with the thing only halfway on. It cost me a minute or more to struggle with it and I lost a few places in transition.
Onto the bike and an uphill highway to start. My HR was high as usual. My power meter read in the 150s but jumped around. I let the HR stay at a high rate for about 20 minutes, past the first hill and then some rolls. It began to drop to the range it needed to be. The ride was longish hills and some flats before the canyon climb. I relaxed and spun whenever there was a relative flat and felt pretty darn good. I worked through water and food. I’d forgotten my nuun at the start, so made sure I was also popping salt pills. The temperature was climbing fast and was glad now that I had the shoulder cover.
At around mile 35, we turned into the resort town of Ivins, made up of red adobe buildings that matched the red hills behind them, and then I found myself in Snow Canyon park. I could see the snaking line of riders winding up between the huge red and white cliffs and sage brush. At first, it didn’t look very steep, but I soon realized it was, as my computer showed that I hovered under 10 MPH. Forty minutes later I reached the top and then dropped into aero-position for an amazing, screaming downhill. Due to the crowds on the course, it was difficult to go as fast as I wanted to. (I was geared well for the climb with my 12-27, but spun out on the downhills.) Parts of the ride were windy, so I was also glad I’d gone with my 404 rather than disc.
Bike finish: 3:01:53
Bike place: 14
T-2: Bike to run transition was quick. Quick stop at the porta potty and then I was off, feeling pretty excellent.
The temps were climbing and the run began with a slight grade through downtown, so I just made sure to stay relaxed and give myself a mile or two to get the run muscles working. I rounded the corner at the end of downtown and… wow. I felt myself deflate. A baking, uphill highway stretched out ahead of me, with people crawling (it seemed) up it. Gone was the slight grade. I knew there was a hill, but good thing I hadn’t studied the course elevation too closely. No good would have come of me dreading this. I moved on forward, slogging up the hill, keeping my HR in check, wondering if I could walk faster. Thankfully, the aid stations came quickly every mile, with awesome volunteers and tons to do: get two cups water, throw ice down my top, squeeze a sponge on my arm coolers, and grab more ice water to pour on my head. Once all of that was done, I would fish out a few pieces of ice from my top and hold in my palms. Once that melted, I’d take in a gel or some salt. It seemed to be a pretty good system and things stayed bearable. At around mile four, I noticed runners funneling into a little canyon park. Oh good, I think, we can get off this hot pavement for a bit. It looks nice, trails and change of scenery. As soon as I stepped into it though, I knew it wasn’t going to be as comforting as it sounded. It was steep, hot, sandy, and narrow. We repeated this challenge around mile 9 on our way back. However, after that, things were looking up quickly. The good thing about the uphill at the start is that it made it downhill at the finish, and I saw my first shade in five hours – a couple of small trees off to the side of the road. I veered toward them, catching some shade and some mist from a sprinkler. Then I sped it up (or tried to) for the last couple of miles, glad to be done and feeling pretty good.
Run time: 1:58:31
Run pace: 9:02
Finish time 5:37:25
Division place: 16
Dinner – take out chicken and rice from Japanese restaurant
Breakfast – Bagel, peanut butter, banana, coffee, lots of water
Pre-swim – water, Powerbar, 1/2 of a 5-hour energy
Bike – 4 bottles water, six gels (3 caffeinated), 5 salt
Run – 2 cups water every mile, 2 gels total (one caffeinated), 4-5 salt caps
Ironman 70.3 St. George, with its hills, wind and unpredictable weather lived up to its reputation, but also confirmed that I’ve learned some things from last years’ hot races – Boise and Las Vegas. I assumed it would hurt, that it would be extreme, that I would be out there for a long time, but I was happy that I felt prepared for it.
Quads very sore on Sunday, went for a short hike in Zion but really couldn’t walk downhill without flinching. Monday, feeling better and went for a swim and hot tub at the hotel pool. Soreness almost gone Tuesday morning. Went for a 50 minute ride around St. George and although didn’t push it, felt recovered enough for an easy workout. I’ve had intermittent headaches and afternoon sleepiness. Tuesday evening, I feel nearly back to normal, but a bad cold completely knocked me out by Thursday.
Three 70.3s in one season wasn’t how I originally planned my racing for 2013, but here I was, tapering down for my third and last one of the year, and feeling if not comfortable, at least familiar with the distance.
The weather was my biggest concern heading into it, because the heat in Boise was literally seared into my memory. My coach, Ben, and I talked over and over about how I might manage it better here in Las Vegas. Drinking a lot more water was the biggest thing, and then there were other small things to remember, like your palms being a cooling point and carrying ice in them. One more piece of sage hydration advice came in from him via text as my two teammates and I were boarding the plane: “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I strongly suggest no alcohol from now until the race.”
I guess we’ll just have to make up for that afterward.
For all that worry, the weather looked like it might actually be mild for Las Vegas, with temperatures in the 90s rather than the 100s. That was still hotter than Boise, but I’ll take as cool as I can get in the desert. The race would feel similar in other ways, with long desert climbs and a hot, looping run. However, this swim would be non-wetsuit, and rather than being flat and shady, the run would take us up and down exposed suburban hills of Henderson, NV.
My friend Kari and I stayed at the Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, an enormous and gorgeous golf resort. It was the first time I’d been to Las Vegas and stayed anywhere but the Strip. Henderson is tidy and suburban, with palm trees dotting the sidewalks and has a beautiful view of the the brown mountains and the faraway Strip. The race start and first transition is at Lake Las Vegas, a resort fifteen miles from Henderson, out on its own in the desert.
Well, for all that worry, race morning dawned with rain! Pouring, dumping, drumming rain. We got up at 3 AM to make sure to find parking at the space-limited start area. We sat in the car staring at the downpour, and I downed my bagel, banana, peanut butter, and a lot of water. I began to feel really nervous.
Finally, we walked to transition and set up our gear. That took us to 5:15, so we still had tons of time on our hands. We walked around some more, visited the porta-potties, found my two VO2 teammates, took some pictures, went up to the covered lake bridge to get out of the rain, and watched the pro start.
Per my race plan, I didn’t do a run warmup to avoid getting behind on hydration, but instead just used my swim cords to loosen up. Finally, it was time for us – we were wave 9 at 7:08. I stood in the corral and looked around at my comrades, the middle-aged fit women. Something was different here. Most people are in great shape in any race, but this group… I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. I watched a woman down a gel and stretch her very toned arms over her head. There wasn’t a lot of chatting going on. They were serious, they were jumpy, they were – every one of them – extremely lean and muscled. Every one of them had to get a pretty high age group place in another 70.3. I tried to reassure myself that I had done that, too.
Here we go! I feel slightly naked and not buoyant with just my swimskin on when I jump into Lake Las Vegas. The start is about a hundred yards from the swim entrance, so we have a mini-warmup to get ourselves there after we’re allowed into the water. It’s line up time. I’m a fairly fast swimmer, and before usual race starts I confidently swim myself up to the front of the pack knowing I’ll get out ahead with some of the lead swimmers, or sometimes I am the lead swimmer.
I take a few strokes, moving myself to the front, but something doesn’t give. I’m in the front, but then I’m not! A few people have taken strokes and positioned themselves in front of me. I move to the side of them to get a clear view of the water and where I’m going to go, but more women elbow me out of the way. Nobody talks or looks at each other, but there’s a lot of mild shoving going on. Wow. I remind myself again that I’m not out of my league, I just need to focus and get myself into position, somehow. I try to squeeze between two gals, who don’t look at me, and one of them blocks me with her arm. If this were a different race we’d be chatting or saying “good luck” to each other.
The countdown begins but again I’m behind the front row! The start gun goes off and I’m trapped. It’s the first time in a race that I feel like I can’t go anywhere. I try to squeeze through some swimmers, but it takes a few minutes of head-up flailing before I find a path to get out front. Then I’m off, feeling strong and getting into my rhythm, trying not to get the notoriously reddish-brown water in my mouth. (The water doesn’t actually bug me much, because it reminds me of a nice, warm Beaver Lake back home.) The course is long and banana-shaped. Once we reach the first turn buoy, I see someone in my wave that I can’t quite pass, but I can follow. I promptly get on her feet and draft her for most of the rest of the race.
Swim time: 31:35
Swim place: 6
A huge hand grabs onto my arm. I’m yanked up between two volunteers so burly they could be bouncers at a Las Vegas nightclub, and then I’m off around the bridge to transition. I try to soft-jog to prevent my HR from getting too high, but too late, it’s already 170. I grab my wet, slippery bike and slip my feet into my soaked shoes and then run up the long switchback ramp to the mounting area. No need to stop at the sunscreen station today – it’s still a downpour. I hop on my bike and repeatedly try to force my mud- clogged cleats onto my pedals. It takes forever, but once they finally attach, I’m off, still trying to be calm and relaxed. An uphill out of the Lake Las Vegas resort area is next, so I soft-pedal and finally, after the crest, get my HR where it should be. I take it easy on the first rainy descent, testing the roads, and after that I feel more comfortable. We loop out into the amazing Lake Mead rec area – a desert of craggy red rock and distant foggy mountains. The rain brings out pungent mineral scents, and the raindrops sting my face like needles. I’m actually enjoying the ride, but noticing that I’m feeling a little heavy. I don’t have the same easy-spinning energy that I had at Lake Stevens. Interesting.
The rain pours down, people get flats, a few ambulances scream by. My teammate passes me early on, asks me how I’m doing, and then says that everyone is being weenies on the downhills. They are. I’m comfortable flying down the hills and passing people, but unfortunately, every minute or two women are passing me on the flats and inclines – women in my age group. Too many of them to count.
Finally finished with the desert loop, we pass the Lake Las Vegas resorts again and head into town. The whole ride goes quickly with all the concentration needed to deal with the rain and the descents. I glance at my watch and know that I won’t make sub-three hours. When finally six miles are left through the town of Henderson, I’m relieved. However, the last miles entail a lot of climbing on tired legs and my final bike time, I realize later, is my slowest.
Nutrition on bike:
At least three and a half bottles of water/nuun and about 600 calories worth of gels.
Bike time: 3:08:17
Bike place: 49. (No wonder I lost count.)
Onto the run. The sun comes out as if on cue and the heat comes out with it. I’m prepared. I have my arm coolers in my back pocket and I know I am mostly on top of my fluids. I stop quickly at the porta-potty and sunscreen station, and then head out onto the sunny run. It begins with a downhill and I’m already feeling better than Boise. No digestive issues, and I’m feeling, if not strong, at least competent. The run is three loops through residential Henderson consisting of two out-and-backs with the center near the finish line. Each direction has a long uphill and a long downhill. I love the format. Before I know it, I am finished with each branch of the loop and the miles click by. On each loop I see my teammates. One is about ten minutes ahead, and one is five minutes behind. I know she’ll pass me, as the run is her strength, and I didn’t think I’d catch the other one (the speedy descending queen from the bike leg), as she looked very strong and solid. Spectators, yelling, cheering, waving signs, and some dressed in crazy outfits line the entire course. It’s very hard to keep my HR down to 165. It creeps up on the uphills or when the sun is especially strongly beating down. I relax on the uphills and try to ease quickly down the downhills. I drink two cups, per Ben’s advice, at each of the many aid stations. I use ice in my palms and my arm coolers. I drink a few cups of coke after the halfway mark, which sits well. My stomach feels great. I know I’m not going to be fast, but the course is hilly and hot, so I’m fine with it.
When the finish finally arrives, I’m elated, then disappointed and drained. I know it’s not my best race, and I’m not sure why. I nearly pass out waiting for pictures and food. I finally force down some chicken and fruit, find some shade and my teammates, and start to feel better.
Nutrition on run:
2 cups each aid station (coke after mile 6), three gels. Two endurolytes around mile 8.
Run time: 1:57:14
Total time: 5:44:52
Final Place: 60
I admit I was discouraged with my time and placing, especially on the bike leg. But I was truly thrilled to have been able to make it here and compete with so many amazing athletes. I owe a huge thanks to Ben for his intelligent and insightful coaching which got me to a place where I can qualify for not only for these 70.3 Worlds, but also for Team USA next year, not to mention feeling great the entire season and staying injury free. I’m also thankful for my completely, 100%, supportive family who encourage me to do these incredible races, because they know how much I love it.
My friend and I capped off the day at Lindo Michoacan, a restaurant that claims the “best bar” in Henderson. We looked out over the entire valley and the Strip, drank a couple margaritas and ate house-made guacamole and chips. After that, we went back to Green Valley, lounged in a cabana under the once-again clear desert sky to write up the race reports and reflect on the end to a great season.
I’m fidgeting in my zipped up wetsuit, standing on the dock of the lagoon in front of Discovery World. Hundreds of middle-aged, though very fit women are crowded onto the dock with me, waiting to lower themselves into the water. The sunrise lights up Lake Michigan and the air is warm, but not as warm as it could be for Milwaukee. The wavy blue water is very cold – we know because we’ve all just hauled ourselves out of it after warming up.
I’ve lost my teammate somewhere and I feel like I always do before the swim: introverted and jittery. I take a few deep breaths and think through the first part of my race: Strong strokes off the line, then look around for some fast feet to draft, ease up just a tiny bit, then swim smoothly.
I bend my head down, stretching my neck, and then I see something on the ground.
Blood, a spreading circle of it, pools under my foot. A lot of it. I lift my foot and red droplets fall as if from a leaky faucet, splashing onto the dock. I whip my head around, looking for something or someone who could help. The other women, just as race-focused as I am, don’t seem to notice me quietly freaking out. I bend over and lift the flap of severed flesh. It’s hanging off the side of my big toe, and we’re about to start the race.
The USAT Age Group Nationals in Milwaukee is my third real attempt at a Team USA slot, after trying in Tuscaloosa and Burlington. It’s become a long-term goal of mine to get that top-18 spot that will allow me to compete in the Olympic-distance World Champs.
Milwaukee on race weekend is filled with people in various kinds of tri gear running around, sitting in restaurants and whizzing by on their expensive bikes. The city over the past few days has been fun and pleasant, with good restaurants and a charming river walk area, and I’m looking forward to sampling some local beer after the race. Despite the different location this year, I know what I’m in for: A regular triathlon, just hundreds of times bigger and with a lot of incredibly fast competition.
On race day, I drive in from my hotel and park in an open garage facing Lake Michigan, then sit there for a few minutes looking at the sun coming up over the amazing winged Milwaukee Art Museum. My bike is racked somewhere down below and I feel ready to go. I’d been proud of myself yesterday for finally figuring out how to get my disc wheel pumped up with my adapter quickly and all by myself. (It’s an older Zipp with a tiny access opening, and every time I wiggle the crack pipe out of it I’m sure I’m going to tear the valve off.)
I eat my bagel and peanut butter without the anxiety about 70.3 race nutrition. I still plan to drink a lot on the bike due to the heat here, but I can relax a little bit about calories and water.
Once I go to the transition area and look over everything, I do my run warmup and check in my gear. (This was a “clean” transition. We can have nothing except what was needed to race, and anything else had to be checked in a clear plastic bag.) We are allowed to get in the lagoon and swim for about fifteen minutes before the race start, which benefits us early starters. This year the 40-44 women start in the second wave. Last year, in Burlington, we were the second to last, so this feels luxurious. After warmup, we have to haul ourselves up onto a dock three to four feet above the water surface. Random participants help pull us up, but as I wrench myself onto the dock with the help of someone’s hand, my foot catches on something. I don’t think anything about it until I look down at my foot later and see that I’m standing in a pool of blood.
After a moment of panic, I hop over to a USAT volunteer. “Do you have a band aid?” I ask, knowing that what I really need is stitches or steri-strips. This is beyond band aids. “Or, tape?” He doesn’t have anything and he has no suggestions, and he seems preoccupied, as one would, with starting a three-thousand-person race. I examine it again – it’s deep and blood is still pouring out, and I think about the two-and-a-half hours ahead of me, possible flesh-eating bacteria, tight fitting bike shoes, and I have no idea what I’m going to do.
Since he can’t help me, I look around for anything I can use to close up my toe, and then the loudspeaker crackles with an announcement. There is come kind of traffic delay on the highway, and we will need to wait while it’s cleared. I am saved by a last-minute race delay! I can’t believe it. I sprint, trailing blood, to an event security officer on a bike whose fanny pack looks first-aid-like. All he has are band aids and tape, but we tape my toe as tightly as possible, and a more thorough job can wait until the post-race medical tent.
So, somewhat rattled, I start the swim. I get in a lead pack of a few girls, and actually find some perfect speedy feet to follow until the first turn. We swim across the lagoon and under a bridge. Spectators crowding the bridge and hanging over are screaming for us and I can hear them with each turn of my head. I love it! I begin to feel wiped out after the bridge, and I feel myself slow down, but I still hang onto my lead group. We turn and head back to the exit ramp. Fortunately, it’s not the same ramp that slashed my toe, and I am pulled up by volunteers and am off running to transition.
Swim time: 22:22
Division place: 7
I pedal out and benefit – again – from being the second wave to start. The course is open and empty. I spin strongly but let my HR calm down until it’s in the mid-160s and I hold it there. I suddenly feel like I’m working ten times harder than I was in Boise, though my HR is virtually the same. I hope I can hold this. There’s a gradual hill heading over a bridge out of downtown, and suddenly I realize I’m feeling flat. My legs feel unresponsive and slightly achy. Would this feeling go away? Well, this feels bad for sure, but I have a race plan and there is nothing to do but follow it. I pedal on, willing the lactic-acid feeling to lessen with each revolution of my pedals. I focus on the beauty of the course: the bridge on the ascent has a view of sparkling blue Lake Michigan on one side of us and the sunlit city on the other. And on the other side, a descent helps me get back into the rhythm.
Bike time: 1:09:38
Bike pace: 21.4
I fly off my bike, hang it by the saddle, and slip my feet into my running shoes. I grab my visor and a gel, and I’m off. My bike-to-run transition always feels quick and simple. This run is on a flat path along the waterfront park that circles back to finish on the lake road. The sun beats down and the air is already getting uncomfortably warm. I glance at my heart rate, push it up to the mid-170s. Ouch, but I can hold it. It’s just a 10K. The air is getting hotter. I see my teammate up ahead and she looks good and strong. (Later, I find out she was hugely struggling and had thrown up twice – displaying impressive grit to finish the race strongly.) I pass a girl in a Team USA kit after gaining on her for a couple of miles. I maintain my pace heading into the pain cave of the last few miles, feeling nothing but my muscles screaming, my heart racing, sweat pouring off me, and my feet pounding the pavement. I stare at the back of the person I’m going to catch before the finish. I grab a quick drink and some ice to hold in my palms and hammer out the last two miles.
Run time: 45:16
Run pace: 7:17
Overall time: 2:21:08
Overall division place: 13
It takes a minute to sink in. I don’t need to wait for a rolldown, or an age-up factor, or a wait list of any kind. I’m IN!!! My teammate Heidi gets in too, and we go out that night and celebrate, drinking a sampling of Milwaukee beer to toast to what we’ve finally done after trying Nationals in almost every other part of the country. Milwaukee did it for us. We are heading to UTI Worlds in Edmonton one year from now!
Huge thanks to Ben, whose coaching over the past year has pushed me to new levels of fitness, confidence and commitment. And to my family for letting me do these awesome and fun races and being excited for me!
Lake Stevens was out there, waiting, just six weeks after Boise. I was relatively in shape, but another 70.3 so soon? I’d only raced in two other half-ironman distance races, and I struggled through each of them. I didn’t want to torture myself again and put myself through all of that when they weren’t turning out very well. The short races are so fun and I know what I’m doing there. But the 70.3 is, if anything, a compelling riddle and I knew I couldn’t let the challenge go. Besides, there was that Worlds spot….
The town of Lake Stevens is somewhat in my back yard. It used to be a resort community, I have read, and now is kind of an Everett suburb. It’s still a drive of over an hour for me, so a friend and I got a hotel room in Everett, which is pretty much the closest place that you can stay to the race venue. The race day weather was perfect with a marine layer of clouds, and temps in the high fifties, a huge contrast from Boise in June. My nerves were less than before, because my previous race was only a few weeks ago, and I’d had some very good training in-between.
My pre-swim warmup consisted of ten minutes of jogging followed by a swim-cord workout. Athletes were allowed to swim before their wave, so I jumped in to the swirling muddy water by the shore and swam back and forth a few times. When it was time, I lined up on the dock with my wave of 40-44 year olds. The gun went off. I’m always a bundle of various kinds of nerves up to this point, but once I’m swimming, all the nerves get redirected into action. I love starting! The weeks and months of preparation come together, the jitters leave me, and there is truly no turning back when I push myself forward in the first few strokes of a triathlon. I feel right at home, no matter the distance of the race in front of me.
At the Lake Stevens 70.3, there’s a bright yellow buoy line a few feet under the water, and if you can swim near it, you barely have to lift your head to sight. I started the swim in the front of the pack and positioned myself just to the outside of the buoy line. There were two or three girls swimming near me, and after ¼ mile, I found myself pushed to the inside and struggled to find the best place to swim. A few times I worked myself back to the outside, but crowds swarmed as I caught waves in front of me. Staying just to the inside seemed easier, aside from having to pass the buoys themselves, which I ended up hitting with my arm each time. I finished the swim feeling strong.
Swim time: 27:35
Division place: 2
My bike was racked right next to the swim exit, so that was nice. Once I was on my bike, my plan was to concentrate. I needed to try to get my heart rate down into the 140s during the first ten minutes of the ride. Once I was out of transition, I breathed calmly and spun my legs lightly. I’m doing it, this feels good! Too good, actually. I glance at my watch – heart rate is 171! Ugh. More light spinning, calm breathing and then it finally began to drop. I felt like I was out on a social cruise, but again, I was determined to be relaxed, even if my ride was way slower than last time. I was elated when my HR hit 158.
I continued with the relaxed strategy the entire time, keeping my HR in the 150s. One of my teammates passed me, moving fast, early on. It was great to see her and many others I knew out there, an awesome benefit of a home race. The course was crowded and there were a few close calls with people forgetting to glance over their shoulder before swerving around someone. I pedaled on, continuing to remind myself that I “wanted” a slower bike time to feel good on the upcoming run. Thankfully, the hilly course didn’t seem as challenging as I’d imagined it to be. Maybe this was my kind of course: a lot of steep hills, but none too long. I could take advantage of descending, something I like to do, and sometimes cruise all the way back up the next hill.
Coming into mile 45, then 50, I had energy to spare. This was going to work! I saw others I knew and yo-yo’d with them a bit. The sky remained cloudy and cool, and I drank plenty of water and downed my nutrition according to my plan.
Bike time: 2:53:11
Pace: 19.4 mph
Division place: 7
After transition, I took inventory of myself and realized I felt … awesome! No sideaches, no funny stomach issues. So far, so good. Kept my pace to 8:30s for a mile or two. Dashed into a porta-potty (okay, good, I drank enough this time, but I should learn how to do this on the bike in order to not lose time). I resumed my run and picked up the pace, holding my teammate in my sights about fifty yards ahead and keeping my heart rate above 160 as planned. We cruised along. Although I was pushing hard, there was never a time that I felt actually tortured and in some ways it even felt like a standalone half-marathon. I love the Lake Stevens run course. It’s two loops, but you get to pass through town and screaming spectators four times, and head out along the lake twice. There’s a steady hill along the lake just steep enough to take concentration, but then you get to turn and come back down. I waved to my family and friends and each time I passed them, and it gave me more energy. During the second loop I caught up to my teammate but couldn’t overtake her. When we passed my husband, he told us both that there was another girl in our age group just 20 seconds ahead and we could catch her. She sped up and I sped up, latching onto her shoulder by an invisible string. We passed the girl in our age group, and then one more. Once, while we rounded a corner, she waved me forward, but it was taking everything I had just to stay with her, and I couldn’t get closer or actually pass. By the last loop I could tell my smile was fading and my concentration was picking up, but my pace didn’t slow. We passed one more person in our age group before we sprinted into the finish, me just a few seconds behind her.
Run time: 1:45:04
Run pace: 8:00 min/mile
Overall time: 5:09:33
Overall division place: 5
It was a PR, and a course PR, and by the time the rolldowns were over, I held in my hands my entry for 70.3 World Champs in Las Vegas.
Bike: 60 oz water/nuun on the bike. One bottle exchange. Three gels, two of which were caffeinated. One Powerbar.
Run: Water at each stop and three gels, one caffeinated.
A spindly tree was my only shade as I sat with my friend Laura at the Lucky Peak reservoir waiting for our wave to start. We’d arrived by shuttle at 10 AM, and the sun was already blazing down on us. Sunscreen was our focus for the moment, and we reapplied layers of it, looking at the cloudless sky and our skin that hadn’t seen the sun since last summer. Last year, I’d heard reports that this race was so cold and windy that the bike course was shortened to just 12 miles – long enough to get off the reservoir and back to town. I’d packed arm warmers, a vest and toe covers, all things I couldn’t imagine using as I baked under the tree that morning.
I didn’t know then that the noon race start, heat and dry air would slowly and stealthily bite me in the rear end within the next few hours. (And apparently I wasn’t the only one.)
My friend and I picked this race due to the time of year and its relative proximity to home, and it was going to be my first coached 70.3. My hope was to have a more successful race than my previous try at this distance. I wanted to finish happy and feeling strong.
Hot air blew at us while we waited. I didn’t feel like eating, but earlier that morning I managed to get down a decent amount of breakfast: Rice Krispies, milk, banana, a hard boiled egg and coffee. Closer to the noon start I forced down more food: a bagel with peanut butter and part of a bar. The water and nuun and the food (and possibly the heat) left my stomach sloshing during my warmup.
The first plunge into the bright blue reservoir water shocked me. After baking all morning in pseudo-shade, the water felt icy. When the gun went off, I swam hard and got out in front right away. Once we approached the first turn, the water became incredibly wavy, sloshing over my face and bobbing me around. I swallowed water and coughed and kept swimming, eventually passing swimmers in the waves ahead of me, keeping an eye out for some good feet to follow. I began to notice some fatigue as I approached the finish, which was probably from fighting the rough water. I swam until my fingers brushed the bottom, ran up the hill, threw myself down by the wetsuit strippers, and my friend’s husband yelled that I was first in my age group. So far, so good!
Swim time: 31:45
Division place: 1
T1: 3:04. Boise is a two-transition-location race so T1 held just bike gear. All went smoothly, aside from not finding any volunteers with more sunscreen to apply after the swim.
Gusts of wind shoved me around right away as I pedaled off the reservoir. My disc acted like a sail, wanting to push me all over the road. My instinct told me to hammer it down the hill to try to be more stable, but I wasn’t comfortable with a rider in front of me weaving around (probably like me) in the middle of the lane, so I waited to pass him until later. Once I was off the hill I tried to calm down my too-high heart rate as we began the loops through the desert. I remember two colors from the bike course: the brown hills and the blue sky. The Boise bike course is long, steady uphills and long steady downhills. Some people say it’s a biker’s race because of this, but I hadn’t done enough long-distance riding or racing to determine whether it was my kind of course. The roads were wide open and peaceful, thanks to getting to start in an early wave. I settled into aero position and pedaled steadily with the wind at my back, feeling good, strong, and smooth. The day felt definitely hot, but the breeze and speed on the bike kept me comfortable enough. I was breathing easily, and my heart rate was a constant 162. This was high, but I didn’t feel I was overworking, so I let it go, even though my coach had a cap of 160 in my race plan. Looking back, perhaps I should have realized that perceived effort at an HR of 162 should have felt a lot harder. I was getting hot and losing fluids, and that’s what was raising my heart rate, but I didn’t think about this then.
On the windy sections, I couldn’t get comfortable. My neck was fatigued from fighting the wind and my saddle wasn’t feeling right. Still, my HR stayed steady: 162. I began to be passed regularly by younger men from the wave behind me, but didn’t see a woman pass me until the out-and-back in the farmlands, so I hoped I might be holding a relatively high age group place. Maybe this type of course suited me!
Eating was the last thing I felt like doing, but I forced down my nutrition as planned: four gels and a bar. I constantly sipped nuun and water. Sipping, however, was the wrong thing to do. I should have been gulping. I exchanged bottles at each station and figured I drank maybe three 20-oz bottles. I poured some on myself to keep cool, so maybe I didn’t exactly drink all of that. I thanked myself for carrying a tiny bottle of sunscreen which I used to spray my back an hour into the ride. (It may have saved me from some deep burns I saw on others later, though I was still burned enough to peel.)
Bike time 3:01:51 Bike MPH 18.48 Division place: 3
T2: 1:36. No issues.
I began to think about the run on the way into town. The last six miles on the bike were tough and long. As soon as I was off the bike and running, I was drenched in sweat and the sides of my ribs were cramping. Remembering a similar feeling at Lake Stevens, I kept my pace around nine minutes per mile and relaxed my breathing. The cramping went away around mile two or three, but my pace had slowed down.
The run is two loops near a temptingly cold, flowing river. Part of the run is on a shaded path, and part of it is on exposed roads. I plodded along, the heat weighing down on me and I eyed that cold water just a few feet away. Suddenly, I wanted to quit. I hurt, my legs were heavy, and once we hit the exposed section of the loop (mile 3 to 4 I think), the heat made me feel ill. I could feel my pulse skipping beats, something that happens occasionally, but worried me here. I plodded, one foot in front of the other and I wondered if I would really consider dropping out. It was the first time I’d ever had that thought in any race.
At every aid station I drank, poured water over myself, loaded my top with ice, and held ice in my palms. Every few miles, I saw a teammate or two, and it gave me a temporary lift of solidarity to exchange pained greetings. I could see they were just as hot as me. By mile five I was walking at every aid station to get fluids in and cool off. By mile eight or so, I couldn’t get anything down but small sips of water. Ice – ice was all I could think of. It sounded so good and so refreshing. I finally fished some out of my top and tossed it back and yes, it hit the spot. After one of the aid stations on the second loop, I got extremely ill, feeling like my insides had turned to churning mush. The race time was 4:42 on my watch. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, though that was probably because my brain wasn’t working at that point, except to make myself move forward. Obviously, the heat and lack of fluids were finally taking their horrible toll. My skin felt dry. I felt so nauseous I was afraid to eat or drink anything else. I told myself to run for ten more minutes and then I’d take an inventory of myself and reevaluate. Ten minutes passed and I hadn’t thrown up and was somehow still moving forward. I repeated this until finally there were only two miles to go! At the last aid station, a wonderful, smiling volunteer yelled: “Coke!” Coke! That sounds so cool, dark, and bubbly… I grabbed a cup and downed it. Nothing ever tasted so good. Somehow, I ran until I crossed the finish line, saw my friend’s husband and garbled something about being sick and made a beeline to the hotel room.
Run time: 2:05:46 Run pace: 9:36
Finish time: 5:44:02 Division place: 5
Back in the room I was afraid to lie down. I was dizzy and short of breath, and severe cramps kept me running to the bathroom. I couldn’t eat or drink anything for an hour, and then finally could sip water. By 8:30 PM I could get a sports drink down, and by 10:00 PM I had part of a milkshake. (A week later, I still didn’t have much of an appetite and felt like sleeping all of the time.)
I was disappointed. I’d hoped that this 70.3, one I’d prepared so hard for, would feel better than my last one. It felt worse.
Still, I was shocked to find I’d placed 5th in my age group, just missing a rolldown spot for IM 70.3 Worlds in Las Vegas. I texted my coach about missing the spot and he replied with two words and a smiley face: Lake Stevens 🙂.
I’m adding this report to the blog almost two years after racing it. This race is the reason that the heat at other races over the next year didn’t leave me in such a mess. Boise taught me more about hydration and cooling strategies that I ever would have learned by theory, because I was truly afraid to have another experience like this one! The biggest takeaway for me was to drink early, often and a lot, and also be aware of how much my heart rate will raise and pace will slow due to heat alone. I’ve also added salt to my nutrition plan for hot races.
Probably the thing I most remember about Escape from Alcatraz is the huge, wavy mass of San Francisco Bay. It’s pitch dark underneath the surface, and so dense that I can’t see the bubbles in front of my face. I can only hear them burbling past my ears with each breath. It’s chilly too; my cheeks and hands feel almost numb. I bring my head up to sight, level with the waves. I seem to be alone. The other swimmers, thousands of them kicking and splashing, are too far away. I’ve veered off course. Ahead of me is the Golden Gate bridge, impossibly high and bright red. Behind me is Alcatraz and the boat I’ve jumped from. Five million gallons of water per minute is emptying to the sea and is pulling me with it, away from my destination at the Marina. I look toward two white buildings in the city, my sight point. I pause for a second of amazement that I’m here, in the middle of the bay, and then I dip my head in and swim on.
America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans.
Everywhere else is Cleveland. -Tennessee Williams
Growing up, we’d head to northern California most summers, spending time in sunny, leafy Petaluma with my grandmother, San Francisco, and Oakland where my parents had worked. I still feel connected to the area even though it’s been years since I’ve been here. Today, it’s a sunny day with a cool strong breeze and high puffy clouds. I can see miles of the pastel Victorian houses, the painted ladies, in the hills. I stroll though the Marina district, Fort Mason where the triathlon transition is being set up, Fisherman’s Wharf and Ghirardelli square. It smells like the ocean and the sun feels unusually warm. I feel like I’m on a cloud of anticipation for the race.
I have a habit of looking at a body of water and then picturing myself swimming across it. So, the Escape from Alcatraz has been on my list for as long as I’ve known that you could. When I was a kid, we’d look at fog rolling in over the bay, and people would say, mock-seriously: Nobody can swim from Alcatraz. The sharks, the current, the cold….
Later that evening, I meet up with my family, and my brother-in-law drives us around the race course and gives us a tour of the city. He grew up right downtown when it was made up of working-class neighborhoods and he would run and play all over with the local kids. What we’re looking at now is ritzy and gentrified: shiny condos and high-end dining, but we can picture what it used to be when he tells us a few stories. We eat too much pasta at Scoma’s on Fisherman’s Wharf, and I start to feel nervous. And, unfortunately, the rekindled romance with San Francisco has left me with sunburn, a blister, and fatigue from walking around way too much for a pre-race day. There’s nothing to do now but try to rest up.
Every window in Alcatraz has a view of San Francisco – Susanna Kaysen
It’s 4:00 AM in my hotel and I’m nervous. I can’t believe I’m going to do it, all of it – the early morning, the dark, the cold, the waiting around, the worrying about gear, the energy I’m going to expend on the course. I’m almost depressed at the thought of it! Nevertheless, I’ve been race-nervous enough times to know that it’s just that, and has nothing to do with what I really want, which is to be swimming in that bay. I gather my gear and hop on my bike. It’s still dark and shadowy outside. I cruise through the city and Fort Mason with the rest of the triathletes who funnel out of hotels and roll down the streets with their duffel bags on their backs. We’re the only souls out at this hour. I find my transition spot and start setting up. I can smell the sea air and it feels warm. I walk around and examine the transition area, and when I feel like I know the entrances and exits, I drop off my post-swim gear bag and get on the bus to the Pier 3.
It’s light by the time everyone gets wetsuits zipped up and morning-clothes bags dropped off, and the sky is clear. When I shuffle on the boat with two thousand lean, suited-up triathletes, somehow I find a few people I know from swim practice in Seattle. They give me pointers and tell me I should think about joining their tri team. I’m grateful for the sense of community and the time passes easily, though I am still so nervous I can barely eat the bagel I’ve brought with me. The boat cruises along with a smooth hum, delivering us to our fate right in front of Alcatraz Island.
When it’s time to go, we funnel to the doorway of the upper deck and down the stairs. I’m frustrated that I’ve ended up near the back, one of the last group of athletes to go. I already have my goggles on, which is lucky because as I round the corner it’s time to jump off! Go, go, go, the organizers yell. I don’t hesitate. I see the opening in the deck railing and I jump in. The drop is only a few feet, but time expands to many breathless seconds of mid-air limbo. Finally, a splash as I hit, then I swim! I’ve forgotten to start my watch and shoot, it’s gone to power-save mode. I swipe it to turn it on, and then stop my swim stroke a few seconds later to hit the start button. I swim toward the apartment towers as I’ve planned, feeling stiff in the cold water, and edgy from the waves and splashes of people all around me. I regret wearing booties because I feel the water seeping through them and I know they’re slowing me down. Still, I pass other swimmers consistently, sighting every five strokes or so, getting into a rhythm. I start feeling confident and back in my element. I’m tossed around by the waves and every so often, I get a mouthful of salty water. At one point, I’m aiming directly at the Golden Gate Bridge and all alone, traveling with the current that wants to carry me under the bridge and out to sea. I adjust my direction and keep swimming. Nothing seems to get closer until finally, somehow and I don’t know how, I realize it’s time to aim for the Legion of Honor dome and the marina. I angle that way and swim hard. Finally, the beach is in front of me and I stand and walk, almost getting knocked over by a wave. Thirty-seven minutes. I wave to my husband, find my bag, strip my wetsuit, throw on my shoes and I’m off, running to the transition!
Swim time: 37:26 Swim place (div): 2
T1: 6:55 (it’s a long run)
We’d driven the bike course yesterday, so I know what’s coming: a flat stretch, then the first climb into the Presidio. The course is crowded, especially the climbs, but I don’t feel unsafe. I just have some difficulty maneuvering through the technical sections. The downhills are fast and fun. Coming down Sea Cliff is gorgeous and I make sure I enjoy it (how could I not?), flying down the hill with the ocean in front of me, glittering out as far as I can see. Once down that, the course cruises into Golden Gate Park with its nice flat and rolling sections. Next, back up Sea Cliff – can I climb any more? Some of the climbs are steep and difficult for me. I’m not pushing as hard as I can, but I know I can’t, not if I want something left for the run. Finally, I ride through some residential areas, back down through the Presidio and then back to transition.
Bike time: 1:04:33 Bike place: 10 MPH: 16.7
I start the run, feeling as I usually do after the bike, uncoordinated and heavy. But, I’m running eight minute miles and if I can just keep it up, I’ll be satisfied. Soon we start climbing, and climbing and climbing. I shuffle up hills, slog up steps on a narrow path. I wonder if I’m going to make it without walking. After forever I come to some downhills, down to Baker Beach. Sand! I take a few steps, my muscles trying to support me despite the unstable give of the sand. It’s so hard to run, but I do it anyway. Then, up the infamous sand ladder, grasping a rope and stepping up and up. Looking back, I wish I would have challenged myself more – it takes me over four minutes to climb. Then, finally I’m done and it’s all downhill to the finish. I feel nauseous and hot, but in a rhythm as I pass the row of beautiful homes adjacent to the transition. I race down the finish chute lined with flags from every country, and it’s done!
Run time: 1:10:32 Run Place: 11 Sand Ladder Time: 4:04 Run pace: 8:49
Overall time: 3:01:09 Division place: 5
Back in the hotel, I think I’ll nap but I just close my eyes without falling asleep. My family leaves town that same day, but I get to spend the afternoon in the room, writing and doing nothing. I go out once to get something from Ghirardelli Square and when I come back to the room, there’s a plate of cheese and wine sitting on the table for me, with a note. It’s from the hotel staff: they apologize for any noise from a wedding last night and hope it didn’t affect my race. I pour myself a glass, toasting the day I checked off one of my longtime race dreams. It wasn’t a perfect race, but it was a perfect experience. I know I’ll want to someday race this one again, and it will be just as amazing, but my focus will be on the known, not the unknown. (I’ll angle straighter across the bay, I’ll get off the boat earlier. I’ll train on trails and sand!) As for today, I enjoy the memory of this one: the immense water, the view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the run over every kind of surface imaginable, and finally getting to finish one of my long-time goals.