Well, it actually happened. I set out this year to qualify for the World Championships, and I can now say that one of my goals has been met. Ironman 70.3 World Championships and Austria, here I come. Perhaps one of the most amazing parts of this journey was that I had my first ever age group win!! I was really hoping for top 3 but exceeded my own expectations for how the race went. So here’s the break down of how the day went.
For probably the first time ever, I had a swimming race strategy. Get out fast, establish position, speed up at each buoy and sprint my booty off the last 200 yards. And it worked. Except for having to dodge my way through groups of different people of varying speeds. It also seemed like people were stopping for afternoon tea around all of the buoys. I apologize to the old man I blatantly groped after one of the last buoys. But there was no time to stop and apologize.
By the time I got to the swim exit, I had caught up with some of the swimmers who had gone out in the first swim group. But the good news was the field had thinned so I had a very clear and straight line to the swim exit. One of the best swim exits ever! I went to the wetsuit strippers, got my wetsuit ripped off, and it was go time. At most races, I don’t swim with a watch, so coming out of the water I had no idea how fast I was until after the race was over. Would have been a great mental boost! Alas, perhaps next time. I was pretty confident that I was one of the first women to come out of the water though.
Possibly one of the longest transitions ever that involved a quarter mile run. Thanks, mom for telling me I was so slow! Luckily, my bike was in one of the first rows so it was easily accessible and time to get out on the ride.
One of the biggest unknowns going into this race was the bike. I’ve been diligently working on improving my bike split the whole winter and I had high hopes of going around a 2:33, but the wind of race morning freaked me out. My stomach was turning and I was scared. My coach Craig said to “ride the wind” throughout the ride. And this was one of the mantras I repeated to myself over and over again during the race. The first 15 miles flew by. It felt easy and good. I tried not to get overly confident because I knew the worst was yet to come. Normally, I get passed by tons of guys and fast girls on the ride but this time was different. I was passing people and not that many people were passing me.
The truth of where I was and how I was doing hit me at mile 28 when I hit my goal time of 1:16, setting me up for a 2:33 split. And then reality really sunk in when I saw only two amateur women ahead of me at the first turnaround. The weirdest part was I could feel other girls sizing me up and putting a target on my back who were behind me. I’ve never been in this position before so it was just different to be ahead instead of biding my time until the run and making moves.
At mile 36 there was about a 4 mile out and back. This is where I hit a wall. At mile 40 of the turn around, I hit more headwinds, the constant grinding of being on a flat course and staying in aero position got to me. My energy dipped and I couldn’t get comfortable. This is also when the first age group girl passed me. Did I mention that you could not see anyone’s numbers on their arms or legs? Good ole’ Lake Pontchatrain had wiped all the numbers right off. I was bound and determined to keep this girl in my sight for the rest of the ride. She wasn’t going to get away from me that easily.
By mile 50, the sun had come out and the wind had really picked up. This was one of the hardest parts of the race. The girl who had passed me was still only a couple hundred yards away when a humungous draft pack of about 30 guys came up. I screamed at them as they flew by “Nice draft pack guys!” One guy thew his arms up in exasperation. When is a ref marshall when you need one? It was so frustrating seeing people blatantly cheating and not being able to do anything about it. But I stayed in my race. In the last half mile of the bike, I caught up to the girl ahead of me and repassed her right as we went into transition.
Since I got in right ahead of the other girl, I wanted to get in and out of transition as fast as possible.
I’m usually pretty confident going into the run, when I start chicking people left and right. But the bike took a much bigger toll on me than I realized. I have never gone that fast before and the constant headwinds on the back half of the ride caught up to my legs. For the first two miles things were good, I figured by mile 3 I would settle in. But the first two miles were the best and the rest was a battle. My stomach was unsettled and there was a head wind coming directly at me and all the other runners off the Lake. To make things more interesting, there is the biggest hill ever which is actually an on ramp for the freeway that you have to go over at mile 2. By now it was in the 80’s, humid and the sun was beating down directly on us with no shade. I made the decision to grab and pour as much water/ice/sponges/anything I could get my hands on on myself to keep my body temperature down. It may have slowed me down :10-:20 at each aid station but it was worth it in the long run.
Another gem that sprang up during this race was that I decided not to wear socks. Well that was a terrible decision on this day as my shoes filled with water and the side of my left foot began to rub raw on mile 4. There was nothing I could do but keep going. People looking fresh off relays came flying by me as the rest of us who had been out there the whole day trudged on. There was even a nice looking man with a one foot high mohawk and booty shorts.
At the turn around, I was still in 3rd place amateur female by my calculations. However, because of the time trial start, there was no way of actually knowing where you were in relation to people in front or behind you. This meant that someone starting 30 minutes behind me could still be having the race of their life and beat me overall without me knowing. The wind was now at our backs and the sun was baking us to a crisp. I remembered another thing that my coach said that if you make it to the last 5 miles of a race without blowing up, then you won’t. The last 5 miles of the race were the worst. No matter what I did, I could not speed up anymore than I was already going for the life of me. I told myself I would descend the last 3 miles no matter what. Nope. That wasn’t going to happen. Then I said ok, the last mile back over the big overpass hill is literally all down hill and I have to go faster. The girl who I had passed at the end of the bike repassed me right as we were at the last aid station. I ran through it without stopping and repassed her yet again. But she almost immediately passed me once more. I made out the number on her leg and it was either a 24 or a 29, I couldn’t tell. There goes top 3, I thought to myself. I kept going on in excruciating pain for the last mile. Another girl came up behind me and said “get it girl”. I couldn’t even form words to say to her, I was so hot and angry that two girls were passing me in the last mile. Then she says to me “I’m not in your age group”. *Huge sigh of relief. As she passed me, I gave her a pat on the back and pushed her on. She helped me get across that last half mile and I passed the finish line right behind her, finishing pics ruined an all. Thank you random girl for helping me finish strong!
It turned out the girl ahead of me was in the 20-24 age group. Also, a girl who had been behind me the whole race and was nine minutes behind when we got off the bike surged and almost caught me on the run. Luckily, I was able to stay consistent in my run even though it was not as fast as I had hoped. I won by barely 2 minutes. But it was a win and I took the one and only spot in my age group to World Champs in Austria. Going to the land of the Sound of Music on August 30th!!! This was such an incredible experience for me. I am beyond grateful to my coach, Craig Paiement, for believing in me that I could do this. If it were not for him, I would not be the triathlete I am now. It finally feels like I am becoming the triathlete I have the potential to be under his watch. So excited to see how the rest of the summer goes and what we can accomplish together. Also, congrats to Brad, my training partner in crime for PRing by almost an hour and going 4:53, Zach for going under 5 hours in his first half Ironman ever with a fast 4:55, and Zach’s dad for being great company on this trip. It was a blast!
Well, it’s only a couple more weeks now until Challenge Knoxville. Going to see if I can get my pro card and finish in the top 3 amateur women overall. Happy training to everyone and stay posted for more!