Saturday, September 10, 2016

2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championship Race Report

Five o’clock AM.  Race morning was finally here.  I had wondered many times over the past 10 months how I’d feel at this moment.  I woke up an hour before my alarm went off and lay in the warm bed those last few moments as if it was the calm before the storm.  Not that I needed to, but one more time I played out every segment of the race in my mind, mentally practicing my plan and visualizing strength, confidence and determination.  I didn’t come here for an experience, or to enjoy the ride.  I didn’t come here to complete the event or to be a number down the list of finishers.  If anything is worth dreaming about, it’s worth dreaming BIG about so I came here hoping to have the race of my life against the best in the world.  Having had no previous world championship experience, I was left with a lot of unknowns, including the unknown of what my competition was capable of.  The only thing I could really control or know was what I was capable of.  The thing is … that was really an unknown too.
With all that had been raging through my minds in the weeks leading up, along with my high expectations, one would think that race morning would be a near melt-down experience.  Quite to the contrary and much to my relief, instead it was a wash of peace, quiet, calm, contemplation and I arose to begin my pre-race morning routine.  It took only 20 minutes to get all ready and I did my best to stuff down my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I wasn’t hungry, at least not for food but today my impulse to eat was not to be dictated by hunger.
With only my “morning bag” clothing, bike nutrition and swim equipment in tow, we walked the few short blocks to the transition area.  My bike and bike/run gear bags had been checked in the day before and my only transition area tasks this morning were to place my hydration and nutrition bottles onto my bike and pump the tires.  This went smoothly and I was thankfully able to borrow a bike pump to save me the added stress of lining up for the bike tech folks to pump them up. I was in and out of the area in just a few minutes and
Sunrise Race Morning
rejoined John on the beach to watch the sunrise.  It was now 5:45 AM and my wave, second to last of the day, didn’t go off until 8:10 AM.  In all the calmness that surrounded me, I watched day break over a calm ocean.  Yesterday the ocean was anything but calm.  The northerly winds drove the surf, causing chop and swells.  The days leading up were stormy and unpredictable.  But today was calm. It was in fact the pattern of the last 10 months, stormy, choppy, unpredictable, but now pristine and ready.  Now, before the storm was to begin, I had time to reflect on everything and everyone that went into this moment.

Ten months earlier I earned a slot to this World Championship via my participation in the IM 70.3 Arizona.  I entered that race injured and had quite a difficult time completing the run.  But the effort was enough to earn the slot and I looked at John with “puppy-dog eyes” – Please?  If I earn it can we do it?  Can we go to Australia?  “Puppy-dog eyes” were not necessary.  As is always the case, John is 100% in favor of any challenge I bring to him. 

Once I accepted the slot and entered the race, my next need was to find help to get me ready.  I knew a little bit but I needed someone who knew a lot and was willing to invest the time, and as it turned out, also willing to deal with the headache I’d give him.  Fred Maggiore answered the call.  He spent a lot of timing laying out the plan, doing his best to explain it to me and preclude any rough spots by letting me know I won’t always agree or like the plan.  I had only ever approached training as a runner and there was going to be some sacrificing of my strength in order to strengthen my weaknesses. 

Over the next 10 months, I began by recovering fully from my injury and working on a nice solid base.  In January the triathlon specific training began.  I would like to say that it was all bliss and I loved every minute of it.  But of course that is not the case.  I struggled immediately with the decrease in volume of running and felt that anything I did other than running was just not giving me the strength I needed.  Fred patiently reminded me there is a big picture here that he has in mind and I may not see it or understand it.  Trust, he told me, trust.  I allowed the weeks of training to settle in still thinking I needed more, could handle more, wanted more but all the while my body was slowly transforming never the less.  Change is subtle and often undetectable until hind’s sight steps in.  Eventually my big workouts got bigger and my moderate workouts got more focused.  I finally began to get the volume I thought I needed but it was all in good time. Had Fred put too much on me too early I would have ended up injured or worse.  He knew what I needed and when to apply it. I completed basically two full four month training cycles.  One that lead up to my preparatory “B” race, IM 70.3 St. George, and the next one leading up to TODAY.

I asked, and Fred agreed, to keep the big brick workouts run heavy as I knew that was when the suffering often takes place.  I wanted the fitness but even more, I wanted the mental toughness.  By the time we neared the taper, my big bricks included at least 12 mile runs off the bike at sub-7 minute pace.  Every one of them (except one) went exactly to plan and provided me fitness, confidence and a chance to test out my nutritional needs.  By taper time I was so done with the heavy training load.  I was in a perpetual fatigued state (meaning never fully rested going into workouts but not meaning over-trained) and I knew the taper would now be the key.

During the three weeks of taper, my energy increased and with that came way too much time to think and to get nervous.  I can’t imagine I was very fun to live with over the last month but John remained so patient.  I was constantly thinking and was distracted from daily life and my emotions were unstable.  It was during this time that the final pieces were worked on.  I read through the Athlete’s guide and met with Fred to strategize about the transitions (which were not like any I’d experienced before). I made my final plan for nutrition which consisted of a front load aero-bottle of electrolyte infused water with another spare on board and one bottle containing 4 scoops of UCAN which made a thick liquid but contained the energy sustaining carbs I needed all in one bottle.  I would also eat two bananas, starting with a half a banana with me and the rest to be grabbed at aid stations.  I also would carry a gel flask with more UCAN during the run and one gel to use if I ended up really needing it in the end.  I also knew when I was going to take all of this in.

So as I sat on the beach race morning, now waiting for the Pro’s and other waves to begin, I knew I was ready.  I had nothing to think about any more.  It had all been thought through, at least everything that could be predicted.  I was soon to be reminded that you can plan for everything except what you don’t know will happen.  You can scope every detail out but no one really knows how it will go on the day.

I watched the nervous waves of athletes go off one by one.  There were over 3,000 competing.  As my wave neared I began some preparations.  I gently jogged on the beach and felt the wind was already picking up.  I got into my wetsuit, cap and goggles and did a light swim.  The water was warm and felt good but had already begun to get a bit more agitated.  I couldn’t really afford to spend any time worrying about how going off in a late wave typically meant harsher conditions out on the course.  Winds pick up, temperatures get more extreme.  Before my thoughts went there I reminded myself all the women in my age group would face the same challenges.

Race time.  I said goodbye to John and entered the staging box then soon we were released to swim out to the deep water starting line.  My mind thought of nothing but the swim.  Mark Allen was our official race starter and he sounded the horn and off we went.  There were 122 women in my age group and wave and as we began to swim in a tight mass I was already awakened to the fact that many of these women were unfriendly foes in the water.  I had women pawing and grabbing my feet just meters into the swim. We were all packed close together and I wondered where they thought they were going by trying to swim over me.  It felt like forever before we finally began to thin out and I popped my head up to see how far ahead the leading green caps were.  There grew a gap between me and that first pack and before long I got the sense that I must be in last place.  Somehow the ocean can feel so lonely and you can’t really tell where everyone else is. I knew I’d be way down the line in the swim but I sure hoped I was faster than some.  Then came the wave that started behind us, the 18-29 year old women, who clearly had some amazing swimmers.  They made up the 5 minute wave difference by the time I was half way through my swim.  The aggression of these women was worse than those in my wave.  They didn’t bother to swim around you, they swam over you.  I was grabbed, kicked, elbowed repeatedly and frustration dug in. I felt this was unsportsman-like and that I had an equal right to a fair swim and wasn’t getting it.  That’s when I stopped and threw a stiff elbow into the ribs of the woman who just elbowed me in the face.  From there I just dealt with it.  The swim otherwise was good though I still had the sense that I was one of the last in my wave.  I never really have a sense of how the swim went until I look at the final results.  I had to just move on to the next thing in my mind as the swim was now done and nothing could be done to better
Swim Exit
the result except pass them on the bike and run. I exited the water actually having caught some women in the wave ahead of me and some two waves ahead of me.  Note:  I did NOT run them over when I passed them.  That means I swam 5-10 minutes faster than them.  This made me feel a little better.  I later would learn that I was 43rd in my age group out of the water so I swam faster than more than half of the women my age at the World level.

My next focus, now that the swim was done, was T1 and actually pre-T1 because I first spent some time passing women on the run up to transition.  I peeled off the upper portion of my wetsuit once up out of the sand and up the stairs and began the long run to and through transition.  It is not an exaggeration when I tell you that T1 was over a half mile of running. I entered, grabbed my bag which was easy to find because most everyone else (the 17 previous waves) was already out on the bike.  With my bike bag I ran to the clearing and removed my helmet, glasses, bike shoes/socks and then proceeded to get the wetsuit off my legs and feet. This went ok for my right leg but my left leg, on which was my timing chip, was stubborn and as I struggled, my bike bag began to blow away.  Yes, the wind was picking up.  I had to have my bag so I grabbed it and finally sat down to complete my exchange of clothing and gear.  I then stuffed the wetsuit, cap and goggles into the small bag and was up and running toward my bike which was a long way up the transition.  Finally I arrived at my bike and grabbed it.  One small mistake occurred as the impact of my bike hitting the ground dislodged my banana but I quickly scooped it up and stuffed it in my shorts pocket and was on my way to the distant bike exit that included a steep hill climb just to get out.  Thankfully they had carpet on the pavement as I was running all of this in bike shoes that contain no traction for running and certainly none for climbing.  Finally ….. finally I got to the mount line. 

My focus now was to the bike.  Many, including me, were fairly certain the bike course was going to be fast.  I believe this delusion was based on the fact that the normal 70.3 course that is done here in Mooloolaba is fast.  However they changed the course for the championships, which I was aware of, and that created a bit of an unknown, though I still thought it would be fast.  And then there is the factor of wind.  The course started out with some steep rolling hills until we entered the Sunshine Coast Motorway (a highway). The motorway was straight and generally flat and going out ended up being nice and fast as we were riding with a tailwind.  I spent time passing women and a few men over this section and was of course also passed by some women.  I took time to eat my half of banana which proved to be very difficult.  I was force-feeding myself and my stomach was not happy.  I gagged a few times but finally finished it.  I regularly drank my fluids and every 15 minutes or so I'd take two large gulps of UCAN.  I noted everyone seemed very tuned into the rules and I did not see any intentional drafting nor large packs of drafters so I was grateful but I heard from others that this violation was occurring and not many penalties were being dealt.  After a while I noted that on the flat sections some super stud women powered by me but low and behold when we got to a slight incline (overpass) I passed them right back.  This gave me a clue that they weren’t necessarily climbers and the second half of this course was hilly.  When I got to the first turn around point this was when my first reality check hit.  Up to that point I was averaging about 22 mph but once I turned I discovered why. Now I had to travel 17 or so miles back into a stiff headwind and my average began to drop.  I kept a constant eye on my power output and my speed and was dismayed to discover that I was riding at my FTP much of the time but dropping below 20 mph. I knew I couldn’t grind away into the wind without potentially losing more for it so I metered my effort based on power.  It was tough but I kept in mind it was tough for everyone.  I realized too that I remained somewhat close to the same women.  Sometimes they would pass me and eventually I would pass them.  It was really because you just couldn’t push hard for too long and our paces were becoming more along the lines of interval work, which wasn’t
necessarily a bad thing.  Eventually this long stretch ended and we exited the motorway to head to the two loops through the hilly hinterland. The looped area had rougher roads, sketchy really, with potholes, cracks and otherwise bumpy conditions.  It was also very hilly, more so than I thought it would be.  I kept up my power even though my average was dropping into the 19 mph range.  This was not what I hoped for the bike and I just hoped everyone else was feeling the pain and stress of this effort as much as I was.  On the first loop of the hinterland section, we had our featured steep hill. This hill was the only “challenge” mentioned and it was stated to be a short steep hill.  Not much more was noted.  For instance, they didn’t mention it was an 18-20% grade. We had driven this section of the course the day before and when we got to this hill in our car, John just started laughing.  I almost passed out (which is not good when you’re the driver of the car).  Our car had trouble getting up it.  So everyone who knew about this hill began talking about it prior to the race, some deciding to just not risk it and would walk their bikes up.  I did not plan to walk my bike up this hill.  So when I got to it, I already had my gears properly situated to the easiest position and tried to carry as much momentum into it as I could. It was unreal as there were about three of us powering up it while dozens were walking their bikes. The first part was the steepest and it was a relief to get up that but then came the second section that was almost as steep and that one hurt.  I was moving so slow that my Garmin paused as it registered me as having stopped. I didn’t stop though and got to the top and immediately thought “I’m glad we only have to do that one once.”  On it went over constant hills.  And I realized that the “power on the flat” women I had been around before were now in my wake and I was approaching and passing a new set of women and men. I completed lap one and finally lap two.  It should be noted that around 45 athletes were disqualified because they failed to do the second lap.  I wonder what they were thinking when they got back to transition and looked at their time.  What a bummer but it is the responsibility of the athlete to know the course.  Having completed the two laps I was now getting ready to ride back 16 miles to the transition and hoping to pull back some time and pace.  I had one more aid station coming up and I needed my final banana.  When riding through the aid stations you need to yell to them what you need and someone up ahead will hold it out for you.  In Australia everything happens to the left instead of the right (driving, walking on the side-walk, cycling). So too the aid stations were on the left and this was something I knew ahead of time and thought I’d be able to handle. Never mind the fact that I normally don’t ever let go of my bike with my left hand as that hand is my stability on the bike.  Everything I do is done with my right hand, including shifting.  So this was an adjustment and I had been successful at the previous 2 aid stations.  I slowed as I approached and called out “Banana” and saw a woman up ahead hold one out.  She actually had a handful of several things, one of which was a banana and this was a mistake.  It is hard enough to grab anything, harder to do so left handed, and even harder if you have to pick out the banana while it’s surrounded by gels and bars in the person’s hand.  This time I missed the banana and I noticed another hand went out right away.  I can’t say what happened exactly but it was at that point that I let go with my left hand to grab, having just tried to grab the last and I am pretty sure I just hadn’t had time to stabilize myself in between left handed grabs.  I veered to the left and found myself headed right at a volunteer.  She darted one way to get out of my way but unfortunately that was also the same way I turned to miss her.  I slammed right into her, felt my back wheel lift up as I made an abrupt stop, she went down, I ended up sliding on my right side.  I quickly got dis-entagled with my bike (I don’t really know how my shoes got unclipped) and stood up.  My only two thoughts at that point were to see if the volunteer escaped injury, which thankfully she had, and next, I need to get rolling again.  I did a quick body check.  Nothing broken, no major pain, my head did not seem to hit and I noted only a few abrasions.  I did a quick check of my bike and discovered my front loading water bottle came off and this also had my bike computer.  A nice volunteered fumbled with it to try and get it attached while another ran for some tape so we could at least tape it on.  I however made a quick decision and grabbed my computer off of the bottle and put it on my other mount on my bike and asked them to turn my bottle in to lost and found (somehow it never made it to Lost and Found so I'm hoping at least the volunteer kept it as a momento).  They gave me another bottle to carry in replacement.  Next, my chain was off and stuck between the frame.  I finally got it dislodged, my hands full of grease, and I wiped them on my nice clean black shorts (I reminded myself NOT to touch my face with my greasy hands).  Another quick bike check.  One more check to make sure the volunteer really was ok and a HUGE thank you to all of them and I was rolling again.  I quickly found out my bike wasn’t ok as it was making odd noises and clicking and wasn’t correctly in gear.  I soon found out on the next hill that if I put it in the small ring to climb it will not hold a gear at all.  That’s not good because the hills weren’t done yet but I knew I’d have to do the rest of them in the big ring no matter what.  This whole experience just sort of happened and it played out and somehow there was no panic.  I just went with it and didn’t even lose heart over the lost minutes.  All I was thinking about was to get done with the bike and onto the run. I was so thankful to be able to finish and I salivated over the run.  My pace heading back was definitely inferior and produced more lost time but yet I was making forward motion.  I lost 3 more places and was now in 46th.

Finally T2.  The bike dismount can sometimes be hairy, but this one went smoothly.  But there is only one narrow lane through transition and no way to get by someone if they are blocking you and wouldn’t you know it, I’m dying to get to my run shoes and I’ve got a slow-poke in front of me.  And as a reminder, the transition area was very long.  I couldn’t stand it any longer and I yelled at her to please let me pass. I don’t know if she let me but I did pass her and darted to my bike rack, threw the bike up onto it and sprinted to my run bag.  My T2 was much better and faster than the average.  Helmet off, run shoes on, race belt slipped on, Garmin activated and nutrition in my hand as I ran to drop off my bag and exit. From here on out I was hunting and looking to grab back as much time as I could. 

The run.  Immediately out of transition comes the hill which you will hit a total of 4 times over the course of the run.  It is a two lap course so you run up and down the hill twice (that means 4 times up, 4 times down).  I was extremely prepared to run off the bike and my running legs were already there for me when I hit the hill.  Up and over and onto the flat.  I had my Garmin strapped on and during transition had gotten it connected to the satellite so I knew my pace and mile times from the start.  I felt great and was clipping along at 6:45 pace for the first three miles but I also knew that it was unlikely I’d feel this good soon.  I actually wanted the Garmin so I could dial back early on and I tried to dial back.  It was about this time that I realized that at the last bike aid station I never did get my last banana.  That solid food was a must for me and so I needed to figure out plan B.  I read recently that if your mood begins to change during competition (as in if you become moody and grumpy) you need nutrition.  I felt light and happy up to mile three and then I felt grumpy.  I took the gel I had in my pocket.  I was now headed back toward the transition on the second half of loop 1 and I saw my pace begin to slow to around 7:00 minute pace. That was ok because I was otherwise ahead of pace but then I also found that I wasn’t getting water into my body at aid stations unless I walked a few steps to drink it.  So I had to walk through for some water and at that point felt like I needed to keep the sugar input coming so I also drank several gulps of cola.  That was yummy. I was feeling ok by the time I hit the hill again but it was a bit harder this time, no doubt. I rounded the turn-around and headed back up the hill for the third time, definitely not feeling cheery anymore.  Then on lap two, although my pace stayed robust
and I truly still felt quite good, I had some GI issues which required porta-potty stops. Three in total when it was all said and done.  I despise my colon.  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have an issue with this today so when I did it was truly dis-heartening.  But I did the stops and just kept running hard.  I was finally heading back to the final time up the hill and into the finishing area.  I completed the run with more in the cardio vascular tank but my energy system was depleted.  It is an odd feeling to be so tired yet still feel so good.  I passed a total of 23 women in my age group on the run.  I think I did all I could do. I finished 23rd out of 122 in my age group, the 6th American.

So it was completed.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I wasn’t elated.  I didn’t finish with a smile but I was very glad to finish.  I think I felt at the end the same way I felt at the beginning.  Calm, peaceful, quiet, contemplative.  I walked through the recovery chute as they handed me a medal, a towel, a t-shirt and hat.  I was happy but occasionally something would lurch in my psyche.  Maybe just a bit of disappointment but it wasn’t justified.  It was my own stubborn competitive nature picking on me.  I have since squelched it and told it to “shove off mate.”  It was a good day.

That night as I tried to go to sleep I told John, “well I think I’m pretty well cured of my desire to do these long races.  I don’t want to do anymore 70.3’s.”  When I woke up the next morning I was planning my next 70.3.  I’m in search of something I guess.  The thing about triathlon that captures me the most is that there is always more to work on.  Especially for me. I’m convinced I’m more than just a runner so I am going to be searching for that perfect race.  And yes I realize it may never come.  And if it does come I may not recognize it.

It was a beautiful blessing also to have shared this experience with other Santa Barbara athletes: Brittany Braden, Zack Paris, Elke Peirtsegaele, Sandy Roberts, George Esahak-Gage, along with loved ones that came to support each of us. I saw Sandy and Elke a few times during the race and it was comforting.  It was a huge blessing to hear John and Cindy (Braden) cheering for me on the run.  Australia was wonderful.  The people are so friendly and informative.  I discovered they don’t really have cream for their espresso. They use milk and were so thrown by my request for cream. We eventually bought our own “sort of” cream and I carried it in my purse when heading for espresso.  But they have a ton of espresso and it was good.  We learned quickly to walk on the left side of the sidewalk.

This was a beautiful journey from day one and I have so many people to thank.  I want to thank those who coached and guided me starting with my husband John. Thank you John for encouraging me, believing in me, guiding me and tolerating me! And I’d like to thank Fred Maggiore for the huge amount of time he applied creating the workout plan and often training with me, and also for his willingness to talk through any question or concern I had.  And I’d like to thank Nash Jimenez who has been a long time running partner to John and I and mentor.  And then to those who trained with me either on the swim, bike or run.  There are so many.  John, Desa, Jen, Lynelle, Tabitha, and Nash on the run.  On the bike: Fred, Doug, Poul, Jim, Chris, Joe, Greg, James, Victor, Dave(s), Mike.  In the swim, lane-mates Joe, Renaud, Sam, Amy, Chrystal, Christie, Laurence, Bob, along with the “encouragers” in the next lane.  And I’d like to thank the very, very many who simply encouraged me, cared and showed it: My sons Ryan and Jordan, Michael Acton, Amy Williams, Heather Royer, Liz Boscacci, Mike, Jennifer, Jacob and Joe Mansbach, many of my co-workers.  Thank you also to De Soto Sports for allowing me to be an ambassador of their amazing triathlon clothing.  Thank you all for making this special experience mean so much more.  It’s no fun doing something epic without many with whom to share it.