Heading down to Florida for the Ironman 70.3 I was pretty excited. I was fresh off a successful race in St. George, well rested, and ready to go. The pro start list was much more competitive than I had imagined, with triathlon superstars like Mary Beth Ellis, Jo Lawn, Sarah Piampiano, and other well known Pros in attendance. However, rather than scare me, this got me a bit excited - I would get a good group to swim with, which would set me up nicely going into bike. Before I saw the start list, my goal was to podium, but after realizing that wasn't as realistic I just decided that my goal would be to stay with the girls on the bike for as long as possible. Since a goal should be quantifiable, I decided on 45km. If I could stay with the girls for that long on the bike then the race was successful. Start small, right?
I arrived in the sunshine state mid-day on Thursday. Ironman was amazing and had rented a house for some of the Pros for the race. I was the first of my house mates to arrive. The house was perfect: in a VERY quiet neighbourhood, with a big kitchen, eating area, living room and pool. I got a quick run in and unpacked my bike before the others arrived. Callum and his girlfriend, Danielle, were next too arrive. Callum was a male Pro from New Zealand. Later, and after I was asleep, Sam Betten from Australia got in. Jose, from France, arrived on Friday.
The big house
Patio by the pool
Me in the pool :)
Being in the same house with other pros, who were far less uptight than me, made the whole pre-race routine a lot less stressful. Each of them had been competing for almost a decade and were completely laid back. Their sarcasm and sense of humour was a nice break from the normal seriousness of the days that lead up to most of my races. I still made sure to eat the right foods (not sure that Callum's pre-race diet of Hershey's chocolate and coke would have worked as well for me - although it was tempting), get enough sleep and make sure I was organized, but I found I was much more relaxed than normal before a race - I owe that to my room mates. The best moment leading up to the race was seeing Rikki walk through the front door on Saturday, completely unexpected. Since I met him in 2006 he has never surprised me to that extent!
The beach and site of the swim start
Driving the bike course
Pre-race Pasta Dinner
Race day started off like any other race. The race in St George allowed me to dust away all the cobwebs that had accumulated during the off-season. I was quite at ease before the race start. I did double-back to my bike before transition closed to make sure my neighbours didn't rack their bikes on top of mine, like in St George!
Heading to transition, race morning
The swim took place in Lake Eva (water temp 82C, non-wetsuit). I love non-wetsuit swims, not just because I am a strong swimmer, but because it makes the weak swimmers weaker and they don't catch me as quickly on the bike. Plus, I love my BlueSeventy swim skin...pretty sure it has invisible buoyancy built into it! At 6:35am, the Pro women were off. I positioned myself near Nina Kraft, who was also a strong swimmer who I knew I could stay with. She was fast off the start though and a pack came between me and her. That was fine though, as it still gave me some feet to follow. Unlike in St. George, where I was leading the pack and not saving an ounce of energy, I was able to save some energy drafting off a large pack of about 6 girls. As we rounded the last buoy I gave a big kick and caught up to Nina Kraft. I stayed there until the end of the swim and exited the water in 5th position. I swam a 26:07 and crossed the first timing mat at 26:15, which is a very good time for me. I stayed on Nina's heels as we ran through a long transition to our bikes. I couldn't afford any rookie mistakes this time with the large group of girls just seconds behind me. I stripped my swimskin off, had my KASK helmet on and had mounted my P3 with no errors and still in 5th position. Small success!
The bike was pretty technical to start, with 5 turns in the first few kms, but I practiced this part of the course in the days leading up to the race, and was confident about the turns (and having new brakes, was an added confidence booster). I am happy to report that I did not get passed on the turns! A huge accomplishment for me! I will take a few moments to share some valuable advice about taking corners (most from my coach and some added tips from myself): approach the turn wide and take a straight line through the turn, coming out wide on the other side. Lean into the turn and keep your outer leg straight and the inner leg bent (knee up), with all the weight on your outer leg pressing into the pedal. It is OK to brake as you approach the turn, but not during the turn. And you can use the little bit of rest in your legs to really push hard for a few seconds coming out of the turn and regain momentum. If there is someone following you who is a bit weaker on the turns, then you might be able to drop them. At the very least, having good cornering technique will prevent you from getting dropped. Plus, good corners don't take any extra energy, so it's a good technique to master. Anyway, back to the race details! I managed 5km into the bike and was still with a big pack of about 5 girls. We were working as a group (closely followed by the race official) and taking turns at the front and dropping back, out of the draft zone, when we were passed. Last year, I would have been able to stay with the group for about 10km (if at all), before I was dropped. Staying with the group required 30s to 1 min of intermittent surges of power (to pass), then a steady hard effort to pull the group, and then a bit of a rest when passed and a base effort to keep up once outside of the draft zone. Last season, I just didn't have a high enough power at base effort to stay with the group once I was passed. Our group grew to 7 women, as we caught the 3rd girl out of the water, Dede Griesbauer, and Jo Lawn caught up to us. Unfortunately, Dede was stung by a bee and had to drop out of the race. My best wishes go to her for a speedy recovery. I was able to stay with the group for 30, 45, 60km. I definitely was doing my share of the time at the front and I was a little bit worried what that would mean for my legs at the start of the run. The last 30km was especially tough. The "zip" in the legs was gone and I barely had enough to surge and pass when it was my turn. I focused on digging deep and searched for motivation during that final third of the ride. I thought of things like "I've come this far", I sung motivational songs in my head and I thought of all the people who offered well wishes for the race - I wanted to race hard as a thank-you for their support. I guess I did a good job of finding some of that inner motivation, because somehow my legs took me back into T2 in 6th position (2:22:36), just seconds out of 3rd place. I had a really good T2 and actually started the run as 3rd female, with an awesome volunteer on her bike leading me along the run course.
The run was HOT and a lot harder than I expected. My legs were heavy and I was worried. I made it 1km, before Mandy McLane had caught up to me and passed me. Her passing me coincided with the start of the 2 big hills on the course (which I would have to complete 3 times on this looped routed). This was a double dose of discouragement. I had no idea how I would survive the run at this point. I was just settling on being satisfied with whatever the outcome of the race was, because I had achieved my goal on the bike, when, somehow I started to feel good again. At this point, I took a chance and dared to look at my pace on my running watch. To my surprise, I was actually running at a sub 4'10/km pace, which was right on target. Not so bad, I thought! I figured so long as I focused on my nutrition (Berry eLoad Gels, water & salt tablets in a little gel flask) and stayed cool with water from aid stations I might be OK. Near mile 3 though, Jo Lawn caught me. We ran together for the next few miles. This was the most fun of the run. Yes, at one aid station Jo took ALL the nutrition and I got no water ( I did the same to her at the next aid station), but I was later told "this is part of the game". Anyway, It felt good to really run with someone in a race. I even pretended to be Leanda Cave and that Jo Lawn was Mirinda Carfrae in Kona last year! :) Unfortunately, Jo managed to drop me about halfway through the second loop (need some work on being a Leanda). This was when the heat of the day really started to get to me. At each aid station I dumped water on my head, poured ice down my tritop and took in as much water as I could. I barely made it from one aid station to the next without feeling woozy. Just before the start of the last loop I managed to pass another girl on the run and this was exactly what I needed. A little achievement to lift my spirits, which got me onto the last loop and up and over the last 2 big hills of the race. But, in the last few miles, everything was a struggle. I FINALLY understand it when I read stories from Chrissie Wellington or other champions about how they had to dig deep within themselves to continue to push through the pain that would make the average athlete just give up. All my muscles were screaming at me to walk or to take a detour to the lake and just dive in to cool off. Before this race I was never able to fight what my muscles were telling me to do. If I felt bad I would do poorly - I wasn't able to fight it. But I REALLY didn't want that happen today. So I dove deep into my emotions and I used the last loop of the run as an outlet for all my frustrations in life, my fears and my stresses. This passion was just the fuel that I needed, since my muscles would provide no more. Yes, my pace slowed, but I still was able to cross the line with a run split of 1:29:33 and in 4th position (4:22:35). A new PB and way over and above my goals or expectations!
Starting the 3rd loop of the run (showing off my nutrition!)
Running to the finish, so happy I made it!
This was the hardest, but most successful race of my career. Not only because of my placing, but because I was finally able to, as my coach puts it, "push to a point of pain and suffering that the average athlete can't even imagine". This, he says, is what differentiates the Pro from the age group athlete. I have been able to do this a number of times in training, but never for as long a time as during the race.
Showing off the hardware on the podium (Left to Right: Lisa Ribes, Me, Jo Lawn, Mandy McLane, Mary Beth Ellis)
Thank you so much to all of my sponsors and supporters, who continue to be a crucial part of my success! This includes my coach, family and friends, Turner-Tomenson Wealth Management, Raymond James, WattsUp (the support from all the athletes is so awesome, thanks for all the messages of support!), Enduro Sport (awesome job installing my new brakes!), eLoad Sports Nutrition (wouldn't have survived the heat without them!), Urban Athlete, Diego Ricetto (amazing pre-race massage!), KASK helmets, Fitt1st/Outwet High Technology Clothing, Blue Seventy, Ironman staff (especially Heather Fuhr) and the race officials and directors and the volunteers (you had so much work to do on Sunday). Lastly, thank you to the girls that worked with me on the bike! You are all amazing athletes.
Housemate, Sam, post race
The 4 survivors of a TOUGH race! (Left to Right: Jose, Callum, me, Sam)