Monday, September 9, 2013

Ironman 70.3 World Championships Race Report

It was the night of July 22nd when I received an unexpected e-mail from Ironman, officially inviting me to compete at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas. After missing a lot of the qualifying races due to a bike crash and then a broken arm, I had close to ruled out the possibility that I would qualify for Worlds in 2013. Luckily, my strong racing at the end of 2012 and in Florida in May, earned me enough points to nab a roll-down spot to compete this year. I was just ecstatic! This was my only goal for the year and I had achieved it! I called up my coach to tell him and we both came close to tears of happiness at such awesome news. All the hard work was paying off.

We set about to start planning my training for the race. I raced Steelhead 70.3 in early August, my first 70.3 event since May, and proved that my fitness was still there. We planned for me to do once last prep race before Worlds in the middle of August (Timberman 70.3). When I lined up at the swim start for Timberman, I knew I was in my best shape ever, excited from my recent result at Steelhead and from my recent results in training, and ready to prove it. But disaster struck at 50km into the bike, while I was battling for third with super fast athletes, Amber Ferriera and Mandy McLane. I ended up with a flat tire, which ended my race and, subsequently, ruined a golden training opportunity before Worlds.

The next three weeks was all about me putting the Timberman race behind me, regaining my focus and zeroing in on specific training for Vegas. This included hours and hours in the hot box at WattsUp (which would get up to 110F and nearly caused me to pass out once!), race pace and long runs and a short sprint triathlon to ensure I stayed sharp in competition. The highlight of these three weeks was definitely competing in the Multisport Series Toronto Island Sprint. It was an amazing event, right in my hometown of Toronto, with great organizers, volunteers and fellow competitors. Just what I needed to lift my spirits and keep my confidence up going into Worlds.

I arrived in Vegas one week before the event. I was very lucky that I had a homestay that would accommodate me for that long. In that week's time I got to know some of the triathletes in the area who were also volunteers at the race. Everyone I met made Vegas feel like home. Holly (my homestay host) and her son, Guy, let me take over their kitchen with my food and her living room with my bike box, and her closet with all my training gear. All without complaining once! :) I swam with Bob, Deb and Rob at a the Henderson Multi-generation outdoor pool (a gorgeous facility!). Bob is an Ironman athlete, the run support and homestay co-ordinator for Worlds and one of the most friendly people I have ever met. Bob not only made me feel like family, but also set me up with a chiropractor (Victor at Boom Fitness) to get rid of some pre-race tightness I was feeling, He also helped me find my keys which I accidentally left at Starbucks! I also met the co-ordinator of the race, Frank Lowery, and realized just how much planning, organization and time goes into ensuring that it runs smoothly. This also gave me time to acclimatize the the Vegas heat, which, to my surprise didn't seem all that bad. I guess suffering in the hot box at WattsUp paid off!

On the Friday before the race, my coach and my parents arrived. My parents have been the biggest of my supporters this year and have gone out of their way 110% of the time to ensure that they are doing everything they can to help me in my triathlon career. It was very exciting to get to share my experience at Worlds with them. And having so much support there meant so so much. It is the triathlete that competes, but the coach is just as much of an essential part of the race as the athlete is. The coach is crucial in developing the training plan that enables the athlete to reach their potential. Not only that, but the coach knows, better than anyone, the type of hurting and suffering that the athlete endures and overcomes during training and racing and otherwise. It gives the coach the ability to be able to offer the support that the athlete needs, when their emotions and anxiety are at their highest, like on race day. So having a coach there was important for two reasons: so I could share my results with him and because there is no one who would have been able to better support me at the start line.

The Saturday before the race it was the usual pre-race routine. I planned to do the open water swim offered in Lake Las Vegas in the morning, but I was scatter brained as usual, and didn't realize I had to wear my timing chip during this practice swim. I had left my chip at my homestay, which was 30 minutes from the swim site! So, as usual, my coach kept me calm and told me to do my pre-race prep brick workout and I could swim in the lap pool later. This is exactly what I did. The brick went well and I was feeling strong. Then we headed to the outdoor pool and I swam an easy 2000yds with some sprints. Then it was time for some breakfast and to get my bike race ready. Later on, it was the pre-race Pro meeting...a bit different than a usual pro meeting, because I was so star struck! Past Olympians and World Champions were everywhere I looked. It was hard to believe that I belonged in the same race as some of these athletes...but I was! The afternoon was all about relaxing. And relax I did. I saw Victor for some last minute A.R.T., watched the inspirational Silverman Ironman race video (thanks Bob), played in Holly's pool and soaked in her hot tub, took an awesome nap and then made a big pasta dinner. It was the perfect pre-race day.

Sunday morning I woke up bright and early at 4am. I had gotten a solid 8 hr sleep and felt good. I did some stretching and some activation exercises, changed into my race gear and had breakfast. At 4:45am, I opened the door to pack my bike into the car and got quite a shock when I realized it was pouring rain! I couldn't believe it was raining, in the desert! I anxiously checked the radar which showed the rain clearing shortly. This eased my nerves a bit. However, the rain did not seem to lighten up at all during the drive to transition, during set up and even while I was warming up it was still raining. This wouldn't change the race, it would only mean that it wouldn't be as hot so I could dial back my fluid intake a bit and ride a bit more cautiously.

At 6:30am the female pros were lined up at the start. I positioned myself in the same spot as I did in 2011, when I competed as an age grouper (to the left side), as I found that was the shortest line to the turn buoy. The difference today than in 2011 was that today I was lined up right beside Leanda Cave! Before I knew it it was 6:34 and the horn sounded and we were off. I had a great start and I was actually keeping up to Leanda's feet for a little bit. Then someone beside me literally swam almost over top of me and I struggled as it felt like she was veering me off course on purpose! I had to stop and go around her form behind to get on the inside. I sprinted for the next 200m to catch the group. The lead pack was way up ahead but I managed to catch the chase group and hung on to their feet as I eased up my pace and caught my breath. After the first turn buoy I was comfortable and about the 3rd person back in our group. We stayed like this for awhile, but as the finish line approached a few girls surged up ahead. I didn't respond as the swim felt like it was going on forever and I could feel my energy levels dropping a bit. I was actually getting hungry and I knew that this was not a good sign 20 minutes in to a 5hr race! I did stay with the chase group and exited the water in the middle of the pack and 13th female (28:32). The run to the bikes was long and muddy. It was still raining which also made it quite slippery. Given my track record of rolling my ankle I was especially cautious. I got passed by a couple of girls during the run, but I didn't worry. However, when I went to put on my helmet the strap was stuck inside and I lost time fumbling to get it unstuck. Lots of girls passed me and I exited transition in 20th position.

At the start of the bike I tried to stay positive. This was not easy as lots of things seemed to go wrong at this point. First, I could hear that my front wheel was rubbing against the brake pad, likely due to extra debri from the rain, so my focus was to open the brakes up while riding and still avoiding a crash! I managed it somehow. Second, my powertap, heart rate monitor and speed/cadence sensor were not being picked up by my bike computer. This may have not been such a big deal, but for someone like me, who trains with constant feedback from such devices, it makes it very difficult to race without this information. The first part of the course was technical, especially with the rain, so there was no time to fiddle with my garmin. Instead I focused on keeping with the lead group and not letting them get away from me on the first long 3km climb. I was still with them until the 180 degree turnaround, which I came to almost a complete stop for. I still struggle with the fact that I am a very timid rider. I look up to girls like Heather Jackson who are so comfortable riding and make it look like the bike is almost an extension of their body, rather than a bike. Anyway, after the tricky turn I finally focused on getting my bike computer working and breathed a sigh of relief as I saw the power data show up on the screen. And now that the technical part of the course was done, I was on auto-pilot, focused on keeping a certain heart rate and power. Although I had missed the pack that I wanted to be with, due to my poor bike handling skills and from fumbling around with my bike computer, I still was left with 3 girls to work with. We legally took turns at the front of our little group until the turn around, where I managed to pull ahead of them. Then I managed to catch up to Amber and we worked together for the rest of the course. She is so strong on the hills! The rain, while it probably caused me to lose a bit of time at the beginning of the ride, was actually quite pleasant in the late stages of the bike. I was definitely bordering on being cold during the ride and not hot, which allowed me to keep my power high. However, I knew that I would have been well prepared to handle the heat on the bike, so I am still torn on whether I am happy or upset that it was raining. Anyway, I got to T2 in good spirits and with a time I was happy with (2:43).

The run course in Vegas is tough. It's 3 loops of the course, which started out with about 1.5km downhill then about a 3.5km uphill, followed by another 2km downhill (repeated 3 times). I was off the bike with Amber and Uli Bromme, but I just couldn't find my running legs. I let the girls get ahead of me on the run from the very start. In the first km they had already gained about 30 seconds on me. I was fading. I went from being hopeful about running with those girls to just being hopeful that I could finish. So I took the race in stride...I counted out the loops. After the 1st loop I did start to feel a little bit better. I had found my stride and tried to push myself a bit on the second loop. But by the third loop I was done. Plus, the sun was out in full force and the heat and humidity were soaring. The final 1.5km of uphill running was more like a shuffle. Thank goodness for all the people cheering on the sidelines: my parents, coach, Lesley from Cervelo, Bob & Deb & Rob and all the volunteers. I struggled to the finish line, but I made it. I finished the run in 1:35:15, about 9 minutes faster than 2 years ago. My final time was 4:51:51, which was good enough for 23rd, 3rd canadian female and 4th female under 30 (the top 2 under 30 were in the Olympics last year). I was very happy.

After some reflection about the race, I did realize something was missing on Sunday. I was missing that little bit of "zip" that allows you to push yourself to that next level. I felt that zip in Florida, I felt that in Timberman (until the flat tire). Today, I didn't have it. In the swim I didn't respond near the end when the group pushed the pace. I didn't feel the urge to respond and ride with the group at the start of the bike (yes, I blamed the bike computer, but I still feel like I used that as an excuse) and I definitely didn't have it on the run. I feel like the run keeps you the most honest about your state going into the race. You can push the swim and the bike, but if you don't have that little bit of freshness or "zip" then it will show on the run the most. I don't blame the training for this. I was as well prepared, physically, as possible. But there are some things in life that you can't control. Such as that life stress that comes from things beyond triathlon. That life stress can result in lost sleep, it can be mentally draining, it can cause you to be anxious and sad. All of which takes its toll emotionally and, eventually, physiologically as well. I have felt that life stress recently. It's not easy being a pro athlete. It's not all sponsorships and endorphins and glory. There is a lot of worry, as well. But I guess it's all part of the training. Learning to compartmentalize those emotions, and not letting them effect me negatively, is an obstacle I have to overcome while I am on my journey to me becoming the best triathlete I can be. So, that will be the next step in my training :)

A few thanks are necessary to those who got me to finish line at the World Championships. Thank you to Bob and his family, Holly and Guy, my family (Mamma, Papa, Sara, Kevin, Bianca, Thatcher, Rikki, Rikki's family, Nonna, the Canellas, Susan and NYC Tomensons), friends and fellow athletes for their endless encouragement and support. Thank you to Ironman and the volunteers for putting on a great race. Special thanks to Meg Nolte for the photos and for taking care of my parents. Thank you to WattsUp Cycling (and the hot box!), Enduro Sport, eLoad (I must've gone through a bottle of Zone Caps during my week in Vegas!), Bill Wells and Urban Athlete, Victor at Boom Fitness (for the last minute and very effective A.R.T.), my RMTs Diego and Brad, Raymond James Financial, Turner-Tomenson Family Wealth Management, my training group at Summerville pool (coaches Bob & Andrew and the Toronto Summer Swim Camp swimmers), the Newmarket Eagles (for putting on awesome Tuesday night time trials throughout the summer). I couldn't have done it without them. And, of course, endless thanks to my coach. In October of 2009 I met him for the first time and I told him that I wanted him to coach me so that I could break 5 hours in the Muskoka 70.3. I never would have thought that, 4 years later, I would be the 3rd Canadian to cross the finish line at the 70.3 World Championships. He believed in me then, he continues to believe in me now and it is because of him that I am the athlete that I am today.

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