Where do you really start when something you planned to conquer 18 months prior got pushed out and pushed out…and then finally happened?
If you allow me to rewind a few years, I pulled out my first triathlon “goal” sheet from 2016. This was my first experience with setting goals for something I wasn’t good at – I’d set goals loads of times for swimming where I knew what was reasonable.
Here’s some of what I produced:
Long term goals (2-5 years)
|Be competitive in AG at high profile olympic+ distance races (top 5)||(Did!)|
|Complete full Ironman in 25-29 AG (4 more seasons in AG)||(Tried..)|
Short term goals (1-2 years)
|OA podium local sprint race / olympic race||(Did!)|
|Run a sub 48 min 10k / sub 24 5k||(Did not/Did!)|
|Run a half marathon (all three attempts have included walking), 2:10 goal||(Did!)|
|Race holding 19 mph on TT bike in olympic||(Did!)|
|Maintain swim endurance / easy speed, race at 1:20-25/100 yard||(Did!)|
|Run 8:00/mile off the bike for 5k||(Did not)|
Why’d I share these? Well, my original plan from 2020 was to see some of my 2016 goals come to fruition – the process of racing a 70.3 (which I had originally planned to race in October of 2019!) and a full Ironman before my 30th birthday, as well as some of my more speed-based goals. So I signed up for Ironman and Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa back in November of 2019 (post injury) with the intent of seeing through these goals from 2016.
Seeing as those races were postponed, then canceled, my entry for the 70.3 instead moved to Ironman 70.3 St. George.
With St. George, Utah only about 10 hours away, we opted to drive there. It was no big deal, especially after the whirlwind 32+ hour road trip we took the week prior to figure out jobs, a new apartment, and general logistics for our move to Colorado. Talk about life stressors and their impact on racing!
We stayed about 45 minutes outside of town. It was low key and not a big deal – with two transitions, we were going to be driving all over anyway. Packet pickup and gear drop offs were easy – and despite it being my first Ironman event, gear bags weren’t all that intimidating either. Just laid out my gear like I would any race, and when it came time to put it all together, just put the different transition equipment components in the bags – nutrition and all.
Morning of the race, Lou dropped me off at Sand Hollow – he was nervous for both my race and the photos he planned on, so he drove away to get set up on the bike course. I probably would have done the same! It was nice to have the whole morning to relax, check my bike and gear, warm up, use the restrooms, walk around, stare at the pros… typical stuff.
I seeded myself WAY too far back* in the rolling start, as I ended up swimming around a bunch of people. ** and by that, I mean I seeded myself exactly properly for where I finished, and the people I had to swim around certainly did not! It was a bit frustrating, but I chose to swim wide and avoid the crowds. Ultimately, I swam as I expected for being massively undertrained and was very happy with where I came out. Sand Hollow was refreshingly cool – no overheating in the long sleeve wetsuit – and amazingly clear. Such a difference from the San Francisco Bay!
Post race, I heard so many complaints about the T1 run – it was really not a big deal! Sure, it was probably 500 m, but there were no hills involved! Surprisingly had nothing to write home about in T1, even with no racing for 18 months. Something about it being like riding a bike, right?
The first few miles of the bike course were on brand-spanking-new tarmac. No vehicles (other than construction) had been on it, and there weren’t even lane demarcations painted! It was incredibly smooth.
This being the biggest field I’d raced in, and coming out of the swim with so much company, I was trying to be super careful to avoid drafting, blocking, and illegal passes. And I felt like I was the only one doing that! I stayed in my power target (175-190w) and spun up hills and took every advantage on descents.
The bike was gorgeous, challenging, and gloriously without incident – thanks in no small part to my friend and favorite mechanic, Robby, who did a major tune and maximized all marginal gains the weeks before the race. My bike was silent – no rattles – and fast. I had complete and utter confidence in my equipment, which helped me feel like every watt I expended went to forward progression. And with Robby’s help, it did!
Confidence was key for me on this bike course. After not finishing my last race due to a crash in the very last meters, I know I was subconsciously super nervous for the whole ride. As I loosened up, I was able to rip it – safely – down descents and enjoy the benefits of my aerodynamics and the watts I had expended to climb. Plus, spectators were abundant, and it felt great to feel and look as dialed in as I was. Smiles are free, even on race day, and cheers carry you further than you think – I smile or wave at spectators, they cheer louder for me, and my ride gets easier!
My favorite spectator/photographer was at the bottom of Snow Canyon, snapping photos as my competitors zoomed by. It was such a relief to see Lou’s giant smile! It seemed like he was enjoying himself, and I knew me passing by meant he could head down toward the run.
St. George is synonymous with the climb in Snow Canyon. I thought it was beautiful, but otherwise, really not a spectacular climb. I was in good spirits, climbing a bit stronger than I had earlier in the ride but nothing out of line with my plan. I knew once I hit the summit, I could tuck in and get aero again. I didn’t know that I’d hit 45 miles per hour on that descent and hold it for over 10 seconds!
As the highway turned to Diagonal Street, and then to Main, I could feel my anxiety start to build – I was nearing T2 and the dismount line. I had planned with Lou the day before to just stay in my shoes, counter to my usual transition, and as soon as I rolled up to the dismount line was my decision validated. THREE separate racers crashed or fell over during their dismount while I was there. I can’t imagine what that line looked like all day! I clip-clopped to my rack and had another miraculously incident-free transition, running out with my plastic baggie of nutrition, hat, belt, and buff in hand.
As I prepared for St. George, I was starting to understand that while the bike gets all the attention, the run is what will break your heart. While I had a less than stellar final month leading in to the race (knee pain knocked me out of a few key sessions), I know now that I wasn’t really prepared for the immense climbs and descents that are on this run.
Lou sprinted to get to a spot on Diagonal Street (about 1 mile outside of T2). I was so happy to see him, as I had just passed the first aid station and knew I was in trouble if I didn’t stay cool. He asked if I was drinking enough – rightly so. I made sure to stop at every single aid station for water and ice.
The first 3.5 miles out of T2 are uphill – leaving me in a lopsided, side-stitched state. Had no nutrition issues, or gut issues, or anything else, but the posture on the climbs just destroyed me. When it was flat (all half mile of it) or downhill, I could carry on, but the climbs were just not manageable for me.
The course is an out and back, with two spurs that parallel each other on the far end. Lou had stationed himself (covered in pink and black body paint) just before the spurs. I again was so very happy to see him! After the two brutal spurs, I passed him again. He told me what I already knew – I had lost a ton of time and several positions during this slog. I just kept pushing up the hill, running when I could and walking when my form was lost, and always running on flats and downhill.
How is it the last mile is always the longest? After 2.5 miles of downhill running, my quads were screaming with every step. I hit the last aid station for some ice, grit my teeth and just tried to stay with everyone that passed me. Turns out, it was pretty fast (for me) – about 7:30 pace. No wonder it hurt!
As I approached the finish, all the trials and injuries and pain and loss combined with all the joy and gratitude and astonishment that I was finally there on the red carpet. My throat closed with an emotional asthma-like response – so I held my breath as I ran the last few meters, tears running down my face. Lou was there, just on the other side of the finish line barriers, cheering and shouting for me, and I really couldn’t believe that from that crash in 2019 I had made it there in 2021.
I am so grateful to all the people in my life that made St. George 2021 possible.
Lou, my partner, my travel buddy, trainer and nutrition coach, boyfriend, personal photographer. Without him, I would not have believed in myself as much as I did. For a first-time attendee at not just a triathlon, but an endurance sporting event, he was the most enthusiastic and unrelenting support I could have imagined!
Kathy, my mom, first cheerleader, uncompromising supporter. She is always there to share words of encouragement and support.
Robby, who took hours to carefully inspect my bike and provide peace of mind and confidence to me and my family that nothing would happen out of my control with my equipment, and who also built me two (RIP R1) road bikes with the team at Sports Basement.