It’s 2017 … time to RIDE

15036574_10101709691676348_59823945012083589_nI’m thrilled to represent the RIDE Tri Team presented by Wattie Ink for this year’s triathlon season. After a great race in North Carolina, I applied for the Elite Team and am excited for this new opportunity.
So what is RIDE? Based in the San Diego area, RIDE Cyclery is the title sponsor of the team, a bike shop with several locations. Priding themselves on service, I’ve already put them to the test and every interaction I’ve had has been awesome. I made a big decision to upgrade my bike this year (!) and every person (Elise, Brent, Cody) has been great in helping me get the bike of my dreams. Blaize, who was the head of their service department, got my new ride all set up and sent out to me. He is on his way to a new gig with SRAM and I wish him well!
The team is holding a team camp in February and I’m looking forward to visiting the shop in person.
Yes, I got a new bike! Of course it is a Felt IA. I am happy to add another Felt to my bike family. I started endurance racing on a Felt B2 Time Trial bike; and I still love Lola, my DA Time Trial bike, and my FC road bike build. The IA was the natural progression. There’s a reason the top 2 women at Kona ride Felt. The bike fits like a dream. I’m also making the leap to electronic shifting so that should be a fun, too.
Beyond RIDE and Felt, the team has the support of a great collection of brands. As the season rolls on, I’ll be sharing more about my favorite products in the ‘My
Gear’ section. But, here’s a short list to start:
Wattie Ink: triathlon apparel chockfull of attitude (Rock the W! I can’t wait to get my kit!)
Zipp Speed Weaponry: wheels to go super fast (my new bike has new 404s carbon clinchers)
Blue Seventy: all for the swim (I love their goggles … not to mention they have some great employees.)
Speedfil: my hydration system of choice
GQ-6: endurance nutrition products
Bio Astin: supplements for health and energy
Pjur Active: my new answer to blisters and chafing
Zealios: swim-specific body care and sunscreen
Pioneer: power, power, power
SRAM: incredible bike components
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The Full-ish Ironman: Beach 2 Battleship

So the season is over and I’m now a four-time Ironman! I only raced three triathlons this year, but after 2.5 years of recovery from injury, I am so happy to be back racing long distance again. A lot has changed—faces, races, and race programs—so in some respects, I pushed the restart button on my journey to qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.

This was my only ‘A’ race of the year, so while I thought I was ready, I hadn’t proven I was ready. I had to trust my training—even more so than in the past. My approach looked very different this year keep me healthy and to vastly improve my running stamina.

I was less public about my race goals this year because they scared me. And truthfully, I get self-conscious about others thinking they’re far fetched. As silly as it may sound, I still feel like I’m an outsider looking in, not taken seriously as a competitor. Because Ironman North Carolina (also known as Beach 2 Battleship—so I will now refer to the race as IM B2B) is a fast course, I wanted to finish in under 11 hours, with a sub 4-hour marathon, a swim PR, and a controlled bike ride within my targeted power range. Oh yeah, and win my age group so I could race in Kona next year. Easy, peasy.

Now, it’s an understatement to say I’m unlucky with race conditions—oppressive heat,

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Hurricane Matthew. Yikes.

oppressive cold, ridiculous rain and plenty of shortened or canceled courses. So what could go wrong in N.C.? Oh, just Hurricane Matthew, which devastated large areas of the state just two weeks prior to race day. With four days to go, we were informed that the Ironman course was flood damaged and that safety personnel needed to prioritize helping storm victims. That meant the bike course was now approximately 50 miles.

Shit.

I was so disappointed. While I worked hard all summer on running, the bike is my strength. I immediately felt stupid to ever think I could be competitive at this distance. Self doubt waved over me. It took a lot of encouraging pep talks to remind me of who is in control (not me!) and that I needed to get mad decisive on a new strategy because I still had a race to do!

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Eating my feelings one fish at a time.

It took about 36 hours and a giant bag of Swedish Fish for me to regroup—pretty much the exact amount of time before I boarded a cross-country flight.

Kevin, my husband, was meeting me in Wilmington, but I had about 8 hours in town alone. I checked into the race with zero wait and a room full of smiling volunteers, eager to help me. I sat in the Normatec

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They look like T-Rex legs.

booth to flush my legs clean of the red-eye flight and attended the athlete briefing—which I learned I might have to stop for a train during the marathon on tracks the course crosses four times. Haha! I had to stop for a train once at a half marathon in Eugene and it was chaotic. Already, this race has set the scene for ridiculousness.

After a short run and a swim at the local YMCA, I picked up Kevin from the airport. Being awesome, he built up my bike right away so I could do a test ride in the morning. As I packed for the a.m. ride, I encountered my first race challenge. In my haste to cut weight from my suitcase, I thought I left my brand new sunglasses at home. Nooooo!

So the next morning, Kevin and I went on a sunglasses hunt. Most Smith dealers in the area were surfing or lifestyle stores and the expo had zero glasses for sale—which I find odd because it’s an item that’s easy to forget or lose.

So Kevin and I called bike shop after bike shop. We found a pair of Smith knockoffs—the Tifosi Podiums in silver with transition lenses. So dorky in comparison to my sweet neon pink Smith glasses with purple mirrored lenses, but they worked and I needed them to ride. So after running around town, I headed out on a short shakeout ride/run from T2. It all went smoothly, including my practice ride over the metal grated bridge. Good. To. Go.

I was a little nervous that my new custom painted helmet had yet to arrive. On Friday, Kevin the Sherpa Saint, intercepted the deliver at the post office to make sure I got it. He really is the best.

Friday went by so fast—early swim at the beach to test the feel of the water current, saltiness, and temperature. The water was soooo fast! I knew race day’s tide charts were less fast, but it was fun to experience it. So how fast? I swam with a safety buoy (with flip flops inside) at a 1:26 pace with a moderate effort.

Last bike shakeout felt good and it was time to pack all the gear and it to its staging location—which is tricky in a point-to-point-to-point race.

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Check in time!

Rain was in the forecast so I double-bagged my shoes and waited as long as possible to check in. Of course, the minute we got back to the AirBnB, the skies opened with a short, hard shower. Out of my control. In my control? Packing for the rain.

For dinner, I ate some rotisserie chicken, beets, and a sweet potato dish from Whole Foods with half an avocado. (Because everything is better with avocado.) I got to bed by 9:30. A little late. I couldn’t sleep. I felt like a horse in the starting gate before the Derby. Let me loose!

RACE DAY

Outta bed by 3:00 am with my typical race morning routine—sunscreen, sweet potato/egg/avocado breakfast, hip exercises … with the addition of embrocation for my knees. The race was to be mild—my fave—but possibly a little cold in the wind on the bike.

We dropped off my run nutrition at 4:30 am before heading out to T2 near the beach. We easily parked. I asked a nice volunteer to help me pump tires and I placed running shoes by the water for the more than a quarter-mile run from swim exit to change tent.

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The windy calm before the start.

Because the swim is also point-to-point, there were athlete-only shuttles to the beach, meaning no sherpas at the start. I used my Morning Clothes bag for the first time. It was strange being on the beach, surrounded by other neoprene clad racers, but feeling pretty alone. I tried to keep my breathing calm as I watched the minutes tick down to the 7:20 am start time.

Prior to the start, I only had enough time to get a feel for the water temp.
The National Anthem was performed as the sun rose; goggles on, time to go!

SWIM

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Here we go! (I’m on the right side of the photo.)

They started the race and I was one of the first women to hit the water. It was a short run as the beach drops off quickly. It was a rolling start, so no crazy contact, but plenty enough to feel like an Ironman. I was off to a strong start when BAM! Someone kicked my goggles off my face. That has never happened to me before.

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Swim exit. Let’s go!

The salt water stung a bit and it took me two tries to get them back on properly, but I didn’t sweat it, trying to remember Coach Tom’s words for me—relax into it. I was a little guarded after that and swam to the far right of the group. I think it was the outside line, but to be frank—I have no idea. The swim course is supposed to drift left before taking a left turn into a small channel. From there, it meanders to a dock with ladders to climb out. With few tall options for sighting—I used the buoys but I was very confused about what to do. Yellow, orange, and red buoys felt arbitrarily placed. I thought red meant ‘turn,’ but no one was turning! I had no idea how I was doing or where I was going. I just followed the buoys, saw a dock, and I was done. I felt like everyone was passing me, but I came out of the water in the best position I ever have—3rd AG. Huh. Don’t understand it, but I’ll take it! (The overall winner of the race was later DQ’d for failure to turn at a red buoy. I feel terrible for him. Nothing was clear out there.)

Goals: Limit salt water intake, swim a PR, swim under 1 hour.
Goals achieved! 56:36

T1

I had great wetsuit peelers and I put on a pair of running shoes to get to T1. See, you swim

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Map of T1. Longest transition ever.

to the dock, you climb a ladder onto the dock, you run up a ramp and around the corner to more dock, you run down a concrete sidewalk (where I stashed a pair of running shoes thanks to a tip from B2B veterans) then you take a left to where the peelers are (apparently wetsuit strippers have been rebranded!) Then you run through the shower in the parking lot, then you take a right turn to go straight out of the parking lot. You then run across the street, down the sidewalk, and into T1. Then there is the run through the bags in the grass and into the tents. Phew! All in all, the transition from swim exit to bike mount is .4 miles.

I had a great volunteer help me get my jersey in and I put my new helmet on! It is sooo pretty! But as I ran to my bike, the magnetic faring of the Rudy Wingspan 57 fell off. I picked it up and took it for a ride in my jersey pocket.

BIKE

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My favorite part.

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Just settle down, friend.

Once on the bike course, I was able to get some food and settle in. The first part has a lot of turns and they guy behind me was eager to leave me and my snack break in the dust. He came on the inside of a turn and I just prayed that would be the last dumb move I’d witness for the day. They warn you that this course has two drawbridges with metal grates—much like the drawbridges back home in Seattle. One is at the very beginning and one is at the end. I saw one woman taking no chances and walking her bike across. I took a deep breath and confidently crossed the bridge. Little did I know that woman was in my AG. I was now in 2nd in my AG with 55 miles of biking in front of me.

I settled into a great rhythm and steadily picked off the faster swimmers. That guy who pulled the shady inside move would soon become my bike bestie. Riding at a similir speed, we would trade overtaking and dropping back repeatedly. At first I was annoyed because I take drafting very seriously and I wanted to leave him behind. But he kept with me as I made my way through the field. Really, the only time we were more than 20 bike lengths from each other was on a snack break. He introduced himself as I passed by and I asked if we were going to be besties. He got away from me a little and I reminded myself that I needed to race to plan. If he was gone, he was gone. But he yelled out at the first turnaround as I was close behind. Once we made the turn, the changing winds became a consistent headwind. And that’s where the real fun began.

I dropped my bestie. The benefit of my small upper body/big lower body build is that it’s easier to cheat the wind and I have a powerful engine to drive through it. The men have the engine but were big sails in the wind.

So as I rode on, the course got lonelier, and lonelier. I can only imagine what a full 112 would have felt like. No biggie. I just stayed focused on staying compact and steady with my power. Every now and then, I’d feel a gust that I had to lean into, but mostly a nice steady headwind that had me going 18.5 mph on a pancake flat road.

Once I started seeing riders come the other direction, I knew the turnaround was near. They were fairly spread out which gave me hope that the wind was providing for a cleaner race. When I hit the turnaround, the tailwind immediately added 10 mph to my speed. The last 16 miles were fast and zippy, up to 35 mph, and I listened to the sweet sound of a whirling disc wheel. I could now see the train of packs coming—chugging up behind me.

Little did I realize my open road was about to become a traffic jam. I was almost done with the course when the slower half Ironman athletes joined the course to go to the first turnaround. Bikes everywhere. And because of the train tracks, there was now a field of landmines—tons of ejected flat repair kits and water bottles.

I was very loud in calling out my presence and was happy to see the turnaround again—

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Me in the foreground, Kevin in the background.

because while the other racers turned, I went straight which leads over the 2nd grated bridge and into T2. I saw Kevin a couple of blocks out and he told me I was 3rd overall woman and leading my AG.

After the highs and lows of leading then falling to pieces at my last Ironman in Tahoe, I tried to channel my excitement and focus on the moment right in front of me.

The last block into T2 is downhill and I made the mistake of not getting out of my bike shoes earlier. I managed to get out of one fine, but I was still in the other at the dismount line. I awkwardly removed it in front of the cheering crowd. I had a good laugh at myself and soaked up their energy. No time to lament the missing 56 miles now. I had a marathon to run.

Goals: Stay in wattage target. Nail nutrition plan.
Goal Achieved! 2:36:52

T2

Because I was the 3rd one into the tent, I think the volunteers were scared to mess up my race—exactly how I felt when I worked the T2 tent for the first time. I enthusiastically invited them to help me! I told them they were all angels as I put on my shoes and headed out the tent with nutrition in hand.

RUN

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Just a marathon to go!

I was all smiles. I felt good. I felt good enough that I could do something stupid during the marathon. That strong tailwind followed me out onto the run and I ran with it! I tried to relax, but each time I looked at my watch, I was under pace.

As I headed out of town, a group of spectators complimented me on my lip gloss …. Lip gloss? There’s no time for lip gloss in Ironman! And then it dawned on me—I just ate a Beet Clif Shot! Haha! Beet stained lips are apparently a good look when running a marathon.

I was in surprisingly good spirits. Each ache and pain I met with the mentality that ‘this too shall pass.’ Some parts felt better than others, but I let it wash over me like waves. And then, maybe mile 3 or 4, I had company. I couldn’t see her, but I could feel her … breathing. It made me feel two things—one, excited that someone was choosing to use me as a draft so I must be moving okay, and two, terrified she was a someone from my AG, toying with her prey before devouring it.

It turned out to be Janeen, a lovely 51-year old bad ass from Wisconsin. She swam almost 10 minutes faster than me, so she was the last woman I passed on the bike. She ran behind me until about mile 9 or 10 and then pulled ahead of me.

I told her I wanted to be her when I grow up and she gave me some encouragement. But by then, two women in my AG had passed me (both somewhere between mile 7 and 9)—one of them being that woman I saw walking on the bridge at the beginning of the bike ride. My feet were beginning to feel raw from the rough surface of the asphalt road. Janeen went on to win her age group and claim a slot to Kona. I met her and her family at the awards banquet. They were very kind. (Hi!)

At Special Needs, I decided to change my socks. I had some gnarly blisters! The sock

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Halfway done. Still running strong.

change helped a little, but my feet were looking tough. It was a completely different second half—the good feelings were gone and it was time to tough it out. I reminded myself that the other racers were also suffering and that I needed to stay strong. When I saw Kevin in town next, he told me I was still in 3rd in my AG, that everyone was cheering for me back home, and that if I keep it up, the podium was mine.

The podium was mine. It helped.

As I headed back out of town toward the gator-filled lake, I got a little emotional when I heard a trumpet playing the hymn, “ All Creatures of Our God and King.” It’s the same hymn that I heard while running past a church the day my father died last year. I know he was there cheering me on.

As the music faded, I slowed down as body aches settled in. Prior this race, I had a lot of calf soreness I couldn’t shake since running a Trail Ragnar Relay a month ago. That soreness crept back and threatened complete cramp seizures in my calves. So I tried to keep small, quick steps. The pavement was so rough I thought maybe my shoes were an illusion and I was running barefoot.

Mile 17 was the hardest. I powerwalked the aid station to ensure I got what I needed. The waves of pain came just the same, just with higher swells. But when I got to the far turnaround, the countdown was on—6.6 miles to go!

By then, I had no idea where I was in the race because there were half Ironman racers on course and full Ironman racers on Lap 1. It was congested and I afraid I might fall over if anyone knocked into me. My feet screamed at me to walk, but if Kona or a podium was a possibility, I was going to fight until the end.

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Beep, beep! Coming through!

A short power walk through the next aid station and then it was all run. I fueled the last 5K with Pepsi and sheer perseverance. A woman stormed past me with less than two miles to go and I worried that maybe I didn’t have a podium spot anymore, but she was fully covered in clothes, so her bib number and age remained a mystery.

The last mile was stupid congested. I was so fragile and had to battle through 2-way traffic on the narrow riverwalk. Its sharp turns made the blisters on my feet scream. One woman just would NOT get out of the way until I finally reached the spot where the full starts lap 2 and the rest of us go to the finish line.

Normally, a wave of adrenaline kicks in and I “sprint” down the straightaway to the finish. But I was already on the rivet so I kept pace and flailed my arms into the air as the Race Director called out, “Carly Tu, you are an Ironman!” (Mike, the voice of Ironman, was taking a break.)

I immediately fell into a volunteers arms, collected my finisher shirt, medal, and p.j. bottoms, and headed to the med tent.

Some Mylar blankets, gentle stretching, and warm chicken broth later, I was feeling a little better. Okay, a lot better, because the nurse looked up my finishing time and splits and informed me I had finished 3rd in my AG!

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I look like a train wreck.

It seems like I should have felt better since I only rode half the bike distance, but that allowed for some stupid on the marathon.

Goal: Sub-4. Stretch goal: Marathon PR.

Goals unfulfilled, but it’s okay. 4:09:18

TOTAL RACE TIME: 7:53:37

POST RACE

Kevin and I attended the award ceremony and rolldown. I was proud and honored to share the stage with the other athletes. There was only one Kona slot in my AG, so it was a long shot. It didn’t happen for me this time, but this effort and result make me feel excited that I may be very close to my goal.

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No Kona, but plenty to celebrate.

So now, it’s time to watch UW Husky football, deep clean my house, and spend time with friends. I’ve got my eye out for another full for next year that could be a Kona 2017 qualifier.

Thank you to the village that got me here. Namely …

Kevin: The best husband in the world. Thank you for believing in me and supporting me every step of the way. None of this happens without you.

Coach Tom: For your flexibility with my busy schedule and for making the preparation fun along the way. Thanks for thinking creatively to get me back to racing. I now love trail running! You truly have a gift for this.

My Mom: For listening to all my boring training breakthroughs and ample prayer support. I love you.

Alicia & Carson: For being training buddies, cheerleaders, and dog caretakers. Your friendship means the world to me.

My co-workers: For understanding and being flexible with my training schedule. Oh, and putting up with me while I tapered for the race. I’m sorry for anything said while I was hungry.

Saul: For being amazing with my bike that I never had to worry about it. She worked like a dream. You have been so generous. I appreciate your support.

Caitlin and Annie: For teaching me to use my body better, making me stretch, and helping me earn the strength needed to race this distance. I know a six-pack is in there somewhere! I appreciate the support and regular check-ins.

In Health Staff and Alexa: For keeping my body on track for a great race and knowing what it needs!

My cycling team: For giving me space and grace to focus singularly on this goal. I miss you all and I’m ready for Fall/Winter rides.

Friends and Family At Large: Thanks for believing in me. Thanks for an encouraging social post or text message. Kind words carry farther than you think. I’m so grateful for each of you. I love being in such a thriving circle of inspiration and encouragement.

Now, if you made it this far … WOW! CONGRATS! You are an IronReader!!

Cheers! On to the next age group!

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As If We Never Said Goodbye: IM Victoria 70.3

The atmosphere as thrilling here as always
Feel the early morning madness
Feel the magic in the making
Why, everything’s as if we never said goodbye
-Sunset Boulevard

After a tense build-up to IM Victoria 70.3, I was just happy to be at the starting line. Three weeks earlier, I was feeling really good about the progress I had made. My swimming and running were seeing improvement, and I hoped that my biking would be there for me when I needed it. Then, on a routine Tuesday tempo run, I had a little sensation in my right calf. “No biggie,” I thought. However, the moment I finished my run, the sensation became a searing pain that even made it hard to walk. Immediately, I was terrified that I had yet another DNS on the horizon.

It was a strained calf. Not terrible, so I threw everything I knew to throw at it. I went to chiro/Active Release Therapy, I had a massage, I slept in a Plantar Fasciitis sock, I iced it, Compex’ed it, Kinesio-taped it. Oh, and I rested it. I pretty much had to take a week off of training—the most important week leading into a race.

So one week out, I still hadn’t done 56 miles on my bike, and I needed to do that in order to know I could. Beggars can’t be choosers, so I headed out in the heat of the day … 92 degrees. I had forgotten how awful that is … hot wind, hot water bottles, sunburn and a complete nutritional crash. I made it the 56 miles, but it was ugly. However, being the theatre nerd I am, I know that sometimes a bad dress rehearsal precedes a great opening night.

My calf was feeling pretty good the week of the race, so I decided to attempt my first endurance triathlon since IM Lake Tahoe, September 2013. Kevin helped me get all my gear in order and we headed out early Friday morning before a Sunday race. The Anacortes to Victoria ferry only runs once a day so there were plenty of other early bird triathletes onboard.

I had forgotten how much prep work there is for a half Ironman event. I probably spent just as much time prepping as I did racing. Between packing, packet pickup, shake out workouts, bike check up, repacking, and all the other things on my checklist, its a wonder that any of us even have energy for racing! Especially now that they start at an inhumane 6 am. Since when?!? That means that breakfast had to be eaten by 4 am and we had to be out the door by 4:15.

I did a great job of staying focused in transition and getting everything set up, and getting out of there. I got in my full planned run and swim warmup which rarely happens. They announced that the swim would be marginally shortened due to weeds in the lake. 1500 yards was the new proposed swim distance—a few 100 yards shy of a mile.

SWIM—Goal: Stay calm.

The start of the swim was pretty smooth for a triathlon swim. I quickly got into a rhythm. I was happy to be racing again! But it wasn’t very long until I ran into a backstroker, and lost my mojo. I remained calm, and picked up where I left off. I was passing swimmers and feeling pretty good until we made the turn back to the finish. I really wanted to swim in calmer waters and I found them—off course. I ended up swimming a little over distance as a result. The final approach to the dock was pretty chaotic, but I waited my turn and had a big smile on my face as I jogged my way over to transition. I had finished the swim. I was was racing again!! Goal achieved.

BIKE—Goal: Stay within conservative power numbers. Eat and drink on schedule.

I took longer in transition, as I expected. I was kicking off some serious rust. But in less than 5 minutes, I was out on the bike course. It was a bit cold to start, and my problem back wheel continued to give me grief—rubbing on the break after numerous checks and double-checks by mechanics. But that was no longer in my control, outside of using the couple of tricks that sometimes help. I tried to focus on the road. It was a very technical course, with lots and lots of turns. I took them like any good bike racer would, and I think that saved me some time. I had forgot that the majority of the bike field I’d see were male, which can be frustrating. They have a tendency to pass you and then take a snack break, meaning that they are not maintaining their passing speed and force you to fall back. It’s annoying. But I am principled and refuse to get a drafting penalty, so I fall back. I did a great job with eating, a great job with drinking in the first half of the ride, and not-so-great in the second half. As far as memorable parts on course, there is a meaty out-and-back with a nice steady climb, and a screaming fast descent the other direction. Some may know that I have had a mental block on fast descents for a few years now. But the long climb next to it gave me the time to look at it, make peace with it, and get ready to rock it! I didn’t hit my breaks once. I stayed aero and hit 44.8 mph. That is huge for me! I was pumped! After all the rolling hills (and questionable bike fitness) I was ready to get off my bike and run! It was the most conservative I’ve ever raced a HIM on the bike, but I was still feeling good about it.

RUN—Goal: Keep cadence high. Eat/drink. Reevaluate every 2-3 miles. Have fun!

The run is a trail run that starts with a steep kicker right out of transition. I was happy to have my trail shoes and I started off really easy. The technical sections were fun as most of my long run training has been out on various trails near Seattle. Things were really smooth until I could feel a blister come on at mile 5. That blister would become so big, it looked like I was trying to grow a second big toe. My pace slowed a bit, but I kept thinking I needed to keep my cadence high and not fall into the Ironman shuffle pace that was setting into those around me. I hadn’t focused on the race aspect of the day every much at all until the end. Less than 1/2 mile to go, a woman in my age group was running in front of me and was well within my reach. I tried to pick it up, pass her, and finish strong. Done, done, and done!  I crossed the finish line in 5:18 with my arms in the air! I was back to endurance triathlon racing!!

It was so nice to be part of the community and see friendly faces that I haven’t seen in awhile. The cheers from fellow racers or spectators felt really good. The camaraderie may be my favorite part of the whole thing. Nothing like big sweaty hugs, sharing of war stories, and celebrating the big wins (Go Sarah!) and the little ones.

As always, it takes a lot of preparation, a little luck, and a ton of support to get to the start line of a race and be successful at the finish line. Here is a short list of people I’d like to thank for their help!

Kevin: Obviously. He is my better half and was an amazing sherpa. He got up at 3 am to make me breakfast. He remembered the bike pump when I forgot. He took awesome race photography.

Coach Tom: Thanks for being patient with my schedule and planning smart workouts. And always believing in what I can do.

Mike and Saul at Blue Seventy: I had ordered the wrong goggles and they helped me get what I needed to race. They worked great and I was so thankful!

Bruk at Real Rehab: Thanks for your advice regarding my calf.

Dr. Kevin Rindahl and staff at InHealth: Thanks for helping keep my body in one piece!

Alexa: Thanks for being the best massage therapist an injury prove athlete could hope for!

The ladies at Studio Evolve Pilates—Nicole, Annie, but mostly Caitlin: Thanks for teaching me to use my core that has opened up new ways of moving for me.

Carson: Thanks for helping me with my cleats, and pedals, and power tap wheels. You have always been so generous with your time and knowledge!

Alicia: Even though you don’t tri anymore, your cheers and well wishes always make me happy.

Kevin’s parents: Thanks for always taking care of our little Wrigley when needed. He loves you both so much and we know we never have to worry about him.

All in all, I’m feeling energized and ready to put in the work headed into Ironman in October! I accomplished my two larger goals of finishing and finishing under 5:30. But cooler still? I was able to walk normal the next day. There is more in the tank, I can feel it!

Thanks for taking the time to read and share in my journey. Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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back on track

[Tap, tap, tap …] Is this thing on?

Hi! I’ve taken a ver lengthy blog sabbatical. Two immediate reasons come to mind.

  1. I’ve been injured.
    Annoyingly so. In APRIL of 2014, I stress fractured my left foot’s navicular bone. If

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    I lived as a pirate for 16 weeks.

    you’d like more info on the significance of this particular injury, I encourage you to read athlete super couple Jess Thomas’ and Lauren Fleshman’s experience HERE and HERE.Almost two years later, I’m able to resume run training with some normalcy. I’m incredibly grateful. When it comes to training, I life to write about the good stuff—the breakthroughs, the comical mishaps, the race reports. Truthfully, I’ve suffered a lot of setbacks, disappointment, and heartache—which frankly didn’t inspire me to write all that much.

  2. My job involves a lot of writing.
    I love writing! I always have, but when its your job, sometimes you want a little rest from it. I got that whole worn shoes for shoemakers thing going on.But for better or for worse, training is going enough for me to feel inspired to pick up where I trailed off. That, or I just finished reading Mindy Kaling’s book, “Why Not Me” on a cross-country flight and it was the kick in the ass I needed. And, I needed to kill another hour and I’ve already watched two inflight movies.

    Just recently I signed up for what will, with lots of hard work, be my fourth Ironman. This time, I’m going to go FAST—tackling the flat course of Ironman Beach to Battleship in North Carolina on October 22. Wish me luck! I’m going to need all I can get.

 

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Ironman Lake Tahoe: IM Winter Edition

Also known as “You’re Gonna Hear Me Roar … Until I Nearly Pass Out.”

My race reports get long. Really long. That’s why they are few and far between. So, for the wide range of attention spans, I have provided race reports of varying lengths:

One word: Breathtaking.

One sentence: I endured a surreal swim, a cold and challenging ride, and an asthmatic marathon to complete Ironman #3.

One paragraph: Although I didn’t have the race I prepared for, I kept fighting all day. I swam off-course through fog beneath snow-capped peaks. I cycled with courage that resulted in a small lead off the bike. I then dug deep to finish a marathon with severe altitude sickness. I completed my 3rd Ironman on what’s being called the second most challenging of all time. It all came full circle. I wasn’t winning and I knew it. I was winning and didn’t know it. I was winning and knew it. I wasn’t winning and didn’t know it. And finally, I wasn’t winning and I knew it.

Also, here is the link to the highlight video of the day. Kevin and I are featured briefly at :57-:58. Click Here.

Long, overly-detailed story:

PRE-RACE 

I signed up for Ironman Lake Tahoe over a year ago. When I started working with my coach, Mackenzie Madison, last October, she asked if I could pick a different race, due to the exceptional challenge she knew was ahead of me. Of course not. I was mentally and financially committed to Lake Tahoe. So we set out for the challenge ahead.

I picked this race for a couple of reasons. I want to qualify for Kona and knew that the race’s timing would make it hard for a perennial Kona participant to do both. I also knew that because no one had raced it before, I would have just as good of a chance of figuring out a winning equation as anyone else. I also need a hard bike course, which this race had, and I tend not to do well in really hot races.

My preparation started out rough. In November, I stress fractured my tibia, a cuneiform in my foot, and suffered a stress reaction in my other foot. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s, I was wheeling around on a knee scooter and was the temporary owner of a handicapped parking placard. I gained 15 pounds from the holiday/depressive eating combined with limited exercise.

My feet and leg eventually healed, and after a long stint of physical therapy, I resumed training and got into the best shape of my life.

The known challenges of Ironman Lake Tahoe were daunting—a race at altitude between 6,000-7,000 feet with a known elevation gain of 6,700’ —more than any other Ironman. (In the end, we climbed 7,363’ on race day.)

In preparation, I spent the 4th of July weekend training on course, and was fortunate to spend 2½ weeks prior to race day at similiar altitude in New Mexico in hopes to acclimate a bit.

Feeling really ready right before leaving Seattle for New Mexico, I started to get a pain in my foot, reminiscent of my cuneiform stress fracture from earlier in the year. My heart sank. It even hurt to walk. I stopped running immediately. I spent the last three weeks before race day aqua jogging, hoping I could still make it to the start line. I also experienced the return of the pinched nerve in my right hip that makes my quad go tingly in the most maddening of ways. I tried massage and Active Release Therapy to get it to stop. Needless to say, all my confidence flew right out the window. I kept both matters pretty private because I didn’t need the world to know that I might not race.

After neurotically checking the weather reports, I had bought wintery layers in New Mexico before leaving. The weather reports were brutal, but everyone assured me that race day would be fine! We flew into Tahoe Thursday night.

Come Saturday, I got on my bike early and finished my shake-out ride and run before the rain storm blew in. Check-in was miserable. The T2 tent was flooded, the expo closed early because the vendor tents were blowing away. It poured all day. I was so thankful that wasn’t the forecast for race day! And then it happened. Around 4 pm, the rain morphed into wet snow.

Checking in with 3 coats on!

Checking in with 3 coats on!

Snow! It was so cold, and still technically the last day of summer. With the potential for ice, I was sure they would delay the race and cut the swim to one lap to allow for warmer temps. But then a got a message from a very reliable source that the race would be done in it’s entirety, no matter what!

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Snow at Squaw Valley, just above the finish line chute.

RACE MORNING

My alarm was set for 2:45 am for a 4:00 am departure. Without an alarm, I woke just after 2 am, alert and ready to prep. Things went relatively smoothly and Kevin and I were on the first shuttle from Squaw Valley and T2 to King’s Beach and T1. It was below freezing—approximately 27 degrees and pitch black.

We arrived as transition opened and I prepped my gear. I was thankful that I double-bagged my T1 gear the day before and that I opened it to add chemical warmer to my bike shoes. Many people found their bags frozen shut.

Preparations in the T1—frigid and dark.

Preparations in the T1—frigid and dark.

Thankfully, they opened the Visitor Center to athletes to keep warm pre-race. Normally, I would have done an in-water warmup, but I didn’t want to freeze by having to exit the water after. So, I used my exercise bands to get my arms warm.

Kevin and I on our wedding anniversary, right before the race start!

Kevin and me on our wedding anniversary, right before the race start!

I wore my neoprene booties to the beach to keep my feet warm waiting for my turn to begin the swim in the new ‘swim smart’ rolling wave start process. I gave them to another age-grouper who wanted to wear them while swimming. The moment I took them off my feet were blocks of ice.

SWIM

Once I got into the water, my feet thawed immediately in the relatively warm 60-64-degree water, although it was much colder closer to shore.

Incredible setting for the Ironman swim.

Incredible setting for the Ironman swim.

Wading through the water was surreal. Sunrise had just started over the snow-capped peaks, lighting the clearest, bluest lake I’ve ever seen. Simply breathtaking. However, I couldn’t see any buoys. Zero. The fog on the lake was so dense, I couldn’t get oriented. The first buoy I saw was #4 and I was nowhere near it! I swam so off course. I tried to stay calm—even as my calves and feet threatened to cramp.

Start of the swim, or a game of hide-and-go-seek with the buoys.

Start of the swim, or a game of hide-and-go-seek with the buoys.

On lap 2, I started to lap the distressed swimmers and although the visibility was a little better, the paddleboards kept getting in my way! I hit two of them. One, really hard in the cheekbone. Needless to say, I was relieved to get out of the water. It was a terrible swim for me—so catawampus that my Garmin said I swam 2.64 miles. That’s nearly a quarter mile long. I had a lot of work to do on my bike.

The cold temps completely sucked the air out of my body after the swim.

The cold temps completely sucked the air out of my body after the swim.

Goal? 1:05:00
Race: 1:13:54

T1

Pure chaos. I expected it to be busy, but with all the racers choosing to do complete clothing changes, it was insanity. I was lucky enough to find a chair and get a towel to place my numb feet.

My frozen hands fumbled to put on my arm warmers, gloves, and the two vests I had prepared to wear. Once my socks, shoes and helmet were on, I clumsily finished the .33 mile run to my bike and was on to the bike course.

Time to ride!

Time to ride!

Goal? 05:00
Race: 08:01

BIKE

The first moments on the bike were excruciating. At 33 degrees, my whole body ached with frozen numbness. I had planned on eating first thing on my bike, but my hands couldn’t unzip my bento box. I tried to drink out of my aero bottle straw, but I couldn’t. It was frozen.

The first incredibly-cold moments on the bike.

The first incredibly-cold moments on the bike.

My next focus was to get warm—get over the initial shock and spin it out. I started to sing in my head the lyrics to the Christmastime song, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” (Maybe I should also mention that race day was also my 6th wedding anniversary to my phenomenal husband. So love was definitely also on my mind.) I finally got the bento box open only to find frozen chews.

Still had to wait to eat. It was about 25 minutes before I could attempt to eat and drink. It became priority #1. Wattage goals could wait!

The course is 2 and one-third counterclockwise loops in a somewhat triangular shape. It starts in King’s Beach, and is a gradual downhill all the way to Squaw Valley, with the exception of Dollar Hill, a moderate, one-mile climb. After Squaw, the course heads north on a screaming-fast section to the historic town of Truckee. Once in Truckee, there are a few shorter climbing sections before heading back south with a climbing section in the private, very-exclusive Martis Camp community to the Ritz Carlton. It then winds back down to start a long, steady climb to Brockway Summit at 7,179’ of elevation. Then you scream down the backside of the summit back to King’s Beach to start all over. The ride finishes by turning up to the Olympic Village at Squaw after the second full loop.

Once I got close to Truckee, I was feeling a little better and started focusing on race goals. There is a little steeper section on the other side of town and I tried to do a little bit of climbing while standing up to stretch my legs. Bad idea. I still couldn’t feel my feet so it was really clumsy.

Usually, I get a lot of kicks out of chirping, “on your left” during the bike leg. I am proud that I can ride just as hard, if not harder than a lot of really fit men. There was little joy in it this time as my frozen face made actual words near impossible. I would silently go by one after another. There was very little communication out there.

Once I turned into Martis Camp, the real work began. It starts out rolling, but rudely transforms into a Tour-style climb, complete with steep pitches and switchbacks. That wasn’t the hard part for me. Once I got to the Ritz, I took a deep breath and started the winding descent. My fear of descending, coupled with my lighter weight, led me to witness insanely-fast descents by the guys around me. I just didn’t want to crash so I was very conservative, pumping my breaks all the way down.

Climb, climb, climb. Or, maybe eating a snack.

Climb, climb, climb. Or, maybe eating a snack.

At the bottom of the descent, you make a right-hand turn, and start to climb again. This time its approximately 20 minutes of slow and steady. I was feeling good. Still semi-frozen, but I was happy to be riding steady. The spectators at the top were awesome. Crazy guys in Speedos, running next to you cheering frantically for example. At the top, I was all smiles, but took another deep breath before the next long descent. As I started the descent, I yelled out, “Courage!!” It’s really what I needed in that moment.

It was so fast and scary. I had already seen a couple of ambulance and couldn’t help but wonder what happened. I was so thankful that I had kept all my layers too because that descent was breathtaking.

Back through town at the start of lap 2, I felt like I was getting into a rhythm. But then, random people began yelling cryptic messages at me. “You’re the 10th woman.” “You’re the 28th woman.” I’m guessing one was an age-grouper count and one was including the pros. It was encouraging because I was making up for my slow swim.

Once I got back to Squaw, I heard Kevin’s voice, clear as a bell.

“You’re in 2nd place!”

Hot dog! It was getting warmer, so I ditched my insulated vest at the special clothing drop-off they implemented for this race. (Which was actually my idea!)

2nd place? Let's hunt #1 down!

2nd place? Let’s hunt #1 down!

I had no info on how far back I was, but it was the spark I needed to stay focused. I don’t know where I passed the girl in first, but by mile 72, I was leading my age group in an Ironman race and didn’t know it.

The course difficulty was catching up to me. By the time I reached Martis Camp the second time, my legs burned, but I still couldn’t feel my feet.

At the aid station half way through that section, I saw Phillipians 4:13 on a sign posted in the ground. It’s the same verse featured in my tattoo commemorating my first Ironman. “I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.”

I had prayed for God to be very present in my day, and He did not disappoint. I kicked it up a notch. Noticeably tired, I summited Martis Camp for the second time and prepared for the descent.

My arms were fatigued as well and as I descended, my whole body, including my face, went into a painful, constant vibration. I was so happy to be at the bottom, even if it meant it was time to climb Brockway a second time.

By then, the field had really thinned out, which was good because other riders started to weave with fatigue all over the place! One guy nearly took me out. And then I saw them. The poor athletes I was lapping. They were walking their bikes up to the summit. My heart ached for them. They were still on lap 1. I’m nearly positive they didn’t make the bike cutoff.

When I reached the summit for the second time, I wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic. I was tired. I still received a very enthusiastic welcome from the crowd as I was one of the first handful of amateur women to reach the top for the second time. I again mustered a “courage” rally cry and descended the mountain again.

Then, it was a relative cake walk getting back to T2 … relatively. One man yelled, “you have a two-minute lead” as I climbed Dollar Hill. But since I never saw the other girl I passed, it didn’t make sense to me. I should also mention that this is at mile 100 on the bike ride and exactly where I finally had feeling return to my feet.

But, it wasn’t until Kevin yelled, “You’re in first!” as I turned up the last hill to T2 did I know what was happening.

“Nuh-uh!” I said with a smile.

Winning!!

Winning!!

I was elated. I was now knowingly winning an Ironman. And of course, so did everyone around me.

Goal? 5:40:00
Race: 6:14:18

T2

The T2 tent was completely empty. I had it all to myself. I almost skipped in, I was so excited. All the volunteers were just as excited and overly helpful. They wanted to do everything for me. It was so cute. So instead of my usual grab-and-go, I let them get me ready. A stop at the porta-potty and I was on to the run!!

Goal? 02:00
Race: 02:52

RUN

Unfortunately, I would need to visit the next two porta-potties as well. And then comes the more embarrassing part. I was passed while I was in the porta-potty and didn’t know it. So then I spent the next few miles not aware I wasn’t winning anymore. Ignorance really is bliss.

Still winning! (But not for long.)

Still winning! (But not for long.)

It was around mile 5 when the second-place girl in my age group passed me. Then it was like a domino fall … one after another passing me.

I was really struggling because every time I tried to pick up my pace, I got really lightheaded. I thought it might be a lack of calories, so I’d stuff my face with food. Little did I know that wasn’t the issue at all.

Running my race, doing all I can.

Running my race, doing all I can.

At Special Needs, the bite had returned to the air, but was bearable. I slipped on my neon pink arm warmers and passed on my long-sleeved running shirt. Big mistake.

Still fighting, but in a lot of pain.

Still fighting, but in a lot of pain.

I made it to the end of lap one, approximately sixteen miles, and was really hurting. I basically begged the crowd to help me out and keep me moving with their cheering. By the time I got to mile 19/20, I was in really rough shape. I made another potty stop and ate some more food. I was so close to passing out. Another racer handed me some potato chips and I tried to eat them, but they dribbled out of my mouth. A couple of spectators asked if I was okay, and I slurred, “No.” I was barely moving as I hung my head so incredibly low.

Moving so slow, I was starting to get so cold. Achingly cold. The feeling was so miserable and isolating. Then I saw Julie V. and I’m sure she could see the agony on my face. She asked me what I needed and just like Rose in the film “Titanic,” I shivered, “I’m so cold.”

I asked if she could get me a space blanket. I’m not sure if that was breaking the “outside help” rule, but she grabbed one from the next aid station and gave it to me. I was so unbelievably thankful. It felt like a lifesaver at the time, and was certainly, at the very least, a race saver.

Shortly after, I saw my friend Colin, who was rocking his first IM, passing me by. And then the wave of nausea washed over me. In front of the aid station at mile 21, the most spectator-friendly corner of the entire race, I wretched violently. Once, twice, … six ab-crushing times.

It hurt, but I started to feel better. I started to jog again. One spectator cheered, “You’re a warrior!” But my shortness of breath continued to limit my pace.

With my space blanket wrapped around me, I swished my way back to the Village. All the runners running the other direction had the required headlamps on. Although it was twilight, I was spared the headlamp requirement because I was so close to the finish.

At the last aid station, I ditched the space blanket. I “ran” one freezing cold mile to the finish chute. Hands raised toward Heaven, I crossed the finish line. I was so thankful to God for bringing me home as a newly-minted 3-time Ironman.

Finished!!

Finished!!

Goal? 4:00:00
Race: 5:15:02

Total time: 12:54:07, 19th AG

POST RACE

I was immediately whisked away to the med tent. My oxygen levels and body temperature were so low, they wrapped me up in blankets and heat packs. They didn’t have an oxygen tank/mask, so they gave me an inhaler treatment to help me breathe better. The med tent volunteers are truly angels. Once I felt well enough to get up, Kevin and I picked up my things and headed toward our cabin.

I called my coach while watching the race a block away from our accommodations. My heart went out to those still out there in 42 degrees, making their way through the foggy, dark woods with their headlamps. Those are the real warriors.

All in all, it wasn’t the result I trained for, but I am so proud of how I rode and the fight I had to finish. My journey to Kona continues. The light may be further away on the horizon, but it’s brighter than ever!

Now, it’s time to get my foot checked out, rest, recover, enjoy some college football, run the NYC Marathon, and get checked out for possible exercise-induced asthma.

Big shout-out to the companies and organizations who provide amazing products helped get me to the finish line: 2XU, Felt, Clif, Brooks, and Moving Comfort.

I could literally thank every person in my life, but I have to thank my amazing husband, my savvy coach, my supportive parents and in-laws, understanding co-workers, the incredible staff at Speedy Reedy, those who cheered and supported me on race day, and the crazy-awesome triathlon community—namely my fabulous TriBabes!!

Onward!

Sincere thanks ... and yes, I draw like a six-year old.

Sincere thanks … and yes, I draw like a six-year old.

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The Gift of Iron

A lot is written about the sacrifices and trials athletes endure to get to the starting line of an Ironman, but it truly takes a village to make an Ironman. There are the usual support suspects—coaches, teammates, physical therapists, podiatrists, massage therapists, great co-workers, friends, and of course, family.

Family usually sacrifices the most when their loved ones decide to take on the challenge of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. Their athlete usually spends a lot of time away from home training. But from an athlete’s perspective, you are truly blessed when your family becomes your team.

On September 22, I will wake up before sunrise to start the journey towards my third Ironman finish. September 22 is also my 6th wedding anniversary, which dictates that this year’s traditional gift be one made of Iron.

My husband has already given me the gift of iron many times over. Ask any of our friends—he is truly a one-of-a-kind Ironmate. When I have to wake up at 5 am for a long ride, he’s up before me, making breakfast. For a 2.4-mile swim workout, he’s ready in the kayak to guide me. When I am almost out of water on a 120-mile bike ride, he drives up next to me with fresh bottles. When I’ve passed out from training exhaustion, he quietly takes my bike out to wash it and when I wake, he has a home-cooked meal ready for me.  When I need a swift kick in the behind to get a run in, he’s there to make sure I have zero excuses to get out the door.

I could write endlessly about the wonderful things he does that make it possible for me to chase my Ironman dreams to exhaustion. But what is most amazing is how my passion for triathlon has led him to pursue his own. You will find him taking professional-quality photos on race day of pros and age-groupers alike. (If you see him out on the course, be sure to give him a wave!) You may even see him volunteering. He’s done everything from body marking to medal distribution in the past—it’s almost always a surprise to me. (Rumor has it you’ll see him handing out finisher’s shirts!) But that is the beauty of marriage, growing as people and as a couple. We are truly an Iron Team! 

So whether you are an athlete or a spect-athlete, remember to thank the volunteers, but also remember to thank the village that helped us all get to this day.

Best of luck to all my fellow racers who will also get the gift of Iron. I trust it will be a truly unforgettable present.

And to my Ironmate, thank you for this gift and the blessing of being your wife. Let’s do this together and I promise to do my best to be on time for our anniversary dinner reservation! 

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It’s Always Darkest Before the Dawn :: Ironman Calgary 70.3

After Lake Stevens, I felt pretty broken. Both mentally and physically. My crash gave me whiplash, sprained my back, and knocked my hips so hard, one leg was inches longer than the other. I had a hard time getting out of bed and carried an ice pack with me everywhere I went. I had two weeks to recover. And to be honest, I was more worried about my mental and emotional recovery than the physical one.

I have been told so many times about how tough I am, how strong I am, how much of a fighter I am. After Lake Stevens, I felt like I had reached my limit. Another disappointment. Another wasted opportunity. After all the crashes and injuries I’d endured over the last two seasons, my will to rally was seriously compromised. But, the plane tickets were booked, the hotel room reserved, and the race fee paid. I was going to do Calgary, for better or for worse, and give it everything I had left.

I was really happy to find local phenom Graeme Roche was also racing. There is just something nice about knowing that there is someone you know out there on the course with you.

Kevin and I arrived late Friday night. Because I am still new at my job, I don’t have any vacation time yet, so I left after work and planned on flying home Monday before work. Saturday was full of regular pre-race activities, registration, gear check, shake-out run. But the funny thing is, Canada actually feels like a foreign country! Kevin and I had to go scrambling around downtown Calgary in search of an ATM that would take our debit cards in order for me to pay for my one-day Canadian triathlon license. We would encounter a few more hiccups like this, but I figured that just meant race day would be super smooth.

10-minute shakeout run. Those are arm coolers.

During my gear check ride, the wind wildly shifted directions, making for an anxiety-ridden ride along the highway. I turned around early. No need to get all tense or get into an accident the day before the race. I busted out my 10-minute run, racked my bike, dropped off my T2 bag, and Graeme, Kevin, and I went and drove the bike course.

The course looked fast and Graeme and I both knew that if the wind was in our favor, we could be looking at big bike PR times despite the bike course being two miles long at 58 miles. It was a beautiful course through the countryside with bright yellow canola fields and grazing cows. It definitely spoke to my Montana girl roots.

Glorious morning! Let’s go swimming! (And biking, and running!)

Race morning came and the day was gorgeous. I subjected Graeme and Kevin to my usual blabbering and my ‘BIYF Remix Playlist.’ I’m not sure where the wellspring resides, but I was excited to race despite my throbbing hip. Maybe it was the chance to finally race in the sunshine! I heard other racers complaining of the cold morning, but the 56-57 degrees seemed absolutely perfect. Due to the later start time, I got through my pre-race routine smoothly. Kevin took a few pictures of Graeme and me, zipped up our wetsuits, and we headed for the swim start.

SWIM

The wave start of this race was unique. They had the pros go, then all the middle-aged men (30-44), then the young/seasoned men (29 and under, 45 and older), then all the women, and lastly, all the newbies, meaning anyone new to the half ironman distance. There were 10 minutes between each wave. When the 2nd wave of men started, I jumped in the water, hoping to get a little warmup in.

The water was so cold, it took my breath away! I surfaced, gasping for air. The only other time this has happened to me was during a rafting trip in Glacier National Park. The water was 60 degrees, but it felt colder. I shimmied back onto the dock in fear of getting too cold before the race start. I didn’t want my hands to cramp like they had at Boise. The rule at this race is that everyone must be touching the dock for the deep water start. There was quite a bit of jockeying for position, but I held my ground. The next thing I knew, they blew the horn and we were swimming.

The water temperature continued to affect my breathing. I gasped for air for the first 200 yards and could tell I wasn’t alone.  I made it around the first turn buoy relatively cleanly and realized I was in ‘no man’s land.’ I could see the fast women swimmers ahead of me and could sense the pack of average women swimmers behind me. Apparently, I’m not good, but better than average.

Exiting the swim.

I did a pretty good job of swimming in a straight line this time and was very smooth until I began to run into the slow male swimmers who started 10 minutes ahead of me. I had to dodge a few breaststrokers on my way to the exit. I felt like I swam strong, but I was disappointed with my swim time. I wonder if that had to do with the cold water panic at the beginning. No matter, I had a bike and run to do! 34:42.

T1

This transition was like no other I’ve ever done. I got out of the water and to the left of the ramp were wetsuit strippers. I actually think the wetsuit strippers are slower. They fumbled the thing off me and then I had to run to the right for my T1 bag. Thankfully, my race number was 402, so everything was really easy to find—just two from the beginning of the row. I dumped out my bag, put on my shoes, helmet, glasses, number belt, and a nice volunteer shoved everything back into the bag. Thank you, volunteers!!

A look at transition the day before the race. Note the drop down to the water.

The transition goes straight up a steep hill so I trucked it up through the middle of the two loooooong racks. (Yep, only two rows.) I grabbed my bike and yelled at the slower men to kindly move aside! This was a little longer than I like. Maybe I skip the strippers next time? 2:28.

BIKE

The wind was perfect. The weather was perfect. I was a happy girl ready to get out on the open road. It actually wasn’t so open though, as I had a ton of men to pass. ‘On your left! On your left!’  My power was still low due to my hip, but the wind gently pushed me along at astonishing high speeds. I caught most of the faster women swimmers, including the girl who was in 2nd in my age group. I pedaled past her, but it was hard. She was a strong cyclist. Still being a head case from my crash, I took the corners and descents really slow. My whole body would involuntarily shake down each hill. I was in no place to take turns fast with my body shaking so bad. So, naturally, Reagan, the 2nd place girl in my AG, would pass me back on each one. I’d catch her back, but as the descents and turns became more frequent, she disappeared. She would eventually put down the fastest bike split in our AG, besting me my 2 seconds.

Let’s ride bikes!

The bike was still a blast. I was smiling, joking with some of the guys around me, and soaking in the beautiful day. At one point, I had the pleasure of playing leap frog with the über-talented Sheila Croft. I never had delusions of staying away, but it was just part of the fun. And that is exactly what I needed—fun!! I smiled and waved at the cameras and spectators. Why I do this came flooding back to me. When a race is going well, I am filled with unbridled joy.

I came in to T2 with a grin on my face. I was currently the 5th fastest amateur woman, and I had pedaled to a bike PR by a couple of minutes, despite the course being 2 miles long. 2:33:41.

T2

I again lucked out with an easy-to-find rack position, especially since no one was able to preview the set-up. Another kind volunteer (thank you!!!) helped dump my T2 bag, even though I was completely ignoring her. Kevin was trying to tell me how far back I was on 2nd in my age group. I did thank her though as I grabbed my visor and headed out of the transition maze and on to the run. 1:08.

RUN

Running strong. For a short while.

I always go out too fast on the run, and this race was no different. I ran a 7:45 first mile. In my defense, I was jazzed by my bike ride and the run was slightly downhill. I appreciated the guys who were kind enough to compliment me on my bike effort as they blew past me on the run. I had to remind myself that I was still 10 or 20 minutes ahead due to the swim waves. Just as I had settled down, my hip flared up and the course started its relentless ups and downs. But before the pain could really set in, I was able to see Graeme headed for the finish line and I gave him a big smile and two thumbs up. That was one of my goals for this race: smile at Graeme.

Now, I had been assured that this run would just be a little bit harder than Lake Stevens. Hahahahahahaha. This run was definitely more reminiscent of the course at Wildflower without the trail. The course is also a very well-used bike/walking path and it was very strange to be racing as families walked their dogs and rode their bikes leisurely as we were all gutting it out.

Speaking of which, the whopping cough I had a few months ago was definitely still with me. Just a little way after turnaround, I had a coughing spell that turned into dry heaves. I was wretching so bad, the guy behind me definitely backed off and gave me my space until it stopped. I’m sure he thought I was going to throw up, and honestly, I wasn’t positive that I wouldn’t. It was getting really hot and while I felt like I had been spot on with my nutrition, I’ve had issues before.

As the day got warmer, I started to miss my fuel belt. I had decided to not race with my usual fuel belt because T2 bags had to be packed the day before, and there is nothing worse than day-old run bottles. I missed being able to take in fluid whenever I wanted and eagerly awaited each aid station. To make sure the water/Ironman Perform actually went into my mouth, I walked almost every single one. I managed the heat with salt, sponges, and ice and I can say for the first time, I raced in over 80-degree heat without feeling like I was going to melt. That was a huge win for me.

Let’s get this thing done! More ice, please!

The heat definitely was a factor though. As I headed to the finish line, I felt like I was running through molasses. My hip was driving me crazy and the overcompensation for my hip had caused a blister the size of a poker chip on the ball of my right foot. I was hurting and counting down every half mile to the finish.

Then, an angel came up behind me. It was a woman from the 40-44 age group. She asked me if I was 30 and I said, ‘yeah.’ She then told me, if I held my current pace, I was going to get on the podium.

What a relief! She probably passed the fourth place girl and was able to tell that while she was steadily gaining on me, she was going to run out of road. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I am always scared of getting gunned down on the run, and it helped me settle down and just get the work done.

The last 5k was the hardest. It was an uphill, false flat with no shade. I felt like I was barely moving. I kept looking at my watch and the mile tenths were ticking by so slowly. Finally, I could see the finish line. I didn’t dare look behind me. I had held 3rd place in my AG for the entire run. I was just moments away from my first podium finish at an Ironman-branded race!

I gave that last 100 meters everything I had. I was so happy. By the way I came across the finish line, you would have thought I had been the overall winner. While it wasn’t a run PR by any means, 1:58:58, it was a Half Ironman PR: 5:10:57!! 3rd 30-34 female and 12th amateur woman overall.

(Near) Victory!!

POST RACE

The best part of the race was that Kevin decided to be a finish line volunteer. He was there to give me the biggest hug and to place my medal around my neck. We had done it together. I never would have gotten to this point without him and it was amazing to be able to have him right there with me. Oh, and my medal doubles as a giant belt buckle, which is pretty awesome, too.

I also gave Graeme a big hug as he had an amazing day! He was the fastest amateur male, he set a course record for the 25-29 men age group, and he qualified for his pro card. It was a good day indeed.

Two happy racers.

Now, again, the real goal was to secure a spot to the World Championships. That would be the sweetest icing on the day’s cake. I found a race director who directed me to the slot allocation sheet. There would only be two spots for my age group. There was still a chance that I would go back to Seattle without my Vegas slot. Time to do some sleuthing.

I found the Reagan, the girl who was second in my age group. Great girl. Super nice. I asked her if she had a Vegas spot already and she said, no, and she would be taking hers. One down, one to go. Kevin pointed out the winner in my age group and I hobbled over to extend my congratulations. She had an incredible swim and was able to hold her lead. That doesn’t happen very often and I was definitely impressed. I asked her if she needed a spot to Vegas and then held my breath. She said she had thought a lot about it, but had decided to not take it.

YEEEESSSSS! I gave her the biggest hug. Unless she changed her mind, I was getting a spot to Vegas! I was going to get to race with the best in the world. I had done enough to validate that my 2010 participation wasn’t a fluke. It’s amazing the surge of energy that gave me. I was practically dancing all afternoon.

We had to wait a long time for the award ceremony and the heat climbed to 86 degrees. We crowded into the one shady spot with a host of other really fast triathletes. I was tired, but so excited to get my award.

Graeme got his award first, and I waited to hear my name called. The announcer called out, ‘and in third place for women 30 to 34, Jillian Beveridge!’

WTH?!?! I had an out-of-body moment. Had I been disqualified? I thought Jillian had been fourth. I was on autopilot. I marched up there and told them they had messed up. I had gotten third. They asked me for my name and looked down the list of finishers in my age group. I wasn’t even on the list. Like I didn’t exist. Like my day didn’t happen. My heart sunk into the pit of my stomach. I walked with one of the officials to the timing table and found solace in the fact that I wasn’t alone! The third place male in the 18-24 age group had also disappeared from the results list. It felt like an eternity as they figured it out. While I was waiting, I heard the announcer over on the stage announce the roll down for Las Vegas. It was like a bad dream. I ran/hobbled back over to the stage and begged them to wait until this could be squared away. Thankfully, they did.

In the end, they corrected the results and I was given my award, but it didn’t feel nearly as sweet as it would have without the mix-up. Good thing I’m a fighter! I had to battle for my award and Vegas slot even after the race was over!

Accepting my award in my signature pink 2XU compression socks!

The World Championship spot did roll down to me and I gladly took it. I was obnoxiously happy. Actually, one spot from another age group rolled into my age group too and I was glad to see the 5th place girl from the UK get it. That’s a long way to come and go home empty handed.

It was an amazing day. Graeme, Kevin, and I went out for dinner and celebrated our successes. The valet even gave us free parking as a congratulatory gesture. The 3 am wake-up to catch our flight home was a bit rough, but I was still soaring from the day before.

Vegas slot! Dumb happy.

THANK YOU!

Thank you so much Kevin for believing in me. You have been nothing short of amazing. I alway feel like I am racing a relay with you around. I definitely have an advantage over the competition. Also, your pictures again were stellar! I can see why more and more pros are using them for their own race reports! Thanks Graeme for being patient with me and hanging out. I’m so excited for you and happy you will be in Vegas too. You are an incredible athlete. Thank you so much to my friends, family, and teammates for your support and belief in me when my own waned. I am such a blessed girl.

And thanks to my title sponsor 2XU! I can’t say enough good things about all my amazing gear. It feels great to be able to focus on racing and not on my clothing or wetsuit—they just perform impeccably! Again, there is only one long-distance chamois I trust for 56+ miles! I am proud to represent and appreciate all your support. That, and I just love my pink compression socks. I mean, really, they are awesome.

I also want to thank my other sponsors. Felt for my amazing DA. She is so fast and pretty and I know that we will be a great team for many races to come. Thanks to Nuun for keeping me well hydrated and to Clif for keeping me well fed. Thanks to Peterson Bicycle and my bike team for supporting my triathlon goals as well as my bike racing goals. Thanks to Cycle University and Coach Tom for first-rate coaching! Tom, you are so patient—thanks for putting up with me and for continuing to help me improve with every race. I’ve come a long way since that first track practice in January of 2010 where I couldn’t run  one lap around the track faster than an 8:00/mile pace.  I also want to thank those racers who are faster than me that push me to become better and those racers who are just starting out that remind me of how far I’ve come and what joy this sport has brought to my life.

Haha, and if anyone actually read this entire post, you deserve a big thank you and applause for your perseverance!

Next stop? Vegas, baby!!

Best sign on the course. Hands down.

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