Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3 :: so close, yet so far

After Boise, I was eager to get another race on the calendar. So eager, I signed up for two—Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3 and Ironman Calgary 70.3. My season’s goal was to qualify for the World Championships and after finishing 18th at Boise, I need to hedge my bets.

I prepared well for Lake Stevens. Because this race is just an hour away from home, I rode the new bike course several times. I rode it in both the rain and sun. I ran the course over and over again. I swam out in the lake a couple of times. I rode and ran with friends. I rode and ran solo. I knew what I had to do to have a solid day.

The forecast did not look promising and I prepared myself for another race in wet, cold conditions. Come race morning, it was drizzling and felt more like April than July. But, after Boise, it was relatively warm! This year, my wave was scheduled to start swimming at 6:44 am. I truly believe no race should be allowed to start before 7 am. That wakeup call was cruel and I barely had enough time to set up my transition area and get to the swim start.

SWIM

Because this is the local Ironman-branded race, there were a lot of friendly and familiar faces out on the dock with me. Sydnie, Alicia, Lisa, Mandy … we all jumped in the water and lined up according to our preferences. I wished them all luck and the next thing I knew, we were swimming! And I was swimming off course! Geez. I got back on track and the next thing I knew, I was swimming face-to-face with the girl next to me. It was Sydnie! After Boise, it was nice to know it wasn’t someone who would intentionally try to rip my face off. Throughout the swim, we would come together and then pull apart, but in the end, we came out of the water with the exact same swim split, 33:12. This was a PR swim for me, but since I swam so crooked, I felt like I still left a lot of time on the table. But again, a PR, so, there will be no complaining.

T1

My transition set-up was in the busiest intersection of the entire enclosure, so it was a bit difficult to get to my stuff and just focus on what I needed to get done. I still think I did a pretty good job as I was out of there in less than 2 minutes.

BIKE

It’s no secret that this is my favorite part and it takes me about a mile to settle down in to a nice race pace. I was a little worked up and got frustrated with a guy camping out to the left side as we headed downhill into a left hand turn. He wouldn’t let me pass and I yelled at him for blocking. I was surprised to hear my name yelled back at me. ‘Carly, calm down. I’m not going to let you pass me on the turn.’ I got mad, but he was right. I needed to settle down. I had the opportunity later in the race to apologize, so I did. I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong.

The course got lonely fast. Being the second women’s wave, and the fourth or fifth wave overall, meant that riders for me to pass came fewer and farther in between. I stayed on top of my power and rode strong despite the rain. I would leap frog with some of the bigger, strong guys. I’d dance past them uphill as they’d bomb downhill by me.

The rain ranged from spurkling to spitting, but when you are racing, you notice it less. I did ride further away from the right to avoid the puddles pooling on the road though. I also used the rain as an excuse to ride the descents really conservatively.

But sometimes, the weather can still get the best of you. At mile 44 of the course, there is curvy descent that goes immediately into a hard right hand turn. I slowed from 38 mph to 22 mph, but it just wasn’t enough to stay in control on the wet pavement. My back wheel of my brand new time trial bike came out from under me and I slid out. Hard.

Shit.

I sat there for a moment and then realized I had to get out of the way of the oncoming cyclists. I jumped to my feet and moved my bike off the road. My water bottle had launched itself, so I collected it and took a quick inventory of my body. My hip was throbbing, but nothing seemed to hurt so bad that I couldn’t get back on my bike. Somehow, my chain had wrapped itself twice around the crank arm and it took me awhile to figure out how to get it fixed. Meanwhile, all the volunteers at the corner stood in silence staring at me. When I was ready to go again, I threw my leg over the top tube and the volunteers erupted into cheers, yelling ‘go number 876!’ I didn’t really know if I was okay to ride or if my bike was okay to ride, but I was sure I still had really good position so I had to give it a shot. Again, goal: World Championships. I was off my bike for a total of 2 minutes. 2 minutes that felt like an eternity.

After the turn, there is a steady incline for a little over a mile. It was the perfect terrain for me to try to get my bearings again. My mind was flooded with thoughts. I thought about my friend Sam who had crashed at Ironman Cozumel and then ran the fastest marathon in our age group. I tried to spin the extra hit of adrenaline as an advantage. I asked one of the guys I was passing if I had a giant hole in my shorts, but apparently they were completely in tact. No road rash. Thankfully, the roads were so wet I just skidded across the surface. Actually, if you have to go down in a bike accident, this is the way to do it. When you start involving other cyclists or other inanimate objects, it can get really messy. I learned later that I lot of the male pros had crashed and some age groupers were taken to the ER after going over guard rails. This course is technical enough without the rain, and there was a little bit of comfort knowing that I wasn’t alone and that I fared better than most.

After riding the remaining 12 miles very slow and timid, I rolled into transition in 2nd place in my age group with the 3rd place girl hot on my heels. I had the second fastest bike split in my age group too and if you subtract those 2 ‘crash’ minutes, I would have been the fastest. 2:51:31.

T2

I was again the victim of the busy intersection, but I was not shy about moving people out of my way. I threw on my shoes, grabbed my fuel belt and visor and left. I ended up dropping a bottle out of my fuel belt that I had to go back for though. Again, less than 2 minutes.

RUN

While cycling after the crash was hard, I soon realized that was child’s play in comparison to the agony I would endure on the run. I tried to use the extra adrenaline to push through and I flew through town. My first couple of miles were sub-8s. But the 3rd place girl in my age group, and eventual winner, caught me a mile and a half in and made my fast look like crawling. She was probably running sub-7s. Other runners would tell me to relax as they passed me, but they didn’t know that I had just crashed my bike! My shoulders were so tense, they were crowding my ears.

When I got back to town, half way through the run, that’s when the pain got really bad. The adrenaline wore off and the stiffness set in. I cried. I know my friends and family could tell that I was unhappy, but with little physical evidence of the crash, they had a hard time understanding why.

As I came around the loop portion of lap 2, my friend Sean tried to encourage me, but it was useless. I was a hurting, blubbering mess. I felt like a small, injured animal just waiting to get devoured by a pack of wolves. One by one, strong runners in my age group passed me, including my friend Alicia. To add insult to injury, she slapped me on the butt as she strode past. Although my left bum cheek fared better than my right, it still hurt and I let out an audible yelp as the pain raced up my back.

The stiffness got to a point where I could no longer drive my right glute and leg uphill. So, I power walked. I did whatever I could to keep fighting. The last 4 miles of this race are really foggy, but I know I had a lot of very perplexed support out on the course. When I finally got to the finish chute, I gritted my teeth, and did my best to ‘run’ up the slight incline. I crossed the line and melted into a puddle of sobs. I had finished the run in 1:55:57—one second off my half-iron run PR. My final time was 5:24:17 for 8th in my AG.

POST RACE

Two volunteers scooped me up off the ground and carried me to the med tent. My friend Clayton was there almost immediately to check in on me. I was in hysterics. The pain, plus the exhaustion of the day had completely overwhelmed me. Once I was able to calm down a bit, the med tent folks were able to check me out. They didn’t suspect anything to be broken so they put a bandaid on my bloody hand (the only real road rash from the crash) and sent me on my way.

The weather had improved significantly during the run, and post-race was genuinely nice. I limped around and connected with my racer friends to hear about their days. I congratulated a lot of first-time Half Ironman finishers who were beaming from ear to ear. They all looked so happy. I remember how it felt to finish my first half. It was awesome. I may have been slow, but I felt accomplished and I had a ton of fun along the way. Looking back at the pictures, I am smiling/or waving in every single one. How had I gotten so far from that place that I finished this race in a crying fit? It was definitely something that I would continue to ponder many days after.

Kevin encouraged me to stick around for the award ceremony and the roll down. I was happy to be there to watch Alicia accept her awesome and well-deserved 4th place AG award, but I couldn’t help feeling hopelessly pathetic thinking a World Championship slot would roll down to 8th place. Crazier things have happened I guess.

At the roll down, we found out that neither of the two slots allocated to my age group had been taken. Alicia was awarded the first roll down and I started to think, maybe a roll down spot wasn’t out of the question. Then, it happened. The 6th place finisher took the next spot. So close. Yet so far away.

It pained me to watch spots roll as far as 20th in other age groups, but I guess that’s why I stayed. You just never know when you are going to get lucky. I should have known the minute my butt hit the pavement, there was no luck out there for me this day.

I later found out that I had sprained my back and knocked my hip so hard that my right leg was 2 inches longer than the left. I had also suffered some whiplash. My training plan quickly became recover enough for Ironman Calgary … two weeks later. It would be my last chance to qualify for the World Championships this year. Go big, or go home.

I have to give a shout out to the amazing support for this race. To all my fellow local racers who were racing or spectating, thank you for creating such an electric energy. Also, thanks to my mom and her husband Ron for coming down from Bellingham to watch the race. It was also great to finally have Coach Tom at a race!  As always, the biggest thank you goes out to my amazing husband Kevin for being the best partner a girl could ever hope for. All of his race photography can be found at tu.smugmug.com.

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2 Responses to Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3 :: so close, yet so far

  1. Dan O says:

    Ouch. Nice job on toughing it out to the finish…

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