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

  1. Congratulations! Delighted by this news – I knew you could do it!

    • carlsincharge says:

      Thank you so much! It feels amazing to be going back to the World Championships! My goal there though will be to not have the slowest swim, bike, or run split in my AG!

  2. Stop stealing my race titles! http://www.mediocreathlete.com/races/mt-rainier-duathlon-2012-race-recap-its-always-darkest-before-the-dawn

    Just kidding…it’s amazing when you can go into a race at your lowest point (mentally speaking) and pull yourself out to emerge confident and victorious again (though I think I’d trade my podunk overall win for 3rd in age group and a Vegas slot!). Way to tough out the season and stay strong and confident! I’ll be tracking you at Vegas and sending virtual high-fives to you all day long.

    • carlsincharge says:

      Finest form of flattery? Oops. I had no idea. I don’t think it will be very ling before you are on the starting line at Vegas, too. P.S. Those wedding pictures you just posted? Holy hell, you’re tiny! Oh, but more importantly, you look radiant and beautiful and strong.

  3. Michael Scupine says:

    Enjoyed your race summary and a huge congratulations. If u ever are healthy, body and mind, what could u do? Maybe we will find out in Las Vegas. It doesn’t really matter though, you are a winner.

  4. Mary C says:

    Congratulations Carly.. as a “new racer” you inspire me, and of course I am there to make you all look good at the track workouts.. but soon enough I will be headed to worlds too! Crazier things have happened in my life. Nice work girl!!

    • carlsincharge says:

      Thanks Mary! I have no doubt you can make it to Worlds. Anything is possible. Truly. “Never give up a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”

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