Ironman 70.3 Racine: Undoubtedly, this was the craziest, most chaotic race day of my entire triathlon career. It was one after which I had to take a step back, reflect, and admire how it had turned into such a great metaphor for life. As the day unfolded, I realized it was not only going to be a test of our physical fitness, but also our mental fortitude, patience, and determination in the midst of adversity. And I have to say that with everything that was thrown our direction that morning, I’m just so proud of all the athletes who embraced the day as it came to us and who stuck it out to the finish!
Race morning began at 3:45am and after my morning routine, I headed over to transition, got my gear organized, and headed out for a warm up jog. They had announced that the water temp was 57 degrees. During my jog and admiration of the bright red sunrise, I noticed that we would be swimming against the current with some pretty legitimate chop. I had been in the water Thursday when it was 51 degrees (had the race been that morning, they would have canceled the swim, I was in fact left with a brain freeze for the remainder of the day) so I was mentally prepared for a tough, cold swim. When I returned from the jog, the race directors announced that we should stay put, rather than taking the 1 mile walk down to the swim start. That’s when it just started to pile on – it was just one thing after another from that point forward. There was a big cell heading our way, and with almost no real warning, the skies just opened up and the storm blasted the beach site! I took cover in a porta-potty of all places with a few other pros. Talk about a bonding experience…I had covered my SRAM eTAP with a towel and laid something over my beautiful Ceramic Speed UFO chain just to keep things in order. I also had stored my run shoes in a plastic bag and I’m glad I did. I’m telling you, you just had to be ON IT all day long, almost thinking one step ahead, constantly.
Shortly after, the swim was canceled and we were told to scram. Come back at 9:45am and we will see what kind of race we can put on with a tentative 10:30 start time (3.5 hours delayed). Fortunately my homestay (I kind of don’t want to give their names away because I don’t want anyone else to steal them from me!) lived 10 minutes away so I was able to get home, get dry (by this time I was soaked and cold), get in a Normatec Recovery boots session which was stellar before the race, and eat again. And I had a pretty big second breakfast and more coffee knowing that by the time we would get around to starting our race, we normally would be nearing the finish – – and after being up so early I knew I’d need extra calories and caffeine to get that second wind for a late start. I definitely felt for the people who couldn’t get back to a hotel since many stayed in Milwaukee and had to just eat whatever was available to them at a local restaurant – Starbucks or a bakery that was open early perhaps. Flexibility was the name of the game!
During the Normatec session I called my husband and coach and we lined up a new game plan. As athletes, we all want to race the course we had prepared hours upon hours for, but on this day we truly had to embody unwavering focus and determination even when things didn’t go as planned. And I kept thinking, you know, this is just LIFE. Life so often does not go as we envision or as we plan, but what are you going to do? Pack up and leave? It’s all a choice – how we respond and deal with it. We can throw up our arms and give up, or we can embrace it, adjust the sails, and set our focus on achieving what we came here to achieve no matter what comes our way.
The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjust the sails.
When I arrived at the race site again, this time with a dry kit on (glad I brought a second Hincapie kit!) I got word that we would be starting 30 seconds apart, one by one, en route to a 31.4 mile ride and a 13.1 mile run. I had mentally prepared to just go with it and to give it my best, and although I was disappointed that we couldn’t race the full 70.3, I was most certainly grateful that there could still be a race after all the effort we had put in to be there! The race directors and volunteers had hustled around to get the new route set up, and I’m just thankful that we could at least get out there and go hard, so be it under modified conditions. It had turned into a sunny, warm, humid day – a very windy one with 20+ mph winds – and we would be looking forward to a hard ride on very bumpy roads followed by a mid-day half marathon. What a challenge! I saw the beauty in trying something new, playing a bit of the guessing game, executing a very unique format, and testing the waters with some higher power output on the bike.
So we lined up and the count down began…I think I take for granted how much the swim actually warms us up for the bike; it felt crazy starting out so hard right away on rather cold legs. And we started straight up a hill too! I started with my socks on to avoid having to change into them in T2, and planned to not stop at aid stations with 2 bottles of Nuun with Nuun Plus on the ride. I also opted for less gels on the bike, so I took in a little over 300 calories on the ride. I was the third female to take off (behind Sarah Haskins and Jackie Hering), and with a 30 second separation between riders, it actually was very fair riding. I didn’t see any drafting happening out there, which quite possibly was a first. It was extremely windy and we had cross/head on the way out, and cross tail coming home. It was crazy trying to do the math to figure out where you stood in the virtual race since there were some very strong runners starting way behind me and a few strong cyclists further up and further back from me at the time trial start. I just focused on my own thing – “Don’t Pace, Just Race” had become my mantra for the day. Old race strategies were out the window!
I saw my homestay family at the turnaround and continued to hammer home, keeping my eye on the Quarq power meter to ensure I wasn’t overcooking it heading into a tough run in the heat. I came off the bike in 2nd, behind Sarah Haskins, although I had put time into her on the ride. I had the second fastest bike split (1:12:58 just 6 seconds off of Sarah Piampiano’s race-best split) so virtually it was actually Sarah P. who was running “neck and neck” with me out of transition even though she was behind me in the actual race. It was definitely confusing! I had the fastest transition time and was outta there in under a minute.
The run was awesome. I quickly made up ground, passed Sarah Haskins (it’s ok to be a little starstruck still, right, I mean this lady is such a rockstar – an Olympian, a mom, and one of the kindest people I’ve raced with) and was running at the front for the rest of the race. The first loop flew by, while the second loop got very crowded and it was tough to get water, even when I made sure to slow down to grab it. I was grateful for all the heat training I’d put in in Kansas City where we have had a brutally hot summer because heat, humidity, and wind played a huge factor in the run and hydration was very important. I probably didn’t get enough, which made for a long drug test after the finish line, but I guess that comes with racing in the heat!
Approaching the finish cute, I knew I was in solid positioning but truly didn’t know what was happening behind me. I crossed the tape first, but did not know if I had WON. It was just the craziest of emotions!! I felt awkward breaking the tape, I have to admit, so I just kind of blitzed through it rather than grabbing for it and holding it over my head – I would have just been so uncomfortable if someone else had actually had a better race day and it was my face holding the tape!! Ugh! So I crossed with a big smile (by the way though – breaking the tape is always amazing, whether or not you have confidence in a win!) and suggested to the race directors that I’ll play the waiting game now! With a race-best 1:22:40 run, my overall race time was 2:36:37. They put my worry to rest when they informed me that no one was in fact challenging my lead and that I could celebrate crossing the line as the Ironman 44.5 World Champion – ha!
I still just can’t get over what a crazy day of racing it all was! We don’t get to choose how our days unfold, but we do get to choose our attitudes and the manner in which we approach them. I’m always seeking the life lessons from this sport, and race day in Racine was chock-full of them. Life doesn’t always go as planned, but sometimes the most chaotic days — with a bit of patience and flexibility sprinkled in — can turn out to be the most memorable ones.
Unwavering focus and determination were my strengths on the craziest, most challenging race-day of my career. Mentally, it was SUCH a tough day, but often we must take what’s tossed our way and make the most out of it. If you want to weather the storm that life can be — adjust those sails, roll with the punches — you might find yourself looking back with the sweetest of memories.
Big hugs to everyone for the encouragement and to the companies that make this possible and to my sweet homestay Fam in Racine! You guys simply outdid yourselves. I felt so loved with all the sidewalk chalk, posters, race lead up meals, and cheers. So awesome!! Thanks to FinisherPix for capturing some great memories. And thanks for reading – it’s been a great season (not without road bumps for sure), but I’ll cherish this second win and keep chasing better!