The Biggest of the Big Days: Ironman Louisville Race Report

This is the story of what happens when you race all out, from gun to finish, without worrying about time, placement, slots, or whether you might have to walk the whole marathon. You just race with your heart and head, keep your wits about you, don’t make any mistakes (well, not many mistakes), and have a little luck on your side.

Backing up for a minute, I never had my sights set on this race, but when I got shut out of Arizona registration last fall, it seemed like a good alternative. It was in the fall, which I like, and it was wetsuit-legal, which is practically a must for me. Beyond that, I didn’t give the course too much thought.

I don’t want to bury the following info about Louisville at the end (in case people get bored and stop reading by then). Louisville – the course and the town – exceeded all of my expectations. There are towns that host Ironman, and then there are towns that are proud of their Ironman. Louisville is definitely in the second category. Everyone I encountered all weekend, from the residents, to the other racers, to the outstanding volunteers, was exceedingly polite. This race is popular with many first timers, and their excitement was contagious. There is a lot to do and see in the area, and the course is pretty phenomenal across the board. The Ohio River is much less gross than everyone had made it out to be. The bike is scenic and honest. The run is on roads with not a single step of bike path. I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Back to the race…

My plan for this race was pretty simple. I knew I would have to not panic in the swim, ride super hard on the bike, and then run as close to 3:30 as possible. I have a good history of making it through the swim and running fast, but the bike felt like a huge, gaping unknown. I didn’t feel like I had biked very well at the one and only race I did this year before IMLou, and once I saw the course by car on Friday, I felt pretty nervous about it.

Despite plugging away at my bike training for several years now, it still feels like a weakness, and I knew that to stay in the race on Sunday, I would have to take a risk on the bike. Vince and I rely a lot on power and heart rate metrics in training, but after talking to Michelle Simmons at our Team Coeur gathering on Thursday night and hearing how she didn’t race with data, I started to get an idea: maybe I wouldn’t race with any data either? Not even a watch! This idea started to gel in my head and I was actually really excited about it. No power numbers to shame me during my ride, no heart rate to keep track of. By Saturday night, I decided it would be throwing the race away to ignore my data, so I decided to have it available, but let my instincts dictate the ride.

The swim. Holy crap was I nervous about the swim. I had completed exactly one open water swim since last October (Harvest Moon), and I hadn’t felt like that had gone very well. I not-so-secretly hoped the swim would be cancelled due to the water quality issue, but by the beginning of race week, it was looking like it was a go. They let us in the water for one practice swim on Saturday morning, and I decided to take advantage of it, not wanting my first dip in the Ohio River to be on Sunday morning. That all went o.k., but I wasn’t feeling great about the swim and it was consuming a lot of my pre-race thoughts.

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Ohio River – no worse than the Boulder Res

A cool thing happened on Saturday after I checked in my bike. I was killing time at the Expo before going to the airport to pick up Mark, and I decided to spend a little time sitting in some Normatec boots at the Normatec tent. Towards the end of my session, a man and woman ran over to the tent to sit in the boots. The woman was wearing an Ironman Boulder shirt and I asked her who had done the race. She said she had, and we started chatting about all things Boulder and Colorado. Some things she said started to ring a bell, and I asked her her name. She said “Ovetta Sampson,” and I realized she was the subject of an interesting profile in the most recent issue of Swimmer Magazine (the free mag you get for being a COMSA member). I can’t find an online link to the article, but the gist is that Ovetta, who grew up, in her words, “a poor, black girl on the South Side of Chicago,” had overcome some fears of open water to become an avid open water swimmer and triathlete who now coaches other women who were once like her – not the most likely triathletes, but embracing the sport. She did a TED talk in Chicago about “Making the Impossible Possible,” in which she tells the story of how she got into triathlon.

I was so interested that I remember looking her up on Twitter because I wanted to make a connection to this cool woman, and here she was sitting next to me at the Expo, chatting about swimming. Right before I left, I asked her for one open water tip she could give me for race day. She thought for a second and said, “long and strong. Long and strong, all day long.”

Long and strong all day long

I loved it.

We said goodbye and I went to get Mark, and my mood was ten times better. For the first time since arriving in Louisville, I actually felt excited and happy. Mark and I chatted about my race plan Saturday night, and he reiterated that I had to ride hard to stay in the race and we talked about shooting for a 5:50 bike. Then I would have to run like hell, but that part I thought I could manage.

I slept great Saturday night and my stomach wasn’t upset in the morning like it sometimes is on race day from the nerves. I got in the hotel elevator and my Coeur teammate Michaela was there (we hadn’t planned to meet). Everything at transition was smooth and when I lined up for the swim – in the longest line I have ever been a part of – I met two really cool women who immediately felt like friends. Thanks Jeannine from Louisville – you and your friends were great to hang with!.

The gun went off and we started to move towards the dock. A few minutes before jumping into the water, I spotted Ovetta and I was super happy to see her smiling face again. We yelled “long and strong!” at each other and a few minutes later – I think it took me about 13 minutes from the gun to when I entered the water – I jumped in.

The Louisville swim start is really unique. Apart from the time trial start off of two docks, the swim starts in a narrow canal with an island on the left and the shore on the right. The island creates some protection from the current, so there’s nice calm water and not the usual mess of bodies. I was actually enjoying it a little. I was a bit confused on the way back about where the final turn buoy was and If I was on course or not, and I spent some time wishing I had studied the course map a little better and wishing that I had worn goggles with more tint since I breathe left and was looking into the sun with each stroke.

I exited the water with hoards of other racers, got my bag, flew through the change tent, saw Ovetta again right outside the tent, then I got out on my bike with no issues.

Since I had started at least halfway back in the swim line, I had a lot of people to weave through during the first 20 miles. I was able to pass people pretty easily and I knew I was pushing really hard, but it seemed more important to try to get some clear road.

I glanced down at my Garmin to look at my heart rate, and it was super high, but that is standard for me starting out on the bike, so I wasn’t too concerned. My watts were an issue though. They were reading under 100, which, even for me, seemed freakishly low. It became clear early on that the power tap was not working properly, but rather than disappointment, I actually felt a big sense of relief. I could now ride by feel – just like I had wanted to!

Mark was on the side of the road on a climb on the early out and back part and he told me I had swam 1:10, which was shocking since it hadn’t felt that clean (I had popped my head up a lot to check for buoys and the line). I started realizing that maybe I was having a good day.

The Louisville bike course requires a lot of focus and concentration. You have to keep looking ahead on the descents to get into the right gear for the climbs and I was focused on maximizing my speed on the flats and descents and trying not to drop my chain or do anything stupid on the climbs. Almost everything you read says not to pay attention to speed and time in an Ironman, but those were the metrics I was using – speed and time. I went through the halfway point in a time I would be happy to ride for a 70.3, so that started to make me nervous that maybe I was overbiking, but I wasn’t about to back off, having decided early in the ride that I had nothing to lose. I didn’t want any regrets about not riding hard enough.

The last part of the ride is a flattish stretch back to town, and there was a headwind on this section, but living in Colorado and being used to some wind, I didn’t really think the wind was a big deal. Through all of the flatter sections, I focused on holding my aero position and making myself low and small, like Mat Steinmetz showed me back in January.

I’ll quickly note that I have never passed so many guys in a race riding expensive bikes and a rear disc who were sitting up on the bullhorns. Guys, if you are riding a super bike worth more than my old SUV and you are sitting up on the bullhorns in a race, you need a better bike fit. Or you need to spend more time staying aero in training. Something.

Coming back to town in the final 10 miles, I started to let off the gas a tiny bit and tried to gauge if my legs were going to be there for the run. I hit the run course feeling not quite as peppy as I would have liked. Mark was near our hotel at about the 2 mile mark, and he yelled to me that I was in 10th place off the bike (it was actually 12th) and I knew I had already passed some of those girls in the first few miles. I started to settle in, and the entire run became a crisis management situation where I was running o.k., but felt like things could turn south at any moment. I alternated water and coke with some oranges, which is pretty much the sum total of my nutrition for the run. Less is more for me as far as eating on the run.

Running through downtown at the end of lap 1 was a big boost because there were tons of spectators and I felt like I was holding the pace pretty well. Mark claims he told me at this point that he thought I was in second place, but my memory of that is foggy, and I can honestly say that I was less focused on picking people off than just running my race and seeing how it turned out.

Lap 2 was a lot more crowded with all of the people who were on lap 1. By this time, my quads had started screaming at me with a pain I hadn’t experienced since my first marathon back in 1996. I tried to block out the pain and just focus on my form and my running cues (chin down, shoulders down, hips forward), and it was a mile-by-mile, aid station-to-aid station progression. That’s how I have to do it. Thinking of anything more than the next mile is too much to handle.

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Thanks to teammate Jacqueline Brill for the action shots!

Mark was unexpectedly on the course at mile 22 by Churchill Downs. He was yelling that he thought I was in second (the time trial start made it impossible to know for sure), and he was screaming “only four more miles! Only four more miles!” It was fun to see him so excited, and I was happy to be running well since one of my fears in having him come to the race was that I wouldn’t race well, and we would both feel like it had been a waste of time and money for him to be there. The truth was, I got a huge boost from seeing him on the bike and run course, and I don’t think I would have had the same day or result without the encouragement he gave me.

After he yelled to me at mile 23, he took off down the sidewalk, running towards the finish, and because the course is so flat, I could see him, trekking along in his loafers about 100 yards ahead of me. He later told me he tried to get our car out of the hotel lot, but because we were right on the course, he couldn’t move the car, so he had someone from the hotel drive him out on the course. After getting out there, his phone died and he couldn’t take Uber back to the finish, like he originally planned. So he ran back. On the sidewalk. In his loafers.

The finish line on Fourth Street in Louisville is really loud and festive – one of the best I have seen. Once the line came into sight, I trucked to the finish, crossed making the Coeur heart with my hands for the video and camera (sadly, none of those pictures turned out well), and tried not to cry too much from the pain I was in.

Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Brill

There was all kinds of uncertainty after the finish about my placement. The tracker had me in first, but because of the time trial start, it was theoretically possible that someone who started later could have a better time and I wouldn’t have passed her on the course. That didn’t happen and after about an hour, it started to sink in that I had won my age group, something I had dreamed of doing, but which hadn’t seemed like a possibility, given my state of mind all year, which seems like a topic for a separate post.

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I cut off the bottom: 10:36:50-ish

Even though I told a lot of people this would be my last Ironman for a while, I knew when they called my name at slot allocation, I wouldn’t be able to resist the chance to race in Hawaii again. The fact that Kona is a year away makes it a lot easier to think about, and I am excited and grateful to have the chance to compete with the best in the world for a third time, including a lot of friends this time around.

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Much thanks to my Coeur Sports family and the teammates who were with me in Louisville. I loved meeting all of you and sharing the weekend. Thanks to Nuun Hydration for always supporting me and keeping me hydrated. Special thanks to my swim coaches and lane mates from Elite Multisport Coaching (no, this does not mean I will lead the lane). Thank you to Vince Matteo for your guidance and wisdom in coaching me to a result that once seemed like a crazy dream.

Huge, special thanks to my partner in sport and life for going above and beyond on race day. I will take you to the Waipo’o Valley next October as a thank you.

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Mark’s happy place

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Ironman World Championship Race Report

There are two types of athletes in Kona: those going for a certain time or age group placement and…everyone else. I’m in the second group. Because I know that I can’t be competitive at the World Championship, I came up with some different goals for the day. I wanted to beat my splits from 2011, which, when I qualified for this event back in August seemed like a given. I also wanted to finish in the daylight, which would have required an 11:06 finish. More than those goals, what I wanted most was to take in the experience and treat it as a once-in-a-lifetime event in case I never found my way back. I wanted to enjoy the views on the bike course, stop and take a picture with my family on the run course, and go back to the finish line for the midnight finish. Some of those goals were accomplished and some weren’t.

While I would like to just talk about the run, since it’s the only part of the day I really excelled at and it contains my happiest memories, triathlon is comprised of three sports, and the run was preceded by a swim and a very long bike.

The Swim 

Once everything was situated, I headed over to the start right near the arch to wait for the age group men to start their race. I saw friend and occasional training partner Michelle Yost a few times that morning and we found ourselves together again waiting to enter to water. We reminded ourselves that even though it was going to be hard, the hard conditions affect everyone, and lots of people would love have the chance to experience what we knew was going to be a hard day in Kona. You know how on tv when they show the athletes before the start and everyone looks very somber? It’s like that in real life. There isn’t much joking around before the Kona swim.

Waiting to enter the water is the worst part for me, but once we entered, I was calm. I swam over the the left side (which is the outside), near the TYR floaty thing and a few rows back. The gun went off and we got moving. Although I had people all around, we seemed to all be swimming around the same pace and I was pretty comfortable right from the beginning. One of the things I usually dislike about open water swimming is that I feel like I have to interrupt my stroke to sight a lot, but in Kona, the water is so clear that it’s much easier to see feet, so I only sighted a few times throughout the swim and that was mostly just to see how far away I was from the turn and the finish.

The water was a little choppy, but it didn’t feel harder than when I raced in 2011, and I actually thought I was having a really strong swim. I was on feet the entire time and even managed to get around people and find new, faster feet on several occassions. After the turn, I started passing some of the slower men who had started 10 minutes before the women. The swim seemed to take forever, but that’s always the case for me. Eventually I reached the stairs and saw the clock at the exit. It was close to 1:30, and I was shocked. In 2011 I had swam 1:26 and I never dreamed I would be slower than that this year since I have so much more experience and am a much better swimmer now.

Obligatory swim exit pic

Obligatory swim exit pic

I got my bag and ran into the change tent where my awesome volunteer assured me the swim was slow this year and “everyone is unhappy with their time.” That made me feel better and I decided to try to let it go, although I spent some mental energy on the bike wondering if the clock at the finish was still set to the pro time and I had actually swam really well. It wasn’t and I didn’t.

Swim Time: 1:28

The Bike

Here’s the part I wish I could tell differently. I wish I could give some explanation for why I it took me close to 7 hours to ride the bike course in Kona, but the truth is, that’s just how long it took. In all of my thoughts prior to this race, it never occurred to me that I might spend almost 7 hours on the bike. The thought never entered my mind. In 2011, I rode 6:25 and I am a much better rider now. Yes, it was very windy on race day and I am particularly terrible in the wind, but the wind affected everyone and it did not take everyone 7 hours to finish the bike. I am half-expecting to get my bike back from Tribike Transport and find the rear brake rubbing the way it was for Boulder 70.3, but it seems more likely that a challenging day like the one we had on race day cracks open my weakness on the bike much more than a calm day. Lots of room for improvement here, obviously.

Back to the race itself…

Things were pretty much clicking along as planned, but then around the time we passed Waikoloa, the wind turned on as if someone had flipped a switch. All of the sudden, we were riding into the wind much, much earlier than I had planned. Near the left turn to Kawaihae, a woman rode up next to me and we exchanged sympathies about the wind. Then she said, “I hope we make the bike cutoff.” I was immediately alarmed. I didn’t even know what the bike cutoff was, and didn’t think we would miss it even with a 7-hour bike split, but her comment got in my head and threw me off for a while.

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Cringe-worthy, but I like the backdrop!

The bike is usually a total blur for me, but one moment that stands out is when I was descending from Hawi (on the bullhorns, of course) and I passed Maria Simone, another one of Vince’s athletes, who was racing her first Kona. I had the pleasure of spending time with Maria and her husband John, who was also racing, at the Slowtwitch party earlier in the week and I felt like we all hit it off. By the time I was headed back from Hawi, the majority of the field was already well on their way to T2 or even out on the run course, so it was a bit desolate. I realized I was primarily riding near the older athletes in the field, which was inspirational to witness, but at the same time made me feel bad that I was so far back. Seeing Maria twice on the bike and exchanging a few words gave me a much-needed lift.

Maria, John and I at the Slowtwitch party

Me, John and Maria at the Slowtwitch party

A final word about Hawi. Even though this part of the course lived up to its legendary reputation for windy conditions on race day, I think it’s the most beautiful part of the bike because of the great ocean views. Even though I was struggling a bit mentally and physically at this point (I had thought about dropping out of the race in Hawi because the bike was so hard for me), I tried to look at the ocean and remember that I was lucky enough to have the chance to race in paradise and, oh yeah, I was supposed to be having fun!

Having fun (sort of)

Having fun (sort of)

Bike Time: 6:57

T2: 

When I finally arrived at T2, I told my bike catcher that it was one of the happiest moments of my life and that is pretty much true. For the first time in 9 Ironmans, I had decided to put a full change of clothes into my T2 bag. While packing my gear, Mark had said “what would you wear if you were running a marathon?” So, rather than face 26.2 miles in my soggy tri kit, I put on a new top, running shorts and I was off and running.

The Run

Although it was not part of the plan to be on the bike for as long as I was, I had planned to bike a little more conservatively in order to set myself up for a fast run. I thought I could run around the same time I had run in Boulder and maybe even a little better. I hit mile 1 in 7:22, but shortly after I settled into a 7:30 pace, which I held all the way up and back on Ali’i.

You have to understand how strange this was for where I was at in the race. No one around me was running this fast and the spectators were cheering me on like crazy. The louder they yelled, the faster I ran, and the more the momentum built. I no longer cared that I had swam almost 1:30 and biked almost 7. I decided I was going to be the first person in the history of Kona to put together a 7-hour bike and a 3:30 run. I have no idea if that is actually true, but it was all I had left to salvage my pride in the race and I was determined to go after it. The miles clicked off and I ran through the aid stations like I was running a stand-alone marathon. The great part about it being late in the day is that it was no longer hot. There was cloud cover and a light rain.

Having actual fun

Having actual fun

I knew my family would be at the 5 mile mark and shortly before the turn, I spotted Mark and Jack on the side of the road. They didn’t know what shape they were going to find me in at that point or what had been going on, so they didn’t say much as they tried to assess how I was doing. Further up the road, I saw my sister with Kendall and I stopped for a moment to say hi and get that picture I had promised myself.

After the race, my sister told me that they debated for a long time what to say when I finally reached the turn around on Ali’i, knowing that I was probably not having my best day. They decided on “You’re doing it!” which became our slogan for the rest of the vacation.

Mile 5 with Kendall

Mile 5 with Kendall

I ran back through town, lifted by the crowds. I charged up Palani and Mark was at the top, having made it just in time to see me again before I headed out on the Queen K. I think he was sort of shocked at how well I was holding it together and, frankly, I was, too. Anything can happen in the Ironman run, but I was feeling good and going for it.

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The Energy Lab, hyped so much on TV as being so hard, is one of my favorite parts of the run course. By the time I got there, the sun was setting and a volunteer handed me a glowstick. There was a helicopter hovering overhead shooting the sunset. One of the aid stations had my favorite Ironman run snack, green grapes, and I grabbed a whole bunch and ran along like that, glowstick in one hand (it was annoying around my neck so I just carried it), grapes in the other, enjoying the view. Just before the exit to the Energy Lab, the Newton run screen played the video Kendall and Mark had made for me at the Expo and I laughed and cried at the same time.

Back out on the Queen K, it started to get dark. I had some company for a few miles as a guy and I matched strides for a while until he pulled ahead, the only athlete to pass me on the run. When I look back on this race, one of the images that will stay with me forever is charging up the Queen K in the dark, with no one to chase or run with, not gunning for a slot, or a time or a podium position, but just running hard because it felt like all I really had on the day.

As I rounded the corner back out onto Palini and down the hill, I chucked my glowstick at the final aid station and started kicking towards the finish. I ran along the right side of the road, high fiving everyone in sight to share and celebrate the moment.

This is actually from midnight finish, but it was the same view for me

This photo is from midnight finish, but it was the same view for me

I turned right on Ali’i and tried to take it in. I heard my family shouting and I peeked behind to make sure no one was right behind me. Then I attempted a finish line jump, which didn’t come out that great, but is still sort of funny.

Run Time: 3:32

Final time: 12:08

Not that it matters, but I feel compelled to mention the time on the clock is from the men's start

As I said on Facebook, I may be back again and I may not, but I have no regrets about the race. O.k. That’s baloney. I actually wish I had biked better, but hindsight is 20/20 and if I had to choose between a 6:30 bike and a 3:30 run, I would take the 3:30 run any day. Although I would like to think I am better than the time on the clock at the finish, that was as good as I was on the day. Sure, I dream of going back and finally getting my daylight finish, but I also realize that there may be other things out there for me, other dreams that need fulfilling.

To the friends back home, the new friends I met in Kona, and the friends who follow online, thank you for your unwavering support and encouragement. Everyone who does this sport is an inspiration to me, whether you are an age group champion or a midnight finisher. Thanks also to my coach, Vince Matteo, for helping me get here to begin with. And last but not least, a huge thanks to my family, for always believing in and supporting me. None of this would be worth it to me if they were not right by my side.

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Ironman Boulder Race Report

With a little extra time on my hands this week, I thought I would tell more about how race day unfolded. I find the usual race reports a little dull and prefer to tell stories about things that happened on the course. So, if you came by looking for all of the info such as the details of my pre-race routine – what time we got to the High School, how much I ate, how long the lines were at the porta potties – you are probably going to be a little disappointed. Sorry!

Swim – Time 1:13 (I always scroll down immediately to read someone’s time, so I will save you the trouble)

I don’t have much explanation for how I shaved 3 minutes off my Ironman PR and swam better than anyone expected. I can tell you that I have continued to work in the pool, went to long course masters a few times, and did a practice 2-mile race in the Rez two weeks before the race. Beyond that, I am as mystified and amazed as anyone else.

I was unsure what the swim would be like with the new rolling start procedure. It ended up feeling like a normal day at a 70.3 as far as the congestion in the water, without the added element of swimming over the slower swimmers or getting swum over by the faster people. I’m a fan. I can also tell you that I pretty much stuck to the buoy line, tried to draft when possible, and swam in a full-sleeved wetsuit.

Bike – Time 5:40

Out on the bike, I immediately noticed my heart rate was sky high. Scary high. I ignored it and assumed it would calm down within 20-30 min, but it took a full 90 minutes at least for me to see a heart rate that seemed more normal for me for Ironman. I’m not sure what the story was with the high heart rate other than the adrenaline of the day, and possibly the fact that I may have taken it out a little bit hot. I didn’t know my swim time since I don’t wear a watch in the water, but I realized fairly quickly that it was probably pretty decent (for me) since I was getting passed on the bike by people who I assumed were much better swimmers.

Lots of people went by me in the first half. It felt like the whole race was passing me by – mostly dudes – but quite a few of them came back to me after mile 80 or so.

I had a mental shift from “just doing my thing” to “hey, I might actually do something here today” around mile 60. That’s when I saw Sonja on the side of the road cheering and she told me that I had been 12th out of the water and was making up ground quickly. I felt great at that point, so I got to work riding hard.

Happy to see Sonja at mile 60

Happy to see Sonja at mile 60 – photo courtesy of Sonja Wieck

The rest of the ride was uneventful until I arrived at T2. I knew from watching the awesome pre-race videos from the Race Director that the dismount line was on the east side of the high school, but we were supposed to run with our bikes along the back of the school, across a bridge, and onto the track where the T2 bags were located. Honestly, not the greatest set-up I have seen. I have never tried to master mounting and dismounting with my shoes clipped in, so my only options were to run in my bike shoes, or stop, take them off and run in my socks. I went with option two and ran to the track in my socks with shoes in one hand and bike in the other. I didn’t have issues with burning my feet on the track while getting my T2 bag, but apparently a lot of other people did. I’m confident they will come up with a fix for that next year.

Run – Time 3:41

One of my big goals in Ironman is to run a 3:30 marathon, something I fully believe I am capable of. I thought I had a great shot in Boulder because of the flatter bike and run, but I was only about 5 or 6 miles into the run when I realized a 3:30 was probably not in the cards for me. It was in the mid-80s by that time, and the run course – which is 100% on bike paths – didn’t have many flat spots. Having biked harder than I had planned on, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to hold myself together and was legitimately concerned things might turn south at any given moment. On the other hand, I feel like I don’t have a ton of talents in this world, but running well off the bike, in the heat, is one of them.

My bike nutrition plan is pretty specific, but my run nutrition is much less so. I can run a stand-alone marathon on just 1 gel – but at some point on the first lap, I realized I was going to need some calories and started considering what to eat. Nothing seemed appealing. My stomach felt ok, but it was one of those times when I felt like the slightest wrong move could cause me big problems. I settled on orange slices, water, and an occasional handful of grapes. I tried to hold off on Coke as long as possible because I worried about energy highs and lows, but I was already into the Coke by the halfway point.

Lap 1 is when I realized I had not done a perfect job with my course recon and had failed to preview the biggest hill on the course, an overpass on Pearl Parkway on the northeast side. This was an out-and-back section, so we were treated to that hill 4 times with the fourth time occurring after mile 20. Pro triathlete Tim Don was on the side of the path cheering on this side of the course, and I remember thinking it was funny that Tim Don was cheering for me instead of the other way around. I tried to think of something clever to say to him when we headed back. I ended up yelling something that I am too embarrassed to repeat here, but which made him laugh, so that was a fun moment. Sadly, he was gone by lap 2.

Lap 1 was harder than lap 2. There was still so much running to do and I honestly wasn’t sure how things were going to turn out. I was holding a solid pace, but it was definitely hard and I was having to use all of my mental tricks to make it through. In the run, I try to give myself a lot of positive self-talk, and toward the end of lap 1, when I was feeling hot and struggling a bit, a thought popped into my head – “it was hot like this in Cozumel and you ran well.” Yes! It was true. Cozumel remains my fastest IM run and it was a hot race. That thought sustained me for a while. I knew from Sonja that I was in 8th place out of T2, but at this point in the race, people’s body marking had worn off, and I didn’t know what was what.

Around mile 16, Sonja was right about where she had been on lap 1 and she gave me the low-down: “Jen, you are in 4th place and 3rd is about 90 seconds up. You are running 30 seconds faster per mile. Go get her!”  She told me who I was looking for, and not long after, I made the pass and knew it would be for good. Now I was in 3rd place(!), but still doing damage-control by walking all of the aid stations and I still had to get up and over the Big Hill two more times. Luckily, that all went pretty well, and by the time I passed back through town again, I was just hoping the race would end soon and I could stop running.

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Doing the hard work with my race face on

If you were out there and cheered for me, I apologize if I didn’t acknowledge you. I tried to wave to friends and acknowledge some cheers with a point or a head-nod, but this was hard work for me and I had to to focus exclusively on the task at hand. I wish I was happy-race-face girl, but that’s just not me.

I had seen Mark on all of the out-and-backs. He was ahead, but not by a lot. Back through town the second time, Sonja told me he was just up ahead, and I knew I would catch him. Some people have asked if he was mad or if he cared that I beat him and I want to clarify that the answer to both is NO. Even though I used to think he was sometimes competing with me and used to feel like we were racing each other in workouts, I realized this summer that he doesn’t care if he is ahead of me or not, so I started not caring either. He is 100% supportive of me and understands the goals I have, although it may bug him a tiny bit that I don’t have to work quite as hard at it as he does. I have said many times that if you were to combine Mark’s work ethic with my ability, you would have one kick-ass athlete. My success in Boulder was his success too, and we were thrilled to be at the finish at almost the exact same time to celebrate together. Also, he let me ride our new 404/808 Zipps with power tap, and if that is not a selfless act of love, I’m not sure what is.

That said, no, it did not occur to me to slow down to run in the last 1.5 miles with Mark. I am always trying to run one of the fastest run splits of the day, and I was trying to do that in Boulder. On Pearl Street with the finish line in sight, I considered whether I might pull off an amazing finish line jump, which I don’t usually do, but it looks really good in photos. I couldn’t do it. The best I could do was smile, wave my arms like a lunatic, and high five a few strangers.

Time: 10:43:33 – 3rd AG; 12th OA (PR)

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My finish line catcher served her purpose and dragged me away from the line as I kept repeating that I just needed to sit down. The finish area was pretty empty and they let me sit there and wait for Mark. The photo we took at the backdrop in the chute was not cute, but we had Ryan of Kompetitive Edge take this one later.

Mark's shirt was a crowd-pleaser

Mark’s shirt was a crowd-pleaser

I need to say a few more words about Sonja and what she did for me last Sunday. When Sonja first starting coaching in 2011, I was one of her first athletes. When we parted ways in 2012 (I may also be the first person she fired), she told me she would always have my back and support me, even if she wasn’t my coach. True to her word, we have remained friends and occassionally train together. When I have something hard on the schedule that I really want to nail, I know I can call her up and she will try to be there for me if she can. She had five athletes she was supporting in Boulder, so I did not assume she would be focusing on me, but I sort of knew in the back of my head that if I was lucky enough to be “hunting” on the run, she would probably help me out by giving me placement info. It’s possible I might have executed the same race without all of the info Sonja provided, but there is no doubt having her there was a huge help. I am extremely grateful for her support on race day and all of the companionship leading up to it. Hopefully I can repay the favor some day.

A last thanks goes to the littles. At the risk of sounding in my last post like I was some sort of supermom whose kids didn’t even notice her training all summer, please know that my kids spent quite a few hours sitting on the pool deck, entertaining themselves while I rode the trainer, and even accompanying me on some brick runs (after a bit of begging on my part).

Ironman is our lifestyle and it is pretty much all they know, but I am grateful to have the support of the kids in the long months leading up to a big race. I can’t wait to make more memories in Hawaii with these two.

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Rock n’ Roll Arizona Marathon Race Report

When I finally got around to registering for the race, I had to put down my predicted finish time so they could put me in the appropriate corral. I put down 3:15, which was my aspirational, best-case scenario time. I didn’t have any basis for picking this time other than I wanted to believe, deep down, that I was still capable of running a 3:15. I hadn’t run any races in the past five months and felt like I didn’t have a clear idea what pace I was going to be able to run on the day, but I was still hoping I was a 3:15 girl. Or at least a 3:15-3:20 kind of girl.

Everything race morning was perfectly smooth and I even had some lucky things happen, like finding free parking on the street just two blocks from the start. I had given myself tons of extra time in the morning because I hate feeling rushed and I was a little nervous about having to navigate to the start by myself. One negative about this race is that the marathon start and finish are in two different locations with no shuttling between the two. You have to either park at the start and take the light rail back to the start from the finish, or park at the finish and take the light rail back to the start. It was all going smoothly, and I parked myself on the floor of a Starbucks right by the start line to sit and wait indoors since it was in the 40s and I didn’t want to waste energy shivering outside in the cold.

My predicted finish time had me in corral #1, along with everyone else who was hoping to run sub 3:30, which isn’t as many people as you would think. It definitely felt more like the start of a local road race than a Rock n’ Roll Marathon, although I have never run any of the Rock n’ Roll Marathons, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

The race started and I didn’t have to jockey much for position since there weren’t that many of us and we had the benefit of at least two lanes of the street. Getting your pacing right is a little tricky coming from altitude to sea level. You feel really great and it is hard to know how hard you are working because it all feels much easier with so much oxygen.

My Garmin buzzed at mile 1 and I looked down and saw 7:10 or something like that, which was surprising because I didn’t feel like I was running that fast. On the other hand, my heart rate was very high – pretty much at the top range of what I am used to seeing if I am working very hard – and that seemed like a bad sign, but I told myself that it was probably just the adrenalin from the start and it would likely settle down soon.

I settled into a pace that felt comfortably fast and that ended up being around 7:20 per mile, which was a little faster than I had been planning on, but again, I really didn’t have a clear idea of how I was going to feel, and the pace seemed to feel right, so I just went with it. My heart rate remained scary-high, but I ignored that as well, because I have always said that I run the marathon by feel, and I was not going to let the number on the watch slow me down, even though it was playing with my head a bit and I was feeling a wee bit nervous about how long I could keep that up.

The field spread out very quickly. I was already in no-man’s land with no one else very close by mile 5. Around mile 10 or 11 I made a couple of friends. There was a girl I had seen at the start who looked fast and she had been ahead of me, but then somehow she was back with me. She said she had been going for 3:10 but couldn’t hit the splits, so she was just taking it easy. We talked for a while and it was nice to have someone to pace with and keep me company because before that, you could have heard a pin drop on the course. There really aren’t many spectators along the route and other than the aid stations, a few cheerleading squads and the bands, it was quiet.

A little while later, maybe around the halfway mark, a guy heard another girl and I chatting, and he tried to organize the three of us into a formal pace group to block the wind. It was pretty amusing because, first, it wasn’t windy at all by Colorado standards, and, second, I’ve never heard anyone attempt to organize a pace line in a running race.  I’ve definitely tucked in behind people if there’s a headwind, but the formal way the guy tried to get it going was funny. The guy was running 7:20 and I had decided by that point that I should back off to something more like 7:30, so I let him go on ahead and stayed with my new friends for a while longer.

With my new friends Karen and Nadine. They both rocked!

With my new friends Karen and Nadine. They both rocked!

Miles 13 through 19 are a big out and back to Scottsdale. The out part was o.k., but at some point on the back, maybe around mile 17, I realized that I was feeling a little less comfortable than I had been earlier and the pace was not coming quite as easily. I had read reviews that said the late miles of this course are pretty desolate, so I wasn’t expecting crowds or excitement, but it was still a little hard once we made the turn south at mile 20 because the course became even quieter and more boring. I was alone again at this point and not really enjoying myself so much because my legs had started to hurt – one quad hurt and the calf on the other leg hurt – and this is about the time I started to fall off my pace.

Running along between miles 20 and 21, I realized that I had to go to the bathroom immediately. It came on that suddenly. I started to get worried that I might turn into “Rock n’ Roll Arizona poop girl,” and I started scanning the landscaping along the course to see how much coverage there was if it came down to that. Luckily, I was within sight of an aid station, so I hopped off the course and ducked into the porta potty. I kept thinking how bizarre it was because my stomach hadn’t even been bothering me and I had only eaten one gel and taken a few sips of Gatorade (in addition to water), so I couldn’t figure off what had set it off. The only thing I can figure is that if you run your heart rate close to your max for 3 hours, something is bound to give eventually, and in this case, it was my stomach.

After the porta potty stop, I felt tons better, but I had lost a bit of time and I was annoyed at myself for forgetting to turn off the “auto pause” feature on my watch because now my watch time and the race time were different and I wasn’t sure by how much.

The rest of the race was just a matter of survival to get to the finish while trying to not completely implode, but I knew that I had lost 3:15, and I didn’t have it in my legs to fight any harder.

Around mile 23, a “race angel” appeared. These are the people on the course who say just the right thing to you at the right time and it is so weird because you almost feel like your coach or spouse or training partner is speaking through them. Does this happen to anyone else? I can think of this happening at several Ironmans, and it happened again on Sunday when a spectator, seemingly out of nowhere since there was hardly anyone around at this point on the course, told me “relax your arms.” I immediately did what he said. Then he said,

“Now feel the energy? You have more energy!”

He was right. I did have a tiny bit more energy. So I focused on that for a while, relaxing my arms and focusing on my form and playing any other mind tricks I could think of to make the miles tick away faster.

Around this same time, the course turned east and I was totally confused about where we were and how we were going to get back to Tempe Beach Park, which is also where the Ironman starts and finishes. Then, at mile 25, we finally crossed over Tempe Town Lake on one of those bridges, and it wasn’t a long climb, but it was definitely the steepest part of the course. I almost laughed out loud because it was kind of amusing that there was this steep incline so close to the finish. People were walking all around me but I made it my personal mission of the day to not walk that hill. Sometimes it is the little things that give you more pride than the big picture and running up that hill felt like a large victory at the time.

After the hill, I could finally see that we were really close and there was a quick right turn and then the finish line was right there. I was happy that I didn’t get outkicked at the line like I sometimes do, but I didn’t even really care, because I knew I was over 3:20 and the actual finish time seemed pretty insignificant after I had just given my heart to the race for 20 miles and then almost imploded (but not quite).

Both feet off the ground!

Both feet off the ground!

Official time: 3:21:55

I wandered around in the finish area sort of half crying because my legs hurt so badly but also so relieved that I wasn’t running anymore. It was a weird setting because I was feeling pretty bad, but I was surrounded by all of these people who were celebrating their 3:30 half marathon finish and the finish line concert was in full swing. I knew I had to get out of there immediately. Plus, I was alone and I had to navigate the light rail back to the start line, find my car at the start, drive to my hotel, get cleaned up, check-out and then get to the airport for my flight home. I was a little overwhelmed and I felt like I wasn’t managing very well. It seemed like the easier and more economical choice to travel to the race by myself, but it can be hard at the end when you really need someone to carry your bag or find you a water and there is no one around who knows you. That was kind of hard and I probably won’t put myself in that spot again.

I had a lot of thoughts after the race, pretty much all positive, and Vince had some good insight on what I can improve on and where I can go from here. Tackling a fast marathon at some point in the next year is still a possibility and my dreams of running a personal-best Ironman run split in Boulder this summer are still alive.

Ironman Whistler Thoughts

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I started this report with a lot of the usual stuff, but it wasn’t flowing easily and I realized that the actual racing wasn’t the story I wanted to tell. Instead, I want to write about what I learned on Sunday and where I am going from here. So if you landed here hoping to hear about the two-loop swim, the gorgeous but brutal bike course, or the “over the river and through the woods” run course, my report might be a disappointment.

We came home from Whistler late Monday and yesterday I was home alone. I was crying off and on and texting, emailing and tweeting friends of mine. Some I have known for a long time and others I only know through the internet, but all of them are girls who compete and many have been in my shoes.

I was trying to process my feelings about the race and what I am going to do now.  My first reaction was to quit – to give up and throw in the towel.  Sunday was as good as I am – I had a great race – and it still did not feel like it was good enough.  I talked to Mark about returning to running, something that comes easier to me and that I am still reasonably decent at, or even returning to the sport of my youth – tennis.  I’ve thought of selling my bike, quitting my team and closing my social media accounts, which are almost entirely full of tri-related friends and news.  I told my friends that I am not doing Ironman next year or perhaps ever again.

Then a day passed.

In that time, I spun out my legs on my road bike in the rain and went for an easy swim in our neighborhood pool. I started to feel like myself again. I put my bike back together and wiped it clean. I watched Trevor Weurtele’s awards ceremony speech – twice – and cried each time. You should watch it yourself, but in it, he talks about how long he has been in this sport and the sacrifices he and his wife have made to be the best triathletes they can be.  Big victories haven’t come easily for him. Sunday was his first Ironman win.

I cried to Mark that I put everything I had into Sunday’s race and I came up far short of where I wanted to be (about 18 minutes short to be exact). He told me that’s how he always feels. He will likely never see an Ironman podium, but he works harder at improving his swim-bike-run than almost anyone I know.

The bottom line is that I love this sport too much to give up now. I know where I need to get stronger and I have some notions of what it will take to get there. It’s not something that’s going to happen in weeks or even months. I now realize that my progress might be measured in terms of years. I’m not a patient person. I want my results yesterday. But this sport is teaching me that patience and hard work are usually rewarded. And maybe, just maybe, the rewards will be that much greater because I had to work so hard.

I’m not sure when or where I will race again, but I can promise that I will be back out there.

Thanks to everyone who has sent me a kind word in the past few weeks. A special thanks to my husband, who probably saw me more times on Sunday than any other spectator saw their athlete. He’s always there to support whatever crazy dream I come up with – unless the dream involves buying another Ironman Foundation slot.

P.S. It occurred to me that some might be stopping by just wanting to know how I did, so I thought I would save you the trouble of clicking over to Ironman.com.  I had a great day. 1:18 swim (2nd best for me); 6:04 bike, which was 10-15 minutes better than we thought I would ride, and a 3:43 run, which was somewhat of a miracle after 6K of climbing on the bike.

Total time: 11:14:57; 10th in AG.

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IMAZ Race Report

Did it all really happen just ten days ago? After the trip we took following the race, the holiday, returning to winter, and the almost 7 days I have taken off from doing anything resembling a swim, bike or run, the memory is already fading a bit. But, I really want to capture a few things about this race. So, here it is.

The Ironman Arizona 2012 race report

A few things were different about this race from the other five ironmans I have done. I realized this was the first ironman I have done where I signed up for the race one year in advance (the way most people do). For my first ironman, IMCdA, I decided to become a triathlete the January before the race, so I bought a community fund spot. Cozumel that fall wasn’t sold out and I registered in July. I decided to do Canada in March of 2011, buying a slot through multisports.com, which was basically the same as buying a community fund spot. I qualified for Kona at Canada, 6 weeks prior. I registered for IMStG the Tuesday before the race because it wasn’t sold out. The reason I explain all of that is that I think it helps explain some of my feelings leading up to this race. I had been planning it for a long time – a year – and had a lot of expectations. I had hired a coach again in late August to help me prepare. I had all of the latest and greatest equipment. With a calm swim, a flat bike and a flattish run, I was really expecting it to be my race.  And in so many ways, it was.

Matchy matchy at bike check in

The other thing that was new and different for this race is that not only were Mark and I both racing, but we also had the kids along. He and I both did IMCdA and Canada, but this was the first time we had both raced and brought the kids. The only reason this was even possible is because Mark has a cousin who lives in the area, and she graciously agreed to watch the kids from Sat night until whenever we wanted on Sunday. While there are so many good things that can be said about making Ironman a family event, I can also say that for me, the circumstances added a bit of extra stress. I am pretty sure that I wouldn’t choose this set-up again (racing spouses and kids in tow), but we did it and it worked out.

Race weekend fun

Tempe on race weekend was a little bit better than the Tempe I had seen two weeks prior, but as a host city, I felt like there was a definite lack of excitement that made it different from small town destination venues like Lake Placid, Coeur d’Alene or Penticton. The area is huge and even people right in the vicinity of Tempe Beach Park (or whatever it’s called) neither knew nor cared what the event was. That’s fine with me since I have been to a bunch of these races at this point, but a first timer is maybe missing out a bit on some of the fun and excitement of a smaller venue. On the plus side, the lodging is cheap and plentiful, the race is easy to travel to, and there are tons of places to eat. So, pros and cons to Tempe.

Race Day

Everything was clicking along smoothly on race morning. We left our hotel at about 5:15, found parking close to the start and we both felt organized and ready to go. I had been a ziplock bag/label freak for this race and had essentially distributed all of my gear into gallon, quart or sandwich-size zip-locks, mostly all before we left Colorado. So I was feeling organized and ready to roll. That is why it was such a huge shock went I dumped out my Morning Clothes Bag to begin putting on my swim gear to find that I didn’t have the ziplock that contained all of my morning essentials and swim stuff. I had my timing chip on already and I had my wetsuit, but I didn’t have my goggles, my Tri Slide, my morning gel, salt tabs or pharmaceuticals (Immodium and Pepto).

The missing bag

It was after 6 when I discovered this glitch and I started to get nervous. I began asking random strangers if they had an extra pair of goggles. Right away a man in the porta potty line handed me an extra pair. He apologized for their condition and said I was welcome to have them. I was really grateful, but when I took a closer look, I decided to keep looking for a pair that might fit better and hold onto this pair if I got (more) desperate.

The first pair of loaner goggles (bless his heart)

After getting a new swim cap (they have extras of those), I walked near my bike and asked some girls if they had extra goggles. One of them gave me a brand new pair of TYRs, and I knew I was good to go. With that crisis solved, I shimmied into my wetsuit and we made our way to the sea wall.

The Swim

Mark and I had already decided we were going to try to take the line inside the buoys and we knew we wanted to enter early enough to make it over there, but not so early that I would freeze before the start. If you do Arizona and want to know how and when to enter the water, I can tell you that we walked along the ledge of the sea wall for a long ways before jumping in and it was perfect.

The water was chilly but not unbearable and we made our way over to the inside line. The kayaks over there were trying hard to get the swimmers to all move to the right of the buoys, and I started to get nervous about how far inside we were and left Mark to swim closer to the buoys and move a little further back. The swim start is pretty cool. The swimmers are under a bridge and it is still practically dark out. If I liked a mass swim start with almost 3000 people, I’m sure I would have absorbed the moment and enjoyed the whole thing. But I actually dread any Ironman swim start and I was a little anxious. The gun went off and I got underway. There was a lot of contact, but it was no worse than Canada or IMCdA or some of the other races and I actually thought I was doing o.k.

I wish I had a story to tell here that somehow explains my time, but the truth is, that’s all I had on that day for the swim. I had trained for a 1:15, but something about that swim was slow for me. I can try to blame it on the cold water, or the hoards of people, or the fact that I got stuck on the stairs trying to exit the water (true), but the truth is I still have issues in open water and I really need to address those if I hope to improve my times next season. People have told me that the key to good swim times is to become a better swimmer in the pool, but I definitely think I need to put in some gravel pond or Stroke n Stride time next summer.

I don’t wear a watch in the swim anymore because it usually messes with my head, but after I got my wetsuit off and started towards my bag, I saw Sonja in the chute. Here’s me screaming at her “what’s my time?! what’s my time?!”

She gave nothing away that my swim had been sub-par because she yelled to me what a great job I had done in the water.

Swim time: 1:21:45 – 40/135 AG

The Bike

Right after exiting transition, the course takes a turn and there was some type of bump in the road which caused the bottle I had mounted between my aerobars to fly off. I had two other bottles on my frame, so I didn’t even think about stopping for it. That was my only nutrition “glitch” of the day and I don’t think it really affected things.

Once out on the bike, I was super-happy we had made the effort to come down two weeks earlier to ride the course. If we hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have known that the way out on Beeline is slightly uphill and I wouldn’t have known that a headwind on the way out can change to a tailwind later in the day. That’s exactly what happened on race day. There was a bit of a headwind on lap 1, but by lap 3, it had changed to a headwind on the way back down. I’m not sure when it was in the bike that I realized I was going to crush my goal of 5:45 and ride closer to 5:30, but it was really motivating when I figured that out. I road the whole bike at a slightly higher heart rate than I had been planning on because I was trying to maintain a 20 mph average. I didn’t care that I was perhaps riding a bit harder than I had planned. I knew it was my last race of the season – I had even threatened it would be my last Ironman – and I was ready to “burn down the barn.”  Mark had rented me Zipp wheels for the race as a birthday gift and they made my bike feel extra fast.

Apparently watching my Garmin

A few words about the course and the drafting. Yes, this course is crowded. It can be hard to stay legal at times because there are so many people. I felt like people tried to stay legal for the most part, but I had a big peleton swallow me up right before special needs on lap 2. There were several 35-39 girls in the group and the drafting was blatant. I spiked my heart rate pretty high to pass the entire pack, only to have them go by me again later. There were a numbers of motos on the course, but most of them were mechanics or media. I think I only saw the course marshals twice. I think there’s room for improvement here.

The best part of the bike course is the loop through town back by transition. This area was packed with spectators and I easily spotted Sonja on loops 1 and 2 and she was cheering her head off and taking pictures like a superstar.

Thanks for the great pic, Sonja!

I had made two bottles for bike special needs – one with Coke and the other with Skratch – and when I pulled over to get them and peeked into my bag….there it was. My swim bag from the morning. I’m not sure how I could have thrown it into bike special needs by mistake, but it just goes to show that even when you think you are calm and organized, you can still make mistakes.

Bike time: 5:36:36 – 19.96 mph – 18/135

The Run

The run. It all comes down to the run. I know that when I am well prepared for the bike and run, I can make up tons of time in the marathon but I have only had one good ironman run, back in Cozumel in 2010. More than anything else, I wanted so badly to run well in Arizona. One different thing I did for this race was to put a handheld water carrier in T2, which I had filled with Skratch. The idea was that if had easy access to fluids for the first 6-8 miles, maybe I would break my recent habit of meandering through the aid stations grabbing everything in sight. The plan worked and I blew through every aid station on lap one without stopping other than to grab a water and throw it on myself.

Lap 1 of the run was hot, but I knew that it wouldn’t be long before the sun started to go down, which it does really early in November in Arizona. My original goal was to run 8 minute miles for as long as I could, and while I didn’t quite hold that pace, I never went much over 8:30. It was a super-consistent run for me and probably my best performance to date. I ran 1 minute faster in Cozumel, but that course is pancake flat while the Arizona course has several hills (that must each be repeated 3 times). A few guys passed me here and there, but I was mostly doing all of the passing.

After passing my Newton shoe twin

Even though I didn’t have any family cheering me on, I had Sonja, Jared from KE, Timmy from Newton and a few other people from the KE Team. Seeing them on the course gave me a huge boost each time. People were cheering me on by name (from my bib) or yelling “go Kompetitive Edge” or “go Colorado!”  It was awesome. I expected to see Mark and Audra more, but the way the run is set up, it is hard to see someone unless you are passing them and they were both in front of me. I saw Mark once and was relieved to see he was still pretty far ahead. When I realized it was a hot day, I was a little nervous we were going to have a repeat of Canada, where I passed him at mile 20 of the marathon. But he held strong and had his own awesome race and I didn’t see him until I crossed the line (thank goodness, because I don’t know if I could have handled the aftermath if he had imploded on the run like he has in his past few IMs).

After lap 1, Sonja had told me that I was in 9th place. I tried to count girls in my age group on lap 1 and I thought I had counted at least 4, so by lap 3, I thought I was in a really good position to crack the top 5. I was still running strong and by the time I reached the now-large hill on the back side of the course, it felt like I was the only person running. I passed a few more girls who I thought were 40-44 and thought I was picking them off.

As I came towards the finish in the final mile, I started to get nervous about the turn. There had been a sign on the ground that pointed right for laps 1, 2 and 3 and left for the finish, but it was a small sign and I couldn’t remember where it was. It was starting to get dark. I momentarily panicked thinking I had missed the turn to the finish and got worried I would have to backtrack and would maybe get passed, but the sign came into view and I was on my way to the finish. At this point, you run off of the course and through a parking lot and there is no one around. Again, I worried that somehow I was going the wrong way. Then I realized the finish was in the same location it had been in for the kids’ race and I turned the corner and realized I was going to break 10:45. I sprinted to the finish to break 10:45, like it somehow mattered, and fell into the arms of my catcher. Sonja was right there in the chute and Mark was still there and Sonja took this picture of us.

Run time: 3:38:30

Finish time: 10:44:30 – 6/135

A huge thanks to Sonja for the info on the course and for all of the support (and pics!) on race day. Thanks to TriBikeTransport for all of their help with the Zipps, to QR for helping me get my bike dialed in on Saturday, to Dina Griffin of fuel4mance for the nutritional counseling prior to the race (no stomach issues whatsoever), to our friend Rick Wold for driving my bike back to Colorado so I didn’t have to take it on the rest of our trip, and last, but certainly not least, to Kompetitive Edge for helping outfit me in the best gear out there and for all of the support they provide all season long.

In closing, I’ll share some of the words of wisdom I received following the race from my Star Wars-loving coach, Kevin Konczak. He has been a rock for me the past three months. We didn’t have a lot of time to work with, but we both agree that we made the best of it:

This should be a new beginning not an end. Rest up and springboard to the next level, you’ve worked far too hard to get where you are. Take a step back if you need but only to work on things in the shadows of a new tomorrow. As Yoda said, “DO OR DO NOT, THERE IS NO TRY!

Boulder 70.3 Race Report

Mark asked me the night before if I had a plan for the race. Yup, I did. My plan was to survive the swim, bike as fast as I could, and then run as fast as I could. No joke, that was my plan. Here’s how it went down.

Pre-race:

I hadn’t touched the Illicito for quite a while before this race. That turned out to be a bit of a mistake as the Illicito was clearly feeling neglected and decided to pay me back by developing some issues. I waited until Friday afternoon to put my race wheels on and right away, I knew something wasn’t right. A bolt was missing from the rear wheel drop-out, and while it seemed to be ok once I got the wheel on, it didn’t seem ideal. After texting Ryan from KE a pic, he told me to bring it by the Expo in the morning, and he would have the bolt and give it a quick once-over. Relief.

The next day, I took the kids and bike to the Expo for check-in and to have Ryan check the bike. He worked his magic and all seemed fine. As an expression of gratitude, I also let him talk me into buying these sweet new limited-edition Newton distance racers. He didn’t have to convince me too much as they were super-cute and I sort of had to have them right there on the spot.

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It ended up being a busy afternoon and I didn’t get around to sitting on my bike and actually trying to ride it until about 5:30 pm. I was dismayed to see the brakes were rubbing. Now, on most bikes this wouldn’t be a big deal and you would just adjust them, but the Illicito has what Ryan calls a “technical” set of brakes that he pretty much advised me not to mess with. Now I was a little worried.

Around that time, Mark rolled up from working all day (he had arranged to pick up his packet race morning), and I told him my brakes were rubbing. He was not super pleased as he sort of hates working on my bike since it is, as I mentioned, a little “technical.” I stood there and tried to help and provide support (even though I don’t know the slightest thing about my brakes), but after a while, it became clear that the best course of action was to get the heck out of there with the kids and leave him alone to mess with it.

He later texted that he had finally solved the issue and I was fine. Great.

Race morning:

Mark and I forgot to communicate the night before about what time we were going to leave the house to drive to Boulder. Quick aside: people sometimes ask me what we do with the kids when we have an event that we are both participating in. For this race, we took the kids to my parents for a sleep-over because my parents are renting a place nearby for the month. For Boulder Peak, we had a teenage girl (daughter of someone we knew who was racing) watch them at the Rez. We have also had sitters sleep at our house or come over at a god-awful, early hour.

Anyway, it was unclear what time we were leaving. I had set my alarm for 4:30, thinking we would leave around 4:50, but Mark had planned to be out the door by 4:30 since he had made a deal with the organizers to pick up his packet at 5:30.

The good news was, we were off to an early start. It was particularly helpful for me since when we got to transition, I spun my wheel once, realized the brakes were still rubbing, and immediately headed for the Colorado Multisports bike mechanic, who needed a little time to get it figured out, but eventually got everything running smoothly.

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After the usual hanging out and waiting and admiring the sunrise, I started to wrestle myself into my brand new TYR Cat 5 wetsuit. I say “wrestle” because that’s what it felt like, i.e., the suit was not exactly going on too easily. I hadn’t actually tried on the suit before (or any suit to determine the size), but rather had just assumed it would fit. Having now worn it, I’m still not sure if it fits properly or not. All I know is that on race morning, I was in the suit like it was painted on, and it was feeling very snug.

Swim: 40:54 (last year 39:38)

I decided to try a different start position than at Boulder Peak. Rather than starting wide, I thought it might be better for sighting, drafting and swimming straight to start on the buoy line but a few rows back. So that’s where I was when the gun went off. I tried to get a rhythm going, but I was feeling uncomfortable right off the bat. The water was really warm (there had been rumors it wouldn’t be wetsuit-legal), and I was feeling a little claustrophobic in my suit. I sort of wanted to unzip it. I have thought about dropping out of races during the swim many times, but this was the closest I had come to actually making that decision. I pulled to the side where there was a kayak. I asked her if I could just grab on for a minute and she said sure, so I bobbed there for maybe 30 seconds or so and then decided to put my head down and keep going. I didn’t really feel comfortable until we rounded the last buoy and turned back towards shore.

I’m not sure what my issue was in the water. It was probably a combination of less-than-optimal swim fitness, the new suit, the warm temp and the murky water. I’m not sure. All I know is that my discomfort in the water seems to be more of an issue in shorter races than IMs. I’m not sure why, but it may have to do with the fact that in an IM, I don’t feel like dropping out or freaking out is even an option. I have worked too hard to get there to ruin it all in the water. So, while I am hoping to address some of these things before Arizona, I am not overly worried that I am going to have the same issues there.

Although my time looks pretty terrible compared to the other girls in the top 10, it was only 1 minute slower than last year when I was swimming quite a bit. Really, my best case scenario for this swim was probably 37-38 minutes, so not too far off.

T1: 3:36 – just like the suit didn’t want to go on, it also didn’t want to come off. I got one leg out pretty quickly, but the other one wasn’t so easy. I think I was afraid of ripping it. Another area for improvement.

Bike: 2:43:04 (last year 2:43:02)

I don’t wear a watch in the water and on Sunday I was very glad for this because I didn’t want to dwell on the swim. I just wanted to get on my bike and see what I could do. This bike is a two-loop course and it is fast. There are some gradual uphills, like on 36 to St. Vrain, but there are also some fast descents. It’s a fun course.

I was riding pretty hard (for me) and passing people, but I could not seem to find many girls in my age group. Still, I just focused on riding hard, keeping my heart rate up and not doing anything stupid.

Thanks to Troy Wieck for the photo!

Mark passed me on the short out on back towards the end of the first loop, which was another clue that I didn’t swim very well since his wave started about 20 minutes after mine.

I tried some new nutrition for this ride: Skratch Labs drink mix, pineapple flavor. I had never tried this drink before (apparently this is the theme of this race report ), had not even tasted it, but I was curious and figured I didn’t have much to lose. The drink is very tasty and I had no trouble drinking 2 bottles, whereas I am usually sick of EFS after 1 bottle. It’s fairly low in calories though, so you need to supplement with solid nutrition, which is a bit of a pain in a shorter race. Still, I like the natural bent and the flavor, so I will definitely continue with Skratch for my training and shorter races. KE sells it – pick some up and try it out.

I rolled into T2 with Katy Blakemore, another KE athlete, who was totally dominating the race. We had exchanged a greeting – really an introduction – on the road leading into the Rez, and that was the last I saw of her. She was flying.

I was a tiny bit disappointed with this bike split since I felt like I gave it a good effort and expected to be a little faster than last year, but I haven’t done much quality work geared towards this distance, so I am not beating myself up too much about it. Just a little.

T2: 1:42 (lost a little time looking for my spot)

Run: 1:44:56 (last year 1:45:30)

I kind of hate the 70.3 run course. It is all dirt (i.e., slow) and the first 3 miles and miles 6-8 are hilly. And it is always h-o-t. I think that’s the most challenging part of this race, the heat on the run course. I had grabbed a little baggie of salt tabs in T2, which I was running with in my hand since it was too challenging to try to get them in and out of my top. My nutrition plan for the run was simple: coke, salt tabs, and water over my head and occassionally into my mouth. When it’s hot like it was for this race, I like to go a little more minimal with my nutrition.

I didn’t have huge expectations for the run other than to try to run under 8 minute pace and not walk any hills or meander through the aid stations.

I stayed cool by stuffing ice down my top at the aid stations, but I started stuffing it down the front and the back during the race, which I highly recommend if you are in a scorcher. If you stuff it down the front, you can pluck the pieces out and eat them (Kona-style), but if they are in the back, they just slowly melt, which felt pretty awesome.

A little freaked by my left leg here. I swear it doesn’t really look like that!

I first saw Sonja on the short out-and-back at mile 3.5. She is generally a faster runner than me, so I assumed she would be passing me soon. By the time we went through the hilly section on lap 2, I was using Sonja behind me as motivation. Namely, I didn’t want her to see me walk. The second time up the hills, a lot of people were walking, but I shuffled up and over, never slowing to a walk. A little while after cresting the last big hill, Sonja came up behind me, but rather than pass me right away, she settled in next to me, matching my pace. She told me she was hurting badly. I offered her some salt tabs which she took, and we continued on side-by-side. We would get separated a little at the aid stations, but then we would hook back up and run right next to each other. The awesome part was, even though Sonja was hurting, we were running faster than I had been before she joined me and we were passing a lot of people. We had only talked once in two months, but there we were, two teammates, running together and finishing strong. It felt good.

At the aid station near mile 11, I told Sonja that I was really needing the aid, so I pulled off to the side to grab ice/water/coke and she pulled away. It was pretty amazing actually, to be hurting that badly but be able to run so fast. The girl is as tough as they come.

[I should probably note that although we practically finished together, Sonja outbiked me by almost 20 minutes and outran me by 10. She outswam me too, but that probably goes without saying. You can read about her race here.]

In the last few miles of the race, I was finally catching a few of the 40-44 women. One thing I have learned in this sport and something I tried to remind myself of on Sunday, is that it is never over until you cross the line and you should never count yourself out, despite how the rest of the day has gone, until the run is over. This is especially true in Ironman, where the race is 140 miles, but it is also true in the half. I came out of the water in 43rd place in my AG and finished in 7th. No wood for me yet, but I am getting closer – or at least not losing any ground.

Sonja was still in the chute when I got there. I was really thinking she could benefit from a few bags of IV fluid, but she was able to smile for this pic, so I knew she was going to be ok.

Finish: 5:14:12 – 7th in AG (last year 5:12:35, 8th)

I was happy with this result given the amount of training I have done this summer. It shows that I have a decent base on which to start building for Arizona.

Thanks to Kompetitive Edge for their support all weekend and all season long and to everyone on the KE team who gave a shout of encouragement. You all motivate me to be my best.

Onward!