I’ll admit, I was a ridiculous ball of nerves going into the race. While I felt extremely confident in my fitness, I had placed tremendous emotional significance and symbolic meaning to this event (for too many reasons to delve into) as well as set a goal for quite an aggressive PR. My old time was 5:25 at Eagleman in 2012, but I hadn’t raced a long course tri since 2012 after breaking my foot last year just two weeks prior to the big half ironman. Months of hard work over the exceptionally harsh winter pushed my training progress through some tough solo indoor trainer and treadmill sessions. Although I knew physically I was fully prepared the sentimental value I placed on the event for a number of reasons was evident in my emotionally intense taper in the last week leading into Florida 70.3. Why is it that once you start reducing training volume you get the sudden urge to completely redecorate the house? Or begin to worry endlessly about silly race scenarios that likely will not occur? Is that just me? Luckily, I had Nick taking great care of me and by the time we rolled into Florida the familiar pre-race routine led to calmness and confidence with the perfect hint of excited energy by race morning.
We had dinner in Celebration at a New England Style restaurant which of course felt comfortable and familiar.
As soon as we sat down outside, a car show ensued. These race cars just started parking in front of our table so needless to say it was a happy evening for Nick.
Packet Pick Up:
We were up before 4:00 AM to begin eating breakfast and getting ready. I arrived at transition and was excited to find Penelope on the same rack, just a few spots down. I was sipping the Osmo Nutrition pre-load formula in transition and was really excited to try their hydration strategy during the race. I chatted it up with my fellow transition-mates and set up everything with no troubles. Then, it was off to rejoin Nick down by the beach. I saw Cait Snow and went to go say hello to her. She’s the fastest female American Ironman (an epic runner) AND a totally cool New England triathlete married to a Stonehill College grad. She also works for QT2 which is the organization I credit with saving my 2012 Ironman Wisconsin with their extensive long course pacing and fueling information online and super helpful coaches I had met at Mussselman. Cait’s my iron-favorite pro, obviously so it was inspiring to see she was racing too. Shortly thereafter, my best friend since High School and renowned pastry chef Angela, arrived with a basket of decadent professionally crafted brownies to keep me motivated.
I knew I had to work hard and be intelligent here to make up for my swim mistake but in long course there is time. There is landscape. Everyone makes mistakes along the way. I know that I am no stranger to adversity and therefore I tend to handle race setbacks very well. I tempered my instinctual desire to go all out and exceed my targets to make up time and did so in part because I know my coach, Michael Harlow would not be recommending that. I stuck to the strategy we had laid out for the bike. The first section started off with a slight climb and was full of tight corners to maneuver on the way out of town. I was stressed about the draft packs that passed me until a miracle occurred. The draft marshals rode up and sat back behind a big group of riders who were clearly working together. They didn’t seem to hear or react to the marshal’s presence. There was no reason for that cluster to be riding so tightly. Being such an idealist rule follower from RVA where drafters risk public mockery by the vocal athletes in our tri community, I tend to get stressed when I see draft cheating so blatantly. Reassurance set in watching rules being enforced at this race and that renewed my spirits as I continued to work my way through the bike rolling country-side course.
The first half of the bike was amazing and blazing fast. Although there were hills, I paced them well being careful not to “burn matches” and kept it in zone 3 at most (tempo). I was able to make my way through the former athlete waves and catch up to many from mine both safely and swiftly while staying well within my target wattage ranges. My heart rate was higher than expected so I was on the low end of my wattage goals assuming it was from the heat. Despite a few indoor sessions in warm clothes, the heat still affected my body.
By the 2nd half of the bike I had moved from 22nd in my age group to 11th. During the back half of the bike hot brutal winds picked up and the heat began to scream its presence with intensity. I prefer hills to wind since you cannot see the wind but definitively struggle when we have both. I lost some speed in this section, but focused on watts, fueling and keeping my cool. Everyone slowed down here.
As we neared town, there were some technical turns and short rollers to traverse. I slowed down and came out of my shoes a bit too early. I looked down at my Garmin and scrolled to the total time screen as I neared the final stretch and immediately tears welled in my eyes. My former bike split PR (at Eagleman in 2012) was 2:49. On this day, I was 2:38:50 (came of the bike 8th in my age group) and felt good enough to get on the run.
T2 1:59 (sub 2 minutes..yeahh!)
I saw Angela and Nick cheering me on and tried not to let the waterworks and overwhelming joy and gratitude slow me down. I knew I had to table the emotion and get back to work but the tears were already dropping behind my glasses. I was a bit flustered from the shock of my unexpectedly fast time. I made some T2 errors such as trying to put my feet in the wrong shoes, which I’m sure my trusty podiatrist, Dr. McMahon would not recommend! Once I lectured myself yes, I scolded myself OUT LOUD to “get it together” and “stop crying” and chugged more Osmo pre-load from a plastic flask I was tearing off on the run ready to work.
My run target was about 15-20 seconds per mile faster than what I did on this day, but gauging my effort and heart rate, I had to hold back. I was working hard and immediately felt the affects of heat. Kristen from Coeur and Kyle from Endorphin had both warned me about the steep Florida hills, but I wasn’t convinced until I was out on the course. The first mile was a straight up steady long hot climb and this year it was all loose dirt (from construction) on a skinny sidewalk. The crowd support was incredible though with spectators spraying us down with garden hoses along the way. The talented volunteers were really good at cup hand off and communication and I really appreciated it as I stormed through grabbing cold water to dump over myself, ice for my bra and any kind of liquid to consume.
On the first of the 3 loops, Cait Snow ran past me in beautiful form and a little while later, Virginia pro triathlete Margie Shapiro came sailing on past. Being out there with New England AND Virginia pros representing my favorite regions was energizing and I was close enough to hear them announce Cait as the winner!
The run was a process of constantly trying to stay cool, staying hydrated, pushing forward and monitoring my body and what it needed in the moment. I was extremely uncomfortable but this is where the deep meaning and sentimental value I had placed on the race kicked in and fueled my every step. It became a cathartic experience for me. The race felt bigger than myself. I was running on heart despite the physical discomfort. I tuned out the blisters, the fatigue and the slight cramps by replacing the desire to relent with thoughts about what the race meant to me in my journey. I also thought deeply about everyone who had helped me along the way, my family, friends, training buddies, my kitties, colleagues, my coach, my sister (and how much she overcomes every day) and thoughts of my teammates from RTC, RVS, Endorphin Fitness, and Coeur Sports. I thought about those coming back from injury and those who were succeeding despite similar battles to my own. I was hot and working hard but I knew I had it in me to keep pushing. I thought about the day Nick stood in the drizzly rainy driveway after the 10K party that I had sacrificed to ride the trainer. He came home and didn’t ask why I was riding in the driveway on a trainer in the rain like a madwoman and just grabbed a beer and an umbrella and talked to me outside in the rain for an hour trying to support me as I pushed through my final long/tough training ride. I know many race with a blank mind and just do the work in the moment but I can’t do that yet. I race my best when it is emotional.
I stopped being able to do math in my mind. I knew during the run that even at this revised heat based race pace, I was on course to PR but for some reason I could not add my splits together and move one foot in front of the other so moving forward prevailed and math lost. The 2nd lap seemed to be the hardest. Seeing Pen on the course (not sure where I was then) made me happy as she shouted encouraging words. Seeing Angela and Nick each lap was also motivating. Right before my last lap, Angela informed me I was in 8th in 30-34 women. This highest I have ever finished in an ironman branded long course event was 19th. I was ecstatic and also highly motivated to dig deep so I could maintain my position and perhaps even gain a few places. Like my annual home-stay buddy Kurt (as super awesome tri coach too) says to me every year, “In the last 5k, Make. It. Hurt”. So, I went after it and was somehow able to keep a steady pace and run past 4 more women.
Heading into the 3rd lap, around mile 12 I realized I had not been paying attention to where to turn to finish the race. I didn’t want to get lost (again) so I asked a guy nearby if he was on his 3rd lap and he was. He knew where to finish so we paced and pushed each other through to the finish chute. I hope he doesn’t mind this wildly excited, enthusiastic, blissfully HAPPY triathlete woman bursting in this shared finisher photo! THIS is what the accomplishment of a big goal after months (years even) of hard work feels like…(see photo).
At the end, I asked Angela and Nick to tell me my final time and they told me I had run down 4 women in the last few miles and finished 4th in my age group with a huge (18 minute) distance PR of 5:07:52. Well, I burst into tears from the pent up emotions of the race and the training leading in.
I am so honored and happy to be able to do that race, as qualifying was one of those “dreams” that I didn’t realize was going to be a reality so soon. This is the result of consistent hard work through both physical and emotional setbacks along the way as well as having surrounded myself with an amazing network of inspiring and supportive people. I also owe a giant THANKS to Coach Michael Harlow, who committed to my goals no matter what and got me ready for this race despite many bumps and hurdles along the way. My training circumstances (especially when I first re-hired him) have not been ideal and the things we learned to work around together to crush my goals, were not simple by any means. I’m feeling pretty lucky to have him in my corner.
I am proud of finishing 4th in my age group, where podiums went 5 deep. For me, this is a big accomplishment. When I found out I was on the podium, I hugged the ironman staff. When I found out I was going to worlds, I hugged them again, and everyone around me as well. For ME, on this day, it meant a lot and I see this race as the closing of an entire multi-year emotional journey. I’m really looking forward to starting a new journey in this sport from this point.
I came in 4th in my age group and in my heart, with the deeper meaning I had assigned here, I won.