Ironman 70.3 Muskoka Race Report

17 07 2018

Well friends, it’s been awhile. I hope you’ll still let me call you friends! I’m popping in to write up my race report from Ironman 70.3 Muskoka because it was a day I don’t want to forget!

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Pre Race:

We flew into Toronto on the Thursday before the race. I had purchased our flights with miles and the cheapest flight got us to YYZ at 11:15 pm. The race takes place in Huntsville, ON, which is a good 2.5 hour drive north-and I was told by locals it could take twice that long on busy summer weekends- so we opted to spend the night close to Toronto and then drive to Huntsville in the morning. For those of you unfamiliar (I was!) the race is Ironman Muskoka because the district is Muskoka. The town which functions as race HQ is Huntsville.

 

 

We went straight to the Summit Center, which is where Ironman Village was, and I unpacked my bike and took it to get looked over by the bike support folks from D’Ornellas since it looked like part of my headset was crooked. While I waited for my bike, I perused the M-dot gear and got checked in. I got a kick out of the fact that Ironman Village was on a hockey rink. Once I got the all clear on my bike, I took it out for a 50 minute spin on the first part of the bike course.

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It was so fun! Yes, it was challenging, but there was so much GREEN everywhere and lakes, and the change of terrain and scenery was exactly what I was needing in my training right now. It made me really excited about race day. After my ride, it was time to check in to our AirBnB!

PSA- if you ever do this race, you must, MUST stay at the Fairy Avenue Getaway – our hosts were amazing, and the location CANNOT be beat! It is literally ON the swim course, a block from the run course, and a short 15 minute walk to the Summit Center.

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The AirBnB’s backyard

Once we checked in, the river was just calling my name. I mean, how could I NOT go for a swim when the water is RIGHT THERE? I threw on my wetsuit and jumped in to the cool 74 degree water. Confession- two weeks ago I posted in the TriMuskoka group to get some information about the water temp. Someone responded that the water was 65 (well, he actually told me the temp in Celsius), so I ordered some booties just in case. Well, the week before race day, they had a heat wave- temps got into the 100s! But, that also warmed up the water, which made this girl happy!

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I swam a little, but also putzed around/floated to try and get a feel for the current. I kept hearing about how this swim is against the current once you get to the river, but to be honest, I couldn’t really feel much pull. I practiced some sighting and found a few landmarks for the race before I got out.

IMG_7586Friday night before a Sunday race meant PIZZA! We walked to downtown and went to the Mill restaurant for some coal fired pizza. It was quite tasty, as was our cheesy Naan. Carb it up baby! I was planning on not having any alcohol until after the race, but I couldn’t stand not trying a local brew. So Bill and I shared a Muskoka Brewing Lager. We enjoyed it so much that we actually ordered a second. Oops. 🙂 After dinner, we got some groceries and then headed back to the Getaway to relax. It was the night before the night before so I made sure to get to bed early!

 

 

Saturday morning I woke to no alarm. It was so nice to have slept in a comfy bed with the windows open and cool, fresh air coming through the windows. Hooray for cooler temps! I had a leisurely breakfast before heading out for a 45 minute ride, followed by a short run. I ended up getting distracted on my run by all the hub bub downtown. Huntsville is a small town and there’s a main street that’s several blocks long- but in the summer all the “cottagers” are out and about (please say “about” with a Canadian accent here- “A-boot”) and today was no exception. There was a small market with local artisans all from within 100km of Huntsville where I meandered and chatted with some of the vendors. Then I heard some bag pipes, which I discovered were prepping for the parade of bath tub boats. Yes, there was to be bathtub races later in the afternoon as part of Dockfest.

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Back at the house, Bill and I ate a hearty lunch before I prepped my race gear. A little before 2pm we walked over to the Summit Center to drop my bike in transition and attend the athlete meeting. I was a little surprised to see that when I got to transition, there were no assigned spots. We needed to bike with our age group, but it was first come, first serve in those rack. Had I known that, I would have gotten there closer to the time transition opened to secure a better spot. Oh well, at least the 35-39 AG racks were directly in front of the Bike Out!

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This is the hill immediately out of transition.

At the athlete meeting, the RD basically walked us through the athlete guide, but I always like going just in case anything had changed. Also, former professional triathlete Lisa Bentley gave us a little pep talk. She talked about a time where she was racing and her shifters weren’t working. She was on a hilly course and she was stuck in the big ring. Rather than throwing in the towel, she decided that she wasn’t going to give up, that she was going to throw her heart over that hill- do whatever it took to get over this hump. She told us to race with heart. What she said spoke to me, so on race morning, I wrote on my wrist “Race with <3” as a reminder.

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After the race meeting, we went home, and I relaxed on the hammock and read. I’m currently reading Deena Kastor’s book and I’m loving it- I took nuggets of inspiration from that book into race day too. In the early evening we made dinner in the kitchen at the Getaway (rice, sweet potatoes, tempeh, and tomato soup) and went to bed early!

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Race Day:

I woke up at 4:45am after a pretty good night’s sleep. Despite being in a house with other triathletes, I was the first one up. I made myself a Belgian waffle with PB, banana, and syrup and cracked open my iced coffee. I stepped outside to a brisk 49 degrees. I looked out on the glassy river to the rising sun and thought to myself that today was going to be a good day.

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I got on my kit, braided my hair and walked over to transition. I arrived a little after 5:30 and began to set out my stuff. As I put my water bottles in my rear cages, I realized that they were way too tall; I’d have to maneuver my bike out by angling it to the side so that everything could roll under the rack. It will be awkward, but I’ll make it work. I pumped up my front tire, and then moved to my back. As I was unscrewing the nozzle, my valve extender came off in my hand and I heard that awful rush of air coming out of the tire. “No No No!” I thought. This is not how I wanted my day to start! I quickly walked my bike over to the D’Ornellas folks, and asked for help. Thankfully, they were able to fix it up quickly and I could get back to setting up my transition area.

When back, I starting having yet another bike issue- my handlebars/front end of my bike kept turning sideways. I could not get my aeros to stay straight ahead while on the rack. I finally got it to stay by putting my bike shoe on the side of my wheel. Hopefully that would work. The other thing I realized is that this was the first time I was racing with a between the handlebars bottle (I used to use the built-in hydration bladder in the down tube) and between the aeros was where I usually laid my helmet, sunglasses and nutrition. Hmm, I guess I’ll put it on the outside of my aeros, but still on top. I gingerly put my helmet, nutrition and sunglasses, on the handlebar, did one more once-over of my stuff, and headed out of transition to get in a warm up.

By this time the sun was fully out and it had warmed up quite nicely. I did about 10-15 minutes of dynamic warm up and stretching before going for a short jog. At about 6:45, I headed towards the swim start, a short walk away.

After a potty break I put on my wetsuit and did a little swimming around after the playing of “Oh, Canada.” Soon, it was time to line up and then move into the water. I was a little nervous, but ready. I was excited for this course and to see what my day would bring. At 7:15 we were allowed in the water and we made our way to the start line for a floating start. At 7:20, the gun went off – time to get this party started!

Swim: 29:31

I took off at the start to get out of the crowds, but it quickly thinned. I was able to settle in to a nice rhythm and I had plenty of open water. There were no other pink caps near me that I could see. This is a position I’m used to in smaller races, but it was cool to be up front in an IM branded race.

The course takes you out into a lake, kinda like three sides of a trapezoid, and then down into the river, straight to swim exit. The lake part was nice- the sun was high enough that it wasn’t in my eyes. And the water was refreshing and wetsuit legal. I started passing people from previous waves by the 2nd or 3rd buoy, but it didn’t get crowded until I was in the straight away in the river. But, it never got too hectic; I was always able to find myself some open water.

I sighted off a big house on the river and I thought it might have been where we were staying, but when I got closer, I realized I still had a little ways to go until I was passing the Fairy Ave Getaway. Soon though, I swam by and I saw Bill and our hosts sitting on the dock. I waved several times, before I realized I should stop so that the guards don’t think I’m in distress. I later found out that they didn’t see me because the sun was directly in their eyes. I had to laugh when I saw my Garmin’s map:

 

 

 

I swear I didn’t get out of the water to give Bill a kiss!

Shortly after passing them, I was nearing the exit. I was assisted out by a nice volunteer and I skipped the wetsuit strippers to save some time. I ran up the really short but steep hill to get onto the road, and then ran along the carpet (thank goodness!) to get into T1. When I looked at my watch, I smiled- I went sub 30, and I felt like my effort was controlled- much more so than I usually am. My day is off to a great start!

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T1: 2:46

When I got to my rack, I had a minor heart attack- my helmet was missing. OMG, did it fall off, and the officials come by and DQ me for a messy transition area? Did it fall off and break and I wouldn’t be able to race? After what felt like a long time (it wasn’t) I realized that my helmet was on the ground, under my bike. My nutrition and glasses had spilled out, but I quickly grabbed them and got myself ready to ride. When I went to pull my bike off the rack, my strategy of angling my bike wasn’t working. It would not fit under the rack. So, I awkwardly pulled out my rear bottles, put one on the ground, and pulled the bike out, before putting them back. Oh it was awful. I’m sure it didn’t take all that long, but it felt like forever and I felt like such a rookie! Finally, I was outta there!

Bike: 2:45:09

Despite being a flatlander, I was seriously looking forward to this bike ride. I was pumped about the change of scenery, cooler temps, and hills. I just needed to make sure I didn’t burn out my legs on all that climbing. The ride was an out and back this year due to some construction, and it was the first year it was 56 miles. Normally, it is a bit longer- 94km and a big loop. The elevation change was the same as it had been, but apparently the part that was taken out had some steeper climbs and more technical sections. I was totally happy with the course we got. The first part of the course had some punchy hills, but then after the left turn at Baysville, there were more gentle rollers. Then we turned around and did it in reverse.

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The roads were lovely for the most part- there was a section between 14-17km that we had been warned about and it was clearly marked. There were a few other pot holes along the way, but I was super impressed by how smooth the roads were for a place that probably has a lot of freezing and thawing.

The course was a beautiful as I was hoping- so much green, lots of lakes, some large rocks along the side of the road. The roads were open to traffic, but the traffic was sparse. I was really impressed because I also noted that some race staff was actually out biking the course- and I saw one of the guys help someone with a flat. I’ve never seen bike support on bikes before!

I was feeling really good on the bike- and reminded myself to be patient, and pace myself. I ate on schedule and was really happy to not have any nutrition issues. I was shocked by how many people seemed to just spin up the hills.

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I played leap frog with a few men- the men outnumbered the women nearly 3:1 by the way!- and one of the guys, when I passed him a second time, remarked in a very French accent, “Oh, it’s the pink lady again.” Yes it is!

On the bike, I saw one woman fly past me, but I think she was in the 40-44 age group. There was one or two other girls from the earlier women’s wave that passed me, but that was it. I was really happy to have ridden as strong as I did. Usually, I’m just waiting to be passed on the bike.

After the turnaround, we had a headwind coming back to Baysville, but once we made the right turn to head back to Huntsville, we got a little bit of a push from that same wind.

Soon, I couldn’t believe I was almost done. I had ridden smart, and was ready to tackle this run!

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T2: 1:48

When I arrived in transition, I noticed one other bike on the 35-39 rack. Dang, she was speedy. But, I was in shock that I was in 2nd place. OMG can I hold on to this? As I was leaving my bike and heading out, I noticed another girl on my rack just getting in from the bike. Shoot! She’s close! I reminded myself to focus on my race, not hers, and got myself out of transition.

Run:1:57:29

As I was leaving transition, I struggled to put my bottles into my new Naked Sports belt. I had practiced putting the belt on and putting bottles in, but I think I was usually standing still to get them in. I think I’ll need to do that next time! Anyhow, I finally got the bottles in right before I starting up a short hill, followed immediately by another short hill. Oh boy, this was going to be a tough run!

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Downtown Huntsville

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The crowds in downtown Huntsville were AH-Mazing! So many people! They were so needed because you’re hit with a short hill that their cheers helped you up. The town’s fire department had a truck spraying water to cool down the athletes. It had warmed up for sure, but it was nowhere near as hot as any of the races I’ve done. I honestly didn’t really notice the heat. The truck’s spray was actually a bit much- it was stationed near the top of the hill and it was flowing so fast that a little river was forming. Ok, not really, but the water was probably an inch deep on the road and just FLOWING down the hill. It was super early in the race (I don’t even think we were a mile in) so I didn’t want to soak my shoes and socks, so I ran around (almost onto the other side of the road) to dodge the flow of water. We made our first of many turnarounds (this route had 6!) and down the hill and over the bridge. Once we got out of town, I didn’t really enjoy the course. There was a short section where we ran through this narrow stretch and it wasn’t clear whether we should be running on the right or left side of this tiny trail. I think on one lap I was on the right side and the next I was on the other. It seemed to be dictated by who was coming at you on the trail. Then, there was this longish out and back along a highway. It wasn’t really pretty, and it seemed to be a false flat going out to the turnaround. We also had the wind in our face going one direction, and a tailwind in the other. After the straightaway, we were back into a little neighborhood, had another turn around, and then we went back downtown to do it all again. Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 7.31.18 PM

I was actually feeling surprisingly good on my first lap. I was drinking my skratch and eating my chews. I had zero tummy issues, which I was super pleased about. I decided I wasn’t going to look at my watch because I’d get in my head about pace. I’d go only by feel for as long as I could. When my first mile ticked off, I knew it was fast. I didn’t need to look at the time to tell me. I reminded myself to be patient and think of the first 5k as warm up. I tried to slow it down some, but when I looked at my times after, I really didn’t succeed at that. I definitely was out too fast.

Shortly after I left the downtown area, the woman who racked her bike shortly after me passed me. SHOOT. The run is my weakness and I wanted to hold on to a top 5 position so badly! I reminded myself not to worry myself with her, but focus on my run, on having good form, and doing the best that I could on this day. I kept her in my line of sight- she was never too far in front. She didn’t seem to be making her lead any bigger. Soon, I caught up to her again. And then, at an aide station, I passed her, and I never saw her again (I think she ended up in 6th).

I was feeling decent as I started the second lap, but I was starting to get tired- but I feel like my level of tired was appropriate for where I was in the race. As I ran over the bridge for lap 2, I spotted Bill. He talked to me a little, gave me some encouragement, and told me that the app hadn’t been working for him (which is why he missed me on the first lap). I told him I thought I was in 2nd place in my age group. I kept running though I knew I was slowing. I found myself walking more than I wanted to, but I was still reminding myself to have good form.

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Eventually, just before the 16km marker, two girls passed me- they were running strong, and the one girl was right on the other’s shoulder. I looked at their calves and bibs and realized one of them was in my AG and I couldn’t quite tell if the other was as well, thought I was pretty certain she was. There was no way I’d be able to stick with them, so I just kept my head on my own run. I just did NOT want anyone else to pass me on that run. I wanted a top five slot so badly.

Eventually, I was back at the bridge and ready to make the turn to take me back to the Summit Center. Bill ran with me, feeding me positive thoughts. I was hurting by then and didn’t really respond, but I was happy he was there. Soon, I was entering the finishers chute, I saw the time on the race clock- 5:30, 31, 32…As I was approaching I did some quick math since I knew I started 20 minutes after the clock started. Holy crap I was going to go in the teens! I crossed the line with a big grin on my face and stopped my watch- 5:16. O.M.G. What a day!

Overall time: 5:16:41

4th AG/46

23rd female/326

240th OA

Awards and Roll down:

I knew I had had a heckuva day, but I wasn’t exactly sure what place I had gotten. Bill’s IM app wasn’t working, and my phone was still in transition. And, I couldn’t find a place they were posting the results.

Eventually, Bill went on Facebook since I knew I had linked up my account to the IM app. He asked me, “Who’s Theresa Miller?” and I told him she was one of my SOAS teammates. He went on to read her comment: “Awesome race Stephanie!! Congrats on a podium finish!!” I started crying a little. I was in shock. I had finally made it to the podium at an IM race!

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My face when he read that I had placed:-) 

After what seemed like forever, they got to age group awards. I stood on the stage with the other ladies in my AG- one of whom was 2nd OA with a 4:30! I was super pleased with my 4th place award!

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Since this is one of the first races that’s a qualifier for the 2019 70.3 Worlds, they made an announcement that if you won your AG and knew you were going to take your slot, to go ahead and line up and get registered. Unfortunately I spotted the girl who won my AG in line. There was only one slot for 35-39, so I knew my chances were slim to none for a roll down. But, I waited around anyhow, and one slot did roll down, but it went to the 40-44 AG (I think)- that AG was the largest women’s AG. 35-39 was the 2nd largest. Oh well!

I am still super pleased with my race, and I’ve been given a nice confidence boost by this result. Hard work really does pay off, and I’m motivated even more to keep training hard because the results will come.

 

 

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Ironman 70.3 World Championships- Race Report

22 09 2017

A few days before the race, I emailed Marni and Karel and told them that I had zero expectations for this race. This was my bonus race. I was just going to go out and do what I love to do- and that is swim, bike, and run! Spoiler alert: I had the absolute best day out there, truly finding the joy in what I was doing at every moment throughout the day. No, this wasn’t my fastest half iron by any means. But I felt strong and happy all day long. THIS is why I do this, I thought to myself over and over again, this feeling. I wish I could just bottle it up and come back to this  every time I race. 

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Race morning:

My alarm went off and I was up and ready to go! Today I GET to race at the World Championships!

I had my normal pre-race breakfast of overnight oats with a banana, peanut butter, and a little bit of jam. Normally, I’d use honey for some sweetness, but we had traveled with PB & J for sandwiches on the road, so jam it was! I packed my wetsuit, speed suit, bike nutrition, bike computer, and clothes for after the race into my new swag bag and we hit the road. We were on our way to the race site by 5:30, since I wasn’t sure how bad traffic was going to be once we got close, and we were picking up my friend Shannon from her hotel at 6.

It was a beautiful morning- cool with just a little breeze. Bill dropped us off at the Village and we made our way over to transition. This was so exciting! The race morning vibe felt slightly different than on a co-ed race day. I can’t place my finger on exactly what it was, but it was a good different! Once in transition, I found my bike, put all my nutrition and computer on my bike and then I pumped the tires. I was trying to take in every moment of this experience, even while setting up in transition. I also found out that the water was officially wetsuit legal! It was a little bitter sweet to hear this- sure, I appreciated the buoyancy, but as a strong swimmer, a non wetsuit swim would work to my advantage against the competition.

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Me and Natalie on Power Alley (Photo Cred: Meredeth!)

After I was all set up, I saw my TriMarni teammate Natalie who told me Marni had passed out while getting ready this morning and she wasn’t going to race. You can read Marni’s full recap for the details, but hearing this made me so, so sad. I knew how hard Marni had been working this season, and that this was her key race. It broke my heart to hear this, but I made a promise to myself to race hard on her behalf.

Shannon and I headed out of transition together after several stops at the port potties which, yes, were cleaner than co-ed races;-) We had plenty of time to sit and relax before getting in a warm up jog, more bathroom breaks, finding our spectators, getting on our wetsuits, and finally heading into the corral.

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Photo cred: Jane Harries

Swim: 

Our wave was at 8:11 (pros went off at 7:30), so we had a bit of time before it was actually “go” time. We lined up in the corral and received our swim caps (apparently an issue with the vendor, which is why we didn’t get them at check in.) We met a few other SOAS ladies (hi Ashley and Allison!) before they started to move us into the pen. I started getting a little teary eyed here- nerves and excitement all rolled in to one!

Waves were done as a rolling start- so you seeded yourself with swimmers of approximately the same speed.  I lined up at the back of the 28-30 minute group, since that’s where I’ve been this season. Shannon and I had earlier wondered if we should seed according to where we normally would be or by what our expected time with the current would be. We both opted to go with our “normal” groups- so she was a bit in front of me. I was shocked by how many people were lining up with the groups ahead of me, but I guess that would make sense for a race with the best in the world. Soon, our corral moved into position. They were letting 10 or so athletes onto the starting dock at a time, every 15 seconds or so (maybe?) and we each lined up in a “lane” of sorts. It kind of reminded me of the holding area when you’re waiting in line for a roller coaster 🙂 The lanes to the right (most upstream, closest to the buoy) had lines of 4-5 women, while the lanes to the left (most down stream) were less desirable and never really built up a line. Soon, I found myself in a group that was let down to line up. Though I wanted to get what I thought was the best lane position (upstream), there were only 2 people in the lane to the farthest on the left, and race organizers were trying to get us to go to the lanes in the left. I figured it wouldn’t hurt me that much to start 10 feet to the left, so into the last lane I went.

*BEEP* the first girl in my lane dove in. 10 seconds later, *BEEP* the girl in front of me went. 10…9…8…There I was standing jittering in line, ready to start my day at the world championships. A million thoughts were running through my head as I waited for my turn- How bad was the current? What if I dive and my goggles fill up? Lick, lick get the fog off the goggles. How fast are all these other girls?

*BEEP*

GO!

I dove in, thankfully without filling my goggles with water. I immediately started swimming, sighting frequently and trying to get into a better position. Thankfully, with the seeded start, it wasn’t a mad house right at the start! I was quickly able to fall into my groove. Swim, swim, swim, sight. Swim, swim, swim, sight. I was super thankful for all the open water drills Marni has been giving me- frequent sighting was so normal, and so very necessary! Soon, I began to catch a few girls who dove in the group in front of me. I couldn’t feel how strong the current was, but I tried not to focus on it, since it was out of my control. Just swim, and ENJOY the swim.

After making the first turn, you started to swim into the sun. It was nearly impossible to sight, but I kept trying to find the buoy every few strokes. I really really wish I had counted the number of archways on the bridge so I knew which one I should be targeting to go under, and which side (to the north or south side of it) I should try to be closer to. Oh well, lesson learned! I definitely felt the current on this length, but just focused on having a decent course and not going too hard. I finally reached the next turn buoy to head back with the current and I was so excited. Now for the fun part! But I was also a little bummed that this meant the swim was going to be done soon. Not because the swim is my favorite part, but more because this part of my world championship day would be coming to a close and I wanted to take in every single second and make this experience last. But, I wasn’t going to slow down, so I kept swimming, enjoying the benefit of the current. Soon – very soon actually (for the last 700 yards of the race I averaged between 1:15 -1:19 per 100, while the other sections I averaged between 1:29-1:38!) – I reached the finish line and carefully exited up the steps with a smile on my face.

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Time: 31:29 13th AG!

T1:

I let the wetsuit peelers help me with my wetsuit, and then, after nearly running down the wrong aisle, I ran down the correct aisle and grabbed my bike bag. Up the ramp and into the little changing area, I sat down and dumped my bag. I methodically put my Skratch chews in my kit pocket, put on my shoes, helmet and sunglasses, and then shoved my wetsuit back in the bag. I handed it to a volunteer and then headed for my bike.

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bike bags. Photo cred: Jane Harries

Running with my bike shoes on was a little awkward; I was a teeny bit nervous my clumsy self would roll my ankle again, but thankfully I didn’t.  As I got closer to my rack, I saw all the empty racks from the earlier waves, but I saw one bike I immediately recognized. It made me sad to see Marni’s Trek sitting alone on the rack, but I knew she had made the right decision not to race. I grabbed my bike, noticing that Shannon’s bike was already gone, but there were a number of other bikes still in the rack. Alright Steph, let’s go get after that mountain!

Time: 4:42

Bike:

As soon as I was out of transition, I heard my TriMarni teammates Meredith and Peggy cheering me on. This put a huge smile on my face, and I was off!

Before the race Marni had reminded me to be patient. I have a habit of going after it right away- see my race report from Wisconsin to know my HR was 170 very soon after starting the bike. So, this first part of the ride leading up to the climb, I focused on not letting my heart rate get too high. High heart rate from the beginning of the race would be bad news. When I got to the climb, just like when I previewed it the day before, I clicked into my lowest gear and just rode. I was NOT going to be hard on myself and I had no expectations of time, just ride. This is fun! You love this! You GET to do this! Lots of people were passing me, but I didn’t let it get in my head. Shortly up the climb, someone started cheering for me. It was @Sallaboutme, a fellow triathlete I follow on Instagram! I waved and was just so happy to randomly see someone cheering for me on the mountain. THIS IS JUST GREAT!

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Photo cred: Sally!

The climb was tough, I’ll be perfectly honest, but I would not let negativity creep into my thoughts. I could do this. I know I could! Eventually, I made it to about half mile before the top and there were a BUNCH of locals out there cheering. Oh my gosh this is so cool! I started to get teary eyed- I was so close to completing the toughest climb I’ve ever done. Half a mile later, at the top of the mountain, there was yet another large crowd with signs, noise makers, you name it. It felt like I was in the Tour de France! At that point the tears came- I was very thankful for my sunglasses;-) These weren’t sad tears- but tears of accomplishment, of joy. I had made it to the top! This is absolutely one of my favorite memories from the day. I could relive that moment over and over again (though I’m not sure I want to ride that incline over and over again!)

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I made the left turn at the top and WHEEEEE downhill I went. No, not entirely down the mountain- we still had some more climbing to do, but it was a nice reprieve from the climbing. The back half of the mountain was a bunch of rollers, and I was just out there having a blast. Back in July, I had read Maria’s post about her experience in Placid, where she was out to have all the fun. Well, that’s what I was going to do today- have ALLLLLLLL the fun.

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On the real downhill on the back of the mountain, I’m pretty sure I actually yelled “WHHHHHEEEEEEE,” and one photographer commented about my smile and I yelled back “I’m just happy to be here- I’m at the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS!”. Not even the headwind on the boring/flat part of the ride got me down. I thanked the volunteers manning the intersections, and cheered on women that passed me (which happened MUCH more than me passing). My tummy was feeling great and I was nailing my nutrition. This was fantastic! In fact, I was having such a good time that I got a little bummed when I saw mile 40. I only had 16 miles left of this part of the race. But I told myself to finish strong and continue to be present in this day!

Soon, I was back downtown and headed towards transition. I can’t believe I’m about to start the last part of my race!

Time: 3:13:09

T2:

A bike catcher grabbed my bike, so I ran off to the changing area to grab my run bag. Again, I dumped it on the ground and put on my shoes & socks, hat, race number and fuel belt and shoved everything else back in to the bag. I gave the bag to the volunteer and headed out. It was fun having a changing area- I probably took a little more time than I should have in transition because of it, but I didn’t feel stressed out and the normal “go, go, go” of a regular transition. Maybe it was just because I was taking it all in?

Time: 2:46

Run:

I ran out of transition, and out the short out and back where it was clear they just were adding on that little bit more to make the 13.1 distance. I spotted my SOAS teammate Amanda, cheering me on so loudly! She asked about the bike and I told her I loved it! I was seriously on cloud 9 as I started this run. This short, flat part didn’t last long, and soon I was climbing up my first hill. I had a goofy smile on my face and all of the sudden someone was running next to me. OMG it was Bill! He asked me how I was feeling and I said “I feel great!” I’m fairly confident this is the ONLY HIM I’ve ever done where I started the run feeling great. I think that means I paced the bike appropriately;) We exchanged a few more words of encouragement before he split off and I kept running.

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The run was a two loop course- The first part was along a highway parallel to the river, and the we cut back towards downtown on a lovely riverside path before making a sharp right over a bridge and then up a really long hill. On the other side of the river, we ran through neighborhoods, enjoyed some more hills before coming back over the wooden foot bridge and doing it all over again. Before the race I hadn’t really studied the course much; I knew it was going to be hard, and there was nothing I could do about it, so I just let myself experience it and draw my own conclusions. Yes, it was a hard course, but I think I had built it up in my head so much, that those expectations, combined with my positive attitude on race day, made it seem not so bad!

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As I ran along the highway, I just told myself to run happy. I wasn’t bothering to look at my watch either; I didn’t want to know my pace because it didn’t matter. And, one of my biggest hurdles in my HIM is the pressure I’ve put on myself to break 2:00 in the half marathon.

Somewhere around mile 2 maybe, I did glance down and saw 8:4X and was like WHOA NELLY. Slow down Steph, you’ve got a hilly half marathon to do! I also noticed that my watch wasn’t beeping every mile- I was feeling really good on this run, and I really wanted to know what my splits were when the race was done, so at the 5K mark, I hit the lap button. BUZZZ!!! I looked down at my watch- “TRIATHLON COMPLETE.” No, no no!! I didn’t finish the race! I just want to know my splits when I was done! I quickly pressed the lap button again (or start, not sure which I pressed to get the time to time to keep going) and thought, well, that’s my sign to just leave my watch alone!

 

The run back along the river was nice- there was one hill (the Red Bull hill I’ll call it, because that’s where they set up), but it was mostly flat and had a lot of shade. I made the sharp right to head out over the bridge, and guess who I saw again? BILL! He ran with me again, asked how I was feeling and if I was hydrating enough. My response was, “I’ve already peed on myself twice.” Yes, that’s the reality of triathlon. Fatigue was starting to set in a little, but I was still feeling good- like I was shocked at how good I was feeling. I just kept smiling, enjoying my moment at Worlds.

 

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Just on the other side of the bridge, there was a really long hill, but the aid station at the start of it was rockin’ and gave you a mental boost before heading up it. I nailed this long climb- I DIDN’T WALK!!- and then made the right turn to see one of my favorite aid stations. It was Hawaiian/Tiki themed and everyone was cheering SO LOUDLY. There was a girl in a wheelchair with a lei around her neck and a sign indicating that she was the high five station. I cut across the road and made a point to give her a high five. I thanked the other volunteers, did a little dance and kept going.

Shortly after this aid station was another hill. Up ahead on the hill I saw two SOAS kits. I was still feeling good, so I ran up between them, smacked them on the booty and cheered. It was Shannon and Adrienne, and they were on a short walk break up a hill. Once at the top (or maybe near the top), I heard Shannon yell, “I’m coming Steph!”- Soon she caught up to me, and told me her back had been bothering her after that ride. Bummer, cuz she’s super speedy, and was not having the day I know she wanted to have. We ran for a little and then gave ourselves permission to walk up the next little hill before running again. She and I ran together for the next two miles or so (walking the aid stations, as I had been), until I needed to stop and tie my shoes at the aid station back on the first part of the loop, along the highway.

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I was still doing well both effort wise and tummy wise at this point. I was drinking my skratch, taking in water and ice at aid stations, because it was starting to get hot, and walking through the aid stations. Usually by this point I would be drinking coke, and I had yet to grab the liquid gold. I just kept going, reminding myself to keep good form – Run pretty Steph – whenever I started to feel myself getting sloppy/tired.

The second loop didn’t feel quite as good as my first, but it still felt good. My TriMarni teammate Natalie caught me on the shaded area along the river, before the right turn to go over the bridge. We gave each other some encouragement, she told me she had flatted on the bike (bummer!) but she was still doing well. It was fun to see her out on the course!

As I was running over the bridge the second time, there weren’t quite as many athletes around me as there had been the first lap. I realized that I was definitely in the back half of the athletes. Just then a spectator cheered, “You deserve to be here!” This was exactly what I needed to hear. Even though I had never voiced feeling a little like I didn’t belong, there was a teeny tiny part of me that felt that way because I didn’t qualify the “normal” way. The typical ice breaker question at this event was, “Oh, where’d you qualify?” I was always a little awkward in my response. So when I heard this guy cheer, in my head I thought to myself, “Yea, I DO deserve to be here,” and I  continued to run strong across the bridge.

Over the bridge, up the hill, past the Hawaiian aide station (being sure to high five the girl), over a few more rollers, around and under a bridge, through the little downtown-y part, and back over the pedestrian bridge. I was almost there! I turned up the effort a little bit when I got over the bridge because I knew I was so close to the finish! Now was the time to soak it all in. Soon, I reached the red carpet. There were a few other people coming in at the same time as me, and I’m not going to lie I was torn between running hard to the finish and slowing a little so that I could get a good finish picture. I ended up somewhere in the middle of those two options, but still finished with a huge smile on my face. I HAD DONE IT!

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Time:02:04:37

Overall Time: 05:56:43

If you hadn’t already noticed (or hadn’t stopped reading because this post reeks of rainbows and butterflies), I was so happy with my day.  As it turned out, this was my fastest half marathon at the end of a HIM AND I hadn’t needed Coke to get me through. WHAT WHAT?? I was SUPER proud of this run, and the whole race. I enjoyed every minute of the day, and this was a huge confidence booster for me and my ability to a) put together a solid run and b) handle hills. I told Marni and Karel after the race that maybe I had been too conservative, but they assured me that I had done everything just right. I raced with joy and gratitude, and it changed everything for me. I seriously hope that I will replicate my attitude from the WC race at every race from this point forward because it really made all the difference. I cannot wait to race again in a few weeks in North Carolina at my last race of the season!

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Ironman 70.3 World Championships – Pre Race

18 09 2017

Back in July, I received an unexpected email from Women For Tri inviting me to participate in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. Without another race on my schedule until October, my response was HECK YES! Still feeling a little bummed from my less than stellar performance in June and lacking motivation to train since my next race wasn’t for a few more months, this was exactly what I needed.

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I knew going into this race that this course was not suited to my strengths (exception: swim). The course for the World Championships was planned to be different than the “regular” Ironman 70.3 they hold in Chattanooga in the spring. The swim was a loop (rather than point to point), with the majority of the swim being upstream. If you’ve heard anything about the swim in the Tennessee river, it’s likely that you’ve heard about the speedy current. Swimming with this current is what many athletes find appealing about the full IM in Chattanooga. Well, Race Directors thought it would be “fun” to have athletes swim against that current for the World Championships.

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The bike would have 3,408 feet of climbing (as compared to 2,218) with the first part taking you straight up Lookout Mountain.

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The run was most similar to the spring race, a two loop course and almost 1000 feet of climbing.

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This Florida girl would be way out of her comfort zone at this race, but I did what I could in my training, completing some run workouts on bridges and some longer rides out in San Antonio (FL) where there are some hills.

The two weeks leading up to this race were less than ideal. I was out for a run one evening, and less than a quarter mile into my run, I rolled my ankle. Thankfully, it ended up being a minor sprain and I was back running in a week, but the Type A athlete in me was freaking out from the minute it happened. A weekend COMPLETELY off two weeks before a race? The horror! I think it actually ended up being really good for me to rest up!

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Once I was finally able to get back at it, we now had our eyes on Irma. She was days out still, but it was pretty stressful tracking her and trying to figure out our plan for heading out to Chattanooga/securing the house/bring the kitties? etc. (We decided to bring them.)

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We left for Chatty on Wednesday night around 10:30pm for the Saturday race (women were Saturday, men were Sunday). Our original plan before Irma was a thing was to drive for several hours and then grab a hotel wherever we decided to stop. Well, thanks to evacuation orders, at 1am the roads were like rush hour, and there were ZERO hotels anywhere with vacancies. We drove (well, mostly Bill drove) until 4:30am before stopping at an overflowing rest area for a two hour nap before hitting the road again. The kitties were not pleased with this whole situation so they were meowing for most of these two hours. Not ideal 3 nights out from a race.

We FINALLY arrived in Chattanooga mid-afternoon on Thursday. Exhausted, we dropped our things at the hotel, grabbed some food, and then immediately took a nap. I didn’t want to sleep too long, for fear of not being able to get back to bed that night (and Thursday night was the night before the night before- the most important night to get sleep!) but man, did it feel good to lay down on a bed. After about a hour and a half/two hours, we slowly got out of bed to head down to the race site so I could get checked in and then go to the welcome banquet and pre-race meeting.

From the minute we got close to the race site you could feel the excitement. There were signs of Ironman everywhere- Billboards, the M-dot on top of the aquarium, and lots of very, very fit people walking around. Bill dropped me at Ironman Village so I could check in- I wandered through the maze of vendors and loved hearing different languages spoken all around. It finally hit me- I was at the World Freaking Championships. Holy cow.

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Check in was a breeze and IM does not skimp on swag for World Championships events. I took some photos and held off on merch (for now) before finding Bill and making our way to the convention center at the Marriott for the welcome banquet.

IMG_2106The spread at the welcome banquet was decent- salad, fruit, mac n cheese, potato salad, cornbread, bbq pork, chicken, pecan pie and brownies. Not the best for vegetarians, but I made it work. After the welcome banquet, they had the pre-race meeting, where we received the welcome news that they were going to do something to the dam up the river so that the current would be MUCH weaker than it currently was. They also said they’d be monitoring the water temperature closely, and would make a final call on Saturday at 5am, but water was currently not wetsuit legal. I learned that we couldn’t access our bike or run gear bags on race morning, so they needed everything in them when I dropped them off tomorrow. After the meeting, we immediately went back to our hotel (which was close to the airport, about 20 minutes from the race venue) and went to bed!

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Friday:

I slept in as much as I could before heading in to the race venue for my pre-race workout. It was a beautiful morning- cool but sunny. It was so nice to have cooler temps!

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I started with a swim in the river to get a sense of the current. I knew that they said it would be less strong on race morning, but I wanted to get in and check it out. They had buoys set up to do a short loop, about 600 yards. The water was not wetsuit legal, so I put on my speed suit and waited in line to get in. I chatted it up with some friendly Wisconsinites before getting to the entrance. The water was really refreshing when I jumped in, and at first I didn’t really feel the current. As long as I was swimming, I couldn’t quite tell how “bad” it actually was. Sure, the shoreline seemed to be moving past me in slow motion, but that’s pretty normal. However, I started to run into a slower swimmer so I stopped. OH. Hello current! Immediately, I started drifting backwards. Lesson- just keep swimming! For fun, I lapped my watch when I started swimming upstream and then again when I was swimming with the current. With a few short stops on the against the current part, my pace was 2:11/yard, but on the way back (with the current) it was 1:11. OH BOY!

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After the swim, I dried off, chatted with some friends, had a snack and then finally decided it was time to check out the first part of the climb up Lookout Mountain. I followed a group of people out of the downtown area up to the climb. As soon as I hit the climb I remembered driving up this road more than 10 years ago for a fall break trip and being a little scared to drive up the mountain on the windy, steep roads. Now, here I was going to BIKE up this thing. I took a deep breath and switched into my lowest gear.

The climb is steep- I’m not sure of the grade but I was definitely thankful I had switched to a climbing cassette a few weeks ago. I pedaled up the mountain, pushing watts, but I wasn’t working overly hard- I didn’t want to blow up before the race even started! Just keep going, just keep going. I looked down at my computer and it showed that I had gone a mile in about 10 minutes. OOF. Tomorrow is going to be a long day. I didn’t let it get me down- I was here at the World Championships- my bonus race!

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After 14 minutes, I reached a pull off in the road and figured it was a good place to turn around and head back. Oh boy. The way down was super scary. The road had cars on it and it was windy and steep. I tried hard not to ride my breaks the whole time, but when I finally reached the bottom my hands hurt from grabbing my brakes. OMG I really hope the back half of the mountain is not like this. I texted Marni and told her I was nervous about the descent, but she assured me I would be fine and the back half wasn’t as technical. That was definitely reassuring, but I was still a bit nervous about this course.

I made my way back to the car to drop my bike before heading back to the Village for the Women for Tri photo. Unfortunately, I was a little too late and missed it! Since I was in the village, merch was calling my name. Le sigh. Always gets me! Finally, I headed back to the hotel to pick up Bill and get some real lunch.

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After lunch, I packed up my gear bags, got my bike ready, and rested a little before heading back to the Village around 4 to drop it all off. I was a little rushed when we finally got there, because I had plans to meet up with a friend from college around 5, but I got it all dropped and didn’t let myself overthink anything.

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At 5, I met my friend and her family for what would be a highlight of the trip- a helicopter ride over the course. It was so beautiful and such a fun way to see Chattanooga! Thank you Rock Creek Aviation!

Finally, it was time to head back, grab dinner and get to sleep. Tomorrow was race day!