Ironman 70.3 North Carolina 2017 (Beach to Battleship)

27 10 2017

My last race of the 2017 season is officially in the books! Ironman 70.3 North Carolina has been on my calendar for MONTHS, and it’s finally come and gone. It was my first time doing this race, formerly known as Beach to Battleship, and I’d say it was a good one!

Two days out from race day (Thursday): 

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I drove up to Wilmington from Tampa with two carloads of friends on Thursday for the Saturday race. It was a long drive, but I guess it beats packing/unpacking and flying with a bike? Jury is still out on which is preferable…We arrived at our rental home around 6pm, dropped our things, and then walked over to Ironman Village to pick up our packets. We were staying less than half a mile from the finish line/Ironman Village, so we had plenty of time to get checked in and buy some swag before they wrapped up for the night at 7pm. Once checked in, we walked home, finished unloading and then ordered some pizza for dinner. A few of us in the group (including me) have a tradition of pizza two nights before a race, so this was perfect! We ate our pizza and watched some tv before heading to bed. It’s the night before the night before- the most important night for a good night’s sleep!

One day out from race day (Friday):

I woke up around 7/7:30 (no alarm) and went to the Brooklyn cafe next door for breakfast. The day before, I had seen their advertisement for homemade beignets, so I was immediately sold on going there for breakfast. Beignets weren’t the healthiest breakfast option, but I figured, carbs! I ordered beignets, a homemade banana bread muffin, and a latte. The cafe has only been opened a month and a half and it is owned by this super sweet couple. The wife bakes all the muffins and cookies in house (she even brought me a fresh peanut butter cookie while I was eating my doughnuts!) and her husband fries up the beignets as you order them. While I was waiting for the beignets, another customer walked in, and I noticed that he had left his puppy outside.

IMG_2890It was a husky puppy and probably one of the cutest dogs I had ever seen. Immediately I asked the owner if I could go pet her, and he said of course. Luna was super sweet and when I sat next to her, she climbed right onto my lap. I texted one of my friends to tell her she needed to come out immediately to see this dog. Seriously, this dog was adorable. After some puppy snuggles, I enjoyed my doughnuts – super delish by the way- and chatted with my friend Brad before heading back to our place to get ready for pre-race workouts.

We drove over to Wrightsville Beach, where the swim start would be, and parked at the unofficial TriMarni HQ for this event. This race had a handful of TriMarnis racing, and though I wasn’t staying in their house, they let us use their place as a landing pad for our pre-race workout and then on race morning, it was our staging area. THANK YOU JIM!!

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Since the bay was getting a bit busy with boat traffic, we opted to do our swim in the ocean. You guys, the water was PERFECT- water temp was in the 70s, there were small, clean swells coming in, and the water was super clear. If I hadn’t had a race the next day, I would have spent the entire day in the water catching waves. But alas, I didn’t want to wear myself out, so I did my usual pre-race swim before catching a wave in and then heading to get in a bike workout. My girl Justine joined us and it was so nice to see her! She’s my TriMarni teammate and we both push each other to be better athletes.  After our ride, we went back to our house. I was going to do a bit more riding, but it was starting to get late and I wasn’t entirely sure how safe it was to ride in the downtown area, so I scrapped it and got my gear bags ready.

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This race takes a bit more planing, because it’s a two transition race. T1 (swim to bike) was over by Wrightsville beach, and we needed to drop our bikes and bike gear bag there before 5pm on Friday. T2 (bike to run) was in a different location, close to the finish line (but not at it!), and we needed to drop our run gear bag by 4pm. We had to use gear bags at the World Championships, but logistics were a tiny bit different for this race. At T1, though they said we needed to drop our bags with our bike, it ended up not being mandatory. Since there was talk of ants on the ground there, and we could access our bikes in the morning, I opted to take all my bike stuff with me (except for my bike, obviously) rather than leaving it. However, we DID need to bring the bike gear bag back in the morning to leave with the bike- that would be the bag all your swim stuff would go into when you were done the swim (so that you could get it after the race in the finishing area). The Run Gear bag was a mandatory drop off, and you left it by/on your numbered spot on the bike rack. On race day, you’d finish the ride, rack your bike at the place where your run gear bag was, and put on the run gear from the bag. My friends actually dropped my run gear bag off for me because I was hoping to make an athlete meeting. Unfortunately, I misread the information about the time of the meeting, so I totally missed it. Whoops. Thankfully the RD was still there and told me a few highlights. Once all that logistical stuff was settled, we ran to Whole Foods for breakfast and post-race supplies, and then had a yummy dinner at a sushi place downtown. I had a bento box with teriyaki tofu and a tempura shrimp roll. After dinner it was early to bed for all of us- tomorrow would be an EARLY day!

Race day! (Saturday):

My alarm went off at 4:15am, and I was up and gearing up to leave the house by 5:00am. I checked the weather and it looked like it was going to be a darn near perfect day. It was currently 55, but highs would get up into the high 70s/low 80s. Not gonna lie, I was pretty pumped about FINALLY having a run course that wasn’t going to be miserably hot!

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Me and Shannon

We weren’t entirely sure how bad traffic would be on race morning, so we left plenty of time to account for that. Our fearless sherpa, Chris woke up with us and drove us to T1. (They did have shuttles from the Hilton downtown if you didn’t have a ride to T1.) Traffic ended up not being bad at all, so we were all in transition and mostly set up by 5:30. I put my Garmin on my bike, put my bike shoes on the pedals, filled up my bladder, placed two bottles on my back cages, and laid out my helmet between my handle bars with my Skratch chews and sunglasses. I hung my empty gear bag on the front of my aero bars so it would be ready to fill with my swim gear. Chris pumped our tires (he was allowed in to transition because he was registered but decided not to race), we took a pic, said goodbye to Chris and then headed towards the shuttle busses to the swim start.

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The gang

We had to wait in a decently long line, but thankfully, there were plenty of busses/trolleys so it moved fast. Once over at the starting line, we walked several houses down to the TriMarni house. It was so, so, so nice to have a warm house with real bathrooms to wait the hour+ until go time. If you have race sherpas, I would highly recommend a house at the start, especially because weather at that time of year can be a bit iffy, and the waiting area for athletes is an unprotected parking lot, with no where to sit but on the cold ground.

Justine and I went for a short warm up jog, and we stopped by the course where she gave me some pointers that another one of our teammates with experience doing this race, told her. We ran back, got on our wetsuits, and headed to the start line.

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Tri Marnis!!

Swim:

Women 30-34 were in the third wave, 7:26am. It was a wetsuit legal swim (water just above 70 degrees) so I was wearing my long sleeved Xterra wetsuit. After walking down a super slippery ramp (the rubber mat they had on it was too small, and had already started slipping away from where it would have been most useful),  we waded into the water for our floating start. Right before we started, one of the safety boats came up to the start line, and someone in there was wearing and ACBP sweatshirt. I recognized the sweatshirt immediately, being an ACBP alum myself, and then I realized I knew who was wearing it! I yelled hello, and then put on my goggles just in time for the 10 second count down. I was totally expecting the cannon to go off or to hear a horn, but I didn’t hear anything indicating a start, I just saw the girls in my wave starting to go! GAH! I joined in with the thrashing and took off. There was a bit of a craze right at the beginning, as with any group start, but I finally broke away and found someone’s feet. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t feel completely prepared for this swim; not fitness-wise, but in my understanding of the course. I probably should have done a bit more recon, studied the map more, and gone to check out the swim finish before I ever jumped in that water, but it ended up working out okay.

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I swam with some girl in my wave for a little bit and then I think I dropped her. I kept the buoys to my left and tried to sight pretty frequently. The sun was rising to my right, so I breathed mostly to my left. At some point on this first straight part of the swim, I started catching the people in the waves in front of me. I also spotted another girl from my wave, and tried to stay with her. At the first turn buoy, it got a little hectic, but I just kept swimming. Sorry to those I swam over! Shortly after that first turn buoy, I felt my wristband fall off. For half a second I was like, oh, I should try to grab that, but then I realized how dumb that was and I kept swimming. As long as my timing chip stayed on, I was good. Soon, the next turn buoy was upon me. I made the right turn, and in my head I was like, I’m swimming straight to the finish now. But then I came upon another turn buoy, and we needed to turn left to head into the finish. See, should have paid a little closer attention to the map! I wasn’t sure how much longer I had to swim, but I had felt my watch buzz every 500 meters, so I knew I had to be getting closer. All of the sudden I looked up to sight, and saw people ahead of me at about 2 o’clock, climbing out of the water onto a dock. I totally thought I was going to be swimming to straight to a ramp that I’d walk out of the water. Nope, it was a dock with a ladder off to my right. Again, should have studied the swim course/checked out the swim exit! I quickly cut to the right and aimed for the third or fourth ladder in. I climbed up, and after starting my run towards my bike, I remembered to lap my watch. I looked down and saw 25:XX and was like WHOA, that was fast. I knew it was a with current swim, but wasn’t expecting that much help!

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what I actually swam

Official time: 00:24:38

T1:

The run to the bike was long. The nice thing was that a) there were wetsuit strippers b) they had fresh water sprinklers we could run through which were WARM! and c) the volunteers were awesome. The cold, hard concrete hurt my feet while I ran to my bike, but eventually, I made it to my bike. I threw on wetsuit, cap, and goggles into my bike gear bag, left it on the ground, threw on my bike gear and headed out. Just as I was leaving my rack, I heard “GO STEPH”- I looked up and saw Justine heading in to transition. I knew she had a solid swim and she’d be hunting me down on the bike. Though I knew I needed to race my own race, I wanted to hold her off for as long as possible.

00:04:37

Bike:

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I got my bike out of transition, carefully stepped off the curb with my bike, mounted at the line, and started to ride. I have a tendency to start racing right from the beginning of the ride (see Wisconsin 70.3) which is really not what I need to be doing. So, the nice thing about the start of this ride (for me) is that it starts with a short section with some speed bumps and turns, which force you to slow down. Then, about a mile in, you’re forced to slow down again, to go over the drawbridge with metal grates. When I got there, volunteers were emphatically telling everyone to slow down and be careful over the grates, which were a little wet from the morning dew. As I neared the top of the bridge, there was a car stopped, in the lane where we were supposed to be biking. I thought to myself, “What the heck, get out of my lane!”, as I carefully went to the outside of the coned off lane, into stopped traffic, to get around the stopped car. Riding on those grates was definitely sketchy- I have ridden metal grates before, but this was the first time I legit was nervous and thought I might lose control and fall over. As I made it over the top, out of the corner of my eye I spotted what I thought to be a cyclist down. OH, THAT’S why the car was blocking my lane. I later learned that the downed cyclist had been my SOAS teammate Shannon. She’s okay now, but the fall ended her race. SUCH a bummer.

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The course is what I’ll call a lollipop- a long straightaway (stick), with a small loop (the pop) and then back down the stick. After this first part with turns and the bridge, we eventually made it to the stick , a long stretch of flat, flat, flat road. During this part of the ride, I remember feeling cold- I was wet from the swim, it was still early in the morning, and the ride had some shaded parts. I was wishing for the sun to be higher in the sky so that I would warm up!

Around mile 20, my friend Maria passed me, along with another girl in our age group. Maria is super strong on the bike, so I was happy that I had held her off for that long. She was playing leap frog with that other girl, and at mile 25, I ended up catching them, thanks to some legal drafting. It didn’t last long, and the two of them picked it up and took off. I kept them in my sight for a little while, but eventually they left me in their dust.

Throughout the ride I kept telling myself to ride my own race. Marni had reminded me that I should always feel like I have one extra gear in my toolbox; after all, I have a 13 mile run after this ride! I lap my watch every 20 minutes, so, I focused on being present for 20 minute chunks of time, staying up on my nutrition, and always having that one extra gear. To be honest, this ride was BORING. Sure, all my training rides are on a boring trail, but for some reason, I wasn’t really enjoying the course. Maybe it was because my last race was so epic?

At several points along the course there were large packs of men who flew right past me, in a draft pack. It was pretty frustrating because not once did I see any of them get caught. At one point, near the end of the course, a girl had passed me, and then I just watched as this group of men essentially swallowed her up. She hung with them for a little, pulled even further away from me, but it was clear that she had gotten stuck in this pack of cheaters. That was my biggest complaint about this race: the blatant drafting that went seemingly unnoticed.

When we made the turn back on to the stick, I told myself I could turn it on a little more. This is also the part where historically the wind has been a tail. The wind wasn’t blowing super strong today, but I do think we had a little bit of a tail on this stretch, based on the fact that my speed went up even though my power went down! On this stretch, maybe 5 miles from the end of the bike, I noticed a male cyclist in front of me, coasting. We were on a flat so I was like what is he doing? As I got closer, water droplets started to fly. OOOOH. I know what he’s doing! I quickly got out of his draft, made my pass, and jokingly yelled, “A little warning would have been nice!” GROSS! Eventually, he passed me after he was all finished and he apologized, and we both had a laugh.

We rode over one last drawbridge (total on this course is 2 bridges; one bridge you ride over once and the other you ride over twice, for a total of three crossings), and finally we were in to transition. I hadn’t noticed at the time, but the bike was a little long (almost a mile). Even so, I was pleased with the way I rode. It wasn’t a PR, but I finished with legs that were ready to run!

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Riding isn’t always glamorous

Official time: 02:42:54

T2:

It was a long-ish run with my bike to get into the transition area, but I was the third rack in, which was super quick to get to. I accidentally ran right past my spot on the rack, and had to backtrack and pay a little closer attention to the numbers. Once I got to my spot, I untied my bag (it was tied around the rack) and it dropped to the ground. I put my bike on the rack and started to take out my running stuff. Shoes and socks on, and then I took my race belt, hydration belt and visor as I made my way to transition exit and put each on one.

00:03:10

Run:

When I left transition I felt surprisingly good. I reminded myself not to go out too fast, but to run strong and run with good form. I did many runs this season at HIM effort, so I needed to find that effort and stay there.

Not too long after leaving transition, you get a fun little incline- it’s super short (1 block) but kinda steep. On this little incline I started to feel a little tightness in my left hamstring, but by the time I was back on flat ground, it went away. The run is an out and back, the first two miles or so are through the city and then you get into this nice neighborhood, along a lake, with plenty of trees for shade. The temperature was also quite nice. I’m not entirely sure what the temp was, but for this Florida girl who’s used to running in hot and humid conditions, it was glorious to have little humidity and cooler temps.

I had figured out how to make my watch only show my HR, which is exactly what I wanted. My plan had been to start the run controlled, below HR 160, and keep it there for a few miles before finding my stride and seeing what I could do. My watch was also on auto lap every mile, so I could see what I was holding pace-wise, but only if I looked at it when it beeped, which I tried not to do a ton, since I didn’t want to get in my head about pace. However, on that first mile, I couldn’t resist- it ticked off at 8:11- WHOA Steph, slow down! I backed off my pace and monitored my effort.

The first few miles went by pretty quickly, and I started to see people on their 2nd half of the run. I saw the lead men, and they also had a cyclist with the lead woman (or at least the woman who was physically in the lead, not sure if she was technically the leader at that point by time).  By mile 3, I was already above my 160 HR target, but I felt good and decided to maintain this effort. I was wondering where my friends Maria and Shannon were, who I knew would be ahead of me (at the time, I didn’t realize Shannon had gone down). Surprisingly I didn’t see either of them; I must have been zoned out or something when Maria passed me! At the turn around, I saw my friend Chris and Maria’s husband cheering me on! It was a nice mental boost to see friendly faces!

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Maybe a quarter mile after the turnaround, I saw Justine, running towards the turnaround. She wasn’t that far behind me! I turned it on just a little bit more, but reminded myself to race my own race. The second half of the run seemed to almost be a little bit of a downhill, but I think that was in my head. It really was a lovely course- probably one of my favorite runs I’ve done in a half!

By miles 9 and 10 I was starting to feel myself getting tired. I took a coke at mile 9, mostly for the sugar. I had been keeping up on my Skratch (in my fuel belt), I had taken a few shot blocks over the course of the run, and I was drinking water at the aid stations as well. I felt like my nutrition was pretty darn good for this run. Finally, at mile 11, Justine caught me! I was pretty proud that I had held her off for as long as I did; she is one tough cookie! We ran together for a very short time before I told her to go get em! I watched her slowly put distance between us, which I was totally okay with. Justine is an amazing competitor and one of my dear friends, so I was super happy to see her having a great race (she ended up with a PR!).

Shortly after Justine passed me, there was a slight, short uphill. I ran up it, but my heart was pounding, so I walked for 30 seconds to bring it back down. There was an aid station up ahead so I ran to it and yelled “Coke!” Some kids were working this one, and I got a response, “I have Pepsi?” and in the heat of the moment I frustratingly said, “Ugh, yes, that’s what I want. Just give me the cola.” I feel a little bad about that now. Whoops.

The last two miles were down the main street in downtown. You could almost see the finish line from pretty far out, except that there was a cruel slight uphill and the finish line was on the other side. Soon, I was in the chute and on the red carpet. Throughout the run, I had seen a few of my splits come in, and they were in the high 8’s. I was fairly confident I had broken 2:00 on the run, and as I came in, I started to get joyful tears in my eyes. I think I did it!

One of the first things I did after crossing was obviously to check my Garmin for my run split. I nearly burst into an ugly cry (but didn’t; I held it together) when my watch showed 1:55.9 (actual time 1:56:37). In 9 Half Ironmans over the course of 5 years, I had finally, finally put together a sub 2 hour run. I was so preoccupied with that goal that I didn’t even realize that I had gone 5:11. Five hours and eleven minutes!!! My previous best time was a 5:24, which I did at Florida earlier this year! Wow, just wow!

After I got my chip off, I saw Justine, who told me we were 9th and 10th in our age group. OMG I finally made it to the top ten at an IM race! I was super pleased with the race I put together, I finally have figured out how to put together a solid performance at this distance.

Official Run time: 01:56:18

Official Overall Time: 05:11:37

And just like that, my 2017 triathlon season is over. It was a long one, but it sure did end sweetly!

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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!