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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HITS Naples 2017 Race Report

12 01 2017

Why yes, it’s January 12th and I’ve already done my first triathlon of the 2017 season. Pretty crazy, eh? This year is shaping up to be a season chock full of racing and training, and I’m really excited about it. I’ll be doing a post soon with my schedule so you can see for yourself what I’ll be up to, but for now I’ll start you with my first race report of 2017, the HITS Naples Olympic Distance race.

It seems to me that January/February in Florida can sometimes have unpredictable weather. Some days it will be that beautiful cool weather in the morning and then warm up to a comfortable mid to high 70s. Other days, you’ll ask yourself, “Where did winter go?” as you sweat it out in 85 and 90% humidity. And sometimes, we’ll get a cold snap and temperatures will drop into the 30s-40s. Well, the weekend of the  HITS Naples race we had some less than ideal triathlon weather. On Saturday, for the Half and Full distance, though it was in the 70s, it thunderstormed off and on all day. The race still went off as planned, but the athletes dealt with wind and spurts of rain, often coming down in buckets.

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On Saturday night, temperatures dropped dramatically, and when I woke up on Sunday morning, it was 42 out with a real feel of 35 degrees. BRR! I had been watching the weather pretty closely, so I had made sure to stop by the Naples Cyclery on Saturday and stock up on cold weather cycling gear since I don’t really own any. This would prove to be a very, very, good decision.

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Sunday morning I had my typical breakfast of oatmeal, banana and nut butter, and then my parents and I drove to the race site around 6am. Transition for the Olympic distance athletes was open until 7:05, and we were staying about 10 minutes away, so this would gave me enough time to get there, deal with traffic, park, and get set up in transition. We did have to wait in a little bit of a line to get into the parking garage, but I think we were parked by 6:20/6:25.

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I got set up in transition, and then went back to the car for a little to stay as warm as possible for as long as possible. I put on my wetsuit and then made my way to the beach in time for the sprint start. When I got to the beach, I was shocked at how close the buoys were to the beach. And, that they had guards holding them by their lines!  The current was moving swiftly south and it was windy out. Oh, and there was a riptide warning in effect until 7pm that night. NBD. I huddled behind some stacks of beach chairs to stay out of the wind and watched the sprint start. Many of the athletes struggled to get out to the first buoy- they walked back out of the water, moved further north on the beach and then tried again. There wasn’t much swimming to get to that first buoy either. It was a few dolphin dives, and then a lot of people just walked. Once the athletes had made the first turn, there was more walking. I joked that they probably could have just floated to the other buoy faster than they were walking. This was certainly not a typical triathlon swim, and I was soon to experience it myself.

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After the sprint swimmers were done, the RD actually had the guards move the buoys a little further out, but the northern buoy was moved south of where it had been, so it was now south of the starting flag. Smart move! I stayed bundled up as long as I could, did some mobility work to get my joints and muscles a little warm, and then when it was 4 minutes from the start, I quickly disrobed, did some more warm up/mobility work and then it was go time!

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Swim:00:10:08.212

I’m not so certain I would call this a swim. It was more like a surf dash, which I used to do as a guard back in the day. But this was the longest one I’d ever done, and the air was definitely colder than the beautiful summers in Jersey. The water was much warmer than the air, so it actually felt good to get in. However, the current was not fun (and this is coming from someone who loves rough water!).

img_5576I basically dolphin dived my way out to the first buoy, and I could kinda start swimming to get around it. Then, I tried swimming parallel to the beach towards the other buoy, but it was really hard to get into a rhythm. We were right in the break, and the waves were coming in sloppy. The current was moving so fast that you were at the next buoy before you knew it.

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When I approached the south turn buoy, the lovely rising sun was directly in my eyes, but I turned and tried to catch a wave. At that point, I saw another female catching me on the left. On the way in, we were stroke for stroke. The way in was challenging because you were getting pulled hard to the south, and you really just needed to let it take you, rather than to fight it in hopes of a shorter run. It was also the deepest part of the whole swim! Finally my fingers touched and the girl and I got up and high knee-d it out.

img_5610We ran on the beach about 125 yards or so, and OMG was it COLD. My feet!! At this point, my heart rate was spiking, and I knew I needed to chill out a little for my own safety in the rough water. So, I backed off a little, let the other girl go (who, by the way, wasn’t wearing a wetsuit!!), and repeated that same loop. The second loop was much of the same. I had to fight the current to get around the first buoy, and then again, no falling into a groove at all as I went parallel to the beach. It was a matter of just making it through this water part of the triathlon and getting to the bike!

I made it out of the water in second place, and up on the beach I heard someone say I was 40 seconds behind. The competitor in me was like, “go get her!” but I was just here to have fun, so I tried not to worry about it!

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T1:00:04:22.384. Yes, I spent nearly 4 and a half minutes in transition during an Olympic distance race.

img_5637OMG slowest transition ever. But, I totally expected it. I was going to take my sweet time to make sure I was going to be warm for the bike. And, man was it worth it! HITS provides these nice stools to sit on, and in a normal Olympic I would NEVER sit on it. But today was not a normal Olympic. I sat on it, with my wetsuit half off and my towel wrapped around me and I dried off as much as I could. My toes and fingers were SO cold. I had more trouble than usual getting the wetsuit off my legs, and I’ve never had toes that numb before. I seriously was wondering if this is what it felt like to have dead toes. I took my time putting on my base layer, arm warmers, jersey, knee warmers, gloves, socks and shoes. I did not want to be miserable on the bike!

 

Bike: 01:09:16.716

img_5639I started the bike and I wasn’t sure if I was actually warm or if I was just numb. But, I realized that hey, I was actually warm! All the layers, the new knee warmers and the toe covers were doing their job and it was amazing. I’m pretty sure this was the first time ever I was happy to be out of the water and on the bike. I smiled and told myself just to have fun and think about my RPE. Be strong and don’t over do it!

The course was an out and back: we pretty much went due east for 12 miles and then came back. I think the wind was blowing 15-20 mph from the north, which meant that most of the course would have cross winds. There was a short section of the course where we rode on a North/South street so we got the benefit of a tailwind on the way out and a direct headwind on the way back, but the rest of the ride was all cross wind. For the most part, the roads were lined with trees and/or developments which blocked a little bit of the wind, but when we crossed the north/south streets, you really felt it blow. There were several times where I definitely felt my wheel get blown a little by the wind. I was thankful I wasn’t using 808s! I tried to stay around what I perceived to be Z3/4. I was passing people and it was great! The best part of the ride was certainly the short part where we went south. Hello 25mph without really working hard! Unfortunately, it was short lived. I passed several woman on the bike, and I was a little surprised by how many had made it in front of me during transition. I was really, really slow! In the last 5 miles, I passed two women who were looking pretty strong. The three of us traded places a few times, and I tried really hard to stay legal. In the last mile or so, I told myself I was NOT going to let these girls beat me, so I pedaled in HARD to leave them behind. Right before dismount, there was a bit of traffic, and some oblivious drivers. I had to slow way down and sneak past them. It was a little scary, but I still was able to get into transition in front of the two women. I think this put me back in second place.

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T2: 00:01:08.233

I quickly took off my helmet and shoes, and put on my run gear. This was a much faster transition than T1. I saw one woman get out of transition in front of me. I wasn’t sure if it was one of the two ladies I had just passed on the bike or if she had been in there before. Regardless, I was in and out pretty quickly, and I was ready to have a solid run!

Run: 00:53:19.069

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It was a beautiful day for a run, and my plan was to run strong for the first four miles and then really pick it up on the last two. I left transition in 2nd place, and settled in to a comfortably pace pretty quickly. My biggest problem was that my feet were still numb. Every step hurt, but not in an omg I need to stop kinda way- it was like my feet were asleep, but beyond that tingling feeling. I was worried that if I actually did run on a nail or anything crazy like that, I wouldn’t have known! Eventually, my toes moved into that tingling feeling and then I could finally feel them about halfway through the run.

img_5660The run course was an out and back which we did twice. About a mile and a quarter in, you made a right turn, went over a small bridge and then hit the turnaround. Then, of course, you went back over the bridge, made a left onto the straight portion until you turned around and did it again. Out and backs are both good and bad because you can see your competition all along the way! I wasn’t in 2nd for long; the girl who eventually won passed me less than half a mile in. She was speedy! I was running comfortably, focusing on my form and just enjoying this part of the day. I was pleased when the first mile beeped at 8:40- not bad for the effort I felt I was putting out.

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img_5666The rest of the run I tried to stay laser focused on execution. Yes, I was paying attention a little to the girls behind me as I made the turnaround, noticing that they were gaining ground, but I really felt like I was being in the moment during this run. Mile 2 ticked off at 8:40 also. Solid. I picked it up a little too much on mile 3, perhaps because I was close to the small crowd at the finish line, so I slowed a smidge. At around mile 5, at the right turn to go over the little bridge before the turn around, two girls wearing Iowa State kits passed me. “College kids”, I thought to myself. They were moving, and I wasn’t going to try to stay with them. I made my last turn around and was headed over the little bridge, when I noticed two girls behind me, maybe a quarter mile or so, one of which looked like she was running strong, and making up ground. I told myself that now was the time to dig deep and let it all out of the tank. So, I picked it up a notch. My watch had just beeped for 6 miles, when a group of girls yelled “Go Tiffany!” OMG the girl behind me had caught up. Go Steph, Go. Just then, she passed me, and the competitor in me said “Oh no she didn’t!” and then I passed her back. At this point in the course there was a quick left, right, left before the finish chute-  I really pushed hard here. But, whoa, that effort was not sustainable, so I backed off a smidge and she passed me again. We were just about in the chute, and hearing the crowd energized me to give it all I had for the last 50 yards. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough and I ended up .4 behind her. img_5672h_img_2948

img_5672j_img_2950img_5672n_img_2954Gah! Despite being out run, I am still quite pleased with my result. It was a solid was to kick of these season, especially considering I hadn’t done any specific training for this race. I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings!

Big shout out to my mom and dad for being out there all morning to cheer me on and take photos! Thanks!





Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City

21 09 2016

So, this ended up being a longer post than I expected…Grab your coffee!

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When the announcement was made last year that Atlantic City would now have an Ironman branded 70.3, I knew I was registering. Sure, I’m not the biggest fan of how the brand treats the female pros (#50womentokona), but I knew that bringing the Ironman brand to AC would be a nice boost for the town. If you don’t already know, I’m originally from Ventnor, the town just south of Atlantic City. I grew up on the Jersey shore, went to Atlantic City High School, and am a proud alum of the Atlantic City Beach Patrol. This race would take place in the waters where I used to water ski and learned to row a lifeguard boat, on the very overpass I drove over every day to get to high school, and on what I consider the best place to run: the boardwalk. The race was scheduled for September, the best time of year from the local’s perspective, and it just so happened to be on my dad’s birthday weekend. Score!

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September at the shore is the. BEST.

I flew up Wednesday, a few days early so I could spend some time with my family before race brain started to take over. I didn’t fly with my bike; after my bike shipping experience after Milkman, I was hesitant to pack up my bike to get it to New Jersey. Thankfully, one of my TriMarni teammates who lives in south Florida was driving up for the race and offered to take my bike up with her. Wahoo! I dropped it the weekend before and was super thankful for this alternative transportation. (For the future, I would love to see TriBike Transport support this race!)

Friday: On Friday morning, I met up with Lottie, who was tackling her first 70.3! It was chilly (for me), a cool 53 degrees- I would certainly not be upset if this was race day weather! We went for a 45 minute spin on a section of the loop part of the course and then we drove the rest of the loop to get a sense of the roads and where we would need to go on Sunday. Some of the roads were a little rough, but nothing too terrible. As we were headed back to Lottie’s car, we actually saw a truck with workers patching up some spots of the road and marking where the road was a little rougher.

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After we parted ways, I drove the rest of the course on my way back home. There were a few rough patches through the Pleasantville neighborhood, but they were already marked, and if you were watching where you were going and not being a speeding idiot, you should be just fine. All in all, I was looking forward to the course, but I did make a note to bring 2 tubes, rather than the 1 I usually carry, just in case.

Later that afternoon, I went to the Ironman Village to pick up my packet and go to the pre-race meeting. This was my first Ironman branded 70.3 (and my first Ironman branded race in the US) so of course I spent too much money in the merchandise tent.

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Later in the afternoon, Cynthia arrived in town with her dad, and we went to the Ventnor beach to get in a little open water swim.

img_6059Even though the swim would be happening in the bay and not the ocean, it was nice to get in the water. There was a tropical storm way out at sea, but it’s effects could be seen/felt already in Jersey. We had to deal with some decent surf, and I loved every minute of it. Not sure if I’ve mentioned it here, but one of my first ever ocean swims was in hurricane swell, and since that day I have fallen in love with the thrill of swimming in big surf.

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Saturday: Saturday morning, I woke up without an alarm, which was so lovely. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) my body doesn’t know what “sleeping in” is, so I was up and at ’em by 7am. I went for a short spin down to Longport and back, followed by a short jog on the boardwalk. Gosh, it felt good to be home to race.

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I went to the village in the afternoon to rack my bike and get body marked, and the rest of Saturday was pretty low key- I really wanted to go to the beach with dad, but opted to stay out of the sun and inside relaxing on the couch instead. We made pizza for dinner, and then it was early to bed for me. 4:30 would come quickly!

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Sunday, race day!

I didn’t sleep super great on Saturday night, but I wasn’t too worried- I am a firm believer in “the night before the night before” is the most important:) I knew race nerves were kicking in because I needed to force down my overnight oats and coffee. I put on my kit, braided my hair, checked the weather (High of 83 and humid. Wind from the South at 9mph) and off we went to Bader Field. I knew that traffic was going to be bad- they had warned us at the pre-race meeting to get there early, and I remembered the issue at one of the AC Tris where they had to delay the start because of the long lines of cars getting in. Thankfully, we were coming from the west, and were able to get right in and not sit in all the traffic. I’ve seen lots of complaints about the traffic to get in, and I know that some people had to rush to make it into transition before it closed, but from my personal experience, I didn’t have a problem. I do think there needs to be a solution to ease some of the congestion, I just don’t know what it is and what is doable with city ordinances and such.

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Anyhow, we arrived and I headed over to my rack. I filled my bottles, laid out my run stuff on my transition towel, placed my extra tube, sunglasses, and Skratch chews in my helmet so I would remember to put them in my back pockets before getting on the bike, put my shoes on the bike, and then checked and rechecked that everything was all set. I trusted my experience in setting up my transition area and then went to chat with friends before leaving transition. I gave my bag to my mom and did a little bit of dynamic stretching. I actually felt hungry so I ate part of a Cliff bar too. It was at some point during this time that a sense of calm came over me: I was prepared, I trusted my training, and I knew this course pretty darn well. It was go time. Well, in about an hour and a half…

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I walked to the swim start, about half mile or so from transition (throw away flip flops are a must if you do this race!) and they made an announcement that the swim had been cut to a mile. Bummer, that’s where I can get my advantage! Dad and I had talked strategy last night and since the tide was coming in, I knew we’d be swimming against it on the first stretch of the swim. My tactic would be to swim closer to the sea wall, where it wasn’t pulling as strong, and then swim more in the middle of the channel after the turn around. I was still feeling surprisingly calm, ate a few Skratch chews, and drank some water as we waited in the corral.

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Swim:

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Finally, it was time for my wave, wave 13 to line up and then get in the water. I said hi to a few lifeguard friends and then jumped in and swam to the start line. It was a floating start, so I stayed to the far right. Just before we started, a woman from the wave before us was pulled from the water, maybe 5-10 meters from the start. Great way to start the race, eh? Once she was in the boat and out of the way, it was our turn to go! Immediately, I took off. I swam with a girl for a handful of strokes, but then she dropped back. I didn’t see any other light pink caps nearby, so I figured I was in the lead, but I didn’t know for sure.

Shortly after starting, I started running down people in the waves before me. Thankfully, I was far enough out to the right that I didn’t trample over a lot of them. I passed through the two red buoys that I presume was for the live tracking, and continued to swim with the yellow buoys to my left. I was feeling quite good, and was approaching one of the green channel markers, when I sighted and noticed a wall of lifeguard boats and paddle boards directly ahead of me. There were definitely swim buoys behind them. This was curious. On my next sighting stroke, I heard them yelling to turn. That’s weird. Maybe this was the “shortened” course? Despite being confused, I made a sharp left and swam towards the next buoy I saw. Around the orange buoy, and then keeping the orange buoys on my left,  I swam towards the swim exit.

If you look at the map above, I would say that I turned shortly after the little piece of land that was jutting out from the left side of Bader field. I really, really wish I had a watch that recorded my swim distance, because I really have no idea how far I actually swam. My time was only 19:45, so I’m wondering if I did miss a buoy or something. The race site says the swim was cut to 11oo meters, but there’s been some chatter on the Facebook page that this isn’t accurate. I guess we’ll never really know!

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T1: I ran out of the water, wiped my face (that bay has some nasty grime), let the wetsuit strippers peelers  de-wetsuit me, and quickly rinsed off in the showers they had at swim exit (thank you!!). I saw Lottie, and gave her a little pat on the booty and yelled “Yeah Girl!” before heading into transition.

Tube, sunglasses, Skratch, helmet, Go! And off I was out of transition!

Time:2:08

Bike:  The bike course is what I’ll call a lollipop: a pretty straight shot out to some more rural roads, a big loop, and then back to transition via the “stick”.

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I’m really glad I was familiar with the roads and the course; it makes such a difference! I knew what to expect and when, and could adjust as necessary. I was prepared for the rough roads in the Pleasantville neighborhood, the somewhat bumpy parts at the start of the loop, and the curb at the entrance to the Wawa parking lot, that thankfully had a volunteer, signs and a carpet to lessen the jump.

When I started the ride, I was pretty sure we had a nice tailwind. I looked down and saw a “23,” which confirmed my suspicion. Watch your watts, Steph. Conserve for the headwind that you know is going to hit on the way home. I backed off a bit but still found myself constantly saying “On your left,” which made me feel like I was on my way to a solid ride. Maybe I could get an AG podium after all…

There were a lot of people on the course already and being that it was not a closed course, there were several portions where we had just a wide bike lane to ride in, which was making it quite tricky NOT to draft/block. I did my best to stay legal, but I definitely spotted some men who had a much looser interpretation of 6 bike lengths than I think the refs did…

Anyhow, it was on the bike where it really hit me that there were a LOT of women in this race. According to the Ironman Atlantic City Facebook page, this race held one of the highest women to men ratios in all the IM events in the world. I absolutely loved being out there with so many strong women who were tackling this distance.

Around mile 20, I was passed by a female. Obviously I looked at her calf, and sure enough, she was in my age group. Dang it! I tried to keep up but then told myself to race MY race, not hers.

The first 25 miles of the race flew by. Perhaps it was because I was most familiar with that part of the course, or because I was literally on my way to the fastest 56 miles I’ve ever ridden, but I was just having so much fun! We were riding on some nicer roads at that point and it was shady, so at this point, it was quite enjoyable. At one point on this back loop, there was a curve in the road, and BAM the headwind hit. Thankfully, this was short lived, and we curved again and it wasn’t as noticeable. I think 3-4 women passed me back here, and one or two of them were in my age group. At that point, I lost a little motivation; my BHAG was to place top 5 in my AG for this race, and now I was one place away from dropping out of the top 5.

We made another turn at mile 30, and again, the wind hit. It didn’t seem as bad, but this part was definitely a bit harder for me. The roads were smooth and wide open, so I just put my head down and tried to ride by watts, not by speed. I also started doing the math in my head to figure out what my final time might be. As I calculated, I was shocked – I might be able to go 2:40. That’s just crazy! I tried not to get overly excited, and just kept pedaling. There’s no such thing as a good bike and a bad run. You have to pace yourself in the bike so that you can have a solid run. I was hopeful I was pacing myself appropriately.

As I approached the final aide station at mile 38ish, I debated whether or not I should grab a water. It hadn’t been super hot, and I thought was doing pretty good on my nutrition: I had drank two bottles of Infinit (Bottle 1 was Speed formula, with a pinch of base salt added; the other was 1 scoop of regular Speed and 1 scoop of my custom extra salty blend). I had also had half a bag of Skratch chews because I felt hungry and needed something solid to satisfy my hunger.  I had just started my third bottle of Infinit, which was two scoops of my custom salty blend, so I was considering the water to balance out the salt, since it was definitely not as hot and humid as I’m used to training in. I made the decision to skip, and I’m pretty sure that was the decision that ruined the rest of my day.

As I rode the last 16 miles back to transition, I saw my teammate Heather who asked how I was feeling. I yelled back that I was feeling really good and kept pushing forward. With less than 10 miles to go, another girl in my age group passed me. I remembered sizing her up in the porta potty line before the race, and I wasn’t going to let her take me over. I passed her back, held the lead for a little, and then she passed me back. Dang it! I let her go, knowing we were close to the end of the ride. Maybe I could get her on the run.

We entered Bader Field from the west, and you could see the start of the run: Lines  and lines of athletes running back and forth. It looked like an ant farm…or a death march. I switched gears in my head to get ready for the run as I slowed for dismount. I was determined to have a solid run off the bike for the first time in a 70.3, and I felt prepared to do it. And, I absolutely love running on the boardwalk. I couldn’t wait to get started!

Bike time: 2:42.21

T2:  T2 is a little bit of a blur to me. I grabbed my things, and started to run out, but realized the sun was out in full, so I sprayed on some of my own sunscreen I had in transition before heading out. Right at the exit there were volunteers with sunscreen, so I stopped again and let them lather me up. I could tell I was already burned from the bike, so I didn’t want to get any worse. Better safe than sorry!

Time: 2:30.

Run: The best way to describe the start of the run is soul crushing. Ok, so I’m being a little dramatic, but we ran nearly 3 miles on Bader Field. I didn’t think that was possible, but sure enough it is. We ran on the blacktop that used to be the runway. Out, back, out, back, and around the perimeter. It was awful.

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It didn’t help that half a mile in, I got a side stitch. I didn’t walk right away; mom was right up ahead with her camera and I didn’t want to worry her by walking (even though my race plan included walk breaks at the aid stations!), so I kept pushing.

img_5565 I made it to the first mile and then allowed myself to walk. My stomach was not happy. I was hot and I had a combination of a side stitch and nausea. I walked a little and then ran a little. I saw Cynthia, gave her a smile and wave, but then immediately went back to walking. What was going on with my stomach? I walked through aide station 1 and grabbed water and a cold sponge, and then started running again. You can do it Steph, I kept telling myself. Eventually, women started passing me. I watched my podium spot slip out of my hands, and disappointment washed over me. My body was not cooperating with me. By aide station 2, I had already started on Coke. Usually, I don’t need coke until I’m at least half way done the run. This was not good.

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I tried to put on a smile and just keep moving forward, to release the pressure that I had put on myself to place;  I reminded myself of something my friend Beth had posted about her recent race: that she had raced with joy and it was magic. After reading that, “Race with joy” became one of my mantras for this race. The other was something a friend posted on my wall: “Be Amazing.” I tried really hard to remind myself of those mantras as I ran down Albany avenue and onto the boardwalk.

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I had been so excited about running on the boards, so maybe I could muster some strength to get my legs moving. I saw Heather and Matt at the Base tent, which gave me a little boost, and the wind in my face actually felt quite nice, but still I found myself walking way more than I wanted because of my stomach. My legs actually felt OK, but I just couldn’t continue running without feeling my unsettled stomach. By mile 5 I remembered I had tums in my fuel belt, so I popped two of them. Shortly after, my run finally felt good. I passed a few people but then, boom, I needed to walk.

The rest of my run was pretty much a series of walking, running that didn’t feel good, drinking some Coke and sometimes some of my Osmo, running that felt really good and then an unsettled stomach feeling, followed by more walking. Rinse and repeat.

I had a really hard time staying positive on this run and not just throwing in the towel. I’m pretty sure this was the first time my mind had gone down the path of a possible DNF. I wasn’t going to do that- I could walk the whole thing if I needed to. It was just really hard to watch my goal time get further and further away. I was going to turn in my slowest 13.1 to date. That’s a hard pill to swallow.

Eventually, I was on the Pier for the second time, headed for the finish. I was SO looking forward to being done and sitting in the shade. It was super hot by now, and there was zero protection from the sun (with the exception of the portion on the Pier, which I walked a lot of). I saw the red carpet, and ran it in with my arms high in the air. I was done!

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Run Time: 2:19.26

OA time: 5:26.10

13th AG

59th Female

Post race & other reflections: 

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After I finished, I immediately went over to sit in the shade and drink a water. I had zero appetite for any of the post race food. Once I felt sufficiently cooled down, I went over and found my mom. We went inside Boardwalk hall to sit in the shade some more, and I put my legs up the wall. We happened to go in the entrance which led to medical, and people kept asking me if I was okay. I felt okay, just tired. Eventually, I stood up, hoping to head over to get some food, but as we were leaving the building, I was like nope, my stomach is not having it. Mom told me that I should go to medical, and after a bit of “I’m fine mom!” I  caved. The nice EMT gave me a pill for my nausea, and we sat down for a little longer and I drank more water. Finally, after 15-20 minutes felt like I was ready to enjoy the post-race food.

Though I’m disappointed that I didn’t have the day I wanted, I certainly learned a lot from this race. I know I can put together a better race than I did, and so I’m already looking forward to planning my 2017 season.

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I cannot say enough great things about Delmo Sports, the volunteers, the emergency staff working the race, and the fans. This was an absolutely fantastic race, and I know that the Delmo staff will continue to make improvements in the coming years. If you ever have an opportunity to do a Delmo Sports event- DO IT. You will not be disappointed.

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race swag.

And now, bring on the off season!!

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