The race I needed to be personally redeemed from was last year's IM 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater, Florida. My race performance, attitude, and finish had been weighing heavily on me for almost a year. In Clearwater, after a disappointing swim and receiving a four-minute drafting penalty, my motivation spiraled downward in the middle of the race. I managed to regain it by the end and run myself up 20 places into an age group second, but the kicker was that I missed the win by a mere 12 seconds. 12 SECONDS! Everyone who heard the story had the same reaction: "Ouch! That's gotta hurt."
And yes, it hurt. It's BEEN hurting ever since. Every time I toe the line at a 70.3, that second place haunts me. It's the same pain I have felt for 28 years after losing first place by less than 0.1 seconds in the 100-yard breaststroke in the Connecticut high school sectional swim championship in 1982. As a senior, I didn't get the opportunity to redeem myself the next season.
But I did have an opportunity to avenge my Clearwater loss. I just had to go to Las Vegas this past weekend to do it.
We (my husband Jim and I) arrived in Las Vegas late Friday night. After picking up our rental car, we drove to our hotel in Henderson hoping to get at least one good night of sleep before race day. On this trip, we were very fortunate to have our great friend Ron (founder of Punk Rock Racing) joining the J-Team. He made the drive from San Francisco with his daughter on Friday and met us at the hotel. It was weird to me that I had not yet come face to face with Ron - it feels like I've known him forever. After heaping all sorts of wonderful Punk Rock Racing gear on Jim and me (including awesome temp tattoos and one of my favorite t-shirts - the one that says "Chuck Norris never did an Ironman"- get yours here!), we all turned in for some shut-eye just after 11 pm.
After a quick breakfast at the hotel (the Hilton Garden Inn in Henderson has THE best cinnamon rolls ever), Saturday was filled with the obligatory "check out the race venue," "shop the expo," and athlete check-in activities. We picked up my P3 from TriBike Transport then shuffled back to the hotel for a shakedown ride and run and to pack my transition bags. We dropped everything at the bike transition at Lake Las Vegas Resort, then Jim and I headed back to meet Ron and his daughter Cassie for an afternoon of relaxation and fun on the Las Vegas Strip.
|This machine makes custom m&ms.|
(Ron was making the ones in the photo)
|Punk Rock Racing|
All I remember about the night was that I looked at the clock at 11:50 and decided that three hours (alarm set for 3 am) would be enough sleep. Then I realized I had already been asleep and dreaming. I was even able to go back to sleep without any panic attacks. It was a good night - and I felt rested when the alarm went off at 3.
I ate breakfast (orange juice, coffee, HammerGel and soy protein powder), we took showers, I put on my tri suit, prepped my bike bottles with First Endurance EFS, and we met Ron at the car at 4:15.
|Pre-race with Ron|
|Body marking at 5 am|
|Wave 3 swim start (I'm in there somewhere)|
|First in T1. Oh hell! WHERE did I park my bike?|
|Half of the "run" hill at bike exit.|
Between 10 and 15 miles, two women in my age group passed me. The first one was Lauren Smith and I found myself talking (out loud) to remind myself not to do anything stupid like try to chase her down. The second woman blew by me like I was standing still. I stuck with my overall plan to let others make the mistake of going too hard on the hills. I would hopefully capitalize on it during the run.
By mile 30, I was constantly being overtaken by men in small packs and the temperature had risen into the 80s (maybe low 90s). I kept my heart-rate manageable - what felt like Zone 3 - and I drank about 200 calories (in EFS and Liquid Shot) and at least 24 ounces of fluid per hour. The only thing that worried me was a nagging leg fatigue with some lactic acid buildup. It was more like a smolder than an all-out burn, but it wasn't comfortable. My concern was that I had gone too hard on the early hills.
|Wait, which way again to T2?|
I quickly worked through getting my socks and shoes on and making sure I had my all-important Thermolyte capsules on me before exiting transition. I thought it could have gone a little smoother and faster, but I was happy I didn't struggle with my shoes like I usually do. I grabbed water on the way out of the tent and heard the news from Jim: I was four minutes behind the age group leader.
|OMG, how long was I in there?|
And so I chased. And Jim ticked off the minutes and informed me of my gains. By the end of the second loop uphill (between mile 7 and 8), I had the leader in my sights and it was time for the big decision. I was NOT feeling great. I wasn't even feeling GOOD. I still had over five miles of running to go. Should I pass her now and then hang on for dear life? Or should I hang behind her until I started to feel better (if ever) and then make a move? I decided on the former. I mean, heck, it was only five miles, right?
On the downhill into the start of the last loop, serious game-ending fatigue hit me. My legs and my body revolted against my race strategy and they started picking apart my mind. Mentally, I went to that evil place and the following thoughts began: "I need to walk," "This can't be happening again," and "Oh well, I gave it my best shot, but I'll have to settle for something other than winning today." Even my stomach went awry and sent my eyes on the lookout for the nearest porta-john.
|Third loop. This is when it really started to hurt.|
I assessed the situation. What were my needs?
What I needed was a clear mind and to get a grip on the situation. I was not dehydrated. I had been drinking and was taking lots of electrolytes. But I was fatigued. I needed energy. Sugar, calories, anything. At the next aid station before mile 9, I walked for the first time but only to take in two full cups of Ironman Perform. And then, I ran.
I continued to argue with myself. I was well aware that I had done something incredibly stupid in this race by trying to chase down the leader early in the run. But I was too close. I had come too far to give up now. I had to prove I deserved to win - despite the mistake.
My body was putting up the fight of its life (so to speak), and I now had to beat the demons into submission. I kept running. My pace had slowed substantially by mile 10 - my 6:30-7:30 mile pace became 8:00+. But I was less than three miles from the finish line. LESS THAN A 5K! I visualized making it to the top of that final hill and running an all-out downhill mile to the finish.
And that's what I did. I don't know if my energy came back or if I conquered the demons, but I was able to push up and over that last hill without stopping. After the turn-around, I found I was leading by more than two minutes. The pain turned to elation with only a downhill mile to go. I ran as fast as my legs would go and took the turn into the finish. I high-fived every hand I saw, and then I saw Jim - I wanted to stop and hug him, but I had some finish-line crossing to do.
And this is what I did when I became the Ironman 70.3 W45-49 Age Group World Champ:
|It's different than my usual pose of looking at my watch|
at the finish line.
Thus, disaster number two became the two-hour ordeal of having to drink enough after a five-hour race in order to give at least a 90 ml urine sample in a plastic cup while in the midst of all sorts of other digestive distress. And unfortunately, while I was in drug testing quarantine, Ron and Cassie had to leave for their eight-hour drive home and I never got to thank him or say goodbye. Yep, that was a huge disaster in my mind.
The silver lining was that I ended up in a tent full of pros that included race winner and my favorite male pro triathlete, Craig Alexander. Surprisingly, I successfully avoided assuming the worshipping pose on my knees. After some time had passed, unsure of appropriate behavior in the drug-testing tent, I actually first checked with the USADA official whether she thought it would be ok for me to talk to him (feeling like a lowly peasant in a roomful of royalty). So I took a deep breath, gathered my wits, and went over to congratulate him on his race.
|The Ironman 70.3 World Championship|
45-49 Age Group Podium
By the time I got out of drug-testing, Jim and I had only a few hours to get cleaned up, grab a bite to eat, and attend the awards banquet at Lake Las Vegas Resort. At the awards, I was shocked to find out that the woman I chased down for the win (the one who blew by me on the bike like I was standing still) was none other than triathlon (and Ironman) age group legend Donna Kay-Ness (and I might add that she is an absolute sweetheart in person). Knowing this might be a once-in-a-lifetime podium moment, I tried to take it all in.
|Jim all-knowingly questions my|
pre-race ice cream consumption.
A big thank you to my team - Bike Authority Fleet Feet Multisport - and Muscle Milk for all the support this year. Also, I was extremely honored to have Ron come all the way to Vegas for the race and keep me in the coolest (and punk-est) threads on the planet. I hope he had as much fun as I did. And hugs and applause go to my husband Jim for being an integral part of my racing year after year - getting me to and from Las Vegas and the race venue while also taking care of my bike, keeping me calm, and making sure I didn't do anything stupid before the race.
On to Kona.
(all photos courtesy of Jim and Ron)