Muskoka 70.3 was my first half Ironman back in 2009. I thought I trained well, swimming masters a few times a week, riding up to 60 miles on Saturday and running 13 or more on Sunday every weekend through the summer leading up to the race. That year I swam a 45:54, biked 3:04:25 and ran/walked a 1:54:20 for a total time of 5:49:08 which put me at 44 out of 90 in my age group. At the time I wasn’t upset, I was elated! A half Ironman seemed a tremendous accomplishment just to attempt. It was a question of could I finish, not anything more, and regardless of how I placed it was a day I will never forget.
Fast forward to exactly one year ago and I found myself in the same lake ready to attempt the same race I had done before but now with a different goal, qualify for my first World Championship. I recall vividly treading water before the gun went off and looking to my left, then my right, at the 67 other athletes in my age group, knowing that if I were to have a chance I needed to be in the top 5. I remember being intimidated, as I am at all races, from the thought that I am a very weak swimmer, and that I’d have to rely on my run to track down many age groupers that would beat me out of the water. Despite my first of some horrible back issues I managed to crawl up from 17th in the swim to 6th on the bike and finally 2nd across the finish for a new PR and guaranteed slot into Worlds the following year.
Qualifying for Words was one of my proudest accomplishments and best experiences of my life! Made even better by doing so alongside my best triathlete friends and role models, the Hansen. I had been so focused on making it to Vegas, having seen many others make it after long roll downs, that an automatic qualifying spot was extra rewarding. Too many times I received calls saying ‘you should have been at Steelhead, Rhode Island or Galveston… it went 10th, 20th or whatever crazy number deep in the 25-29 group, even having the announcer call “anyone in 25-29 want to go to Vegas?”’. I realize now the importance of earning that spot and am glad qualifying is as difficult and as competitive as it has become.
70.3 Worlds was far from my best race, a full 30 minutes slower than my other 70.3’s this year. Admittedly I checked out about a week ago after my training bike was stolen and race bike was deemed ‘unsafe to ride’, both within a 48 hour period, leaving me to wonder if I would even have a suitable bike to race on leading right up to race weekend. It’s been a difficult year for me with the move, having most of my gear stolen, and coming off of Lake Placid about a month ago, however even with all the adversity and subpar performance Worlds was everything I needed it to be. It provided a window into what this sport is for a select group. I thought a 2nd place finish last year meant I was something, and that if I could only do the right things, train, eat, fuel, strengthen, recover, etc. like the pro’s, maybe I’d have a shot. The realization that I gained from this weekend, seeing some of the top athletes from around the World, is that doing all the right things doesn’t get you to the top, it merely gets you through the door. There are moments in this sport where every athlete questions their commitment, I have been tested countlessly in the last few months, but the important thing to realize is that there are others in your shoes somewhere, accepting the same choices, making the same sacrifices. And when you’re on your own it doesn’t always make sense, but this weekend, giving it my best shot and not even making it into the top half of my AG, has shed some light, not on what it means to be accomplished but rather with determination how far you can go.
In addition I was greatly impacted by the speech of 2013 Ironman 70.3 World Champion Sebastian Kienle when he talked about expectations and admitted that at 29 he would soon be getting slower. I was under the presumption that my fastest years are still ahead, mid to late 30’s being the peak for female Ironman triathletes, but was taken aback to discover my potential for peak performance will be soon approaching in the next five years or so. It is a scary thought to wake up one day and know that my best days, performance wise, are behind me, but that is life I suppose.
Race Recap (I’ll keep this short) –
Me in a swim speed suit is as meaningless as putting aero wheels on a toddlers tricycle however I put mine on for the first time to swim in the wetsuit illegal water of Lake Las Vegas for one of the slowest times in my age group, my slowest swim in a 70.3 in years – 38:24. The swim in this race has made it more obvious to me than ever that I truly need to learn how to swim respectably if I ever want to be competitive in this sport. Despite being incredibly dirty water the course was unique and it was cool walking through a casino in tri gear on the way to transition.
The course was intense but the rain kept us cool. There were multiple times I needed to slow down to avoid age groupers ahead of me, but better to be safe, especially with slick carbon clinchers, and knowing now how many people went down that day. My power tap conked out the day before (figures, another $350 repair according to the Power Tap rep) so the 550 watt average on my Garmin did not translate to the pace I would have liked. Heart rate was a good 10bpm over targets in past races. I did take some opportunities to enjoy the scenery and some fun descents, playing leap frog passing all the 20-24 year olds on the down and getting passed back on the up for a while (grow some balls guys, free speed!!).
The volunteers were so quick to grab my bike that I didn’t realize I had left my Garmin on it until I had already headed out onto the first of three loops of the run. I don’t think it made much of a difference as I expect my HR was through the roof for the slow paced 1:33 half I ran. It was humbling being passed by woman much older than me in the discipline where I’m supposed to shine. I wore a fuel belt for the first time, which was nice because I could then focus on staying cool at the aid stations and not have to worry about fueling, a call I will make it hot races from now on. I heard somewhere that it hit 93, which was felt most on the up hills of a run course with virtually no flats.
The greatest miracle was that it rained the morning of this race. Had it been the high 90 temps that were experienced on the days leading up I don’t think I would have survived (I don’t know how people did it last year!). Especially considering that my wave was 2nd to last, leaving almost 90 mins after the first pro’s. I was happy to finish within 10 mins of friends I had come with, despite the pain it was a good day!
Take away –
In one hand there is qualifying for Worlds and the other performing at Worlds. I was content with getting there this year but won’t be satisfied next time unless I show up ready to race my best. Perspective is knowing your competition and what will make you happy. Having sat at the grown up table I now know it’s where I want to be and that I will truly have to up my game if I want to feel comfortable there. Even though I have two races on the calendar left for 2013 I consider this to have been my last race. My body and mind needs a break to prepare and get ready for an aggressive yet fun 2014 schedule. I am excited to start back up but only after some much needed R&R.