Racing Against my Shadows: IM 70.3 Worlds Race Recap
It's been nearly 4 weeks since IRONMAN 70.3 Worlds. It's been 4 weeks since I hopped onto a plane to France, raced, and then flew back home. Yet, it seems like it was a lifetime ago since all of that happened. Good thing I wrote most of this before grad school really kicked into gear (more like 20 gears). Fair warning, though: this is a long post and this race certainly deserves it. If you're just interested in the summary and post-Worlds plans, scroll down to the bottom of the page. But why not stick around and hear about the whole race? 😉
I will admit: I spent a solid 20 minutes trying to come up with a way to get that triathlete-and-gear-floor-layout shot with my GoPro, but I couldn't get the angle right because I'm too dang tall and solo GoPro selfies are rarely successful😂). For gear, I had my essentials such as my Liv road bike and helmet, swim cap, clear and tinted goggles, run shoes, cycling shoes, socks (yes, I wore socks on the bike, just not tall ones), bottles, and nutrition. I also had a flat kit that I taped onto my rear-bottle cage, my top tube X-lab bag for my gels, and my wetsuit. Ah, almost forgot: my trisuit and bandanna, too. For nutrition, I stuck with my Honey Stinger gels that I constantly train with, hydration mix in my bottles, and salt capsules for backup (which I ended up not needing).
Enough about the gear, let's get on with the actual race!
Crystal Blue Swim
Technically...the swim was wetsuit legal. What did that mean? It meant that we could've swam with a wetsuit (or without) and not have it impact standings in the results (i.e. our results counted). However, I really don't like my wetsuit, and the water was hella warm (24 degrees C; 75ish degrees F), and super salty. I opted sans-wetsuit. Controversial? Kind of, when you don't own a swim skin, but it's better than coming out of the water with chafe marks and sore shoulders. For goggles, I went with my tinted ones since it was very sunny and bright by the time I started at 08:24
In all honesty, the swim was gorgeous. We swam in the Mediterranean, where the water is crystal blue and had incredible visibility. I didn't see any fish or other creatures (thankfully), but I've been told that if the ski boats zip by you, they're probably scaring away sharks (which one did on my way back to shore). 😲
As someone who doesn't prefer open water swimming, this wasn't that bad of a swim. Was I pretty slow compared to some of my recent pool swims? Sure, but when you hit a wave as soon as you dive into the water and one goggle fills up with salt water, you're bound to struggle a bit. As my eye continued to sting from the ultra salty water, I tried to get into a rhythm. I was super happy that I was just in my tri suit as I was heating up really quickly in the water. I lost track of the girls I was with and began swimming my own swim, sighting the buoys with the help of the waves on the way out. As soon as we turned onto the back stretch, there was no way of telling which way the waves were travelling. I typically breathe to my right. However, the waves seemed to come in from right more than from the left. After swallowing salt water several times, I started to settle into breathing on the left more. At this point, I have no idea
where I was in relation to my age group as we've started to pass women from the previous age group start. I was also focusing on getting to the next turn buoy and heading for shore.
Once we reached to shore (aka rocky ledge that is as difficult to get onto as getting up onto the pool deck), I was expecting to feel very sick to my stomach from all of the salt water, similar to when I did Lobsterman in 2018. To my surprise, I felt great! I took a bit more time to get my shoes and helmet on, before running like a penguin to my bike and out onto the infamous bike course.
But before I get to my bike, I had to do a penguin run to my bike. I'm not exaggerating when I say T1 was super long. I mean T2 (bike to run) is pretty big, too, but the swim to bike transition is stretched out along the promenade. Once you turn into gear bag area, you pick up your bag, sit down, get your stuff that you need, and then run out to your bike. I was one of the lucky ones where my bike was on the outside of the 2nd filled row from the gear bags (still halfway down transition, so it was easy to spot, grab and run to the mount line. All in all, it was a much better transition compared to Quassy (where I missed my row 😂).
Up, Up and Back down: Bike
Hands down: this was my favorite bike course I've raced so far (this includes all of my cycling races). Heck, my favorite course regardless of discipline. It wasn't just the views of the Med or the mountains, although it does sell it pretty well. Despite what people kept saying about the climb or the descent, I loved them both. The fun thing about the climb is that it's honestly the
easier section out of the entire course, given that you didn't blow your legs out on the first section of rolling steep climbs leading up to town of Vence. Le Col de Vence (aka the big climb) was 5-6% gradient on average (occasionally jumping up to 8 or 9% on certain parts), but it was very easy to get into a rhythm and power up to the top.
With all of the switchbacks, speed bumps, sketchy sections of roads, and navigating with lots of other riders, the hardest part was the descent. It was a recipe for disaster if your head wasn't where it was supposed to be, both physically and mentally. (As in, your body goes wherever your eyes are, and staying focused and vigilant.) That aside, it was super fun! I ended up in no-man's land for half of the descent, and was lucky enough to navigate through a lot of the switchbacks and technical sections without worrying about other riders. While putting on clip ons may have helped with aerodynamics in the windy, flat sections, I didn't feel a need for them during the climbs or the descent. If anything, they would've changed how well the bike handled. (Even a single bottle off the saddle makes the bike lag on turns,
which I'm thankful that I sacrificed that bottle to the aid station once I finished it.) By staying the drops, I had control over my brakes when I needed them and better handling (not to mention, more aerodynamic than staying upright on a TT bike).
Once I got to the bottom of the climb, it was back to chugging away to the finish. However, what I didn't anticipate, was how awful my gut would feel. At first I thought it was just because I hadn't taken in fluids since the last aid station. But even then, it felt really wrong. I could slowly feel like I was losing power, and for the last 6 miles of the ride, I had to get out of my drops because it was too painful to stay in that position. During those long, grueling final miles, I didn't keep track of was how fast the dismount line was actually approaching, and I was only able to pull one foot out of my shoe before having to abruptly stop and clip out with the other foot 50 yards from the dismount line on the cobbles to avoid colliding with 5 other riders.
Wrapping it up on the Run
After I racked my bike, I hobbled over to where my run bag would be (and then doubling back to the start of the row when I missed my number). Due to the GI issue, I walked over to one of the chairs and started taking the rest of my bike gear off. I opted out of the salt capsules, and grabbed my Honey Stinger gel flask. Once my run shoes were on, I got up and hobbled over to the bag drop off and went straight for the porta potties. I had GI distress issues in a couple of previous races, but usually it was post race, or something manageable. This...was a whole new level of distress.
If you have been following me in the three months leading up to Worlds, you know that my still-mysterious calf injury from my previous 70.3 didn't allow me to prepare for the run in a traditional sense. In the entire lead up to the race, I was so worried about how my calf would feel after the ride and going into the run, that I was taken aback by the extreme amount of GI distress I was experiencing. I'm not going to pull a would've, could've, should've, because that's racing. There are so many factors that influenced the distress that it's hard to say that one thing alone could've prevented this.
It seemed like 10 minutes passed race-time (real time was probably 30-60 seconds) before I felt decent enough to head back out and onto the actual run course. For the first mile or so, my legs felt not so bad, and I was praying that my gut was settle back down...which it didn't. I had to make another impromptu porta potty stop at the next aid station, ripped off the heart rate monitor that seemed to be compressing the life out of me, and went back onto the course.
Here, I was faced with a major dilemma: I had 12 miles to go in the hot, blazing sun, and I cannot handle my favorite gels that I have trained with, or any solid food for that matter, but I still needed to take in energy. Given that the aid stations provided non-American coca cola (i.e. no high fructose corn syrup) and Red Bull, those were my last two options. (I had no idea was Enervit was, so I didn't want risk any further distress with a product that I was unfamiliar with.) I was hesitant to try it at first thought, but with my limited options and my desire to finish the race standing up, I went for it. I figured if one didn't work, I would try the other. So, I started out with the fizzy cola at the next aid station. The sugar in the cola definitely perked me up a bit, and the fizz seemed to help quiet down my gut in the following mile. My legs were able to keep a consistent rhythm going, and I was able to focus on the run course ahead.
I followed the same pattern throughout the course: run to the next aid station, grab cola, dump water and ice down my tri suit, and start back up again. My gut quieted down for the remainder of the course, but my legs started to feel like anchors. My pace started to slow down as I focused on maintaining my form throughout the remainder of the run. It wasn't until I turned around to head back out again I hit a mental rock bottom. Starting an hour and half after the pros means there are loads of people heading straight to the finish while fewer people turn around to head back out (a complete opposite experience from IM 70.3 CT). It took a couple of aid stations before I could regroup. Instead of counting from 0 to 100, I started to count from 100 to 0, to reel my darting thoughts back into the race and channel them into the last loop of the run. My legs started to pick up a bit more speed again, but the pain in my feet and the tightness in my legs weren't able to sustain it. Back to counting from 100 to 0, I turned around and started on focusing on bringing myself across the finish line, which seemed much further away than the last lap, making it seem more daunting than the days leading up to the race.
What I found when I reach these kinds of moments is to accept that those thoughts exist, but it is important to put them back into context. The finish line seemed further away because I wasn't focusing on the finish as much before, because I wasn't in as much pain, because I wasn't wanting to just stop. So I told myself, "How many 5ks have you done before? They don't last forever. Just a 5k to go and then you're done." And that's what I did. I focused on checking off the kilometers one by one on the final stretch of the scorching promenade. Even though the crowds started to thin out, there were still more people cheering on the sidelines as I started to approach the final kilometers of the finish, more people telling you to carry on, more people telling you to keep fighting. In the final kilometer, out of nowhere (if not out of pure instinct), my legs propelled me forward even
faster. I passed the turn around mark, and this time I was heading straight towards the finish chute. I can see the finish arch and the red carpet.
My feet touched the carpet, and my emotions ran. And when I say my emotions ran, I really mean it: I had no control over them. (see the run picture on the side for evidence). My eyes were drowning in tears of pain, relief and joy. Despite the training, the injuries, the stress, and the pain I was in, I finally made it. I did what I promised myself that I would do: I finished the damn thing...and upright! 😂😂😂They handed me my medal and as we were waiting to get our finisher towels and t-shirts, a fellow finisher and I hugged it out as my hormones slowly relinquished their control of my emotions back to me.
I'm not really one for tears at any finish line. Maybe a smile, or a fist pump, or a face of sheer agony. But with everything that happened leading up to this race, from the calf injury, the sprained wrist two weeks before, the move to Colorado and starting grad school: I'm not surprised that I let it all out.
So, what's next?
Even though Worlds was originally my final race of the season, I came back home feeling antsy and a bit incomplete. To be fair, my gut was still restoring itself after the GI disaster at the race, and I was still catching up on work and sleep.
And don't get me wrong: I raced 100% of whatever my best was that day, and I gave it at least a week before making any decisions, because post-race depression/anxiety is a real phenomenon. I also checked in with a PT about my odd, non-painful calf symptoms that never seem to improve.
But I was feeling I had a bit more left in me when I got home, and I was mentally geared up to have another go one last time. With that, I have the opportunity to do one more race with the CSU tri team before my off season. My calendar is marked and I'm gearing up one more time before I can close the books on my 2019 race season.
On top of that, I've realized that I've started to stray away from 1RPM's original mission, which is to provide clear information to encourage more athletes to explore the multi-sport lifestyle. I'm still very new to this whole blogging idea, so it makes sense I'm still learning how to convey this to all of you out there. This is something that I want to continue doing, and I will be sharing more of my story, as well as topics on nutrition (especially as a female vegetarian athlete), training, and work/school-life balance.
In regards to 2020: definitely no 70.3's or half-IMs. While the 70.3 may be more of my distance, I'm still developing the endurance and stamina (i.e. durability) to be able to perform at that level. In addition, my bank account is still quite sore and fatigued from all of the race-related expenses for this past year. With that in mind, I'm sticking with short-course triathlons and some cycling races sprinkled in there...maybe a half marathon...But really, I just want to enjoy the process and see where it goes from there.
But wait...don't click away just yet!
I would like to give out lots of thank you's here, starting with my coach, Breno Melo from Karma Endurance (check out his new cool website). You believed in me when I didn't and believed in my ability to persevere no matter what barrier I faced. Thank your insight and guidance for these past couple of years, and for getting me across that finish line!
A big thank you to my donors that helped me out on my GoFundMe page (special thanks to Will Chen and Aaronn Gu), for helping me afford my journey to Worlds. Without you guys, I wouldn't have been able to hop across the pond to race.
Also, I'm giving extra thanks and hugs to my friends who have tolerated my anti-social attitude for the past year and still continued to support my journey to worlds (you all know who you are 😉).
Shout out to Honey Stinger for being an awesome brand and creating great products that I love training and racing with. (Not a sponsored post, but they're a great brand dedicated to natural products, so you should try them out 😊). Thank you to the folks from the former Giant Boston for helping my bike mechanical needs, teaching me about how to take care of my bikes, and getting me back on my bike after crashing out of Quabbin. Thank you to Apple Therapy for getting me back on my feet (literally and figuratively) when I was rehabbing my calf this summer.
And last, but never least, all of you guys, who are reading my blog, following my journey through social media (or in real life). Every single one of you inspire me to achieve my best and set goals that I wouldn't expect to reach. Keep reaching for the stars everyone. Until next time:
Let me know if you'd like to hear about specific topics or things going on in my life, or if you'd like to see me try different formats, such as vlogging, day-in-the-life on Insta-stories, etc. I'm open to suggestions and opinions!