Tuesday, September 10, 2013

70.3 World Champs -- Well, That Happened!

What happens in Vegas, doesn't stay in Vegas! Time to tell my story, and then close the chapter on this one. Sunday's Ironman 70.3 World Championship race in Henderson, Nevada, was not a great day for me.

What happened out there? In short: I don't quite know. I'll tell you what it wasn't: It wasn't nutrition/GI issues, and it wasn't lack of prep (heck, I've been training for Ironman Tahoe!) So what does that leave? I have several ideas, some I'll share below. But man, that was just crazy racing for me. Near the end, it got real tough, and I was hanging on by a thread. If you saw me out there, particularly on the run, you knew I was struggling, and I apologize for being rather unresponsive to any shoutouts and cheers. It was uncharacteristic of how I normally operate, and not something of which I'm proud. Normally I do my best to flash a smile, wave and/or shout back even when I'm hurting during a race, but in Vegas I lost that ability for a while... and that just sucks.
Previewing the bike course on a dry day. Photos don't do the hills justice. On all the driving we did over the weekend,
I made sure to always wear my 110 Play Harder Compression.

Before I dive into my race report, couple things.

One: I just want to give the biggest heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who's supported me and who's reached out with encouraging words not only during race weekend, but in the days and months leading up to Vegas (family, friends, my coach, sponsors/affiliates, my athletes, podcast fans, social media buddies, fellow triathletes, etc....). I love you all for your kindness and belief in me, it means the world! I didn't want to let any of you guys down in Vegas, trust me, and it stung when I felt like I was doing just that.

Two: Take it from me: Don't let the negative aspects of a race ruin you before you even toe the line. There was so much negativity surrounding the Vegas course, from the non-wetsuit swim in a murky lake, to the hilly bike and hilly run, to the threat of brutal heat. All those factors were talked about endlessly by many folks, including me, and they seeped into my subconscious, setting a bad tone for this race and most certainly overshadowing the positives that Vegas offered (and there were positives!).*


So...let's talk about this. Giving it to you straight, no sugar coating. I've spent a lot of time thinking about and writing this race report... it means a lot to me.

After so many weeks and so much heart invested into this race, Vegas weekend finally came. I knew it had been less than a stellar year for me, and I'd dealt with some heavy sh*t, but after Vineman I did my best to be a fighter and make the most of every day leading up to September -- in training and in life -- I was proud of that. It really seemed like things had turned a new leaf and I was rockin' it. Whether it would get me where I wanted on race day was yet to be determined. I'll tell ya though, I wanted it, I really did. I especially wanted to ride my Shiv like a b-o-s-s on that course!

I mean, c'mon, that bike is gorgeous!

We hit the road Friday morning and were in good spirits. I wasn't quite as loose and relaxed as I normally am before a race, but not a total dud because I was also looking forward to spending a weekend away with John, who was going above and beyond to be the best sherpa ever. Saturday, we took care of pre-race business, i.e. T1 and T2 drop offs, but more importantly, buying a coffee maker. That's it! I am fed up and sick of crappy hotel coffee makers, and I need good coffee race morning, so I said screw it and bought one for $19.99 at Sears! Once all that was taken care of, to John's surprise, I made the call to go out for a little Vegas "fun" -- PG style, of course -- rather than sit in the hotel room. We went and drove the Strip, and met with his bro-in-law, who was also in town, so they could share a flight of beers at a local brewery. I had a kombucha and water. Surprisingly, I had no desire even for a small drink before this race, but it was enjoyable to get out and get triathlon/the race off my mind.

Driving around Vegas. This made me laugh.
Saturday night I ate a Whole Foods special in the hotel, food that we picked up earlier in the day. It was perfect-o. After that, I slept very well, like scary well! Asleep around 9, with only a couple wakeups to check the clock, then up and at 'em just before the alarm. Standard.

Race Morning
How often do you see this for
"But it's a dry heat...." seemed to be the words coming out of everyone's mouth before the race. Ha!!! I woke up, checked twitter (duh) and the first Vegas-related tweet I saw was Michelle Simmons' that said, "I knew I forgot something #raincoat #umbrella #IM703WC" ...wtf? I looked outside and sure enough -- pouring. It had been stormy weather and windy as hell the day prior (enough to shut down the race expo a couple hours early as a precaution), but I wasn't expecting rain like that! And the rain didn't stop, at all, until I was about 70% done with the bike.

As you can imagine, race morning turned out to be a scramble, despite having dropped off almost everything in T1/T2 the day prior. Getting into transition area alone was a cluster-f with 2,000+ people trying to bottle neck onto one little road by the lake in crap weather. Meanwhile, multiple pros rolled up in style, aka they rode their bikes to the lake in pretty sketch conditions. Badass. Respect. I took a cue from what I saw going on around me and finally bailed from the car and ran to T1 with all my gear because we weren't going anywhere. I had to get set up in a matter of minutes by then; it was faster on foot. Meanwhile, we were all getting drenched in the rain, and it was still dark. Brrrrr - I was cold. Who would have thought?!?!

(As I was packing before the weekend, I got excited thinking it would be the first time I wouldn't have to worry about warm clothes for race morning. Um, nope! Now, no matter what, I will always bring something just in case, Vegas proved that anything is possible. I think it was Susan Lacke who tweeted that it only rains 27 days of the year in Henderson, and we got one of those lucky days!)

T1, in a bowl-like area, so you can imagine how it just turned
into a soppy mud pit with all that rain!
My wave didn't start until 7:44, but transition "closed" at 6 (although it really didn't because people were late due to traffic and the race officials seemed cool about letting people stay in longer). I got set up in record time even though transition was essentially a mud pit and we were operating in darkness. I literally got into transition at 5:50 and was done before 6 -- nutrition/hydration loaded, tires pumped, gear set up... bam! That was a rush and a little stress-inducing, but then I had almost 2 hours to sit around and wait. I sat in the car, that got old; I stood under the bridge, that smelled like gross port-o-potty... tick tick.... By this point my state of mind was not stellar, I won't lie. The weather was shit, and I was not excited to swim. I was wet and it was just cool enough where I was getting cold just standing there, and we had no warm clothes. But I was at the world championships, dammit, and it was fun being able to track the pros as they came out of the water right below my feet...

Finally it was go time. Our wave lined up -- we were second to last -- and I found my athlete, Lauren, who was also racing and in the same wave, which was very cool. That turned my mood around and I felt grateful for that moment with her and got excited. While there was no swim warm-up allowed, they did make us swim about 100m to the start line, which helped a little.
Swim start. We're on the opposite side of the lake from this angle, just starting the swim by the yellow buoy.
Yes, the water is brown and gross. There is no filter on this photo.

Exiting the practice swim on Saturday,
which was not so great for me.
My face says it all here. 
In all honesty, I am not disappointed in this portion of the race. Going in, I said I would have been happy with anything under 50 minutes given the conditions, and that held true even more once the rain came into the equation. According to my Garmin, which I recently tested and is pretty accurate, I swam 1.33 miles in 41:10, which quite frankly is good for me (1:45/100yd) minus the fact that I strayed off course apparently ;) I got out of the water pretty relieved to see my time. Yea, it was my slowest half-Ironman swim ever and the only time I've gone north of 40, but it's all about perspective here.

Backing up: When we started and I hung with the pack for about 400m before I slowly got dropped and then was on my own entirely minus the occasional girl or two. I was doing my thing, and I was ok, but a draft would have been nicer :) The last wave was 25-29 males, and they caught me when I was about 1k into the swim, which was beneficial at times because I would catch an occasional draft of them.... and then get trampled. Ha.

Those final meters were tough, from 1700 on, and seemed to drag on. But I got through it. I was elated to conquer something that had weighed so heavily on my mind for so long. I'd had been thinking about this swim daily for more than a year. Getting through it was a small victory in itself! Face your fears, folks, because what a relief when you do.
Yea, so, apparently I grew a mustache on the
swim. Or were my lips blue? Who knows.

The swim was one small victory, but still so much ahead. Unfortunately I could tell something was up and not in a good way. Normally I am booking it in T1 and passing people like nobody's business (a girl's gotta make up for lost time!), but in this case I was sluggish and the one getting passed.

Trying hard to focus and use my eyeballs
despite the rain "bullets" attacking me.
Holy crap! What a ride! I don't care that I sucked, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and there are only about 2,000 of us in the world who can ever say that they were out there "that one time when it was pouring in Vegas for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships." Man, I saw lots of carnage out there, it was gnarly. Given my start time, the rain came down really hard until about mile 38 on the bike. Those first 25ish miles were especially crazy, in particular the downhills. I couldn't wear my sunglasses because I couldn't see out of them with the fogginess and abundant rain spots so I stuffed them down my top. But the problem with no glasses was going downhill fast and getting pelted with rain drops, which was particularly painful on the face and eyes -- it got so bad in moments that I would have to briefly close my eyes or turn my head away because it hurt. So basically, I would be bombing downhill up to 35-40 mph (yes I got that fast) with my eyes closed in slippery wet conditions while passing folks and/or being passed. That was intense and almost made the climbs seem easy. Almost.
The first mile or two, I knew something was up...

Honestly, experiencing this bike was something I'll never forget, and I was honored to have been invited to the party. But other than the epic weather conditions on a crazy hilly course (I think "epic" is, for once, appropriate here!), the bike was a total bust performance-wise, which sucks because I thought this would be where I'd shine the most. I had a podcast recently in which the guest, Dr. Tim Noakes, said something to the effect of being able to know what kind of workout it's going to be -- good or bad -- within the first couple minutes. That was the case here. From the get-go I was just flat. Had nothing. Zilch. I wanted to give so much and it meant so much to me, but I was totally blah. Why?!?! My power meter had died, so I had no idea of watts. HRM was not working either.

On a positive note, 1) my nutrition was great and I was having no trouble taking in my Skratch and Bonk Breakers. Even when everything else is out of whack, those products hold up and do me well. Thanks, guys! 2) The Shiv rode like a dream and handled so well in those tough conditions. Never once did I feel frightened or unsure about my ride, and, in fact, the bike and all the great stuff on it was the biggest motivator to keep me going. Thank you Specialized for creating a solid bike in which I have 100% confidence. And thank you Shimano for decking it out in awesome components. Sorry, guys, that I wasn't able to perform and do this setup justice like I should have.
Peaking one of the bigger climbs during our preview drive of the course.

Toward the end of the bike, I went from feeling flat and blah to feeling downright terrible. I felt dizzy and just weird. It was by no means a bonk, my nutrition was close to flawless. I have no idea what it was, but it was not normal and not even the typical "I'm ready to be off the bike" feeling. I started having thoughts that the run wasn't going to happen. By mile 43 we had a decent downhill/flat stretch before the final 5-mile (I mean 6-mile) uphill, yet I was not taking advantage of the easier section like I should have. When I neared T2, I'll admit, I was losing my mental fortitude. Not my proudest moments...

Last note on the bike, no big deal here, but just pointing it out for the record. First, it was long, about 57 miles. Second, there was some debate about the actual elevation gain on the course, and my Garmin had 3,745 ft of vertical and 3,003 ft of descent. Just sayin...

As soon as I hit transition I saw/heard John and the tears hit. As did the snot. I did my best to suck it up and also not let anyone see what was happening to me. I took a very long T2, taking my time to put on my socks and shoes and just breathe deeply.... It felt like hours in that tent, but it was less than 3 minutes.

There was one awesome thing in T2. I opted to wear the Hokas, left them there Saturday, and they sat in the rain. I was a little afraid I'd get to T2 and they'd be soaking wet, but they were fine, and I'm glad I wore them! Super comfy!

I made a promise with myself in T2 to get through the dang run and not DNF. It was all about finishing at that point. I wasn't injured, I was physically fine in that regard, so there was no legit reason to quit. Yea, my body was not right, but I knew I couldn't live with myself with a seemingly pointless DNF. If someone's injured, I think a DNF is totally fair, but that wasn't my situation. And, hell, the medals looked pretty cool and I wanted one ;)

Digging deep for those final moments.
When I first started the run it was jam-packed and full of so much energy -- unlike anything I'd ever experienced. But by my third lap there were only a handful of us left on the course and it was lonely out there. All the while, I was running much slower than normal and mentally not in the game so my mind started to wander (when I'm having a good race and am on pace, I am 100% in the moment and 100% focused on the task; this was not the case in Vegas). I was trying to figure out what the hell was going on with me?! Which in retrospect was dumb because it led me to focus on more negatives than positives. But regardless of being smart or dumb, that's what went on.

I also thought a lot about everyone else who's shared in my journey (all you mentioned in the beginning here). I didn't want to let you guys down. That was tough to take. Yea, I probably should have just let go and rolled with it. But sometimes I just care way too damn much.

On that same level, I also didn't want to take this opportunity for granted. Not too many people ever get to race a world championship event, and I was honored to be involved. So, even if it wasn't my day and I felt like death, the least I could do was finish what I started.

That all said, at no point did I hate being out there, and I have to say, it was a great run course (and a well-run event in general). I think the three loops with the uphill and downhill made it very easy to wrap your head around and get through. I just simply broke it into segments and got through each part, i.e: "Ok, just get to the top of the hill, no more than a couple miles..." "Alright, downhill for a while, you can do this...." "Just make it to the turnaround by the park..." That said, I really couldn't give much merit to my splits. They were all over the place. You really just have to go with the flow on a course like this.

Also, the volunteers were superb. (This goes for the swim/bike too.) There was ALWAYS an abundance of volunteers helping and an abundance of everything at the aid stations. And I was one of the very last folks on the course that day, so I can vouch that even at the end they were still rocking out and stocked up on ice, water, food, gels, etc....

Nearing the end, I finally flipped through my Garmin screens to see overall time, which I hadn't been watching. I realized, not surprising by that point, that I would undoubtedly get my slowest half-Ironman performance to date. So what did I do? I didn't cry about it this time. I just set some new goals, and those happened to be a sub-2hr half marathon and a sub-6 half-Ironman. Those little goals helped to light the fire just enough. Thinking about it now, I guess I can just look at this s/b/r combo in Vegas as a practice in Ironman pacing for Tahoe! Hahaha...
Drained. Thanks, Vegas, for sucking the life out of me yet again -- and there wasn't even
any alcohol involved this time! Dang! 

Going into this race, I had a personal goal of going top-10 age group, regardless of finishing time, but hopefully that would be sub-5:15. On paper, I was ready to achieve that! Reality: That couldn't have been further from what happened. Life threw a curveball at me and I still don't know exactly why or what happened, but whatever, move on. I've already forgotten my end results... it's not relevant here. Many more lessons to be learned from this experience.

Once I crossed the finish, I was just trashed. Exhausted on all levels (see above photo). It took a while to find John, and before I did I ran into Punk Rock Racing Ron, who was there just at the right moment when I was alone and in need of a hug and kind words from a good friend. Thanks Ron.

John and I found each other, and he was more than supportive and kind. I'm a lucky girl. I already knew that, but sometimes in adverse situations we realize even more who we love and who loves us. Heck, he had already cleaned up my gear out of transition and loaded it in the car.... dream come true! And with that, we bounced.


I'll end with this: John asked me after the race that if I knew what I knew then -- i.e. about how the race would turn out -- would I do it again? And without any hesitation I answered a firm, "Yes."

It's the hard days that make us stronger.

Bring it.
Calm after the storm... I'm still a happy gal, and life is still good!

*Going back to the attitude/negativity thing... I now see how this EXACT thing is happening with Tahoe, and it's not just me. I see people on forums all over the Internet voicing their fears regarding the weather, altitude, cold swim, hilly bike, the accuracy of course maps, etc.... and no one really seems to be saying, "Hell, it's Ironman it's supposed to be hard. That's part of the challenge, folks! Who cares what the course profile says, that means shit." I know I won't repeat the mistakes I made heading into Vegas, and I'm thankful I get another chance with Tahoe!


  1. Argh, one of those races when you know it's no longer about the time and it's all about finishing and beating the circumstances. You did a great job and I love how you realize you experienced something special and would do it all over again. That's my kind of attitude. :)

  2. Such an honest report, Tawnee! The only thing I'm sad about is the coffee maker. You could've bought an Aeropress for that money! It will change your life. ;) See you at the races!

  3. First off, congrats on the invite, gutting it out, and avoiding the DNF! Some days the fates are just not on your side, but you didn't let it dictate the end of your day!!

    I did Vegas in 2011 and no matter the weather, that course is TOUGH!! I agree 100% with your interpretation of the course. The bike is so up & down while the run seems more and more desolate on every loop. I am somewhat sad to see the course be finished.

    Concerning the rain, have you ever used Rain-X on your glasses? I also have a separate pair of clear glasses (actually from my days of science labs) and the Rain-X works well to keep them clear in the rain. Just an idea.

  4. Tawnee!

    I've been there before. You said it best: "Don't let the negative aspects of a race ruin you before you even toe the line" AND "Hell, it's Ironman it's supposed to be hard. That's part of the challenge, folks!"

    Before I did IMSG a few years ago (its first year), I spent some time seeing what everyone else was doing for training, and analyzing the hardness of the course. I knew it was hard going in, but over time, little by little, I let other people's insecurities get into my head. Ironically, it ended up taking A LOT of energy on my end to deflect that negative energy. Annoying! Lesson learned for next time and it hasn't happened since.

    You'll totally be stronger for next time. Put as much stock into it as you need to learn from it, but otherwise, move on.

    Great job out there, there's more than race clock times to be proud of.

  5. Tawnee

    It been great to follow your journey, don't worry about the bad day, there are thousands of us out here that would kill to have achieved what you have. Never look back!

    Great Job

  6. Tawnee, I know the feeling about trying to figure out "what happened?" when everything seemed to be right going into the race. I hate those mysteries. If you figure it out, please share with us! Great performance toughing it out! When things are going well, it's a lot easier to race then when you know you're missing your goals totally.

  7. Recently had a long build up with the same coach and I was so disappointed when I could not bring it on race day - and I really could not say why.

    I, like you, find myself only motivated more to go back and get it right. Rock on in Tahoe!

  8. Sorry to hear about your bad day. Sometime's bad "just happens".

    Good luck for Tahoe. Ignore the negativity about Tahoe. The race is the race, the conditions simply make things interesting. Everybody has to deal with them.

  9. keep your head held high sister- don't sweat it. good honest blog.