Sunday, September 17, 2017

Ironman 70.3 World Championship 2017 - Chattanooga, TN

Before getting into this, let’s start off with the fact that a couple of weeks prior, I finally let myself admit that I just plain did not want to do this race. 

I wasn’t excited about the course (to put it lightly), my training just felt meh, and I never felt like I had really hit my stride all year.  Moving was a great choice, and while I think I only missed 3 workouts total of the few months process as a result of the move, it really threw off my routine—new places to run, new wake-up times, new garage full of stuff…etc etc etc.  I know without a doubt that once everything really settles and new routines are established, the new house/town will be absolutely amazing for training (and living, in general) but all the NEW STUFF going on kinda distracted things.  Anyway, I was pretty tired of triathlon.  I felt like the entire season, while successful, was just kind of unsatisfactory and I felt pretty unfulfilled.  Nothing awful, just wasn’t quite getting the same thing out of it and was really looking forward to getting this race over with and focusing on… other things.  Got a new bike (CX!) and planning on a few races this fall, exploring the MTB trails right out the front door, etc etc etc.

Anyway, once I really allowed myself to feel all that and just accept it for what it was, it really kind of allowed me to relax.  I wasn’t super stoked to be going to Chattanooga—and that was ok!  Instead, I focused on finishing out those last few weeks of training as well as I could, and thought about the other fun stuff: there would be friends racing, a TON of Wattie Ink teammates, and honestly… you can never take a World Championship slot for granted.  I was going to be thankful for the fact that I got the opportunity to travel to race amongst the highest-ranked 70.3 athletes in the world, and I was not about to let myself act like it was an inconvenience.  I GET to do this stuff.

So, I packed my bike and bags and we made our way to Tennessee.

I’ve never been to the South.  I’ve really barely been East.  It was pretty, and nice to get to go experience some new places!  We arrived late Thursday, grabbed some food, and I built up my bike—and the shifting in the middle few gears just weren’t quite clean enough for my liking.  After a few tentative attempts to adjust the derailleur, I quickly stopped and decided to swing by the tech tent the next morning.

That 7am alarm came mighty early the next day, as I groggily saw my Garmin (not yet synced and still on West Coast time) told me it was only 4am.  UGH.  Allen and I dragged ourselves up and headed back into town, where I had a quick meet-up and team photo with a bunch of my Wattie teammates.  It was so good to meet so many people in person who I feel like I’ve gotten to “know” over the last couple of years, via social media!  Plus, our World Championship kits were pretty amazing, if I do say so myself!  ;)

Back to the expo, and in line for the bike tech.

The line was really long.

I’ll save the details, but like 3 hours (and $150) later I finally got my bike back annnnnnnnnd the gears sounded and shifted exactly the same.  WHATEVER.  Over it.  Did a little spin around with Mac, and then it we packed our transition  bags and went to go drop them off.  Time to get this day back on schedule.

After all the gear check-in, it was time for food, and more relaxing, and then back to the hotel for final prep.  Guess this race is finally happening, huh?

Another bright and early alarm the next morning, at I think 4am.  Or, 1am, as I kept reminding myself.  East Coast time zone is dumb.  But, we wanted to get a prime parking spot, so we made our way over as early as possible—and sure enough, got one of 20 parking spots in the lot right outside the expo.  Perfect!  Sat in the car a bit waiting for transition to open, then headed in to load up my bike with snacks (I mean, “nutrition”!) and pump up my tires.  A few minutes later and we were done, so Mac, Allen and I spent the next couple hours sitting and waiting around (later joined by Rebecca, as well), interrupted only by my typical five million porta-potty stops.

Shortly after the Pros were off, Mac and Rebecca headed off to get into their corral—probably a good thing, because they were funneling people through pretty quick, and the way to the corrals was pretty long.  Now I knew I needed to account for some extra time and get in there early!  But, all worked out fine, and off they went to start their day!

More porta-potty breaks, and nearly an hour later, it was my turn.  Suddenly, all that extra time seemed to disappear, and my group was all huddled around ready to start and there I was standing on top of the hill without my wetsuit on.  TYPICAL.  I knew I had a good 15 minutes before they would start anyone in my wave, but nothing like seeing them all lined up to really get your heart rate going!  I stayed calm, got my wetsuit on, and made my way down to the corrals.

At this point, though, all my pre-race nerves were finally coming into play.  I’m really good at NOT getting nervous until 10-30 minutes before a race, and then suddenly I feel every bit of nerves that I haven’t been feeling for the last few days.  Convenient.  I got my swim cap (they were apparently held at customs and did not arrive until the day before the race—meaning we didn’t get our caps until we walked up to the corrals!) and found Allen waiting on the other side of the fence, which really helped calm me down.

I had new goggles, since I couldn’t find my tinted goggles I like to wear in open water, and was not really trusting their fastening mechanism.  Allen swims with those goggles, and told me he always swims with his cap over his goggles, just to be safe.  Well, I don’t particularly like swimming with my cap on top of them (I think because with longer hair it just feels weird to have them over your hair? Is that just me??) but I also didn’t like the idea of my goggles popping off if I got hit (or worrying about them coming off) so I made a last-minute decision to wear them underneath as well.  A few last adjustments, and they led us out to the dock, to line up in accordance with swim times.

Speaking of which, this is how you know you’re at a championship race: if I remember correctly, the signs had places to stand for swim times less than 25 min, 25-30 min, 30-35min, and 35+ min.

For reference, I think the fastest I have EVER swam a 70.3 swim is around 37 minutes.

Anyway, we lined up (yes, I stood in the 30-35min space, hush) and I found teammate Lucy, which was super nice to have someone to talk to so that I didn’t have to dwell on the impending doom—I mean, swim.

The race start was pretty neat, and I think it worked pretty well.  Of course, it would be “better” to just have a mass start of everyone in your AG, but with such a small dock, that really wasn’t feasible.  Instead, there were about 8 little chutes that you lined up in, and a timer, and every 20 (?) seconds an athlete from each line would run out and start the swim. This meant you were only really starting with those few people, but it really did seem to keep things calm.

I picked a lane, and way faster than I would have liked, I was at the front.  The little timer started ticking, with a volunteer holding his arms over the gate, waiting for the beep to let us go.  Longest.  Countdown.  Ever. Didn’t help that I wasn’t really sure how long it was, so instead it was an agonizing wait.  But suddenly, the beep sounded, the volunteers arms went up, and my race began.

Swim – 43:10 (146 / 189)

I think the last time I did any kind of a dive was in elementary school swim lessons, and I was not about to start now.  So, I went with the “run and jump” approach.  Somehow, I got a quick jump off the line and was the first in my group to reach the edge of the dock, so in I went.  Here we go!

I was instantly VERY THANKFUL that Allen had made me put my goggles on under my cap.  I wouldn’t have even though about it, but my goggles totally would have come up had I left them on the outside.  Whew.  I also don’t think I’ve ever had to jump off of anything and just start swimming, so that was all a pretty new feeling.

In any case, we headed out across the river, and I was happy that I felt pretty good.  No crowding, I could see, and I started out hard but kept it under control and didn’t freak out: first success of the day!

We got to the first turn buoy, annnnd this is where the real swim began.  In case you’ve been living under a rock and somehow haven’t heard, since I think every single person who races is prefacing their swim with this fun fact: the swim was largely upstream.

I’m pretty sure this is a form of cruel and unusual punishment.

So there we were, turning upstream, and I began my sloooooow journey for those 800-some meters.  Because of the bike drama the day before, I hadn’t had a chance to get in the water and see what this would be like—so I was really, really relieved that I was still making forward progress.  It did feel slow, and the amount of effort I was exerting seemed disproportionate with the amount I was moving, but honestly it wasn’t that bad.  I kept my effort steady and just tried to maintain things and not worry too much about the fact that it was taking forever.

It was shortly after the first turn buoy that I started getting passed by people in the wave behind me, which was pretty annoying, but hey, at least I held them off for one lap?

Anyway, things were still pretty calm for me regardless.  It was absolutely impossible to sight, since the sun was rising directly in front of us and the yellow buoys weren’t visible until you were right on top of them, but it was a straight, simple swim, and everyone was going to the same direction so I just followed them.

Went back and forth with a couple girls, and swim side-by-side with another girl for nearly that whole portion.  I did get grabbed and swam on top of once, but a firm elbow out and push back seemed to take care of things.  I really do not like being a jerk in the swim, but seriously, don’t swim on top of me.  Sorry, not sorry.  There was plenty of room.

There were two big bridges to swim under, and the current was noticeably stronger under those, as the large supports forced more water to funnel through the same area we were swimming through.  That was a little odd, but manageable, and fiiiiiiiiiinally I saw the big red turn buoy which meant we could finally turn around!  I glanced at my watch quickly—I had swam roughly half way, in 28 minutes?! Gulp.  So I guess that upriver thing really was slowing me down…

Well, turn around-ish.  It was a diagonal swim across to the other side of the river, which was strange, but again I just stayed with the same few girls.  The girl I had been swimming next to ended up just in front of me after the turn, so I did jump on her feet—I figured we were swimming at the same speed anyway, so I may as well catch the draft.  Suddenly, all that practice drafting off of Allen came in handy! ;)

We turned once more, to swim parallel to the shore once again, and THANK GOODNESS we finally were swimming downstream!!  As others had told me, it didn’t feel particularly fast, except for the fact that suddenly I looked up and we were almost all the way back!  Sweet!  Some other girl kept running into me and pushing me to the side and stole the feet I was following, which was infinitely annoying (go find your own feet!) but whatever.  We were swimming alongside the pathway, and there were spectators watching just a few feet away which was kind of cool.

Last couple buoys, signaling where to turn into the swim exit, last few strokes to get to the steps…and suddenly there were volunteers with their arms out, waist deep in the water, dragging me up.

T1 – 3:54

We exited the swim on some steps submerged in the water, which was super disorienting, but the volunteers were really helpful making sure we could stand up.  A quick glance at my watch showed 42-ish minutes, which was a huge shock (was mentally prepared to be super happy with 45 minutes).  Three steps later, and I was right in the middle of T2, with a huge crowd of people wanting to help strip my wetsuit.  Wow.

Usually I have time and can get the top off before getting to the strippers, but there they were and I quickly yanked on the zipper, missed, and let them take over.  They were pretty efficient, but still felt really weird and slow as I struggled to get the sleeve off over my garmin.  I thought I heard a beep, as one of the guys finally yanked the cuff over it, and I hoped that it wasn’t the lap button.

With the wetsuit off, I ran over to the row of bags… Luckily, there were so few bags left that it was super easy for them to grab my bag and have it ready as I ran by to snag it!  Ran off and up a big long ramp up the hill, and came upon a big area full of chairs.  I guess this is where we change?  I think I asked out loud, and some volunteer kind of answered “yes, here,” sounding all annoyed—uhhh sorry? Others were sounding confused so I know it wasn’t just me.

Plopped down, opened by bag, and was infinitely annoyed that the sunglasses visor had somehow popped off my helmet.  Took the time to get that back on, shoved my shoes on, stuffed my wetsuit back in the bag, and ran off, fastening my helmet just as I reached the edge of the carpet where someone was yelling at us to make sure our helmets were fully fastened.

Another loooong jog around and through the entrance to transition (heard a “GO WATTIE” yell!), then down rows and rows of bikes.  Another perk of being slow: pretty sure my bike was the only one on the ENTIRE rack, so I mean…at least it was easy to spot?

Trotted towards the bike out, got stuck behind girls walking (UGH WHY) and finally made it to the start line.  After a characteristically ugraceful mount, it was time to get the fun part started!

Bike – 2:57:11 (81 / 189)

More teammate cheers as I left transition, which was awesome to see and hear!  Saw Allen a little further up as well, as I was trying to rub a smudge off my visor.  I finally got settled down and sorted out, and focused on getting my head around what was coming up.

I knew there were 2 miles before the climb.  Oh wait, maybe it’s 5 miles?  But my garmin took a while to find satellites so my GPS didn’t kick in until a little while later so my distance was a little off on my 520 (which I can see much easier than the 920 on my wrist) sooo really I just spent those first 5ish miles wondering where I was, where this famous climb started, and trying to drink my Herbalife CR7 to get some electrolytes topped off before putting in the work.

A couple turns and neighborhoods, little dips and then a steep pitch up to the top of another neighborhood.

And I guess the climb started.

Because I got to the top, and turned again, and the road just kept going up and up and suddenly we were out of the neighborhoods and on a 2-lane road and there was a string of athletes and ok, let’s get this party started.

To be fair, I had no idea what I was in for with this climb.  I had heard so many things about it—that it was long, that it was short, that it was SUPER CRAZY HARD, that it was tough but fine, etc etc etc.  Normally, I take everything I hear with a grain of salt, and I was hoping that the stories of it being crazy-hard were from people who were not used to climbing.  And I love to climb, and get a fair amount of practice with it, so was really hope it would be no big deal…but I had teammates, really strong cyclists and people I trust not to exaggerate the truth, admitting “yeah it’ll be a tough climb” so I wasn’t really sure.

Anyway, I immediately had to shift into my very babiest gear, and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t concerning.  Luckily, it was fine, but I was definitely in the smallest gear for the ENTIRE climb.

And it was never awful. Some parts were pitchier, some parts were less, but it just kept going and going and never gave you any chance to rest.  It was a pretty nice hill though, stayed relatively steady and I went to work on it.  Steady, even, no surges and no wasted energy.  I didn’t even notice my cadence until someone on the side of the road yelled “Yeah, nice cadence, Argon!” (referring to my bike) and I realized I was keeping it steady around 82rpm while most everyone around me was sloooowly grinding it out.  Pretty glad he said something too, because a couple miles later, when it got tougher to maintain, I just zeroed in on my cadence and made sure to keep it up.

I passed a lot of people.  A lot.  I had one Wattie teammate pass me about halfway, and two other girls pass me at the very end.  So, getting passed by 3 people total on that climb made me pretty happy, and I felt super strong the entire way.  I also kept thinking about how much all those cadence drills + big gear intervals that Shawn made me do had paid off.  I had been noticing I kept getting back-to-back(-to-back) days of hard intervals and short intervals and high cadence intervals and hill intervals and all sorts of combinations—and now I was doing all of them at once, and it was no big deal.  Guess coach knows what he’s doing, after all ;)

The view on Lookout Mountain was phenomenal, and I definitely started crying, thinking about Kevin.  Then it pitched up for a little kicker near the top and I quickly realized that you can NOT cry and climb at the same time, so I pushed all that aside and got up that thing.

The last little bit of the hill is back onto a more residential street, which was pretty convenient, because there were people outside on the side of the road cheering—a very welcome boost at the end of a loooong climb, which really helps make you feel like a badass!  Finally we turned and got a beautiful downhill section.

Of course, it would be way too easy if you got to really recover, and the next 20 or so miles were rollers up there around the top of Lookout Mountain. But these rollers were not gentle, happy rollers; they were steep, and pretty decent.  Maybe on a normal day they’d feel kinder, but after that giant climb, there really wasn’t a lot of pep left in my legs to power up those things.  I probably didn’t ride quite as strong up around that area, but all-in-all, I’ll take it.

I got yelled at by one girl for not “holding my line” on a steep, sharp corner…insert eye roll here.  I braked a bit, and turned.  Really not sure her expletives were warranted, and besides, why was she trying to pass me with inches to spare, on that kind of a turn?

Anyway, eventually it was time to turn downhill—what a descent!  Not too technical, which was nice, and I stayed in aero at least 50% of the time ;) Which for me is pretty impressive!  I distinctly remember thinking about how the guys were going to absolutely fly down this thing the next day, but with just the girls, it was much more tame.  I passed a fair number of people going down, and I think maybe only one or two passed me.  My garmin even says I hit 40.5mph, which I think is the fastest I’ve ever gone.  I have a bad habit of looking at my speed and imagining crashing, so getting faster on the descents is always a win.

The rest of the course was relatively uneventful.  An awkward little out-and-back to make up the distance for the course provided a really brief look at some people around you.  Got stuck behind a car once or twice (once was really annoying and had to stop and wait then make a huge surge and use up way too much energy trying to get around), and I did slow down a little… BUT, I’m pretty pleased.  Near the beginning of the race, during the big climb, I was feeling pretty euphoric and loving life, and told myself to remember that feeling and not lose it.  I kept reminding myself of that through the bike—don’t lose that feeling.  Don’t have a pity party.  Keep things positive.  I think I was pretty successful, plus it helps that I never got super down or tired or worn out.  Lately, I’ve been kind of petering off in the middle of the bike, so I’m not sure if it was the calories (I tried to basically keep stuffing myself as much as possible) or what, but I didn’t really get to that point which made it easier to stay positive. 

There was some back and forth with a few annoying girls, but eventually I started to get closer.  Definitely not riding quite as strong, but I was still working at it and most importantly, I hadn’t really fallen apart!

I finally rolled into town, and while my GPS was a litte off, I knew I’d hit the end before 3 hours and that only continued to make me happy—for this course, I really wanted to not go over 3 hours so 2:57 was A-OK for me!

I didn’t really want to run, but tried to top off on those electrolytes as much as I could (even though I really had to go to the bathroom at this point), and reminded myself to keep it positive and just see what would happen.

T2 – 2:00

Finally, off the bike.  As always, the volunteer yelled at me about needing to dismount before the line—dude, I know!  That means I will stop right before the line…not 3 feet before.  I’m not sure why they always seem so concerned and surprised about this!  Anyway, I made it, and did in fact dismount before the line, and then trotted off to figure out who to give my bike to.

Kind of an awkward little run over to another big group of volunteer taking bikes, and oh my gosh, a cluster of athletes just milling about in the way.  People kept getting in my way and I just wanted to hand my bike off!  Finally dodged and went around another girl who had been cutting me off, and threw my bike at the volunteer—which then hit the girls foot, since she decided to turn and run straight into my line.  Again.  I think she got mad at me but you know what, maybe be aware of your surroundings when you’re in the middle of a really busy transition area, you know? (and come on, my bike isn’t heavy, it’s not like it hurt)

Ran over to the tables of run bags, and again, a volunteer had my bag ready before I even got there—big shout out to these guys!  Found a chair, and got to work with shoes and sock, grabbed my hat, bib and gel, dropped my bike bag with another volunteer and took off.

As I turned and headed out, I lapped my garmin again and—heard a little song.  I looked down.  “Triathlon Over!”  No, no it’s not.  As I headed out to the run course, I fiddled with it and waited for it to save my data, before switching to a run profile.

Run – 1:45:24 (61 / 189)

Five years later, my garmin was up and running again.  I was annoyed, thinking something must have gotten extra bumped, and now I had no idea what my total time was now.  But, no matter.  My run data started a little late (not like I was going to stop running to wait for it to save and re-start) but at least I had some numbers (pace and distance) to look at and guage.

Time to find out if I can run.

The course starts with a very short little out and back, before going doooooooown to the water, then back uuuuuup long the swim exit.  As I ran up this, I realized that it really did NOT feel this steep when I was walking around there that morning!  Unfortunate.  I felt like I was taking baby steps and barely moving, and I resisted the urge to keep looking at my garmin.

As I went under the underpass, I heard some yells and saw some of the Wattie guys out there, taking photos and cheering. Thanks guys!  I think it was just a little after that that I saw Allen for the first time.  Ok, saw my people, now it’s just time to run.

The first part of the loop was kind of meh.  You run out along the highway, and it’s not very pretty and it’s all uphill and everything feels meh…and yet, at the same time, I dind’t feel awful.  I started seeing mile paces, and I realized that despite all the uphill, I was running decently.  I was able to push it on the downhills, and really take advantage.  Not wanting to jinx anything, and knowing it was waaaaay too early in the race to tell, I only allowed myself to be cautiously optimistic.

The run back was a big nicer, along a boardwalk and through some trees, which provided some shade.  More ups and downs and trying to run strong, though I was a bit slower than I’d be in a perfect world…but with this course I could already tell that that instantaneous pace wasn’t going to mean much.

As I ran up another short little incline, I saw a Timex kit at the top. The girl slowed, and stopped, with her hands on her knees—wait, that’s Sam!!  I got closer, and as I neared the top of the hill where she was still standing, I yelled at her (in the nicest way possible) “Come on Sam, GET UP THERE, get moving!”

Luckily, she listened.  She turned, saw who it was, and as I ran up beside her, she fell into step with me.  We ran together for a few meters, she told me she had biked way too hard—and I told her to forget it and just keep moving, and are you on your second lap? Ok good, now keep moving and get it done.

She was slowing, so I kept on running without her, but knowing I was wearing an absurdly bright, neon yellow kit, I hoped she would keep me in sight and keep it moving.

As I turned onto the bridge to cross to the other side of the river, I saw Allen again (or maybe it was the first time), and while the bridge was hot and windy and sure, I was a tad on the slow slide, I continued to feel…good.  This was a good sign.  Keep it going, Rosanne.  More aid stations, I saw Lucy running down the hill on the other side of the course, and suddenly it was another ginormous hill.  We’re talking a serious grade, and blocks and blocks of it.  I kept running, fell into my little climbing steps, and ran as strong as I could.  I crested the top, and there was an equally long and steep downhill—and I ran down that thing like I had something to prove.  Think I started seeing paces in the 6’s, which was fantastic since I had just ran so slowly up it, and again—just felt good.  I was so, so glad that I was a few miles in and still feeling good and able to push it.  My legs were working!  Resting them helps!  Imagine that!

I saw another familiar kit up ahead, and realized it was Maria!  She’s another super strong runner, so I was surprised to see her.  We chatted a bit as I passed her, and she was pretty bummed about a flat plus a penalty on the bike.  Ugh.

Aid station, another turn, then back up the same hill (but just a few streets over). Same story.  Up and down.  Fun groups on the side of the road cheering.  I kept trying to push it on the downs to make up for time, and it seemed to largely work.

As I ran down the bottom of big hill, right before turning to head over to the next bridge, I heard feet behind me and “ugh, ok, I knew I had to catch up to you!” I turned, and there was Sam!  “You’re the only thing that kept me going those last few miles!”  I was super happy she had indeed stuck with me, and I was happy to have a buddy to run with.  I know she was hurting, and we weren’t exactly flying, but it definitely helped keep my head in the game and made sure I didn’t slow too much for those couple of miles we ran together.

We saw Allen, who I think was surprised to see me running with Sam, then headed over the pedestrian bridge.  Saw more people, knew we were getting close… I yelled at Sam to go finish strong, and headed for my second lap and she turned to the finish (after she politely pointed me the right direction).

Anyway, now it was time for a second lap of the same thing.  Same icky run along the highway, same shaded, meandering path along the boardwalk, same long slog over the bridge and into the hilly neighborhoods…  I still felt pretty good but was noticeably slowly—but was pleased to realize it was all pretty controlled.  I’ve had a few pretty awful runs this year, where I just completely gave out and felt like I couldn’t run at all. I may have ended up running the same speed this time, but at least it wasn’t the same feeling of not being able to move :)

I continued to try to push the downhills and run as strong as possible uphill, and soon enough it was my turn to cross to the finish line!

After a long sweeping turn, cheers from the Wattie guys, a shout overhead from Allen who was still on the bridge, and the longest..finish..chute..ever..the finish line finally came.

Total – 5:31:39 (90 / 189)

Mac found me quickly, and we rushed off for photos etc together before waiting for find Allen.  After milling around a bit, we all found each other, had some food, and recouped before loading up the rental car with bikes and shoes and gear.  We headed up to Lookout Mountain, wanting to get a better view from the top now that we could pay more attention to it.  Of course, they were charging a ton of money to enter all the areas, but we did find a nice like viewpoint which fulfilled our needs.  Super pretty to look out over everything!

In all, I’m really pretty pleased with my race.  Especially after not really feeling fully into it, I was really glad that I stuck with my commitment to just give it everything I had and not stress about it.  Things came together well, and while it was certainly not my fastest time—it wasn’t my slowest, either.  Given such a tough course, where you really couldn’t hid any weakness at all, I’m actually pretty darn proud of the individual times.  Perhaps more importantly, I’m so glad to have ended the year feeling strong, and staying mentally tough the entire race.  It’s a tough balance, sometimes, between wanting to race hard vs just be happy to be racing.  This weekend, I enjoyed my time on the course, I pushed myself, and I appreciated the fact I even got to be there in the first place—the whole time.

And now, I’m totally excited to chill out a bit for the off-season, do some cyclocross racing, not stress about workouts or paces or watts of anything, and keep doing the things I love without the pressure.  But don’t worry—I’ve also already submitted registration for the Boston Marathon as well as Ironman Wisconsin, so I’ll be coming back in full force come the new year.  Can’t wait! :)