IRONMAN 70.3 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS – St George, UT
Saturday, September 18, 2021
I thought 2020 was bad, but man, 2021 has been a real doozie for me. At the end of January I got a good case of COVID that interrupted training for a few weeks, then had some crazy residual heart palpitations, followed by a bad bike crash on May 6 which I broke my left acromion and tore the shoulder labrum, broke a rib, and had a small pneumothorax. At that point I had no idea if I’d actually be able to get to the World Championships, so it was a small feat to be there this weekend!! Maybe I was a little vigorous in trying to make up for lost time and gave myself a bit of a glute strain a few weeks before, and running was not going well. For the first time ever, I went into a race having no idea if I’d get off my bike and actually be able to finish a race. Luckily, the tightness and strain didn’t hurt enough that I had to quit and I was able to finish my 2nd Ironman 70.3 World Championship!
The race was supposed to be on Friday and Saturday, but a few weeks before the event, Ironman decided they were going to combine the event. Who knows why… probably something “COVID” related. They scheduled all of the men to start first, then followed by the ladies, which meant that we were all going to be starting after 9am on Saturday morning. At first all the ladies were very angry because it was forecast to be 97 degrees that day and we’d all be getting off the bike and running in the very hottest part of the day – turns out, it wasn’t going to matter much!! I finished in 5:31 and was 36th place in the F35-39 age group. 2 years ago at the World Championships I was 133rd; I had told myself I’d be happy with anything under 100. I’ll take it.
I drove 7 hrs from Tucson to STG Wednesday afternoon and met my Bolton Endurance teammates at a house we were all sharing at Sand Hollow Resort, right across from the entrance to Sand Hollow Park. Got settled in, went for a little jog to shake out the legs. Thursday morning was a bike ride on some of the course and athlete check-in. I originally thought I wanted to defer to Taupo 2022 and requalify for St George (Which I did, twice) BUT Ironman doesn’t let it go down like that – so I told them Nevermind, I’ll stay registered for St George. Well, that didn’t happen and a week before the race I realized they had indeed cancelled my registration, even though they’d confirmed it – twice! I was already disappointed that none of my gear or race bib would have my name on it so I show up to check in and… no packet. We had to track it down at the “solutions” table. The Ironman booboos just keep coming. Enjoyed the Athlete Village, taking pictures, shopping, and seeing the sites with my friend and teammate Jorge, and then we headed back home to relax and have our evening team dinner.
Friday morning – race eve!!! $h!t is getting REAL!! We had a Bolton Endurance team swim at 7am at the venue to check things out and the water was nice, though it was a little chilly out! That 9am start was looking a lot more pleasant. Got in a quick ride and run to check the legs and the bike, and then it was time to check in. We headed into town to drop of run bags and…. No rack for my run bag! Of course. I was so lucky that my friend and Mauna teammate Angel was the volunteer at the bag rack. I was panicking about having to leave my bag and not knowing exactly where it was (as we run in we have to go to our number and grab the bag to get our bike helmet and put away our swim items, then hand the bag off to a volunteer). He said he would make sure it got hung and then sent me a video showing me exactly where it was. THANK YOU ANGEL! I was so relieved. Scoped out our entrance and exit and then headed back out to Sand Hollow for bike check in. I’ll let you guess what happened at the bike racks….If you guessed I was on the wrong rack with no number you are CORRECT!!! All of the F35-39 ladies were on a rack about 100 yards away, and I was on the very. last. rack. Good times! Headed back home across the street and the nerves were starting to set in… it was getting VERY real!! Gathered up my gear, got all my bottles and nutrition ready, running through it in my head over and over again, joined the squad for an early pasta dinner and then it was relaxing, feet up, and sweet dreams of race day!!
Saturday morning I woke up around 6am for my 9:10am start ot have a breakfast of coffee + Forager non-dairy yogurt + banana + cinnamon bagel + a little PB. The pros went off around 7am and since we were close enough, I went down to the corner around 7:30 to watch them come out of T1 on their bikes. Headed into T1 around 8am to check the bike tires, get nutrition onto the bike, get my shoes clipped and rubber banded to the bike, warm up a little bit. Met up with 2 lovely ladies in my age group that I’d met through social media, and we all headed over to the swim start.
We went off in groups of 10, every 5 seconds – the swim start was very easy, the 35-39 ladies were pleasant and friendly, and the water was a lovely 78 degrees. Wore a sleeved kit and a ROKA swim skin and was comfortable in the water. My goal was to hop on some fast feet and try to hang on….but I couldn’t find any feet!! We quickly caught up to the wave in front of us of older ladies so there was some navigating to do. Ended up swimming mostly by myself the whole time and that made for a very uneventful swim. Not too windy or choppy, but not totally smooth. I was a little surprised when I saw my watch at the end, thinking I would swim closer to the :31 I swam in May, but that’s how it goes; it was off to T1
Because I was a “late add,” I wasn’t on the correct bike race with all of my other 35-39 ladies – instead, I was on the very LAST bike rack! I leave my shoes on the bike for a flying mount, so luckily I could at least run the almost ¼ mile out of transition!! Feeling thankful for that, my mount was clean and quick, and I was off winding my way through the barricades to exit onto the bike course.
BIKE (2:59:44) 3,400 ft of climbing
Maybe I did not warm up enough, or maybe I started out a bit too aggressively on the bike, but my legs hurt right from the get go! This also happened to me here in May… still trying to figure that one out! Made the climb up out of Sand Hollow and the L turn onto the freeway and that’s when I saw it…. The massive dark gray, almost black, cloud over St George that I knew was coming our way. I was about 10 miles in, climbing up the 7 freeway, when BOOM – the most intense wind swept over us. I saw ladies getting knocked over, pulling off the road and stopping, but I had ridden in SoCal’s Santa Ana winds before so was familiar with wind. I also knew it was a chance to make up a little extra time so I braved it and pushed as hard as I could while still maintaining my safety. I stayed on the hoods, leaned my bike left into the wind and rode at an angle, hanging on for dear life anytime on of the 30-40mph gust came! I made the L turn onto the 9 freeway and holy hell it got even worse. Then we were battling hail, rain, and a crazy head wind. We were all actually kind of laughing (maybe out of fear) at the situation and we were foraging onward. Luckily I stayed upright through those few miles and about 10 minutes of the worst of it before the wind finally started calming down a bit. Then we were left with rain and wet roads, which meant taking turns a bit more catiously and avoiding the slippery paint.
The rest of the course was luckily less eventful – I was watching my power and HR (which was higher than I wanted) and trying to go hard, because I wasn’t sure I would be able to run, so why not go hard on the bike? I had grabbed a few extra Maurten gels from Aid Stations because with the change in weather I knew I would not be drinking quite as much as the 97 degrees I’d planned for; BUT, when I got to the bottom of Snow Canyon around mile 41, I realized I had only drank 1.5 bottles of fluid. I think amidst all the weather and chaos, and also being wet from the rain, I stopped paying attention to my fluid intake. I usually pee at least 1-2 times on the bike (SHH don’t tell) but I did not pee the entire race (not good!). I tried to get in more in the first part of the Canyon but it’s such a difficult climb, there wasn’t much time for anything else but working! My game plan was to relax for the first part as best I could to save up for the last grueling bit… which, KIND of worked. As expected, the sweat started really pouring into my eyes and I had to lift my visor up to cool off my face and wipe my eyes. I ended up just leaving it totally open for the climb. I paced myself until the last ball-buster climb and even though I knew it was coming, DAMN IT WAS HARD!! There was a moment I didn’t think I was going to make it; I heard a lady cheering people on behind me as she was climbing up as well and she caught me by this point and said, “You’re almost there, it is just around this last turn!!” I knew she was right and got up out of my saddle to just get the pain over with. Good god, that was painful. Finished up a last gel with some caffeine on the decent and focused on getting to T2 safely.
*In hindsight after looking at my file, I may have over-biked a bit (AVG HR 165) and my power balance was 35.5% / 64.5%. I went into the race with a glute strain on my left side, so this power imbalance is pretty clear indicator of pain level! The pain was worse in aero, so due to weather and also this strain, I ended up riding probably more than half of the course out of aero position.
My first experience with bike catchers! Dang that was nice!!! I wish someone would just take my bike and put it away every time I got home! Had a clean and uneventful dismount, the great volunteer bike catchers took her away and it was time to cross my fingers, get the run bag, and see how the hips and glute would behave.
RUN (1:53:03) 1,300 ft climbing
Ugh. This run broke my heart. When I was saying goodbye to my husband to go into transition I said to him, “I just want to run.” I had bombed almost every run I had going into the race due to ending up in terrible pain, had zero confidence, and tried to keep in the back of my mind that there was a good 50/50 chance that I would get off the bike to tremendous pain that would stop me from finishing or at the least, lead to walking the entire half marathon. Luckily, it felt better than I thought it would, and after my first couple steps I knew that although it was painful, I’d be able to at least run some of the course. More than that, my legs just straight up HURT from the grueling bike course!! I set my watch face to only read the heart rate (not pace, lap pace, or anything else) because that was the only thing I wanted to go off. I’d already been in zone 4 for 3.5 hours so I’d have to keep it under control here and planned to walk anytime it got over 175 until it came back under 170.
This course is just brutal. 1,300 ft of climbing with a long slow grinder out of transition into some steeper shorter grades and a 14% downhill slog that make your legs scream UNCLE! And then you do it all again (2 laps). I ran into one of my teammates pretty quickly as I was walking early on and she said, “What’s wrong Christine? What can I do?” I told her my hips hurt and she immediately offered to stop and help me, to which I said “NO WAY!! Don’t ruin your race for me. Go go go!” She grabbed my arm and made me come with her so I picked my feet up and got moving again, literally just trying to put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. Another mile or so up the road I told her I needed to walk again and to just go without me so she very reluctantly went on. On the back stretch of the first lap I got to see my husband in the pouring rain on his E-bike in full poncho mode; he rode up next to me, we got to chat for a minute, and he made my smile and laugh even though my entire body hurt and I did not want to! I literally did not even look at the miles on this lap because I still had another one to go. I caught up to Anna on the downhill and actually passed her for a bit, walking the aid stations, and trying to drink as much Gatorade and water as I could because I knew I was dehydrated. I got to the second lap and was running even slower than before, and was passed my several of the ladies in my age group. I saw my coach on the side who told me I was in 30th and I was SHOCKED! I figured I’d slip down a few places but I was super pleased to even be in 30th place. There was much more walking the 2nd lap, ice, more Gatorade, and before I knew it I looked up and I was at mile 10. It surprised me and then I realized… it’s all downhill from here!! I was able to pick up speed on the downhills and I hammered away. At mile 11 I started getting little cramp zingers right above the inside of my knees on both sides and I thought “OMG if I get a cramp right now and have to walk I literally don’t know what I will do!!” I kept hammering away and just praying that they wouldn’t seize up. Luckily the cramps held out and I knew I was going to make it. I was happy to reach that red carpet in May but DAMN was I happy to reach that red carpet at the World Championships.
One thing I promised myself about this World Championships was despite having a rough year and going into with an injury, I was not going to let myself have a chip on my shoulder. Those things are small potatoes compared to the unbelievable day and experience that I was so blessed to have with thousands of other amazing athletes from around the WORLD! I kept my head out of my ass, I smiled, I looked around at the amazement of the scenery and took the opportunity to let myself be totally in awe and humbled. Was it my best race? No. I was about 24 minutes slower overall than I was in May. It may not have been my best race by time, but it was absolutely my best race in experience.
Recovery after this race has been rough. I felt pretty rough that evening and the next day and have been CRAZY sore! Usually I’m pretty motivated to get back to work, but this time around I’m feeling a bit more somber. Taking the week to reflect, recover, and let my body and mind heal. What’s next for me? Recovery and getting healthy and strong again so I can get back to work. And, oh you know… maybe I signed up for one of those really BIG races.. 😉