Almost 2 years to the date after my very first ever sprint triathlon, I crossed the finish line at my first Ironman 70.3 World Championships. I like to dream big, but this was something that was not even on my radar for this year, as it was my first year making the jump from Olympic distance up to Half Ironman. Yet, I happened to pull off a great race in Chattanooga in May and received an unexpected roll-down qualification with my 6th place finish there. I immediately said “YES!!!” and then looked at my husband and said, “Wait, are we really doing this?? Are we going to Nice?! Can I do this?!” Without hesitation he said “Absolutely.” So the new plan for the next several months became Project Nice World Champs!
We flew LAX-Heathrow-Nice and got in on Friday, August 29 – 8 days before the race. Pulled the bike out and low and behold – BROKEN DERAILLEUR. Not just a little broken: the whole shaft was snapped. PANIC! Found the local tri shop, took the bike in, and luckily they were able to fix it right there on the spot. It cost a pretty penny but I seriously did NOT care! I was just so happy to have the bike in working order. We settled the first day and then I went for a ride the next day. It went TERRIBLY! I was super jet-lagged, my HR was sky-rocketing with not much effort, my legs and body felt terrible… and I’d only ridden the front part of the course, having to stop at the bottom of the Col de Vence (a wicked and windy 10k at 6%). The next few days were still pretty whacked out; I wasn’t sleeping well at all and was actually starting to get a little nervous about race day. I started taking antihistamine at night to help me sleep and finally got on the time schedule. . By Wednesday I’d say things were going pretty well; body felt good, legs were shaking out, HR was in check, and my workouts were going pretty normally.
I checked in on Thursday, which included a super sweet transition bag, perused the Village and spent way too much for a T-shirt and visor, and that evening we attended the Welcome Dinner. Athletes were free but family members were 40 Euro – note to self: may skip this in the future 😊 After dinner was the mandatory course talk. Friday was mandatory bike check in – this took a long time but was fascinating to me because they inspected and took a picture of our bikes. We also had to follow all the rules of the French triathlon federation, which included some different things like wearing your race belt on the bike which we had to WEAR into bike check (what?!) and it had to be connect to your body at 3 points; they were handing out safety pins and you had to pin your number to your clothes (keep in mind, this is the day BEFORE the race and you were going to immediately take it off and put it in your bag…..). T1 and T2 were separate transitions, so the bag system was in effect: all bike items in T1 bag and all run items in T2 bag. We WERE allowed to put shoes on the bike (unlike Santa Rosa) but had to do it on race morning. Got all my nutrition taped on, gear bagged up, racked, got some dinner out and went home to put the legs up and watch a little Netflix in the evening.
I loved that this race was divided into 2 days – women on Saturday and men on Sunday. I had a later race start at 7:45am, and with everything already done the day before, I got up at 5:30am to eat a breakfast of PB&J with a small bottle of electrolyte, and also drank a red bull as I made my way down to the start. I arrived around 6:15am and proceeded to put my shoes on the bike, wait in line for 25 min for the bathroom (*sigh*), and get warmed up. They made the announcement that the water was 75.2 (legal is 76.1) but I had already vowed to myself that even if it was legal, I was wearing a skin. I’d say 90% of the women were wearing wetsuits and I seriously questioned my decision, but knew that water was WAY too hot for me and I would be overheated and distracted instantly.
F30-34 was wave 6; they corralled us all into the pre-start chute and it was a different experience, looking around at all the women but many different languages were spoken – so much more was said through eyes and facial expression than words. I am lucky to be a very confident swimmer – I’m very comfortable swimming in the deepest seas, waves, lakes, upstream; I’d also now done many of these races, but when I lined up at the chute for the rolling start (10 women every 5 seconds) all of a sudden I panicked a little. This has never happened to me. I hesitated. I thought about letting a few girls go in front of me. And then I thought, “NO. You can do this; You have trained for this, you’re a great swimmer, get in the water NOW.” So I went.
The thoughts left as quickly as they’d come and I actually felt quite calm and confident once I got in the water. My last few swims had not gone as well as I wanted but I was feeling strong in the water today. It was a beautiful blue, warm (yes, I had absolutely made the right decision about the skin!), tasted light and salty, and was pretty smooth going on the way out. There was some fighting for position and drafting spots, but I made it to the far buoy 800y out and made the right-hand turn. We were immediately slammed with CHOP, so much chop I thought one of the support or camera crew boats was by us. I quickly realized that was not the case and I had to start really swimming! Focusing on breath, breathing to the right instead of the left because the swells were really coming, but staying focused on the next buoys and finding a quicker pack to draft in. The back stretch was tough but I finally came around the far buoy. Side note: I learned my mistake from my previous race to always sight your path of exit and I’m so glad I did this here – the sighting buoys on the way in had moved in the current and weren’t straight. I saw that I needed to stay off the far left of the buoys in order to have the straightest path to the exit. I was watching the waves of athletes before me follow the buoys and meander out of the direct path. It was hard to stick to this plan when the pack was headed the opposite way, but it worked and my yardage was within 100y upon analyzation later. The volunteer support pulling us out of the rocky finish was fantastic, and I was off to T1.
We threw all of our swim gear into a bag, hung it on it’s proper rack, and had an enormously long run into T1. I’d plotted and remembered that I was between racks 19-20 – T1 went smoothly, I ate half a Clif bar on the jog down to find my bike, and the other half a few miles after I got rolling. I was on my road bike so this meant taping a lot of gels onto the top tube, adding extra water cages, and on top of that I just had to plan to grab an extra water bottle on the fly. I’d ridden the front part of the course more than once – it contained a few short but insanely wicked pitches of up to 16%, some slow climbs, and some rollers before arriving at the town of Vence. Knowing the challenging climb we had, my goal on the way out was to keep my watts in check to make sure my legs weren’t blown out too before the real climb. The crown support was amazing, streets were lined with French fans that cheered for you and chanted “Allez, Allez!!!” (in English, basically “Go, go!”). I had estimated the time it would take me to get to Vence and I actually arrived a little ahead of schedule and was feeling good.
In all honesty, I was terrified of the climb to the Col de Vence. I had surrendered to the fact that I was going to do everything I could but if I had to stop, I had to stop. Good news, I did not have to stop! I knew I would get passed and I did, but I kept my head down, kept eating and staying hydrated, and just kept pedaling. A woman near me at one point said, “Are we almost there?” Having ridden and driven this several times I knew that we were not, and I replied, “Nope, we’re about half way there,” to which she almost sobbed, “You’re kidding, right?!” Another cool thing that happened here on our way up the mountains was that the 70-74 age group was the wave before mine, so I was quite literally chasing 70 year old women up the mountain, and it was AWESOME. They were so badass – I’m happy to say that I was getting my ass kicked by some amazing older women!! I can only hope to just as badass when I’m in my 70s! Anyway, I couldn’t have been more proud of myself when I saw that sign for the “Col de Vence.” I knew I’d made it and was going to be fine. Only a few more rollers and then began the gnarly downhill, which I actually was pretty excited about. At that point, you are way up there on top of the mountains – breathtaking sweeping views but also cliffs, sharp turns, potential rock debris, and large sheets of mountainside rock line the roads and I did come upon a woman that had slammed into the wall. The paramedics were there, but she was in bad shape, and it really just breaks your heart. We all go out there to have our best day and you hate to see accidents, especially when they’re bad. I knew I needed to stay focused, alert, and continuing to fuel myself. I was able to make up some time here, passing several ladies, and I pushed myself to navigate those turns as fast and tight as I could with good handling skills. I’ve been working SO hard on my bike handling skills and I felt like a real French cyclist coming down that mountainside, enjoying every second of it! Once we got down from the mountain, we travelled back on pretty much the same route that we went out on, flat and fast back into town. One thing that I notoriously forget to do is to look at the dismount line and bike in. I realized as I was coming down the chute that I had no idea where the dismount line was going to be, and you can’t really trust your bike computer or the course to be exactly 56 miles. So I took one foot out of the shoe and left it on top, but it was definitely too soon and I must’ve ridden at least a half mile with that foot out! Dismount was smooth, and I was off into T2.
The race before Worlds I’d had a big 5 minute PR on my run, so naturally I really wanted to PR this run as well! With the feet problems I’d been having, I really had not done any speed work at all for 2 months leading up to this race, and actually not a whole lot of running at all, but I was still hopefully optimistic. I started out strong with the legs feeling OK at a solid pace of around 7:15-7:30. OK, you got this!! Not more than a few miles in it became pretty clear that I wasn’t going to hold that pace, so I resigned pretty early to knowing that I wasn’t going to PR the run. The run was a scenic out 2-loop out and back down the Promenade des Anglais, that took us along the Cote d’ Azure to the airport and back. Because we were by the coast we had a nice tail wind going out and some headwind coming back. The women were lucky on Saturday because it stayed pretty overcast all morning, so our temps didn’t climb too high into the 90s like they were predicted to, though it was still warm and pretty humid. A few miles down the way I saw my family; my husband ran along for a moment to ask me how I was feeling, and I gave him the “so-so” hand sign. I knew I would see them again at least 2 more times and it really does make a huge difference just knowing that you’re going to see your support people along the course. My legs started to really feel the wear about half way in, at which point I started walking the aid stations (I’m also terrible at drinking at running so it didn’t bother me too much to have to walk!). I alternated electrolytes and coke, and used ice in my mouth and kit until the RAN OUT – how do you run out of ice on a hot day at the World Championships?!?!
Overall the run course was great – super flat and easy to navigate with fantastic crown support. The crowd was enthusiastic and I’ve serviously never had my name called out (your name is on your race bib) so many times by strangers! At this point, I haven’t quite nailed down my nutrition game and I unfortunately did have to stop at the port-o-potty. That is always a bummer! BUT, I still managed a 1:45 half marathon with all the walking and the potty stop, so it wasn’t a terrible day. As we neared the finish line the crowds grew, the cheer louden, the marching band was playing, and it still makes me emotional to think about the feeling I had coming down my very first World Championships red carpet. Just unreal.
The rest is a blur – finding family, pictures, food, getting bike and gear bags, and the walk back to the hotel; did I walk back to the hotel? I don’t even remember how I got back! I finished #132 in my age group. It’s not impressive, it’s not a podium, but I am damn proud of raking a risk and challenging myself on the world stage with an insanely strong group of women. I have zero regrets, had a life-changning experience, and represented myself to the best of my abilities at that point in my triathlon career! I took 2 glorious weeks off after the race, traveling through France and Europe with my husband, dad, and his girlfriend. The whole trip cleansed my soul and completely solidified my passion for the sport of triathlon.