Saturday, September 13, 2014

70.3 Worlds Race Report 2014

The 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant, Canada, was a truly unique experience to round out an incredible 2014 triathlon season.

Bree Soileau, owner and coach of Alamo 180, and I unexpectedly earned our slots to Worlds at Buffalo Springs in Lubbock in June. At that moment, with Norseman on my mind and Ironman Arizona on hers, we quickly joined forces to get ourselves to Canada to race. We found flights, a condo to stay in, and a Sherpa, her friend Mary Evelyn. Bree and I really didn't know each other at all before the race except by name.

She turned out to be the perfect person to share this experience with. Dawn was at the race too, along with a couple of other friends - but Bree and I were the only ones experiencing everything for the first time. I felt happily free to giggle and squeal excitedly about everything along with someone else who was equally excited about the event.

We arrived on Thursday in Montreal and drove the two hours to Mont Tremblant in the dark. Mary Evelyn would join us later on Friday night.

Everywhere we went, starting in the airport upon arrival, we were greeted in French and English with congratulations for qualifying. It felt incredibly special. The Ironman Village was huge and festive, with tons of booths and crowds. It had the feeling of a full Ironman event, but on an even grander, larger scale. I had heard that Mont Tremblant goes all out for Ironman, but to experience it first hand, it's clear why WTC picked this venue for the first Worlds race outside of the U.S. There were signs all around the gorgeous resort town celebrating Ironman. They have a 70.3 race and a full Ironman event here each year and they had repaved all of the roads with buttery, smooth asphalt to prepare for this year's events. Even a portion of the run course that had formerly been a trail was freshly paved for the race.

The athletes seemed different here too. Unlike the usual stressed out, intense atmosphere around most races, this one had a celebratory mood. As we stood in line for packet pickup and shopped and milled around the village, athletes greeted each other, congratulating each other on their qualification and asking each other where they qualified. Bree and I were proud to note that people were impressed that we'd gotten our spots at Buffalo Springs - everyone knows what a difficult course it is. We also noted that it seemed that for most of the athletes, it was a second or third trip to Worlds.

We spent a lot of time enjoying the athlete village.
On Friday we picked up our packets and went to the practice swim. The lake was beautiful, although warmer than I expected. It was so clear and fresh that I wanted to just drink it! I was surprised to find that I felt overheated in my longsleeve wetsuit on our easy 30 minute swim. The highlight was a stop for a drink at a coffee boat along the course - I'd heard about the coffee boat at Kona and it was really fun that a local coffee shop had created a version of that experience here.

We attended the welcome dinner and enjoyed the celebration. We learned that 2700 athletes were taking part in the event from 32 countries. They had qualified at 61 races around the world. 65% were men. 800 were Americans, and 400 were Canadian. There was also a huge showing of athletes from Australia and the UK.

Mary Evelyn arrived that night and we chatted and giggled a little in the condo before turning in early for a big day ahead. On Saturday, Bree and I picked up our bikes from Tri Bike Transport and took them out for a quick shakeout ride to run through the gears. Checked the bikes in to transition and shopped a little, got some lunch, checked in our gear bags, bought breakfast to prepare the following morning, and finally settled down to rest a little. All three of us were exhausted, sunburned, and seemed to be catching a cold.

The gang's all here! Bree, Mary Evelyn, and me
T1 bags, swim to bike
Setting up T2 bags
Loved having a Norwegian flag to use as a landmark to find my row in T2!
Race morning began at 4:30 on Sunday. We grabbed some quick breakfast, headed to transition and then to the swim start. We had a while to wait to start - the pros went off at 8, Bree went at 8:30, and I started with one of the last waves of the day at 8:52.

The highlight of my morning was meeting Jordan Rapp! I was waiting in line for porta potties and I saw him standing off to the side getting ready. After being too shy on Friday to approach pro Terenzo Bozzone as we stood side by side for a moment at the swim practice, I was unwilling to give up the opportunity to meet one of my pro heroes. I jumped out of line to introduce myself and to wish him a good race. He very politely wished me the same and I ran back to the line smiling. OMG! The other pro sighting of the weekend was in the airport on the way home - Jesse Thomas was on the same flight as us and we boldly took the opportunity to meet him. He was gracious and friendly as well. So cool.

Swim start shenanigans. It was definitely cold outside!
When it was finally time for my wave to start, I ran into the water with 115 other women and we furiously started swimming for the first buoy. I settled in pretty quickly, found some feet to chase, and, as usual, had no idea how I was doing. I felt fast, but couldn't predict what my time would be. I was surprised that although our pack stayed together, there was none of the usual pushing and shoving. We didn't swim over any of the packs in front of us, and nobody swam over us from the waves behind us. After one of the smoothest swims ever, in which I did spend time looking up at the mountains and clouds around me and feeling grateful to be at Worlds, I ran out of the water with a new personal best swim time: 33 minutes. Yessss!

T1 included a 400 meter run down a red carpet to the transition area. I grabbed my bag, put on my helmet and shoes, exited the tent, and was immediately disconcerted because the entire transition was empty of bikes. Because our wave went so late, there were probably only 300 bikes of 2700 left in the transition when I got there. Grabbed my bike, ran out past the bike mount line, and settled in with a plan to be relentlessly positive and grateful, and to stay in the moment.

This immediately became impossible to do as I headed out onto the first stretch of the bike onto a highway that, although buttery smooth, was pretty much uphill into a headwind. As I tried to find a rhythm and settle in, it seemed like the entire rest of the field was on its way back on this long out-and-back section. Enormous packs of super fast guys blazing back into town, riding five across in pelotons that sounded like a swarm of bees as they passed. Ugh, this is the drafting they talk about at Worlds. It makes sense. You send out 200 guys at a time who are all about the same speed, and what are they going to do? It's hard to stay legal. But I was frustrated to see that so many of them clearly weren't even trying to. 

I began to feel discouraged. I'd spent the last few weeks since Norseman feeling either great or terrible at every training session; it's been weird to go out and never know what I'm going to feel like. I fought the feeling of "this feels terrible today" for the first 20 miles of the bike. I had to remind myself "this is awesome! This is Worlds!" and tried to feel like I felt at Norseman, but it wasn't happening.

Then I hit the turnaround. Sweet, amazing, beautiful, screaming fast section of downhill/tailwind to make up for the struggle of the first part. I focused on hitting my watts and not wasting the free speed. Started feeling physically great and mentally happy, even though I was at the back of the pack and would continue to be all day, partly because of the late start and partly because of the amazing talent of the rest of the field. I worked on feeling honored to have the opportunity to race with this caliber of athlete, rather than feeling disappointed that I was getting my ass handed to me by 2000 people.

After the highway section, we rode through a cute little town where all the residents had turned out to spectate. We then turned onto the last out-and-back section that we had been warned about - 10k of tough uphills out, and 10k of downhill back. Some of the hills were a struggle to get over, and I felt discouraged again. At the final turnaround, again, the net downhill allowed a screaming fast return to the transition area. I wanted a bike split under 3 hours; I ended up with 3:02.

T2 was a blur. I was happily in and out in 2 minutes, took the time to duck into a porta potty before I started the run, and took off running on the 2-loop, out-and-back course. 

I wanted a run PR. I wanted to go under 2 hours. I had come ridiculously close at Buffalo Springs on a hot, hilly course, and I assumed that running "anywhere else" it would be a piece of cake to carve ~30 seconds off my run PR time. Nope. This run course was no joke. Even though the weather was gorgeous - cool and overcast in the 60s - the relentless rolling hills made it impossible to find a rhythm. It was so crowded; as I started my first lap, nearly the entire field was out there on the course. It was discouraging to have super fast athletes on their second lap passing me like I was standing still as I worked my way through my first. These people can run.

That's what was so weird - nobody walked. NOBODY WALKED. Every half-ironman and ironman event I've participated in, by the time you get to the run, especially on looped courses, at least half of the field is walking. Here, though, everyone was running. And everyone was running FAST. It makes sense. These people are the best in the world, and it showed. Again, I worked really hard at keeping my spirits up and feeling grateful to be part of the event, yelling encouragement at other athletes dressed in Smash kits, and getting a boost from seeing Dawn, Bree, Susan Gershenhorn (another Tri-Belief athlete) and Marc Rubin (a friend from tri camp) out on the course.

As I approached the village for the first time, the crowd support was incredible. At that point I didn't have to try to feel good. I smiled uncontrollably for at least 4 miles, just taking it in. People were yelling at me, "Go Pinky!" which made me laugh and think of Norseman. The volunteers and the spectators were screaming and handing out high-fives. Calling us heroes. Telling us we were the best in the world. It was so much fun to run through this section. 

Back out onto the course for the second loop, I was hurting and just focused on getting it done. I was close to that PR time, and I wanted it really badly. But not badly enough to make my legs go faster. I ended up with a run time of 2:03; not bad for a difficult course, but certainly a disappointment. 

I pushed those feelings aside to enjoy myself running down the final stretch to the finish line, which was as awesome as any Ironman finish line I've ever seen. So brightly colored and full of screaming crowds and a big screen TV and an awesome announcer. I was so happy to see Mary Evelyn and Bree (who had an incredible race - see her report here) yelling at me as I turned the corner to the finish. And then it was done, my chip was removed, an enormous medal was placed around my neck, I was wrapped in a space blanket, drinking chocolate milk and coming down from the high of the day. Finish time 5:47; back of the pack, bottom of my age group. But it was the freaking World Championships, a dream come true - what a way to end the season!

So much happiness running down that final stretch.
We had champagne waiting for us at the condo and we dipped into it as we showered and dressed for a celebratory dinner with Dawn and friends. Continued savoring and taking in the experience, drinking beers with a bunch of happy athletes celebrating the day. It was fun. Everything was fun! Dawn had urged me to spend the entire trip Present and In the Moment, and I really did.

Our condo host left us a bottle of champagne to celebrate. Not your smartest recovery drink, but it was fun!
Dinner and drinks with the Coachie. Me, Dawn, Susan
The next day was a little less fun. We drove in rush hour traffic to the Montreal airport and barely made it through security for our flight. Spent the entire day traveling, sick and tired, but happy. We arrived home to an awesome greeting in the airport from the Alamo 180 welcome committee, which put the icing on the cake of this wonderful weekend.

Alamo 180 welcome wagon awesomeness!
I want to say thank you to my incredible coach Dawn Elder, who helped me pick right up where I left off after Norseman to get me ready for this race. Thank you to Bicycle Heaven for setting me up on great wheels and making sure my bike was ready to race. Thank you to my amazing travel buddies Bree and Mary Evelyn for making this adventure even more fun! Thank you to my friends and family for all your encouragement, and for not defriending me on Facebook for all the posting that I did about Worlds! And as always, thank you to my husband, Robert, for being relentlessly supportive about this dream that I'm living. 

The most amazing season of my life is over, the report is written, and now I'm just looking forward to chilling out for a while before I plan the next chapter. Thank you for reading!