Picky AmBADASSadors

2021 Ironman 70.3 World Championships Race Recap AKA Welcome To Thunderdome

I took a break from my post-race schedule couch-sitting and pizza-eating to finally recap the Ironman 70.3 World Championship experience! The full post is on my blog - https://parttimetriathlete.com/2021/10/04/ironman-70-3-world-championship-race-recap/ Copy and pasted below! Enjoy!

Whelp, I’ve finally dragged myself off the couch and decided October was as good a time as any to dust the cobwebs off the ol’ blog and give my 70.3 Ironman World Championship race recap. 

Holy sh*t, I never thought I’d reach the end of this finish line.

I have never been so exhausted after a race. I’ve spent the two weeks since St. George eating copious amounts of pizza and sampling the plethora of craft beer options in the Portland area. I’m calling it my post-race re-carbo load and I have no regrets. But I’ll attempt to recap this race and spur myself back into some semblance of mental and physical normalcy.

The 70.3 Ironman World Championships took place in St George, Utah, a town that lived up to the hype of being deemed “the land of endurance.” I knew leading up to the race that it was going to be the hilliest and most difficult half-ironman course I had ever attempted. 3,500+ feet of elevation gain on the bike, 1,100+ feet of gain on the run, with the potential for 100+ degree temperatures on race day. I was more nervous about the threat of those high temperatures than anything, as I am now perfectly acclimated to the typical PNW weather of 60 degrees and partially cloudy. Anything above 85 feels like doing cardio in a sauna. I would soon be wishing I could do cardio in a sauna rather than the treat the St George weather had in store for us on race day. 

Race Day

All 4,000 of us triathletes were shuttled out to the swim start at Sandy Hollow Reservoir on race morning. These were 4,000 of some of the best triathletes in the world. Everyone looked like they were in insane shape and like they hadn’t partaken in eating an entire family-sized bag of pita chips the day before the race. Those were some damn good pita chips though.

We rolled into the swim start, and I hopped off the bus to a scene pure race-day chaos. Thousands of the most expensive triathlon bikes money could buy were racked side by side as far as the eye could see, with nervous triathletes franticly pumping up tires and running around between the rows. My trusty Felt TT bike is only 4 years old, but the duck-taped on water bottle made my bike look a little out of its league amongst the shiny two-wheeled machines that were lined up alongside it. Or maybe I was projecting my own feelings onto my bike – I felt out of my league at this race. But hey, I was here, I had earned a spot to the World Championships (no matter how many slots the qualifying invite had to roll down before it got to me) and I was going to give it my best shot.

Insanely fast bikes as far as the eye could see.

I lined up for the swim start with the other women in my age group. We weren’t starting till 9:30am, which we had all groaned about earlier in the week, thinking we were going to be running the half marathon at the peak of the day in 100 degree heat. Alas, St. George had a surprise in store for us – rain had appeared in the forecast the night before, supposedly starting at 11am and continuing through the rest of the day. Ominous looking squiggles of lightning had also appeared next to the noon hour on my weather app. Because that’s just what you want, a lightning storm hitting mid-race.

There was no time to ponder the weather, this race was happening whether I was weather-ready or not. We were shuffled down to the swim start, the timer went off, and we were diving into the water. My Ironman 70.3 World Championship race was on.

The Swim

Now, I am very upfront about my swim abilities, or lack there of. For me, the swim is the “just get through it” part, and then once I get out of the water is when I start trying to make up all the time I have lost. My goal was to get close to my half-ironman swim PR, and I was fairly happy when I clambered back out of the water to see that I had clocked my second-fastest swim time for a half-ironman event.

Now, to the fun part (or so I naively thought). I ran to my transition bag, threw on my bike helmet and shoes, hopped on my trusty Felt and was off. It was time to race!

The Bike

Or so I thought. Mother Nature had other plans. I turned the corner out of the transition area and was instantly hit with 30-35mph wind gusts. The ominous lightning squiggles on my weather app had manifested into a full-blown lightning storm that was hitting us just as we exited T1. It was all I could do to stay on my bike as the wind blew myself and other competitors all over the road. Visibility was reduced to a couple feet in front of my wheel. Dust was kicked up and blasted onto us, an apocalyptic facial scrub of debris that stung as it connected with any exposed skin. Then came the hail, bouncing off of us as we attempted to pedal through the melee. I glanced down at my watch and it showed we had gone a grand total of 4 miles…52 more miles of this to go.

I remember seeing huge strikes of lighting hitting a couple miles away, and thought to myself that there was no way they were going to let us keep racing through this. Some athletes hopped off their bikes and started walking, afraid to be blown off by the incessant crosswinds. Others huddled under an overpass, hoping the storm would blow over so they could continue onward. I made a mental decision to just keep pedaling carefully through, afraid that if I stopped now I wouldn’t start back up again

The weather started clearing up about mile 15, and I could pick up the pace without feeling like I was going to be toppled over. I reached down to grab a bottle, desperate for some electrolytes since I’d been too nervous to take my hands of the handlebars in case a crosswind hit while I was trying to take a drink. I took a couple big swigs, went to slide the bottle back into its cage and….missed. My bottle went tumbling down the hill, never to be seen again. Awesome.

I had two bottles left and figured I could make it through the remaining miles with those if need be. I was going to be okay. I was going to finish this. Positive self talk.

Then, at mile 20, I heard a whoosh of air come out of my bike.

Flat tire.

I hopped off the bike, pulled it over to the side of the road, and attempted to pry my tire levels under the tire rim in vain. The levers were too big. I had never had a flat with these tires before, and they were too tight to to get my ginormous levers under. I was screwed, and it was my own fault for not packing the right equipment. This was going to be the end of my World Championship race, and it was my own damn fault for not packing a flat kit that would work.

I looked around in desperation and spied a volunteer in an orange vest about a half mile down the road. I threw my bike over my shoulder and proceeded to run back down the course towards him in the hopes he had a flat kit on hand. Panting, covered in dirt and chain grease, I begged him for a flat kit. He calmly informed me that did not have one, but would radio bike support to come find us. He then soothingly told me to take a seat, that it might be a while before asking me how my day was going and if I would like a bight of a Snickers Bar. I am proud to say that I had enough self-control to swallow the l “how the f**k do you think it’s going” comment that was on the tip of my tongue. It was not this kind volunteers fault and I managed a polite response back as my fellow competitors zipped by on the course. This might be the first time in my life I’ve turned down a free Snickers Bar.

What seemed like an eternity later, tech support arrived with, to my immense relief, levers that would fit under my tire tubes. We changed the flat, but the tech did not have a hand pump on him. We used my CO2 canister and attempted to re-inflate the tire….but could not get it more than 70% full. Something wrong with the valve stem, or my canister applicator, who knows. I said f**k it, told him I would ride it at 70% and made a mental note to pull over at the next rest stop to see if anyone had a pump on hand to use.

Back on the bike, I took off not knowing how much time I had lost to the flat and worried that I would miss the bike cut-off (they pull you off the course if you don’t finish in a certain amount of time). My under-inflated tire bounced me all over the place, like I had added an unwanted spring to the back of my ride. 36 more miles till I could get off this damn bike. I could do this.

At mile 25, I rounded a corner and saw my parents cheering for me. They were such a welcome sight for very sore eyes. I yelled out that I was fine but had gotten a flat tire and had some time to make up. They cheered and clapped and took some extremely unflattering photos. My parents are the best.

Unfortunately the bouncing in my tire seemed to get worse and worse. I pulled over again, thinking it had gone flat once more. The tire was still holding air though, and not knowing how far away I was from being cut from the bike course, I made the questionable decision to not stop at any aid stations for water or a pump. It was time to haul ass.

My favorite part of the entire day came near the end of the ride, a 1,000-foot, 3 mile climb through Snow Canyon. It was absolutely breathtaking (both due to the scenery and due to the elevation grade).

I charged up Snow Canyon, made the turn out, and knew the only thing between me and the next transition area was a 6 mile descent back into town. If my tire held up, this should have been smooth sailing…

And that’s when the storm decided to hit again. Hello, 40 mph crosswinds and torrential rain, my old friends. Just what the doctor ordered for a 6 mile descent on a semi-flat tire.

My brakes squealing and my hands frozen over the brake levers due to the cold, I wobbled my way down the hill to the next transition area where I, finally, handed off my bike. I have ridden in some nasty weather before, but that was truly the most terrifying bike ride of my life. I have never been so relieved and happy to be on my own two feet, legitimately excited to run a half marathon because it meant I did not have to be on a bicycle any longer.

The Run

Bless my parents for the most flattering race photos. This was me yelling “That was the scariest ride of my life,” at them while looking like a human version of a T-Rex.

I took off at a decent pace, feeling relatively good since I had been forced to go far slower on the bike leg than expected due to the inclement weather and flat tire debacle. It was time to get after the hills!

My newfound enthusiasm for running lasted till about mile 7 and then I started hating life again. The St. George run course was no joke, and the race organizers had even thrown in an additional hill on the course from years past because obviously, this race wasn’t hard enough as is.

Finally, when I had slogged my way to mile 10 with just over three miles to go, I got a second wind. I could hear the crowds back down near the finish line and kicked it into gear. I was determined to finish looking like a respectable athlete, and not like I wanted to keel over onto the ground in the fetal position. That could wait till post-race.

As I entered that final finish chute, I am not embarrassed to say that I started crying. It’s been a long year of early morning training sessions, 4-5 hour bike rides, painful runs, and a lot of free time sacrificed to be race-ready. I had dreamed of finishing the Ironman 70.3 World Championships since I first started doing triathlons, and never really thought I’d ever be good enough to do it. There were about 4 times throughout that day that I thought my race was over and I’d have to go home with a DNF (Did Not Finish) next to my name. This was my second-slowest half-ironman ever, but by far the race I am most proud of completing.

I have to give a huge shoutout to my parents for being the best support system ever, and a huge thank you to tech support, who saved me from a DNF. And virtual a hug to my friends in the triathlon community and to my coach, who believed I could get to this race before I ever did.

Until next time, St. George.

The End


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