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Race Recap: Ironman Austin 70.3

Austin got added to my schedule late in the game; actually, after I thought my season was already over to be precise. After Whistler I felt strong physically and wasn’t satisfied ending the season on a mediocre (at best) note. I thought about IM Cozumel (THANK GOD I DIDN’T DECIDE TO DO ANOTHER FULL IM) for a few moments, but worried about having another sub par race and decided the cost – both financial and potentially emotional and physical – wasn’t worth it.

Austin was a great compromise for me. I got to extend the season by a couple of months to take advantage of the end of the mild sunny NW season, travel with some great training buddies, see a new place (Austin!), and fingers crossed close the season out feeling positive and ready for rest.

Our pre-race trip was a blast. We drove the course, checked out the lake, SBR-ed a little, laughed a LOT, and generally kept things low-key. Our rental property had tons of chickens and ducks (for eggs), and produce grows there year round to provide for 20 families that are part of the co-op. We took full advantage of the eggs and produce and had a legendary and awesome pre-race meal chef-ed up by G. And then it was race day.

(race recap vid by G – way better than photos!)

Pre-Race

I woke up 10 minutes before my alarm was set to go off race morning to a HUGE clap of thunder and lightning and sheets of water falling from the sky. Really? Ugh. I reminded myself if anyone could combat water falling from the sky it was us NW ladies and I simply ignored the fact that this day could get ugly.

Our chauffeurs (our men) drove us to the finish line, where we had to catch a shuttle to the swim/T1. Thanks (but not!) to the weather, traffic was backed up for miles, and though we’d left 3 hours to take a 35-minute drive (including the shuttle) and set up transition we only ended up with a few spare minutes to get our tires pumped and evacuate T1.

Swim // 34:47 // 1:48/100 m

I was really nervous about this swim. I always am nervous about every swim. But because of cooler temps and dwindling morning light I hadn’t gotten a solid distance OWS in over 3 weeks.

All that for nothing though, because it was pretty decent. I started out less aggressively than I probably should have, but was only 2 rows back and 5 swimmers right of the main line. The first 400 went from calm (such polite swimmers in Texas!) to a shit show, to calm again, and then I knew I’d be fine. All was smooth and well until the last stretch back in to shore, at which point our very late starting wave (3rd to last or so?) started hitting all of the floaters from earlier waves. Floaters being the people from earlier waves who were stopped to take a break, tread water, and hang on to kayaks. It got rough on the way back trying to manage them, the super speedy swimmers who were passing from the wave after us, and increasingly choppy water.

I continued to work hard and swim up to where my hand touched the ground. As I exited the lake I had no clue what my swim time was and just ran up the chute to the strippers and on to T1. In retrospect:

-I liked the swim course. The buoys were really easy to spot.  The triangle was pretty even and no turns were overly sharp. The water was murky but didn’t feel dirty or dark.

-I should have gone out harder from the start. I never got that OH SHIT I CANT BREATHE panic feeling which means I didn’t swim hard enough. But, I did enjoy having a smooth swim and not having the though of quitting cross my mind. (Yes, during every single swim I think about quitting at least once.) It felt good to be strong for the whole swim and to never fade.

-I know someone has to go last (or near it) but I’ve never encountered so many floundering swimmers. Not even in Boise! It was frustrating knowing that I could have gone faster without having quite a few small delays in getting around people.

T1 // 2:59

The transition area was much larger than I’d anticipated but luckily I knew where my bike was. Unluckily the recent rains had caused Goat Heads to grow everywhere. For those unfamiliar, these prickly bristly little vines are so sharp they rip tires and flat tubes so we were advised to carry out bikes the entire way out of transition. (Yeah yeah, if only I raced Cyclocross I’d be proficient at that).

My transition itself – meaning wetsuit off, run to bike, bike stuff on, wetsuit in bag – was very efficient, but I lost some time trying to carry my bike for sure. And I felt like an idiot. When I got to the mount line I realized I had a Goat Head in my shoe. I ripped my shoe off to get it out and hoped that was the only one.

Bike // 2:43:15 // 20.58 mph

At mile 2 I pulled up on my pedal to climb a tiny incline and my foot went FLYING. My stomach dropped as I thought I was going down, but I regained my balance and pulled over to a dead stop. Mud from the heavy morning rain was stuck in my cleats from running through T1. I did my best to dig it out with my fingernails and though frustrated I felt grateful that I hadn’t flatted like SO SO SO many people I’d already passed. A significant portion of athletes didn’t even make it to mile 2 without flatting from the Goat Heads.

The next 45?ish miles of the bike were frustrating. The pro: I felt like a pro! I was passing EVERYONE (which is what happens when hardly anyone starts later than you, regardless of how fast you actually are). The con: There were people all over the road and in some spots it was really tough to get around them. Like areas that weren’t closed to vehicle traffic or where pavement was poor (which was most of the course).

That said I enjoyed the bike more than I thought I would. The course wasn’t Texas-pretty like I’d expected, and wasn’t as flat as I had in mind either, but it was a new experience to ride hard for the whole leg, knowing that there weren’t climbs to save up for. I have never hit a goal HR for a 70.3 (always a bit low) but in Austin I exceeded it by a few bpm’s and felt strong. I KNEW I wouldn’t blow up.

T2 // 2:58

I was pretty excited to be off the bike by the end and climbed into T2 ready to run. I got a little bit disoriented finding my rack, which is no one’s fault but my own. I had practiced identifying the spot but I guess in the moment I just forgot. I probably lost 30 seconds or so; after making one mistake I slowed down a little to make sure I didn’t make another.

Run // 1:43:14 // 7:54 min/mi

The run was a 3-loop course that in a sick way I sort of looked forward to. A bit boring? Yes. But who is looking at scenery during a 70.3 run? If you are HTFU. A 3-loop course made it easy to break down: Loop 1 – adjust, Loop 2 – hold steady, Loop 3 – push to the end.

As always, the run is a bit of a blur to me. It was great to see my teammates and friends out on the course and I cheered loud every time I saw them. I felt tired the whole time, but solid. The run was quite hilly with hardly a flat section, some trail, and some mud, all quite evident from my huge range in splits from mile to mile. I know I didn’t take in nearly enough calories on the run, which perhaps contributed to my fog.  But my body felt on the borderline of rejection so I stuck to coke and other liquids at every aid station and that got me through.

I’m proud of my run not only because I PR’d it on a not easy course, but because I pushed so hard all day leading up and still stayed strong. There was a walk-worthy hill out there (that we hit 3 times, obvs) but I didn’t… I ran. I told myself all morning that THIS.WAS.IT. and that I should be grateful for being out there. And I gave it my all and really did feel grateful all day long, for a good race, a supportive husband, good friends, and a fun trip.

Overall 5:07:10 // 15th AG

In the end I PR’d by 8:45, after already knocking nearly 9 minutes off my PR on the distance earlier in July. I am thrilled. This was such a better end to the season than fading off post-Whistler and starting a 4-month off-season feeling less than stellar.

Would I recommend Austin 70.3 to others? Yes. I’ve heard mixed reviews from others, but I really enjoyed the race and the course. The more I race this distance the more I realize there is no perfect race; every course leaves more to be desired, the weather is always a factor, and you never know when your wave will start. Austin was a much flatter bike than you’d get anywhere around the NW, but I was pleasantly surprised by the rollers to keep things interesting. The run was tough – but aren’t they all?

Now… To the off-season! (Which I’m already winning at, by the way.)

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Race Recap: Ironman Canada – The Run & Post-Race

THE RUN – 4:16:33 // 9:47min/mi average

As I ran out of T2 I saw my friends and family again, and all I could think about was whether they knew I’d had struggles on the bike. I mean, I don’t know how they would know because I certainly didn’t take time to stop and tell them! But I’d told them that I expected to come in under 6 hours with 100% certainty, and I didn’t. I worried about them worrying about me.

Running out of transition

Running out of transition

The run course is a double loop with an extra tail at the end. The loop being about 12.5 miles (each time). The first 4ish miles are on packed gravel trail has a few long gradual climbs and a few short steeper ones. It’s not extremely technical, but it does wind back and forth and up and down with more intensity than a wide and paved road would.

The gravel trail ends near Green Lake where you run along the boardwalk and then onto a paved trail for a mile or so. Next is long out and back along the highway (which was still closed to traffic) for a couple of miles. The road is slightly off camber and there are a couple long rolling ups and downs, but the view of Green Lake is worth it! After running back there’s more paved trail that winds through the trees (shade!), alongside the stream, beside a few housing developments, and right past the finish line for round 2.

Ironman Canada Whistler Run Course

The run is kind of a blur to me – all I know is that I let myself off the hook very early, and I regret it very much. I don’t think I made it 2 miles before I convinced myself that my stomach hurt and stopped for my FIRST EVER mid-race porta potty trip. The real problem was that I felt sorry for myself, so rather than try to run through it I let myself off the hook.

Shortly after this photo I turned down a high 5 from a friend "because my hands are bloody". Wonder what spectators thought about me shouting that mid-race!

Shortly after this photo I turned down a high 5 from a friend “because my hands are bloody”. Wonder what spectators thought about me shouting that mid-race!

For the entire first loop I took periodic walk breaks – they may have started as “walking through the aid station” but each one lasted longer and longer and longer. I tried to stop a couple of times to get paper towel for my nose, which was still bleeding, but some of the aid stations wanted me to stop and sit down. If they weren’t willing to give me a paper towel for the road I was off!

I hated everything. I felt disappointed in my day and angry at myself for having given in, but I couldn’t muster a real rally. I didn’t see any point in trying to kill myself now to post a time I wouldn’t be thrilled about anyway (#badchoices).

Ironman Canada Run

A brief moment when I was actually running with enough speed to have both feet off the ground

I started thinking about how much fun I usually have doing this sport; even when I hate it I’m having the time of my life! But in these moments I wasn’t. So I decided if I couldn’t have the race I had trained for and wanted, it was okay to make it more fun. I committed to getting to where I knew I’d see my friends, family, and coach next, but at that point if I still hated everything I would allow myself to stop and tell them and figure out how to proceed.

The funny thing is, as soon as I saw them I didn’t hate anything anymore (other than my bloody nose and tired legs). I waved and ran by and that was the end of feeling sorry for myself.

Soon to be starting loop 2, head down, tissue in hand!

Soon to be starting loop 2, head down, tissue in hand!

The second loop wasn’t much better pace-wise, but I could finally smile about being out there. I became grateful to be there again, and it didn’t hurt that I picked off a couple of girls in my AG in the final 6 miles.

2 seconds off from last year's time. Unbelievable!

2 seconds off from last year’s time. Unbelievable!

I ran down the finish chute and laughed out loud as I saw the clock ticking. I could speed up and beat my time from last year – or I could have an epic story about finishing 2 separate and completely different Ironmans with the exact same number on the clock. Shockingly I did have some (small amount of) pride left so I kicked for the last bit and came in at 11:35:55, 2 seconds faster than last year. But this year I did hear the announcer proclaim me an Ironman.

OVERALL – 11:35:55 // 11th AG

Obligatory step and repeat photos

Obligatory step and repeat photos

Post Race

The hours and days after the race were good. After I got out of medical for my bloody nose my people retrieved my stuff while I limped to the shower. We had good food and good wine that night, and celebrated the day, the year, and being together. I got to enjoy Whistler without worry or guilt, including champagne, oysters, and an amazing dinner that completely took my mind off of Ironman.

Amazing view from Peak 2 Peak

Amazing view from Peak 2 Peak

And since then, in recounting my race to others and putting on a smile for their sake, I’ve convinced myself that I’m okay with the day. Truly, I’m content with it.

You see, there’s really no other option. IYes, I’m disappointed, but the only thing I did wrong was have a bad attitude, and I’ve forgiven myself for that. Life’s too short.

Next time (or the next 100 times) I want to give up or give in Ironman #2 will come flooding back to me, and then I’ll keep going.

Yep. Whistler Re-do 2014!

Yep. Whistler Re-do 2014!

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Race Recap: Ironman Canada – The Bike & T2

THE BIKE – 6:02:39 // 18.53mph average speed

As I made my way down the first stretch of road I tried very hard to ride conservatively. Riders were gunning it out there! But having ridden the course before I held back, wanting to stay smart.

Ironman Canada Bike

Bike time!

The bike course is extremely challenging, with about 6600 feet of climb overall. There was much debate in the months leading up to the race as IMC had posted a number in the 4k’s, but as it turns out they used a method of measurement that didn’t account for the rollers which make up a significant portion of the course. However, even with the rolling hills the vast majority of the climbing took place mile 14-22 and mile 96-112.

The course can be broken down into segments pretty easily:

  • T1 to Callaghan Valley Rd.– Mostly rolling with a couple significant ups but more significant downs (approx 14 miles)
  • Callaghan Climb + Descent – Straight up with hardly a break for 8 miles, then straight back down (approx 16 miles)
  • Climb back to Whistler – Mostly rolling but more of a climb (approx 10 miles)
  • Descent to Pemberton – Screaming downhill with a handful of short climbs and rollers (approx 20 miles)
  • Pemberton Flats (out & back) – Pancake flat farm road with some sketchy pavement (approx 30 miles)
  • Climb back to Whistler/T2 – Up, up, up with hardly any flats or downhills to spin (approx 20 miles)

Ironman Canada Whistler Bike Course

So, I’ll do mini recaps to follow that format.

The luckiest part of the entire day was the weather for the bike. Not only was it sunny and mild, but the wind stayed at bay which isn’t usually the case through the mountain pass and farm valley.

The bike was fun, when I wasn't bleeding, flatting, or serving my penalty.

The bike was fun, when I wasn’t bleeding, flatting, or serving my penalty.

T1 to Callaghan Valley Rd. – The entire time I was worried that I was working too hard. My heart rate was on the high side but not insanely so, and by the time we’d gotten to Whistler Village I felt more steady so I kept with that level of effort. The road was extremely crowded and there was lots of passing and leapfrogging with riders around me. I saw quite a few people pass on the right or hanging out on the left for extended periods of time but rather than get irritated I rode on focused on how the hills ahead would spread the field out and did what I could to ride legal. I had my first family sighting and it was great to hear their yells as I whizzed by.

Callaghan Climb + Descent – The climb up was just as tough as I remembered. I had hoped that it would feel more like the second day of camp (a slower but steadier spin) but instead I felt like I was fighting the road the whole stretch. I was still within a comfortable zone, but I felt like I was working too hard to be getting passed left and right by EVERYONE, men and women alike. It was amazing and inspiring to see people powering up with seemingly no effort, but it made me feel weak to get completely crushed so early on. I (sort of but not really) wish there had been a timing mat at the bottom and top to see how many people passed me. When we hit the turnaround at the top I was relieved to be done and check the tough part of this portion off, but I was also somewhat worried about how I’d fare for the remainder of the day with my spirits already a little low.

Climb back to Whistler – The climb back to Whistler felt strong, and was probably my best portion of the bike. I rode strong but smart, got good nutrition in, and made up some ground that I felt had been lost. This section wasn’t easy, but I was pretty familiar with how to push it to make the best of both the ups and downs. And the second family sighting was great too! At this point I felt like I’d regained some momentum, though my heart rate was still high for my perceived effort.

Descent to Pemberton – This portion was fast fast fast, just like I knew it would be. I spun out my gearing quite a few times and simply had to coast until my momentum lessened. The view was beautiful, and it felt like a perfect day to be on the bike. Some of the stretches were congested but other times I truly couldn’t see another rider on the road. This race was the first time that British Columbia has closed a highway for an event, and it was amazing to ride this section without fear of traffic, or the noise.

Pemberton Flats – I hit up special needs, switched out my bottles with the quickness, and pushed hard to get away from aid station chaos. After a couple turns I hit the flat country road slog. I felt strong, but the road was packed full with bikes. For the first while there were only riders heading out, but after some time the pro’s and elite ag-ers started heading back to Whistler and passed the opposite way. And as more people passed by the more packs I saw on both sides of the road.

I caught up to a group riding tight, and as I got closer it was more and more evident that they were purposefully riding that way, and even taking turns pulling. I passed, but a few minutes later a rider passed back, then another, then another, then another, and before I knew it I was dropping back for, no joke, 20 riders. I re-passed when I could, but the same thing happened again. And then again, with a different leader. It may be hard to ride legal on packed flat roads, but it’s not hard to not cheat!

It was challenging to get away from the group and so when we hit the turnaround I put my head down and hammered. I felt like I had made some ground but quickly realized my nose was bleeding heavily. I wiped it onto my forearm and kept working. At this point a couple of men passed and warned that the pack had chosen my wheel to suck. Crap, I thought I’d lost them!

I couldn’t work any harder without feeling worried about the climb to come so I kept my head down and kept spinning and kept sniffling my bloody nose and spitting. As we neared the town of Pemberton again I glanced left and riders had started to pass en mass, it felt like I was getting swallowed by a swarm of bees. It happened so fast that my only option was to sit up and brake and as soon as I did I saw: an official. My stomach dropped – I’d just given these guys a free ride for the entire way back, but all the officials saw was me braking. The motorcycle pulled a u-turn, rode up alongside me, and shoved a red card in my face. I was beyond angry but I made eye contact to acknowledge my suggested infraction. I rode away, and fast, full of rage. A few of my friends who’d warned me about the pack were just up the road, and when I caught up I told them what had happened they were just as angry as I was.

Bike2

Pre-penalty tent, post flat, mid-bleeding.

Climb back to Whistler/T2 – All too soon we had started the climb back to Whistler, and as soon as I started climbing my bloody nose got worse. I stayed conservative up the first mile climb trying to think about what to do. I felt considerably more tired than I wanted too, but my heart rate finally seemed under control. Was I tired because I was upset? Or was I tired because I was worried? Or was I tired because I was tired? After the first climb there was a fast decent to a short flat…which is where I flatted.

Luckily it was my front wheel, and luckily I’d had plenty of practice changing flats this summer. However with a bleeding nose and a penalty I hadn’t served yet it was tough to keep a good attitude through yet another thing. I didn’t want to give up, but I also didn’t want this day!

I got the flat fixed quickly and hopped back on my bike and spun up the rest of the hills. I felt like I got passed 100x and probably did, but I didn’t feel able to fight back and I still don’t really know whether than was a physical fitness issue or my bad attitude.

With a mile or so to go I found the penalty tent, dismounted, and served my 4 minutes. I watched rider after rider fly by and felt like my day was slipping away but I tried to stay positive. Another athlete rode in at my 1 minute mark and asked the volunteer for a tissue or towel; he must not have known they aren’t supposed to give you anything. I guess the volunteer didn’t know either because she handed him a tissue, he took it and looked at me, and handed it over. He must have noticed the blood all over my face! Lovely.

Take my freakin' bike already!

Take my freakin’ bike already!

T2 – 2:38

T2 was quick and easy. Throw the bike at whoever looks most capable of catching it. Grab your run bag, run into the tent. My volunteer wanted very much to be helpful but I’m so minimalist there wasn’t much for her to do. She straightened my race belt so I’d get it right side up, handed me socks, and did a good job cleaning up after me because all of my items – even the ones I didn’t use – were properly packed up when I got my bag back later that day. The jog out of transition was long, but on to the run!

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Race Recap: Ironman Canada – Swim and T1

THE SWIM – 1:10:55 // 1:40/100 yards

Suiting up!

Suiting up!

Making my way down to the water I wasn’t as nervous as I sometimes am for the swim portion of the day. Things that I think helped contribute to that: I had a solid plan, I had quite a few solid swims in Alta Lake prior to race day, and 2 days before the race I found out that the start was deep and in water. One of my biggest fears had been a shallow water start and having to navigate the first 90 degree turn only a couple hundred yards from shore, so learning that we wouldn’t have to turn for nearly 1/2 mi made me feel much better.

G's IMC Mugshot of the day - Alta Lake

G’s IMC Mugshot of the day – Alta Lake

So, as I mentioned, the swim was a deep water start with the start line running about 200 yards, from the first buoy all the way to shore. It was angled a bit as well, so that no matter where on that line you positioned yourself it would be the same distance to the first orange (turn) buoy. The course was 2-loop, but what made it different from a lot of other 2-loop swims is that swimmers stayed in the water for both loops and only made their way back to shore to finish the leg. Usually 2-loop IM swims have a mid-way check point on the beach where swimmers have to exit, run across a timing mat, then enter the water again for the second lap.

Ironman Canada Whislter Swim

I walked through T1 and was sure to cross the timing mat to turn my chip on. On the beach there were hundreds of athletes milling about nervously, but I got straight into the water. The more time I could just float around and acclimate the better, especially knowing that the water was the perfect temperature and there was no risk of getting cold. I got in a solid warm up with a few short hard strokes and treaded water while Oh Canada played, the pros went off, and AGers started getting into the water. I was surprised how many hung back and stayed on the beach, it was almost like athletes weren’t sure how the start was supposed to work.

Athletes getting ready

Athletes getting ready

My plan was to start a bit off of the buoy line to try to avoid the chaos but also to not get in faster swimmers’ way. Randomly I saw 2 of my teammates that I hadn’t yet spotted that day floating within 10 feet of me. We laughed and joked about how skilled we were at following our race plans; since we all have the same coach we figured she had given us similar instructions on where to start. It was great to have some familiar faces nearby though, and since both teammates are stronger swimmers than I am I felt safe positioning myself right behind them and knowing that I’d have space.

ironmancanadaswimstart

3…2…1… Go Time

The first loop of the swim wasn’t too eventful. It felt very crowded, but there were only a couple of times that I felt held up by the traffic around me. Generally I was able to work hard and keep pushing my effort and pace. The turns were pretty rough and congested, but for how many people were within arms reach (A WHOLE LOT) I feel like the experience was pretty calm.

The second loop of the swim got a little more dicey. Swimmers were much more spread out by that point so there weren’t so many people to be conscious of, but it felt like swimmers began to flail a lot more. The water got more rough and even though there was plenty of open water I got hit quite a few times trying to pass groups or when people wanted to fight over the feet I had found to draft off of. I wonder if the same thing happens in a 2-loop swim when a beach exit midway is required.

The 2nd to last stretch before the turn back to shore I started feeling tightening in my left calf, and then in my right. Cramping doesn’t usually plague me during exercise, but I’ve gotten cramps in my sleep enough to know exactly what was happening. I immediately stopped kicking and tried to keep moving forward using only my upper body in hope that my calves would chill. That did it for a couple hundred yards or so, but as soon as I started working hard again my right calf cramped up as bad as I’ve ever felt it. I tried to swim through but I couldn’t keep my lower half from sinking with how paralyzed I felt. I stopped, sat up for a second, and manually flexed my foot with my hands. The cramps came and went a few times during the rest of the swim but I was able to swim through them and before I knew it I was at the last turn buoy.

The last stretch back to shore was the worst part of the swim, in my opinion. I don’t know if people lost their form because they were tired, or if seeing the beach makes people more competitive with each other, but it was a pretty brutal fight to the finish. I tried not to shy away from faster feet and the advantage of swimming in the pack, but with plenty of space around there were too many errant arms and legs for my liking. It felt chaotic and like there was a lot of panic in peoples’ movements. But finally the water got so dark I couldn’t see a thing, which meant it was shallow enough that sand was getting kicked up. I stood up about 2 strokes too early but quickly made my way out of the water and across the timing mat on the beach.

T1 – 3:21

I got to the wetsuit strippers and felt like there were 1000 of them and 1 of me! I scurried up to 2 guys and they had a hard time but after a few tugs successfully stripped my suit off.

The inside of the tent was extremely dark, and I felt like there was no one there – athletes or volunteers – so I got to work by myself. I threw my suit, cap, and goggles on the ground, dumped my bag and started putting my shoes on when a volunteer asked if I needed help. I told her I only needed help packing up and a couple of moments later I had grabbed my helmet, sunglasses, and was off to find my bike.

Tracks!

Tracks!

The transition area was a little bit clunky in terms of the set up; no fault of IMC but the park was strangely shaped so it was hard to make the best of it. I found my bike with no difficulty though (tip: always walk your race day path through transition a few times before the race!) and made my way out of transition, across train tracks, up a path, and to the main parking lot to mount. As I got on my bike I was so so so glad I had remembered to put it in the small ring, as climbing up the hill to get out of the lot was more of a b*tch than I remembered.

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Race Recap: Ironman Canada – Pre-Race Prep

I am an Ironman. An Ironman x 2, actually.

Olympic Rings in the Village

Olympic Rings in the Village

I’m happy, disappointed, content, and what’s another word for disappointed? at how everything went down on August 25. But what happened is what happened, and I still feel like the luckiest girl in the world that I got to have my day in Whistler (and SPOILER ALERT that I’ll get to do it again). The most important people in my world were there to cheer me on, and when things in my brain got ugly the only thing that kept me going was my will to not allow them be as disappointed in me as I was in my day. Their cheers and shouts and neon shirts and maps marked with the perfect spot to intersect my path made my day one that can make me smile!

The week leading up to the race was as perfect as it could be. We adjusted to Whistler, I had work to keep me distracted, the few tiny workouts I had went very well, and I figured out the logistics before the aggro triathletes who intimidate the living heck out of me arrived and took over town. Having been in Whistler for our 4-day camp helped me orient myself quickly, but before I knew it I started seeing the Mdot logo on everyone everywhere, and I got anxious. Some athletes thrive off of that competition and buzz, but seeing lean fit bodies and bikes 3x as expensive as mine everywhere I go makes me want to hide under my bed.

Me and G lunching post golf/run

Me and G lunching post golf/run

Which is why it was so awesome to have my parents and best friend and her husband roll into town in the couple of days prior to Go Time. Having non-triathletes there, normal people, if you will, brought me back down to earth. It forced me to slow down and think about what I was doing, but it also ensured that I didn’t think too much. Suddenly a moment debating the latest Selena Gomez hit (Duh. It rocks.) was just as important as 140.6 miles, and in the grand scheme of things, that’s how it should be.

The Expo

I hit up the expo early on Thursday with what felt like 99% of the athletes racing. It took me over an hour to get through all of the many lines I had to wait in, but the volunteers were great and the athletes were excited. It seemed like the majority of athletes were confused about how the check-in process worked, so along with the few veterans beside me I found myself answering a whole lot of questions pouring out from around us. It made me feel confident and secure that I really knew the answers. The expo at Whistler was much larger and more of a production than what I experienced in Penticton last year, but I think mostly that’s due to the fact that IMC is now a WTC managed race.

It was a cool experience to have all of the tents set up in the Olympic Plaza in the Village, one of the most central spots in Whistler. There was plenty of space for athletes and their families to hang out and spend a significant amount of time (and money!) there. Luckily I walked away mostly unscathed before the race minus some goggle defogger (that didn’t work, sadly) and a race poster to hang in the bike room. I tried to spend the most minimal amount of time possible amongst the chaos, but it looked like people were having a lot of fun.

T1 & T2 Bike and Bag Drop Off

As soon as I got back to the condo on Thursday I started planning and organizing my bags. I do best when I have plenty of time to think without feeling rushed, so I gave myself 2 whole days to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I’m pretty minimalist when it comes to race day “stuff”; the fewer decisions I have to make and the fewer things I have to remember, the better, but I sometimes worry that I could be under prepared and missing something. Come Saturday’s drop off here’s what was in my bags:

Transition bag staging area

Transition bag staging area

T1

  • Bike Shoes
  • Helmet
  • Sunglasses
  • Clif Bloks

T2

  • Running Shoes (to be added race day)
  • Socks
  • Sunscreen
  • Race Belt
  • Visor
  • Body Glide
  • Clif Bloks

Special Needs Bike

  • 3x 24 ounce bottles mixed with Infinit

Special Needs Run

  • None – there’s nothing that I could possibly need or want that I couldn’t get on-course!

Having a split T1 and T2 made things a little more confusing than Ironman Canada was in Penticton, but after the rain subsided on Saturday morning it actually wasn’t too bad. I rode my bike with my T1 bag to the lake, and it only took me about 10 minutes to get there. I made sure to walk my race day route (lake – wetsuit strip station – grab my bag – changing tent – bike – bike out) and identify sights to remember, and then I hopped on a bus that took me right back to our condo.

T2 (and the finish line) was only a block from our front door, so a bit later in the day I dropped my T2 bag off and did the same walk through to help visualize my race day path, however it was much easier to do in a wide open parking lot than in the T1 park with trees and barriers.

Pretty soon I was done for the day and spent the afternoon eating pasta, tracking all of my friends running Hood to Coast, and making sure that things were set to go for race day morning. I got in bed around 8pm feeling dead tired and ready to close my eyes, but the rest of the night produced very little and very light sleep, which is unusual for me. I willed myself to not worry; if there’s anything I did well the 3 weeks leading up to race day it was sleep!

Race Day Morning

I woke up at 3:30 on race day and tip toed around trying to get ready. I made coffee and downed it along with a bagel, 24 ounces of Nuun, and a banana. At 4:30 I put on my running shoes and went for a 10 minute jog with intermittent strides to warm up and get my heart going, something I’ve found really helpful in managing potential panic during swim starts. By 5am I had all of my stuff packed up and ready to go, so I kissed Garth goodbye, turned off the lights, and walked to T2 to catch a bus to the lake.

I got all the way to the check in and got marked with my number and everything, when I realized I had forgotten my Imodium (a race day ritual): mistake #1. I walked back to the condo, grabbed it, and hurried back. I dropped my special needs bag, did one more walk through from bike in all the way to run out and started stepping onto the bus when I realized I was still holding my running shoes IN.MY.HAND.: mistake #2. I scurried off the bus, back to my run bag, dropped them, and caught the next bus 5 minutes later feeling like an amateur.

The bus ride to the lake was dark and quiet and I tried to close my eyes for a few minutes, but before I knew it we were outside the park and my seatmate was shuffling into the aisle to disembark. I was really glad I knew my way around the park, and knew enough to hang out by the entrance for a while to use the real bathrooms! I cycled through that line a couple of times until it got light enough to see the bike set up well and moved onward. So far I’m 0 for 0 in bringing my bike pump to a start line this year, but a lovely girl in the row behind me actually offered hers up without me having to ask.

Alta Lake. Photo from earlier in the week.

Alta Lake. Photo from earlier in the week.

Then I met my bike rack neighbor Erin in person (who is now an Ironman!), hung out by my bike taking it all in, said ‘hi’ to my coach and a few other teammates, and before I knew it that “extra” 45 minutes had turned into 10 minutes and it was time to go get in the water.

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Race Recap: Ironman Lake Stevents 70.3

As I sit here enjoying my coffee from the couch and waiting for the Ironman Canada expo to open I figure I may as well recap Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3.

It seems like IMLS happened forever ago. Worlds ago! But really it was just 5 weeks ago that I thought I was exhausted, yet actually had no idea what the word exhaustion truly meant, and then woke up at 3:30am to drive an hour north to race a Half Ironman.

From the beginning, my head wasn’t really in it for this race.

Pre-race photo courtesy of Megan!

Pre-race photo courtesy of Megan!

I wanted it to be – I really wanted to go out there and impress myself – but a number of things kept my head from being that clear. I was on week #3 of a 5 week-long build. I knew the next 2 weeks of training would be the hardest thing my eyes had seen or my body had done (see: Whistler Training Camp & a 125mi ride weekend). I was tired from the previous 2 weeks of training, which rivaled my 2 peak weeks from last year.

These are not excuses, but facts, really. I’m actually pretty pleased with how I did that day considering, but there are also some pretty clear things I can improve upon.

SWIM: 34:27 // 1:38/100 yd average pace

Me and Megan pre-swim. Why on earth do we look so excited?!

Me and Megan pre-swim. Why on earth do we look so excited?!

My swim goal was fairly simple – DON’T STOP. My swimming anxiety has improved a lot, but sometimes it’s still second nature for me to freak out and stop. For example, Victoria. I really wanted to practice an aggressive-for-me start and swim through that feeling I get a couple minutes in that tells my brain I CAN’T DO THIS I MUST STOP NOW.

I started in the middle of the second row and when the gun went off the first row took off. I hung for a couple buoys and then I honestly don’t really know what happened! One stroke I sighted and there was a huge gap (clean water hellz yeah!) and when I sighted next there were all these people in front of me and in my way. I tried to go around them and swam SMACK into a buoy. I sort of swam over a few others. Sorry ladies!

On the way back to shore we all started catching up with the slower swimmers from previous waves (M 3034, M3539, F3539) and that wasn’t pretty. But I zig-zagged around them and made it across the timing mat.

I was hoping for a swim closer to 32 minutes, but I’m pleased with the fact I accomplished a smooth swim where I was able to work hard.

T1: 2:02

Not too shabby time-wise, but my transition felt clunky. I ripped off my wetsuit, put on my helmet with glasses attached, put on my shoes, grabbed my bike and started moving, and realized I didn’t have my race belt. WHICH YOU DON’T NEED FOR THE BIKE. Yet for some reason I decided I needed to go back and get it because I usually do wear it for the bike leg. Dumb dumb.

Mount line ahead!

Mount line ahead!

BIKE: 2:52:50 // 19.44 mph avg speed

As I mounted my bike and put my sunglasses on I heard a popping noise. Goodbye lens! Drat. My lens bounced across the road and I started spinning down the block with glasses in my hand. I saw a team member and tossed them at her hoping she’d realize I wanted her to keep them for me.

Here, please take my worthless glasses!

Here, please take my worthless glasses!

Almost immediately I felt disappointed on the bike, because I knew I couldn’t ride as hard as I wanted to. I watched the riders in front of my pull farther away but when I tried to ride harder my legs screamed. I knew if I kept it up I’d be screwed for the run. I checked in on my heart rate frequently, but it was low for how hard things felt. About 10 miles in I decided to ride on feel and use heart rate as a looser guide than usual.

I kept going, thinking about my lost sunglasses but felt thankful it was overcast and misty so I didn’t really need them. Lost in my thoughts at about 20 or 30 miles in I got stung by not one bee, but two! Descending I felt something smack my knee and instantly it felt like glass had sliced me. Whatever had hit me was stuck in my skin, and as it turns out two bees were hanging by their stingers. Having never been stung before this made for an interesting rest of the ride. I waited until I hit a flatter and slower portion and tried to wipe the bees off in the direction to pull their stingers out with them. Then I proceeded to breathe deeply out of my mouth about every 10 minutes or so to make sure I could still get air. Guess I’m not allergic!

The rest of the bike was ho hum. It’s a very tough course in the back half so I spun up the many hills, pushed the few downs, and went back and forth between trying to catch people and letting them go. When I focused on me I knew I was working the right amount of hard for a Half Ironman, but when I focused on others I got complacent and a little bit down, honestly.

The highlight was a cheer from my friend Colleen who happened to be on course on mile 55 of the bike. “Go get that f*$#er!” So I sped up and passed him with less than a mile of the bike left.

T2: 1:50

Again with the bad decisions! I took off my bike shoes and decided to wipe my feet off on my towel (wtf). Then I fiddled with my socks and made some lunch and did some online shopping and headed out to run. (Not really – there’s no Internet in transition, silly! – but that’s how I felt)

RUN: 1:44:35 // 7:59min/mi avg pace

Happy to be off the bike.

Happy to be off the bike.

The run is a fair course: moderately hilly with some rewarding downs but not much flat. I don’t have a lot of play by play memories, but I know I caught a few of the women that had been leapfrogging me on the bike early on but who had ultimately won out on that leg. I ticked them off and chatted with a particularly nice one for a few strides and we thanked each other for pushing the bike.

Eat my dust, guy!

Eat my dust, guy!

About 3 miles in I noticed a guy was running right on my heels, so I moved over to let him pass. He didn’t, but instead pulled up alongside me. Nice pace. Without speaking a word he and I ran together and took turns “pulling” for the next 7 miles. He crushed me up the hills, but I’d get him back on the down hills and flats and we kept each other trucking along at a good pace.

The run is essentially a figure 8 that you travel twice. Running through the center so many times give friends and family a good idea of where you are and a great opportunity to cheer. I have a tendency to get in the zone and can lose appreciation of what’s going on around me, but when I heard “More Knutson!” from the sidelines and looked up to see my teammates and friends I stood a little taller and stopped sandbagging behind a girl in my AG in front of me.

With 3 miles to go I tried to push harder and within a few blocks I lost my run friend. But I knew I could keep up a harder effort in this final countdown and I wanted to squeeze out any additional seconds that I could.

Finishline in sight, and my run doesn't look like a shuffle!

Finish line in sight, and my run doesn’t look like a shuffle!

OVERALL RESULTS: 5:15:44 // 11th AG

Overall this was a 9 minute distance PR and a 30 minute course PR for me. I can’t not be happy about that! But I know I have a better bike in me with the fitness I’ve gained this year, and even if I hadn’t shaved seconds anywhere else I would have been better served not being such a scatterbrain. I would say this was a well executed race for me, but a little on the safe side.

After I caught up with friends and teammates we hit the road back to Seattle. Hours later I found myself on our deck with a glass of wine and got a note from a friend; I would have gotten a roll-down spot to the 70.3 World Championships in Vegas had I stayed. (You have to be present to claim awards and qualifications at IM events)

For .5 seconds I wish I had been there, and then I let it go. The championships are 2 weeks after Canada and I have bigger fish to fry and more important things to stay focused on. Like Ironman Canada!

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Race Recap: Saunders Subaru Victoria Half Ironman

Though I haven’t been so diligent about updating the Internet about how training has been going, overall the answer is very well. I continue to see small but consistent gains, especially in swimming and biking, and if I compare the athlete I am now to the athlete I was last June there really isn’t much of a comparison. My training has been strong and is going quite well. However, that doesn’t necessarily always translate to a crazy PR or the race results that you want to see.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect in Victoria. The course is a bit short (comparison below) but not enough to affect how hard you’re going to work or how you want to pace yourself for the day.

Half Iron Distance Chart

The Victoria Half Ironman course is also known for being very fair (meaning tough) with a bike that has lots of climbing. As proof, during the race my Garmin got 3,320 ft of climb, and others as much as 4,200! In my pre-race meeting with my coach we talked about goals for my effort and heart rate, but only once did she acknowledge pace when she asked what my previous PR was. When I told her 5:24 and change she smiled and said, “Well you’ll have a new one soon.”

Pauole Sport at Victoria Half Ironman

This was my first race with my new team and coach, and the pre-race experience was really great. Especially because not only was I surrounded by Pauole Sport athletes, but some of my favorite friends from my old triathlon training group were there racing too! Knowing so many people made what’s usually a nerve-wracking experience go more smoothly, but it also made the 75 minutes I had to get transition set and warmed up FLY!

Fast forward to the end:

Overall Time: 5:06:58 // 2nd AG // 10th OA (including female pros)

And then rewind back the beginning:

Swim 34:35 // 1:38/100 yards average pace

Victoria Half Ironman Swim

The lake was the perfect temperature, the water was clear, and I had plenty of space around me, so when I felt the sensation of panic about 400 meters from the shore I was extremely disappointed. My swimming has come so far in the last 9 months and this was NOT how I wanted my day to go. There was a traffic jam in front of me that I couldn’t get around, and though thinking about it doesn’t make me nervous now (who cares, people, meh!) in the moment it did. I sat up and floated for over 60 seconds and watched my friends swim farther and farther away. Pretty soon white caps (the color beginners wear) started passing me by and so I put my head down and swam, HARD.

The rest of the swim felt very long, but once I got moving I felt strong and steady. There was some weird clumping happening; it honestly appeared that experienced swimmers were flanking their friends to prevent any contact from a more aggressive athlete. It felt a little bit unfair, especially since they were blocking valuable swimming space but I kept moving because it wasn’t my battle to fight!

Once I actually started swimming I didn’t get passed once, so that felt good and helped me feel more in control of my day. As I exited the water I tried to hurry up the ramp even more than usual. With a wasted minute or two up front there isn’t room for dilly dallying! I heard Garth cheering and yelling my name and tried to make eye contact and give him a smile as I ran, but I’m pretty sure I looked more like a dead drowned rat than anything else. Even with my lame stop this was a 3:15 swim PR for me, which is HUGE.

T1 2:01

Bike 2:49:16 // 19mph avg speed

Once on the bike I immediately started trying to pick people off. Breathing hard I rode away from transition and out to the main road where we’d ride 2 laps. I knew my heart rate was much higher than what it should be, but I also knew that it would steady out once my body accepted the bike. I passed all of the athletes I knew in the first 12 miles, and then it was time to get comfortable being uncomfortable and hold my effort.

DSCN7532

The bike course was extremely beautiful with views of the countryside and Cordova Bay. It was also tough, with very few flat sections and hills so rolling you never for a second stopped working. The hills were mostly long and gradual so no granny gear was needed, and the downhills I pushed in my big ring up front  and smallest cassette ring.

Nearing the end of the first loop I wondered if I could maintain my effort to do that again. And I also wondered where all of the other people were! Once I got through the initial congestion and got a few drafters off my back there really weren’t many other bikes I could see in front of or behind me. The occasional disc wheel and aero helmet passed me, but truly just a handful. Other than that it was me, the road, and my own heavy breathing.

I did maintain my effort for the second loop up until there were only a couple of miles remaining. In retrospect I probably didn’t need to back off, but all of a sudden I realized I’d become so absorbed in racing my bike I forgot I still had a half marathon to run! It was time to start preparing for it.

T2 1:01

DSCN7562

Yes. Spiderwoman was in T2!

Run 1:40:05 // 8:02 min/mi avg

Victoria Half Ironman Run Start

The run was 2 loops around the lake and though there was a feeling of relief to only require my own 2 feet for the last portion of the day I was also nervous. I was recently diagnosed with a stress reaction and hadn’t done much running in the last few weeks. I knew my fitness was fine, but running felt foreign to my body and it was pretty clear immediately that at least this portion of the run was not as “flat and easy” as I had pictured in my mind.

I chugged away and tried to keep my feet fast and light and my breathing under control. I passed back by some of the men who had overtaken me in the late portion of the bike and none were as competitive with me as they had been while riding on 2 wheels. Rather than grinding by and grimacing, most of them congratulated me and wished me well, and I did the same.

Around mile 2 or 3 my friend Julie passed me by. Though I was surprised to see her so soon in to the run I wasn’t surprised that she was winning the race between the two of us. She’s a stellar runner and a strong athlete! We cheered each other on and I watched her disappear into the woods in front of me wishing that I could keep up. However once she was out of eyesight my heart rate dropped, running got easier, and I felt myself lock in for the long haul.

Victoria Half Ironman Run

As I went back into the woods for loop 2 I noticed that my heart rate was in the appropriate range, but in the lower end. I was trying so hard to run on feel and I’d done a good job but probably had it in me to push harder for this final loop. I very much appreciated the course markers in km’s and immediately started my countdown.

When I got to 2km remaining I pushed with everything I had left. It wasn’t so much that my legs were tired, but my heart rate was high and my everything was tired! In the last 2km I passed at least 4 or 5 people and sprinted (red: ran faster, because it probably really wasn’t anything like a sprint) up to the finish right on the heels of 2 guys.

Victoria Half Ironman Finish Line

As I crossed the finish line I was relieved and happy. In my wildest dreams I had hoped for an overall time lower than the one I earned, but I can honestly say that I have never ever worked so hard. I worked smart, but I worked hard, and my heart rate data shows it. I wish I was a better runner and hadn’t let Julie pass, but I’m so proud of the 18 minutes I knocked off my old PR to achieve a new one. And other than the time I lost in the swim I have no other regrets from the day.

Victoria definitely made me less nervous and more excited for Whistler come August. It turns out I do remember how to do this triathlon thing…

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Race Recap: Winter Half Marathons

I realized that I never recapped the Lake Samammish Half Marathon on March 9, or the Tacoma City Half Marathon on May 5th, so for record keeping purposes here’s the gist.

In all honestly running hasn’t felt very good to me since winter 2012, when I was on a half marathon PR roll. Training for my third 13.1 in so many months I got another stress fracture and had to take time off of my feet (which was replaced by the bike and swim).  Once I returned to running amidst IM training things just never really felt the same. Running was a struggle, my heart rate was high, and I couldn’t ever get back into the groove and rhythm of it.  Running was a fight and I fought hard, but running off the bike is very different than “just” running, so I went with it.

Leading up the NYCM I felt the same slow, heavy, and sluggish feeling: running was difficult! I continued to fight it and I’m sure I would have finished that race with a PR of a few minutes or so, but at that point neither my heart nor body was really in it. And that race was cancelled.

This winter I took a step back and really worked on building my base back up. All of my runs were very low heart rate (on purpose) with a slow and easy pace to try to build back up some of the endurance I’d wrecked fighting my training all fall.

Lake Sammamish Half Marathon – 1:37:38

Megan, Meghan, and me at the start of the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon. Photo courtesy of http://meghanswanderings.blogspot.com/.

Megan, Meghan, and me at the start of the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon. Photo courtesy of http://meghanswanderings.blogspot.com/

During the Lake Sammamish Half Marathon it worked. I finished in 1:37:38 on only 3 easy slow runs per week. Back when I hit my 1:35:XX times I was busting my butt running at least 4-5 times per week with tough effort! I was surprised at and happy with my performance at the LSHM. Though it wasn’t a PR, for the type of training I’d been doing it was a good result.

Tacoma City Half Marathon – 1:42:15

The Tacoma City Half Marathon was not as successful; I finished in 1:42:15. Did I go out too fast? Yes. Was it the first hot and sunny day of the year? Yes. Did I have allergies? Yes. But those are all lame excuses. I set out with a heart rate target and though I kept that part right on track my pace was almost 45s/mile slower than it “should have” been. The “should have” being based off of data taken from training.

 

So that’s the story. Would I run both of them again? Yes. I really enjoyed the LSHM for the small size, easy start, and flat course. I also really enjoyed the TCHM course and the fact that it was a small race, however it was definitely hillier than I expected and I don’t have strong feelings toward it simply because I didn’t have a great day.

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New York City Not-Marathon Recap

There was a hurricane. And the New York City Marathon was cancelled less than 48 hours before it was slated to begin.

We arrived in NYC last Friday, went straight to the expo, and as soon as I made it through the line for my shirt, bib, and chip it became very apparent that the marathon was not going to happen. Though hardly a person in the Convention Center actually knew at the time, ABC, NBC, and MSNBC were reporting that Mayor Bloomberg had just announced that the marathon would no longer be held due to becoming a divisive hotbed of a topic in a city that needed nothing more than to be unified for recovery.

I saw some tweets, received a phone call that confirmed the rumor, and seconds later received texts from many west coast friends extending hugs and consolations. Dammit. In a fog, we stayed at the expo for a little while watching all of the innocent knowledge-less runners shop in an amped up state that only a pending marathon can induce. As we left it became  apparent that news had truly broken. People were gathered around lobby tv’s with banners – NEW YORK CITY MARATHON CANCELLED – scrolling along the bottom. The scene was dream-like. Everyone was quiet and stood there without words. We all exchanged glances and were instant friends; we were going to go through this together, as runners. One man cried. Another who we talked to was positive but quite disappointed; he was going to propose to his soon-to-be-fiance at the finish line.

We left, went to the hotel, and decided we’d salvage a good vacation out of the weekend.

Was I upset? Yes. Disappointed? Immensely.

But the truth was, in the end, I only felt partially emotional about running that marathon to begin with. I had registered as a product of qualification, but after a long dramatic season full of changed plans and injury, when it came time to ramp up my mileage I was too emotionally spent to pour my heart into training like it deserved. Or like I deserved. I checked every box and made every day count, but I wasn’t waking up or going to sleep excited and I didn’t like myself very much for feeling that way. In the two weeks leading up to the race I had started to get more excited about the raw experience of running the five boroughs of screaming crazy spectators. I was anxious to see the sights. I anticipated feeling the hurt and looked forward to it, and I hoped it would inspire me. But my excitement and anticipation was nothing in comparison to the people who trained all year – or for the last four – for this one single day. So I felt sad, but I felt exponentially more sad for them.

If this had happened to Ironman Canada I would have been inconsolable. I would have been absolutely and completely wrecked. For me a marathon was a fun way to close out a season, but to most other runners it meant so much more than that. My first marathon wasn’t that long ago and I remember the meticulous effort, planning, and emotional investment. Six days later I still feel a loss for those runners much more than I do for myself.

On Marathon morning we walked to Central Park, mostly because I wanted to see it in its beautiful autumn state, but also because we had heard rumors about a newly organized run happening on the outer loop. When we arrived it was quite a sight to see. There were groups cheering lining the entire south end of the loop, makeshift water stations set up by caring individuals, and a few thousand runners were participating in a newly formed marathon. Many of the runners were proudly wearing their NYCM bibs. People were running for their country, their charity, Sandy victims, and because they trained for this damn thing and wanted to finish what they started. It was an overwhelming show of the human spirit.

Standing there watching I didn’t want to leave. I regretted not treating Saturday like Marathon Eve to wake up early and participate in this 8am marathon. Part of me even thought about heading back to the hotel to change so that I could run an afternoon 26.2 with the runners who were still “on course”. A significant part of me still wishes I had done any of those things. But I didn’t for many reasons and starting my offseason then and there on Friday at 5pm in NYC was the right thing to do for my body. For my heart? I’m not sure yet.

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Ironman Canada Photos

Thanks to Colin & Alanna for these amazing pictures. Far better than anything Brightroom has ever captured!

Please ignore my highly advanced fuel storage system.

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