I guess I’m back to blogging. I always debate whether writing it all down is worthwhile, or could even be considered oversharing, but mostly I wanted to recap this race because E V E R Y T H I N G went wrong and yet I continued on and had a day I was still extremely proud of myself. This is a prime example of persevering through a shitty day and making the most of what you have.
I barely trained the last 5 weeks leading up to Ironman Wales; instead, I was working 60-70 hour work weeks, barely training or sleeping and missing workout after workout. I averaged ~11 hours/week of training the last 5 weeks heading into Wales, which is about way, way, way, wayyyy below where I should have been.
This is pretty par for the course for me when work gets hectic, unfortunately, and why I’m so used to rolling with the punches—I’ve been through this before, so I tried not to worry too much about this even heading into one of the hardest Ironman courses out there.
An overnight flight where I slept like a baby (thank you accumulated exhaustion) and 3-hour drive later, I arrived in Wales and immediately fell in love with the beach, the rolling hills and the small town of Tenby. I felt wonderful running up the incredibly steep run course during my shake-out runs, laughing the entire time at the absurdity of what I was going to tackle (it was steep, real steep, y’all).
Race morning was a bit of a debacle. You see, in most North American races it’s assumed you can add things to your transition bags in the morning. So I had not added my watch, nutrition or expensive sunglasses to the bag, expecting that I would just throw them in there on race morning.
Instead, at 5:30am, I was told I did not have access to my bags and so ended up having to adjust on the fly. To top it off, I forgot ALL of my nutrition back at the condo rental and so got an extra 4k jog as I ran back to get my cut-up CLIF bars. I ran back to the bike, crammed them into the top tube storage with moments to spare [ed. note: foreshadowing] before dodging my way down the crowded walkway to the swim start.
The swim was amazing, mostly because I just sat on the feet of eventual winner of Simone Mitchell plus Manon Genet for a bit and let them guide me through the two-loop course. I’m pretty amazed at the outcome given that I only swam 5-times in the last two months thanks to that hectic work/life schedule but managed to sit on feet and keep up without burning any matches.
We ran through the Australian exit and back for the second loop and then I followed Simone through the crowds for the second loop, finishing my swim in an Ironman PR for me of 58 minutes.
Somehow, after the 1k uphill slog (talk about getting your heart rate HIGH early on in a race…. but the crowds!!) to transition and passing Simone and Manon in the change tent, I left T1 in second place—everything was going exactly to plan. Was this finally the day where everything would finally fall into place?
Within seconds of leaving transition on my bike though, my elation turned to despair: I repeatedly pressed the buttons on my Di2 set-up and did not feel my gears shift at all. I ripped my visor off to get a better view, threw my nutrition (balled up Clif bars) down my sports bra so I could see what was going on with my cables and started a freak-out of monumental levels to try to figure out why I was stuck in my 4th hardest gear. Meanwhile, the entire field was passing me by.
Long story short, I never got the bike to shift. Honestly, I cycled rapidly through the five stages of grief in the first ten miles before I decided that there was no way I was giving up and I was just settling in for a suffer-fest of epic proportions.
Mood, the entire race:
First stage, denial: I kept repeatedly pushing the buttons, hoping they would miraculously respond. No response.
Second stage, anger. There was some cursing. Some “why me?!?” Some tears. Some berating myself about why I wasn’t better prepared mechanically for this race.
Third stage, bargaining: “It’s a two loop course so if I make it through the 18% climb on lap 1 without having to walk my bike past the crowds, I’ll continue on. Otherwise, I’ll just DNF my way into transition.”
Stage four, depression: there is nothing more upsetting than blaming yourself for every single mistake, missed workout and opportunity for mechanical mishaps leading up to a race.
Stage five—my specialty—acceptance: let’s just keep spinning out or mashing away and see where the day takes us.
I loved this course, even though I was riding it like a total newbie: it was right up my alley: technical, hilly and reminded me a lot of riding back in Asheville. But there was nothing I could do with it: I was either mashing up a climb at 40 rpm in an inappropriate gear or spinning out and unable to pedal on any of the descents.
Due to the gearing issues and super punchy course, I left with a pitiful average power of 130w and a normalized power of 170ish. Clearly this is not how you should race a bike race.
I got passed quickly without any reasonable gears and set up shop at the back of the race. I knew I was going to have a bad result and time but I wasn’t injured and there was nothing to keep me from finishing so I made up my mind that I would finish no matter what. Climbing up the steep inclines without any gears also left me tweaking my back, so this meant I was fully prepared to walk the 26 miles—if needed.
I came into T2 after the most pitiful bike ride of my entire career and fell over in transition—literally, pulled down a barrier with me trying to stand up for the run—as I tried to find something to keep my back from spasming in pain. The first three miles were pure pain: I was running forward, hunched over, trying to get the pain to work itself out.
I had no clue how I was running or even running the pace I was but I just kept moving forward. Miraculously, things seemed to work themselves out in my back; somehow I think the downhill gravity helped and the pain receded near the end of the first of the four loops.
And then I had one of the best runs of my life. It was long by half a mile but still ran a 3:26 on one of the hilliest, straight-up and straight-down and twisty-turvy on the cobbles through the village courses I have ever run. I thought I was too far back to make a difference in the race so I made the most of it: high fived little kids, smiled widely the crowds, thanked every aid station and cheerleader, etc., etc.
I normally go way too hard during the first half of races but this one I managed to make the first my slowest (I blame the back problems) with the last and the second the fastest and second fastest laps—totally out of the ordinary. I was resigned to my 7th, and out of the money position, thinking the closest rabbit was 20 minutes ahead, but heading onto the final lap I was running through town and these two incredibly drunk girls yelled to me.
“The next girl is just a minute ahead”, they screamed, shaking their respective pints into the street, “FINISH HER!!!”. I felt like I was courtside at a WWE match and loved every ounce of their passion.
But I though they were just drunk or confused because I had seen multiple turn-arounds and there was no one (in my mind) within striking distance. But we approached the next climb and I saw a double-digit pink bib ahead of me and, knowing it was a fellow pro, turned on the burners and proceeded to finish lap 4—the final lap—in the fastest of the day. I ran like there was someone chasing me and practically pushed people out of the way on the narrow course to make sure I was not caught.
I’ve always struggled to accept that I was “good” at hilly run courses and yet here I was holding my own on one of the toughest out there. Fifth place was only 5 minutes ahead. Looking back, I kick myself a bit: I could have gone faster on the run. If I had figured out my bike and avoided mechanicals, I could have actually pedaled more than 40% of the race and gone an hour faster. What if, what if, what if.
But I stayed in the game. I did not give up when 95% of other athletes would have and I ended up having a phenomenal run and learning a ton of invaluable lessons about myself as an athlete. I loved this course and this race even on one of my “worst” days. You can get I will definitely be back.
Get the bike fixed
Get back to training
Los Cabos 70.3
Sell the Felt and get a new ride
On that note, if anyone has any hook-ups, suggestions or advice for the new bike, I am all ears. As much as I have enjoyed being a brand-less free agent the last few years, I’m open to exploring quality options.