Maggie Rusch

Professional Triathlete

Leadville 100: Race Across the Sky

I’m not sure how I got roped into crewing at Leadville, but I would not have had it any other way. In the last few years, I have learned that saying “yes” more often than “no” leads to amazing experiences and this specific race was no different.

Across this past weekend at Leadville, I learned about limits, I learned some about what to say and what not to say to someone at their ultimate edge, and I learned critical lessons about what it means to bow out of a race with absolute dignity.

I will never be able to put into words what Doug went through, mostly because I’m not even close to crazy enough to attempt a 100-mile run. However, I’ll attempt to share what I experienced during my 2am-8am shift pacing Doug up and over Powerline, between Outward Bound and Queen May during the Leadville 100.

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To be honest, I was worried about him starting from 4pm the day before our leg together, when he did not turn up at the Winfield aid station when we were expecting. We waited and waited and then, with 11 minutes to spare, he appeared from the top of the trail, made his way through the aid station and then started to attempt the impossible.

It’s hard to perform when you’re behind the eight ball. And Doug was most definitely behind the proverbial eight ball. Not only had he cut the Winfield aid station so close that people were screaming with panic during a 30+ hour race (the extended course did little to help, admittedly) but he was fighting time cuts and a slowing body to allow him to stay on course for the remaining 50 miles. By a miraculous will and amazing feat, he managed to do so.

Doug cresting Hope(less) Pass

Doug cresting Hope(less) Pass

After our first pacer exchange and drive back to Leadville, I took a quick cat nap in my car, praying that Doug would make the next two cut-offs—but also fully aware that I may just wake up to my 1am alarm only to head back to sleep because he had not made it in time. But he made it. Due to amazing racing by Doug and pacing duties by Trent and Kris, Doug and Kris rolled into Outward Bound with about 10 minutes to spare and then my pacing duties began.

Aside: if you ever get the chance to pace someone in an Ultra, you must do it. No questions asked. The absurdity of it is the fact that you pick someone up, acknowledging that they have already run over 70 miles and, while not mentioning it explicitly, ask them to find another gear. The goal of the pacer is to help your athlete achieve their goals. But what if they have reached their limit and they are experiencing a total body shut-down and have nothing left to give? This was the issue we ran into last weekend.

The first two miles, Doug was on a mission. We got into a solid rhythm and were executing a walk-run pace that had us quickly moving through the ranks and passing close to a dozen people. We then approached the infamous climb that is Powerline. I’m glad I never got the opportunity to see this climb in the light, because it certainly would have been intimidating. Basically, the road bends and then it turns straight up. I’m convinced it’s put in the race simply to trash quads and demoralize athletes.

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Even in the dark it was hard to differentiate where the headlamps on the path ahead of us ended and where the stars above us started. But somehow the darkness served as a protector and distracted us from just how steep this section was—or perhaps Doug knew better, I just did not. 

His run-walk pace slowly disintegrated into a walk-pause pace. Kris had warned me of this some during our hurried exchange, but I never knew that I would not have the strength to compel him onwards. I told him, like a very green school-teacher, that we would only get to stop and catch our breaths for 15-seconds at a time, each time. Every time we paused I would peer at my watch, expecting I would have the fortitude to get him moving again when that quarter of a dial expired. And yet it was so hard to speak up. One look at him and you knew he was right on the edge of pain.

However, I know the pain Doug was in at that moment. Maybe not physically—mile 82 of an Ultra is a totally different beast than anywhere of an Ironman—but mentally, absolutely. To want to quit and to know that quitting would be best for your body—but not willing to accept that as the most reasonable outcome.

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There was an awkward thirty or so minutes where I think we both knew that there was no realistic chance he would make the cut-off—and yet we pushed onwards. There were moments when I tried to say something stern or attempt to encourage to get him moving… and would hear my voice cracking at the end, trying not to cry knowing that my advice was probably useless given the limit he had reached. We tried to time his eating and drinking with the body’s rejection of all food and balance when he could take in calories and when to delay fueling for fear of spitting it all back up.

Around mile five of our leg, nearing the top of Powerline, the sag vehicles caught up to us. Doug asked that they stay back (the exhaust was nauseating, even for those who didn’t have 80-miles under their feet) and it was annoying to have them breathing down our necks. Doug asked them to allow us to work our way forward without any intervention and thankfully they hung back.

After some back and forth and finally the ATVs backing off, Doug then started wondering whether the time cut-offs had changed with the new, longer course and so I ran back to the vehicles to see whether we still had to make the 6:30am cut-off, despite a course that was a whopping 4 miles longer. The officials told us that nothing had changed. The cut off was still 6:30 at Queen May. The good news? They were going to let Doug try to make up the time to the cut-off, even if it was a completely unrealistic proposition.

Finally, at some point after cresting Powerline (loved the unofficial aid station at the false summit, featuring aliens and a massive “GREAT F*CKING JOB!” banner) and attempting and failing to run the technical path down, Doug conceded that his race was over. Looking back, it gives me so much admiration for the type of person Doug is: he was more worried about letting down his crew and his family than he was about his own outcome and self. I can only hope that one day I too have a support crew that powerful and meaningful.

And so Doug walked the remaining two hours (to reach a total of 88 miles) under a beautiful sunrise to the final aid station, rather than giving up and letting the Sag wagon wheel us home. At one point he was even considering whether he could make it to the final 104 mile finish line, unofficially, despite being so far behind the time cut-offs. Now that is class.

With less than a mile to go, after texting Whiting the latest status, Whiting, Ariana and Lucy walked up the trail to meet us. My pacing duties were officially over but I still couldn’t help but feel like I let Doug down and that both of us now have unfinished business at Leadville.

Related, I admittedly have been struggling a lot with triathlon recently. I have had 3 DNFs in the last 2 years, admittedly mostly outside of my control, but that doesn't make them sting any less. But to be a “partner in crime” to someone else’s DNF and to not be able to see them through to the finish and to witness that own struggle first-hand was certainly staggering.

I wish I knew what I could have done for Doug differently. I wish that Doug could have had the day he so deserved and that he walked away with a golden belt buckle and an exhausted run up to the finish with his three wonderful girls, Whiting, Melina, McKenna. And I wish I knew more about my own “purpose” and internal drive that could one day propel me to a finish under my own terms and conditions—even if unofficial—just like Doug pushed toward. I hope one day we all find these things.

The longer I stay in this sport, the more I learn that each experience is a life lesson—only just some are harder to stomach than others. Hell, it goes beyond sport—it applies to all parts of life. And so while this weekend was a tough lesson for Doug and his devoted crew, I hope that it provides the ammunition and learning experiences that we all need for a race somewhere in the future and so that we can earn the day we all so desire.

So thank you Doug for the lessons. You may not have had the perfect race you wanted, but you inspired so many in the process. Leadville will always be there and I hope that you have the fortitude to face it fearlessly again and again, and walk away content having conquered it in your own style and under your own set of rules. 💙

2017: Picking Up Where My Heart Left Off

On March 1st, 2017, I committed myself to a partially-baked version of the “professional triathlete” lifestyle.

While I was embarrassed to tell too many people about the transition, especially given the fact that I accepted a 50% decrease in work hours and severe cut in overall pay, giving up my high-powered six-figure career to pursue the fully-committed pro lifestyle, I knew logically that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catapult myself to better results and use of my training time.

In the end, however, it back-fired. Sure, some people are cut out to pursue the fully-committed pro life. However, part of my previous identity circled around the fact that I could do it all.

I could be a top-notch Salesforce consultant and help companies find success.

I could knock out solid race results with only limited preparation and focus.

I could be the best dog mom ever to Lucy.

And yet, when I put all my eggs in the triathlon basket by moving to oh-so-cliche Boulder, cutting back my hours, reducing my paycheck and investing everything in a new coach and training schedule, something radical shifted.

It wasn’t fun anymore.

Instead of squeezing training time into any hour of the day available, I fretted over my schedule and whether my second workout of the day made more sense before or after the afternoon conference call—instead of just getting it done whenever the eye of the hurricane passed over for brief respite.

Last week I submitted a request to HR to move back to a full-time employee, adding significant time to my schedule from the previously luxurious part-time status. While part of me will be sad to say goodbye to the flexibility, the evening foam rolls, the Normatec time, the noon-time naps and the mid-day group rides, I truly know that I will only be a better athlete as a result.

While I may never be a top-ten finisher at Kona, I will certainly be someone who can juggle it all in order to bring the best version of myself to fruition, whether it’s crossing the finish line with jubilation and joy or bringing a multi-million-dollar contract to a successful close.

You can follow other people’s paths, or you can be brave enough follow your own. Common sense says that reducing your daily work hours should lead to more success in the triathlon world. However, common sense does not reign when it comes to the heart and to overall identity. And so today I choose the path that makes the most sense to me and to my heart.

My races the last few months may have been tough, they may not have gone to plan and they may have tested me and my commitment to the sport. However, at the end of the day, they have reminded me that everything happens for a reason—and today’s reason is that I now know that the grass is rarely greener at a second glance, and that sometimes making the most of what you have will serve you far better than what seems to be a more ideal option.

So go out there and make the most of your life—as is—instead of aspiring to someone else’s. Trust yourself and trust your journey… and if you can let go of the outcome, your destination will most certainly come with ease.

 

Ironman Boulder

I debated writing this recap. Mostly because my life has been beyond busy the last few weeks and I've been so incredibly tired and in the hole that the mental energy required to write a recap just didn't seem worth it. And then also I was told that if you spent more time describing your efforts for a "training race" than for a typical training day, then, yes, it should be considered a true race.

So three weeks later, I still don't know whether I actually "raced" Ironman Boulder. My prep leading up to race day says "no", my body said "100% yes!" and then the weeks that followed said "aw hell no!"

About 3-4 weeks leading up to race day, I touched base with Chris and we discussed our plan for the next few weeks and months. We both came to the conclusion that with less than three months of actual training under my belt and some inconsistency with training due to work obligations, shaky living situations, etc., etc., it wouldn't make sense to go into Boulder with the expectation of being able to race effectively. Instead, we decided to approach it as a very long, catered training day. Here's what he had to say about it:

 

The day before the race, I ran 8 miles with some tempo work at the tail end, and the day before that I knocked out a 3-hour ride. The Ironman on Sunday capped off a 20-something hour training week and on the morning of the race, I stood on the starting line, shaking in my wetsuit, scared beyond belief that I was staring down a possible third consecutive DNF at the Ironman distance.

Okay, hold up, let's pause for a moment and back it up.

I have been uncharacteristically quiet about this the past year, but the last time I finished an Ironman was Chattanooga 2015, one of my best races ever, only to follow that race up with a DNF at Cozumel (heat exhaustion) and then another DNF at IM France (sliced open my foot in T2 and required nearly a dozen stitches). This fact is, admittedly, quite embarrassing for me.

I have always been a ferocious competitor—to the point of nearly killing myself by pushing through the pain at Kona 2013—and these two black marks on my record have been haunting me for the longest time.

To top it all off, as a result some poor math on my end, I mistakenly thought that I went through my first two-ish years as a pro without re-qualifying for my pro card (which is accomplished by placing within 8% of the top female pro's time). While I actually was truly safe and had re-qualified (after revisiting the numbers—apparently I'm just bad at certain kinds of math), I spent most of March debating whether to drop back down to race as an age-grouper and temporarily abandon my pro dreams. With more and more races turning into "age-group only", this was definitely tempting.

To be honest, there is no reason why I should not be racing age group right now. I have always wanted to go back to Kona, I would actually be able to hold my head high placing at the top of my age group versus at the back of the pro pack and lessening the (self-imposed) pressure of "being a pro" would certainly make things easier mentally given that, yes, I have a great day job in place keeping things afloat and [newsflash] triathlon truly is just a fun hobby for me to pursue. But at the end of the day, I reminded myself that the only reason I choose a sport like triathlon is to challenge myself and to learn each and every day what my body is capable of in the sport of my calling. 

Ultimately, this spring I decided that I would prefer to be a "slow pro" than a "rockstar age grouper", simply because I knew that playing in the big leagues will ultimately force me to become a better and faster athlete, versus simply resigning myself to be a big fish in a small(er) pond. I sometimes wonder whether I took my pro card too soon in 2014, taking on Arizona only a few short weeks after Kona attempt #2, but then I look back and see how much faster I have grown as an athlete and as a person as a result of that decision. Plus, the entry fees are WAY better if you're someone like me who likes to race a lot. ;) 

So, anyway, I attempted to race Boulder as a dry run for Ironman Canada in my own backyard. Here's how it went...

Swim

This was the weirdest thing. My swimming as of late has been better than ever. I had been swimming 4-5x a week and leading the 1:30 LCM lane at CAC masters without issue. I went into this with the confidence of someone who should swim a 0:57 without breaking a sweat. Now, I think the wetsuit and some chop on the far end of the reservoir slowed me down some, but I came out in a very pitiful 1:07. Even my favorite lane-mate Ulli (who went on to finish 5th female pro) was like "what happened to you?!" the next time we saw each other after race day. 

What I loved though was the small field of pro women joking together pre-race... what a great group of women to race with. 

I don't know what it was: the same group I swam with while going way too easy (for me) at St. George pulled away from me around the half-way point and I had nothing to give, and then I had a minor freak out in the chop and then I swam way off course with my wonky shoulder. Part of me attributes that to the deep training hole I was in at the time I attempted Boulder—I was cooked, y'all, seriously cooked—but who knows.

But to see such a slower swim time despite feeling so much stronger in the pool and seeing such faster splits week after week was absolutely bewildering and somewhat depressing. 

Bike

But I came out of the water and was determined to execute the day as originally planned. I normally hop onto the bike, guns blazing and hope to make up time from the swim, but this race I was actually good for once and stuck to the very specific instructions from my coach. The entire day was spent in my Zone 2 power: it was boring. It meant getting passed by the lead female age grouper (oh, my dignity!). It meant getting to enjoy my surroundings for once and smile and wave to all the Dynamo crew members there to cheer on the Kyle Pease teams. But it was a well-executed ride. That's all I really have to say about that.

But I definitely had fun with it. Lots of smiling and lots of thank yous to volunteers.

Aside from the last loop of the three loop course when there was some unexpected dry-heaving (I've been encountering this on all of my longer rides, even at lower power numbers—I have no idea what it is from...) it was a great day to spend 114 miles with several hundred of my closest friends and get "free" bottle and nutrition hand-ups. 

Run

The run. Oy. I fell apart, but semi-kept it together as well. Something I did not tell many people immediately after or before the race was that some unknown panic kept me up most of the night before the race. I don't know whether it was race day nerves or being scared of a third consecutive DQ or if I just had a few too many mg of caffeine the day before but I was tossing and turning until 3am.

And then my alarm went off less then an hour and a half later. Having done Norseman on similar levels of sleep deprivation due to the time difference, I did not panic, but I certainly felt a level of heaviness in my legs pre-race and on the run unlike any other I had ever experienced. I think it was a combination of sleep deprivation, tired legs and just the accumulated exhaustion I had been dealing with. 

So given everything, my run was okay. Obviously I would have liked a faster run and while seeing 8:XX splits at times—let alone 9:XX—was frustrating at times, it was still a great day to test the legs and I was proud that I only walked once through a single aid station.

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And if anyone asks, the only reason I did not wear my Cuore kit here was that I wanted to be as "incognito" as possible, since I knew I was likely to have a slow run. And DANG I wish I had worn my Cuore kit because I was SO beyond chafed from this race whereas I usually have never ever had any chafing issues from my Cuore 2-in-1 race kit.

The only downside of the run course was that special needs was at mile 11 or so and on the out-and-back. In my mind, you could choose whether to grab special needs at 11 or 13. I opted for Mile 13—and they were not there to give me my bag. So the 4 gels I had packed for the back-half of the marathon went unused and I ran on empty, trying to get my fill of water and coke to get through the rest of the run.

But I finished, and was happy to walk away with a paycheck and solid training day.

 

The Aftermath

The funny thing though was that even though I felt terrible in the hour after the finish (hellooo puking by a bunch of random strangers—should not have turned down my invite to the med tent but oh well), the next morning I felt like I was on cloud nine. I went to masters, I went for a ride, I felt like a million bucks. Training since then has been more hit or miss (hellooooo, overreaching) but it was still cool to see that within only 2-3 months my fitness has come from a couch potato level to a "bounce back from an Ironman in 24 hours" kind of deal.

What's Next?

Today I have a 2-hour trail run and then tomorrow it is the Boulder Peak, the legendary Olympic distance that has a grueling climb on the bike course! While this will not be as devastating as a full Ironman, I'm excited to go fast and step out of my comfort zone and tackle a full Olympic that I can ride my bike to the start at the morning, get my butt kicked by a bunch of ITU girls and then come home and finish up the day with a PM training session! 

Onwards... Chattanooga 70.3

While not as tricky as the infamous back-to-back weekends, two 70.3s within two weeks is another type of adventure in itself. Now add in a 15-hour training weekend between the two and you've got yourself set up with a pretty solid three week block.

The start of my 2017 season has been all about patience and trusting the process. It has been really, really, really hard—not going to lie. For starters, I did myself a huge disservice by not training at all this past winter. And then life at altitude has seen me just throw all paces and power out of the door and just start anew. I spend a good amount of time swimming and riding with much better athletes than me and wonder if I too will ever get there.

But these days I'm truly approaching training in a way that I haven't yet during my entire six year career in triathlon—and it's frustrating and inspiring and exhausting all at the same time. 

While the amount of quality, focused training I have put in since coming back on March 1st has been solid, when you're in the thick of training and on little rest, the glimmers of light from behind the clouds are there—but still quite faint. Some days things come easy and I feel stronger than ever and almost like I'm on the cusp of something amazing. And then literally the very next day I find myself in the very last seat on the struggle bus, wondering whether this is all worth it.

I was running in the pouring rain yesterday (yes - two days after a race still calls for a 9-mile run immediately following a hard swim, apparently) and this guy just shook his head and smiled as I splashed past in the puddles. I decided to save him the trouble: "I know, I know—I'm CRAZY!" I yelled as I ran past, hands gesturing wildly, grinning ear to ear.

These days I'm trying to push the sub-optimal races and workouts to the back on my mind and instead spend my energy trusting that there is method to the madness and that it will indeed pay off.

One of these days I know it will. Going into Chattanooga without a taper and on solidly tired legs, I knew the chances of that happening were slim. But, still, it would be nice to have an okay race and not thoroughly embarrass myself by slogging through the run. 


So without further ado, my 2017 Chattanooga 70.3 race recap:

They got us in the water a reasonable five minutes before the start, when the pro men went off. It was perfect temps, no wetsuit and only felt like a minimal current as we warmed up. Without much advance notice, they instructed us to the start, and there were still women swimming up to the start line when they called 30-seconds to go. No count-down, no creeping up on the start line—just the cannon and a send-off to our day. It was a bit startling without any advance notice, but also very sensible—in a weird way, I liked it. 

Apparently, the pro women "struggled" with the upstream swim so they ended up sending off all of the age groupers downstream instead of the short upstream portion. I actually didn't notice anything unique about the current, other than the first 300m upstream took a little longer than normal—that's about it. 

I stuck with the first main pack up until the first upstream buoy and then when we turned to head downstream—BAM! They were gone. And then I spent the next 1500m swimming solo trying to find the group that had better buoy-turning skills than I did. 

The good news is that staying with the group to the turn was sustainable and easy. The bad news is I don't know what happened that they shot away from me so quickly after that first turn to head downstream. Maybe I need more open water practice? I dunno.

Onto the bike, the first hour or so felt surprisingly easy. I found another female pro setting a good pace and tried to keep her in my sights, though she was often 200m+ up the road. Still, that carrot was good and kept me honest about a strong, steady effort. Once we got into some of the punchier climbs, however, I realized my power was a little too unsustainable and that I was more holding on for dear life than using her as an effective pace setter.

So I dropped back and settled into my own rhythm. 

Somewhere around the 20-25 mile mark, Kim Schwabenbauer came by and, again, I tried to go with—but that was just not happening. I did keep her in my sights for a good 10-15 minutes or so though and also watched a certain ITU female pro have the same idea as me—but it actually worked for her and she latched on... hard. Literally. An invisible 1m bungee cord. 

Normally I just roll my eyes at drafters but this was some of the most blatant drafting I've ever witnessed. So I tried to wave an official up the road as to the situation but pretty sure nothing happened because of it. Oh well. (also to be clear, Kim had nothing to do with it.)

I also witnessed the FOP AG/EMJ train roll by just before Chickamauga, which was hilarious and made me thankful that I no longer race the draft-fest that is age group racing and gave me a good group to chase for a few minutes before, yet again, I got dropped. 

I'm getting really good at getting dropped by faster athletes, y'all. 

Came in a little too hot into T2, but that's pretty standard.

Onto the run, the first three miles felt weirdly good. And HR was in a good place. Knocked out low 7s for the first three miles, no big deal or effort required. Granted, some of those were downhill, but still. I was cruising and crushing it.

Until I suddenly wasn't.

I imploded. It was not pretty by any means. I don't know if it was the fatigue in my legs from training through this race or the lack of taper or just the lack of fitness in general but it was UGLY. Like hang-my-head-in-shame ugly.

However, I stuck with it and pumped my body full of (terrible for you) red bull and coke, hoping things would turn around. Spoiler alert: they did not. Every so often I would feel better, or I did get a great second wind around the 10-mile mark, but ultimately it was just a downhill spiral of a run. Melt-down on melt-down on melt-down.

But, I stuck with it. And finished with an okay but not great mental attitude and then rode 60 miles the very next day because that's what we do. I'll get to strugglebus through Ironman Boulder in three more weeks after another solid block of tough training and then it's onto Ironman Canada where I PRAY all of this comes to something productive because, honestly, it's getting a touch discouraging.

I'm not going to lie, it SUCKS to have two 1:4X half-marathons next to my name in the results. I want to dial up Ironman and say, "GUYS, can I please have an asterisk next to my run split here? I wasn't tapered and I ran hard two days before the race. Something!" And of course that's just ridiculous.

But also 70.3 racing isn't my forte to begin with so hopefully all of these racing-training days will pay off when it comes to the longer stuff—though I'm scared about potentially having to slog through a full 26.2 miles without any pep in my step, versus only 13. Hopefully it will not come to that. 

So that was my Chattanooga 70.3 race report. I hope you enjoyed it—though I'm sure you did, because reading a bunch of silly nonsense has to be more way enjoyable than flogging yourself to close to five hours straight when you're already dead tired. Finally, don't get me wrong - I love it, but I would love to be actually crushing it instead of just surviving. Soon enough.

Peace out, y'all.

Heating up 2017 in St. George

There's always a bit of uncertainty going into the first race of the season. Sure, you can get a handle of how training has gone and what your goal paces/power look like—but until you're out in the middle of the course, you don't always know the state of the union, per se. It's a lot like the first time you race long distance: you can know you have put in the work and you are ready, but just don't know what things will necessarily look like race day.

So I went into St. George with this mentality: a good, hard effort to see where things stood. After a winter of injury, craziness with work and life and the big move to Colorado, I literally did nothing from my monster 10 days of training camp in Cozumel back in November until I started back seriously training on March 1st. Maybe a few group rides and the occasional swim—but no more running than fingers on my hands. My off-season was most definitely an off season, to put it lightly.

How not to off-season:

But I had strung together some of my most consistent training in a few years leading up to St. George and my 100m swim send-offs were starting to match my old 100 yard times after a few weeks of masters and fitness in general was coming around. I didn't hope to win, but I certainly arrived in St. George hoping to execute and rip off the first-race-of-the-year band-aid. 

Lucy and I made our way westward before the race, before I dropped her off at a local doggy daycare. If any of you travel to St. George with a pet, I highly recommend Red Rocks Pet Resort. All boarded dogs also get to enjoy their regular daycare as part of their stay—She was so tuckered out from playing with all of the daycare dogs afterward! 

Two days before the race, I went to get some things on my bike fixed up (more than expected—yikes!) at IBB Cyclery, a super cute bike shop owned by a former pro triathlete along the bike course, just outside of town.

Kirk and Charity were so incredibly nice and knowledgable, and later invited me to join in their "Pro Bike Round-up", where we would be talking about our sponsors via Facebook like. They convinced me and I got to join the Wurteles, Ellie Salthouse and Sarah Jarvis in showing off our favorite gear. You can check it out here, or on my facebook page. I jump in a few minutes in after Ellie:

https://www.facebook.com/ibbcyclery/videos/552182711618809/

It was really fun, but also made me realize I need to get a little more technical in what I can speak to about some of my favorite gear!

Two-transition races also mean extra running around the day before. There are some things I could have planned better to limit time in the car and in the sun the two days and day before the race—but some of that is always inevitable. Good thing for folks traveling to St George (or any other two transition race, for that matter): create a plan and set timetables and stick to it to avoid too much running around!

The pro meeting also included the following clip from one of my favorite movies as a warning for the weather forecast ahead... it was looking steamy:

Also notable: the night before the race, I put the finishing touches on my kit, painting over the logo of a former sponsor whose values and ethics I feel no longer align with my own. I cannot condone blackmail (the police's words—not mine), lying to authorities, stealing mail and/or doping—for starters). 

It was cathartic both painting (an old hobby of mine) and feeling the release that I was no longer putting myself and my reputation at risk. It looked beautiful and in the post-race photos my handiwork and cover-up job is barely noticeable. I may have to start bringing paint and brushes to races in the future because it was incredibly relaxing.

The morning of the race was fun—I have really come to like the pro transition racks, especially now that I occasionally know a few fellow pros setting up in the morning. Before it was extra intimidating, but now it's always nice to say hi to a few familiar faces. We took advantage of the pro porta-potties, I tried to act natural around Alistair Brownlee (even when he cut in front of Amanda in line... don't worry, he was only chatting with someone else and went back to his spot like all of us other non-gold-medalist plebians) and it was nice to not feel rushed and stressed like I sometimes am pre-race. 

Officials got us in the water super early—18 minutes early to be exact. The water wasn't as cold as expected but did start to get chilly waiting around for our send-off. We lined up, got yelled at by kayakers to stay back (the usual song and dance) and the cannon went off. 

The swim might have been the highlight of my day—a far cry from my previous races where I felt like it was 1.2 miles of red-lining and near-drowning. For the first time in my life I never felt like I was overreaching on the swim or on the verge of blowing up. Hint: I probably could have gone a bit harder. Oh well, next time. 

The swim was broken up into 550m - a turn buoy - 900m - a turn buoy - 550m to the finish, which I liked for the reference. For the first 550m I was able to sit just off the hip of another athlete and try to take advantage of the draft. Well, after that first turn, the girl who was leading our pack could not sight to save her life and the group veered way outside the buoy line. While the pack of six or so went wide, I resigned myself to swimming solo and just stayed my course and swam the tangent between buoys. 

They eventually cut back in and I rejoined the group for the last stretch back to T1. At this point I realized my sustainable, moderate pace was way too easy but I wasn't satisfied sitting in and going slowly and I couldn't see anyone ahead to bridge a gap to, so I swam to the front and led the pack into the swim finish. 

Also, I almost never share finisherpix like this but I had to document this moment, and I'm just not willing to spend $25 on a single photo just for photographic evidence (sorryyyyyy....). Leading the pack!

While I would have liked to and probably could have gone into the 28s with just a little more effort, I was super happy to have accomplished my goal of swimming with the second main pack and hoped that by holding back on the swim, I might have a little more in the tank for the bike and run ahead. Spoiler alert: it didn't help much.

It was fun coming out of the water and into transition with such a large pack of people, as opposed to the normal lonely, 'where is everybody?' feeling I usually experience out there. The only downside is that I had very specific instructions for the bike, and this meant these girls would soon be long gone and I would have no one else to chase after. 

My coach and I had talked about the bike and the plan was to only ride certain watts, hoping it would save energy for the run and I could pull back time there. I was essentially riding Ironman watts the entire time, which was frustrating—but also WAY easier than normal HIM pace and meant I got to have fun and smile and wave/chit chat with the aid stations, thanking them as I rolled through. This level of effort had me worried. Nevertheless, I stuck to the plan. 

The course was pretty much dead, aside from the single female pro who passed me early on and then the age group men who I didn't start seeing until about 40-miles into the bike, around the Snow Canyon climb. This climb was far easier than I expected but gorgeous. The good news is that since I wasn't suffering as much as I normally am during a half-Ironman, I was actually able to take it in and appreciate the views. There was a long bombing descent down into T2 to cap off the bike before you head out for the run.

And this is where things started to go south. I held back the first four miles of the run, a gradual incline where I could see my heart rate staying steady much higher than I would have liked. The climbs are bad but you figure there's an end in sight... until you get to miles 6-9. These miles pretty much broke me. It's an out and back and out and back, pretty much along the same road—just different sides. 

My pace slowed, my stride decreased and this section was just a slog. Even on the downhills, I just could not get the turn-over that I had hoped for and the uphills were painfully slow and shuffling. I got passed by one female pro around mile 10 and then another within the last mile. Normally I have a solid kick and have out-sprinted people when it was close in the past but just did not have it in me on Saturday—my guess is that the heat and current lack of run fitness is to blame, especially given that I did only one hill workout in prep for this race. I cruised into the finish, happy to be done and happy to have knocked out race #1 of the season.

17th in the North American Pro champs isn't shabby, but leaves me hungry for much more.

Overall it was a great training day, good first result and definitely some motivation and a kick in the butt. I think the bike course at St. George is right up my alley—and if I ever went back and pushed a little harder on the bike, I think I could have done some serious damage. I'm just not sure whether this run course will ever be something I can wrap my mind around or be successful on. So will I be back? Maybe—for a training race... we'll have to wait and see. I did like the timing and location.

But not a lot of time to dwell because up next up is Chattanooga 70.3! Now, I KNOW this course is one I love (after having a great day there at IMChoo in 2015) so I've gotten back to work and excited (hopefully) for a little redemption race and a better indicator of my fitness in just over a week-and-a-half. 

 

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