It's really hard for me to write about Ironman Argentina.
To begin with: because of the timing, I arrived in Argentina after nearly a month on-and-off of being sick, several weeks plagued by a hectic workload of 50-hour-plus-commuting work weeks at my job and a block of incredibly spotty training that happened during the most critical window of final Ironman prep. Imagine lots and lots of red and yellow TrainingPeaks boxes. Most of my pre-race conversations with Brian revolved around a race plan that assumed I would barely be able to break 11-hours.
I honestly don't know what happened that allowed me to have the day I had. Hence, the not knowing how to recap the race.
Sometime in the next few weeks, I will most certainly write a longer recap featuring details such as the travel required to get to Argentina, the course itself and other more nuanced logistics. Because it was a first year race, most of my planning happened last minute and mostly in the dark and very poorly thought out (by me). Of course, that's the way 95% of my race planning happens so I guess I can say it only evened the playing field with other athletes traveling to a first-year Ironman.
However, I think the biggest difference for me going into this race was that I had already made the decision in October that 2018 would see me returning to triathlon as an amateur. After a solid 2013-2015, the past two years have been surprisingly rough and my race performances have honestly been rather dismal. Life, work, stress... it all got to me. While I met the standards required to continue to race professionally, I still in no way felt like I belonged on the elite start line. Plenty of internet trolls also felt compelled to reach out to me with similar messages—letting me know that I "did not belong" and that I should give up on my dream of racing pro—as if the second guessing wasn't already underway.
In the last few weeks heading into the race, I did a lot of thinking about what it was I got out of triathlon and why I continued to show up to train and race every single day despite not having the bandwidth to do so at a "professional level". I considered the benefit of being an underdog and the fact that on race day every single other pro out there is trying to prove themselves—an annual review of sorts for their "job"— while I am simply showing to have a blast racing and see what I can do. I created a bubble for myself: I temporarily deactivated my Facebook, I blocked and unfollowed people who contacted me with anything but positive sentiments, I limited conversation with anyone unsupportive of me and my goals.
I took a different approach than most pros in Argentina: I wasn't "going to work" on race day; I was simply "making the most of my vacation."
My race goals have historically included times or paces or places to target—but to be honest I went into this race and simply said to myself, "I want to have an amazing day and 100% enjoy my vacation."
And make the most of it I did. In the days leading up to the race I: swam with a sea lion, had more glasses of Argentinian wine than anyone racing Ironman should have, walked miles each day to explore the beautiful city, swam through jellyfish with a stranger when neither of us spoke the other's language, ran a little too fast on shake out runs, cheered on strangers playing a beach volleyball game, biked like a hooligan through traffic, had extended conversations in Spanish with people patient enough to give me time to conjugate in my head before speaking, ate the best seafood dish of my entire life and still am not entirely sure what was in it, made friends with locals at a bar two nights before the race while I waited for the power in the city to come back on, got a little sunburned while laying out and gained an entirely new appreciation for this city and country. I can say with certainty that I will be back at some point.
But about the race —
The swim was far from the best of my career—while it was choppy, I would argue that it was not indicative of my fitness or my skills: my pool times have continued to drop and improve and yet I still have not seen any corresponding improvements on race day. That's something I plan to work on heading into 2018.
But I swam with Sarah Piampiano for a good portion of the first loop and then got knocked around in the washing machine coming into shore and headed out to the second. I completely lost my bearings and found myself struggling to make my way through age groupers. It was far from a pretty swim...
Swim: 1:06 (Ooof)
Onto the bike and within the first 5 miles, I watched my power drop from the low 200s into the 20s. I love my powermeter but without fail it always seems to go MIA come race day. In a way, however, I think this was a blessing in disguise for me because I probably rode easier that I would have normally. Everything was by feel and by time and by cadence—nothing more and definitely nothing forced.
The course was a two-loop bike and the first loop was rainy and wet and I found myself getting jostled by a group of front-pack amateur men. We had a draft marshal riding alongside us for quite some time and instead of doling out penalties, he would just offer a pitiful warning signal from his whistle.
Mostly, men would pass each other (or myself) and slot right into the legally-spaced group without riding all the way to the front. To avoid drafting myself, I would have to stop pedaling to drop back to the legal limit and then continue to get passed and swallowed up as I seemed to be the only person following the rules. At a few moments throughout the race, I would get extra passionate and start to yell in Spanish at the other athletes that if they were going to make a pass, they had to ride all the way to the front of the legal group. No one listened to me and so my wild gesturing and (probably incorrect) Spanish didn't seem to do much to help my cause.
Finally, the cheaters took turns rotating through their peloton and because I was unwilling to hop onto the back of the train, I was dropped and left behind. While it was much lonelier, I was happy to ride solo for most of the second loop because I was able to keep power consistent (whatever it was that day) and just focus instead on riding my race.
I went through the half in a great (for me) time and managed to totally miss special needs, which was 100% a shit show. But I made it work and moved from my standard nutrition to the Powerade on course and tried not too freak out too much about my carefully-planned calories still sitting back at special needs.
Near the end, my back started to tighten up and I saw two fellow pro females coming up on me so I stayed strong but made sure I wasn't revving the tank any more than I needed to. The last 10-15 miles were some of the most brutal headwinds I've experienced but I used it to my advantage and tucked in low and actually put time into the chasing women.
I ran into transition, dropped off my bike, managed to grab the wrong transition bag, had to re-circle back through all of transition to grab my T2 bad instead of T1, and decipher what a whole bunch of people were yelling at me in Spanish (basically: "you grabbed the wrong bag!!") without having a total melt-down myself. I ran out of T2 while securing my race belt and strapping on my watch. But I got everything situated and while I probably lost a good minute in the commotion, everything turned out A-OK.
My main goal for the Ironman run was to have a blast and to smile the entire time. In fact, on most of my runs in the last two months leading up to race day, I practiced (when no one was around) grinning wildly and seeing how that affected my effort/perception. Much to my surprise, it turns out that it feels so much easier to run when you have a mile-wide-smile plastered on your face versus a grimace. The cheers from the crowd also are way, way better.
For the first 12-13 miles of the marathon, I just smiled from ear to ear. I danced at a few aid stations. I chatted up spectators and fellow racers alike. I fist-pumped in response to the exuberant crowds. Everything felt Oh So easy. I was running 7:20 pace and yet it felt like a 9-minute warm-up. My heart rate was barely cracking 140 and I felt like I was fresh and relaxed, despite the fact that several miles of the course involved running into a stifling wall of a headwind, the worst I've ever run in.
About halfway through the run, I started to fade. My spotty training meant my endurance was lacking and while I had plenty of experience in the 45-75 minute run range, never having gone over 90 minutes and several weeks with minimal running meant that my legs started giving out far sooner than they have in any other race I've actually been prepared to race. The horrible dead leg feeling I had from miles 13 to 26 will forever be my incentive to not skip the long run in training from here on out.
Again, special needs came and went and the aid station (I use that term loosely) was too much of a shit show to get the bag I needed, even while yelling out "CINCUENTA Y OCHO!" as loud as I could each time I passed (4 times yelling, 4 times missed...). I ended up making do with coke and poweraid for the back half without too much trouble, other than really feeling woozy and bonky the last few miles.
At some point, a man in a pink and white kit ran past and I made an effort to go with him. We ran several kilometers together and at some point he must have decided that we were "in this together." Around mile 20, I started to fade and my legs got the distinct feel-like-a-brick feeling weighing them down. My legs started giving out and I felt like I could not talk, let alone run, while the whole time my new friend Vincente was urging me along.
We continued on and fought fatigue and managed to make it down the chute and to the finish. I tried to slow to give Vincente time to have his own finish but we came through the chute together and celebrated and gave each other the most joyous, sweaty hug I think I've experienced. The finish at Mar del Plata truly was one of my highest highs in triathlon—not necessarily because of the race I had but because I accomplished it with another individual (or, perhaps, thanks to another individual) and, in doing so, that gave me the mental and physical strength to far exceed anything I should have been able to do based on my training in prep for the race.
Final: 9:53, 9th Female Professional
Ironman Argentina was amazing—full stop. From bus drivers and check-out clerks to local lifeguards and Ironman volunteers helping me get my bike after the race, I just kept feeling like so many different strangers embraced me and helped to make my trip a completely unforgettable one. Maybe it's the Argentinian way, maybe locals took pity on my pitiful Spanish skills or maybe I just totally lucked out with a bunch of kick-ass, open and caring people. Whatever it was, a huge thank you to the people of Argentina.
To have that complete experience culminate in the final 20k of my race with Vincente was only the cherry on top of a truly memorable trip. And sometime during that run, I discovered that I do have what it takes and made up my mind that I—spoiler alert—will most likely continue to race as a professional in 2018, just with a slightly different approach, mindset and set of goals this time around.
To everyone else out there: I truly hope that one day you too can experience the generosity of strangers as I did throughout my entire trip. Maybe book yourself a trip to Argentina and discover it for yourself.
Hasta Luego, Mar del Plata. <3