“I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
… I hope you dance.”
For some reason during race week, “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack came on the radio SO MANY TIMES! I’ll take it as a theme for this year’s really exciting World Championship race, as every athlete had to overcome the fear of a very cold race on a tough course. We chose not to sit it out, but to dance!
Every season finale has a certain air of nervous anticipation; everyone wants to end the year on a high note. I certainly didn’t want to spend winter thinking about a race that could have gone better! After a really disappointing race a few months earlier in Boulder, CO (delayed start, fueling issues as a result, and getting sick on bike/not finishing) I know how it feels to have the weight of a “bad” race on your shoulders for weeks on end. St. George always delivers tough conditions: always windy and hilly, cold water temps with warm air temps or, in this year’s case, fair water temps and cold air temps. Going into race week, I knew it would be chilly before the start and after the swim getting on the bike, but likely deliver amazing run conditions. I was also guaranteed a wetsuit-legal swim, which favors me as an “adult-learn-to-swimmer.” The race was divided into a female-only day on Friday, and mens-only day on Saturday.
My husband, Elliot, has been coaching me for the last three seasons. This is the first BIG race where he has been solely focused on supporting me instead of both of us racing together. Three weeks prior, he absolutely crushed the full distance Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii! It’s been a very busy season of travel, training, racing and supporting one another.
Elliot is spectacular at peaking me for big races, and physically I was in great shape coming of a 13 month training cycle. World Championships in 2021 was a month and a half earlier than this year, so I felt like I had been training with this race in mind for a very long time! During this training cycle, Elliot and I accomplished the following:
- 1:20:30 @ Seattle Half Marathon, Female Champion
- 1:17:55 (5:57/mi ave) @ Rock N Roll Arizona, 3rd Overall Amateur
- Victoria 70.3 Overall Female Champion
- Coeur D’Alene 70.3 Overall Female Champion
- Won every local race entered, and placed 2nd overall with the men at Black Diamond and Lake Meridian Olympic Triathlon
- 1:19:20 @ Rock N Roll Seattle: Elite Female Champion
- 5th in 30-34 Age Group at Ho’ala Ironman 2.4 Mile Open Water swim in 1:04:47
- Elliot raced Ironman World Championship St. George in May (a “make up” World Championship from 2020), Ironman Canada in August (5th AG, 3rd American), qualified for Boston at Tunnel Vision Marathon, and placed 4th in his AG at Boulder 70.3. He also raced Victoria, Coeur D’Alene and two of the local Olympic distance races with me.
So, yes, it’s been a busy and mostly successful season! We both had some rough races, which is an important part of the journey. I overcame a painful and complex snowboarding injury early in the year and a DNF, while Elliot overcame the fatigue of several long distances races and the shift to working with a new coach.
I worked especially hard on sleep training and recovery in the lead in to Worlds. Traveling to Kona for Elliot’s race was during the phase I needed to put in quality training, so I knew I needed both a fantastic fitness base, discipline during travel, and proper recovery protocols with the new environment and added travel stress.
We always stay 20-30 minutes away from a race venue, and I loved the quiet and quaint country AirBnB we found at the base of a beautiful red rock mountain face in Hurricane, UT. All the careful details and preparation paid off on race day: I felt fresh, calm and well-rested on race morning.
The air temperature was 39*F at the start with water temps at 63,* similar to the conditions a few days prior to my practice/acclimation swim. Amateur athletes are released in waves based on their age category: 10 athletes at a time, 15 seconds apart. My age group (30-34) started at 8:15am. The sun rose of the red rocks as we entered the water, and the clear cool water of Sand Hollow Reservoir was a welcome comfort after standing on the cold pier. We swam through several of the older age group women that started before us, which is annoying for us but likely terrifying for them. I felt smooth and strong in the water, especially because it was warmer than the air, and the course buoys seemed to move by quickly. I noticed at the last buoy a girl in my age group (30-34 age group wore light blue caps for identification) blew by me, which is a detail that comes into play later in the race report. I know in the future I’ll need to push myself more, as I clocked the slowest swim time by 90″- 6 minutes in the top 8 women. Typically, I try and hold a smooth tempo effort in the water, despite the short 2km distance, to avoid panicking in the water and wasting energy, but I’m at the technical ability now where I could push harder and go faster. My mindset needs to go from “relax/minimize damage” to “push/race.” I swam the 1.2 mile course in 31:28 (1:29/100y), just 25” off my best time, which I’m happy but not satisfied with considering no warm up and cold conditions.
The air was cold coming out of the water, but I packed appropriate cold gear for the conditions. Transition 1 felt a bit clumsy with frozen, wet hands/feet and cumbersome cold gear, but I got through unscathed in a fair time (4:50). The beginning of the bike was brutally cold, as there were fast sections that felt very uncomfortable while still wet from the swim. However, I was able to keep my legs moving and mentally focused, eventually thawing out around mile 33. The bike course is an absolute stunner, and very dynamic with punchy climbs and long ascents; one of the hilliest in North America. I was feeling confident on the final climb, as no one passed me or even rode with me during the 56 mile bike course. I biked a 2:34:55 (21.7mph), which was a little slower than I expected having done this course twice before. However, conditions are obviously always a huge factor in St. George (wind, temps, etc) and they had slightly changed the course. I held spot on my power targets! I was smiling and having tons of on the fast descent into town, where large crowds were waiting for us to begin the run.
Hands and feet were a touch numb getting off the bike from the chilly bike leg, so I felt a a little clumsy again in Transition 2. Luckily, I practiced a lot and went through the motions instinctively (1:33). I had told Elliot before the race “I will just be happy to see you when I get to the run!” and I was! I was certain my swim limited enough damage, and my bike was strong enough to put me in a good spot for the run, which is my strongest discipline. However, my smile faded quickly when Elliot told me I was 9th in my age group, 7 minutes down. Last year I swam 3 minutes slower and biked 5 minutes slower, but was 3rd in my age group and only 4 minutes down to first. “That’s really bad!” I remember telling him with a frown before turning uphill to the first out and back. “Just run strong and you’ll catch them!” He responded before fading into the noise of the crowd.
Focus mode: ON. I ran really strong and took mental notes on the first loop of the 2 loop, 13 mile run course, fueling as I have in races past. I let go of the somewhat negative and unexpected position update, and paced by feel on the undulating, rolling hills terrain so that I could have a strong second lap. Every time I crossed a timing mat I felt the strength of everyone tracking me from afar, knowing they would cheer with excitement at my effort to battle into a top position.
I came back into town ready to hear where I was in the field. Due to the rolling swim starts, athletes are never sure of where they are position-wise. We have to rely on spectators who have access to a tracking app with accurate splits to let us know, which is really tough when you’re racing to win. I was told the gaps were coming down, and that I was running the best in the field, moving into the top 5. I didn’t relax, but felt encouraged. There was more work to do.
My stomach felt tight and sick from the stress, new stimuli of cold early on in the day, and the general digestion of gels/sports drink during an extended hard effort, but I continued on. Fatigue crept up, but I knew the other girls were feeling tired too. I got more updates from friends on the course that saw me, I was gaining on 3rd and 2nd heading into the hilly sections. With just 3 miles to go, I was told I was 14 seconds away from the podium. I began to calculate how fast I needed to run before the finish line to keep catching women. I was running out of miles!
With 2 miles to go, Elliot shouted that I have to dig deep and run hard, that I was in both age group AND top 5 contention by mere seconds. I told him my stomach hurt, but OK and just to meet me in medical tent after the race. My legs felt like lead, but I refused to let my thoughts turn negative. I knew every second mattered now. I pushed the final out and back stretch with everything in me, praying it was enough.
Elliot had sprinted over to the final timing mat to give me one last update: with 400 meters to go the gap to 2nd place was down to one second. I felt like a zombie running, leaning forward to propel my legs just one second faster than the invisible competitor I was racing. I saw the finish, leaned into it, and raised my arms in triumph after crossing. Whatever the chip times said, I gave it my absolute everything. I finished completely alone despite being neck and neck with other women “virtually,” which was such a strange feeling. I began to sob, collapsing into a volunteer who carried me to a wheelchair. Soon I was looking up at a kind medical volunteer, babbling about seconds and how I’m so tired. They assured me my finish was amazing and encouraged me to relax. Thank you volunteers! Luckily, the air was cool which prevented me from excessive overheating and I recovered moments later. I had no idea what my finishing position was, and frankly I didn’t care. It felt absolutely incredible to be so engaged in a battle that I was truly, deeply satisfied. I ran a 1:26:17, and while it was impressive on the day, I KNOW a 1:25 on that course is in me!!
I immediately called my dad while riding high from the experience; speaking to my dad after races is one of my favorite rituals that I don’t think words can accurately describe. Thank you for being in my corner, Dad, I love you! Elliot found me and asked if I wanted to know what happened with results, and I said no. I just wanted to enjoy how amazing the day went, and my effort all around in each swim, bike and run. We laughed in the gorgeous afternoon sunshine, and caught up with our good friend, Sascha. There is no greater feeling than the sweet relief of a hard earned finish line after months of hard work.
Driving back from the race, Elliot told me what happened: I was in a 3 way tie for 2nd – 4th in the 30-34 age group and 4-6th overall. The race directors had to go down to the tenth, and then the hundredth of a second to determine the podium. I had gotten 3rd in my age group, 5th overall, by just .04 seconds. CRAZY. I wish we all started together, so that we could have duked it out on the finish line stretch! Elliot confirmed I was the fastest American amateur, which meant a lot to me!
On top of that drama, the girl who won my age group was tactical (albeit unsportsmanlike in my opinion) by starting at the very back of our age group wave, approximately 5 minutes behind that front wave, and swam one of the best age group swim times to give herself company on the bike, and a solid time cushion. Usually, the fastest swimmers line up at the front of the age group; I seed myself according to my predicted swim time vs working the system, but it’s technically within the rules and a tactic other strong age-group swimmers may use. I immediately remembered the girl who blew by me as I was finishing the swim. Recently, I realized this could also mean her course spotter would have seen all of our splits come through about 3-5 minutes before she went through, do some math, and communicate what pace she had to hold run to defend first. Elliot noted I passed her during the second loop of the run, physically. The 3 way tie AND the slingshot swim tactic would be eliminated if we had mass age group starts instead of the rolling starts, just like they do at the Ironman World Championship in Kona. These are issues both Elliot and I ( and several other elite athletes) have been burned by; it’s the primary drawback in racing as an age grouper vs. professionally. I don’t want to sound negative, but these are really impactful experiences that have a profound affect on competitive athletes.
Despite all that, I knew I was in the right place racing amateur instead of professionally. I absolutely loved battling my way to the front. From 58th position out of the water, to 9th position off the bike, to a 3-way tie for 2nd after the run, it was a dream come true in hard conditions on a tough course.
I learned so much about myself, and clocked the best run in my age group, 2nd best of any amateur in the entire field. I am the fastest American amateur at the 70.3 distance. I’ll admit… I would have loved to win my age group and be top 3 overall. The gaps were close – only 3.5 minutes to first overall and 1 minute 50 seconds to first in my age group/second overall. I was hoping this race would offer closure on what to do next season: continue racing amateur or make the jump to professional, but the 3 way tie only left me wondering if I have more unfinished business with age group racing!
At awards the next evening, the podium girls and I finally met, gushing over the day and excitedly sharing our experiences with one another! The announcers proclaimed history was made as they called the three of us on stage. We were all over the moon as the crowd gasped in amazement over the tie. The feeling of making it to a World Championship award ceremony is just unreal, and I’m thrilled to have made it back. The field was deeper and far more internationally influenced than last year, as travel in 2021 was still fairly restricted. 2/3 of the field was from outside of the United Staes this year! (Last year I was 2nd in 30-34 AG, 8th Overall, and 3rd American). I definitely improved and raced far better, so I am truly happy with the results.
I’m thrilled with my preparation, the coach-athlete relationship that got me here, my performance, and can confirm that I absolutely love this lifestyle. I’m in no rush to think about next year, and am looking forward to down time with my dogs and husband, painting and completing DIY projects while continuing to grow my coaching business. Thank you to all those who helped me this season, on race day, and supported my mental health and emotions throughout the highs and lows of the long season. I appreciate those of you who took the time to read this report, and am happy to answer questions or discuss triathlon/lifestyle if you feel lead. Just shoot me a message on my coaching Instagram page or send me an email (email@example.com)