By Certified Triathlon Coach & All-American Athlete: Becca Kawaoka
After racing my first local triathlon of the season, Lake Whatcom Triathlon in Bellingham, WA, I feel compelled to highlight the importance of participating in local 5k’s, half marathons, and multisport events. This is my 4th year racing triathlon (5 years in the sport) and every year I am intentional to incorporate local events. Why?
The sport of triathlon has a grassroots beginning. In the early 1970’s, a group of 46 athletes decided to do a short sprint-like event with swimming, biking, and running as a way to cross train for running events. In the late 1970’s, a handful of people on the shores of Kailua-Kona attempting a self-supported, open-road event that eventually evolved into what is now known as the Ironman distance. That course is now known world-wide as the Ironman World Championships.
History aside, without local races to offer new athletes a chance to “dip their toes” (no pun intended!) into racing, the sport is unlikely to gain new participants. Large corporations like Ironman, Challenge, and the up-and-coming PTO typically only offer long distance events. This can be intimidating to youth/new athletes. Infusing young people and new participants is vital for the long-term survival of the sport, and local racing offers a variety of short to middle distance options (like the super sprint!) or even pairings, such as just the swim-bike, or team relays in case that’s more approachable / in case an injury pops up.
Pre-race shake outs and nervous laughter!
Local races have a laid-back atmosphere, which is a wonderful welcome if you have ever participated in a high-stakes race like Ironman. It’s so fun to chat candidly in transition with your local buddies. Most of my friends, and my husband’s friends, are people we have met at local triathlons. It’s a great way to get to know people who share the same interests as you and live nearby. We love racing the local competition and have developed a wonderful camaraderie with a lot of local triathletes!
Racing locally is sort of like choosing to go to a Mom and Pop coffee shop instead of Starbucks. Local racing is really the heart of the sport, and while the field sizes are a bit smaller and the courses are not quite as elaborate as big corporate races, the local events are keeping triathlon alive. One thing I’ve noticed local races do this year is offer an elite wave, which allows anyone competing for an overall position to start in one mass group. This is EXACTLY what we want Ironman to start doing so that it’s a live race on the course versus wave starts. It is very challenging to know where you stand in the age group field at Ironman events because they do rolling wave starts, so we are thrilled that local race directors are starting to offer elite fields. There is no qualification to start with the elites, and you can much cleaner water than the wave or gender starts. Plus, it’s a true live race! For those of you who race competitively with Ironman and have felt the pain of wave starts, support local races and engage in the elite wave. Change really starts at the local level.
Lake Whatcom Triathlon offered such a start, and a handful of about 8 of us started together. My husband and coach, Elliot, started just in front of me with the local group of triathletes we know well: David, Bethany, and Jeremy to name a few! I enjoyed starting on Bethany’s feet and we all stayed together until the first buoy. Lake Whatcom is a wonderful lake, with a triangular swim course. The water was relatively calm and cool, perfect for racing.
Transition was about 400 meters from the swim exit, up a shallow hill. This year, the transition set up was in the Bloedel Donovan Park’s parking lot. The set up was FAST, as transition was compact with pro-level bike racks and a very short jog out of the swim onto the bike! I was happy to get the chance to practice transitions, though mine was a bit sloppy. My friend Bethany reigned supreme in transitions, with the fastest men and women’s transitions of the day! She was just up ahead of me out of the swim and we exchanged enthusiastic encouragement to one another when I found her on the bike course.
The bike course is quite challenging, with a fast and beautiful rolling start into a size-able climb on quiet country roads. Unfortunately, I was alone most of the day so I didn’t bike quite as hard as I wanted too. I was also feeling under the weather, congested and weak the days before, so knowing that I was at the front of the women’s field allowed me to ease into a more sustainable effort. A few men passed me, which hasn’t happened much this year, so I was rather chuffed coming into transition.
The run course is a DOOZY here. Our buddy David, who lives near the course, coaches athletes, and owns the course record from last year, did the aqua bike vs the Olympic due to a hamstring injury. He went out onto the run course after finishing and helped direct me where to go – which is just a perfect example of class sportsmanship and why I love local races! I ran completely alone until I saw the men’s leader, our friend Jeremy. He assured me I was headed the right direction. The run path starts relatively quick on packed gravel and dirt, but quickly gets challenging with a full flight of stairs both down and uphill! I’m not talking a few steps, I’m talking 400 meters of full stairs to burn your quads and skyrocket your heart rate no matter how good of shape you’re in! I saw my husband, who was hard to miss as we were in bright polka dotted matching kits, and a few other men on the out and backs, but was otherwise alone. There was a very encouraging aid station ran by some friendly volunteers who did a great job directing me which way to go on the labyrinth, forested trail run course. Several white arrows directed racers which way to go, but you did need to look for them carefully. Elliot missed one arrow and ran a bit extra, but thankfully found his way back to the path and it did not affect his position.
The finish was flat and fast, and the arch was a welcome sight after quite a battle on the fun but challenging course! I won the women’s side and was 6th overall, a bit disappointed I didn’t make the overall podium but I accepted it, acknowledging I felt less than 100%. Elliot was 4th overall and 2nd in his age group. A few of the front age guys started in age group waves instead of the elite mass start, and it did affect the flow of the overall placements. For example, Jeremy was only passed physically by the men’s leader, Tom Hutchinson, who won the race convincingly despite starting in the age group waves and catching everyone. If results stayed this way, it would have put Elliot third and age group winner. However, two other top age group men clocked times that put them into top 5 podium position, but were never seen physically because they started further back.
This was hard on me as well, as usually I hold onto a podium overall position in the men’s field. In general, this could be cleared up by stating anyone who wants overall awards should start with the elite or first wave. It would have been a more dynamic race that way! This also affected the women’s podium for 2nd and 3rd overall, as my friend Bethany started with me in the elite field. She was only passed by me, so she thought she had 2nd place squared away but a gal who started well behind us clocked a time about a minute faster. This same thing is happening with Ironman races, like I mentioned, but at least there is an opportunity to solve the problem by encouraging an elite start. We just hope more people use that option in the future, and that large corporations catch on. Competitive athletes want a live race!
The post-race food was AMAZING, and it was so fun jumping in the lake after while discussing the day with our friends and athletes. My athlete Carissa won her age group in 18-24, so we were excited about that as a start to her racing season. The weather was great, and I am so happy to see local races continue to thrive in Washington. We plan to do upcoming local races such as Black Diamond, Lake Meridian, Bonney Lake, and Lake Stevens (barring any injuries) to continue to hone our race skills for key Ironman race events.
SUPPORT LOCAL RACES! If you live near Bellingham, put this one on your calendar!
The main takeaway from this race is gratitude. This is my 5th year racing triathlon, my husband Elliot’s 15th year, and if there is one thing I’ve learned from racing year after year it’s that not every day is a great day – especially on the race course. While I am grateful to have the last 2 races result in wins, I am almost prematurely preparing for the day I am bested on the course. The mental shift is now about maintaining confidence with humility in order to both build momentum and prepare for what lies ahead. My favorite quote at this time is: “The good news about failure is that it’s short lived, but the bad news about success is that it’s short lived.” The 48 hours after a win is nothing short of elation, but when the soreness dissipates and the training resumes, the challenge of the next race begins to loom. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t already nervous from my next competition!
Our trip to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho was short. We got in Friday, checked in, did a short swim in the chilly waters of Lake Coeur D’Alene (water temps hovered around 58 degrees the entire weekend) and checked into our Air BnB. We planned to leave right after the race to get home that night, too. After the usual pre-race checklist, it was already time to race! If my ankle was the primary source of anxiety prior to Victoria 70.3 (which I was thankful to have won 4 weeks prior) the cold water was the source here. There’s always something! Thank goodness we were allowed in for a warm up to acclimate, which isn’t always the case. Quick kiss to Elliot, and we were off.
The swim went better than expected, and I felt a bit better than in Victoria. I tried not to be concerned with the usual hard start/washing machine that kicks off every triathlon, and focused on breathing and staying within myself. While I swam alone the first portion, I was able to avoid a lot of contact and save some energy despite not having a draft. I did find a good jet stream the back half of the swim, and felt like I was catching vs getting dropped – which was encouraging. While I swam a few seconds slower than Victoria, I dropped over a minute on my time from 3 years ago in far choppier, colder, and all around tougher conditions with a total time of 32:26. I remember smiling during the last 300 when I saw the shoreline approaching, as I knew after this I could really get going in the race. I briefly thought one of my swim team athletes, as his mom provided me her secret “record-breaking” homemade bone broth the week before the race. Knowing I would make my athletes (and the few people that knew I was racing) proud really brings me positive energy.
I had really only thought as far as the swim, so when I came out of the water I HAD to celebrate. I smiled and yelled to the crowd of spectators and volunteers: “I DID IT! I SURVIVED!” I was very concerned pre-race that I would have a cold water shock and need to stop; my biggest fear of not being able to continue in a race was almost tangible. Obviously, I had done a few cold swims, but now that I have performance goals and expectations, the anticipation changes. I feel more confidence in having done my 2nd swim under 60 degrees without “failing” – I didn’t have a ground breaking swim but I did keep myself in contention without losing too much time to girls in front of me.
The bike course in Coeur D’Alene is DELCIOUS. I have been to this race 4 of its 5 appearances, either to support Elliot or race it myself, so I’m very familiar with the town, conditions, and course. I was happy to dry off and warm up much faster than at Victoria. The sun was out with air temps between 60 and 70 throughout the day. I am always aggressive on the bike – knowing you’re 4-6 minutes down is very motivating if not borderline panic-inducing! With about 3,000 feet of climbing on the bike, I was excited to work so that I could hopefully get to the front of the field.
35-40 miles into the bike, you get your first glance of the field, as there is a U-Turn out and back at that point. I counted 4 women in front of me, all 4 of which I knew from past racing or living nearby them. I knew two of them had probably started the swim in front of me and likely outswam me by about 4 minutes. Two of the four of them could run really well. Once I worked my past each one, I kept my eyes forward and the pedals moving. I believe I had the best female bike split, but according to the results (which could be a mistake, since I have checked the top 10 females bike times and none are faster) I had the second best split at 2 hours and 28 minutes on the 56 mile course.
Coming into T2, I knew the run would be difficult both physically and mentally. I’ve never been first off the bike at an Ironman 70.3. It’s one thing to hunt, it’s another thing to be the hunted, especially with the knowledge of who was behind me. The weight of dictating the pace for 13.12 miles was daunting. Due to the rolling swim starts, you never know how big your lead is. Physically you could be leading by a landslide, but someone could be quite close to you virtually. I’ll never get over my 2021 loss of 8 seconds to a girl who started several minutes behind me in the swim. So despite my massive effort on the bike, I had to keep the gas pedal on for the half marathon. In the end, this is probably a good thing! I really wanted to run around a 1:23 on this course, and I pulled off a 1:23:47. It was hard, and my ankle was really painful in the last 5k – likely from the course being all on pavement and a lot faster than in Victoria. Second and third place ran exceptionally well. We all pushed one another to achieve personal bests of some kind, and that fills me with so much joy.
When I started this sport, there was a fair amount of cattiness, both from myself and women around me, and I’m happy to have grown and matured into a competitor that is able to lift up those around me. The women I raced on this day have nothing but respect from me, true class competitors, and we all embraced while sharing our individual stories of triumph on the course. I was really proud of Kayla and Kylie (2nd and 3rd overall females) and incredibly thankful for how they pushed me to my best and I to theirs.
The finish line was… indescribable. I had the female lead bike with me and the crowds were so loud and supportive. I knew in my heart I had won, which is such rare due to rolling swim starts as mentioned before. I wish I could bottle that once in a lifetime feeling and keep it with me forever. It was a really personal, joyful memory that I’m blessed to have with me for all my days. I will never forget it. As mentioned, big hugs from my fellow female competitors and athletes combined with the sweet relief of finishing keeps me coming back. My girl Hannah was volunteering at the swim start and finish so that she could give me pre-race AND post-race hugs! Another athlete of mine, Erin, raced very well for her second race of the year and first 70.3 with Kawaoka Coaching. Elliot had a good swim, didn’t feel great on the bike, but rallied to finish what he started!
Whatever happens next, I am incredibly thankful to have put together two great races and achieve back to back 70.3 wins on tough courses in strong fields. I am proud to have been the 31st out of over 2100 athletes, meaning only 30 men beat me to the line. Pre-race anxiety and fears are real, and will likely always be there. The finish line, whether your first or 50th, is the greatest reward for overcoming those emotions. Never forget that. (me to my future self, and all others who struggle with the emotions of sport)
On to the next because, like I said last time, the best win is always the next one.
This is a race I will always look back on with awe, humility, and gratitude. After suffering an ankle injury while snowboarding 3 months prior to the race, an osteochondral lesion (or fracture/damage to cartilage), bone contusion, stress reaction, and edema, so my husband and coach, Elliot, and I weren’t sure if I would even race. I decided 5 days prior to starting that I would go for it after 3 months of conservative, non-surgical rehabilitation. While I made it through a modified training cycle and early season race, we are keeping an appointment we made months ago with a surgeon who specializes in this unique injury to weigh all of our options and gain peace of mind with training/racing decisions moving forward. We should know more in a week! Cartilage injuries are tricky, and I’m thankful to have connected with a fantastic run-specific physio, Chris Johnson, to guide my rehabilitation. His insight coupled with his own elite run experience gave me both confidence and clarity during my rehab.
I won’t go into much detail of my rehab training, as it could probably be a novel, but I want to share one truth – there were days I could barely make it 30 minutes into a session before crushing anxiety and fear for my endurance future would completely shut me down. Elliot was an absolute rock, and together we worked through the emotions injuries bring on. I learned a lot about myself and my husband during this time. My intention and purpose in both sport and my career are more clear than ever. I would never wish injury upon anyone, but I am nearing the point where I can reflect back on this time and see the growth and lessons.
Going into race week, we decided to really rest and focus on mental strength. Limiting emotional highs and lows was a really big challenge for me, as I have never gone into a race with so many question marks around my health, fitness level, confidence and so forth. The first race of the season is always especially nerve-racking, and both the course and the conditions were going to be challenging. Elliot is great at planning race trips in terms of accommodation, arrival times, places to visit, etc. while my tasks center on food preparation and mobility/stretching sessions. Our balanced little dance really gave me comfort as my nerves were through the roof the entire trip! I enjoyed visiting a castle nearby our AirBnb where X Men was filmed, which made for a great taper movie night with E!
We knew the swim was going to be cold from an unusually rain and cool spring. We live in climate very similar to the race venue so I was intentional to train in our lake, which ended up being the same temperature as Elk Lake. We also did the *very choppy* 1,000m practice swim on Friday evening before the race with my friend and athlete, Hannah Levy. It’s always fun getting to train and race with my athletes! After getting absolutely dumped on during a chilly shake-out ride earlier that day, Elliot and I agreed that we were ready for anything race day would throw at us!
Race day ended up being cool (50-60*air temps) and no rain. It was an early start at 6 am with a water temperature of 61*F. We were allowed in before the start at 5:45 am, so after a nippy acclimation in the water, a brief kiss and typical understanding nod, Elliot and I parted and took our positions in the start corrals. We entered the water 30” apart, but I ended up swimming about 3.5 minutes slower then Elliot. I beat my time from 3 years ago on this course by a few seconds, but am still generally unhappy with my time of 32:16. I am capable of better, but struggle in the water if its anything less than optimal conditions. Always something to improve in triathlon!
The first 10km of the bike was pretty cold. At 6:30 am, soaking wet from a cold swim and right onto a bike pushing 20-30 miles per hour with air temps in the 50’s isn’t what I would choose to do on a typical Sunday morning, but I managed to get past the crowds early on and found a good rhythm. Another female rider was riding super well, and we stayed together well for several miles and even exchanged polite words here and there. I recognized her kit, and knew she would push me, so kept her within sights as much as possible on the technical, one-loop, hilly bike course Victoria offers. I was pleased to see Elliot on the final hill, about where I was hoping to see him. Unfortunately, he crashed just over halfway on the bike and knocked his headset loose, so aero position wasn’t as stable for him and he lost a lot of time. Thankfully he only suffered road rash on his arms and knee, and a minor bruise on his ankle.
After a strong bike of 2:34 and change, I braced myself for the run. This is always what I look forward to the most, and I still did even on this uncertain day. I was determined to finish what I started even if it meant humbling myself to a walk in order save my ankle. My watch wasn’t working well, so I ran by feel, which was really the plan all along. I passed two girls in the first mile, and then ran completely alone for the entire first loop of the 2-loop, trail run course. The cool air felt really good on the run, as I wasn’t in great run shape and likely would have suffered had it been warmer. I got pretty consistent updates about my position on course, as there was no pro men or women’s field. I was surprised not to see any age group men, so I figured I was either running really well or really poorly. I could feel my ankle injury, but it never progressed to a sharp, stabbing pain, like it had early on in training post-injury. I monitored it and took the time to step carefully on the trail.
I decided to continue on at the halfway point, and felt better throughout the second loop of the run course. I haven’t run much, and really rarely off the bike, so the first 5k and last 5k felt really terrible. I hope I can get the OK to either have surgery and get to 100% quickly post-op, or get the OK to train through the dull, achy feeling I get when I push off during hard run efforts. I pinned this “feeling” at about a 3-4 out of 10 on the pain scale during the race, which was consistent with what I felt when I tried some efforts in training the week prior to the race. I was going to finish no matter what, even if I had to walk to save my ankle, but it never came to that. I had no soreness or swelling after the race, and I feel like I’ve done everything I could have in training / rehab. I was cautious during training so that I could push it on race day, and I feel confident looking back that all the decisions made along the way were the right ones.
I felt emotional coming to the finish line. I had crossed the line first in races past, but breaking the tape with rolling starts doesn’t always mean you secure the win. Sometimes, athletes that start the swim behind you clock faster times overall, so you really don’t know you’ve won until several minutes after you finish. After an emotional collapse at the line after breaking the tape, I remember laying my head on the red carpet and telling myself : “You’ve done your job.” Regardless of what results showed, I made it to the start. I overcame the pre-race anxiety. I survived the cold swim with minimal damage. I pushed the bike and had no mechanicals or crashes. I got to the run. I found the finish line. The swim and run were not pretty, probably not what a 100% healthy and fully trained Becca is capable of, but they were enough to beat the female field by 4+ minutes overall. My run split was 2nd best of the day with a 1:28 half marathon (only 30” off being the best run of day from a gal I’ve raced before, who came in 2nd overall and suffered a mechanical! Bummer, I know it would have been a much closer race!) It’s always the goal to place as high as possible, but today I was truly just happy to finish. I am quite pleased I placed well even with the men factored in, too. (only 40 age group men managed to beat me, but soon I hope to conquer even more of them!)
My goals were as follows in order of importance:
1. Finish the race.
2. Be able to walk the next day. (as in no severe ankle backlash)
3. Secure a World Championship slot
I managed to check all 4 of those boxes in the most unlikely of circumstances. Additionally, I beat my time on this course from 3 years ago, in harder conditions, by 13 minutes. I shaved time from all 3 disciplines to boot. Elliot, who recently came off a really tough Ironman a few weeks prior, was there for me at the finish – overcome with joy and bursting with pride for me even after a disappointing crash and tough race for himself. We have committed to being happy and supportive of each other even if one of us struggles or has a less than perfect day in training / racing. It’s not always easy, but it adds perspective and balance to our lives. Obviously, we are quite competitive with each other and sport in general, but I’ve realized if it wasn’t triathlon pushing the both of us, it would be something else! Why not this? I have centered my entire life around sport, which is obviously hard when I am hurt, but it’s what sets my heart on fire.
Racing is living, Elliot reminded me as we sat in an ice bath post-race. Not everyone gets this chance. It’s scary, unnerving, uncomfortable, but it really brings you eye to eye with yourself and your demons. Our bodies feel completely drained, but satisfied. Our hearts are full, but they feel even more full after experiencing some of the heartbreak that comes with pursuing your passion year over year.
No matter what happens, I will be grateful for every finish line because now I realize how much I need them. The terrible reality is that all of our finishes are numbered, and each one is special whether it is ugly or pretty. The value is in the journey. I feel affirmed as a female competitor and coach, one who has been challenged a significant amount in the last 3 months. From male doctors telling me I would be out for the season, to male athletes arguing I either don’t affirm them enough or are too hard on them, to staring myself in the mirror wondering if I was still good enough to compete with a rocky training cycle…I faced it all and stepped up to prove myself once again. After a few days to let everything sink in, it’s time to prepare for what comes next. The best victory is always the next one 😉
Thank you for your support, and for reading this reflection.
WOW! What a race! Racing at the front of the amateur field was exciting from start to finish. I’m so thankful Elliot and I decided to put this race on my out-season triathlon schedule. It was a large race with over 17,000 participants between the 5k, 10k, half and full marathon distances, so we knew it would be competitive. After racing a disorganized, expensive, and less-than-impressive Seattle Half Marathon in November, I felt like I need a challenging experience to prepare me for another competitive triathlon season.
Training for a half marathon is a lot less hours per week than a half ironman, which is what I specialize in during the triathlon season (which is typically early May through October). Half ironman triathlons consist of a 1.2 mile swim (2125 yards) 56 mile bike and ends with a half marathon (13.12 miles). Of all three disciplines, I’m the strongest at running. We are working to “strengthen my strength” this offseason while continuing to work on my swim form. I’m fairly strong on the bike, and will begin focusing on that discipline after a run focus for the past 3 months. All that being said, I also really wanted to boost my confidence and prove to myself that I can compete openly as an elite runner in addition to racing as an elite triathlete.
I was fully tapered for this race, and got to relax with my amazing Grandma out in Arizona prior to the race. Senior citizens are the best to hang out with before a race! They go to bed early, eat well, and know how to enjoy themselves. My parents were able to come support the race as well, which is rare! My dad is a hard working farmer and road construction operator, and my mom is very active in the local church community, which makes it hard to travel. It was great to have their support before and after the race!
I was lucky to have a friend Erik Chazin racing in the elite field, and he helped me get organized, warmed up and focused prior to the race start. After a quick pep talk from my very first run coach, Susan Loken (who introduced Elliot and I while training for this very race five years ago!) we headed to the start line. The sun was rising, and temps were warm (55*F) but generally still fast conditions. All the fast girls were right at the start, so despite a rolling start instead of the usual mass start we all settled into a pack early on. I kept note of who started in the corral behind me, as a 3 second gap could make a difference at the finish line if we all stayed together.
While I had a race plan specific to this course, I was also fully focused on making the podium. This means that while I was watching my pace, I was more interested in watching what the girls around me were doing. If anyone made a move, I was prepared to defend it. Within the first two miles, we dropped a few girls. I could tell a few females wanted to sit out front and set the pace, so I let them. There were ebbs and flows of effort and pace changes on the flat start, but I stayed pretty consistent. If the female leaders drifted a few seconds ahead, I had fast men to help keep me out of the wind and in contact with the leaders.
I managed to get water at every aid station, and kept myself in top 5 contention. Around mile 6, the terrain gradually trended upwards in a slight ascent, and the pack dynamic changed. The strong males pushed the pace to drop their competition, and the female lead began to drop back. A new leader emerged, setting the pace at 5:50/mile. I stayed on her hip as one by one the pack dropped off. I could tell by the sound of their footsteps they didn’t blow up, so it was still anyone’s game. The lead and I went together through mile 7 or so, until she turned the screws again to low 5:40 pace. I knew step hills were coming, and I let her drift ahead.
At mile 8, I felt someone tug on my braid! I glanced to my right, and to my great surprise and joy, my 50 year old rival Dave Tindall came running alongside me! We have always been really close in triathlon racing, but he always edges me out by a few seconds. I had no idea he was racing. This added another element to the race, as I have committed to not accepting a pro racing license until I can beat a 50 year old dude! He was running well, and since my husband works with both him and myself, I knew our race plan would be similar. I let him bound ahead a few strides but kept in him in sight.
The hills of McDowell road were upon us at mile 9-10: a steep uphill out and back with a pounding drumline at the top to synchronize your steps to. I was able to check how far back I was from the female lead, and confirmed I was in second place with third and fourth place just 10 seconds or so back from me. With Dave between me and first place female, I hit the uphill section with determination. My heart rate surged and my legs burned, but I had done the work to prepare for this. Mile 10 came with the sweet relief of a downhill, and it was go time.
I knew with 5k to go I would at least set a personal best time, so now it was time to race for finishing positions and pride. I recaught Dave at Mile 11 and we ran side by side for a half mile before he encouraged me to go, and go I did! I cruised past him and desperately pleaded with my legs to put a gap on the girls behind me, as first place had continued steadily up the road – too far to catch but still within sight. I heard footsteps behind me, and knew the race was developing behind me.
I could see the finish line, and felt cries of pain leap out of my throat. I knew everyone was hurting and pushed the thoughts of collapsing aside, knowing my dad would be at the finish to carry me if need be. To my utter dismay, 4th place had made an amazing comeback and surged from behind with a quarter mile to go. She was composed enough to encourage me to finish strong, and knew beyond the shadow of a doubt she had planned this move from the start. Incredibly done! I glanced at my watch, and even at a 5:50 pace, knew I could not defend second. I finished in 3rd overall amateur (5th with elites), 30-34 age group win by 10+ minutes, and a new best time of 1:17:55 (5:57/mile average)
I congratulated first and second on amazing race, and found my friends Dave and Erik before embracing my dad, mom and grandma. WHAT AN EXPERIENCE. I live for moments like this: moments of battle, fatigue, stress, pressure, success, heartbreak and joy all at once. Icing on the cake was receiving an email from Ironman/Rock N Roll Elite department that I can now enter as an elite moving forward, as I had in triathlon. I had also bested my time from 5 years ago by exactly 20 minutes.
It’s as simple as this: Do the work, and the results will come. I had no doubts Elliot had prepared me for this, and I had done the work to make all my reasonable but challenging goals come to fruition. I know I’ve been on a bit of a hot streak, and that hot streak may end eventually. I’m fully prepared for the day a race doesn’t go my way, too. I’m really in this sport for my own reasons, and the elite/pro shenanigans is just a nice affirmation to go along with the journey.
I’m so excited to race more this year! Thank you for your support and for following/reading about my journey.
Please let me know if you have any questions, or are considering getting more involved in endurance racing, elite or for fun!
Joy is where high performance goals turn into reality.
– Wendy Neely, Masters Coach
It’s hard to put this season and World Championship experience into words, truly. I began thinking about this race two and a half years ago, back in 2019, when I began placing overall at half ironman triathlons. The half ironman distance (often referred to as a 70.3) consists of 1.2 mile open water swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run and is my favorite distance to race. When Covid took the entire 2020 race season away from us, I knew I had to make this year count. I’m no spring chicken at 30, which some of you may chuckle at, but it’s the cold hard reality of racing at an elite level. As someone who, like many, got into the sport as an adult, you feel a certain subtle time clock ticking as every year passes. This marks my 4th season of triathlon (again, thanks Covid for robbing me of my final year in the 25-29 age group!) and I am thrilled at how it turned out.
2021 in Review:
North American Championship, St. George 70.3, May: 3rd Overall, 2nd Age Group
Lake Wilderness Olympic Triathlon: First Overall Female, 5th Overall Male/Female
Lake Whatcom Olympic Triathlon: DNF, went off course!
Oregon 70.3: 2nd Overall, 1st Age Group
Black Diamond 70.3: First Overall Female, 3rd Overall Male/Female
Bonney Lake Olympic Triathlon: First Overall Female, 3rd Overall Male/Female
Ironman 70.3 World Championships, St George, September: 8th Overall, 3rd American Amateur, 2nd Age Group
My goals for this year were to improve and have fun, first and foremost. I learned to swim when I got into triathlon at age 26, which is a major disadvantage as I race girls who grew up swimming. I spent a lot of 2020 swimming in the lake, since Covid shut down the pools for several months in Washington, and knew I would have my work cut out for me in the winter. I am blessed to work for a club swim team as the head performance coach, so when pools reopened my coworker, Adrienne, began swimming with me several times a week. This, in addition to Masters swim training, has really helped me improve both my technique, endurance, and confidence in the water! I also knew I needed to improve my bike and run to be competitive across the board. I found a new passion and joy in bike racing, which helped change up my training in a fun way!
Starting this season, I knew I had potential. Elliot, my husband, fellow triathlete, and coach, has always been extremely honest with me about where I stand in the sport. We both acknowledge that triathlon is a hobby – it will never be the way we pay our bills- so taking racing too seriously with lofty dreams of racing professionally would not only be delusional based on where I’m at, it would kill the fun of triathlon. Professional triathletes make very little off race winnings (you usually have to place top three as a pro to be “in the money”) so acquiring sponsors is the primary income source, something I’ve always felt very uncomfortable with. If I like a product, I’ll use it and tell people about it, but promoting it for financial gain…no thanks. There’s also an added pressure to perform at races while representing these brands, and I don’t think I’d like that. I also love what I do for a living (I work full time in personal training, performance coaching/marketing for a club swim team, and triathlon coaching) and don’t currently feel like I could give that up to focus on triathlon, which is what racing competitively at the pro level requires. Never say never, but after being asked repeatedly how I feel about pro racing, there is my honest thinking!
Elliot and I chose to race St. George 70.3 in May, which was North American Championships, as our season opener to preview the course for racing World Champs later that year. World Championship races are by qualification only, so we also hoped we would both secure a slot to return in September. The course was slightly different and slightly more challenging this past weekend for Worlds than it was in the spring, but I enjoyed it! While all the races I did this year were awesome and taught me something, this race in particular is noteworthy. I’m excited to share the experience with you!
Race week was filled with nervous energy, lots of traveling (we drove 16 hours to St. George), and a lot of good times with fellow athletes and friends. We stayed with Dave and Kimberly Tindall, good friends and athletes, Simon Shi, up and coming superstar, and Juan & Camila from Colombia at the world’s best Air BnB! Everyone in the house was racing, so we kept each other calm, joked about the race, and really had a fun time. I also received tons of encouraging notes from my athletes, coworkers, good friends, family, and coaches which was really meaningful!
The water temp was taken on race morning, and at 78* it was declare a non-wetsuit swim. For me, this is a disadvantage as I learned to swim later in life and a wetsuit definitely makes it easier for me to keep up in the water. My age group (30-34 years old) was also one of the last waves to be sent off, so we had a lot of traffic as we caught slower, older age groups the entire time. A crowded, non-wetsuit swim favors someone with a strong swim and/or a swim background, where it has always slowed me down in the past. I didn’t panic when Elliot informed me at 4:30 on race morning to pack my swim skin instead of my wetsuit though. I had been working on my swim a ton, and I was excited for a challenge! Plus, I do feel like a world championship should be a “real” swim, and boy was it ever! It was very physical, as open water swim races usually are especially in a world championship field. I got punched in the eye, kicked in the face, pushed into a buoy, and pushed to shore by swells brought on by strong winds. The first half, despite being filled with nerves and dodging people, went by fast. I remember smiling while breathing to my left side, as I could see the large crowds lined up on the shore watching us start. How cool was it to be here? My first world championship. I took it all in.
I got dropped by the first group I started with and the next group that came through, which is common. I always start near the front and hold on as long as I can. I struggle with congestion, and typically lose feet easily if I get jostled around. Something to work on for sure! I stayed calm and held my tempo effort, reminding myself today was going to be a long day and if I couldn’t hold a certain effort to let it go and race MY race. I hoped another strong-ish swimmer from a later wave would come through to help me! The swim is draft legal, which means you can sit behind another swimmer and save a significant amount of energy. Thankfully, a girl came by and I knew I couldn’t let her go. We swam the entire second half together, weaving through women from age groups released up to 4 waves in front of us.
Sand Hollow is an absolutely gorgeous place to swim, and I tried to acknowledge the scenery of each venue I race even if I’m dying a bit from the effort! The blue water against the surrounding red rocks is breathtaking. I smiled as the shoreline approached, glanced at my time and headed into transition towards my bike. I was hoping for a 33-35 minute swim, and finished in 34 minutes and change, a 7+ minute PR from my last and only non-wetsuit half ironman swim.
I headed out on the bike hot on the heels of a familiar girl in my age group, Carolyn. The bike is not draft legal in triathlon: athletes must keep a legal distance of 12 meters apart to avoid receiving a drafting penalty of up to 5 minutes. This athlete and I respectfully worked together right off the bat without impeding on the drafting rules.
The sky looked dark from the start of the bike, the wind was blowing hard and picking up, and an occasional flash of lightning struck. I hoped we were going to be allowed to finish! Right before the swim start, a gentleman mentioned a storm was expected to hit around 10:30. At mile 10 of the bike, 10:31 am, we got hit by 20-30 mph winds, pelting rain, and eventually hail. I was still riding with the gal in my age group, so I yelled at her as I went by to stay in this with me and not throw in the towel until race officials pulled us off the course. She nodded her head to show her support, and yelled “Let’s do this, girl!” I shifted into a big gear, leaned into the wind, and put the hammer down. Whenever I glanced back, Carolyn was still with me. This helped me hold the aggressive effort into the driving wind and rain.
The middle of the bike course was uneventful and somewhat boring. I eased my effort a bit to conserve some energy, but know in the future I have to keep the gas on to stay with the race leaders. Around mile 48, just before the final big climb, I was passed by a really strong female. She went on to win my age group and place 5th overall. I made the decision to let her go, and continue focusing on my pace and effort to set myself up for the run.
Tough weather usually favors me. It may be easy for some to throw in the towel when Mother Nature flexes her muscles, but I just grit my teeth and flex mine back. I knew I could gain an advantage if I took some risks and kept my effort up while others may play it safe, ease up, or even quit. We had really bad conditions for about 20-30 minutes, but they kept the race going and eventually it cleared up. The course is very highly, but fair. If you go up, you get to descend afterwards. This keeps it exciting, as you constantly have to adjust your gearing and effort. I absolutely love this course. It is as gorgeous as it is challenging, with a notable 4 mile climb up Snow Canyon at the end of the course and a total of 3,639 ft of elevation gain. This race favors a strong cyclist without a doubt, and while I never post the fastest bike split of the day, I usually move up significantly on the bike. I was 46th in my age group out of the water, and moved up to 3rd in my age group on the bike, posting a time of 2 hours and 39 minutes. While this was about 4 minutes slower than what I did in May, I knew the weather was a significant factor in the times today and wasn’t concerned at all.
My legs started to feel heavy about halfway through the bike, but I’m fairly used to feeling that way. If you’re really racing a 70.3, it shouldn’t feel good all the time. What if I don’t do well on the run? I thought to myself. “But what if you do.” I remember saying to myself out loud as I jumped off my bike and ran into transition to change out of my bike shoes and into my run gear. I was concerned about the run, as I knew it was very hilly and challenging with a total of 1500 feet of elevation gain, but reminded myself to fuel a bit extra and to trust my training.
I saw Elliot and our friend Sascha as soon as I left the transition area. “You’re in third!” Elliot yelled at me. Honestly, I was smiling and over the moon just to see him, as I had told Elliot all week that I would just be happy if I survived the swim and got through the bike without a mechanical. “I biked really hard!” I yelled at him as if to prepare him to see slow run splits come through on the Ironman Tracker app, which is allows you to see an athletes times as they cross timing mats out on the course. I enjoy running over these timing mats, as I know loved ones are watching the race from all over the county in long distance support of me. To all of you who were enjoying the battle play out from afar, THANK YOU. It lifts my spirits out there!
My stomach felt queasy, as the sun was out and the air felt both warm and humid. The amateur race had 3,459 total participants, and the age women started very late in the morning as a result of this. For example, Elliot started at 7:41 am and I started at 9:25 am. I adjusted my pre-race fueling as best as I could, but it was around 12:45 pm when I started the run. That’s lunchtime! However painful the race was, I knew at this point I would finishing the race no matter what. Nothing within my control could now bar me from crossing the finish line, so I just ignored my pace and moved my legs.
The run course in May was a simple out and back, but this time around it was a looped course that started with about 3 miles steady uphill and away from town into a sharp incline about a mile uphill before flattening out and turning into a steep downhill back through town. I remembered the hill from spring, but running it twice was a cruel new twist! The course was absolutely packed with people and aid stations were nearly impossible to use. Many people were walking, some were just laying down on the side of the road crying in pain, and several were shouting profanities. I blocked it out and focused on positive things. I smiled so much because HELLO world championships, and truthfully I was playing defense. I had a quiet goal of finishing top 5 in my age group, and with the knowledge I was in third all I had to do was prevent any women from passing me. Typically I move up on the run a few spots, so I trusted whatever my legs could give me was enough. I didn’t concern myself with the slower than expected splits.
The skies opened up for me around mile 4, and it was the one rare and shining moment that I felt truly amazing, confident and at ease in this race. I started feeling better and running well as I came back through town to huge crowds of people. Elliot updated me I had moved into 2nd place in my age group but wasn’t sure of where I stood overall due to the wave starts, so to just focus on running hard. At that time, I was filled with confidence but knew I had my work cut out for me heading away from the crowds and back up that terrible hill. It took everything in me to overcome the quad and calf cramps from the brutal terrain, but I closed my eyes occasionally and willed my muscles to continue working for me. This was the last race of the year, and I did not want to spend off season regretting anything. I believed I was capable of some incredible things, but those things don’t come easy.
“Be patient, be present, be gentle, be kind.” I kept thinking to myself. It was important to me that I encourage other women out there, so I tried to tell every woman good job as I went by with the exception of when I was running up the steep sections (I needed all the air I could get there!) While I was taking this race seriously, I had to allow small moments to give back to the universe a little by sharing moments with my competitors. The last 2 miles were pure pain, and I was passed by a very strong gal that went on to place 3rd overall. I tried to stay with her for as long as I could, and surged for a half mile or so, but eventually had let her go. You told your mother you would put yourself in the hospital to reach your potential, so stand by your word, I remember thinking. Another gal came by gunning for the finish, so I gathered myself knowing every second would eventually count, I sprinted with her. Spectators were cheering for us “Thatta way ladies!” “That’s why they call this a race!” When I saw the finish, I was overcome with emotion. Pain came as a searing reminder that I had pushed myself to the very limit, and I collapsed on the nearest stretch of grass and sobbed for a while as I came in and out of consciousness. Several people asked if they could help me, but I brushed it off as pure elation and eventually wobbled to my feet to find Elliot. I promptly threw up the remnants of fueling in my body, received medical attention from several kind volunteers and medical staff, and found my way to Elliot with the help of a good friend, Sascha!
He confirmed I finished 2nd in my age group, 3rd American amateur, and 8th amateur female overall. YESSSS!!!! Sadly, he also informed, my friendly rival Dave had beat me for the third time this year. Next year, Dave! We headed back to our AirBnB to enjoy pizza before attending age group awards, which was an amazing experience. Triathlon legend Dave Scott handed me my award, which was so cool, and standing on stage with the other men and women who placed top 5 in my age group in front of a cheering crowd was incredibly affirming. My dream really was coming true!
Finishing time: 4:52:19
In a nutshell, the season went exactly how I had hoped. I got my qualifying worlds sport early in the year while simultaneously qualifying for my pro license. I won all the local races I entered and placed overall with the men. I had a bad race that resulted in a DNF, which taught me a lot, and I bounced back. I achieved USAT All American status for the first time. I competed in my first World Championship event, placed in the top 10 overall in the world AND podiumed in my age group. All the things I knew I was capable of doing, I accomplished and I’m incredibly proud of that. I also got beat by over 20 minutes by another age group female AND by a 50 year old dude named Dave, so I’m as motivated to improve again as I am pleased with my year.
The women at the front of the age group race were at a completely different level than me, and I need a better gear in the swim, bike, and run to race with them in the future. I think it’s important to acknowledge your achievements while staying humble and continuously craving growth. You have to get beat in order to grow, and I got beat across the board. While I could pursue a pro racing experience, I know I would struggle with the pressure and anxiety, and I don’t want to hinder my performance or ruin the fun experience of racing triathlon. I also really love engaging in a race, and I’m very clearly not at the level where I could engage in a pro level field. I’m going to race as an amateur again next year and enjoy myself as much possible while reaching for the next level. I have no idea what I can really do yet but, with Elliot’s help, along with all my support system of training buddies, friends, family, etc, I hope to find out. I know I have a lot to learn and I look forward to the opportunity to not only continue succeeding, but also failing. It’s in the failures we learn the most and I know I, like everyone, will have tough times and good times ahead.
I’m passionate about triathlon because its unpredictable, challenging, scary, humbling, and incredibly rewarding. I hope you consider giving it a try if you haven’t already! If I can do it, you can too. If there’s anything I hope to communicate to you from this race and season summary, it would be to challenge yourself, live in the moment, and find something that lights your soul on fire. I’m so goddamn lucky I get to do this!
Let me start by saying what an incredible blessing the sport of triathlon has been to me. I have grown exponentially in the past 4+ years of training and racing, physically, mentally and emotionally. Working side by side through the highs and lows of competition with my husband has undoubtedly brought us closer together; this past weekend was no exception!
We knew going into the inaugural Salem 70.3 that it was going to be an interesting day. The swim is downriver and would essentially wipe out any potential gains a strong swimmer would typically make. Elliot and I started together, near the front, and stayed together for the most part. I didn’t really have to swim, just tried to stay calm. Several of us got swept to the opposing side of the river onto a sandbar at the start due to the current, but a simple jog over the rocks and bellyflop back into the raging river was my quick response. I think it threw some people off, but it didn’t bother me much. I knew we were all going to swim about the same speed regardless. The current was fast! I knew we were moving quickly by how rapid the buoys went by. My main focus was staying calm and smooth, staying near the buoys, and keeping track of where I was so the current wouldn’t sweep me past the swim exit buoy! It would be one tough swim upstream if that happened. Thankfully, all went to plan, and I set an unbeatable personal swim best time of 22:47. LOL. I saw Elliot in transition for the first time ever (he is always 2-10 minutes up on me depending on the swim distance!) which confirmed it was going to be a weird day.
The bike course was flat and fast into the rustic Oregon countryside. Lovely fields, vineyards, and barns dotted the countryside. I remembered my race theme: be patient, be present, be gentle, be kind. I took this mantra from Headspace – a guided meditation app I’ve been using. Despite pushing the upper end of my “sweet spot” or threshold effort, I tried to take focused breaths, enjoy the views, and exchange kind words to my fellow competitors on the course (unless they were drafting, in which case I was not as kind!) I always race the bike hard, and I felt it was especially important to race the bike like I plan to at 70.3 Worlds in a few months. I had worried about the flat bike course before the race (perhaps being small and powerful would be less advantageous without hills?) but after discussing the matter with a good friend and respected pro triathlete Paul Stevenson (you’re the man, Paul!) I decided to race hard but within myself in preparation for the more important race of the year: Worlds.
Both the bike and run course were straightforward out and backs, so I could count the girls in front of me at the turnaround. I saw Elliot not too far ahead, and at least 5 women to catch. I gritted my teeth and kept the gas pedal on. I held about 10 watts higher than planned the first half of the bike but committed to settling in a bit to prepare for the run. I know I have one of the strongest runs in the field, so after making significant ground in the first 28 miles, I felt like it was wise to get into a touch easier, uncomfortably comfortable rhythm in the back 28 miles. There were lonely stretches out there in No Man’s Land, but I didn’t mind. I felt prepared, present, and determined to go for the top step by putting together all three sports instead of having one stand out leg.
Off the bike in 2:28 with gas in the tank for the run. After a quick transition to the run, I was feeling excited to chase! In past races this year, I didn’t have as many women around me on the bike or in transition. I saw several girls in transition off the bike near me, and just up ahead on the run, but I expected that. A flat course with bull sh*t swim means everyone stays pretty close together, so I wasn’t fazed! I kept Miranda Carfrae’s advice in my head as I completed the first 5k: “Running off the bike always hurts at first, may as well hurt AND go fast.” I was out in 19:28 for my first 5k (disclaimer, it trended downhill!) with just 2 women left to pick off. By mile 5 I had taken the lead. I knew I was running the fastest – to my knowledge – in the women’s field. Ironman provides a volunteer on a mountain bike to the Lead Female during the run, so I had a volunteer on a bike supporting me the rest of the run, which was pretty cool. She radioed my position back to the finish line every time we went by a mile marker, so I trusted they would be watching the virtual lead in case it changed. Everyone was so supportive of me on the course! People had their phones out taking pictures as I came through, and the crowd was amazing when I headed back into town. My pre- race mantra came back to me often on those lonely 8 miles at the front: “Be patient, you have this. Be present, enjoy this experience- it may not ever happen again. Be gentle to yourself, but keep the legs moving. Be kind to others, they will remember how you responded to them.”
I saw Elliot just before the halfway point of the run and could tell he was fighting to stay strong. I was really proud he got to see me in the lead with the Lead Female bike tailing me. After the turnaround, I took note of my competition on the way back. Everyone was still running slower, and the gaps were big. A mile or so after the turnaround, I noticed one girl running well. She looked young, and was running fast, but seemed so far back I counted her out. (Mistake!). I was holding pace for a 1:22 half marathon through mile 8. I allowed myself a few seconds per mile with the lead I had built up, not knowing the girl I had written off was running an unheard of 1:20 pace. Elliot had told me before the race to break 1:25 on the run, and I will probably have the win. So, I held a pace good enough to break 1:25, and kept a little in the tank in case someone ran up on me. My official run split was 1:25:03 (petty sidenote: I started my watch at my bike in transition, so my half marathon split was 1:24:48, which means I did as I was told! 😉
No one ran up on me, physically. Virtually, however, that girl was. I’ll give her credit, she put together an insane run. I’ve never seen an amateur run a 1:25, let alone a 1:20. She deserves a lot of credit for the chase she gave! She has my respect. Would I have liked to run side by side with her and go to battle? Absolutely. By my calculations, we would have met at around mile 12.5 had we started together in the swim. I had enough in the tank to battle. I’ve run an official 1:21 half marathon before, deep in training, and I would like to think we could have been the next Iron War. We will never know.
The experience of finishing first (physically) was unforgettable despite the hard news I would hear after I finished. I got tears in my eyes as I saw the red carpet, finish line arch, and the winning tape rolled out in front of me to break. I took a final look over my shoulder, saw no one, and crossed the line first with the banner over my head, proud. I did it! I executed the course to the best of my knowledge and ability. Five years of hard work and dreaming finally coming true! Photos were being snapped, and Elliot came running up to congratulate me.
The girl chasing in second came in about a minute later and the announcers told us her virtual time was a few seconds faster. The rolling swim start presented the illusion she was farther down than she really was but, on paper, she did beat me. I felt stupid; what did I do wrong? I never settled in, but I allowed myself some time due to the cushion I thought I had with the knowledge of amateur run field splits and taking note of everyone at the halfway turnaround. I was sad, mad, and frustrated that I had just been told I got beat, without really being physically beaten, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Since the race has passed, I’m more at peace now. I’m a competitor, so it will always sting. It’s no one’s fault: the swim has to start that way due safety concerns for the large age group fields, she deserves to feel happy about winning, and in some way so do I. Anyone in my position would have done what I did and would feel the way I feel. I raced at the front, I took chances that I thought they paid off (and maybe they did….) I raced from the gun to the tape, like any athlete would. We all completed the whirlwind swim where the best swimmers swam the same as average swimmers (like me). I pushed the bike and set standard on the run. It isn’t my fault that someone got to start later and pip me at the line after I had finished. That isn’t a real race if you ask me.
No, I don’t count it as a win. I don’t count it as a loss. I count it as an experience that taught me what to expect as an amateur that wants to win, and if I don’t like that it’s not a live race then it’s time to consider cashing in on the pro license I earned back in May. No, I don’t think I’m ready for pro level racing. I don’t think I’d like it if I wasn’t in the mix. I know I’m a fast age grouper but a middle of the pack to back of the pack level pro. If an age grouper can beat me, even by seconds unknown at the time, I don’t think it’s the best option to go pro. So, we just have to put our heads down, go back to work, and continue building for what has been the objective for the past 2.5 years: Compete with an international, championship level field in St. George at 70.3 Worlds in September. I have one more training block to build all three disciplines, with the fire burning stronger than ever. It just may be the best thing that ever happened to me. Nothing hurts more than being a winner for 60 seconds just to be told you’re the first loser, and I don’t anticipate feeling that way again if there is ANYTHING I can do about it.
Elliot finished well, considering how hard he pushed himself in his build to Kona after qualifying a month ago at Ironman Coeur D’Alene. He wasn’t satisfied with it, but that’s why I love him. He honestly assesses a performance, his athlete’s and his own, and goes to work to improve any shortcomings. It was fun to experience a significant high that turned out to be a significant low with Elliot while he worked through what he would describe as a lackluster performance.
We do this sport for so many reasons: health, structure, fun, etc. Winning age groups, overall, or qualifying for a pro license or championship race are all just bonuses that come with this amazing lifestyle we get to live, both on the good days and the hard days. We still love each other a lot and are incredibly proud of the ability to fight through anything- a quality we both possess and are attracted to in one another. ❤ On to the next!
This trip was a doozy. The real process of crossing the finish line started two months earlier when a coworker of mine quit unexpectedly, resulting in me and my superior working overtime for the next several weeks. I work as the strength coach for a local club swim team, but recently obtained my USA Swimming Level 1 certification. This allows me to be on deck and coach as needed. To be clear, I have zero competitive swimming background besides triathlon and an occasional master’s meet, so I rely heavily on my coworkers to help me! In light of a coach quitting just before our biggest swim meet, and first meet in over a year due to COVID, I stepped up to help the team out. Coaching on deck for a four day swim meet out of state is not in my job description, but these hard-working athletes deserved every resource to be competitive at a big meet. It was the best decision I could have made. I learned so much about swimming in the lead up to their meet and my race!
Another reason to travel with the team to their meet was that it happened to be one week before my race in the same location: St. George, Utah. In my mind, it couldn’t be a coincidence and it was unlikely the opportunity to travel with the team AND race myself would come again. The meet was as stressful and time consuming as it was exciting and educational. I have never coached a swim meet before, and this was a big one. All the athletes who traveled to this meet had to qualify, so it was a competitive group of 28 athletes. I assisted our head coach as best as I could, but with my little swim knowledge my main task was keeping the kids warmed up, injury free, and focused. I had no idea swim coaches spend 10+ hours on deck every day, so getting my training in was hard but not impossible. It gave me perspective for my athletes that work overtime or 10-hour days!
By committing to coach the Sectional meet, I was also committing to training while on the road and all through the meet. I prefer a short taper, so I kept my foot on the gas throughout the travelling and swim competition. The drive was 16 hours, about 1,200 miles each way, so we split it into two days and booked hotels with training options. We had the bikes, trainers, recovery boots, and all the gear needed to fit training and some form of recovery around our busy schedule. Elliot was also working during this time, so we had two laptops and a printer along with all of our training supplies. It looked like a triathlon bomb went off in our hotel! It probably wasn’t optimal to our race timing, but it worked out as best as it could have. Communicating with my head coach regarding the schedule allowed me to plan swim, bike, and run sessions. We only ate out once in the span of two weeks thanks to Costco and our trusty cooler, so we felt healthy going into our taper week. Elliot was very supportive and helpful in adapting sessions to fit the busy meet schedule.
We ended up winning the Sectional swim meet, which was VERY exciting! I really loved being a part of the energy of each event, especially the relays! I grew a lot as a person and as a coach during the experience. I’m always thankful for the opportunity to grow and learn! The following weekend, two athletes went on to qualify for the Olympic Trials, which was even more rewarding to learn. The momentum from the Sectionals win carried me into taper week with a confident attitude.
Elliot and I were both nervous heading into taper week. We hadn’t raced in a year and a half, like most people, but after receiving both vaccines we were ready to punch out. We were able to train on the race course the week prior, which was helpful and the main bonus in heading to the race venue two weeks early. Personally, I hate the nervous energy athletes bring to town in the days before the race, so I avoid any popular spots or training grounds.
The only bit I struggled with was the water. It was cold, 56 degrees, and really windy the day we tested the water. I had a full meltdown, tears, anxiety, taper tantrum galore. After two attempts, I gave up, left Elliot in the water, and called my dad. He gave me exactly the pep talk I needed. I was able to get past the cold and fight the waves to find a rhythm, but it was certainly no confidence booster. The combination of race week nerves and minimal open water training this year was a mental challenge more than a physical one. Moving forward, I will do more open water swimming before a big race, even if its cold! Following my breakdown, Elliot made the decision to forego any other training sessions and took me up to Zion. It was exactly the break from sports that I needed to recharge, connect with nature and myself. Thankful for those memories! Luckily, the next day, we met up to swim with an old friend from Arizona and races with the male pro field, Paul Stevenson. His sweet girlfriend, Lauren, also has a swim background so between the two of them I felt a lot more at ease about the swim coming up. Thanks guys!
Before we knew it, race day came. The water had warmed up slightly, but sadly the age group athletes don’t get any water access prior to the race start. Elliot turned to me and whispered some last minute words of wisdom to me, and in we went at 7 am. Sadly, I swim a pace that most competitive age groupers swim (32 ish minutes) so it was crowded, physical, and still cold. I focused on energy management more than anything. The goal was to finish without conceding too much time or energy overall and, after the little freak out I had a few days before, not giving in to anxiety. My chest felt tight from the nerves, and probably a little from the cold, but I was able to get into a decent flow. I knew by the way I felt in the water it wasn’t going to be my fastest swim, but that I was going to finish it. Came out with a 32 high, not bad, certainly not great. Training motivation!
The bike was flipping fantastic. My bike computer popped off at mile 10, so I was racing by feel. Boy, what a freedom. I may have to do that more often. It’s a hilly course, but plenty of down after you go up so I would say it’s an honest but fair course if you are well rounded. The highlight was getting caught by a female around my 40. I rarely get passed on the bike or run, so I was ready to battle it out and pace with her. After yelling at her to get off my wheel (fuck anyone who shows any hint of drafting, seriously) we rode through the town of St. George and up Snow Canyon together. We each took pulls in front of the other, which was exhilarating. To me, this was the first time the race felt like a race with another girl. We were dropping guys who had full disc wheels, so I knew we were doing ok. Again, no bike computer to provide feedback, but judging by the guys we were passing and the steady flow of “Wow, Girl Power!” cheers we got, I figured we were up front. As I was taking my shoes out for T2, I saw Elliot on the run in a pack of strong runners. “GO ELLIOT!” I screamed, knowing his strength is in his run.
I came into transition 6 bike lengths behind my female competitor, and after barking at a few guys to move it or lose it, found my rack and made the awful decision to continue on without socks. I stomped my shoes on and got a few cramps in the quads to remind me I’m human, and took off to see who I could conquer on the run. Sadly, my competitor got out of T2 before me and went on to run just ahead of me and I didn’t see her till the finish line. The run was what I expected. I was able to run the course 6 days prior to the race, so no surprises. I will say my race fitness isn’t there, so I have signed up for more races in the next few months to get that back. I moved forward and had a decent run, saw the men and women’s world class pro field’s battle it out, and was thankful to finish. I could have done better, but any honest athlete will say that. My favorite part of the run was seeing our fellow Airbnb mate screaming “GO BECCA! TEQUILA!!” while holding a neon sign that read (you guessed it) TEQUILA!
I was helped to the med tent to inspect my extremely bloody foot. During the race, I didn’t feel anything (thanks, adrenaline!) but I did see the blood on my instep around mile 5. The medical staff thought I had stepped on a nail! Turns out it was just several blisters on both feet that bled through my shoes. 4 days later and I’m still treating them, but it’s a good lesson learned.
I biked well (2:35:02) and ran ok (1:32:50). I would have liked to be closer to 2:30 on the bike and under 90 minutes on the run, but chalk it up to race fitness/experience. 5% better on the swim, bike and run would have changed my position, but getting beat is good for a person. I’m humbled, thankful, and ready to begin working towards my upcoming events. I accepted my slot to 70.3 World Championships in September. I also qualified for a pro racing license for the first time, but am not even considering racing as an elite until I feel mentally and physically ready for the jump. One thing I learned from a year sans racing: my purpose is not in my results, but rather in the experience and relationships I build in the process. Every workout, or race, is an opportunity to grow. The scarier or more nerve racking the session, or race, the more I’m going to grow from it. I am a better person because of this sport.
My husband, Elliot, has coached me for the past 3 years and has done an absolutely remarkable job. I know I will continue to grow, learn, and teach, which makes me happy and gives me purpose. I can’t wait to see how he grows as a mentor, athlete, and coach, too. I enjoyed meeting some amazing friends via our Airbnb, and truthfully that was the highlight for me! We met some awesome folks from Canada, Phoenix, Peru, and Mexico City. I learned how to make homemade corn tortillas, saw the world’s biggest Rubik’s cube (Simon!), and got to experience the beauty of Zion. Our dear friend and athlete, Sascha, made the trip from Phoenix to Sherpa and cheer (and seriously spoil us with post-race goodie bags!!) which was a big highlight as well.
I’m excited to be home and back to work, with my soul renewed and my feet raw.