Ironman St. George was not my first choice of race. I had signed up for Ironman Santa Rosa 2020, shortly after signing up for Santa Rosa 70.3. Both of those registrations came on the heels of an extremely frustrating and disappointing crash during a local olympic triathlon, in which I failed my flying dismount and partially tore my right PCL. That injury was a month before what I had planned as my first 70.3 in Arizona – so, it was the race that never happened. One of my longshot goals after a year of triathlon was to do an Ironman before I turned 30 – of course never speaking of the bigger goal, qualifying for the World Championships because the 25-29 age group was less competitive than 30-34.
Heading into March of 2020, I had rebuilt my swimming, biking, and running. I was confident that the 70.3 in May would go well enough and building volume for the Ironman was productive. There’s no need to dwell deeply on 2020, because as far as triathlon goes, it, well, didn’t. But despite the pandemic, I had a fruitful and fulfilling year personally and athletically. The deferrals from 2020 provided me with the opportunity to race St. George 70.3 in 2021, and I originally deferred the Ironman to Coeur d’Alene. I deferred that again, as I was moving to Boulder just days after the May 70.3 and 6 weeks before the July Ironman – and that’s how I ended up registered for Ironman St. George, the whopper of a race with a reputation for difficulty only slightly larger than the amount of climbing on the bike.
I booked my AirBnB only days before it became the 2021 World Championship and had great accommodations. Even though the drive is only 10 hours, I decided to split it into two days for both trips to try to maintain sanity as well as keep my legs from feeling the drive. On my way to St. George, I woke up in Fruita, CO, THREE hours before my alarm. So I set off driving and arrived in time to do a short – seriously, 600 yard short – swim in Sand Hollow, play around in the expo, and get registered.
As I walked through the registration tent, I was on the verge of tears the entire time. The volunteers in St. George seemed so genuinely happy to see us. I received a World Championship Coin as soon as my name was entered – I hadn’t considered that would be something we’d see, because this was just my race not a World Championship that I had qualified for! I got all of the swag, which I learned later volunteers had spent HOURS putting together (from one of the volunteers that did it)! The registration process was so quick that I intentionally dawdled so I could spend more time soaking it in. It wasn’t busy, so I don’t feel all too bad about that.
I then had a few days before race day, so I rode the run course a few times, all the while thinking – gosh, I wish I’d have wheels on this run! – and got in another practice swim at Sand Hollow and Dixie State. The official practice swim was oddly really stressful, maybe because the anxiety of everyone around me was high, and maybe because it involved waiting in line, putting on a timing chip, dropping a bag, and so on. But in that swim, I felt SO strong and smooth! I got out of the water and told my mom that I felt a little guilty, because I take the swim and the fact that it’s just a given for me for granted. I slid past dozens of people in the water that day, and after coaching adult swimmers daily for a year now, I know how hard these folks have worked to get the speed they have. And for me, it was barely a warm up pace. Then at Dixie State, after bike/T1 drop off, I was the only swimmer in the entire 50m pool. I felt guilty that the lifeguards had to come out to their stands, but I got in essentially a pre-meet warm up:
100 free/stroke by 25
3×100 swim @ 1:30 (hold 1:21, race pace)
4×50 swim @ :50 (hold :38, one step faster than race pace)
I wish I could have swam longer, because that facility was beautiful!
We tried to be a little social but also fairly reserved during the days leading in to the race – we went to the Triathlon Mockery BBQ (absolute hilarity), ate at George’s Corner, tried to go to the Blue70 Coffee Boat (but it wasn’t there), went to Farmstead, and spent way too much money at the Expo and the unofficial vendor zone up the street, visited the Veyo Pies Shop – but ate most meals at home, chilled and hung out. We went to the athlete briefing, but not the banquet, and I am so glad I did. It answered my big questions: Can we swim on either side of the sighting buoys? How does the exchange between lap 1 and lap 2 of the bike work? What’s the order at aid stations again? And then we went to the AirBnB and went to bed.
The night before the race, I put together all of my nutrition and race morning bag. Taper brain and the lack of focus is a really frustrating thing – it felt like I’d start one activity, change gears in the middle, forget the original activity, and then start a third one. Miraculously, things got done. I showered and shaved and felt strangely calm. I think my mom was more nervous than I was. I fell asleep fairly quickly and woke up to my alarm. I forced myself to eat breakfast – the issue was more just a disinterest in eating (being 3am) rather than the nerves I used to feel that used to slow the breakfast train. We left the condo with everything, on time, and parked downtown. I dropped my bike special needs bag and walked right on to a shuttle. My mom apparently was allowed on one shortly after.
At T1, I still felt super calm and collected. I steadily worked my way through my checklist: pump my tires (erm, step 1, find a pump that had a gauge and worked, then pump my tires), fill my BTA bottle with nutrition, place my concentrated bottles in my BTS cages, keep sipping on morning drink, double check CO2 cartridges, turn on bike computer, connect power, put shoes on the bike, and…wait. I got to see my mom from across the fence several times, and with women 30-34 starting late in the morning, I had a ton of time to hang out. I listened to music for some of it, and some of it was just enjoying the atmosphere. I finally decided it was time to gather with my age group, so I walked over and slowly started putting my wetsuit on. A woman near me stood out – not just because she was so tall, but because she actually smiled back – and we got to talk a bit. Turns out, this was her first triathlon. I was absolutely amazed and excited for her. That little chat helped bring my focus to the race, as I thought about my own first triathlon – a little more lowkey than an Ironman, especially World Championships. There were so many waves that it didn’t really feel real until we were the next one staged to go down the shoot. Then I felt like a kid who knows they’re at the front of a line for a rollercoaster. I was excited, and nervous, and walking way too fast, but 100% in the game.
The start was a little awkward, no countdown or anything, but the new normal of a rolling start beep beep BEEEEEP got us going as a wave of 10 (followed by the next wave of 10 and so on).
I ran down the boat ramp ready for the shock of the cold water and it never came. I only got about 8 strides in before it was deep enough to dive, which was even a bit late – it came so fast that it caught me off guard!
But I was off, swimming strong and feeling cool. Not 20 strokes in I had to tell myself to calm down – it was a long day. But I breathe to my left normally, and saw no orange caps, so I took a quick couple of breaths to my right – no orange caps. Cool. On my own! In speaking with one of the experienced pros (and fellow masters coach) at work, she suggested taking the inside line rather than the usual outside line I use to avoid people. You can swim on either side of the sighting buoys, but most people get nervous and swim on the outside. By taking the inside line, I was never completely alone but really had some great real estate to just find my rhythm and swim. It was incredible – I could feel myself glide past the slower folks from previous waves. Despite the constant traffic, the people I was catching were moving at a predictable pace which meant that when it was time to approach the first turn buoy, I could accelerate, pass them, and not hit them (or the real fear, have them hit me).
I honestly had just about as perfect of a swim as I could have asked for. I had a couple of hiccups, where in the first 500 yards or so I smacked the front of a kayak with my hand – I had the whole lake, and I had to swim where that kayak was? – and then at what I realized later was halfway, the sighting buoys turned from yellow to orange. I had assumed (incorrectly) that the sighting buoys would be yellow until after our second turn. I did a couple of backstroke strokes, saw that everyone was still moving in the same direction, cleared my goggles, and just kept going. My GPS recorded 4231 yards – only 7 yards longer than the 2.4 mile distance of 4224 yards. And honestly, I’d believe that. I sighted well, turned tight, and didn’t follow any extraneous markers.
Before the race, based on my times in practice, I was pretty sure an hour swim was reasonable for me. This depended on a lot, including how well I sighted and stayed in control, as well as how focused I stayed. My mind has a tendency to wander in longer swims, so I knew I needed to stay in it to nail my pacing. And I did! I swam a 58:58 and I will always be so proud of those 2 seconds to get me under 59:00. That ends up being 1:24/100 yd average, with my heart rate staying between high zone 2 and low zone 3 the entire time. My heart rate was actually lower at the end of the swim than at the start.
I knew there was another orange cap that had caught me at some point, and I wasn’t sure where she was as I approached the exit. I had to remind myself a few times that it really didn’t matter – I was here to do my best, independent of the rest of the athletes on course. There was a big pack of swimmers exiting the water when I was, so I weaved my way up the boat ramp, stepped to the side and pulled my wetsuit down, and started the run to the changing tent. I felt like I was floating – my feet didn’t register the steps on the ground not because they were numb, but I just felt so good. I was one of a handful of women in the T1 tent, so volunteers took my bag from me and I started my run to my bike.
Five steps later, I hit the deck – I was running in socks, on wet, plastic carpet; the men’s changing tent was closer to T1 than ours, so we had re-enter their traffic, and one of the men ran right in front of me. I had to dodge him, and my foot slipped. I went straight down on my knee, heard a ton of volunteers gasp, jumped back up and got to my bike. I still felt like I was floating!
I ran past the mount line, because again, a bunch of dudes were crowding my way. I heard a spectator yell something about “smart, run past them!” which was nice, but definitely something I had planned for. I jumped on my bike and started pedaling, got my first foot in my shoe followed closely by the second, and my brain clicked into bike mode. As in, it registered that I had 112 miles in front of me.
As part of my pre-race mental plan, I broke the bike course down into 3 parts:
First, the ride to the Veyo Loop. I knew most of this ride from the 70.3 in May. It was about 56 miles, and had half of the climbing in the course. It was half of the distance, and ended up almost exactly half of my bike split. I nailed my Normalized Power goal (161 watts, or 0.71 IF). I was very nervous during this part though, because the course was so crowded. I have never been in a race, or at least in a position in a race, with that many people around me all the time. I am a big believer in following the rules – I am super cognizant of drafting, penalties, and position violations. And I and everyone around me were just stuck. If I was passing someone, I was on the left. Or I was telling the guy sitting in the left to move right so I could pass. If I pass someone and I had space to slot in (read: legal space, there were lots of passes I made where I just had to keep going), I would, and I’d keep a legal space and watch myself continuously fall back as other people slotted in in front of me.
I almost made a really bad error, as I juggled my super-concentrated refill bottle right before the first aid station. I’m fairly sure I let out an audible “Oh Jesus f*cking Christ that would have been bad,” so I would like to apologize to anyone I offended with that one. That would have been more than half of my nutrition rolling down the hill. But, I held on to it, refilled my BTA bottle and was able to put it back behind my saddle, safe and sound.
There were several guys I leapfrogged with, where I’d pass them on the climbs (maxing out my power at 180w!) and then they’d zoom by me on the downhills. And I’m not a bad descender! I would be in my aerobars, tucked super low, and they just weighed so much more than me that I’d watch another set of wheels I’d have to pass yet again. The folks in this part of the course were not very friendly, frankly. I compliment cool kits or bikes I see, because they’re neat and we’re amateurs doing this for FUN. No responses. Lame.
Second, the Veyo Loop. I drove this road with my mom and it completely freaked her out. I, on the other hand, was psyched. This loop and climb had been hyped up so much, it felt like Everest looming on the elevation chart. But driving it made me realize there was a lot of flat or really low percent grades. Totally manageable and some of the climbs were even going to be in the aerobars. The “Wall” at the end of the climb did intimidate me a little. I almost (ALMOST) wish I had gotten out to ride it, just to see how bad it would be.
Turns out, the loop was pretty amazing. My normalized power for these 2 hours was 155 watts, still within my goal range. As we entered the Native American lands, we were welcomed with a giant billboard and a VERY welcome aid station. I doused myself in water, had everything refilled and ready for the climbs, and was ready to start grinding away. Throughout the climb, I leapfrogged (again) with a man with a British accent – didn’t catch his name, but did catch his question about half way through the climb: “How many more of these damn hills are there? I can’t get in a rhythm!” Whomp whomp whomp, sir, because we had several big ones to go. I did see him again at the last big climb before the Wall, and I told him the Wall was the last one. Of course I realized later that it technically wasn’t, just the last one for a while… oops. The Wall itself was less than a mile long, but with a southwest exposure and more than 7% grade, I can see how it would be a nightmare. But I started up it, kept my power still below FTP (90% sweet spot intervals kick my butt in training but were perfect for this), passed a ton of people who looked like they were working way harder than me, and crested the top feeling amazing. The climb from Veyo (yes, it keeps going up) to the dormant volcano just above Snow Canyon was fairly nondescript, but I felt like I managed that section really well. I felt fast and in control and excited to descend. A girl in a hot pink kit and I leapfrogged a bit on the descent (this time I was the heavy one!) but she was laughing about it too.
Descending the first lap was a little scary, but not awful. I got pushed by the wind a few times but nothing I was unfamiliar with or couldn’t handle. The only moment I felt real fear was at the aid station (which is during the descent but on an incline); I carried too much speed going in to it, was braking but ready to grab a bottle, and someone jerked their bike right in front of me. I wobbled – again, because I was going too fast – with only my left hand on the bars, right hand holding the bottle, but stayed upright. Not sure how, because I definitely saw my race flash before my eyes.
I hit the bottom of the descent, stayed left for loop 2, and headed down Snow Canyon Parkway again.
Third, the Snow Canyon Loop. This portion was only 18 miles, took just over an hour, and 10 miles were downhill. Easy, right? I pre-rode Snow Canyon on Thursday before the race just to remind myself what it felt like. In the 70.3, I didn’t realize that it started really gentle and got steeper as you got closer to the top – but I knew that now, and had a plan. I knew which turns were which, where the end was, and when I could be in the aerobars. My Normalized Power was 158 watts – again, right on target, though I did spend 2 minutes at a time above my FTP.
Snow Canyon is really a beautiful place. I loved every second in there, but it was painfully obvious that the folks around me were hurting. They said as much!
Now, the descent from Snow Canyon was the only time I had any extended fear. The wind had picked up significantly during my 40 minutes climbing, and every time the topography changed next to the road, I’d get pushed across the road. I tried staying aero and felt like I was out of control; I tried the bullhorns but I felt like a sail. I knew we were getting close to the bottom and I was so relieved to be there! I saw the signs for the loops – loop 2 stay left, finish stay right. I watched an athlete zoom by me like I was standing still in a pink kit, and I was confused for a moment – I thought it was the girl I had shared the laughs with from loop 1. Fortunately it wasn’t, because I then watched this athlete head toward the loop 2 turn only to slowly make his way back into the finish side. Not a minute later, this athlete, in his aerobars, either got twisted by the wind or a hit a cone and I watched him, his bike, and his water bottles go flying through the air. We were less than 2 miles from T2, and this was absolutely soul crushing. There was no way I could stop in time to help him, my first priority was to avoid his rolling bottles. I saw a police officer running and on his radio so I was relieved help was already going to be on the way. I mostly sat up and soft pedaled into T2 after that!
My bike split was 6:20, with a normalized power of 158 watts (0.70 IF), and within minutes of Best Bike Split’s prediction. I felt like I followed my nutrition plan about 90%, but in retrospect it was probably more like 80%. I had intended to take some gels on the descents, but the wind made me too nervous to open packages. I had 8 hours of liquid nutrition on the bike, and consumed 80% of it, but I think I should have consumed a bit more.
At T2, I was too shaken up to try to take my feet out of my shoes. I knew the run to the change tent was extremely short, so I dismounted and passed my bike off to a bike catcher – holy cow, those volunteers are absolutely awesome. As I approached, she yelled to me to head towards her – the right side of the dismount line was crowded and she was on the left – so it was like she read my mind. She even stopped my computer and turned it off for me! I ran into the change tent and was amazed – I still felt like I was floating. The feelings of elation, and confidence, and power that started with the swim were still there and hadn’t ever left. I sat in a chair at T2 – first time ever sitting in transition – and the volunteers pulled my bike shoes off, I replaced socks, tightened my shoes, and they took off my helmet and swapped it for a hat and glasses, all while listening to me tell them about the crash that just happened! I ran out of the tent and my mom was right after the sunblock station. By the way, if I could hire people to slather me with sunblock like that every day, I would never get a wrinkle again!
As I ran past my mom, she yelled out that I was doing great and that I was “almost there!” I yelled back, “well, not not really!” Which garnered a laugh from a couple of spectators, and off I went to start my very first marathon.
In a similar fashion to the bike course, I broke the run course down into bite size chunks. For me, bite size was 10km at a time, and on this course, that meant 5km up a hill, and 5km down a hill. I left T2 feeling great, and immediately told myself to calm the f*ck down. It is LITERALLY a marathon, not a sprint. I had planned for 5 minutes running, 1 min walking, for every uphill leg. And it worked really well on run leg 1! I was a little emotional as I passed the area where that man had crashed, as the ambulance was there still, but I just kept chugging along, taking water and ice and gels at every aid station (gels were every other). I crested the hill, and started the descent, and WOW that was a steep and spicy hill! I was running sub-7 minute pace, which was way way way too fast, and beat my quads up quite a bit. But I calmed down (again), and settled into my downhill rhythm of run 10 minutes (or to the aid station), walk the aid station.
I hit the turn around, saw a friend from Colorado, made new friends with a guy from…somewhere, maybe South Africa (?) but just kept on going. I swapped over to my uphill rhythm, and walked the steepest part before the top of the hill, and then started running back down. The first half marathon was amazing – the confidence and power was all perfectly there. Then, I hit mile 13, special needs, and the turnaround. My body just could not start running again. Every time I tried, I felt nauseous – like, about to puke, not just uncomfortable. I decided I would walk until mile 14. I was able to start running again, at more of a 3 minute or 4 minute duration and then a walk instead of my planned 5/1. Unfortunately that didn’t last too long, as then I was following the 5/1 method downhill too. Just before the end of the third 10km, at almost the farthest end of the course, I did finally throw up a TON of liquid. I was disappointed, but at least I felt like I could run again! Spoiler alert: I couldn’t, really, but I did run until the next aid station. The last 10km loomed in front of me, and I just wanted to be finished before dark. I kept trying to run – any time it was flat, or downhill, I would try, but my quads and calves stopped responding and my body was throwing in the towel. Finally, at the aid station before the last big climb, I was offered some broth. I walked with a cup of water and a cup of broth, both making me gag, until the next aid station – but that meant I made it past the hill!
The last 5km downhill felt like they took forever. I know for friends and family tracking me that it felt like forever too – the tracker was very optimistic and had me finishing much earlier than I ultimately did. But I knew it was all downhill, and I knew I just had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Folks passed me speed walking, or came up and would walk with me, and would ask if I had another loop to go, that they’d run with me! And I got to smile and say, no – I just have to make it down the hill. I passed special needs and they tried again to look for my bag which didn’t exist. The volunteers cheered for me and asked if it was the first or second lap, and when they heard it was the second they were clearly relieved for me!
I met a woman during this last out and back who did have a whole lap to go. She had done several Ironman races and said this was the hardest, plus she had been fighting pneumonia just a month or so earlier. She kept me going, and she psyched me up enough to start jogging right before the turn to the finish.
I felt a little bit like a fraud ‘running’ across the line, since when people ask, I tell them I basically walked the second half of the marathon. But looking at the photos, I clearly was not running – those were agonizing steps. But I did it, I finished, and just after the sun set on a day that was 901 days in the making. Ultimately I ‘ran’ 6:08, which was better than my bike split by 12 minutes so at least I didn’t out-split my run!
The finish line is over so quick. You hit the red carpet, and expect to feel so many things – pride, accomplishment, relief, you name it. But I ran down the street, and then up and over the little stage that is the finish line and boom – it’s over. I think I was in shock, my body finally able to stop moving (13:35 is a LONG TIME to be in motion), and I will forever be grateful to my finish line catcher Rachel. She held me upright, taking little steps with me as I wobbled my way through the finishers chute, talking to me and telling me wonderful things, and I just wanted to cry and thank her and her community for being there for all of us selfish triathletes who shut down their roads for 2 days and clogged up the traffic and demanded the community’s time. And no tears could come out because I was so dehydrated. But she was kind, and patient with me, and made sure I got a finisher’s photo and food. I found my mom after I had regrouped enough to stand and walk, and got my white wristband – something we were supposed to give to volunteers who stood out to us – and walked back in to the finish line to give Rachel my wristband. I wish that I had thousands of these wristbands, because I would give one to every single volunteer, but I am hopeful that Rachel can stand for all of the volunteers by ‘catching’ us and being our last memory of the day.
I am so grateful to everyone that made this day possible. Triathlon is a selfish sport, made more visible at an Ironman distance. I spent entire Saturdays training – swimming, biking, then running. I went on long rides to the detriment of friends and work. I also made amazing connections within my community, both in California and Colorado.
To my friends: I am so sorry for being lame, I promise I can train and have fun doing shorter distances. Molly, Lizz, Jen, Lou, and everyone else, your cheers and support and coaching helped me believe in myself even during the darkest moments. Laura, seeing you so many times on course was amazing, and Mark and Jillian, you guys lifted me up during a really hard time that day.
To my colleagues: Thanks for your patience with me with Ironman-brain fog, and those at RallySport who gave me hard workouts in the pool in exchange for smiles and laughs, you guys rock. And absolutely thanks to Erin with ECFit, owner at RallySport, who talked me off a ledge and helped me see that I was burying myself unnecessarily in training. I raced better because of all of you.
To the support team: I’m not a professional athlete, but you all made me feel like one. In California, the SportsBasement Walnut Creek bike shop team, I miss you guys. In Colorado, the Dave and the Boulder Bicycle Works team, thank you for saving me from myself with all of the bike support; Brian at Boulder Therapeutics for the body work; Jim at Heafner Health Physical Therapy for the support and the “it really doesn’t seem like a big deals” to keep me sane; Lara at Yellow Brick Physical Therapy for the emotional therapy during a really difficult part of my life.
And of course, to my mom. She’s been there since the very first triathlon, hanging out at transition because it is her favorite spot. Mom, I’m sorry there were 2 transitions at this race. I’ll try to find more one-transition races, they’re definitely easier to watch. They’re also easier to watch when they don’t take more than half of the day. Not that she’s not used to it, because swim meets used to last almost as long.
I’m not sure who is interested in all of this information, but I’m including it nonetheless. No sponsors, this equipment is all my choice, and much of it was free, deeply discounted, or used.
Time: 58:58, 2nd AG (18th woman!)
Distance: 4,231 yards
Pace: 1:24/100 yards
Equipment: Race cap + latex cap; Speedo Vanquisher goggles; BlueSeventy Reaction wetsuit
Time: 6:20:40, 15th AG (96th woman)
Distance: 111.52 miles
NP: 158 watts
Equipment: Giro Aerohead helmet; Cervelo P2 with Shimano 105 ca. 2016; Stages left side powermeter; Speedplay pedals; Wahoo Element Bolt computer; XLab BTA and BTS bottle cages; Custom Bike Xcessories frame box; Flo 60/90 wheels; Continental GP 5000 tires
Time: 6:08:26, 45th AG (374th woman)
Distance: 26.42 miles
Equipment: Topo Cyclone shoes; Roka Phantom sunglasses (nosepieces superglued on frame); cheap hat from large online retailer
Time: 13:34:58, 32nd AG (202nd woman)
Equipment: Roka race kit; Roka sports bra; Garmin Forerunner 945 watch; Wahoo TickrX heart rate monitor