I’ve sat on this for almost a year, so I guess it’s time to share.
I know why I didn’t share this, and it comes down to being disappointed. But what kind of athlete would I be if I couldn’t process these feelings, let alone what kind of coach? So as we head in to championship season, I wanted to share this to acknowledge the feelings as well as share the lessons learned.Read more: Ironman 70.3 World Championships – St. George 2022
The 2022 St. George Ironman 70.3 World Championships marked the third time I’d raced in St. George in 18 months. In reflection, I had a hard time staying motivated for this race. My goal pushing me after the St. George Ironman had been to qualify for 70.3 Worlds. Once that happened, what was next? I wanted to do “well” – but that’s not quantifiable. I wanted to run the whole course and not feel defeated by the St. George hills. That’s a process goal, but not necessarily an inspiring one. Looking back, a better version would have been to make the hills a strength instead of something to fear – but that’s the benefit of hindsight and a lot of time to think.
The women raced on Friday, October 28. Being a desert, I was prepared for some heat and cool mornings, but the week before the race it cooled from mid-70s to mid-60s (F). I knew with the desert climate that meant the high temperatures wouldn’t roll around until noon!
Pre-race, I hung out in St. George solo for a few days, enjoying the town and people around. I got to swim in one of my favorite pools at Utah Tech a few times, hit my favorite cafés, and see the pros as they did their final preparations. My mom arrived the day before the race.
The night before the race, I did one final shake-out swim with some pace 50s, and I was nailing 33s/34s (this is short course yards) – for the record, I wasn’t able to do that in peak college swimming shape! I love these because they’re a good indicator (to me) of my taper. I approach them a little differently from how you’d approach training pace 50s where you’re nailing your pace at all costs. Instead, I cruise at what race pace should feel like and let the times be what they may – and when they’re fast, it means I’ve got the potential to nail it.
Race morning was cold. I wore a giant parka, a hat, and gloves, as well as socks and shoes all morning. I stuffed a space blanket (those silver emergency blankets) under my kit, around the front of my torso. I had remembered seeing professionals post about trash bags, but Dede Griesbauer actually confirmed how to do it. With the cold air temperature coming out of relatively warm (62F) water, there had been lots of talk about how the women’s race would manage the cold. I saw lots of vests, jackets, arm warmers, everything imaginable – but I’ve raced in this type of weather before and felt like I’d warm up soon enough with my space blanket. My proudest pre-race planning moment was a pair of socks with holes in them and free gloves. I wore these all the way up to the last chance trash cans at the start line, toes and fingers staying warm and responsive instead of turning to blocks on the cold asphalt.
It’s been a while since I’ve shared my race day T1 routine. I always deflate my tires a little when leaving my bike overnight. As in, I open the valves, press it for 2 seconds, and close the valves. When I arrived at T1, my front tire felt the same as it had the day before… but my rear tire was flat. Super flat. So I pumped them both up – as per normal – and went along with the rest of my set up. I needed to see if the rear tire had a leak in the tube or if I had just let more air out than I remembered, AND the mechanics are always most busy first thing. So once I was happy with everything else, I checked my rear tire again and it felt a little soft… but not convincingly so. I did end up bringing it to the mechanic, who looked at the wheel, kind of shrugged, and used the air compressor to make sure it was at my desired PSI and sent me on my way. So I hoped I was just imagining things.
I lined up next to the woman that dominated our age group (and won the overall) at Lubbock 70.3. Everything was set up for a great start – until it wasn’t.
I ran in with the group of ten in the rolling start wave, mis-timed my dive, and ended up in no-man’s land swimming into people. Where was I going? I have no idea. My goggles fogged up for the first time almost immediately, which made sighting impossible as the sun was rising and we were swimming right into it. I cleared them twice more during the swim which was unfortunately not as fast as I had expected to swim (by about 2 minutes). Time – 28:17
T1 was quick enough, it moved me up 9 spots in my age group to 5th (which is really where I should have been with the swim I expected to have). It was also the third fastest transition in the top 50 of my age group. That included putting on gloves AND socks! Time – 4:30.
Out on the bike course, I was having a great time. I knew the course and all of the climbs like the back of my hand. Every once in a while, big packs would come by me or I’d go by them, which were super stressful because a penalty was the LAST thing I wanted. During one of the climbs, I realized I was a little closer to the woman in front of me than I was allowed – so I needed to pass. I put in the effort and was going to pass her within the allowed time, but then I realized a woman on my left was passing ME, too! And as I turned my head to see her, I also see a moto roll up next to us – literally a nightmare situation.
All you need is your front wheel to get in front of the person you’re passing to complete the pass – but it gets tricky when you’re getting passed at the same time, because that rule applies to you, too. You have to make consistent rearward progress after you get passed, but I also couldn’t NOT pass the person I had started to pass. In order to do my best to appease the rules and not get a penalty, I pushed to pass the woman I had originally started to pass, moved WAY over to the right and tried to make it super clear I had no interest in being part of a pack. My fear wasn’t super unfounded, by the way, as the next day in the men’s race, Sam Long ended up with a penalty for the exact same scenario I was in!
The roads and pavement in St. George are really stellar. There are a few bumps, mostly expansion joints, and a couple of deep-set manhole covers. But for the most part, really smooth. And thank goodness for that. On the expansion joints, I started feeling something weird as my rear wheel would roll over the bumps. I knew it wasn’t flat, but as I looked… it was low. Way low. I whispered a silent prayer to it – please just hold on, stay there. I looked at my computer, and 28 miles clicked across. Please, rear wheel, we are half way, don’t fail me now.
My power numbers were right where I wanted to be, even though I felt like I was a little slow. This was especially noticeable from the descent on Red Hills Parkway to entrance to Snow Canyon (which we zipped by for an out-and-back in this race).
I rolled over an expansion joint at the literal start of the out-and-back, and *THUD* – my rear rim hit the pavement, tire was completely flat.
I immediately pulled over and started my tire change. I knew there was some sort of slow leak, but had no idea from where. A spectator was there encouraging me, offering to hold stuff, but I knew I could do this quickly on my own so I just chatted with him while changing the flat to keep my brain calm. Turns out, he was from the town next to the one I grew up in!
One 8-minute flat change later, I was back rolling on my bike with only the out-and-back to warm back up before the infamous Snow Canyon climb. As I was riding, I’d go over expansion joints again and I started hearing that same dreadful thudding sound. My tire was already starting to go flat!
At this point, my thoughts got really dark. “I can climb Snow Canyon on a low PSI wheel, and then descending, it would just be really bad if my front tire were flat.” (For the record, NO, this would not have been safe.) “I could DNF.” “I only had the one tube, I’m going to be stranded for hours.” “My day is over, this sucks.” I kept rolling the best I could on the severely underinflated tire, passing the last few neighborhoods before the start of Snow Canyon State Park.
Right before the park boundary, I hit another lump and felt the rim on pavement again. The tire was dead flat again. Devastated, I slowly pedaled once or twice to get out of traffic, and stopped.
A lone spectator – he must have walked from the neighborhood – called over to me from across the street to ask if I needed anything. As I looked up to respond, I see a parked pickup with the only thing that could have made my day better – a sign reading “Race Support.”
I could not believe my luck. I ran over with my bike and the original spectator and a second spectator came running over, too. No actual support was there, but both spectators wanted to help – which I told them “no!” – but I did tell them what I needed and they got to work hunting for it.
I had checked my tire for sharps during the first flat, and believing it was a slow leak, I was pretty sure it wasn’t a puncture – I believe that with the cold air, I wasn’t able to adequately tighten my valve extension (and that the valve extension had been the original source of the problem, too). I put a whole new tube in, tightened the extension as much as I could, and used the floor pump in the truck to inflate the tire to my desired PSI.
As I gave my bike a final once-over, a wave of relief replaced the shame I was feeling around the possibility of a mechanical DNF. I was going to be able to get this done.
In total, I was stopped for 18 minutes between the two flats right before the biggest climb of the day. I started Snow Canyon with ice cubes for legs, and went a little harder than I should have, in my fastest time up the canyon according to Strava. Whoops! At that point, I figured it didn’t really matter, I should climb strong and descend fast and smart, and get to the run.
At the bottom of the hill and turning on to Diagonal, I went to grab my rear brake to not overcook the turn. Guess who forgot to replace their brake after changing two flats? Me. Visions of the man crashing in front of me from May flashed across my brain and I decided to just coast down Diagonal and Main in to T2 – front brake only is a little scary! On Main, a block away from the turn into transition, a pair of women were riding in front of me. I didn’t see an obstacle or a distraction, but I watched the first one wobble and suddenly crash straight down. The woman directly in front of me swerved quickly and recovered, and I had a little more time to avoid the downed woman, but even if I had wanted to stop to help, I had no brakes so I couldn’t. The woman in front of me started yelling for medical as we approached T2 and I followed suit, but y’all, I am so tired of seeing a crash on my way to T2 in St. George. Bike time – 3:16:00.
So I was a little flustered in T2, and I got to put my running shoes on twice. Remember that I put socks on in T1? I didn’t! And left my second pair in my run shoes to swap. Which I didn’t pull out before putting my shoes on. So I pulled them off, swapped socks, and put my running shoes BACK on. I started running and my shoes were slipping – I hadn’t tightened my laces, so I got to stop and do that again, too! T2 – 2:21
As I was running up Main, I couldn’t figure out what felt so funny around my chest. Then it hit me – I still had my space blanket in there! I left it in my kit until mile 1 and was perfectly happy with my temperature.
I started running, and I stared up Diagonal – I knew that road so well. I told myself, take this like Lubbock and just run – run all the way to the next aid station, take care of your nutrition, and start running again. The course went into the golf course which was a new feature, and the golf course was hard. Punchy little hills! But we turned downhill and I got to fly down Diagonal again. I loved the new turnaround on the opposite side of the finish. It was a nice pattern – two blocks east, two blocks south, around the park and back up two and over two. Approached T2 and the finish and ran out for loop 2.
As I headed up Diagonal a second time, I was a little annoyed because I was running slower than I wanted, but I reminded myself that I just didn’t want to walk. I ran even when I didn’t want to. I ran on the steep sections and the flat sections all the way to the entrance to the golf course, where a Belgian woman caught me and as she started up the extremely steep driveways, she started powerwalking. Staying with her, I matched her powerwalk and I was 100% ok with that. I mentally accepted this strategic walking moment because I made the decision, not because I gave up. I ran through the golf course, headed down the hill, and back out on to Diagonal, doing my best to keep my new Belgian friend in sight. She dropped me quickly, though!
After one of the aid stations on Diagonal, I ended up matching pace with a woman in the 60-64 age group. We chatted a little, encouraged each other a little, and then she said, “Ok, I’m running too fast and I’m going to slow down,” to which I responded with, “Oh thank god, me too, if I keep going I’m going to throw up.” We slowed a bit, ran a little more together and then I kept on going, just a touch quicker than her.
Down at the park, there was a woman I had chatted with on loop 1 who told me she was walking the uphills. I had wished her luck then and kept going, and she had caught me in these final miles of loop 2. We traded places a few times, and as we rounded the last corner in the park she said, “We’re going together to get this done, let’s go!”
We crossed the line together and I was so grateful for her. I didn’t see her again, but she made those last few moments really memorable and gave me a really positive ending for a race that I had given up on many times prior that day. Time – 2:09:18, and 6:00:25.
Looking back on the race, it was really important for me to have a day like this. It sucks to be let down – by your body, your equipment, whatever – and it’s hard to pivot. But pivoting was the only option that day, and I’m proud that I was able to do that. I had many times during the day I could have just stopped, or walked, or given up on myself, but even though I didn’t feel like my race showed my potential, it taught me a lot on how to persevere when times are tough. A great physical takeaway for me was that the day after the race, I felt fine. I wasn’t hobbling or falling over, I wasn’t limping, I was just tired. Compared to the first time I left St. George where I literally couldn’t walk even though I walked most of the half marathon, I was so much stronger.
I record my post race thoughts in my voice memos when they’re fresh, and here’s what my final thought was:
“I don’t want to do another 70.3 if it’s going to take six hours because that f*&%ing sucks. Five hours was great. That extra hour sucks. I just don’t want to spend that long on the stupid course.”
So for everyone that does spend that long, or longer, on these stupid courses – you are so much tougher than me. SO much tougher. I applaud you and I’m proud to share the roads with you.
I’m grateful that I was able to compete in this race at all. Qualifying was a major goal of mine and I felt like I had truly earned my spot to be there. Getting to race with all women was incredible. The sea of strong female athletes was inspiring and reminded me that there are so many tough women out there! I’m so glad my mom was able to fly out and watch, she got to see all the cool parts of both days of racing! We decided to watch some of the men’s race on Saturday and we got to see Kristian and Ben come flying down Main towards the park then the finish. We headed toward the finish line (and the car) and as we approached a controlled crossing, who did we see running crowd control? Taylor Knibb (the women’s world champ!) and Erin Carson (her strength coach and my boss at RallySport)! Always working, always helping, and the folks crossing under their supervision had absolutely no idea who was telling them to stop and go.