Saturday, June 24, 2017

Ironman 70.3 Wisconsin 2017 Race Recap

“Is this real life?”  This is the question I’ve had to repeatedly ask myself for the past few days.  It’s difficult to put into words to describe the range of emotions I’ve felt.  Disbelief, joy, exhilaration, nervousness, and most of all: gratitude, gratitude, and more gratitude.  My last two races (the Apple Duathlon and Madison 70.3) have far exceeded my expectations and I can hardly believe what’s actually happened. The outcomes came, but more importantly so has amazing time with family, the opportunity to build friendships, and feelings of self-assurance.

The highlight of the Apple Duathlon was getting to slap my nephew's hand coming out of T2. All three nephews, my sister, my mom, and I spent the night before the race in my parent's RV basically on the race site the night before. We had a blast "camping" and getting to spend the 4 hour trip (2 hrs each way) talking to my sister is a rarity these days when most our time together involves chasing three energetic boys. :) I surprised myself in the race by not being afraid to push hard when I needed to and even though I came away with the win by only 25 seconds, I was happy to redeem my 2nd place and 22 second deficit the year before. Results here.
Highlight of the Apple Duathlon: a high five from nephew #1 <3
Going into Ironman 70.3 Wisconsin two weeks later, I was equal parts excited and nervous.  I signed up and booked a hotel the day registration opened while lying on a beach one day after Ironman 70.3 Miami.  Being such a close midwest race, a lot of my friends were also racing and I couldn't wait to be there with a fun group. But keeping an eye on the forecast earlier in the week, I got a little uneasy. A high of 92 degrees and up to 30 mph winds. Woah. I wasn’t sure if I had acclimated to heat this early in the year and even though I usually do well in hot weather, it had gotten to me a bit in Miami last fall.  My coach had some great advice though -- let everyone else waste energy worrying about the weather and just spend my energy on the race. It was true, there was nothing I could do to change it and everyone was going to be in the same conditions. The race would reward the most patient and the strongest - not necessarily the fastest, but who would slow down the least. This took a lot of pressure off. It reminded me to focus on what I could control, race smart, and stay strong.

I arrived in Madison Saturday afternoon and soaked up as much information as I could by talking to other athletes and doing as much visualization as possible.  Immediately upon arrival, it was clear this wasn’t a small town race.  Traffic, thousands of athletes, and a transition area that sprawled across a giant grass lawn with space for more than the 2,000 bikes that would soon arrive. “This just got real.” I thought.   
Locked and loaded.

I  met up with my friend Mitch and his sister Jenna for the day’s activities.  Packet pick-up, bike check-in, the athlete briefing, and a course preview. We did a quick swim in the lake too and the water felt nice.  It wasn’t as murky as I feared and it felt good to cool down on the hot and super WINDY day.  Later on, we hopped in Mitch’s truck to drive the 56 mile course. We were warned about the less than ideal road conditions: the hills, the wind, and more importantly the more than 50 turns we would be making. In the end, the 56 mile course preview took us almost 2 hours due to at least 49 wrong turns. (Cue the eye roll.) This was shaping up to be a challenging course! There was barely any stretch of road over 1 or 2 miles before a veer or turn would pop up.  Most of which were at the bottom of one of the numerous hills.  Nice.  I prepared myself for a lot of braking and a few near heart attacks trying not to end up in the ditch.  But we had fun driving around and I was excited nonetheless.

Obligatory pre-race outfit picture
Back at the hotel that night (½ mile from transition btw - so convenient!), I had a quick dinner, tried on my new race kit that had literally been rushed shipped to the hotel that day (only a few panic attacks involved, but it was going to work), and went to bed early. My trouper of a mom arrived after I was asleep at 12:30am. She had spent almost 12 hours in the car that day driving. First dropping my dad off at the Cedar Rapids, IA airport for a last minute trip with my brother and younger sister, then driving to Ankeny, IA to attend a friend’s daughter’s wedding, and then driving another 4 hours to Madison. #supermom I rolled over, mumbled hello, and before I knew it my 4:30am alarm was going off. Despite her lack of sleep, my mom jumped out of bed and then immediately into mine shouting, “GOOD MORNING!  It’s race day!!!” The rest of the race morning involved packing up as-cold-as-a-mini-hotel-fridge-would-allow water bottles, sitting on the bed while my mom braided my hair and having flashbacks to grade school, and finally heading out the door to walk (or ride a rented bike for my mom) to transition.  
Super-mom's time in the car Saturday
My mom's super aero ride
I did my usual run warm-up and welcomed the usual pre-race nerves that always threaten to make me sick. As I came back, I ran right into and got a big hug from Dani Fischer.  I had been hoping to see this amazing woman before the race, so I was ecstatic.  “Let’s do this!” we said and were off to get into our wetsuits. There was supposed to be a 15 minute swim warm-up from 6:30-6:45am before the 7:00am race start.  But apparently an ambulance was late to get onsite and at 6:43am when we still weren’t in the water, it was announced the warm-up was cancelled. This made my planned last minute bathroom break a lot more complicated, but I ran back to my mom and for a quick GenUCan gel, a shot of beet juice, and a teary goodluck hug. After working a lot on my confidence the past few months - especially on the run - my mom reminded me that I am, at the core, a runner and not to doubt myself for one second.
Setting up my bike. Already 70 degrees at 5:30am!
The rolling swim start had us all line up by expected swim finish times and as I made my way to the 27-30 minute group (being a little optimistic hoping to find fast feet), I heard my name.  It was my new coach, Jen Harrison!  She was racing too and we had planned on meeting up for the first time in person after the race, but we had miraculously found each other in the sea of wetsuits and swim caps.  We chatted a bit and I decided that was as good of an omen as I’d ever get - it was going to be a good day.
Mitch and Ted heading to the water's edge
The swim was mostly uneventful - which was good! Being with other athletes roughly the same speed, I didn’t get kicked, swam over, or was forced to swim over many others. I tried to find as many feet as I could and moved between a few different sets trying to maintain a solid effort and straight line. It was a triangle shaped course and when we made the final turn toward shore, I realized one of the women next to me was my coach!  In open water, it’s difficult to make out much of anything, but after only seeing her for the first time ever about 30 minutes prior, I managed to make out her purple cap and Roka wetsuit - so cool!
Dolphin diving!  Scored an awesome hot pink cap!
I exited the water with a pretty big group and ran up a big boat ramp where I spotted my mom cheering. I grabbed a fast looking volunteer to help me out of my wetsuit - a process that never fails to make me laugh hysterically - it’s so fun being peeled out!. Then we had about a ½ mile run from the water to our bikes - a super long transition! And quite a few of the other athletes were walking! I wanted to say, “Guys, this is a race! Let’s go!” But I used it to my advantage and tried to pass as many people as I could and as I ran to my bike.
Swim Exit
The first few miles of the bike course left town on a bike path and went over a set of railroad tracks where my aero water bottle immediately launched itself off my bike and into the grass. Ugh. I was annoyed (it was chilled and had some caffeine in it), but I wasn’t too worried. I could easily pick up a bottle of Gatorade at an aid station later. Then, per my nutrition plan, about 10 minutes into the ride it was time for my ½ PowerBar. Just as I was reaching for it, I realized I didn’t remember packing in the case on my bike. Yep, it was definitely still sitting on top of the mini fridge in the hotel room. “Ok,” I thought, “stay calm, be logical, and regroup”. I would just start with a one of the GenUCan gels I had remembered to pack and grab another gel from an aid station later. So I settled in at target effort/watts I planned which was slightly less than usual because of the heat. If I overcooked it on the bike, I’d really overcook it on the run! The goal was to be patient! At mile 15 I grabbed both a bottle of Gatorade and a gel from an aid station. I don’t usually use standard gu’s or gels because they usually upset my stomach and the texture is not at all appealing, but when I looked at what kind a grabbed, I was ecstatic to see a mocha flavor with caffeine! Bonus! I am a huge coffee lover and of all flavors, this was clearly the best I could have found. I also decided my stomach wouldn’t get upset if I didn’t let it. “Mind over matter," I thought as I choked it down later in the race. “Stomach, you are going to feel great,” I told it. It worked - no issues!
Taking one of the many turns of the day
Not too long after the first aid station on one of the many inclines, I heard someone approaching say, “Who’s this sexy lady?” It was Dani Fischer. I was a little startled but replied, “Who’s this lady passing me already??” We exchanged a few words of encouragement and I watched her take off. I knew she was going to be one of my fiercest competitors that day, because hello - she is fierce. No longer a pro this year, but still a machine, the last time I faced her in 2015 at the Pigman Long Course race, she outraced me by 10 minutes - and mostly on the bike course! “Go get ‘em,” I yelled. There was no way I’d keep up without pushing harder than I knew was smart. At least I knew now that she had started the race behind me, but there was no way to know by how much. I settled in again, chatting with a few men complaining about the wretched course. Turn here, brake here, bump bump bump there. It was getting hot, but at least the wind wasn’t as terrible as the day before. I kept up with my nutrition and hydration and prayed for no crashes while passing 3 small churches along the way. I seriously wondered if we were ever going to make it back though - this was the slowest bike course in the world! I was able to see my cousin Amber at around mile 40 who happened to be in town spectating which was super cool and right around this time, I heard another rider passing me say, “Here we go again.”  Hanna Grinaker. My other main competitor and the same girl I went back and forth with on the bike course at the Apple Duathlon! I couldn’t believe it was happening again! But at least I knew she must have also started the race behind me, even though there was still no way to know by how much.  But I did know that being even with her at this point meant she was actually ahead overall. I made it my mission to hang on and after going back and forth with her two more times, I passed and was determined to make it the last time. I was able to stay ahead the last 10 miles, but as we came into T2, she wasn’t more than 90 seconds back. This was going to be a race to the finish!
Smiling for the camera
In a super pro move after the bike dismount line seemed to come out of nowhere, I didn’t have time to get both feet out of my shoes and ended up running through transition laughing with one shoe on and one shoe off. (Cue major eye roll.) I also heard from the volunteers I was the third female coming off the bike. I couldn’t compute for a while. I knew Dani Fischer was ahead, but who was ahead of her??

The run course was a loop around the lake, but in the first mile, there was a small out and back segment where we could see a few runners ahead and behind. I immediately spotted my friend Peter (a fellow Rochester athlete) not far ahead and Hanna not far back. As I passed Hanna, we slapped hands and smiled (love this girl). When I was starting the run earlier, a guy next to me said, “Now let’s have some fun.” I couldn’t have agreed more. I was so happy to be off the bike and was determined to stay strong the entire run. After disappointing runs my last two 70.3 races, I had committed to myself not to give into the hurt and prepared to suffer. The first 4 miles felt surprisingly good and I thought to myself, “Soak up this feeling now because it’s going to get tough really fast.” 
Feeling strong
What really helped was keeping Peter in my sights. Peter is a talented runner and I figured if I could keep up with him, I was doing pretty well. He turned around at one point as I was getting closer and I yelled, “Watch out Peter, I’m coming for you!” Sure enough, we went back and forth a few times and when another volunteer reminded me I was third female, I told him Hanna wasn’t too far back too. “Well beat her,” he said. “That’s the plan!” I replied. I spent the next few miles appreciating the the ice and water the aid stations offered every mile and focused on getting to the halfway point of the run where my mom had planned to be watching.  At mile 7 (6.1 miles left if you had been counting ;) ), I spotted my mom cheering. “Keep it up! You’re only 1 minute back! Run, run, run!”  Fatigue had begun to set in but I realized I must be gaining on the woman in second place and I was very interested in finding out who it was! The loop around the lake was mostly residential and pretty shaded (thank goodness!), but we finally came to a stretch where I could see a little way ahead of me. Sure enough, I spotted a female runner not too far ahead. As she came into focus, I realized who it was. Dani Fischer. My jaw literally dropped and I swore rather loudly to the poor guy next to me out of sheer disbelief. First, am I really catching Dani Fischer? Second, she’s a beast and if she’s in second place, who’s in front of her?  But this was a turning point in the race for me. Until then, I was feeling ok and was focusing on executing my own race plan. I was happy, thinking I had a chance of finishing the run feeling strong. But as soon as I glimpsed Dani ahead, I thought to myself, “There’s a chance." I realized I might be able to place pretty well too. As I came up behind Dani with about 5 miles left in the race, I got to repeat her earlier question: “Who’s this sexy lady?” She laughed and then I asked, “Who’s up ahead?” She said she didn’t know, so I said, “Well let’s go get her!” Not long after, I spotted her. I didn’t recognize who she was, but I definitely recognized the lead female bike escort at her side. I was gaining and passed her with 3 miles left to go in the race and was then left with a mix of thoughts and emotions.
Bike escort
“Keep pushing, don’t let up!” I told myself. I was sure the final girl I passed had started ahead of me, but I didn’t know how much of a lead I needed on Dani to finish ahead of her overall and I still had no idea how close Hanna was. The other thought that started to form was: “Is this the race of my dreams?” Sounds dramatic, but this was my mantra from my marathon PR race a few years ago and it helped! This is what I had been working for and there was a real chance I could win. As we turned down the final 1.5 mile stretch into a killer headwind (Dani said later she felt like a sail being pushed backward!), my pace started to slow. I forced myself to keep going, imagining my mom and all my friends waiting at the finish. I couldn’t wait to see them and as much as it hurt in the moment, I remembered my mantra for this race: “A head full of fears has no space for dreams.”  I was not going to give up. 

Peter, who was still close by, threw in a final surge with a half mile to go and I tried to match him. 
That hill though...  ouch.
The final ⅓ of a mile was a killer of a steep hill, but approaching the finish line is a memory I never want to forget. The crowd was cheering like crazy and I the announcer was shouting, “Here she comes folks! The first female finisher! From Rochester, Minnesota…” But that’s the last I heard as I teared up running across the infamous red Ironman carpet and through the final finish line tape. 

Elation doesn’t begin to describe the feeling. Partly because I was so happy to be done (I was tired!) and partly because it had gone so well! I collapsed briefly into some volunteers, but recovered quickly to immediately see my mom across the fence just a few feet away. I hobbled over and we shared another (but the best!) teary hug. “Did that really just happen???” I asked.  She was just as surprised!  She wasn’t even able to get any pictures of the finish herself, because when they announced the lead female was coming in, she wasn’t expecting it to be me! Not that she didn’t believe in me, but the last she saw, I was still in third. I stood there incredulous for a while and the wait to see if the win held began. I still didn’t know how close my other competitors were in relation to my start time and it took another hour or so for the webiste tracker to update with final times. The win did hold.  By 9 seconds. Yep, you read that right -- 9. In a race that took 4 hours and 45 minutes, 9 seconds is a blink of an eye! And less than a minute behind was 3rd place. Dani, Hanna, and I finished all within one minute of each other. 
Mitch, Ted, Ted's girlfriend Kate and my rat's nest hair at the finish line

In my eyes, this race could have been won by any one of us and I was honored to finish among not only talented, but amazing women. Three Minnesota athletes took the top spots for the day and I was proud to be a part of it.
Hanna, Dani, and me -- Minnesota podium sweep!
I was able also to talk to my amazing coach for a while after the race and had too much fun at the awards ceremony planning a trip to the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, TN where Peter, Ted, and Mitch (aka the 'Hartland Express') had all secured slots to that day. Final results here.

My new coach!!
Triathlon is an amazing sport.  It allows me to swim, bike, and run to my heart’s content; leads to friendships with the most amazing people; and creates the best bonding experiences with those I love the most - my family. I’m so grateful for the life I live and at times really feel like it’s a dream come true.

I’m also incredibly grateful for my phenomenal supporters, without whom none of this would be possible. Huge thanks to TerraLoco for gearing me up, my coach for shaping me up, Generation UCan for fueling me up, and my incredible family and friends for filling my life (and ❤️) up. Love you all!

And, almost as exciting as the race was cashing in on the post race celebration I planned with my friends Ted and Phil. There is a new food truck in Rochester called Dough Boys that sells edible cookie dough. We originally planned to go after the Apple Duathlon, but decided to go double or nothing after Madison - so TWO scoops it was. Ted won his age group (after surviving his rear tire coming loose mid race!) and my friend Phil completed and crushed his first ever triathlon the same day at Trinona! So we celebrated a few days later by attending Viola’s Gopher Count Days where the food truck happened to be that day, listening to an accordion band, and having the most nutrition lunch ever - heaps and heaps of cookie dough! Like I said - a dream life come true! ;)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Falls Duathlon 2017 Race Recap and Excitement for 2017

Ahhh, first race of the season done.  And with it comes a little relief!  There are usually some unknowns going into the first race in months, but there was quite a long list this time around:

  • Not racing for 5 whole months(!)
  • Coming back from an early January injury
  • Recovering from a killer February cold and recent cranky hip
  • Riding my tri bike a total of 3 times outdoors prior to race day

Not to mention a very recent coaching change!  I had two weeks of a new routine under my belt and it mostly consisted of backing off and flushing some fatigue out of my system. This would truly be a test!  

I had the benefit of knowing the Cannon Falls course and conditions though, and had fond memories of racing there with a lot of fun friends.  After the helmet debacle in T2 due to frozen hands last year, I was watching the weather like a hawk and waited until the week of the race to fully commit.  It wasn’t going to be warm, but not wet and not too terribly cold. This, combined with the extreme antsiness of the recent back off in training volume to flush some fatigue out of my system, sealed the deal.  I was ready to get out there and race!
Note: Unless you need a shower, do NOT place in aero-bar cage facing toward you.

The tests came right away race morning. Test #1: New pre-race breakfast.  A gamble, but applesauce mixed with a little protein powder, a banana, and Gatorade were easy on the tummy.  Good.  After a quick warm-up and noting the super-squeezy water bottle I’d chosen to place between my aero-bars resulted in a homemade water gun on every bump 🙈, I adjusted a few things, set up transition while trying not to waste too much time chatting (there will be plenty of time after the race!), and made my way to the start.

At the start with new friend Steve

Run #1 (2 miles):  After hamming it up for my mom’s camera, the first 200 meters consisted mostly of thoughts of why I decided to do this -- I was so nervous and this felt fast! I hit the first mile in 5:48, a few seconds slower than last year, but still decent and I was feeling ok.  During the second mile, when my friend Mitch tried to make a pass, I picked it up slightly.  I was not going to let him have it! He was about to blow me out of the water on the bike, so I needed every second I could get! 😊
Holding them off on Run #1
T1: Test #2: Mount bike with shoe clipped in. In true-rookie fashion, this was my first attempt at getting my feet into my shoes while riding. My hands were already getting stiff from the morning chill and there was a few wobbles, but this went ok too. Good.
Lucky pink socks showing as I left transition
Bike (14 miles): Wind and cold! Test #3: Get gloves on while biking. Learning from last year, I stashed some gloves on my bike and decided it was the best idea ever as I pulled them over my freezing fingers. Good. It was an out and back course and the way out seemed like it took an eternity in some strong wind. I was jockeying positions for a while with two other guys though, so at least I had something to keep me focused.  The way back into town still gave us some cross winds and it took effort to stay calm and not fly into the ditch. I passed my new friend Steve and hoped I could gain enough time on him for the run, but my power was not where I wanted it to be. Come on legs! I did however, succeed in test #4: Get bike cadence up! Averaged 87 – much better than some of my rides at 68!  Good.  And even better, my nerves had eased and I was starting to have some fun.
T2: I fumbled for a while trying to get my gloves off coming back into T2 and was thrown off a bit for what lead to a less than stellar dismount.  I’m sure it cost me a little time, but when I easily unclipped my helmet strap once I was off the bike, I was more than thankful and shouted “yes!” as I set it to the ground.
Coming into the finish
Run #2 (3 miles): Steve had passed me back while I fumbled with my gloves at the end of the bike, so he gave me something to work toward on the second run. I think he saw me at the turn around though, and took off toward the couple of guys not far ahead of him. I was left to enjoy the pretty scenery (really, it was a gorgeous trail!), try to hold pace, and cheer on my friends I saw on the small out and back portion. I was happy to see the finish and managed another (smaller) smile for the camera. I didn’t go quite as fast as I would’ve have liked on the second run, but I had negative splits and didn’t finish completely spent. It was then I remembered that racing feels hard, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done! I think I subconsciously held back a bit afraid of collapsing and/or dying, but the mind is a funny thing and will tell you all sorts of silly stories. This race reminded me that pushing past these thoughts is possible and always results in an amazing feeling of satisfaction.  
Talking splits at the finish
In the end, I finished 2nd female behind Ruth (duh, she’s amazing!) and only 1 minute and 19 seconds slower than last year. Results here. Not bad for my first go this year and the numerous tests led to a lot of lessons learned to take forward into what’s shaping up to be a pretty decent little 2017 season. I had fun meeting new friends, including a new coaching teammate and future Rochester-ite Nicole Heininger – yay(!), seeing lots of old friends, and getting back into the racing groove. A change welcomed with open arms!
My excitement has grown exponentially in the past month and I’m in love with the feeling of anticipation and elation with every workout. While racing is definitely a blast; it’s really the daily grind of striving for improvements on the swim, bike, and run and time with awesome training partners that has me hooked and leaves my heart bursting with fullness. I couldn’t be more excited to continue to keep it up and a squeeze in few fun races here and there. 😊 Up next: Apple Duathlon May 27th!

As always, a big thank you to all my amazing supporters! TerraLoco for gearing my up, coach(es) for shaping me up, Generation UCan for fueling me up, and my incredible family and friends for filling me (and my ❤️) up. Love you all!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Ironman Miami 70.3 Race Recap

Ironman Miami 70.3 Race Recap

It’s always easier to write a race report for a race where everything clicks. But all races - especially the tough ones - provide an opportunity for growth and are just as important to reflect on. Ironman Miami 70.3 was an incredible experience and a lot of fun, but I definitely feel like I left behind some unfinished business.

First a little background.  Following a half-marathon PR in June at the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon in Duluth (easily one of the best race experiences ever) and the Rochesterfest Road Mile less than a week later (easily one of the worst race experiences ever), I found myself faced with stress fracture number six. 
2 main reasons why Grandma's Half was so great.
Hello old friend.
This time in my fibula and, as usual, on the left side. (Can someone please tell this leg to get it together?) I did the now familiar drill of “focus on rehab, work on the swim and bike, stay as positive as possible” and was pleasantly surprised at how well I coped. It’s no secret I love to run, but being through this before, I knew I’d be able to run again - just not as soon as I would have liked. I had a lot of good things going on in my life this time around too, so taking some time to heal was *slightly* less painful. I also quickly replaced my race plans for the summer with race plans for the fall and set some new and just as exciting goals. Instead of the Door County Half Iron and Olympic Age-Group Nationals, I’d target Ironman Miami 70.3 with an Olympic distance triathlon as a tune-up. A chance to travel to the beach in October? Yes, please. :)


I took a 5:30am flight from MSP to Miami Thursday before the race.  While I like early mornings, the ridiculously early o’clock wake-up call was a bit much.  Ufffff.  
I was able to sleep on the plane for a few hours and arrived in Miami around 11:30am local time.  I took an Uber from the airport to a rented Airbnb condo right downtown and a half a mile from the race venue.  Uber was easy, fast, and cheap and also felt super big-city cool. :) After unpacking, I had plenty of time to take the estimated 25 minute trip to the bike shop where my bike had been shipped and still have time to get to the ocean for a quick open water swim. However, bike shop miscommunication, the weather, and President Obama himself had other plans. The quick 25 minute trip turned into an hour and a half car ride due to a visit by Obama to the city and some serious presidential traffic. Uber stopped being super big-city cool pretty quickly. When I finally got to the shop, I found out they had accidently sent my bike to the race site where it wouldn’t be ready for pick up until the next day.  It had also started raining, so a bike ride was definitely not happening.  And by the time I took another hour and a half Uber trip back to the condo and beach, it was dark and left no time for a swim. Conclusion: impromptu rest day. I rolled with it though. 1. I was exhausted. 2. I took a complete rest day before my last 70.3 and figured it was well placed in the week here. 3. I had all day the next day to get in a ride and swim after a much needed solid night’s rest.  
Miami Traffic
PSA: Despite the bike shop mix-up, is the I paid less than half the price of FedEx to ship my bike and the customer service was stellar. (Thank you Gmail for trolling my inbox and sending me extremely helpful advertisements.)

On Friday, I was reunited with my bike (halleluiah!), swung by the expo to pick up my packet and check out the gear, and enjoyed a nice hot Miami  training ride and calm ocean swim. I checked out a little more of downtown Miami (lots of lights!) and then headed home to await my mom’s arrival. Yay!  Doing cool things in a cool city is even cooler with cool company. <3  
The best race sherpa
New swim skin!
Saturday was filled with pre-race workouts, route previews, and visiting the expo again to address a bike computer that decided to stop working the day before the race. Wonderful... But I rolled with this too. First, I had my Garmin 920XT watch as a back-up, even if having to wear it on my wrist during the bike was less than ideal. Second, I was sure someone at the race expo would be able to help. Turns out, the Garmin guys were all too happy to sell me brand new one! While negotiating an expo Garmin special though, my old computer spontaneously came back to life! Despite the miracle, my mom wisely insisted on getting the new one just in case old-trusty decided to take the day off on race day too. I was already on a first-name basis with the bike shop guys after the delivery issues, so they graciously helped my set up the new computer with my exact preferences. Huge props to these guys! They stood out in the hot sun for 3 days, put together and tuned up thousands of bikes, and still acted liked they enjoyed it. One was a Minnesota native and now we’re Facebook friends. #minnesotaniceforthewin

Best bike friends

Transition set up
Despite the building nerves and minor glitches, I soaked in the experiences of the day as much as I could. The days leading up to a race are filled with so much excitement and so many wishes for good luck that never cease to amaze me.

Race outfits ready
Support crew outfit ready

Race Morning

Gorgeous sunrise
While it was nice to have a little extra time for breakfast in the morning, waiting to start in the 17th age-group wave -- an hour after the pros! -- was torturous. By the time I made it to the dock, I could not wait to get going! There was no chance for a swim warm-up :(, but we did get to jump into the bay feet first from about 5 feet up - so fun! The water temperature was 86 the day before and 82 race morning, so I was excited to try out my new pink(!) Roka swim skin and not have to worry about getting out of a wetsuit in T1.  

The Swim
:35:57 Division Rank: 1

Swim start
After a quick prayer, I was off. I kept an eye on most of the girls during the slew of elbows and feet at the start and at the first turn about 300 yards in, I thought there was only one girl still ahead. I made it my mission to find her and her feet. It wouldn’t be easy though. We were starting to come up on the thousands of swimmers ahead and it was too sunny to make out swim cap colors and figure out who was who. But quite unexpectedly, I suddenly had a huge number 32 on someone’s calf right in front of my nose. Nice! The girl in my age group! I was hoping to draft off her the rest of the race, but after we made the next turn, the girl slowed a bit and started to drift away from the buoy line. I had to make the call to veer back on a more straight course and hope I could maintain decent speed without the advantage of a draft. This, along with not getting kicked in the face more than 3 times, became the new goal of the swim. Do all triathletes wear size 16 shoe? A few fat lips later, I spotted my mom on the final stretch down the shore line, smiled, and made my way to the swim exit. T1 was full of energy! A ton of cheering and noise! I sprinted to my bike, where I then very carefully ran to the mount line across wet, slippery concrete tiles trying not to fall on my face.

"Don't get kicked in the face."
I’m glad I didn’t see my final swim time during this. The times were very slow across the board due to a strong current, no wetsuits, and some chop in the water. I guess I was having too much fun and didn’t really notice the conditions, but think I would have had a hard time thinking I was far behind!

The Bike
2:28 Division Rank: 1

The bike course was a super flat, out and back course. The plan was to keep my wattage a bit lower on the way out into the wind and crank it up a bit on the way in when the wind would be to my back. My coach had meticulously calculated what time split he thought I could do with different levels of wattage and I was thankful to have a time goal to think about. But again, starting in a late wave made the bike pretty interesting. It was almost impossible to stay legal while there was a constant stream of bikers ahead of me. I felt like I was in a constant in a pass zone. I did my best to be extremely obvious while making a pass and backing off when being passed. A course officials on a motorcycle road alongside me for a good 5 minutes at one point and no penalties were called, so I was confident I was doing the best I could. With the wind in my face, the first half seemed to take forever, but at the turnaround I got a burst of energy and felt like a new person with the wind at my back. I felt strong and although my wattage was a little shy of the optimal goal #notabiker, I was happy I was still making decent time. I lost half of my last gel at the end of the bike after going over a huge bump and made a gigantic sticky mess on my shorts, but my fluid and nutrition was also going as planned. Coming off the bike, I knew if I had a decent run, I had a chance to give the amatuer women’s course record (4:40) a run for it’s money.  I saw my mom again as I pulled into transition and gave her a big fist pump and cheer.

Feeling strong on the bike

The Run
1:34:33 Division Rank: 1

T2 was a little slow after first running past my spot on the rack, but I grabbed my run gear and was off. I typically come out of T2 a bit fast unintentionally, so I focused on a controlled effort. Unfortunately, my Garmin informed me at mile 1 that I had actually gone about 20 seconds slower than my goal. No worries, I thought, the first mile is always weird, I’ll settle into my pace now. Mile 2 was a little better, but still a bit slow and I wasn’t feeling like I could push much more without a significant amount of effort. Somewhere during mile 3 we hit the causeway for the first time. This was a bridge that went up and over the bay we swam in that we’d eventually go up and down a total of 4 times on the 2 loop run course. My pace for that mile was still a touch slow, but considering the climb I, again, tried not to worry much. 1 climb down, 3 to go. Coming down the causeway was pretty fun though, and each time I told myself I was having fun. By mile 4, my pace hadn’t dropped where I wanted and the fatigue was kicking in quickly. Ugh. The rest of run was a mental game. Holding goal pace was now out the question and I was forced into making the decision to ease off a bit in order to make it to the finish rather than push it and collapse somewhere on the causeway’s hard pavement.
Climbing the causeway

Palm trees with the causeway in the background

As we went out for the second loop, I was fighting the thought that the pavement didn’t look so hard at all. The water stops were crowded and I collided with more than one person, but I grabbed as much water and ice as I could. It wasn’t unbearably hot (high of 81-82 degrees), but staying cool was still a challenge. The course had little to no shade and, most disappointingly, had very little crowd support to pull from. I love hearing cheers and seeing signs, but fans only lined the first and last mile of the 6 mile loop, so the rest felt pretty lonely. I held ice cubes, I looked at the words ‘gratitude’ and ‘believe’ written on my wrists, I smiled when I saw my mom, I repeated mantas: “This is hard, but I can do it.” “I love running.” “I love racing.” “I’m so lucky to be here.” “Just stay with that guy.” Mostly, I put one foot in front of the other, counting down the miles to go. My pace continued to slow and my hopes of a strong finish was slipping away. I didn’t see any women in my age group, but my observance of others wasn’t the most focused either. With tears of disappointment as I entered the final chute, I couldn’t wait to collapse into the volunteers’ arms.

Start of the run: still smiling.
End of the run: not still smiling.
What had happened? I went into the race thinking I had a pretty good gauge of what I was capable of and had at least one or two confidence-boosting swim, bike, and run sessions. My nutrition plan went well; no cramps, no GI distress. We were cautious with my run training, but weren’t we always? Also, the run is always my favorite! I felt like I had let it down. More disappointingly, I felt like I had let down the dedications I had set for important people in my life for each mile of the run. Thinking of them was difficult and I didn’t feel like I did them justice either.

But, here is what I know. Seeing my mom after I left the med tent (and getting to experience losing my lunch after a race for the first time -- due almost entirely to disappointment rather than fatigue), helped me immediately reframe the experience. Pride radiated from her face. “Do you know how well you did, Dani? I’m so proud of you.” SO MUCH SUPPORT.

I was stunned I managed to win my age group and take 2nd overall amateur female (4:43:35: results). I was also beyond grateful I met my main goal of securing a slot in the 70.3 World Championships September 7th, 2017 in Chattanooga, TN. Not every race is going to be a course record or personal best, but there are always lessons to be learned. I’m glad I eased back a bit to secure a finish. It was frustrating, but I think it was the wise choice. I’m hoping to work on the frustration a little more too though and remember that a ‘fixed mindset’ isn’t helpful when the human body is anything but predictable at times.

Also, every text, message, note, smile, word of encouragement and congratulations truly makes me appreciate how lucky I am to even be able to test my limits. I get to swim, bike, and run to my heart’s content every day and live my life surrounded my amazing friends and family. About 10 minutes after I finished the race, I wanted nothing more to get back out there and redo the run right then and there. This lasted about  2 minutes when I tried to climb the stairs back to the condo (#ouch), but I know I’m capable of more. Every training block becomes more enjoyable: more friends made, more little goals met, more knowledge gained. I’ve been able to balance more life stuff with training than ever before and know I’m capable of more here too.
Nice hardware

Securing my 70.3 World's slot

In the end, a fire has definitely been lit and 2017 will be a year for the record books. It will be hard work and will likely hurt at times, but one of my favorite Oiselle runner’s quotes seems like a pretty good mantra for the upcoming season.

See you at the finish line!

Huge thanks to my genius coach Joe, TerraLoco for gearing me up, the amazing swimmers and coach Tom Walsh with the Orca’s Masters Swim group who push me and make me laugh every day, and to all of my friends and family. Whether it is joining me for a run, ride, swim, or even an aqua-jog; the best part of the sport is getting to connect with those I love the most. <3