A Southern-Style, Chicken-Fried Championship

Expectations. We all have them for one thing or another. We expect the taste of a Grande Americano to be the same at every Starbucks. We expect traffic to be busy during rush hour. You probably expect a blog post from me after a 7 month hiatus. Somethings things fall short and other times our expectations are exceeded.

I’m sitting on a flight out of Nashville, Tennessee. I keep opening my book, but my mind wants to go back to Saturday. Saturday spent in “the South,” in Chattanooga, Tennessee with thousands of others with expectations. Ironman 70.3 World Championships.

I owe you a few other posts about how I got here. The training, the races. For now, I’m going to just write about my race while it’s fresh in my mind. I’ll send out the prequel soon. Just know that it took a lot to get here. I worked my ass literally off my body. I enjoyed almost every moment of it. 

Christine and I arrived Thursday night. We ate waffles, heard our first “y’alls,” unpacked our bikes and climbed into bed. Friday was the day before the race and it was going to be busy. Friday was spent doing the usual pre-race things and a few unusual pre-race things. We swam in the watery treadmill of the Tennessee River. It was warm and it was flowing. I wasn’t worried. I feel like a tough swim gives me a marginal advantage over some weaker swimmers in the field. I was disappointed to hear we would most likely be wetsuit legal. The water was way too warm for a wetsuit and again, I think of it as an advantage. We checked in and checked over our bikes.  A shake out ride did less to shake me out and wound me a little tight with the traffic. I’m still hanging onto a little post-partum anxiety and it likes to rear its ugly head when I’m on my bike.  We got our stuff checked in and ate white rice in our PJs.

On ward to race morning. Alarm went off at 5:15am, or 2:15am Vancouver time. It wasn’t really all that bad. I kept thinking about all the people from halfway around the world racing on a whole different day from home. Coffee, breakfast and out the door. We had plenty of time at the race site to set up and to realize I hadn’t charged my Garmin. Would 47% make it through a half ironman? I guess I will find out. If that was the worst thing to happen all day, I’ll be just fine. We hung out on the pier as the pros were announced and then Christine headed off to the corral as her wave went first. I dropped off my stuff and headed down shortly after fighting back pre-race tears and taking those big deep breaths.

 In our regional races, the rolling wave times start at “Sub 30.” At this race, there was “Sub 25” and a few more until 30 minutes. Wow. Who were these swimmers? Katie Ledecky? With the current, I had NO idea what my swim time would be. I started with the 28-30 gang which was over 75 women back from the start. Again, wow. We hung out on the dock and watched the women dive or jump off the dock 10 at a time. I peed. I think a few others did too as it was wet at our feet and there had been no warm up swim. Such a glamourous sport, eh? It was my turn to get into one of the 10 lanes and wait for the beep. It was awesome. Best start to a race I’ve ever done.

 Beep. I took a running leap off the dock and dove in. Funny thing: open water goggles don’t stay on as well in a dive as pool goggles. Rookie move Liz! I swam strong for a few strokes just to get out in front and then took the 5 seconds to put my goggles back on. No big deal. Keep swimming. The current was definitely less today, but it was still there. I used some sailing smarts to feel for where I should be directing in order to swim to the buoys. I was surprised how many women I was passing. I kept passing. I found one set of feet going the same speed as me and the two of us kept passing all the way to the third turn buoy. Really? All of you started in the under 28 section. I got out of the water feeling great and ready to ride. It was quiet in transition so I knew I had had a decent swim. As it turns out I swam just under 33mins, 32th in my AG. One day I’ll have the courage and the swim strength to start closer to the front where I think I belong. Expectations met.

Onto the bike. If you didn’t know already, I should mention this race was all female. For the first time, Ironman separated the field. The women race Saturday and the men race Sunday. It was a very cool feeling to be out there riding with only other strong women. The bike was expected to be tough. With over 1000m of elevation gain and most of that during one climb up Lookout Mountain, the ride threatened to zap the legs of anyone that didn’t show it the respect it deserved. The climb was a smooth road through a dense tree canopy. I fell into a rhythm and rode my own pace. There are no power zones to meet when you are in your easiest gear just trying to move forward with the steep pitches and a few sneaky descents. I knew I could climb this better than most and I think I did. The lookout portion of Lookout Mountain was amazing with a waterfall cascading off the cliff. I took it all in. As we crested the top, the crowds boosted everyone’s energy. Feeling like a rockstar with a huge smile on my face, I made the turn for the more rolling part of the course through the quiet streets of Georgia state. 

With Christine’s wave being 17 minutes before mine and me being the stronger swimmer, I had a carrot out there waiting for me to find her. I was shocked when I could see her matching Coeur Sports team kit up the road only 15k into the bike. My first reaction was that I had overbiked the climb. I passed her and she yelled “already?” I too had expected to be chasing only on the run. Within a few km, she passed me back. I should have known that would have been too easy. We then rode almost 70km trading places (yes, legally) and egging each other on. Who else gets to race a world championship with her friend, athlete, sparring partner? What a surreal experience.  We hit the dismount line together. Expectations exceeded.

The run. Oh, the run. Like most half iron courses, the buzz tends to be about the bike course. The climbs, the winds, the pavement. I’m fairly certain the race director had someone switch his coffee to decaf when this run course was designed. I left transition just behind Christine. I quickly fell into my usual race cadence and did the little mental assessment on how the legs felt. Tired, but not terrible. No threats of cramping on the immediate horizon. I guess it’s time to run. I passed Christine back and she sent me on my way.

I kept my cadence as my main focus and ignored my pace. Use your arms to power your legs. Light on your feet. Take a cup of something at every aid station and just keep going. Smile! Like any looped course, things get tougher on lap two, but you are encouraged with the fact that the bigger mile markers now belong to you. Kilometer 4? Nope. Kilometer 14 thank you very much. With all the wave starts it was tough to know who you were racing and at certain points it felt like the world was passing me all at once. The support from the crowd, fellow Coeur Sports teammates and other racers was staggering. With the final big climb done, I allowed myself to look at my watch and was happy to see I was still pacing for a 1:45 despite the brutality that was this course. The final kilometer is down hill. Let er rip. I let my feet fly, took a beating on my quads and gave it what I had into that finish chute. Expectations blown completely away.

And that was it. I was done. In 5:14:59 I had put to test over a year of hoping and 6 months of dedicated training. I gave it all I had on the day and I couldn’t be happier with what I accomplished. I placed 27th out of 230 in my age category and 193th out of 1450 of the world’s best female triathletes. I kept the little faces of my boys on my mind. I wanted to honour any time I spent away from them training with giving my best. After the race, I was bombarded with messages and posts from friends and family following back home. Messages from half way around the world. I can’t say how amazing it is to have such an outpouring of support for my little hobby. I thank you all. Special thanks to two especially important parts of my team. To my coach Liz, I love the Liz you helped me find. To my husband, there is none of this without you.

Christine and I spent the rest of our day drinking beer, meeting Coeur teammates and chatting with friends. I can’t tell you enough how the Southern hospitality truly lived up to its name. We poured ourselves into our beds at 11pm completely exhausted and content.

On to the next adventure and to new expectations.

 

 

 

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