Ironman St. George 70.3 left me with a giant gaping wound. I always give myself a few days to let the emotions settle before writing a race report, but unfortunately the emotions are still very much the same as they were while I was riding up Snow Canyon in frustration and running the hottest, hilliest 13.1 miles of my life. And while I am happy with my 8th place AG finish, and that I DID finish, I am unhappy with where my head was at during the race, the mistakes I made, and the amount of self-criticism I imposed onto myself.
Probably more than any other season, this one has been an emotional rollercoaster for me. My own expectations after discovering some “surprising” potential have led me to set the bar high and part of me wants to see just how far I can take my fitness. Can I place well again in an Ironman? Can I get back to Kona? Can I finally break the 5-hour barrier in a 70.3 or go under 11 hours in a full? Can I?
There are days when I want it all and more. And then, naturally, there are times when I’m ready to throw in the towel. I’ve ugly cried while leaving the pool or riding my bike more times than I would like to admit, but on the flipside, I’ve never felt more joyous or alive when achieving little victories and gains along the way. I guess that’s one of the reasons I love this sport – it’s challenging and relentless, it requires discipline and accountability to oneself, and it opens doors to some serious self-discovery and personal growth.
The idea of an earlier season race (for me) sounded exciting at the beginning of the year. I had always wanted to race at St. George, so heading down there with a group of friends seemed like the perfect way to kick off the season. Finding my training spark and groove proved to be more difficult than expected this winter, and everyone has a breaking point when it comes to how many hours they can spend on the treadmill or on Zwift. Perhaps I did not have enough down time after Kona, or just had too high of expectations for myself coming off a really successful year. My greatest victories in this sport have also created my greatest downfall, which is a feeling of pressure. Pressure to perform well, to improve, to be competitive, and to contend against the best in my field.
Somewhere around the beginning/middle of March, I started to feel the pressure with each and every workout. Almost all of which was self-imposed, mind you. Pressure to kick it into high gear and hammer it for the next several weeks leading up to the race. I wanted to be able to compete in a tough field and my fitness was nowhere near where it needed to be. And so, I crammed. Like spending a few days and sleepless nights cramming for an important exam, I spent 6, sometimes 7, days a week cramming so that I could show up and compete. And just like going into an exam tired and oversaturated with material, I went into St. George fatigued, over-trained, anxious, and yes, nervous. I’ll admit, in more ways than one the mental and physical pressure that I was feeling blew up my race before it even started.
The night before the race I crawled into bed early, hoping for a decent night’s sleep ahead of our 4:45am wakeup call. I always have a difficult time sleeping the night before a race, but typically manage a few hours at minimum. On this night I never did fall asleep. As soon as my head hit the pillow and the lights went out, my heart started to race and my brain switched to overload mode. I did not sleep a wink. I tried everything – counting sheep, deep breathing, singing lullabys in my head. I even called my husband in the middle of the night. He’s usually with me the night before a race to help calm me down and talk me off of the various ledges I tend to step out onto, but was back in Bend with Axel this time. Long story short, I was having mini panic attacks and felt out of control.
Once it was an acceptable time to turn on the coffee I did, hoping the caffeine would break me out of my sleepless fog. But it did not. For the first time ever, I showed up to a race tired. There was no adrenaline (which I thrive off) and not a lot of excitement. Just fatigue and the desire to go to bed.
And then, I made a stupid race-day mistake. And when I say stupid, I mean STUPID. While I was pouring water and Gatorade into my two bike bottles, I realized I had left all of my nutrition at the house, thinking I had packed it with my bike the day before. STUPID. Not only was I tired, but I was frustrated and making stupid mistakes. For once I was excited to jump into the water in hopes that it would wake me up and snap me out of my funk.
The swim was just like every other swim, fairly uneventful, though I will say that the water at Sand Hollow this year was perfect. I was hoping to go under 40 minutes for the first time in a 70.3 race, but it didn’t happen. A predictable 41 minutes – as I always seem to do. My heart sank a little when I saw my time coming out of the water, knowing my bike legs would have to be ON, with or without my nutrition.
When I got to my bike I struggled with cramping cold feet and it took me a moment to breathe and pull it together. The first 20 miles were very crowded and I spent a lot of time passing massive groups of people. The etiquette of the riders on the course was very frustrating – slow riders not staying to the right making it difficult to pass, people riding side by side engaged in conversation, people passing on the right. I made a comment to one rider who decided to pass another rider on the right while I was passing correctly on the left, and all I got was the middle finger. The cluster F made the bike leg very discouraging at times.
I hit my goal watts for the first 30 miles until my nutrition was gone. At that point my mind took over and I went to a dark place. I started to feel empty. Tired of the pressure. The competitor in me faded away, and in her place a tired, fatigued, and frustrated version of myself appeared. Racing has always made me happy and today I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t enjoying the day, particularly the bike, like I should have been.
And so, I pedaled comfortably up Snow Canyon and pretty much coasted down the hill into T2. I thought about taking a DNF – it would have been my first – but somehow convinced myself that I could finish the run.
I left my family.
I worked hard for this race.
I am not a quitter.
Yes, I know we all have feelings of quitting and throwing in the towel, but this was different. Very different. My heart just wasn’t in it, and while the athlete in me didn’t quit, the competitor in me did. It was not my day to compete. And so, in my mind, I turned the day into a training day, kept it under control on the run, and never pushed out of my comfort zone to the point of suffering that I’m used to.
I battled my way through a brutal run. It was my number one concern going into the race and with good reason. The hills were relentless and the heat unforgiving. My legs were lifeless from the start and I knew my caloric intake was way under what it should have been off the bike. I tried to eat and drink as much as my stomach would allow – which wasn’t very much. Taking it one step at a time, I slogged forward and decided to encourage and uplift those around me. Supporting others always makes me feel better and slightly distracts from the pain of the race.
When I heard the noise roaring from the finish, I breathed a sigh of relief. I just wanted to be done and put the day behind me. I was incredibly emotional inside and disappointed with how the previous 24 hours had played out. Everyone has a bad day and today it was my turn to claim the title. It was a good reminder that there are so many moving parts to these races – physical, mental, emotional, tactical, and mechanical just to name a few – and anything can happen on any given day.
Feeling sorry for myself but not wanting to be a dark cloud over the race, I hung out with my coach and we cheered as my friends, his other athletes, and the rest of the competitors made their way through the finish line one by one. Although I wasn’t happy with my own performance, I was incredibly happy for, and basked in the glory of my friends who had met their goals and kicked butt on a hard course. It was awesome to see.
Onward and upward, as they say. Or is it what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Or it’s not how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up? Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure you can [INSERTE CLICHÉ MOTIVTIONAL QUOTE HERE] and that would sum up my current mental and physical state. Disappointed. Discouraged. Motivated. Now that I’ve had a few days of down time and a chance to reflect and wrap my head around everything, I know what I need to do before Ironman Canada. Rid the pressure. Make time for recovery. Find my stride. And smile. Oh yeah, and remember my nutrition, too. 😉