Last time, I did the 70.3 World Championships was back in 2014 in Mt. Tremblant, and it was there and then I swore I would never do another one of these again because of the blatant drafting that dominated that race. So when a women’s and men’s specific races were announced for the 2017 World Championships, I was 100% in.
Before getting into the nitty gritty, this was hands down the most fair, honest, tough, challenging 70.3 race course I have ever competed in, and I can only wish that every single race would be this honest and fair!
This was a race course that highlighted your strength and exposed your weaknesses! It was a swim course for swimmers with nearly half the swim against the current, bike course for cyclist with 3500 feet of climbing with 1000 feet of climbing coming over a 3.5 mile climb only 5 miles into the bike course, and finally run course for runners with nearly 1000 feet of climbing and essentially no flat ground over the 13.1 miles.
I arrived in Chattanooga on Thursday mid afternoon few hours later than expected thanks to the unexpected traffic on the drive from Atlanta. I went immediately to the expo to register and hopefully put my bike back together. Seeing my bike packed up in a bike bag is always stressful no matter what.
Thankfully Chattanooga is home of Quintana Roo, and my bike was put together in a blink of an eye! Thank you Quintana Roo.
"Black Firebird" in all its beauty
After getting up at 3:30am, sitting on the plane for 3 hours, and then another 3 hours in the car, I finally made it to my hotel, which was a short 15-20 min drive away, although at this point even that felt like forever. My original plan was to drive the bike course, but the thought of another 56 miles in the car didn’t sound appealing at all. I opted for a quick swim at the local YMCA, and the welcome banquet before getting whatever food I needed for race morning.
On Friday (the day before the race), my plan was to get up early (sidenote: the sun doesn’t rise until 7:20am), do a quick swim on the course, followed by a quick bike ride to make sure “Black Firebird” was ready to go, and finally the best part of the day - breakfast before driving the course.
I don’t think I have EVER raced on a course I didn’t ride or drive before hand and I wasn’t about to make an exception. I like to know what I am in for and where I can take risks or where I need to be cautious.
All was going according to schedule, until it wasn’t.
I guess better before the race than during the race!
Time to get a new tire and tube. Of course the tube I wanted to use was in my hotel room, which was at least a 40 min round trip, and who knew that buying a new tire would take an hour. Yes - the check out line at the expo bike store was that slow!
To spare you the details, it wasn’t before 4pm that “Black Firebird” was ready to go and checked into transition along with my transition bags.
New tire and all - racked & ready!
T1 transition bag
T2 transition bag
And just like that, my chill day turned into quite the hectic day instead. At this point, I decided to grab dinner for later (thankfully my hotel room had a microwave) and drive the bike course.
At least driving it this late meant that all the turns were marked so I couldn’t get lost. I drove the entire 56 mile course, and I knew we were in for a treat! I finally got back into my hotel room around 7pm after a lot longer day on my feet than expected but it was what it was.
I ate my dinner, visualized my race plan a few times, and went to bed.
Because I was flying solo for this one, I wanted a good close parking spot to transition so I arrived at the race site super early – as in, I literally was like the 10th person into transition! It was actually great and I enjoyed the quiet and stress free atmosphere. I put air in my tires, nutrition on my bike (2 bottles of Levelen 5 – hello sodium, and 4 clif bar gels), and I also added couple of rice/potato cakes along with my salt pills into my T1 bag. Then I just chilled out for the rest of the morning, and visualized my race from the beginning to the end a few times. Before I knew it, it was time to line up in the age group corrals which were extremely well organized!
The Swim: 37:21
I lined up at the tail end of the 28-30 min group, and although I was a bit nervous about getting into water with this bunch because I certainly knew I wasn’t going to swim this time, I didn’t want to wait too long to get in like I did in Texas which I dearly paid for. I was essentially just hoping to hop on some faster feet, which happened but sadly not for too long.
The swim start was unique and definitely a bit stressful.
This is how the pros do it! Sadly there isn't a shot of my running start cannonball!
Since we weren’t able to warm up in the water,I brought a water bottle with me that I poured down my wetsuit and over my head shortly before it was my turn to dive in – I mean cannon ball in. The saying don’t do anything new on race day couldn't be more true, and I sure wasn’t about to belly flop and lose my goggles.
I was able to grab feet all the way to the first turn buoy (which really wasn’t that far) but the turn ended up being super congested and I lost my draft. After the turn buoy it looked like everyone just went their own way, and thanks to swimming nearly 1000 yards against the current and into the sun that had just began to rise 30 minutes earlier, I couldn’t see anything at all. I was really wishing for that underwater cable from Lake Placid! I noted this during my practice swim so I was mentally ready for it, but it still sucked. I couldn’t see the buoys until I was on top of them, and I am just glad the turn buoy had a kayaker at it because otherwise I could have kept swimming.
My goal was to stick closer to the shore line on the way out, and then swim back on the inside of the buoys closer to middle of the river so that I could avoid and then take advantage of the current. I didn’t quite execute on that on the way out, but stuck to the inside of the buoys on the way back. Even though the current supposedly wasn’t too strong – looking at my watch I was swimming 1:50s against the current and 1:20s with the current so there! I hit the stairs with 36 and change. I had no idea where anyone else was, but I knew one thing- I felt great.
I definitely wasn’t expecting to see wetsuit strippers, but these volunteers were absolutely amazing. One guy unzipped my wetsuit before I even made it up the 5 stairs out of the water, and before I knew it, 2 people were pulling the wetsuit off my arms and another 2 of my legs! Can we have these guys at every race?
Slightly akward but that dude is literally getting my out of my BlueSeventy wetsuit on the go!
I grabbed my T1 bag, and before making my way up the first hill of the race – the ramp in transition – I began to put my rice potato cakes and salt pills into my pockets. All that was left was to put my helmet on, sprint to my bike with my shoes in hand, shoes on at the bike and I was out. One of these days I'll practice a flying mount.
The Bike: 2:34:04
The strategy? Go big or go home a.k.a hammer time! With the Lookout Mountain climb starting around mile 5, my goal was to push it! If I blew up later, I blew up but this was my time to make my move and take advantage of my strength! There was no saving watts. I knew it was going to be around 20 min of work thanks to Best Bike Split, and the total climb took me just little over 19 min.
Controlled hammer time!
I felt like I was in either Tucson, Arizona or the App Gap in Vermont, chasing the mountain goats I normally train with. I have done climbs like these many times, but this was a first in a race and it was so much fun! 3.5 miles and 19 min of fun! (Just a tad bit steeper than you average hill)
Climbing and smiling :)
Once we crested the mountain, my work wasn’t done. I kept the foot on the gas, and before I knew it was going through the first aid station at mile 15 of the race, which is when I realized I have barely eaten or drank anything! I am usually like clockwork but I don’t usually go out this hard either.
1st hour power because "fearless"
Because I didn’t have any water on board, I quickly tried to finish my 20oz of Levelen before tossing the bottle to make room for water. Chugging nearly 50g of carbs so quickly didn’t prove to be the best decision I have made all day, but I had to roll with the punches.
The rest of the bike course continued to be very undulating but nothing like the very first climb. It really awarded athletes with great handling skills, great descending skills, and the ability to carry momentum and speed from downhills into uphills and vice versa. I was in heaven!
Still climbing, and still smiling :)
I spent a lot of time screaming on your left, especially on some of the long descents. Most everyone moved over, but the 2 cars I came upon on the most fun and fastest descend didn’t. (I guess they didn’t hear me). I was easily moving 40+mph and there was no need to touch the brakes but I digress. I pulled up next to an official that was also behind these cars and asked them if I could go around. The answer was of course – NO as the course was open to traffic. I eventually snuck through on the inside and continued to hammer! It sucked, but I will take this over racing on a course full of male egos anytime.
Zoom, zoom, zoom
Like I already said – this was by far the most FUN and FAIR bike course I have ever been part of! I surely didn’t miss the cat and mouse game that some men like to play when they realize they are about to get passed or when they get passed by a female. And I certainly loved the fact that no girls had a chance to hop into big male draft packs! Girls drafting other girls is very different than girls hanging in the middle of or behind packs of men!
As very much a rhythmic rider, I was able to get into my own rhythm for 56 miles, and it certainly showed at the end! I was super excited to have posted the fastest amateur female bike split but most importantly my highest 70.3 power and effort to date.
I did my flying dismount, handed my bike to a volunteer and struggled a bit to find my run bag because most of them (except for 2) were all still there.
The Run: 1:38:20
I am not super happy with my run time (I can do much better than that), but I am happy with my effort and my never give up attitude. The run course was tough – it was either up or down, and although my legs were feeling pretty good given the effort, my fueling mishaps during the bike have eventually caught up with me.
Still moving well cuz mile 1 ;)
On the first loop, I tried to eat a bit more, attack the uphills within a reason, and attack the downhills a bit more. I wasn’t watching my pace or HR – I was going purely on effort. I was pretty much alone the entire 6.5 miles which was a bit surreal, but being the 3rd wave of amateurs will do that.
The 2nd loop was a bit more congested, the hills surely grew bigger and I really began to struggle especially on some of the steeper uphill sections. My legs just didn’t want to leave the ground, but I knew I had to keep moving. I tried my best to keep moving on the ups and then returning back to good form on the way down.
About half way through still holding strong
With about 1.5 miles left, Robyn who had beaten me in Lake Placid just a few weeks ago came by me, and I knew I had go with her. She is an awesome, super nice chick, but there was no way she was beating me again. With the rolling start I had no idea when she started but since she is a better swimmer than I am, I assumed she started somewhere in front of me. I gave myself 15 seconds. I was literally hanging on for dear life, trying to close the 10 or so yard gap that Robyn opened up and praying she slows down because I didn’t have much left.
Not having to pre-ride or pre-drive the run course, I had no idea where the finish line was which was less than ideal but forced me to really run with my heart and dig deeper than deep. When rounding the corner for the finish line, I was told it was right there, so I kicked it up another notch except the finish line wasn’t RIGHT there!
Here is my training partner in crime responsible for telling me that finish line was right there ;) (NOT)
My pace was nothing to write about, but I was definitely running on empty as a result of my bike fueling mishaps. I shut my eyes, gritted my teeth and eventually face planted ITU style after crossing the finish line.
Yup - THAT hurt!
I think my quad and lungs are about to explode. (Sorry - no face plant pics)
Overall: 4:55:10 - 4th AG (35-39), 15th overall amateur
In the end, Robyn was 5th but she definitely pushed me more than I would have pushed myself if she wasn't there. Only racing a single half ironman this year, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, so I am super happy with my first ever 70.3 podium after a year of focusing on the long stuff. This race had given me a lot of confidence as I continue to get ready for Kona in just a few short weeks!
As always, big thank you to my sponsors who help me chase my dreams – Quintana Roo – definitely the most comfortable and speedy bike I have ever been on; Refreshinq – for making sure I am healthy and recovering well day to day, Coolcore for keeping me comfy, and cool in training and racing, BlueSeventy for helping keep getting faster in the water and Levelen for allowing me to dial in my hydration. To my supporters CycleOps and FinisSwim - thank you! Your tools play a big part of my
training routine on daily basis.
Next Up - Kona baby! :)