2019 had its ups and downs. First full year racing as a pro. Honestly my biggest goal was to see if I could compete in the pro field without embarrassing myself. I'd say I accomplished that most of the time. Lots to work on for next year. Bike intensity. Run consistency. And, err, updating my blog more often.
This year I started four Ironmans and finished three of them. Believe it or not, I started the year believing that I wanted to do exactly zero Ironmans this season.
Rewind to 2018. I fell out of love with Ironman distance at IM Texas, where I got my first ever DNF. I decided I had had enough of racing full Ironmans, and would rather focus on shorter distances. I maintained this attitude for the rest of the season.
Then in January my swim team, Charles River Masters, did the 100x100. It's a 10k swim, and I had been warned about how hard it was going to be. You're supposed to bring food and water, and swim on an interval ten seconds slower than what you would normally do in practice. The 1:30 lane was too crowded, so I ended up in the 1:25 lane.
I spent the first mile worrying about whether I'd be able to keep up. I spent the last five miles falling in love with long distance again. The farther I went, the better I felt. At the end, I realized I was supposed to be tired, and yet I was bursting with energy! I went home and went for a long bike ride - and started researching those Ironman races I had said I wasn't going to sign up for.
I signed up for Ironman Boulder, in June, though first I had a couple of other races to do.
In April, I ran the Boston Marathon alongside my mom. It was a priceless experience, though I went into it with the false assumption that running a 5-hour marathon would be easy. I came away with a newfound respect for all 5-hour marathoners, particularly my mother!
Two weeks later, I did St Anthony's Triathlon, an olympic distance race. I got dropped at the beginning of the swim. Age groupers pace themselves. Pros sprint at the beginning, and try to drop each other before forming packs and settling in. I got dropped, and spent the next 2+ hours trying to catch up. But I was pleased to finish in 2:14, which was a new PR for the distance. After crossing the finish line, I immediately ran ten more miles, to make up for some of the training I'd missed while recovering and tapering.
I went into Ironman Boulder feeling optimistic. I hadn't done as many long rides and runs as I'd meant to, but the ones I had done had gone well. Boulder would be my first time racing at altitude, and my first full Ironman as a pro.
The swim went much better than at St Anthony's, and to my surprise, I found myself in 3rd place as I approached transition. This was both exciting and scary - I'd never been in the top three in any segment of a pro race! When I got out of the water, a guy with a video camera chased me all the way through transition, from the swim exit to the bike mount line. I was flustered! Should I smile for the camera? Should I look focused? Should I try to think of something entertaining to say? Most importantly, I had better not trip and break my toe like last time!
Having had my brief moment of fame, the rest of the race went more as expected, and I faded towards the back of the pack. I got passed by several people. Then I made a wrong turn, and added about ten minutes. It became harder to keep out negative thoughts.
When I started the run, my mom told me I was in 9th. "How far back from 8th?" I wanted to know. "Eleven minutes." Oh boy. Eleven minutes was a long time. But then, 26 miles was a long way. Maybe I could close the gap. I pushed the pace, and ran pretty well the first ten miles. When I saw my mom again, I asked enthusiastically, "What's the split time now?" "Ten minutes." What?! I had been pushing that hard, and I had made up one minute over ten miles?! I started losing it mentally. Of course I couldn't catch these girls. They were pros! What was I doing racing with the pros, anyway?
The second half of the marathon was a death march. I finished in 10:43. I had initially thought there were two more pros behind me, but learned they'd both dropped out of the race. I was dead freaking last. I went home with serious doubts about whether I belonged in the pro field.
I was signed up for the Mt Tremblant 70.3 two weeks later. I wasn't expecting to do well, particularly after Boulder, but hey, after placing dead last there's nowhere to go but up!
The swim and bike went fairly well. Then came the run. My legs felt good, but I had no idea what pace I was running, because there were no mile markers. Canada runs on kilometers! But the 10k split meant something even to my metrically-challenged American brain. I looked at my watch, hoping for around 43 minutes. 41 minutes. Holy crap. It was a good thing there weren't any mile markers, because if I'd known how fast I was running when I was only one or two miles in, I would have thought I was going out too fast, and slowed down!
A few minutes later, I got to the turn around - and discovered to my relief that there were several people behind me. Running back towards the finish, I felt like I was flying!
I was 11th / 17 at Mt Tremblant. Even though it wasn't a podium finish, it was a turning point for me, because it was the first time I felt like maybe I did belong in the pro field after all.
Sometimes, like in Boulder, we think we're prepared going into a race, but then we break down, physically or mentally, and don't do as well as we were hoping to. And sometimes - much more rarely - we have a magical day and do much, much better than we ever expected. The 100x100 swim was magic. The run at Mt Tremblant was magic. Both of these times, I was lucky enough to appreciate this magic while it was happening - rather than realizing it in hindsight, while trying unsuccessfully to repeat the performance.
In Part 2 of this blog, I'll talk about high volume training, the Boston Triathlon, and my return trip to Mt Tremblant for the full Ironman. Stay tuned!