As the U.S. Pro Championship, I knew coming into it that St. George 70.3 was going to be a serious challenge. It lived up to that expectation – and then some. The course in itself is very tough, with lots of climbing on both the bike and the run, and more significant for me, a hot run that is totally exposed. But then add in the fact that this race touted what will certainly be one of the most elite pro fields of any half-Iron event in the world this year, and it’s safe to say this was about the hardest race I could have picked to start my pro career on the road.
But to be honest, I was totally okay with that. After all, if you want to be the best (one day!), you have to race with the best. When I put this race on my schedule, I knew I’d be up against some of the very best in the biz, but the release of the pro start list was certainly a little overwhelming: numerous multi-time Ironman champions, Ironman 70.3 champions, national champions, North American champions, world champions… and the list goes on. I couldn’t help but feel a bit like a tadpole among a sea of very big fish! But I’d accepted the challenge, and I chose to fully embrace it. Tall orders really are my favorite, and I do tend to rise to a higher level when I’m more challenged by those around me.
And, frankly, I felt confident I’d be able to hold my own on race day if I had the kind of race I knew I was capable of, and have been training for. While I’m still far off the (crazy fast!) pace of the top female pros, it was a fairly large pro field, with some depth – albeit still quite top heavy – and I felt very capable to be in the mix of things mid-pack. Training had been going extremely well. I was dropping time, and reaching levels I’d never seen before across the board with my running. My swimming was also improving greatly, with my times in the pool inching steadily closer to my old full-time swim team days as a teenager. I knew it was still early in the year for me to be at my best form on the road bike, despite the mild Tahoe winter, but I still felt really strong on my new Orbea Ordu TT bike. All signs pointed to a great day ahead, and even with such steep competition, I didn’t rule out any possibilities for myself. I continued to believe in the possibility of something great. But mostly, I really just wanted to have a solid day that lived up to what I knew I was capable of, and see where things stacked up for me from there.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for me. While there were no major course meltdowns (minus feeling like I just might melt on the run) or malfunctions out there for me, I didn’t have a great day. I didn’t feel terrible — but I did not feel good. Nothing went particularly awful, but nothing went particularly well. Above all, I didn’t have a day indicative of my potential right now. It did not match up to what I’ve achieved in training, or in my other races/time trials so far this year. It was an exceptionally mediocre performance, and that’s certainly not what I’d hoped for in my pro debut on the road. But it was what I had in me that day, and I made the most of it. In the end we can only regret chances we didn’t take, and I am happy I took this one.
As usual, there were highs and lows throughout the day, and I did my best to maximize the highs and push through the lows. I was very pleased with my swim to start the day. I felt uncharacteristically nervous the night before the race and leading up to the start, letting the intimidation factor of my first pro road start (in a stacked field) get the better of me. But once we all hit the water at Sand Hollow Reservoir on a picture perfect morning, the nerves evaporated and I settled in to race mode. I was surprised by how calm the pro women’s start was – far less aggressive and chaotic than most of the age group starts I’ve done. I felt smooth and strong in the water, and really focused on drafting and trying to stay with the women around me. I ended up moving around a bit from little pack to little pack as either I accelerated or others around me accelerated away, but I did get some good drafting practice in throughout the swim, and did quite a bit of leading, too. The swim went by quickly, which was a pleasant surprise as usually the first 1.2-mile swim of the year feels oh-so-much-longer than the 0.9-mile swims of Xterra. Sighting the buoys was easy, and for once I didn’t feel like I got off course much. All in all, a big success! Exited the water in 30:12 – would have loved to break 30 minutes, but a time I was happy with. That being said, I was already more than 6 minutes back from the leader at that point, so needless to say I still have serious work to do so I can get out of the water in a place where I’m a bit more in contention, rather than in 19th place.
On the bike, things started to get progressively mediocre. I felt okay, but I just couldn’t really get things going. I knew I was probably least prepared for the bike leg, as it’s just tough to get in really solid road training by early May in the mountains, so I wasn’t expecting to feel super strong. But it was still difficult to know I was lagging out there. I tried my best to stay calm in my mind and just focus on riding as well as I could. I felt really good on the climbs, and was actually super eager for those sections, but I just didn’t have the power I needed for the flatter sections. I felt like I was stuck in third gear, and couldn’t tap into that upper register. I pushed the last big climb section hard to try to make up some of the time I knew I’d lost in the more gradual parts of the course, but with such strong ladies out there I really couldn’t make up any ground, and ended up losing pretty significant time to a lot of the women who got out of the water just ahead of me. I clocked 2:46:07 for the 56-mile course — a time that I would have actually been pretty pleased with last year, especially with more than 4,000 feet of climbing. But at this juncture, it definitely wasn’t what I was looking for.
I headed on to the run in 24th place, really determined to make up some ground, and excited to see what I could do in this final discipline. Over the past month or so of training, I’ve finally conquered a plateau with my running that I’d been stuck on for what felt like forever. I was besting times in just about every distance in my training, and the week before St. George ran a best-ever 10k in a “training race” local Olympic-distance tri. I was really hoping to see that improvement come through over those 13.1 miles. But it didn’t, and this was probably the biggest disappointment for me because I had pretty high expectations that I felt were valid. Unfortunately, though, I hit my lowest points of the day on the run, and frankly was suffering. I did not feel good at all.
I’m sure there were several factors that led to a very painful run for me, but the heat was by far the most significant, and despite my best efforts, I really struggled with it. I knew that would be the toughest thing for me, as it’s always a challenge for my body, but particularly so early in the year. I did everything I could ahead of the race to be as prepared as possible for the heat but it still got the better of me, with temps hitting the 90s when I finished the race, and virtually zero shade on what was already a brutal run course. By the halfway point, I was seriously hurting, and felt completely dehydrated no matter how much I drank through each aid station. It was a suffer-fest, but I had no choice but to dig deep, tough it out and push on. I stayed as positive as possible in my mind, and for how terrible I felt I’m actually pretty happy with how I was able to keep pushing. I’d passed another pro early on in the run, but she found a strong second wind and passed back by me with about a mile-and-a-half to go, at a pace I just couldn’t respond to. So 1:37:38 later, I crossed the line to notch my first pro 70.3 finish in 24th place (of 25 seriously bad-ass pro women), with a total time of 4:59:06. I gave it everything I had. I just wish that had been more.
It was a tough day, and certainly not the performance I was looking for. But it’s still a performance I am proud of. If there’s one thing I’ve realized by this point in my athletic career, it’s that, ultimately, the great days and the outstanding performances are actually not near as important as the really tough days, or the performances that leave us with much to be desired. These are the days that push us to grow; the days that truly define our characters as athletes; the days that require the most courage and strength; and the days that we should really be most proud of.
I wish I could have turned in a better result and been able to be more competitive with the rest of the pro field, but most of all I wish I had the day I know I’m capable of. I did not reach my potential, and for that I was very disappointed. But I gave it everything I had in the face of a challenge, and made the most of my race experience, and for that I am proud. The pro field is fast – crazy fast! Everyone is tough, there are no slackers, and everyone is going to give it 100 percent. An average day just doesn’t cut it out there.
But I know I have more good days ahead, and I’m excited to see what I can do when things line up for me in the 70.3 – hopefully in Boise in June! When I think back to last year at this same time, I had to drop out of my first 70.3 of the year (and the only race I have ever dropped out of) due to heat stroke, and then hurt my knee a few days later, so this year is definitely major progress over that. I’m grateful for the progress I have made! But I know I can do better. I am determined to do better. I am inspired and motivated for what lies ahead, and not discouraged by this lackluster result. And I am grateful for another race experience in the bank, the lessons I learned and the chances I took.