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Ironman 70.3 World Championships 2017

Tags: bike race climb
It’s a little hard for me to believe that last weekend has already come and gone. I anticipated it for so long, worked my ass off for it, and just like that.. *poof* I knew that I was in for an experience, but I never anticipated what I actually got.

My name.. on the World Championship banner 😍

Mark and I rolled into Nashville pretty late Wednesday night (technically Thursday morning) and shacked up with some of my college friends (Lauren and Ben, who also joined us later for the entire Race weekend). We got some precious shut eye, woke up to some amazing coffee, an adjustment and PT work performed by our lovely hosts, and we hit the road. Less than 2 hours later, we entered Chattanooga and the energy in the air was electric. We emptied our car at the house we rented while Ryan was out riding the Bike course and headed straight to the Ironman Village so I could get checked in.

Middle of the night welcome notes from Lauren - simply the best 💓

Nashville Chiropractic: Getcha some

I’ve been through the check-in process umpteen times at all the various events I’ve been a part of throughout the years, but never has the process been more thorough and detailed than it was for the World Championship race. There are no newbies at this race considering you have to qualify to enter, but the attention to detail was immaculate. Maybe it was because I was one of the earlier ones to check-in, I’m not sure. The volunteer who checked me in also happened to be the lead Kayaker for the swim course and he whipped out a swim course map and gave me some magical tips on how to swim my best race against a current. This guy, he was my savor. As he packed up my envelope of stickers and bib and last minute instructions, he also handed me a hand written note from a local grade schooler. It was a goodluck letter that made my heart melt. Her drawings also made me realize that I needed to do some bike upgrades 😉

Adorable
After some expo browsing and a quick lunch nearby, Mark and I stumbled upon the Parade of Nations. A chance for all the athletes to walk in a parade with their fellow countrymen and proudly wave their flag to the streets filled with family, friends, and locals of Chattanooga. I even had the chance to hold the big American flag and represent the Stars and Stripes. 

Such a cool honor
Mark and I wrapped up the evening with a quick shake out run followed by dinner with Ryan. As soon as dinner was over, we started to greet the rest of the group. Nate and Trina arrived shortly after we got home and Jacqui's flight landed ahead of schedule, despite being delayed. I desperately needed some good sleep but couldn't imagine laying down as the band pulled into town. Finally, it was time for some solid sleep, tomorrow was going to be a busy day. 

FRIDAY:

We all woke on Friday morning and headed to the river for some open water swim practice on the course. I had secretly been anticipating this moment for quite a while. Swimming in this river in May (downstream) was not going to compare to swimming the course for this race (800m upstream). I'm not a terrible swimmer, nor am I the best. But I've never had a professional swim lesson and I was seriously worried about what swimming against a strong current would do to me on race day. Alas, I made it out of the water, albeit slowly. I overheard some officials say that the water was moving 2-3x faster than normal today and they would most likely slow the down the current at the dam on race day. There really is as God! It'll be a birthday miracle! To top it off, the water temperature was sitting at 76.2 degrees... exactly .1 degrees away from a wetsuit legal race. Lemme tell ya, I said a few extra prayers that night before I went to bed.

Me & my girl 😉

Trina may or may not have been in a porta pottie and Nate told us to take the picture without her 😲

At this point, I'm sure you're wondering where my better half is, right? Well, in the weeks and days leading up to the race, his appearance in Chattanooga for my 30th birthday celebration with the best athletes in the world was looking to be more and more of a slim possibility. He was only promised so many days off during the busy season (which is right now) and this trip was added to the calendar at the last minute, so his appearance was never guaranteed.. but we were always the most hopeful. I was mentally prepared to spend this weekend without my rock. I didn't want to do it, but I knew it was a great possibility. It was Friday morning at 11am and I still had not heard word of Rob getting Friday night off work so he could travel to the race. We call this, life. It happens. But then, as we were all headed our separate ways from the river my phone rang and it was Rob. He should be sleeping, he has to work in a few hours, what is he doing? 

"So my rental car was supposed to be available at 9am so I could be down there for a dinner surprise, but now I can't get a car until after 2pm, so I had to call you and let you know that I'll be there in the middle of the night." - Rob

I ugly cried right where I stood at the RyBread Racing tent (as Ryan tried to assemble the tent solo while I cried like a baby). I couldn't believe it, my number 1, my ride-or-die, my rock. He wasn't going to miss it after all. If my math stood me correctly, he'd be arriving about 1am Eastern time. I gave him quick instructions on how to enter the house and find the room where I'd be sleeping. As soon as I hung up the phone, I felt like a new person. I never realized how heavy my chest had been, until now. I was light as a feather and officially ready to race.

Mark headed to the bike course with Nate and Trina to get their long rides in for the weekend while Jacqui and I took our bikes for a quick spin around town to make sure everything was in working order. And they were, including the 10 millions stops we made because of all the traffic. Apparently Chattanooga is busier when there are 60+ countries in town, who knew?


But the important thing is we both survived with no flips over the handle bars 
After Ryan had to go pick up Mark on the top of Lookout Mountain because his derailleur busted and exploded from the climb (I kid you not), and a quick lunch at Aretha Frankensteins (I can't make up these names people, I swear it was the weirdest breakfast place I'd ever been to), it was time to check in our gear.  OMGGGGGGGGG, there's no turning back now! Once they have my bike I have to go through with this! 

Ryan handles Jacqui's bike like a toy

Jacqui is OK with this

I'm holding onto mine for dear life

Ready or not, here we come!
The process was simple and just like any other Ironman event. Drop off your bike and your gear bags, Get out. However, while in transition Jacqui ran into a girl she knew. That's Dani Vsetecka, she won Madison 70.3 and her slot rolled down to you because she already had a slot. YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME. YOU MEAN THAT GIRL YOU WERE JUST TALKING TO IS PART OF THE REASON I'M EVEN ABLE TO BE HERE!? I had to introduce myself and personally thank her. She truly had no idea how much this weekend meant to me. She was so sweet, and sincere, and pure. Oh my gosh, I'm SO happy I was able to meet you! And it's your birthday!? THAT'S AMAZING! 

So happy!

It was officially time to head to the pre-race meal. We changed into something a bit nicer for dinner and were at the restaurant by 6pm. The host took us to our table that happened to be covered by a curtain. The curtain was drawn and the table wasn't empty. There stood my cousin Michael and his wife Carrie, video cameras in hand to capture my reaction. You have to be kidding me! I told Ryan NO SURPRISES this time! They had this trip planned within days after I qualified and didn't tell a single person until earlier in the week. I've said it once and I'll say it again, my support system never ceases to amaze me. 

Turns out, I'm pretty easy to surprise!

GUYS TOMORROW'S THE BIG DAY!
I had so many emotions going on throughout dinner. Omg you're going to be 30 tomorrow, you're going to be racing against the best triathletes in the WORLD, you're going to climb a MOUNTAIN. But nothing could fill my mind more than the the fact that I knew Rob was on his way, and he wasn't going to miss any of it. Soon, it was time to head back to the house, welcome Lauren and Ben into town, greet Ryan's dad from the airport, and head to bed. I laid in bed and did a terrible job at the game "close your eyes and try to sleep". I had some serious adrenaline in my body. I must have drifted off to sleep because soon I awoke at 12:30pm to a cell phone light that stood in front of my ride-or-die. My spectathlete was officially in Chattanooga, wishing me the first Happy Birthday and gave me a smooch as we both zonked back to sleep. Four hours later, it was time to get this show on the road. 

SATURDAY - RACE DAY - BIRTHDAY!

I made it to the kitchen to find Nate already setting up the coffee station. No regular coffee pot for this coffee snob. Aero press with only the best coffee. "One birthday coffee coming right up!" he said as the living room inhabitants had no choice but to start waking up because I was not about to sip my birthday coffee in the dark. Before I knew it, it was time to head to transition. I woke up Rob like a giddy school girl. Part of me was still in shock that he made it. He moved his car, kissed me goodbye, and promised to see me after I was done fiddling with transition. Ryan started the car, and Jacqui and I were officially being chauffeured to the 70.3 Ironman World Championships.

Chattanooga sunrise: priceless
If I told you that as I walked into transition behind Jacqui, that it wasn't until THEN that the enormity of the day I was about to go through finally hit me, would you believe me?  My throat started to tighten up and my vision became very blurry. Jacqui turned her head back to say something to me and I immediately rubbed my eyes and swallowed hard. Save that shit for later, you'll never make it out of the water if you start crying now. Transition setup was painless and easy. I even heard rumor that the announcer made sure to wish me a happy birthday! Soon, we reunited with the group and it was time to wait.

Pre-race shot on the river

💓💓
Pre-race adjustment from Dr. Lauren Johnson
The gun went off and the pro women hit the water. I officially had 41 minutes until it was my turn to jump in. Jacqui and I started to suit up (in our WETSUITS! 76.1 degrees, YAY!!) and say our goodbyes. Imagine some of the worst butterflies in your stomach that you've ever had. Now, multiple that by like 10. You're not even close to how nervous I was to start my day.

Go-Time
SWIM:

Jacqui and I entered the swim area and were promptly handed our swim cap and ushered to our corral assignment. Standing in the crowd of purple swim capped 30-34 women, I started to feel the urge to pee. Not just "I'm nervous" pee, but "holy cow I haven't peed in like 12 hours" kinda pee. That's the level my nerves were at. We walked to our "holding area" and waited our turn to enter the water. We had heard that they were letting athletes in the water 10 at a time. They'll probably just guess and let a small group go at once. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Purple caps, ready to start the day.
Rob was able to make his way to the pier and we caught his eye seconds before we started

Jacqui and I were pretty lucky, we literally got to start this race side by side.
So I imagine you've seen the Kentucky Derby? Or at least heard of it. Horse racing is a sport like no other, and the starting process is enough to make any equestrian lose their cool. Horses are corralled behind gates, jockeys mounted and ready for the gates to open. THE START OF THIS RACE WAS JUST LIKE THE KENTUCKY DERBY. Jacqui and I entered 2 separate corals that had a line of people in them (each line had 3 people in them, guaranteeing we'd start together), secured our goggles and officially said goodbye to each other. Volunteers stood at the end of the corals, arms up blocking the athletes from crossing and jumping into the water. Every 10 seconds their arms flew into the air as the horn blew, releasing the next 10 athletes in the water. Before I knew it there was no one in front of me, and I had 10 seconds to say my last prayer.

I jumped off that dock and instantly felt better. That's all you needed, you needed the gun to go off so you could get this day started. The first part of the swim swims ACROSS the current. I did the best I could to swim straight and not let the current drag me farther south than necessary. And I'll say I did a fairly decent job. I swam in line with the buoys the entire time. I hit the red turn buoy and knew this was the moment I had been dreading, the 800m upstream portion of the swim. I made my strokes strong, fluid, and efficient as I could. I focused on high elbows, strong pulls, and treated my legs like propellers. It was very clear, the current had been slowed down quite a bit. But it was still noticeable. I knew I had to swim under 2 bridges before the next turn out of the current. I counted off the buoys and did my best to pull as hard as possible. Soon I hit the pedestrian bridge and saw the next turn buoy, You're almost out of this current. One more buoy and you're home free. Once I turned away from the current I could feel myself FLYING down stream. Most would assume this would be "rest" time to give the body a break before the next leg of the race. WRONG. PULL STRONGER NOW. USE THE CURRENT TO GET YOU OUT OF THE WATER ASAP.

If you look closely, you can see both Jacqui and I breathing at the same time!
I reached the dock and was grabbed by the volunteers by my armpit and yanked out of the water onto the dock. Time check: 41 minutes. I'LL TAKE IT. A pretty average swim for me for this distance is about 37-38 mins (36 mins is my PR) so I expected to be as much as 10 minutes slower than normal in the current. NOT TODAY KIDS. OK now it's time to have some fun and play bikes in the mountains.

T1: 4:13

Wetsuit strippers were ready and waiting to help us but I had my suit well passed my hips before I even found them. I passed on the strippers and went straight to my gear bag and made the awful run up the ramp to transition. My heart rate skyrocketed up that ramp and I sat and put my bike shoes on {because I'm not super fancy at all and like to keep this shit simple, duh} and secured my helmet. I took off and heard my name from all corners. Snagged my bike and spotted Lauren and Ben sprinting along side all of the bikes screaming their faces off. I couldn't help but grin as I was about to climb Lookout Mountain.

Running in bike shoes is cool

Makin' passes on that red carpet
Ain't no one got time for a slower than needed transition
Lookout here I come
BIKE:

Taking off on the bike I knew the first 5 miles were going to be very similar if not identical to the first 5 miles of 70.3 Chatty in May. These were some fast miles, thankfully giving our legs a chance to warmup before we started the dreaded 5k climb. I made sure to take care of business before I hit the mountain. Take in nutrition, take in plenty of water, and (most importantly) apply chapstick. {No one's got time for crazy chapped lips from a sunny day on the bike.} The day before the race Ryan gave some very solid advice. "As soon as you reach the base of the climb, and you'll know when you get there because it's like a brick wall, flip it into your little ring. Right away. You DO NOT want to stress your chain at all and risk a mechanical on that mountain and pay the price." Noted. I reached the right hand turn and knew this was where it was time to change gears. I flipped it into the little gear and nothing happened. Try again. Nothing. YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME. I was forced to dismount my bike about 100 feet up the base of climb and manually shift gears. Except... how do I get back on the bike? I was ready to run back to the base and mount at the bottom. But thankfully a spectator saw me and directed me to a driveway and told me to mount in the driveway and get my momentum back. Thank you perfect stranger, can I kiss you now?

I've thought alot about how I could describe this climb. It was definitely like nothing I've ever done before. It was twisty and curvy and it never seemed to end. Every mile there was a small break that allowed you to check yourself and get ready to start again. Every time I glanced at my watch I saw speeds that read "5.6mph" or "7.1mph" Whenever there was a short break I'd glance down be tickled to see some double digits. In the same breath, the climb was when I did the most passing all day long. I've been putting in some work over the past few years and climbs are slowly becoming my "thing" if you can even say that. Pretty soon the crowds grew thick and I felt like I was on one the Sisters in Madison. I was ready to see John come out of the woodworks and start drumming next to me. But the crowds meant one thing, we made it to the top. As soon as we reached the top we took a left hand turn and IMMEDIATELY started to descend. I checked my time: 23 minutes to climb 3.5 miles. I'll let you sit on that for a bit.

Climbing mountains..

..is no joke 😲
The descent was quick and not complete. We made it probably one quarter of the way down the mountain before we were forced to start to climb again. I had been warned about this. As soon as you think it's over, think again. Always spin as easy as you can on the climbs. Let me tell you, today was NOT the day to be unfamiliar with your gearing on your bike. By the time we completed the climb the 2nd time around I was a pro. And then, the true descent. It took me less than 10 minutes to get to the bottom. I weaved my way down these twisty and windy turns, traffic signs that read, "SLOW, SHARP TURN" separated me from the edge of the Earth to my right. Being the chicken shit that I am, I rode the breaks a few times while still seeing 40+ mph flash in front of me on my computer. Once we finished the descent the rest of the ride was just that, a ride. There were some steady efforts on the back half of this course, but the true effort was thrown at you in the very beginning. I rode the best I could and made sure to make myself uncomfortable the rest of the ride. You didn't get here so you could go for a Joy Ride, time to kick it into gear.

The inclines never truly stopped

My chin was dropped a majority of this ride. 
In case you're curious what the bike elevation profile looks like
This is what my watch read 

Soon the roads started to look familiar and I could tell we were nearing the end of the worst part of the day. I kept my head down and powered through. I was ready to have some real fun, it was time to run. Bike: 3 hours 9 minutes. 17.75mph. {Just to give you an idea of how different this course is from the 70.3 in May, I biked a 2:41 on the normal 70.3 course just 4 months prior 😂}

T2: 1:42

Pretty uneventful. I dismounted awkwardly per usual. {I'll never understand Ryan and his flying mounts and dismounts.} I handed off my bike, grabbed my run shoes and hit the road. My legs were definitely in good shape. I knew I had biked an honest ride and my legs were still ready to run. Guess Speedy knows a thing or 2 about this coaching thing huh? And now I was more than ready to have some fun for 13.1 miles. 

RUN: 

I left transition and could not believe that I was 2/3 of the way done with this race that I had anticipated for SO long. I immediately spotted Rob and not to far from him were my cousins, Michael and Carrie. The first half mile might be the only flat part of this whole race, so I was able to smile and let them know that Lookout Mountain was no joke. 

First few steps outside of transistion

ROB THAT MOUNTAIN SUCKS
I took off and entered the land of hills, the first one meeting me slowly and gradually. I could tell that I really had to pee but was hoping that the urge would go away after a mile. But it got worse and worse. Generally I would make myself wait until the end of the race, but I knew I wanted to enjoy this race to it's fullest so I stopped at the first available porta pottie and clocked 30 seconds stopped to pee. That was literally the only 30 seconds I was stopped the entire race.

Does this smile require a caption?
Just after mile 1 I spotted an adorable dog on the side of the road, attached to 2 humans that I know quite well.  BETH & JORDAN! They were all smiles and Rookie dog was not impressed with everyone on the road. {Standard, she didn't care last time either.} After I passed them I got a little extra jolt and was sayin' my prayers that this feeling of euphoria would stick around. I made my way around the Riverfront and hit the first significant hill {The RedBull Hill} and saw Jordan and Beth again. This time, less smiles as I was pretty gassed from the hill. After you catch your breath the course spits you out onto your first bridge. I took the sharp right hand turn and was greated with Lauren and Ben screaming in my face. Lauren made sure to remind EVERYONE that the birthday girl was racing, which then prompted all spectators and athletes to wish me a happy birthday. 

Real life? Yes, yes it is.
Once you complete this first bridge, you start the climb up Barton Hill. Barton Hill is the dreaded of all hills on this course. It's a steady, looooong climb. And at the end you're rewarded with a pretty fast downhill, in case your quads needed a little punishing. Half way up the hill I saw a small portion of my posse! Mark, Nate, Trina, Ryan, and his dad! I was still feelin' great despite being mid climb and noticed that my pace never faltered at this point. 

No one said climbing hills was pretty
I could go on and tell you that the next hill was worse but I'm really not sure which one was the worst. All I know is that they were constant and had 0 mercy. Coming out of the neighborhood we exited back onto Barton heading down and let me tell you, if your quads weren't destroyed before, they sure were now. This was an AGGRESSIVE downhill that reminded me of running down hills as a kid and losing control of your legs. 

Oh Hey Nicole! I know you!

DON'T FALL. DON'T FALL.
After this wild and crazy downhill, we made out way back towards the river and cross over the Pedestrian Bridge. This bridge.. I said it back in May. It is... the worst. The climb is the most gradual and slow, but it will literally suck the life out of you. Once you get up and over the bridge, you have to get ready to start lap 2. Thankfully, I saw Rob at the end. We high fived and were so exact with our hand placement that our elbows actually clicked. Talk about being on the same page. 

As promised, misery over the Pedestrian Bridge
I started my 2nd loop and the hills were still there. My pace was pretty steady for the next 4 miles. My support crew continued to pop up all over the place, and always right where I needed them most. I remember reaching mile 9 and thinking to myself, "Megan, your big day is almost over. How is this possible?" A small part of me wanted to realllly slow it down so I could make those last 4 miles last just a little bit longer. But that's not what the best triathletes in the world do, now do they? I completed my 2nd loop and was able to take the left hand turn towards the finish line. One last downhill to destroy the legs before this day is really over. I started to get a bit emotional. Just before I hit that red carpet I saw Lauren and Ben along the fence. I acknowledged them with the biggest smile and looked behind me, I wanted this red carpet to myself. 

Happy Birthday!

To ME!


My most favorite picture 

1 hour and 54 minutes after I left T2, my race was over with an official time of 5:51. I came in 147th out of 211 women in my age group, and 817th out of 1,433 women overall. For someone who didn't own bike shoes about 3 years ago, I'd say I held my own against the most talented athletes in the sport.  

In case you're curious about the run course elevation..

I reunited with everyone, and insisted on post-race pictures. {That may have been the post-race beer talking, still undecided.} 



This post first appeared on She Thought She Could, So She Did, please read the originial post: here

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Ironman 70.3 World Championships 2017

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