Race Recap: Ironman 70.3 World Championship 2021

A goal of mine has been to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship and this year it happened. A couple days after completing the 70.3 in Chattanooga in May I received an email that I had qualified (they didn’t do anything in person due to COVID). I was shocked and excited, but not quite sure if I should do it because I had another race, an Ironman 70.3 in Memphis, less than two weeks after Worlds. But I decided that you never know, this might be my only chance to race in Worlds, so I signed up for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in St. George, Utah. Then I looked at the course…

Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga

The course looked brutal. The run course was a double loop with a 1293 foot elevation gain, most of it being in the first 3.5 miles which you had to do twice. Not to mention the insanely steep downhill sections that leave your quads and toenails crying.

It was bike course, though, that scared me the most. There was a total of 3442 ft of elevation gain along the course which is a lot, but it was Snow Canyon State Park that really had me worried. From miles 38-46 on a 56 mile ride, I was going to have to climb 1200+ feet with some pretty steep grades the final 5k or so up the mountain. I really wasn’t sure if I could do it.

I never really gave a thought to the swim course, but little did I know what was to come (cue ominous music…)

A couple weeks after I found out that I qualified for Worlds; my friend Alicia qualified. I was so excited! Not only did I now have a training partner, but it was one of my very best friends.

We got down to business and started training in the heat and humidity of a Tennessee summer. So many early mornings with dew points already hovering in the 70%s and so many hills. The summer was a rollercoaster of emotions for me- one minute I’d be excited about the race and the next I’d be nervous and scared and so tired.

My biggest breakthrough came with a weekend trip back to Chattanooga, TN. Alicia, our friend Armand, and I spent two days just climbing mountains on our tri bikes. I never dreamed I’d be able to bike 5/6 miles straight up at a steady incline of 10%+ grades without tipping over. But I did it! Just kept chugging along until I reached the top; shocked that I had made it up. Armand had planned our mini-bike camp and I am forever grateful to him. After that weekend, mentally, I knew I could do the St. George bike course.

As race day approached, Alicia and I narrowed our concerns about the course to 4 things: the extremely high 100 degree temperatures that Utah had been having all summer, how to stay hydrated with no humidity, the elevation gains on the courses, and a fun bonus anxiety- parasites in the lake we’d be swimming in that cause an itchy rash called swimmers itch (what?!!) We developed plans for all concerns (even the parasites) and headed out to Utah with our amazing Sherpa husbands feeling pretty prepared.

Race Day!

The day dawned cool and clear and calm with a beautiful sunrise. Our first couple concerns of a hot, dry race were unfounded. The sun was just breaking over the horizon as the pros, who went first before the rest of us, got into the water. The rest of us non-pros are called age groupers and we compete mainly against other people our age and sex in 5 year age groups. Because of changes that Ironman made since a lot of the world was not able to get into the US due to COVID restrictions, I was the very last age group to get into the water (a fact that I most definitely whined more than a little about!)

It actually made for a very weird morning. I got to sleep in, take my time getting to the start of the race, and then tried to figure out nutrition timing with not starting the race until 9:52am. I have never started a race so late in the day!

There go the female Pros!

Finally it was my age group’s turn to line up and head towards the water. Every 15 seconds they would have 10 of us run down the end of the boat ramp we were standing on into the water to start our 1.2 mile swim. I looked behind me as I was waiting for my turn and noticed that clouds were beginning to build in the distance, but the view over the water was all blue sky and sun.

Sand Hollow Reservoir looking calm and beautiful the day before the race.

When it was my turn to go, I ran into the water and started to swim. I am not a fast swimmer but I can get into a groove where I feel like I can go forever. My coach calls in yoga swimming. Even though a lot of people passed me on the swim, I was ok with it because I knew my heart rate was low and I could just keep moving forward.

Storms a coming.

I got to the buoy furthest away from our start which is where you turn, swim parallel with the shore for a bit, and then swim around another buoy to start the swim back to shore. As I was swimming around that furthest buoy I glanced at the sky and, what had been tiny clouds in the distance when I started the swim, was now dark and angry. I just kept swimming. I swam around the buoy at the halfway point to head back towards the shore and noticed that it had started to rain a little. But it was no big deal, I’ve swam in the rain. Then in an instant everything changed and all hell broke loose.

This is a video someone took from transition. I was in the water during this.

I have never seen the water conditions change so fast. I couldn’t wrap my mind around what was happening because I went from swimming to being tossed around in a churning lake just struggling to keep my head above the water. I tried to find the next buoy or even just sight the shore but I couldn’t see either because of the waves and rain. I noticed red and blue lights of the sheriff rescue boats heading out into the water towards us and thought, this can’t be good. I started to freak out a bit so I flipped on my back and started swimming towards shore. It was easier but then I began to worry that I wouldn’t make the cut off time that you had to complete the swim in and would receive a DNF (did not finish- every triathletes greatest fear!). So I gave myself a pep talk about this being Worlds and I was with the best of the best so I needed to act like it and get to shore. I flipped back around, was immediately slapped in the face by a wave, and started attempting to move forward.

Meanwhile, Alicia running in from the swim as the storm approaches. The storm hit her as she was out on the bike course.

I looked around and it looked like a scene from the movie Titanic. There were women bobbing in the water all around me. One woman was on her back crying. I tried to say something to encourage her but just got a mouthful of water. Then I noticed that we were surrounded by volunteers on boats. Canoes, kayaks, paddle-boards, jet skis; they were all in the storm with us determined to keep us safe. I never feared for my life because of them! My biggest fear was actually that if I went up to one of the boats I would get a DNF. At one point someone had thrown out a rescue float and I got tangled in the strap. I quickly got it off of me still fearful that it would result in a DNF. I later learned that the race officials called the race for the women probably right behind me (I was pretty slow in my age group) and did pull them from the water but let them continue the on with the rest of the race which I was happy to hear.

This picture made me laugh. I am exiting the water completely shell-shocked like what just happened out there!

I finally made it to shore and ran to the transition area to get my bag with the items for my bike in it. As I sat it began to hail and rain even harder. I laughed at the towel I had placed in the bag to dry off with as the girl next to me said, almost to herself, “I didn’t travel all the way to Utah to quit after the swim.” That was all the motivation I needed. I threw on the rest of my bike gear and grabbed my bike.

As I was attempting to run out of transition with my bike, the rain and hail pelting me, they announced the first male Pro had just finished the race. I started laughing at the absurdity of what I was doing in that minute and got on my bike for a very scary descent out of transition.

One of the race officials was yelling at us to get out of the lake area as quick as possible because the weather would improve. I pedaled quickly up the hill in the 30mph wind and driving rain and came to my first descent. I thought to myself that as long as I didn’t have to use the breaks I would probably be okay, so I went for it. And it did get better as I went along and the storm passed. Eventually the rain slowed to a drizzle, the wind let up, and then finally it all stopped.

The bike course was hilly as promised, but after what we had been through it seemed like no big deal. I was around only women because of when I had started in the race and everyone was amazing. I have never had such a respectful, encouraging, and really good group of riders. I had fun through much of the course. The spectators were amazing; out there cheering us on despite the weather. It also helped that I had decided to not push the ride real hard. I rode the entire course at 70/75% NP so I just felt good. And all too soon I reached Snow Canyon State Park, the part of the ride I had been most concerned with.

Snow Canyon picture from a few days before the race. Absolutely beautiful!

I entered the park and began to climb. It’s a fairly steady climb but the grade doesn’t really get bad until the end. Again, I loved all of the women around me. We laughed and joked and sang and kept moving forward. I kept waiting for the “bad part” and it never came! All at once I was at the top. I had trained so well over the summer that my biggest fear of the entire course had been fine.

I turned out of the park and began a 9 mile descent back into town and the run transition (T2). Suddenly storm #2 hit. Driving rain and 20-30 mph crosswinds smacked me sideways as I tried to pedal down the sharp descent. I immediately sat upright on my bike and took it easy. I was amazed at the women who flew by me in aero position like it was no big deal, but that would not be me. I made it to transition ready to get off my bike.

The rain let up while I was in T2 and I started the run which was all uphill for around the first 3.5 miles. I felt okay and began to run along when suddenly I saw my husband, my coach Nicole, and friends all cheering me on. It was so great to see them! My husband ran with me for a bit asking how I was and then I waved goodbye to them, revived.

The run was as I thought it would be, a slow slog up the steepest section to a beautiful view of St. George far below us. Again, everyone was so encouraging to each other. I made use of way too many aid stations just so I had an excuse to walk a bit (I’ve never been so hydrated!). I reached the top and began the steep run downhill. My husband, coach, and friends were there on the downhill and they asked how I felt. “My poor toenails!” I yelled as I headed down the 11% grade. I reached the turnaround point and did the entire run again; albeit a little slower this time up that hill. The sun was out in full force now, the storms long gone, and it was hot.

Before I knew it I was running towards the finish line. I had done it! I crossed the finish line with my arms held high feeling good. It had been the craziest race I have ever done weather-wise, but all in all a great race. I finished with a time and place in my age group that I feel good about and am happy to have never felt miserable.

One of my favorite parts of the 2021 Ironman 70.3 St. George has been listening and reading about everyone’s experiences. We are always advised to run our own race, and nothing has ever been more accurate. Every single person on that course hit the storms in a different location and had a very unique race based on where they were. Yet, for the most part, we all persevered and are stronger for it and have memories and great stories that we will all be telling for years!

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