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!

The ghost town and the train house

The first thing I noticed was the vast emptiness. I looked around and realized just how alone I was. Rolling hills of grass reached out as far as the eye could see to touch the sky. And it was so quiet. There was no sound except for the wind; hot and dry and incessant. It all gave me an odd feeling of claustrophobia to be in a space with so much nothingness. Grass and sky and nothing more, save for the deserted house next to me. How had someone ever lived here?

We had headed south out of South Dakota, driving in a land so foreign looking to us easterners. A dry landscape of brown and muted greens had replaced the bright greens and humidity of the east coast.

Soon we passed through Ardmore, a modern day ghost town on the South Dakota-Nebraska border. Abandoned homes and cars still stand; its residents finally abandoning the town in the 1980’s due to lack of fresh drinking water. Ardmore was a town founded by the railroads and became a thriving community as its people managed to make a living on the desolate plains. But when the trains that had once brought clean drinking water to the town no longer stopped, the town could not survive. It literally dried up and it’s residents abandoned the town leaving what remained to slowly be reclaimed by the grasslands.

Once in Nebraska we turned off of the tarmac and onto a crushed gravel road. We drove past a couple farms and soon were alone, nothing but miles of grasslands around us as we drove deeper into the landscape, our car kicking up a plume of dry dust so that we could no longer see where we had come from. Our road followed a railroad track which was still in use. We passed no other cars and saw no one as we drove on. After miles of driving through the rolling plains we saw something ahead on our right. An abandoned farmstead. We decided to get out and explore.

The house was set just a little ways off of the gravel road, surrounded by the grassland on all sides. This grass that had looked so soft blowing in the wind from the car window was anything but. The grass was dry and sharp and crushed beneath my feet as I walked along toward the house under the hot sun. I also realized that there were cactus’ mixed in as my heel brushed against one giving me a good scrape. Such a harsh landscape to build a house.

The house was a bit rambling with three separate buildings butting up to each other at 90 degree angles. We speculated that maybe the owners added on to the house as needed. A few outbuildings and farm equipment lay scattered about the property as well. The hot dry wind blew as we explored, rattling a piece of lose roofing.

We walked inside one of the sections of the house and the first thing I noticed was a lack of the mildew smell that’s so prevalent in the abandoned buildings at home where anything left on its own long enough will rot and decay back into the land. Here buildings seemed to reach a sort of dusty mummification, standing proudly as if to prove that someone had once survived in this harsh climate. The second thing I noticed was that this had not started out as a house.

The long, narrow room had walls that rounded up into the ceiling, a seemingly odd choice for such a rustic structure. We looked up and saw an area where the ceiling had come down. Instead of finding roof rafters above the ceiling dry wall, there was the ceiling of a beautiful old train car. It hit us then, the house was made out of old train cars!

There were three train cars to be exact. The owner had moved train cars from the nearby tracks and created a house, drywalling over the inside cars and covering the outside with wood siding and a traditional roof. The cars were placed together to create a home. All throughout the house in places where the dry wall had fallen down you could see the train cars still in really good condition. Such ingenuity!

We wandered around to some of the outbuildings and saw that these too were old train cars. It was easy to spot once we realized what they were. As we explored, we speculated on why the home was built this way. Was it because this was the best option financially for the owner? Or were the railroad cars a temporary solution to a house that just became permanent? Maybe it was just a fulfillment of the dream every child who has read The Boxcar Children has had; to live in a train car? We could only guess. Whatever the reason, it had been someone’s home. A life or lives were lived here, hard work was done, dreams were fulfilled or crushed. And then, in the not so distant past, the home was abandoned and left to the elements.

As we began to leave, I stood alone taking one more look around. The loneliness of this home and this place filled me. Such quiet and isolation. It must have been so difficult to scratch out a life here. Nature appeared to have won, yet I was glad the house remained, standing proud amongst the grasses and the never ending wind. A train whistle blew in the distance and I turned toward our car, ready to be back with my family and keep moving forward down the road.

Getting away from it all during Quarantine

The late afternoon sunlight danced around us; an ever-changing movement of light and dark, warm and cold, as it filtered through the tunnel of trees we walked through at the edge of the lake. The water sparkled as a duck quietly drifted by. I took a deep breath and briefly thought how nice it was to be out hiking away from it all. Then I stopped and laughed because I was hardly “away from it all”.

Our world’s have all become very small this past month. Most of us are in our home now almost 24/7. The place you know better than any place in the world just feels different when you can’t leave it. For some it might be filled with loneliness as you spend each day alone in your home’s rooms and for others your residence might be becoming exceedingly crowded, filled to the brim with family members who are always around, day after day. I, every once in awhile, will feel claustrophobic, missing driving hundreds of miles each day for work.

What helps is getting outside. It’s spring which means the weather here is all over the place. Some days and warm and sunny, others cold and damp. The wind always blows, carrying with it pollen and, some days, the threat of tornadoes. Yet, we get outside daily. With most parks and trails closed and travel discouraged, outside is now what is directly around us. We walk, circling our neighborhood and those nearby. Houses with manicured yards, rows of townhomes with the end units still being framed, apartments with kids on scooters circling the parking lot; we walk past it all. Over and over…and over and over again.

Then one day my son and I decided to venue out of our daily circling on pavement to an area across from one of the developments we frequented. We stepped off of the sidewalk and onto a faint trail and followed it into the “wild” and into our own small adventure.

The trail started around a lake. We passed a number of people who were fishing. I asked a man who was watching his young son cast a line into the lake if they’d caught anything. “Oh yes, we’ve caught a lot,” he told me as he held his hands up to show the size of what they were catching. We continued on and soon reached an ancient man-made dam. Water flowed out of the lake here and disappeared underground as it descended to a river far below. We too turned and scrambled down to the river.

At the river we stood and watched the water that had disappeared underground at the lake’s edge, reappear creating a couple small waterfalls as it flowed into the river. It had rained a lot earlier in the week so the river was high and flowed past us splashing noisily over rocks and creating some nice rapids.

We hiked back up towards the lake, crossing over the dam, and continued on into a large field. As we walked we heard some chattering and saw a bird running along the ground beside us. She ran up to us and then flew in a large circle around us only to land and run beside us again, chattering the entire time. We quickly realized why as we passed a nest with four speckled eggs in it just a foot off the path we were walking along. “Don’t worry, your babies are safe,” we told her as we quickly moved along.

A little further along we came to a basketball hoop in the middle of the field. An old soccer ball lay next to it so we shot a few baskets. It’s all that remains of what was once someone’s home and was a good reminder that we were not on a trail in the wilderness somewhere, but rather we were walking along a bit of land at the edge of civilization. A bit of wild surrounded on every side by suburbia.

In fact, a major highway ran north to south next to us; its noise a constant reminder that we were not in the middle of nowhere.

I love that there are scraps of wild left in the middle of civilization. Places where the road ends and cities have not yet encroached upon. These little pockets of wilderness that are easy to get to and explore. They’re often places where people once were and have left, allowing nature to once again take over. And nature does take over; the trees and grasses and birds and deer not caring that they are near civilization as they create their own pocket of wild.

As we continued on we came upon more old homesites. Nothing was left but the flat area where a home once stood and a few trees that would have shaded the house from summer’s heat. Here, the homes would have overlooked the lake. We stood in the empty space and, with the birds chirping around us and a warm breeze lifting our hair, for a moment we could imagine how peaceful it would have been to have a home here. The only sound’s then being the wind in the trees and water lapping along the shore. The spell was broken as a semi drove by on the highway behind us and we moved on, exploring our bit of wilderness.

How to add more adventure to life

It had been a lonely month. A month of solitude and forced rest. And now, driving through the barren winter fields, vast and silent and so still, I felt it all catching up with me. The boredom, the slight depression, the sudden slamming to a halt of any and all movement; I was so over it.

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Hiking the magical Lauterbrunnen Valley Waterfalls in Switzerland

The day had begun misty with low hanging clouds, concealing the mountains all around us. But by late afternoon the clouds had lifted, once again revealing the majestic Swiss Alps. It was time to hike!

Lauterbrunnen Valley is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited. It was also my favorite hike that we did in Switzerland. It’s a hike we’ll all remember the rest of our lives.

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The loneliest spot on earth

“Mono Lake lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert, eight thousand feet above the level of the sea, and is guarded by mountains two thousand feet higher, whose summits are always clothed in clouds. This solemn, silent, sail-less sea–this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth –is little graced with the picturesque. “

– Mark Twain

My first glimpse of Mono Lake was late at night. We had just driven up and over Sonora Pass, which had opened for the season a few days earlier. The road had been descending out of the snow covered mountains for quiet awhile when I caught a glimmer out of the corner of my eye. I glanced out of the window and saw nothing but thick darkness. A few minutes later we rounded a bend and there far below us was a glistening moonlit lake. The road continued down and ran alongside the lake. From this viewpoint the lake seemed to go on forever and it was impossible to tell where it began or ended. Then we rounded another curve and it was gone and we were left to stare into the inky blackness of night.

A few days later we made it back to Mono Lake, this time in daylight. Even in the light, we still felt a moment of surprise to round a corner and come upon the lake. A shimmering mirage in the middle of a dry, dusty landscape.

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The underwater ghost town

Tennessee is a beautiful state with amazing state parks. Parks that range from high mountain peaks to the Mississippi delta, from battle fields to Native American burial grounds, from gorgeous blue lakes to diverse river systems. There’s just so much beauty and variety. So, I’ve made it a goal of mine to visit every state park in Tennessee in 2018. Below is my story of my adventure at one park.

I stood high on a hill overlooking a vast expanse of water far below me. The lake, glistening blue in the late afternoon sun, was empty save one man fishing from a boat in a shallow cove. All was quiet and tranquil; a picture-perfect spring day at the lake. But this would have been a much different view some 80 years ago, before everything changed.

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The Segregated State Park

Tennessee is a beautiful state with amazing state parks. Parks that range from high mountain peaks to the Mississippi delta, from battle fields to Native American burial grounds, from gorgeous blue lakes to diverse river systems. There’s just so much beauty and variety. So, I’ve made it a goal of mine to visit every state park in Tennessee in 2018. Below is my story of my adventure at one park.

The day, which had begun cool and damp, had turned into a perfect evening full of sun and warmth and the promise of spring on the breeze. It beckoned me to get outside and explore someplace new. So I decided to add another state park to my list- Booker T. Washington State Park.

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Chasing bald eagles

Tennessee is a beautiful state with amazing state parks. Parks that range from high mountain peaks to the Mississippi delta, from battle fields to Native American burial grounds, from gorgeous blue lakes to diverse river systems. There’s just so much beauty and variety. So, I’ve made it a goal of mine to visit every state park in Tennessee in 2018. Below is my story of my adventure at one park.

 

Early morning had brought with it freezing fog that coated all surfaces with a sheen of ice. Now, though, the sun was out and quickly warming everything. The blue skies were such a great sight after days of rain. We were excited to begin our trip, searching for bald eagles.

The largest naturally occurring lake in Tennessee is relatively new.  During 1811-1812, a series of earthquakes hit the area. They were so strong that they caused the ground to drop ten feet and the Mississippi River to flow backwards for a period of time, filling in that 15,000 acres of collapsed swampland to create Reelfoot Lake.

Despite being tucked away in the far northwest corner of Tennessee, close to nothing, Reelfoot Lake gets tens of thousands of visitors every year. They come for the water and the cypress tress, they come to fish and hunt, and they come for the the reason we were there- the bald eagles. Each January and February, Reelfoot Lake State Park offers tours that let you observe and learn more about the American bald eagle.

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Exploring the eerie statues of Palmyra, Tennessee

Having turned off the highway a while ago, we had been flying through empty fields ever since. Fields that in a few months would be bursting with color and activity, today were empty and void of life. The world around us was monochrome, all grays and browns. The air was the same- seasonless. Neither hot nor cold, breathing it in felt like taking a breath of gray. It was one of those days that gave the feeling of being suspended in time.

The road wound it’s way through the farmland; twisting and turning around crumbing stone walls and barbed wire fences. We passed very few cars and saw even fewer people. But we had cows and horses and one smelly chicken farm to keep us company as we made our way to the statues.

The statues were the reason we were driving on this country road. Somewhere, hidden deep in these rolling hills were the E.T. Wickham statues of Palmyra, Tennessee.

Enoch Tanner Wickham was a tobacco farmer who was born in 1883. In the 1950’s, at the age of 67, he decided to try sculpture, building his first statue of the Virgin Mary crushing a snake out of cement, chicken wire, and rebar. From there he continued to create statues. These statues were life sized and placed on huge bases along the road. He sculpted everything from historical figures like Tecumseh (an Indian chief) and Sitting Bull to Andrew Jackson and Daniel Boone, and even Bobby and Jack Kennedy. He also created a monument to the son he lost in World War II and a statue of himself riding a giant bull.

E.T. Wickham, who was self taught, was very proud of his creations and enjoyed showing them to visitors. He did not stop sculpting until his death in 1970. By the end, he had created over 30 statues which were set up along two roads in Palmyra. Unfortunately, with no one left to watch over the massive statues when he was gone, they slowly deteriorated with time and weather and especially vandalism.

We drove around a bend and there they were, E.T. Wickham’s statues standing on a ridge, looking out at empty rolling hills. We parked the car and got out to take a closer look. It was a lonely place and the gray of the day seemed to engulf us and fill the silence around us. The statues, once proud and colorful I’m sure, looked macabre.

The cement statues, all headless and many missing limbs, were slowly decaying back into the earth. Water stained and covered with moss, they had the look of something ancient. Something timeless. You got the eerie sense that E.T. Wickham’s statues had always been. They guarded the fields and hills and cows high up on this ridge. Despite being headless, they watched and knew and protected.

We got back in the car and drove down the road to the next set of Wickham’s stone statues. They were in the same state as the first group, slowly falling apart and crumbling. Weather is one thing, but it was sad to see how much they have been vandalized . Let’s hope that has stopped! They are such great examples of folk art. A beautifully lonely legacy of a man who took to sculpting late in life. A legacy of rural life and of hero’s both local and national. A reminder of a simpler, less cynical time. There’s not a lot left like this.

We drove home, back through the twisting roads and empty fields and staring cows. The sun set, the day slipping from gray to black almost unnoticed as we returned to “civilization”. I pictured the decaying statues out there in the dark, guarding the rural countryside, and smiled, happy to have had the chance to visit them.

You can learn more about E.T. Wickham and his statues and see pictures of them in their original state here.

The statues of Wickham Stone Park are located on Buck Smith Hill Road and Oak Ridge Road, in Palmyra, Tn, about an hour northwest of Nashville.