Now take the punctuation mark out because I never really got excited about it. To race at the World Championship (Worlds) you have to race in the previous year, place in a top spot in your age group, claim the spot and pay double the price of the usual race on the spot. Only a few 1000 spots are available per year, this year some 2000 women and 4000 men got a spot from around the world.
Ironman is a brand which holds over 150 races around the globe. It started in Hawaii in 1978 and then grew to many locations and various distances. At some point the founders sold it and retired in Panama. A Chinese company owned it for a long while who added a bazillion more races and types of races under the brand name (including Rock ´n Roll races). Most recently though it was sold to a family owned investment company. (More info here)
Some excitement I did have was because I had qualified previously but turned the spot down and now I would be able to finally redeem the spot. Although not quite as cool as Nice, France….Saint George, Utah 2022 it would be! Unlike the Full Ironman World Championship which is held in the same place yearly (except for a few years), the half Ironman Championship moves around basically every year. Interestingly enough I also didn’t claim this World´s spot at my race. I placed 5th last year, not bad and with a great time but my age group has less participants overall and fewer spots were offered at my race (indeed spots are also based on which race you do, some offer more, others less.) I got my spot via roll down at the end of the year…aka I had a good time, placed well and either at my race a spot wasn’t claimed or some other race had additional spots left over and therefore I was invited based on time and availability in my age group. I felt it was just Ironman wanting the money or not the correct way to get in but I still signed up because ¨Hey, I have qualified before!¨ and this felt like redemption…or at least that I did deserved it.
$600 later I was all signed up…
This was back in January of this year (2022). The race wasn’t until October of said year. Plenty of time for training and well life to make plenty of changes.
I started the year in pain, thinking I had a stress fracture that doctors wouldn’t acknowledge…so I took time off since that is what you need for most stress fractures. Who knows if it was that or not but by late spring I was back to running…one mile at a time…building a slow, steady base from scratch. It took me months to even reach a 20 mile week and a 10k only happened twice in the first 6 months. To top it off I hurt my left arm doing mountaineering so swimming also took a hiatus. The only sport I practiced for months was cycling. This was all fine because the race for Worlds was in late October. I generally train on 3 month cycles therefore resting, physical therapy and a slow move back into sports still gave me the time needed to prepare to enter the 3 month cycle for Worlds.
I arrived to Worlds, mentally, emotionally and physically drained. There was zero excitement to be there for me. I wanted to finish and be done. The race stress only added to a reduced excitement but hey at least I wasn’t nervous. I will say I did get excited a few times when I ran into several athletes I knew from my time living in Colombia and Panama while randomly wandering around to do the race prep stuff. That is Worlds for you! People from all over the world were in town for it, something that usually would delight me but not much this time.
Something special about Worlds is that they separated the races by gender. You compete only in your gender and you start with all those in your age group. This was my first experience like this which provided a special day with attention just for women and a separate day just for men. Yes, two full days of triathlon! Since it is the World Championship, the course is also more challenging, or at least this course was. The course in Saint George was particularly hilly! This was the second year it was in Saint George and I guess last year it was hillier so I was at least thankful for that change!
Race day and leading up to it was rushed, jam packed with activities which included plenty of errors. I arrived two days before the race, I know, very close but with just enough time. I flew into Las Vegas, Nevada where I rented a car and drove two hour to St. George. There is also a direct shuttle from the airport (LAS) to Saint George, Utah or you can even fly into the city itself. Two days out meant I needed to arrive for a race briefing where they tell all the details of the routes, how things are organized and any potential problems (such as penalties). On the drive over it occurred to me that Utah, although in this odd tri-state area (we went through Nevada, Arizona and Utah on the drive) might be in a different time zone…sure enough it was an hour ahead (Mountain Time). Great! Since we were running late that meant we would arrive late for the briefing…some 15 minutes late. Normally not bad but the briefing ended early! It only lasted 30 minutes…ha ha so basically I only knew what I had read online and would learn as much as I could the next day while dropping off my transition gear…Yippie!
Besides nearly missing the briefing the next major error was found on the swim.
A race rule I know but decided not to live by: Always bring all your gear no matter what the weather says, how you feel, or how certain you are about the race. For example I did that with shoe options for the run, ha ha I had 3, but for the swim I didn’t heed this advice.
The swim was set at a beautiful reservoir outside of town. The weather in St. George averages at 70/80 degrees for October with water temperatures averaging 72 degrees. Given this information I decided to leave the wetsuit…I could have had my support crew (parents) bring it but I decided I wouldn’t need it.
Turns out the week before, the weather, everywhere in the US seemed to take a radical drop in temperatures. Saint George too! The water temperature of the day before the race was 65 degrees. I went to this beautiful reservoir the day before to swim without a wetsuit to see if it was possible as 65 degrees hovers pretty close to the lowest temperatures I jump in without a wetsuit. Swim was fine but air temperatures and wind were not. Mind you I was the only one doing this, everyone else swam in their wetsuit for practice swims and they felt cold, lol…maybe they come from warmer climates…
My swim time was set for 8:00 am…just a few minutes after sunrise. Air temperatures were forecasted at 40 degrees for race morning. Not to mention you arrive hours (there were shuttles provided and I got there 1.5 hours prior) before the start. Then you get out of the water, run to bike basically and then bike. No hot beverage awaiting you, warm blanket or clothes, just fresh and wet onto a 20 mph bike ride in 50 degrees…at least with sun.
I decided wetsuit would be smart given the morning conditions. I’m sure I’d be able to swim but I’d be flirting with hypothermia thereafter. I looked into last minute rentals, posted on local triathlon team pages, asked men I knew who would race after us the following day and thought about purchasing one. Extra stress I could have avoided all by following the race rule…bring everything just in case! I splurged and purchased the cheapest wetsuit option available at $400. OUCH! Follow the rule, Don’t be sorry! Ha ha
I actually love the wetsuit, it is so easy to get on and off, very buoyant and comfortable (Roka Maverick). I didn’t need a new one but I am not complaining. Race day water temperature was 62 degrees. It was needed!! *Side note, it worked perfect but might not actually be my size….
Race morning the air temperature was just below 40 degrees and I was happy to have the wetsuit. You had to shed clothes and gear for after the race before entering corrals into the swim start. Everyone looked cold… most had socks on and created a scarf from the race warming foil. I created a hoodie out of it and stood on some too (with cotton socks…not that they helped). Any excess materials like these taking into the corral were donated before lining up for a rolling start (7/8 athletes entered the water every 15 seconds or so). Before entering I found a fellow athlete from Panama (Williana) and said hello, I also met several athletes; first timers at worlds like me, one who came last year but had broken her collar bone and was just happy to be here and an Argentinian. The ambience was nervous excitement filled with a live classical band performance…I rather enjoyed this…while the announcer got us jumping, waving and cheering before all seriousness took over. Before entering ourselves we watched the pro athletes exiting the water….they take 20 minutes.
Swim was nice, it felt warm, water was calm except from all the swimmers. It took 3 bouys (300 yards?) for me to even get a rhythm. I started fast then wasn’t ready for it all, stopped a bit to calm down then went back into the pack. Got hit a few times then found a less crowded spot and eventually rolled into a solid rhythm. Sun started to peak over the mountain as we made the first turn and was fully up before the second turn only 200 yards away. The whole reservoir was shallow, I could see the bottom the whole way, which is crazy.
38 minutes or so later I emerged from the water after a 1.2 mile swim, ready to run. It felt surprisingly warm to me given actual air temperature….must have been adrenaline and some southern sun for the soul. I believe many athletes didn´t even warm up until the run though. The new wetsuit was so easy to remove I didn’t actually need the wetsuit strippers (volunteers who pull it off quickly) but since I wasn’t sure I stopped anyway…wasting time (I pulled the whole thing off without them) but whatever.
In transition the body seemed pretty dry but I used the towel and offered it to the girl next to me too. Then I was quickly out of there and very happy I had a light jacket…which I used the whole 3 hour ride! I´ve never used a jacket during a race before and I am very happy I did. There were about 200 athletes in my age group and it was fun to start with everyone knowing we were all close by competing around the same time for the same goal, to finish (well, I´m sure most had time goals, etc. too).
Having a swim outside of town means there would be two transition areas instead of one…meaning everything would be in bags (like they do in a full Ironman), not at one transition spot you set up in the early morning hours. It is not often you have two transition areas because logistically this is hell. This was the first event I’ve done with two…mind you I’ve only done 5 at this distance and 1 full (not even the full had two).
The bikes were dropped off the day before along with the bike bag (which included my helmet, gloves, socks, a light jacket and a towel). On the same day in the other transition (T2) area we dropped a running gear bag off…this one though was right next to the finishline in town.
A slightly longer than 3 hour ride on this hilly course seemed amazing!
Especially given I was probably the only one on a heavy road bike. I could have built a carbon bike (I have the frame) had I cared enough to order all the missing parts or I could have rented one but why? In the end my bike passed many others and at least 20 in my age group (so it seems given the statistics). I easily passed many on hills finding that simply knowing how to use the gears at the right times is very effective. Not everything has to be done in a high speedy gear! Way too many athletes seemed to do that. I did estimate that had I brought/borrowed a triathlon bike and looked like everyone else I would have maintained at least a 20 mph average speed instead of 18 mph on my actual bike and probably shaved around 20 minutes off my time or more….Maybe, just maybe, next time I will rent one and see how fast I can actually go…that is if I decide to continue racing or even caring about the race…until then I´ll keep using my trusty aluminum road bike :D.
Most might say using an aluminum bike was error two, but not me. I do think that nutrition might have been a slight error though. All that I ate on the bike I had used before but one of them this time upset my stomach a bit. Luckily I took it early on, I was on a bike moving and time was ticking away. It did worry me some for the run but by the time I got to that I felt perfect…so error or not it was well executed. HA
The bike route had over 3000 feet of elevation gain, which is quite a bit for a 56 mile ride during a race like this but it was quite a beautiful ride. Not all roads were closed but there were a lot of cones which separated bikes from cars. There were times though that I worried about cars, since they were not necessarily going slow next to us. There was one spot I recall where I noticed two ghost bikes (bikes that are painted white placed where some cyclist lost their life) placed on the side of the road and this quickly gave me a rude realization about what my surroundings were even though I was in a ¨safe¨ race. Sadly I found out that near those bikes in the men´s race the following day a drunk driver hit 3 cyclists during their race….absolutely not cool! Given the angel bikes were from 2 cyclists who died due to a drunk driver in April 2021!!!
Besides that news the whole course was up and down hills from one state park to another back into town. The Snow Canyon State Park we went through toward the end I am positive all athletes will recall forever because it was 10km (6 miles) of a never ending hill though one entrance and out another. This was the most beautiful part of the ride and we were all going slow enough to take in the mix of wavy red rock along with plants, white rocks and even some red sand! Everyone wanted the grind up that hill to end…I had no clue how long it was but was pushing to pass as many athletes as I could because I knew once we were out it was a long solid downhill to the transition area. That ride down was definitely sweet, cruising around 30 mph at least! I did take that time on the downhill to eat some more, hydrate and apply sunscreen so I could zoom out of the transition and into the run.
I did zoom right into transition and pretty much threw my bike to the bike catchers. Had I recalled this being part of the event logistics I might have done this in a gentile way but given I missed the briefing and learned about the service from a fellow athlete the day before it wasn´t top of mind for me. I have never participated in a race where you don´t rack your own bike but instead give it off to a volunteer who does this for you! I liked the service and could only imagine how much these volunteers worked that day…back and forth for 1000s of bikes to be racked a few blocks away! If you have followed my stories before you know I literally jump off the bike into a sprint because I take my feet out of the bike shoes before dismounting (the shoes stay hanging on the bike pedals).
This I believe is the quickest way to enter my strongest sport, the run!
After 3 hours and 7 minutes of biking I was off to the final part of the triathlon, the run!
Transition was fast until I grabbed gear bag 622 instead of 662…OH NO! I can´t believe I grabbed someone else´s gear bag! So much for my plan to get out fast. Instead I had to run back though all the incoming athletes, drop the incorrect bag in it´s home then still find mine and begin my transition!
I was happy to be at the last part of the day….aka soon to be done with the race. I know I had 13.1 miles to go but it was a two loop course which makes all the difference to break the race into manageable chunks that I could gobble up with my shoes. The loop out of transition started straight up a 3 mile steady incline, aka hill. It was manageable but not made for tons of speed. I hadn´t run the route so I decided to hold back some on the first loop and see how it was. Plan was to be around a 7 minute per mile pace.
At the top of the incline was a golf course that was new to most athletes, unless they ran the year before, and I was excited to see how it was. I loved it! It was filled with red rocks next to the greens of the course and although the paved path was super narrow we somehow fit. The route even included two section where we literally ran on the greens…(tee area/grassy part). Every time I touched the grass I said, ¨Yeah! Cross Country.¨ I coached cross country for middle school this fall so for some reason even if we never ran on a golf course to compete it still reminded me of the sport which often does competed at golf courses…ha ha
A lap consisted of the steady incline, golf course, long down hill, flat part, through a park and then back at it again and I was probably running around the same speed each loop. I felt comfortable and was happy simply knowing it would be done very soon. I did push my speed but it didn´t feel like I was pushing too hard. I was noticing my pace but never focused much on the time. I didn´t care enough to even push for more speed….I was passing plenty of people and my body, mind and stomach felt good. I could have, should have, picked up the pace but I didn´t. I trained for some speedy running but all that effort wasn´t necessary. I was happy finding my parents every time I passed near the downhill and happy that the last hydration station of the loop had one volunteer who cheered me on by my name each time. The first loop she yelled my name I was confused, ¨how do they know my name?¨ and I literally looked at my bib only to confirm the truth…lol I had forgotten until that point that my bib number even had my name.
During the whole race people were out cheering but I think most athletes were too focused to really pay too much attention unless it was family/friends. Cheers did make me smile here and there as they were shouted and written in many languages. Athlete to athlete cheers were far and few between. I expected the comradery to be higher especially given it was an all female race but again many were very focused and also with this being Worlds, many spoke different languages so communication was zapped somewhat. This I found unfortunate because I love that part of the race. If anywhere the run did have the most of this women to women cheering.
By the time I started the second loop I noticed the amount of athletes had doubled! There was way less room to run now. How would the guys deal with that tomorrow with double the participants?
By the way, errors on the run were plenty, it wasn´t just my transition blip but by mile 2 I had to stop and loosen my laces, they were too tight on one foot to the point my foot was going numb, oops. The shoes worked well but I wasn´t completely convinced they were right for this course. In training I didn´t like them on sharp turns and this route had plenty of turns…but I managed that by making wider faster turns and fortunately only 2 spots had this issue…thankfully way less than anticipated. The shoes have lots of cushion and a nylon plate which I liked in training for bring springy and fast but for this distance they were too cushioned for me and it made the ball of my foot hurt…maybe I should have put my inserts in the shoes…
Finally, it was the last part of the second loop and I was sprinting into the finishline stretch. Carpeted with Ironman, lined with sponsors logos and many people cheering in this narrow area it contained a lot of emotion. Athletes streamed in one after the other each holding their moment to say peace out to the experience of the World Championship here in St. George, Utah. I, for the first time ever, had watery eyes as I held back tears of who knows what…the end of the race, an era of triathlon, a chapter in the book of life or all and more. I didn´t expect watery eyes, I know many feel this way after races but usually because it is their first ever or a big acomplishment….it didn´t have either of these feeling but yet there I was filled with emotion. Mind you I had quite the emotional week and months leading up to this so maybe it was simply this….it´s all done.
Official finish time is 5 hours 34 minutes and 55 seconds. This was no record for me. I think the swim was one of my fastest which is nice to see that my weakest sport keeps improving over the years! The run was slow for me but I guess I explained why. The bike was close to what I wanted, again no record but an amazing feat for such a hilly course on a heavy and simple road bike. I am plenty happy with my time given the course but overall just happy it is all done. Oh and for those who need to know statistics, I was 82nd in my age group (200 women) and overall 533 out of 1800 women. I am grateful that my parents joined me even if everything was me, me, me and I was an emotional, stressed out athlete. I am very appreciative of all my friends and family near and far that tuned in to watch me online, sending good vibes and finding inspiration though my athletic endeavor.
Not to mention all the friends and family who have been there for me over the past few months while I was training for this during a tough moment. It was nice to feel loved with all their encouragement to continue, the shared swims and the deep conversations. Thanks also goes to my job for being flexible enough to allow me to change my schedule in order to train on non wildfire smoke days and leave early when I was simply just worn out.
Quick note on training:
I coached myself again. Did most training alone except the occasional swim with friends. The brunt of training was 3 months long. As usual triathlon training was mixed in with summer hiking and this year some mountaineering except the last month when focus was obviously needed. Training was extremely interrupted the last month due to wildfire smoke in the Seattle area making the air quality hazardous often. There were many additional days off and a lot of rearranging of the training plan due to wildfire smoke.
I got the most important trainings done and made it though injury free. Kept myself healthy with just one sport massage near the end with the rest of training filled with a lot of stretching, strengthening and Theragun (massage gun). I did do one Olympic Triathlon in September as a check-in for Worlds which helped focus my training on weak areas and recall how triathlon feels yet again. Yes, it was a completely apocalyptic race with ash from wildfires falling while I raced and doom written evidently in the sky above. It was also the coldest I´ve ever been during a race so I guess that helped prepare me for the cold in St. George.
Usually I am very ready to stop training well before race day but this time I instead felt very grateful to be training toward a goal during this time as it was the best distraction from life and probably only thing that was keeping me sane yet focused.
Las Vegas, NV to St. George, UT Shuttle
More blogs about my Triathlons