I competed in Ironman (IM) 70.3 St. George as my second ever triathlon last year (2016) and loved it. The challenging course was enough to make anyone feel like a true champion for crossing the finish line. Growing up for the first 18 years of my life in a very hilly town in the greater Portland, Oregon area, I developed an affinity for hills at a young age. And this course has PLENTY of hills. It really could have been considered my debut attempt at a half-ironman, as I broke my collarbone a couple of months before my first in 2015 (IM 70.3 Boise). So I was excited to to take on the course again, this time with a total of 4 half-ironmans and 2 olympic distance triathlons under my belt.
I had fine-tuned my swim after a few sessions with Kyle at SwimLabs and was feeling much more efficient in the water.
Under the direction of my new coach, Rory Duckworth from Salt Lake Triathlon Club, I had increased my bike training a lot from last year. I put in a lot of long indoor trainer rides over the winter and had started training with a power meter. I was feeling stronger than ever on the bike.
Unfortunately, my running- which has always been my strongest of the three disciplines due to my collegiate cross-country and track career- was derailed a few times from a series of unfortunate events. As a middle school teacher, I am exposed to millions of germs each day at school. Being in my third year of teaching, I figured I had built up my teacher-strong immune system and would not be getting sick this winter. Oh, how I was wrong. It probably didn’t help that I snow camped in Bryce Canyon National Park or that I raced a 5k in the snow both in the beginning week of my sickness. I suffered a bad cold that I would later find out had turned into a severe sinus infection. I battled fatigue, sore throats and sinus headaches for the whole month of February. When I eventually discovered white spots on my tonsils, I finally gave in and went to the doctor. He prescribed antibiotics for me which were working until day 11 of the 15 day cycle, when I suddenly had an allergic reaction in the form of a whole body rash. That was fun…not. I then had to start a whole new cycle of antibiotics for another 15 days. Long story short, my aerobic capacity was hit hard and I had to start building my running back up again, almost from ground zero. But determined to still PR at St. George, I trained as hard as I could, but maybe a little too hard.
I had a few more small mishaps, such as rolling my ankle while trail running and tweaking some muscles from having to run on a treadmill in the room the size of a closet (as if I didn’t loathe treadmills enough already).
About three weeks out from St. George, I started to feel some pain in my right achilles. Me being me, I ran through it a few times. Then on Thursday, April 20th, the pain was almost intolerable, but not enough to stop me from completing my 3 mile post-bike run. I was almost at the end of my two week long peak training and didn’t want to miss a workout at this crucial point. I knew that I didn’t have a run workout scheduled until Monday, and I figured that would be enough time for any inflammation I caused to go away.
That Monday, I ran to the track and did some grass loops as a warm-up and then began my 2 x 1200m and 4 x 800m workout. My Achilles didn’t hurt in the warm-up, felt fine in the first 1200, but then it started hurting during the second 1200. I completed two 800s before I convinced myself I needed to stop and analyze the situation due to the increased throbbing. The rule of thumb is that if a pain worsens while running, the smart thing to do is call it a day. I then did what any normal millennial would do, and while still on the track, texted my friend who has dealt with numerous Achilles injuries and Googled searched my symptoms. In a matter of minutes, I had a diagnosis (thank you Amy and thank you Google). Unfortunately, I still had to get back to my house. That’s always the worst part of getting injured on a run, having to make it back home. I ran…er…hobbled the 1.42 miles back to my house and iced it right away. With the race nearing and my peak workouts behind me, I submitted myself to the idea that I would probably not be running before the race and entered a full-blown injury lockdown.
I replaced all of my running workouts with swimming and biking, as those did not irritate my Achilles. I iced, used every pain relieving balm under the sun (Tiger Balm, Icyhot, Young Living Oil, BioFreeze, MuscleMX), took epsom salt baths, rolled out with a lacrosse ball, stretched, got massages from Kawika at Living Through Movement, and took lots of ibuprofen. When one of my students saw me pop 4 pills, he freaked out. Little did he know, I was taking 4 every 6 hours…
I decided I would try running two days before the race to gauge my progress. My Achilles felt a lot better, but my calf still felt tight. I completed a mile and quickly realized that injury had not fully resolved itself and had actually moved to the top of the tendon. Saturday was going to a long, painful 13.1 miles, if I even made it that far. This was especially devastating for me to come to terms with as this was probably going to put me out of the running for winning my age group. (See what I did there?) My run workouts had been going surprisingly well despite the fact that I had been so sick earlier in the year. It was also a devastating realization because I had one of the faster run times in the field last year and would not be able to repeat or improve that (1:36:50). I came to terms with the fact that I might have to walk in the race or even worse, receive a DNF.
My friends and I arrived in St. George on Friday, May 5th around 3:30pm. With temperatures above 100 and the expectation for them to be in the 90s the next day, I quickly bought same Base Salt for the race. We finally finished setting up around 6:30pm. We ate dinner, got a pre-race massages, and after I filled the whole room with the smell of Tiger Balm and popped a few ibuprofen we attempted to go to sleep at 10:30pm. Unable to clear my mind about what the next day would entail, I laid awake until 1:30am, only then to be quickly awoken by my alarm at 4:30am just a few hours later.
We were at the buses by 5:15am and at the start/T1 area by 5:45ish. Due to expected high winds in the afternoon, all of the start times were moved up. My age group (18-24) was the 18th out of 21 waves and was set to start at 7:31am. This meant that I would have to pass a lot of people from the earlier swim waves throughout the race.
We spent the 1 hour and 45 minutes of waiting time setting up our bikes, waiting in a long line for the bathroom, going to the bathroom, applying body glide and sunscreen, and waiting in line again for the bathroom. The second time we waited in line, we met a famous broadway actress! What are the odds? After putting our wetsuits on, we got in line for the start. Each age group only has 3 minutes in between them, and so the line moves fast.
SWIM (1.2 miles):
The water was a balmy 64 degrees. Which is probably not that warm to some, but considering it was 58 degrees when I swam in it at the beginning of April, I was singing the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
Have you ever fed fish at a fish hatchery? If you haven’t, look it up. That’s how triathlon swim starts usually are. Bodies slipping and sliding next to each, feet kicking faces, arms landing on top of others, all the while trying to breathe and get ahead. Things were also little chaotic around the two turn buoys and there were some major waves when we were coming back towards land that prevented me from breathing to my left, but other than that the swim was thankfully uneventful. Last year, I had some major goggle malfunctions. This year my goggles worked great, but I did get my wetsuit caught on my watch when trying to take it off and for some reason my watch’s multisport function was not working, meaning I would have to manually change the settings at the start of the bike and run. I was still able to improve my swim time from last year on the course by 3 minutes however, and while this was not a 1.2 mile swim PR, I was still happy with it.
Swim Time: 36:46
BIKE (56 miles):
The bike course is famous for it’s hilly climbs (3,536 feet worth) and beautiful scenery. Being one of the last age groups to start, I had to pass people the whole time. I must have yelled “on your left” upwards of 567,089,897 times. Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point.
Snow Canyon is the most memorable part of the course due to its long, steep climb and towering red rock scenery. Last year, I saw a 40-something-year-old man bawling on the side of the road. If that doesn’t tell you hard this hill is, I don’t know what would. I also hit a point last year where I swore I had a flat tire, but nope, I was just riding laboriously slow. This year, I was much more prepared. I had ridden Snow Canyon 3 times over spring break and had put in more time on the bike in the winter months.
As hoped, I was able to pass a lot of people while going up the hill. I was excited for the 10 miles downhill that came after the climb. Last year, I almost hit 50 mph cruising down it. Unfortunately, the strong winds that were expected hit right when I started going down. The couple of people crashed on the side of the road were enough of a warning to me to keep it under control going down all the way to T2. Overall, I was pleased with my bike split. I improved it from last year by 13 minutes.
Bike Time: 2:54
RUN (13.1 miles):
After 1.2 miles of swimming and 56 miles of biking, it was time to see how my Achilles would hold up on the 13.1 mile (also hilly) run. The anticipation had kept me up most of the night and I knew a few steps into it that this was not going to go well. I had been training to run the hilly course at a 6:45-7:20/mile pace, but every time I tried to go below 8:00min/mile my Achilles told me I’d better not. It also didn’t help that there was absolutely no shade on the course and temperatures had risen to above 90 degrees. I usually welcome pain and challenges, but not this time. Running a slower pace was still painful, but not to the point where I felt that I would be injuring myself to the point of a rupture. I also mistakenly, pulled my shoe laces too tight which caused my sesamoid bone to hurt (I normally tie my right shoelaces differently to keep the pressure off of this bone). I eventually did have to stop for a brief moment and loosen up my laces.
To keep cool, I poured ice into my tri kit at almost every aid station and dumped cold water on my head. I looked really good at the end of this race… I made sure to drink at every aid station as well. I even took some of the ice out of my outfit and put it into my mouth a few times. I was also taking salt about every mile. For those who don’t know, a lot of triathletes carry salt in little plastic tubes that have a lid that flips open. You lick your thumb, flip open the lid, cover the top with your wet thumb, shake the tube, lick the salt off your thumb, and then snap the lid back in place. Around mile 6, I somehow didn’t complete this last step and dumped all the salt out into the pocket on my back. Grrreat.
If I’m being completely honest, the run was not fun. And I hardly ever say that about a run. I am proud to say I only stopped to walk at two or three aid stations for less than 10 seconds to ensure the nutrition and water entered my body. But the pain, heat, hills, and saltiness made for a less-than-enjoyable experience.
At 1.5 miles to go, when I was feeling the most negative, I met a 64 year old man named Fred. He could tell I was hurting and told me, as runners often say to one another in races, to stick with him. This camaraderie gave me the extra boost to push through the throbbing pain I was in. Fred and I chatted the whole 1.5 mile to the finish line. I found out that he had just recovered from an Achilles injury himself and he gave me some helpful tips. We also discovered that we would both be attending two of the same races later on in the year (both out of state). Not only did Fred give me hope that my Achilles would heal, but he helped me finish the race with a smile on my face and at the pace I had originally intended to hold. Fred, if you somehow are reading this, thank you!
Run Time: 1:46
Waiting for me at the finish line were two of my friends, my grandpa, a cousin, and Kawika (who quickly gave me a much needed massage right on the grass). It turned out I was still able to set a course record for myself by 9 minutes and place 3rd in my age group. You will definitely be seeing me on this course next year.
Overall Time (70.3 miles): 5:22
Age Group Place: 3rd
Up Next: IM 70.3 Coeur d’Alene on June 25th
Special thanks to these people:
-My mom for encouraging me to follow all of my crazy dreams.
-My dad for continually reminding me to stop worrying about the things that are out of my control and to focus on what I can change.
-Kawika at Living Through Movement for all of the massages this year and for helping me on this journey to become the best athlete I can be.
-My coach, Rory Duckworth, for the incredible training plan and for answering my endless questions.
-Kyle at SwimLabs for helping me perfect my stroke.
-Thom Richmond from California Triathlon for his support and humor.
-Kassie, Amy, Grandpa Ollar, and cousin Tanner for making the trek to St. George and being the best fans ever.
-Fezzari for my amazing TT bike.
-Velofix for my pre-race bike tune-up.
-Muscle MX for their amazing pain-relieving balm.
-Oh, and I should probably thank Costco for selling massive size bottles of Ibuprofen 🙂