Ironman 70.3 Happy Valley

Whew! What a finish to a whirlwind of a month in which I traveled every weekend and somehow also did Farmers Markets every Tuesday. I’m so privileged and grateful and amazed I get to do these random things. SO many people were involved in making this happen. When you get to these long or multifaceted events it’s especially evident how much of a team sport these seemingly individual sports really are. First, I have to thank the coaches I work with who helped cover for me on my days away. I also have to thank my mom, who sent me my inhaler on overnight mail to a post office address with no P.O. Box hoping I’d get it before the post office closed the day before the race. I also really have to thank Jim and the team at The Bike Roost in Boalsburg for loaning me a rear wheel for the race when it was evident from a practice ride that mine would not make it through. I have to thank my boyfriend for not only driving me around all weekend and giving me pep talks like a true coach but also for running the run route the day before to give me all the tips and then of course running all around on race day cheering and, really, coaching! And of course I have to thank all of the amazing volunteers and race organizers who made this event both possible and fun. And finally I have to thank the State College and surrounding communities for welcoming us triathletes into the area and coming out to cheer, thunderstorms or not. And really finally I have to thank all my friends, especially the ones back in California, for getting me into this triathlon and trail racing stuff and doing one recently that inspired me to even sign up!

As you can probably tell, I was not the most prepared or organized going into this race. I signed up for it maybe a month ago and I was so busy in the weeks leading up that I didn’t even have time to properly check my bike or properly pack my bags for that matter. But sometimes not preparing as much lowers my expectations, and usually I actually perform better when my own expectations are lower, or when I give myself the illusion that something is more casual. Don’t get me wrong though, I love competing and chasing how fast I can go and that’s why I race.

Shakeout run with airplane arms on a random gravel road in the middle of Pennsylvania!
Blueberry pancakes from Breakfast on Boal the day before the race.

I don’t have a ton of time today, so here are some notes from the race:

Night before: So much doubting a questioning, why am I doing this, it seems pointless, selfish, all those thoughts. Also uncertainty about the weather (thunderstorms in the forecast for mid-morning race day) and uncertainty about water temperature and whether it would be a wetsuit-legal swim.

Morning of: Still uncertainty about weather and water temperature. Didn’t really have a good non-wetsuit plan. Water temperature was 77, so it was not wetsuit legal. I ended up wearing a sports bra and my bike shorts. I set up transition really well and was really well hydrated from hydrating over the past few days too.

Swim: Standing in the starting corral, not sure exactly what the course was or where the exit was until I asked someone. Stood in the 33-35 minute category since I knew I’d be a bit slower without a wetsuit. My last half swims were 30 minutes (see Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz) and 31:30 minutes (see Pilgrimman Half Aquabike) with a wetsuit. The swim was miserable. My most awful experience swimming in a triathlon. My clothes created a ton of drag. I got kicked in the face. One of my hips started hurting because I was only breathing to one side to see the buoys. The water was a little muddy probably from the rain. But, I did an awesome job with sighting and taking the straightest lines on the course. And the hills and lake overall in the cloudy morning backdrop was beautiful. I made sure to do a little backstroke and really take in the scenery.

Transition 1: Really long! A short run on grass out of the lake, but then a long run with the bike shoes on through muddy grass to get to the mount line. But overall smooth. I downed a gel and some water, got my bike jersey on (pre-filled with about 300 grams of carbs for the bike), and threw everything else into the bag for pickup later.

I’m one of those pink caps. What a beautiful backdrop!
Smooth transition 1. Though a slow swim for me, still one of the first out of the water I guess.

Bike: The first part was really flat and fast and fun! There were some beautiful hills to look at, very lush with grass and trees and cows. There were a ton of people all along the course on their porch or standing by the road cheering. There were a number of groups of Amish people and I also passed a horse-drawn carriage. There were lots of kids cheering as well, and I gave three little ones high fives as I biked by. After the first ten or so miles, the course got a lot hillier, which was good to give myself a break from the aero position. But I also was happy I had aerobars because the remainder of the race was into a headwind. I did well will fuel during this time and also did well getting bottles without stopping at aid stations. At the top of the biggest hill was someone dressed as a chicken with a sign like “don’t chicken out” or something. I was in a pack racing with a bunch of women which was fun. I dropped quite a few of them, and of other people, on this climb. I was thinking about the two French guys who shot their shot and won Stage 1 of the Tour de France the day prior. By the end, I think I had paced well but was also ready to stretch my legs and run.

Transition 2: I misremembered where my rack was… so that was fun. Racked bike, grabbed 4 gels, drank some water, changed shirts, and was off. Pretty smooth.

Searching for my spot at transition 2…
Exiting an aid station shoving ice down my front.
Finish line in Beaver Stadium! Imagine running those stairs.

Run: This started with a downhill, which was great to get the legs moving without over-exerting. At the bottom of the hill, I decided my secondary goal for the run would be to negative split it (the primary goal was to run the whole thing, no walking aside from aid stations). Mantra the whole time was based on what Tim Tollefson told Rod Farvard during Western States the day before: stay calm, keep it simple, stick to basics. I also knew I’d done some good uphill treadmill training so the uphills would be okay. I saw my boyfriend a lot during the run, and he did a good job coaching me on what was coming and whether to let things go a little or be more conservative. Every aid station I was very deliberate with water, fueling, and sticking ice down my shirt. It was over 80 degrees and quite humid, and sunny though my sunglasses did a good job helping me forget that for the most part. Ultimately, I did negative split the run, and I think I could have run it faster by being a little less fearful and picking up the pace with 2 miles to go rather than 1 to go. But that last mile was fun and so hard. I pictured a pain cave filled with adrenaline diamonds. One speedy person passed me but mostly I was passing people. There was a woman in front of me who I’d been following all run and I really wanted to catch, but she did a great job and I didn’t end up getting her. Running into the 50yd line of the Penn State Stadium was pretty cool. I congratulated her after. And right after that, there was thunder and lightening.

For the heck of it: I placed 3rd in my age group. I was 12th in the swim, 7th in the bike, and 5th in the run, but overall 3rd. This qualified me for a World Championship slot in New Zealand in December, but I turned it down. It would be much more fun to do a race with friends.

We had some delicious chili and burgers at a local restaurant The Corner Room after.

A few takeaways:

  • Always do a test ride on the bike after transporting, and it’s probably better to get a professional (or two) to look over it before racing.
  • It’s okay to be in a mental hole the night before.
  • Don’t let one leg of the race affect another. But also know and practice what the alternate plan is if the swim is not wetsuit-legal.
  • Aerobars are almost always worth it.
  • Maurten gels are gross (tried one at an aid station).
  • Do not skip cooling! Or heat training for that matter.
  • Stay calm, keep it simple, stick to basics.
  • Sometimes we don’t want what we think we want.
  • Already knew this one, but really put it to the test: we can have a good race even if the times are slower than previous races.

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