How to say this and not sound crazy…
I placed 5th in my age group at Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz and stood on the Ironman podium. I also snagged a spot to the 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in South Africa.
Those sound like alternative facts, but no. It’s the truth!
Many things came together for this to happen – timing, circumstances, luck. But a lot of it was also hard work. And it likely is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me, so I’m going to write it all, relive it, and enjoy it over again. I hope you do, too.
A late-season decision
I was not planning to race IM703 Santa Cruz this year. My only 70.3-distance race in 2017 was supposed to be Santa Rosa in May, but I crashed my bike two weeks before that one and had to drop out. That left me with a few Olympic-distance races for the rest of the year and a new A-race, Escape from Alcatraz.
Well, Escape didn’t go to plan, either, what with the cancelled swim. I did well otherwise – placed 10th in my age group and had a solid bike and run in very harsh wind. But I paid that exorbitant race fee to escape from the Marina Green and do a brick workout on some San Francisco hills. It just didn’t feel like the highlight of my race season. (It was such a letdown to not be able to swim, in fact, that I have yet to write that race recap. Maybe one day soon!)
I let my Escape disappointment stew for a few weeks, then asked my coach what he thinks about Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz. Mostly, I wasn’t sure if it would be smart to do it just two weeks before another race I’ve had on my calendar for a while, the Olympic distance at Santa Cruz Triathlon. He gave me the green light, though, and here I was:
Standing in the middle of several million dollars’ worth of carbon in the dark-as-pits morning and asking myself, why am I not in bed like normal people?
Because I love it, that’s why!
I had the most fun race morning hanging out with my Betty Squad teammates: in transition, on our way to the beach, and then for quite a while, on the beach. And I mean quite a while. When the sun finally came out, it quickly became clear that the sky was anything but: a thick, thick fog lay over the ocean; so thick that even walking on the sand, we were hardly able to see the water!
The swim start had already been moved about 200 yards up the beach, away from the Santa Cruz Pier, because of red algae that had blossomed there due to unusually high temps the week before (it had been 106 degrees in Santa Cruz the previous weekend!) So instead of the typical swim out and around the pier, we were going to swim diagonally towards it, then around it and back to the usual swim-out location.
The foggy sky had other plans, though: since none of the buoys were visible, race organizers deemed it unsafe to start the swim. And after a half-hour delay, they announced that the swim will be moved to the other side of the pier altogether — and shortened to half a mile.
And so off we went again, more than 2000 athletes in black (wetsuits), walking along the ocean, under the pier, and out into the Swim Out chute that was now split in the middle into two narrow tunnels, one for those going in the ocean and one for those coming out.
It was going to take forever for us all to get in, but hey: what’s “forever” when you spend it in good company? We danced a little, joked, laughed, talked – and what do you know, the fog started to lift. The pros were off and soon after them, it was our turn.
We had a rolling start this year, which meant that everyone was supposed to seed themselves based on expected swim time rather than start with their age group in a wave determined by the race organizer. That’s fine, except when you move 2,000 people across the beach to a different start location, all order and logic go out the back door. It was just one huge crowd funneling through a narrow tunnel, making slow progress towards the water. At least we saw all the pros run through, having completed the course in around 10 minutes.
I started my swim at 8:36 a.m., a good hour and twenty minutes later than planned. The water temperature was a balmy 68 degrees — unusually warm for this location. And with the fog all but gone and a short rectangular swim course, I could literally see all the buoys any time I sighted. It was pretty amazing.
I was a little further on the outside perimeter of the course than I’d have liked to be – that is, closer to the safety kayaks than the buoys – but overall, I felt great in the water and the swim went well. No collisions, no punches. Quick and easy!
Swim time: 15:57 (for a half mile)
Division rank: 29
Half-mile run from the beach to transition, as usual. I ran barefoot. Some people bring shoes, but I don’t think these are that needed to run on asphalt and concrete, both fairly smooth. (Others had brought flip flops, which I thought was just awkward…)
I’d forgotten to bring a towel, but the turf surface in transition ensured little to nothing stuck to my wet feet. I pulled on socks and shoes, put on my helmet and glasses, grabbed Magic Bike and off we went. Luckily, my rack was right behind the pros and very close to Bike In/ Bike Out.
T1 time: 5:34
First, this bike course is beautiful. It’s almost entirely along the ocean, so the views are amazing. It’s all rolling hills and has few, wide turns. Not technical at all. This year, the organizers changed it back to the original Big Kahuna bike course, removing the Swanton Loop that was added on for 2016. That pegged the total elevation at around 2800 feet (vs 3800 in 2016). So already it was a faster course.
Second, I got myself a sweet bike upgrade earlier this year: a pair of ENVE SES 7.8 wheels, and those are fast. And I mean, fast! They are amazing!
Magic Bike not only looks incredibly spiffy these days, but he is one heck of a smooth and speedy beast!
Those two things combined equaled the most awesome ride in the world ever! I was going 40-45 mph on the downhills with little need to brake. In fact, I think I only had to hit the brakes once when an SUV cut me off merging onto Hwy 1 from the left. But what are you going to do. Traffic is never completely stopped during these events, no matter how much we pay to race safely on the roads.
There was a lot of drafting happening, though. I was catching up to peloton upon peloton of bikes and having to pass them so far into the road, I was riding in the middle of it rather than on the shoulder where we’re all supposed to be. Who is to blame, though? When you shorten a swim this much and send more than 2,000 people on the road on a rolling basis, packs inevitably form. Even among the top age groupers, I saw many riding in pace lines. Drafting is becoming more common these days, unfortunately.
I tried to not take the drafting personally, although I will say this: Guys. When a faster girl is trying to pass you, let her, yeah? Sometimes, women are faster than men, and that’s OK. But when you refuse to let them pass and shamelessly draft – then you’re just embarrassing yourselves. Why don’t we all focus on our own race?
[Not ALL guys are like this, of course! Some quickly re-pass… on the right. Ha. But I did also get quite a few “Go Betty” cheers. So yes, I don’t want to generalize. Just saying.]
Other than a few little frustrations like that, I had a great ride. There were some foggy patches, but nothing with terrible visibility. This race is worth doing at least once in your life simply to enjoy the beautiful ride!
Bike time: 2:47:43
Division rank: 9
I have no idea what I did in there for nearly three minutes…
T2 Time: 2:25.
The biggest benefit of racing in Santa Cruz is usually the weather. You’re by the ocean, so it’s almost always breezy, often overcast and at this time of year, you can expect it to be in the 70s, tops.
Not on this race day. As I started the run, it already was hotter than it ever got all race long last year. The scorching sun was full on.
I settled into a comfortable pace and focused on doing my run thing: reeling in the slower runners. I was getting passed a lot, too, of course. But focusing on people ahead of me who are going slower and working to pass with control helps keep my mind away from things like, “one mile down, 12 to go, oh man I’m only getting started.”
The first three miles are on West Cliff Dr along the ocean. Those always feel great. Then we turn into Natural Bridges, then on a bike path alongside Highway 1, and then we have a hill going up to Wilder Ranch. Wilder Ranch is all trail.
I felt strong and smooth the first three miles, but as we climbed into Wilder Ranch and hit the trails, I felt myself slowing down – a lot. I almost made peace with the fact that I’m not going to PR this run course this year, it felt like I was losing minutes, not seconds, each mile. Which is funny, because I later compared my mile splits year to year, and they are almost identical:
I was better prepared for the uneven surface of the trails this year, with regular running shoes. (Last year’s racing flats felt a bit too thin for those rocks and the significant camber.)
I saw many teammates on the course, and many, many women wearing Betty Designs kits. It was great to encourage and be encouraged by fellow women who believe that #badassisbeautiful and go out to #doepicshit!
The last three miles are back along the ocean and it was like the breeze breathed life back into my legs and my brain: I got my second salty wind and picked up the pace. I have to say, it’s so satisfying to finish a run feeling strong. It’s 1000% better than when you know you will finish, but you’re getting slower and slower because you just don’t have it.
For this one, I felt I had it. It was my fist-in-the-air victorious finish
Run time: 1:43:20
Division rank: 4
I had some water, ran into my friend Tina, and we headed back to transition for food and to hang out. (The post-race “feast” at Santa Cruz is back in the Expo/ Transition area because the beach is too small to fit everyone… and I’m guessing they don’t want us to make a total mess of paper plates and soda cans.)
So Tina and I had some pizza and Coke (no beer at this race, either. why?), went back to our bikes and were chatting while putting away our stuff, when I realized that my phone was overheated and not working and I asked a guy standing nearby if he could check my official time.
Sure thing, he says, what’s your bib. “It says here, you finished in 4:54, 5th in your age group.”
But it was! And Tina got 4th!
It only got better after that: my teammate Jonya (we spent all morning together before we started swimming at the exact same time) got 3rd in her AG, and so did Elke (3rd), Jordan (1st), Ellen (3rd)… Janae and Gabby finished strong with big PRs. It was total Betty Squad domination!
I headed back to the beach to look for friends and ran into Jonya and her hubby, and we enjoyed some celebratory adult beverages by the beach until the time for awards.
Those were the best!
Then I went to grab my bike from transition and head to the car, when I walked back through where the awards ceremony had been and realized they’re about to do slot allocation for World Champs 2018. With 5th in the Age Group, I didn’t have much chance at a spot – there is usually just one per age group – but I figured I’d stay and see. And it paid off! We got a second spot because an older age-group finisher did not want hers, so it was allocated to the F35-39 division. And the top three gals were either gone or did not want a spot, either; so the 4th place woman and I grabbed the two spots!
We’re going to the 2018 World Championship in South Africa! Crazy!
What an incredible day! I want to thank the Academy…
Just kidding. But I DO want to express so much gratitude to Betty Designs – I feel so privileged to be on this team, in the company of the most amazing, badass women in triathlon. And have the support of awesome sponsors: Gatorade Endurance (no artificial colors, dyes or sweeteners in the new formula!), Coola Suncare (best organic sunscreen around!), Rudy Project (check out my sleek golden helmet and glasses, best ever yeah?), Hoka One One (Tracers FTW), ROKA, Suunto, Mavic and Enve Composites (so.freaking.fast!).
Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz Results
Bike: 2:47:43 (20.3 mph)
Run: 1:43:20 (7:53/ mi)
Gender place: 38
Division place: 5