Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Race Report: 70.3 ST. GEORGE 2014

T3 Women's Team at Sand Hollow Reservoir. I am the one with the Coeur hat

This was a big one! Definitely the first highlight of the season! Not only was the St. George 70.3 the US Pro Championships with an absolutely stacked field but it was also my first race as a Professional*. Some might wonder why I chose this race for my Pro debut**. One of hardest courses out there with one of the deepest fields. Well, let me tell you: I love this race. St. George is in one of my favorite places on earth. It's like a hometown race! I lived and raced in Utah for over 10 years before moving to Flagstaff and I know a ridiculous amount of people at this race. And to top it off: The harder the course and/or the conditions, the better! I love a good challenge

There was simply no way I wasn't going to line up at this race! 

Even with there being a legitimate chance that I would be dead last Pro. 

*This still sounds weird and in some ways wrong. I prefer saying "I race as a Professional" rather than "I am a Professional". For various reasons which shall be explored in another blog post soon. And I realize that I don't need to capitalize "Professional" but this is my blog and I can capitalize whatever I want. 

**Pro debut? Seriously? Who came up with that expression? I think it should be reserved for famous amateurs who have several world titles. Like this girl. But everyone's using it these days. So I am too. 

Finally someplace warm! 

These are the goals I had for this race: 

1. Have fun!
2. Get the very best out of myself. 
3. Beat my time from last year. 

The secret goal was to be Top 20. Everyone has a secret goal that they only tell a few select people. Right? 

Was I nervous for this race? Yes. 

Was I excited for this race? Yes!

I knew racing as a Professional would be different in many ways and yet the same as always. So in this blog post I am going to tell you what was new and exciting and what was business as usual.  And I hope at the end (if you make it that far) you are going to have a pretty good idea of how racing as a Professional compares to racing as an Age Grouper. From my perspective, at least. 

Travel and Accommodations

Lovely view from our condo. 


Let's face it. I am a nobody in this sport. Not sure how it works for the World Champs and Oympic Gold Medalists that showed up to this race. I am assuming they are getting appearance fees and the race pays for their hotel and travel expenses. At least that's what I am hoping! Our little family always faces the same dilemma: Do I travel solo and stay with a friend to minimize cost? Or do we all go and splurge on a hotel? Sometimes we camp for a race but I can only handle that about once a year. Usually I end up going by myself. And I only go to races that are within driving distance. Anything that requires a plane to get there is out of the question. 

This time around, the boys all really wanted to come. Ok, truth be told, the kids didn't care. As a matter of fact, they were very upset (to the point of tears) that they would be missing school. Whose kids are they?!? But Karl wanted to be there and I kind of wanted him there, too. I figured: The more support, the better. And he is my bike mechanic after all! Our tax return turned out better than expected and so we went for it and booked a small 1-bedroom condo through VRBO. This is totally the way to go! It had a full kitchen and was definitely bigger than a hotel room for the same price. Plus two very nice pools to choose from. For us it was heaven


I insisted on getting into town by Wednesday night the latest. This was not up for discussion. I didn't care as much in the past (and still don't with most races) but this time I wanted to give myself the best shot at having a (for me) successful race. That means no sitting in the car for hours the day before the race and having enough time to acclimate to lower elevation. I have been paying attention lately and it really seems like I feel better after three nights at low altitude than just one or two. And, heck, training and living up here is plenty hard and I might as well reap the benefits that I get from it! 


8am. Ready to swim!


Kids will be kids. We got into town late Wednesday night and Max was ready to hit the pool on Thursday morning at 8am. While Karl was out for a trail run. So off we went to the pool. Bright and early and, fortunately, plenty warm! Needless to say we had the whole pool to ourselves. It was delightful. I have to admit that Noah and I just hung out, dipped our toes in the water, and watched Max's pool shenanigans. But still... 

I could live in my swim suit on an outdoor pool deck. Or by a nice lake*. Or the ocean. It means happiness. And this morning it was good for the soul. 

*I had to add nice here. Because not every lake will do. Lake Mary near Flagstaff, for example, won't. 

A pre-race swim with Coachie is always a highlight! This might be the only race this year that we will both be at, so it was especially nice to try and draft behind him and get some invaluable advice! That guy knows his swimming! Plus, he is a total goofball which makes him even more fun to be around! Unfortunately, this year we didn't stay at the same place, so I didn't get to hang out with him as much as I would've liked. Can't wait to spend a few weeks in Utah this summer! Oh, and thanks for coming to the rescue when my bike mechanic goofed up! I mean, who doesn't have a pair of extra brake pads in their pocket and is able to put them on with just their fingers? Love you, Coachie! 

Having fun yet? 

The boys are generally good sports. They mostly do their own thing with Karl on these trips to make sure everyone is having fun and we aren't just dragging them along. There is and always will be some complaining and grumpy faces though. I mean: How can we possibly expect them to enjoy going to a beautiful lake, playing in the red sand and water, and climbing on rocks while I am swimming? Fortunately, they did change their attitude some and were having fun after all. 

I am always happy and thrilled to be racing! I am a creature of habit and really enjoy the daily training but it's nice to change things up a bit! Taper, race, recover! Wait. Did I just say I enjoy tapering?!? Ok. Not really. But I have learned to (somewhat) embrace it as part of the 'triathlon package' and, although it's still a work in progress, I am figuring out more and more what works for me. I need to keep the engine running and stick to my daily routine as much as possible. Of course all of the workouts are much shorter and less intense. Just some pick-ups here and there. Friday, for example, I went for a 20 minute run with 10 little surges before breakfast. Late morning I rode my bike for a little over an hour and mid-afternoon I swam in the lake for 20 minutes. Wednesday and Thursday were much the same. Nothing crazy. But I felt like I was still doing SOMETHING. And I kept my sanity. And I didn't feel like I gained 5 lbs in 3 days of tapering. Because, honestly, my biggest struggle with tapering is that I need to taper my food intake as well and that is a difficult thing to do if you are used to consuming something like 5,000 calories a day. If I sit on my butt ALL DAY, I can guarantee you that I am going to eat ALL DAY. And that, my friends, is not really an option. 

I said I was nervous. But I am not sure that is the right word. I thought I was pretty calm, actually. And definitely really excited! And a bit worried. I try to be on top of everything that is within my control (which is quite a lot in this sport) and let the rest go. I felt some pressure but not much more than last year. Like I said: I am a nobody. It's not like anyone (who knows ANYTHING about triathlon) was expecting me to win this race. Or even place Top 10. When it comes down to it, I was planning to race the way I always race: As hard as I possibly can. That's it. Pretty simple. Nothing to be nervous about. Like Karen said in a text before the race: Bring it! And let the chips fall where they may! 


I got to work in a booth at the expo for the first time! And not just any booth but the Coeur booth! Not that only professional triathletes get to do that but I just never had the chance before. It was definitely worth the time on my feet and I loved meeting some of the other Coeur girls! It's fun to talk to people about stuff that I really stand behind, use daily, and believe in. I hope I get the chance to do this again soon! 

The Pro meeting. Now THAT was different. I showed up early just for fun and because I didn't want to miss ANYTHING! I wasn't nervous, in case you are wondering. I was just CURIOUS. I mean, heck, it's a MEETING. I just sit there and listen. How hard can that be? Actually, it was quite challenging because I was so busy staring at ANYONE and EVERYONE. I have been in this sport long enough and read enough blogs to know pretty much all of these people. I feel like we are old friends because I know SO MUCH about them. I had to keep reminding myself that I don't ACTUALLY know them and that they have NO CLUE who the heck I am. It was quite entertaining. 

Not to mention the German brigade behind me. Sebastian Kienle, reigning World Champ, happened to sit down right behind me all alone when it was still early and empty. So I talked to him. Like it was no big deal. Because it wasn't. He even knew who I was. Ha! When I visit my family in Germany this summer, I am going to be living about 15 minutes from where he lives. So it's like we are BEST FRIENDS. Almost. The other four Germans in this race joined Kienle behind me and I was very much tempted to eavesdrop on their private little German conversation. Which went on throughout the ENTIRE meeting. I guess as World Champs, Ironman Champs, and Olympic Gold Medalists you already know everything the race organizers could POSSIBLY try to tell you. 

I was the dead last person out of that meeting. I had a little chat with 1997 Kona Champ Heather Fuhr  just for fun and one with Ironman Head Referee Jimmy Ricitello to ensure that I had all of the rules right. Don't ask how I mustered up the courage to talk to all of these super stars and then some. I just figured it can't hurt to introduce myself. Which is TOTALLY UNLIKE ME. And don't worry. It's not like I think I am suddenly one of them! I just realized that they aren't all that different from us mere mortals. Who knew?!?

There was definitely quite a bit more going on than I am used to before a race, especially with the whole family in tow. My in-laws joined us as well Friday night and brought one of the cousins with them. My kids were in heaven! It was great fun and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat but I it meant that I was still getting gear ready at 11pm Friday night. Wake-up call was at 3:30am. Talk about a short night! But, fortunately, I know from experience that the night before the race really doesn't matter much. It's the nights earlier in the week that are most important. 

Race Morning

It was going to be a beautiful day! 


A nice shuttle ride over to the reservoir in a yellow school bus

A good little warm up a bit away from everyone. 

That's about it. 


No body marking. We got fancy race day tattoos that Karl applied Friday night. 

A nice little separate area right by the exit. With lots of space. And our very own port potties right there with no lines! Triathlon legends Heather Fuhr and Paula Newby Fraser were hanging out and helping with whatever was needed. Right next to my bike! I would've preferred to forget about my preparations and have a chit chat with them about their amazing careers but maybe some other time... Instead they promised me they would make sure that 'our' bike mechanic was going to blow up my tires while I was busy doing other stuff. You mean we have our own bike mechanic in transition? Awesomeness! I felt very well taken care of. No matter the mishap I was pretty sure that these two ladies would find a solution. Like when Julie Dibens came over and told them she had forgotten all of her bike bottles at the hotel. See? Even World Champs make rookie mistakes. I felt at ease. And JD ended up riding with one of my extra T3 Triathlon water bottles. Yes! 

The reason I like to get to T1 early on race morning is so I can chat and hang out with my friends! Except that I didn't have any friends in our little 'Pro zone' and no one was particularly chatty. So I got a bit bored and took off in search of some friendly faces. And I found plenty! On the other side of the fence it was party as usual and I hung out until it was time to pop into my new Zoot Prophet and head down to the water! 

Ready to roll! 

No waiting around. No lining up behind the sign with your age group. No urgent need to pee in my wetsuit on dry land. Just a little pep talk from Coachie and plenty of time for a little warm up swim. There was definitely a lot of media and it was fun to see some of the more famous Pros vying for their attention. I guess in all of my years of racing I had never really wondered how it all goes down for the Pros. Nor had I ever wished or thought I would be one of them. I was just super happy to be racing as an Amateur. But now that I was in the midst of it, I was excited to take it all in and loved every minute of it! 

The Swim 29:48 (1:32/100m) - Zoot - T3 Triathlon 


Same amount of nervousness and excitement as last year. Honestly. I surprised myself with how calm I was. Curious as to how it would all play out but calm. At this point it became a race like every other. Me against myself. I am not about to pretend that I can race AGAINST most these girls. It's more like I am racing BEHIND most of them. And I promised myself that I would race WITH them as much as possible. Use them to make me go harder and dig deeper than I ever have. THAT is what I was looking forward to. 

Pro women start - I am in there somewhere!

The goal, as always, was to NOT swim by myself. That actually lasted longer than I thought it would! About to the half-way point. The start wasn't all that different and, while a big group of fast swimmers pulled away very quickly, there were still plenty of other girls around. Phew! 

Well, whaddya know, I didn't suddenly and overnight turn into a faster swimmer! Bummer. I didn't quite meet Coach's goal but at least I snuck in under 30. Barely. Same old story! Apparently I need to actually swim faster in training to swim faster in a race. Go figure! I've known that for a while and it's about time I make it happen! But I was enjoying myself and having fun! And that was important to me.


Turns out: Not much. It was just super nice not to have to swim through a whole bunch of age groupers that started in earlier waves. Nice, calm, and clear water for most of the way! And after 6 years, I finally got a new wetsuit! Huge thanks to T3 Triathlon for hooking me up with the Zoot Prophet!

Loved my Zoot Prophet!

T1 2:06

Good news is that while my bike wasn't hard to find, it also was NOT the last one in there! Success! I've had better transitions but having a whole bunch of people standing along the fence and watching made me fumble a bit more than usual. Should be 10-20 seconds faster. Cold hands and feet didn't help but everyone has to deal with the same conditions so that's no excuse

The Bike 2:37:32 (21.3 mph) - Fuji - T3 Triathlon


Same time and average speed compared to last year. Unfortunately. Less than one minute faster. What the heck? I must've actually been WEAKER than last year because I figured my awesome new Fuji itself would buy me 3-4 minutes. I mean: I KNOW it's not about the bike but carbon, electronic shifting, and race wheels must be good for SOMETHING, right? It's a good thing I was having major issues with my Garmin for the first 4 miles, so I wasn't really sure of my time. If I had known, it would've been a bit demoralizing. Ignorance is bliss! 

Same course as last year. So don't ask WHY I took a wrong turn at one point. It was a bit of a confusing intersection to get us under the road and onto the other side which I hadn't looked at in person (my fault!) and both volunteers were busy doing other stuff. Not sure WHAT stuff but either way they weren't pointing me where I was supposed to be going. No biggie. It threw me off for a couple of minutes and then I was able to let it go. 

Again struggling up Snow Canyon. I love that climb and have ridden it countless times and yet it still gets me on race day. I pretty much own that thing - except for when it really counts. Lame. This time around the climb was lonely which didn't help matters. I didn't see another rider the entire 7 miles of climbing. Wah. Wah. Wah. 


The bike itself. D'uh. And so what if I didn't ride a whole lot faster? I have so much more fun on my Fuji than I've ever had on any bike!

Riding back and forth with Sonja Wieck and some other top 30-34 gals here last year was a total blast! I knew it would be very different this time around. I was ready for a lonely ride. And it was. I was passed by 2 girls and I passed 2 myself. That's it. Started the bike in 19th and finished in 19th. How is that for an exciting race?!? There was also a handful of male age groupers whizzing by and their backside kept me entertained until it was out of sight. I felt like I was able to keep my head in the game but I am wondering if that is the main reason I didn't bike faster. Next time I am just going to have to try even harder to stay with the gals that pass me to avoid no man's land. 

No issues with drafting! My main worry before the race was slightly different rules. I was determined to stay legal at all times but I was concerned I would misjudge 12 meters. Not to mention male age groupers who can be a pain in the butt to deal with. But I had no problems with either! I know this isn't always the case but the very hilly bike course makes for a fair race.

How is this for a graceful dismount? 

T2 1:36 

 Nailed this one! Just about as fast as all of the super speedy ladies! Karl, the kids, his parents, and my nephew were all there cheering for me. First time I had seen them all morning and it made my day! 

Max loves Noah, Noah loves soccer

The Run 1:29:34 (6:50/mi) - Coeur - T3 Triathlon 

It was hard. It always is. Especially the first couple of miles. ESPECIALLY if the first 4 miles are all uphill. I was ready for it but it still hurt and some doubts started to creep in. What if I just couldn't push through the pain and discomfort for another 1.5 hours? Luckily I had already made a deal with myself: Run as hard as I possibly can. One foot in front of the other. Even if, for some reason, I have to slowly walk my way to the finish line.  Finish no matter what. There was NO WAY I was going to DNF my first race ever on this day. With a deal like that you might as well get to that finish line asap! 

I saw Coach Mahogani not even a mile into the race. She took one hard look at me and asked: Are you ok? I can't remember what I replied but in my head I am thinking: What kind of a question IS this? Do I look THAT terrible? How do you EXPECT me to feel? Poor girl. She is an amazing coach and I love her but I certainly don't show that while I am racing! So I trudge on. Uphill. 

I had no idea what place I was in and, honestly, I didn't care. I knew I was not dead last and that's all that mattered. IF I had had a great race and STILL been last Pro girl, I would've (hopefully) been ok with that as well but it was comforting to know that I wasn't. Instead, I was just waiting for some speedy runners to fly by me. But until that happened, I was going to focus on what was IN FRONT of me. Surely there must be SOMEONE not too far up the road. But, obviously, all of these girls know how to run so even a 30 second gap seems like an ETERNITY! 

Fast age group men to the rescue! As much as I don't like them on the bike, I love them on the run! Especially if they sing to me as they run by. Yes. This did happen. Goofball Folts had enough energy to fly by me WHILE singing 'She's a Maneater' going UPHILL. Which didn't even make any sense because HE was the one chewing up ME. Oh well. I'll take it. It was good entertainment. 

Me and Orange Boy

The next guy wasn't gonna get off the hook that easily. I stuck with Orange Boy to the top of the hill. Then I FINALLY saw another girl in the distance and I told him: Hey. Could you run me up to that girl? So he did. But first I got a nice gap on him going downhill. Which is when I realized that maybe today - on a course with NO FLAT sections - would be a good day to nail those descents and turn myself into a fast downhiller. Miracles do happen on race day! Eventually I had to let Orange Boy and his nice backside pull away but I was that much closer to the NEXT girl.  

This was about to get to fun! I was feeling much better, loving the heat, still hadn't been passed by any girls, and realized I was moving quite well. Suddenly I quite enjoyed being in the pain cave! Which is about the best thing that can happen to you on race day. 

There was just one thing missing. 

The husband. Where was my supportive dude? I was now at mile 7 and still hadn't seen him. I thought the plan was for him to jump on his bike and leap frog me?!? His parents were taking care of the kids, so I figured he had no excuse and I was starting to get annoyed. Two minutes later he showed up and I gave him the: Where the heck have you been? Hence the random hand gesture in the above photo. It was great to have him cheer and give me splits in several different spots the remaining miles. Thanks, Karl! 

Thanks for the cheers, everyone! 

By far the BEST part of the run was all of the support I had out there. It was massive. It was like a hometown race. I had friends cheering from the sidelines and friends cheering on the course. And I tried to cheer others on as much as I could. That's why I love racing! We get to be competitors and friends at the same time. Push each other and help each other. Good times! Unless there are LOTS of friends and your coach all standing on the SAME corner yelling SO LOUD and being SO EXCITED for you that you start to lose it 2 miles before the finish line. Yep, I almost had a cryfest at mile 11. Apparently I was an emotional mess already. Luckily I pulled myself together because, hey, it's not over until it's over and 2 miles is a long way to go still. Especially on Diagonal. I HATE that street. It was never-ending pain and agony all the way down to the roundabout. 

I had passed 4 girls on the run and crossed the finish line in 4:40:37 in 15th place. I was thrilled! 9 minutes faster than last year! And I broke 1:30 on this tough run course! My secret goal was to make it into the Top 20. To make it into the Top 15 in the US Pro Championships was FANTASTIC and I was very, very happy. And not emotional at all anymore. Ha. Go figure. 

Then it was time to hang out with friends!

I have to mention one more difference
Instead of the usual pizza and chips, I was able to have a real lunch in the little VIP area right next to the finish. Fruit salad and super yummy sandwiches! But don't worry, Andy Potts later told me that this is the ONLY race that treats the Professionals this well. Which means a HUGE Thank You is on order to Paul from A to Zion for spoiling us! 

Coeur and T3 teammates - Kristi and I 

The afternoon was spent at the pool with family and friends! 

And to top off an already perfect day, I got to go out to dinner with the T3 Triathlon crew and Andy Potts! Lucky me!!!

What a fabulous weekend!!!

Thank you to everyone who was a part of it!!!

A huge Thank You to my fantastic sponsors:

Next up: 

Challenge Kraichgau on June 15
Ironman 70.3 Luxembourg on June 21

The kids and I are headed to see my family in Germany for 5 weeks while Karl will be working hard to finish his PhD next spring! 


Jennifer said...

Awesome recap, and congrats on an amazing finish! Heart and courage and so much inspiration here!

goonie said...

Fantastic race! I've been checking your blog regularly waiting for the report. You made me smile, laugh and feel grateful. can't wait to cheer you on in a few weeks. Congrats Sarah! -Courtney

Heather Whitworth said...

Sarah, loved this post! I had to laugh when you were talking about feeling like a no-name and that you knew all about everyone else who was in the pro circle. Well, that's exactly how us peons feel about you girl! It's been fun following your race adventures. I love how down to earth you are and how you tell it how it is. Congrats on going Pro. And don't worry, pretty soon ALL the pro's will know exaxtly who you are!