This last weekend was the Half Ironman World Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada. It was an amazing course and a very special day truly worthy of a world championship event. The swim course was a perfect setting and super spectator friendly; the bike was challenging as it wove through the beautiful hills of Lake Mead National Park, and the run proved to be a tough mental test.
Unfortunately, I did not have even close to the race that I had expected or hoped for, finishing 6th in my age category and the 12th overall amateur. I honestly believe there is no shame in having a bad day. In fact, it’s the bad days that make us all better athletes and competitors. You are forced into an adverse situation that you must overcome to be successful the next time around. Everyone has them, but it is only those who are able to learn from their failures that have the biggest success in the end.
My disappointment was driven by a feeling that I didn’t give 110%. Had I extracted every last ounce of energy I could to get across that finish line and still had a less-than-ideal result, I would have been very proud of my effort. Instead I let my head get the better of me.
On the back of a weaker swim, I’ve relied on my bike to pull me to the front of the pack in every race this season. Prior to Sunday my bike hadn’t failed me, and so going in, I had full confidence I would have another strong performance.
I didn’t. I’m not sure why I felt so bad, but I had nothing in the tank. I had no power in my legs, I was cramping, I wasn’t able to hold any of my nutrition down and I felt extremely dehydrated even though I was taking 2 bottles at every aid station to get fluids in me. Despite this, I worked hard trying to make up any time that I could to position myself well for the run.
At the start of the run I was about 8 minutes down on the leaders – a big margin, but not insurmountable given the day and the difficulty of the course. But after the first mile I got passed by another top contender (Beth Walsh) and as I started up the first 2-mile hill I felt the niggle from a lingering calf injury coming on. The combination of these factors broke me mentally. THIS was the point I needed to be strong, but it took me until mile 9 get my act together, trust myself and run like I knew how.
Despite the disappointment, I learned more from this result than perhaps any other to date. All year I’ve pedaled my way to the front of the pack and won races by reasonably large margins. I haven’t had too many adverse scenarios where I needed to mentally buckle down in the way I needed to on Sunday. I learned that I may not always have my bike to rely on. I got seriously SMOKED by a lot of people!! And when my bike doesn’t go as planned, I simply cannot fall apart on the run. The race is not over until you cross that line. ANYTHING can happen.
Triathlon is about the swim, the bike and the run. But it is also about mental fortitude and an ability to fight all the way to the finish. Every person who performed well on Sunday was hurting as much as the next – but they stayed strong and focused. Injury was not my limiting factor. My head was. So what that I didn’t have a great bike, or that Jess had a big lead, or that Beth passed me at the start of the run, or that my leg was sore. I had 13.1 miles to turn my race around. All of those factors shouldn’t be viewed as deterrents, but challenges, and are what make the sport of triathlon so great.
As I look forward, Kona is now less than 4 weeks away. My goals and expectations for that race have not changed as I believe they are as realistic now as they were on Saturday. But what will change is my mental preparation and approach.
I want to extend a huge congratulations to my teammate, Jess Smith, for her fabulous and well earned win (yep – she is the Amateur World Champion!!! – whoop whoop!!!!), and to Beth Shutt and Beth Walsh for their strong and inspiring performances. These are your top 3 amateurs in the world right now. You ladies are all such awesome competitors, great women, and represented the USA in an amazing way. In the face of a hard day for me, I was genuinely thrilled to see all of your successes.
Finally, a HUGE thank you to my mother, who is my #1 fan. Mom – I am so glad you were there not just to see me race, but to also see me struggle. And to my great friend Elena for coming out to support me. Getting up at 3:45 AM is not on most people’s weekend to-do list. It meant a lot to me that you were there.
In the words of my super coach, Matty Dixon: Onward.
Lessons have been learned and now its time to reset and get ready for Kona. It will be a great great race. And I will part of it.