Choosing the Race:
With Ironman 70.3 world championships in ‘Murica in 2017 some of my teammates and I decided to a half to try to qualify for it. We chose Calgary 70.3 because apparently there were no competitors in the 18-24 age group and the 25-29 one didn’t seem as challenging as some other races. Plus, it is only a 15 hour drive from Colorado State and who doesn’t love a good road trip?
Training wasn’t as great as it could have been, somehow I managed to get patellar tendinitis while swimming two months before the race. Fortunately I have a LOT of experience with tendinitis (Achilles & Elbow) so I knew what to do. Despite having to literally crawl up stairs for a week and a half, Strava says I averaged around ~14 hours a week after the injury. It was mostly slow and easy miles on the flattest routes I could find. Honestly, that was probably the training route I should have taken anyway, coming off of Collegiate Nationals my speed was there, but it had been months since I’ve done the bike or run close to the distance I would need to finish in the race.
Travel and Race Prep:
You may get along well with your friends, but being in an enclosed space together for 15 hours straight can really test that. And having been in the car with my two friends, Ryan and Steph, for maybe half an hour in the past we didn’t know what to expect. So this may have ended up being the hardest part of the week. We decided to break up the trip into two days and camp in Montana before finishing the drive on Friday. The 12 hours up to Montana went great, it turns out we all had an emo/scene phase, so we were head banging throughout the whole trip.
We go to the campsite around 10 and set up our stuff. There was a sketchy guy who kept walking by us, and we didn’t feel safe leaving our bikes on the back of the car so we brought them in the tent with us. I always joked about taking my bike into bed with me, but after trying it once I think I’ll stick with girls.
The next morning we got up and had a pretty uneventful drive to Canada. We got some Tim Hortons, went to packet pickup, dropped everything off in our sweet rental house, and then went for a run. The next morning we went to the swim to drop off our bikes and run transition bags. I’m not sure how other Ironman brand half races go, but Calgary 70.3 is a point to point triathlon and we needed pretty much everything but our swim gear in transition the day before.
My six teammates and I woke up at 4:30am to make it to the start at 5:30am. I had my usual toast with peanut butter, honey, and bananas for breakfast and my first cup of coffee in two weeks. All of us piled into the Kia meant to seat 5 and we were off. Thankfully bikes were dropped off the day before so we didn’t have to worry about fitting those in as well. Most of the time was spent making sure my bike was in working order and chatting up the competition. I talked with four people in my age group who looked fast (i.e. had bikes worth over $4000), all had PRs under 4:30, and two of which are going pro. My ideal race was supposed to be a 30 minute swim, a 2:25 bike holding ~225 watts, and a 1:35 run. The more I talked with people, the more I was losing hope of getting a world championship qualifying spot. After having my ego stepped on a little bit, I went to the bathroom line, which was a good 200 meters long at this point (Actual Protip from a Pro: If the bathroom lines in a big race are long, jog a little bit of the run course, there’s usually an empty bathroom a mile in and you get a warmup).
Generally my swim strategy is to hammer the first 200 meters, find some feet near me, and stick on them the entire time. I have a competitive swim background and have done some draft legal racing, so I don’t really sight. Usually I assume if your fast enough to be near me on the swim you probably know what you’re doing. It’s hurt me in the past, but it’s also lead to some really good swim splits with people above my level. This worked out pretty well the first 4 minutes, but when we got to a mass of swimmers from an earlier wave. It was a struggle staying on the person I chose, and eventually I lost him when we hit another pack while rounding a buoy. So the second half of the swim I just went on my own, sighting the best I could. It was a pretty leisurely swim after I lost my swim buddy, as I decided to pace myself for the bike. Every few minutes I tried to increase my kick rate to get the blood flowing into my legs and prep me for the run up to transition. Rounding the last buoy the sun was in my eyes, combining that with my goggles fogging made the last stretch a bit of a struggle. But I came out of the water in 27:06 feeling good, and 3 minutes better than planned!
My strategy for this bike was to settle in the first 10 minutes, then hold ~225 watts. My nutrition plan was to take in 400 calories an hour from:
- 2 packages of shot blocks eating a block every 10 minutes for the first two hours.
- 2 water bottles, sipping whenever I had a shot block
- 1 bottle w/ 3 scoops EFS and half a can of Rockstar energy drink taking chugs every 15 minutes or so.
- 1 GU taken 20 minutes from the finish.
The first 10 minutes went according to plan, I held 200 watts at a nice cadence the whole time. My teammate Matt passed me at the end of my settle in period looking really strong and it was really tough not to try to chase him down. I told myself that I have a power meter for a reason, and if I go my own pace I (probably) wont blow up on the run. Luckily when I got into my race pace he stopped putting distance on me, so for the next 40 miles I stared at his back from 200 meters behind. It was a little nice having someone I knew to ride near, anytime I felt tired and wanted to drop the pace he’d be up there motivating me not to give up.
But as we started getting into the course I realized the hills were steeper than planned, and I didn’t adjust my rear derailleur to let me hit my easiest gear. That meant I had to climb in my lowest gear of 39×23. On the uphills I was pushing 280-350 watts, and they lasted usually between 1-5 minutes. Fortunately, mixing up the pace helped me wake my legs up and that kind of power actually felt really good.
About 25 miles in the rolling hills stop, and there is a false flat downhill tailwind finish. This is where I could really get a feel for the pacing and get back to my actual plan. So I got in my groove and went for it. At this point I started to pick people in front of me off. Fifteen miles from the finish I finally caught my friend and we stuck together for a while before I went off again. The last half hour I like to get in as many calories and water as I can so I don’t need to eat on the run, so I finished off my EFS drink, whatever shot blocks I had left, and a GU. This usually works for me because I always need to pee off the bike, so if I’m losing time I might as well make it count. But doing so seemed to add extra weight that was too much for my bike to handle, because 5 miles from the end my seat post dropped 4 inches. I tried to pull it back up to no avail, so I ended up standing the last few miles to bike it in. I lost a couple minutes and the people that I had caught the last few miles went ahead of me, but I ended up finishing the bike in 2:24:13. A solid 47 seconds faster than my goal time, despite the setbacks. Power 3 (missing some data)
At the start of the run I got rid of all the fluids that I drank on the bike and felt good to go. Leaving the porta-potty I ran into my teammate Matt again, so we ran together for the first half mile. I guess we were going faster than we thought, because my GPS said we were doing a 6:30 pace. He decided to back off to his planned pace, but I decided to go with my high school cross country team’s old motto of “Go big or go home”. Three miles in at the bottom of a massive hill I saw my teammate/roomate/pro-triathlete Steve Mantell fighting another pro for second place. He looked like he was hurting, so we just gave each other a thumbs up and continued on our race. The next 3 miles I walked the steep uphills, and the aid stations, making sure to drink my gatorade and throw water on my head to stay cool. Somehow I was managing to keep close to a 6:40 pace and was picking people off. I thought I was in third place for my age group with the two pros out of reach, but quarter mile before the turnaround, I saw him. A guy with a bib number close to mine and a 28 on his calf.
I knew if there was any shot at qualifying for worlds I needed to catch him. So despite my body telling me to hold this comfortable/safe pace, I went for it. It turns out that the way out was uphill, so even after increasing my effort by a fair amount my pace wasn’t all that much quicker than before. But I could tell it was paying off because I started to pass people at a quicker rate. I passed my teammate Tori coming the other way on her fourth mile, which was awesome because she was killing it despite it being her first half and batting Achilles issues the last few months. After giving another thumbs up I noticed the guy still wasn’t in sight so I was losing hope, but at the bottom of the big hill 3 miles from the finish I spotted him. I increased my effort a bit more up the hill, and just as I was getting close to the top I saw my buddy Ryan starting his run off in a chipper mood. He said nice job and I and gave him a thumbs up.
At the top of the hill I was closing the gap on him, but knew I wasn’t going to be able to run with him if he decided to stick with me. So I ran, hard. My mile pace dropped to 5:30 and I zipped by him. He tried staying with me, but I kept hammering it for another half mile until I knew he had given up. From this point on my only goal was to not get caught in the last 1.5 miles. My 5:30 pace from before was quickly slowing. Only a mile after I had dropped him I was running a 7:30 pace pushing with everything I had, but the finish line was in sight, so I kept on trucking and finished the run in 1:27:48 giving me a final time of 4:22:52. Both the run and final time being 7 minutes faster than I had planned! As I was in the finish chute trying not to collapse, they announced that there were 3 spots in my age group and I qualified for worlds!
Right after the race I sipped on water until my stomach decided it was okay to eat, then got the veggie burgers, chips, and warm coke they had in the food tent. Steve showed up with an M&M cookie from the VIP tent, and when I asked if he could get me one he came back with a plate full of fruit and cookies. It was glorious. Matt finished up his race and got in on the fruit plate and the three of us drove home to drop off the bikes, shower, and pick up our second car at the swim start to get everyone else back at the finish line. While we were gone the CSU Triathlon Team continued to represent, by the end of the race our group of 7 got 3rd in the women’s 18-24, 2nd men’s 18-24, 3rd men’s 25-29, and our resident pro made third overall. Unfortunately there were only two in the women’s 18-24 and the first two finishers took theirs. Matt and I claimed ours, but as it turns out, because the guys ahead of me were going pro next year they weren’t claiming their worlds spots. The two roll down spots went to the 10th place person or something, so I could have taken a short nap on the run and still qualified.
The Rest of the Trip:
After we rested up a bit we decided to go check out the city and get some food as a group. We ended up getting Schawarma, and it was so good it brought tears to my eyes. Walking around we saw some cool stuff and got some froyo.
The next day we hit up Banff National Park and went to Lake Louise and had a photo shoot.
Steve, Tori, and I biked up to Moraine Lake where the water is insanely blue. It was a much needed shake out ride.
We left for home the next morning, obviously stopping at Tim Horton’s one last time before crossing the border. Then drove straight on through back to Fort Collins. Lots of naps were taken.