This past Saturday, I raced in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, TN. It was an incredible experience, and it was so much more than I could have imagined. It was a culmination of everything Ironman I’ve known since my first one in 2004.
While so many know of the Ironman World Championship held in Kona, less know of the Ironman 70.3 World Championship which jets around the world each year; giving different countries and continents the opportunity to play host. This race is half of the iron distance, and it requires a whole different set of skills and tactics. Because of my Ironman All-World Athlete status, I was incredibly blessed to be one of the 4,500 athletes invited to compete. Approximately 185,000 athletes world wide competed for those spots, so I knew I’d be among the best in the world.
For the first time ever, Ironman elected to separate the men’s and women’s races on different days. Wow, that was an amazing thing to do, and it completely changed the vibe of the race. It was somehow different having strong women blow past me, and the course didn’t feel as dangerous. It was nice not to have to worry how some guy would react to getting “chicked” when I passed him, which sadly still is an issue out there. Additionally, Women For Tri had worked to get additional women into the race based on the ranking system. The weekend kicked off with a Q&A with nine panelists representing Women For Tri, and each of the 286 invitees received a necklace with Women For Tri on one side and Ironman 70.3 World Championships on the other. The panelists, some of them pros, all said the same things, “I’m so proud to be here, triathlon has changed my life, I’m going to appreciate every minute of the race.” That set the tone of the race for me, and I was able to stay in and appreciate all 391 minutes of that race. I was proud to be a part of Women For Tri, and I look forward to the good work they are doing supporting women and girls entering the sport through grants and other programs.
It never occurred to me that Ironman would purposefully set out to make the course harder simply because it is a World Championship. Silly me. I knew about the upriver swim, but didn’t realize that the usual Chattanooga Ironman and Ironman 70.3 course both swim exclusively down river. Last Saturday we swam across the river, up the river, back across the river, and half way back down. After feeling like a salmon, volunteers helped pull us from the river steps and after T1 we set off for five miles of flat bliss. At mile 5 of the course we started the 3.5-mile ascent up Lookout Mountain. The best thing to compare it to is either riding the St. Croix 70.3 Beast 5 times straight or climbing Bear Mountain in New York. That was a tough one and small, light women had the advantage. The course had crazy climbs until about mile 42 when we finally had a bit of a reprieve. Mostly flat from mile 46 – 56 with an 11 mph head wind coming in felt glorious after the climbing, and we started to think about the run.
At the athlete briefing a few nights before, the host said the run was going to be hard. It was actually gorgeous, the crowds were amazing, and overall it wasn’t bad, except for the hills. Living in Connecticut we are used to hills, but it was funny that they designed the course, in my mind, like San Francisco. We were either running up, or we were running down, and not just any old up and down, but really, really long uphills that were steep and same for the downhills. Lap one passed quickly as did most of lap two, but I admit I power walked up those stinkers the second time around. The crowds continued to be awesome, and I was incredibly grateful that my wave was the first of the day. The athletes in the last wave of the day had a hotter run, and after racing the ITU Long Course World Championships in ninety-degree heat 13 days before, I was extremely grateful.
Running down the finisher’s chute I saw my Mom and heard her cowbell, and after 16 years of racing long course – 27 years racing triathlon – I felt that I had finally made it. I qualified, I belonged, and I raced my heart out. Thank you Ironman, and thank you to Women For Tri, and most of all, thank you to my family and my Mom, who has been with me for every Ironman and most of those half-irons along the way.