I feel pretty damn lucky to have had the opportunity to race a 70.3 World Championship race for the third year in a row. And not unlike the years before, I had plenty of goals for this years race. The difference from the goals for this race compared to many others this year was not that many of them revolved around a result. When the 2015/2016 race season started, Sean and I decided that we would not travel to Australia for this race, even if we qualified. Not because we don't love racing in a World Championship, but because at some point we felt it was important to change our focus to other things (mostly financially). However, last October when I came in second place at Ironman 70.3 Arizona and legitimately earned my slot to the World Championship (instead of getting a role down like years previous), I looked at Sean and said, "I don't think I can say 'no' to Australia." And just like the hundreds of thousands of time before, he didn't hesitate for a second to support me and say, "go for it!" 11 months later and on the back end of the race, I'm am SOOOOOO glad I said "yes!"
This year, I made the decision to change my focus to Iron distance racing. I want to get to Kona. That means that most of my training has been endurance focused. After Ironman Canada in July, I tried to keep up on the endurance training (for Ironman Arizona coming up in November) while adding in some shorter speed work to get ready for this race. After just 1 week, I knew it wasn't going to work. Mentally, it was too much. In May, I received a Hashimoto's diagnosis (which I am still trying to figure out) and in June, I lost my business partner. Between those 2 changes and trying to keep up on training, I was feeling overtaxed. Rather than adding in more stress and trying to burn the candle from both ends with training, I gave up any focus I thought I should have for this race and just kept my focus on Ironman Arizona in November. Looking back now, this is the absolute best thing I could've ever done for this race! Instead of a having a primary focus on a result, I entered this race with a strong focus on form, power, cadence, and most of all, attitude. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want a better finish result than Austria World Champs last year, but I knew in my heart that if I could achieve my other goals, that result would come. And it did.
Fast forward to race week. Sean and I left from SFO on a direct flight to Sydney on the evening of Friday, August 26th. That landed us in Australia on Sunday, August 28th...exactly 1 week prior to the race. If anything went wrong during travel or one (or both) of us didn't acclimate well to the time change, we felt that 7 days would be plenty of time to adjust. Luckily, everything went perfectly. Bikes arrived without any damage. We both traveled extremely well and adjusted to the time change immediately. I have an international flight protocol that I give to my private clients who travel internationally and we both followed that protocol pretty strictly for this trip. It landed us feeling rested and very fresh! Having the Marc Pro on the flight REALLY helped as well!
Since travel went so well, the seven days leading into the race were long. By the third day in Noosa, we were both getting antsy to race. We tried to find tourist things to do to fill our time, but many of them involved activity (hiking, surfing, etc), and we both wanted to have a proper taper. If I had this to do over, I would have cut a few days off of the early part of our trip. Some people can sit on the gorgeous sandy beach and relax for days. Sean and I are not those people. We managed about 45 minutes on the sand on any given day and then got bored and had to move.
On Friday, we checked out of our hotel in Noosa and moved down to Mooloolaba where the race was being held. This gave us an opportunity to see the race venue. We swam in the ocean where the race swim was being held, we drove the bike course, and we rode the run course. The weather on the days leading into the race were less than ideal for confidence building (windy and a little rainy). I know I'm a blonde haired, blue eyed girl from California, but this girl did NOT spend time in the ocean as a kid. This led to a bit of trepidation about dealing with the surf on race day. Luckily, Saturday was rough on the ocean. I got a fair amount of practice dealing with waves and rough seas. I drank my fair share of that extremely salty ocean water. All this so I could tell myself "it won't be this bad on race day." And it wasn't.
The other chatter happening around town was around the bike course. Traditionally, the 70.3 race here is a 2x out-and-back on the highway that parallels the sea. It doesn't get any flatter than this road. For this race, they changed the course. They removed the second out-and-back and added in a 2 loop area in the Hinterland. This course change added about 2,200' of elevation gain in about 20 miles of the course. The first real hill you hit was a 20% grade that was obviously adding a tremendous amount of fear to many of the athletes who saw it pre race. I thought, "it can't be that bad," until I saw it myself. I'm use to the hills, but even this hill looked intimidating. We drove it (twice) before race day, but never actually rode it on our bikes. I knew it was going to be a tough hill, but I also knew I could do it. I'm a firm believer that body follows mind, so I just kept telling myself that coming from the Sierra Foothills in California, this was the part of the bike course where I could smash my competition, even if it was just for a short period of time.
Race morning finally arrived. I somehow managed to get over 8 hours of sleep the night before. Just another sign that I was feeling ultra relaxed about this race. Sean and I were staying in a private home about 1/2 mile from the race venue that we booked through www.airbnb.com. That allowed us to eat breakfast at home (white rice, chicken breast and broth) and walk to the race start on race morning. We did not have access to our T1 and T2 bags (dropped the day before), but were able to pump tires and add nutrition to our bikes. Sean and I made it through this quickly and headed to the TriSpecific (my "other" club) meet up area to relax. Transition closed at 6am. Sean's wave start was 6:35am (the first age group wave start of the morning), but I had to wait until 8:05am before my wave start. I was excited to be able to watch Sean's start and swim exit before I even had to start thinking about my race. We had a great location right at the swim exit for optimal viewing as the athletes exited the water. I was fully expecting Sean to exit sometime between :30-:33 minutes and had an eager eye waiting for him. To my surprise, he appeared in :29.23 and had a huge grin on his face when he got out. I was SOOOOO excited to see him get his PR swim that there was a brief moment when I wished I could forgo my own race just to watch him excel for the rest of his. But, that was not why I was here. And as soon as he was out of sight, I started my own race prep. By the time I started this process, I was the only TriSpecific athlete (out of 6 that morning) left. This left me no distractions. I had to focus on my own game.
After properly getting into my wetsuit (with a little help from coach Pete...who was HUGELY helpful all weekend long!) and well wishes from the TriSpecific support crew (thanks Rach and Brooke for being AMAZING cheerleaders all day), I was off. I quickly dropped my morning clothes bag and made my way to the ocean to warm up. I had about 20 minutes before my wave start, so I was able to get into the water and splash around for a bit before entering the swim corral. I took a VESPA junior as I entered the corral (about 15 minutes before the gun went off for my wave). I stood in the crowd of other anxious 35-39 year old women and everyone was ultra respectful. No pushing. No crowding. Just everyone in their own space getting ready for their own race. It was fantastic. They released us into the water 5 minutes before our wave start. We had a 150 meter swim to get through the surf and out to the deep water start line. It was an easy swim. I lined up toward the back (which is unusual for me as I'd usually position myself up front). Today, I didn't want to start my race off with a racing high heart rate and I certainly didn't want to get kicked in the face or fight anyone for positioning. Once the gun went off, I had a few seconds of treading water, then I was off. Like everyone else, I was certainly in the mix for the first 200ish yards before I was able to settle into a pace. But once we all sorted ourselves out, again, everyone was respectful. I never got kicked, pushed, clawed or punched. Anytime I made contact with another female from my group, we both managed to quickly find some open water near us to move into. I felt comfortable the entire swim. I was able to focus on my goals for that leg of the race (head down, quick arm turnover and drafting). Before I knew it, we were headed toward the exit on shore. I had managed to get into swimmers from 2 waves ahead of me and although I'm sure I was passed by swimmers behind me, I never saw them. It's always a confidence booster when that happens.
NUTRITION (PRE-SWIM): Broth, white rice and chicken breast for breakfast at 4:15am. Regular coffee, Great Lakes Collagen, 1 scoop Ultragen, and a banana (blended with ice) at 6:15am. VESPA junior at 7:05am and again at 7:50am (15 minutes before my wave start).
Once I was out of the water, I moved quickly through the VERY LONG transition. 3,100 athletes were register for this race, so racks were everywhere and aisles were tight! We estimate that the transition area was just shy of 1/2 mile in length. Of course, my bike was racked toward the swim exit, so I had a very long run through the narrow aisles of transition with my bike. I chose to run with my bike shoes in my hand. In years past, I have banded them onto by bike. But with road shoes (instead of triathlon specific shoes) and a hill immediately outside of the mount line, I feared not getting into my shoes quick enough. More practice is needed here. As soon as I crossed the mount line, I stepped off to the side, quickly threw my shoes on and mounted my bike.
The first 2 miles of the ride is getting out of town. Once we left town, we were immediately onto the flat highway heading towards Mount Coolum and bike turn around. This area was horrible. The crowds were thick and it was so challenging to find 7 bike lengths ahead of you. Groups were forming and all I could do for the first 20 miles was focus on keeping my space. I wanted a legal race. It seemed like those first 20 miles were spent either dropping back, or surging ahead. Just another time in a race when I'm ever so thankful for my Tuesday power interval session on my KICKR. The deep focus on having a clean ride left me unable to focus on my bike goals for the day (cadence, smooth and complete pedal strokes and equal power from left to right). I won't lie, there were MANY moments in the first 20 miles where I was ULTRA frustrated. Mad at Ironman for creating a course that made it extremely challenging to get into a groove but REALLY mad at athletes for choosing NOT to care about the rules. Everywhere you looked there was drafting and blocking. Thankfully, I did see penalties being handed out, but not nearly as many as they could've handed out. At the end of the day, I feel really good about my race. I raced clean and I'm proud of that.
Once we got off the highway and into the Hinterland, we hit hills. At mile 30, a gal rode up next to me and said, "you wouldn't happened to be Tiana, would you?" It was Vicki Hill from TriSpecific (also coached by Kristian). She gave me a few encouraging words which I quickly exchanged back to her and before we knew it, we were at the base of the dreaded hill. I hit the hill slightly before Vicki, but she was close (legally close) behind. We made quick progress of the hill, passing athletes (some of whom were walking their bikes) the entire way. We crested the hill together and she said, "thank god for power intervals!" Damn right. A few miles up the road, I came up on Ross Oakley (coached by Pete), another TriSpecfic athlete and friend from Austria World Champs in 2015. I gave him a pat on back, and just like with Vicki, we encouraged each other before we split up. The rest of the Hinterland was manageable. I felt comfortable on the ups and the downs and I felt like I was finally in my own race. The last 10 miles back into town we were faced by headwinds. Oh how I hate wind. Thankfully, nothing will ever be as bad as Ironman Cozumel and I just kept reminding myself that it could be SO MUCH WORSE. I kept with nutrition, hydration and salt all the way to T2. I got myself out of my bike shoes on the bike so I wouldn't have to deal with them once I dismounted.
NUTRITION: 1 VESPA junior (immediately outside of T1), 3 Huma gels, 1/2 Go Macro Bar, 6 Honey Stinger Chews and 8-10 salt stick caps (all taken in small "bites" spread out throughout the ride). Approximately 595 calories and 1,720-2,150mg sodium + trace electrolytes.
BIKE GOAL- <2:40
ACTUAL BIKE RESULT- 2:50:58
AGE GROUP RESULT- 49/141 (34.75%)
Back into T2, I quickly racked my own bike (no bike catchers here), ran approximately .3 miles down to the end of T2, grabbed my run gear bag and sat down to put on my run shoes on. Even though I already felt dehydrated, I actually had to pee (good sign that I drank water on the bike, but bad that I actually had to stop to pee). Rather than peeing while I ran (which I've had to do before), I chose to make a quick pit stop in T2 before I left. All in all, my transitions were slow, but I wasn't in a huge rush here and the actual transition areas were LONG (so I can't really compare my transition times to other races).
Although I had swim and bike goals, my main focus for this race was all on the run. My run times have slowly managed to get worse and worse as I've been so highly focused on my swim and bike (and I acknowledge that I PERSONALLY have put a mental block up around this. I've somehow managed to convince myself that I can't run fast...demons...damn them). I'm ready for that to change, and I was committed to that starting here, at this race. About 1 month before leaving for Australia, I was gifted the brand new Garmin 735 watch. This watch keeps track of your stride rate, which is something that desperately needs to change for me. With only a few weeks worth of data to use to make/see changes, I was already starting to feel improvements in my run. The goals for this portion of the race were:
1. Keep a VERY INTENSE focus on my stride rate. Think of NOTHING ELSE. Just my stride rate. 1 hour and 50 minutes of focus on nothing but that.
2. Smile and have a good time.
4. Negative split.
I knew if I could complete #1 and #2, #3 would happen, even though my last 1/2 marathon PR was back in 2014. I had my watch set up to alert me with my pace every mile. Rather than looking at my watch every few minutes the entire run, I only glanced at it 13 times, when it alerted me with my 1 mile run splits.
When you exit T2, you immediately hit a climb. With adrenaline leaving T2, I make quick use of that hill without much effort. I also knew that the TS Life crew was posted up somewhere on that hill and I wasn't about to be caught struggling. Through the HUGE crowds, I spotted them as I started to decent down the back side of the hill. Although Sean wasn't there, Pete gave me confirmation that he has already finished! GO SEAN! Another hit of adrenaline in the tank! As soon as I hit the flats, my watch went off with my first mile split...7:45/mile. WHOA. I knew damn well that a 7:45/mile was not a sustainable pace to me for 13.1 miles so I backed off a bit and got right back to my main focus, stride rate. I felt fairly good (comfortably uncomfortable) heading out to the turn around. As soon as I made the turn, BAM, wind in the face. Ugh. It's amazing how a tailwind can go unnoticed until it's a headwind. Immediately, focus back on stride rate...don't think about the wind. Before I knew it, I was back to the hill and the TriSpecific Crew. This time, Sean was there to give me a high five along with Jared (another TriSpecific athlete coached by Pete Lever) who had also finished. It was great to see them finished and smiling! My goal was to complete the first lap in :55 minutes. At the turn around, I was at :52 and change. For one second I thought: "ugh...this is going to be nasty second loop," but immediately, focus back on what matters- stride rate. Kristian said to me before race, "be ready to show grit." HA- it was about to get gritty. I made the turn around, back up and over the hill. Ironically, I don't really remember the hill ever hurting. I didn't notice a huge drop in my pace either. It was just another part of the race that was completely lined with cheering crowds and was over with fairly quickly. To be honest, on my final lap back towards the finish line, the hill couldn't come soon enough. I knew "my people" were there and as soon as I hit the hill, I knew the race was almost over. The finish line was RIGHT THERE. I just wanted to see that hill again!!! At mile 11, I did the math and knew that I was on track for a PR. I also knew I had enough in the tank to keep up the pace...even up that hill. I was thrilled. And smiling. And enjoying every last step of those 2.1 miles. Pete met me at the top of the hill to hand off the American flag to me. As soon as I hit the finish shoot, I opened it up and let it flap on my back the entire way through the finish line. Just like in Austria, USA fans cheered and I tried to soak up every moment of that finish shoot. I finished the run with my 70.3 1/2 marathon PR time, but most importantly...feeling amazing. What a great feeling!
NUTRITION- VESPA Junior (immediately after leaving T2), 3 Huma gels, 2 small cups of cola and approximately 6 salt stick caps (all spread out by 2-3 miles on the course).
Approximately 400 calories and 1,290mg sodium + trace electrolytes.
RUN GOAL- <1:50 and negative split (<:56 first loop and <:54 second loop)
ACTUAL RUN RESULT- 1:48:29 (not a negative split...but close)
AGE GROUP RESULT- 75/141 (53.19%)
I couldn't be more thrilled with my results from this race. It felt SO GOOD to have something in the tank to actually run a PR 70.3 1/2 marathon at the end. When I look at my run result in comparison to the rest of my AG field, it is SO OBVIOUS that I have so much work to do with my run. But after this race, I feel like I can, and that is EXACTLY what I needed to feel here. Most importantly, I had an absolute blast racing this race! I made new friendships, rekindled old friendships from races past, and made a heap of new memories that I'll never forget!
1. Smile often
2. Keep mentally focused on form
3. <5:17.18 (current 70.3 PR from Vineman 70.3 from 2013)
4. Finish in top 40% of AG
FINAL RESULT- 5:22:53
AG RESULT- 53/141, 37.58% of AG
In the end, I accomplished 3 out of 4 race goals and I am happy with that!
There is nothing like racing an Ironman 70.3 World Championship. Surrounding yourself with elite age group athletes and the best pros in the world is something that I hope will never get old. Although my future focus is to get to Kona (which I hear is off the charts amazing!), I still have hopes to race in the 70.3 World Championships in 2017 in my home country in Chatanooga, TN.
I am FOREVER grateful to all the support I have received for this race, both in Australia and across the pond. The TS Life crew was and always is beyond inspiring. I absolutely LOVE every opportunity I get to surround myself with these amazing, hard working, elite level athletes. My GCTC family at home who inspire me everyday to be the best athlete I can be. My parents who believe in me beyond measure. Coach Kristian who pushes me out of my comfort zone to help me be the best athlete/human I can possibly be while helping me reach my silly little goals. And, Sean, who never says "no" and encourages me to always chase my dreams.
Another adventure in the books that will NEVER be forgotten.
Tiana Rockwell is a certified nutritional therapist, avid endurance athlete and dark chocolate lover. She believes that by eating REAL food, we can balance our body and reach optimal health and wellness!