I had a hard time preparing for this race mentally. Physically, I felt good. Mentally, I felt like there wasn't anything to really fight for. I had made up my mind that even if the stars aligned and I was offered a slot to the 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Australia, I wouldn't take it. It would be a very expensive trip and I really want to turn my focus to full distance Ironman races and make a solid attempt to earn a slot to Kona. I have had a long time goal of standing on the podium at an Ironman event, but for some reason, I was having a hard time feeling like this was going to be enough of a reason for me fight when I needed to. At any rate, I think it would be fair to say that when I left Grass Valley on Wednesday morning, I was scared. Mostly that I would give up when the going got tough. Thankfully, I had a 14 hour drive to change my mindset. And that is exactly what I did. Thanks to the wonderful podcast (FB #114- The Art of Suffering) from TriSpecific (Kristian Manietta and Pete Lever) with Hillary Biscay, I had a new way of thinking about this race. My mantra changed, my attitude toward the race changed, the fear went away and I became excited to race.
When I arrived in Arizona on Thursday evening, I threw on my running shoes in an attempt to shake out my legs from the long drive. I hit the same trail that I was on last year, for my very first Ironman, and I couldn't help but feel really emotional. It felt SO GOOD to be back on that trail and have those amazing feelings from IMAZ come back to me. My legs felt heavy, full of lead and tired, but it didn't matter. The weather was perfect, the sun was setting over Tempe Town Lake and it was beautiful! I felt happy.
The next morning, I wanted to get a 30 minute light swim in, so I found the US Master's Swim club at ASU. LOL! This Master's Swim club is NOTHING like the Master's Swim club I swim at in Grass Valley. When I arrived, the coach on deck was shouting at everyone to get in the water as they only had 6 1/2 minutes left to warm up. He told me, just jump in a lane and I'll move you around as needed. Every lane had 6-8 swimmers in it already and I was feeling a little intimidated (ok, A LOT intimidated) by the level of swimming that I was seeing. I jumped in a lane, got one 50 completed before he stopped everyone to explain the workout. 500's with every third stroke as fly, 50's on the 50, ten 100's descending, etc. This was not going to be a 30 minute light swim. Thankfully, since the pool was so crowded, he made a special offer to move a small handful of us to a lane in a separate pool and I gladly obliged to move over there. I still had to circle swim with REAL swimmers and to do their workout, but I didn't have to feel the intense coaching hovering over me from the pool deck. And I didn't have to do fly every 3rd lap.
That afternoon, I rode the bike course and made sure everything was working well. No problems there. At 5pm, Shelly, Flor and I attended the athlete meeting and picked up our packets. Water temp on Friday was 79F and it wasn't looking like it would drop below 76.1F by Sunday morning. For one second I was bummed about a non-wetsuit swim, but decided to shift my mindset to be excited for the opportunity to use this as the perfect training swim for Cozumel (which will definitely not be a wetsuit legal swim!). At 6pm, we picked up Sean and Jim from the airport, picked up their packets and grabbed a bite to eat for dinner (lettuce wrapped burger with sweet potato fries) before calling it a night.
Saturday was mellow. Breakfast at the hotel. I packed my nutribullet so I could use that to make a smoothie in the mornings (coconut milk, kefir, blueberries, Vit C powder, Great Lakes Collagen, chia seeds, unsweetened coconut flakes and ice). We all did a mini bike/run and then headed over to the venue to check our bikes. Lunch at the Original ChopShop (chicken salad wrap in a gluten free tortilla) was good, but the service was very slow. By the time we got back to the hotel, it was late afternoon. We used that free time to lay down, get into the NormaTec boots and rest. That evening we had dinner at The Keg Steakhouse and Bar. It wasn't cheap, but the food and the service were SO GOOD! I had a wedge salad with blue cheese, a 12oz New York Steak (which I couldn't eat all of), 1/2 baked potato with butter, steamed vegetables with butter and a glass of red wine. I drank a cup of CalMag back at the hotel and I was off to bed. I didn't have any trouble sleeping and woke up about 5 minutes before my alarm was due to go off...rested and ready to race.
Race morning was easy. Woke up at 4:15am. The usual morning smoothie (coconut milk, regular coffee, raw cocoa, banana, Great Lakes Collagen, chia seeds, unsweetened coconut and ice) at 4:45am (which I didn't feel like drinking, but did anyway). Left the hotel at 5am. We had a 5 minute drive to the race venue and easy (free) parking across the street from transition. I was able to get everything set up in transition and drop stuff back off at the car before they closed transition at 6:30am (including my wetsuit, as the water temp was 77F and not wetsuit legal if you wanted to be eligible for awards). I took a VESPA CV25 at 6:10am (1 hour prior to my race start). My wave start was 7:10am and they would not let anyone in the water until 4 minutes before your wave start. So I stood in the swim chute/corral talking with fellow competitors. I "made friends" with the gal who was racked next to me. She had an All World Athlete cap on and we quickly found out that we had both been in Austria for this years World Championships. She finished 52nd in our AG and I finished 61st. We obviously we're fairly close racers and I knew she would be one of the athletes to beat. 10 minutes before my wave start, I took a VESPA Junior. Once the wave before us took off, I was one of the first athletes in the water. We had a short swim (75 yards) to the swim start. It was a deep water start and I found a place in the front of the line toward the inside. When the gun went off, I was able to find clear water very quickly. About 1/2 way down the lake, the sun came out and made it VERY HARD to sight anything. Once we made the turn, the sun was behind us, but the water was starting to get pretty choppy. I felt like I was having a solid swim (I kept a great focus on form and a speedy arm turnover), but I also knew that there were a good handful of women from my AG who were well in front of me. When I got out of the water and saw my swim time, I was surprised it was as slow as it was. On another day, I would have been pissed. But today, my first thought was that "if it was slow for me, it was slow for everyone." Then the thought was gone and I was racing through transition. When I made it back to my bike in T1, I could see that the gal I had talked to before the swim start was still behind me...so that gave me a little boost of energy to get out of T1 quickly. I ended up 6th in my AG out of the water with a time of 0:37.53 (my slowest 70.3 swim EVER).
The bike course was a flat, 3 loop, 56 mile course that had 5 out-and-backs and a total of 84 turns (yes...that is correct...eight-four) including 15 u-turns and 69 90-degree turns. Since I started working with Kristian last September, I have been doing his interval bike workout every week that includes 20 intervals as 1 minute HARD resistance with low rpm's followed by 1 minute easy spinning. This workout set me up perfectly for this course!!! Every turn required me to slow down and pick it back up, slow down and pick it back up, slow down and pick it back up. 84 times. It was like my regular Tuesday trainer session, only longer. There were no long stretches of road to let my mind drift off to some other place. We all had to be alert the whole time. And for this reason, I feel like the bike leg of this race was over with VERY QUICKLY! I felt like I had a very solid ride. I watched my splits on each lap as I passed by transition. Lap 1- :53, Lap 2- :53, and Lap 3- :53. They were consistent. And even though I was passed by the gal I had met at the swim start around mile 30 of the bike ride, I was able to keep her in sight and still manage to move from 6th out of the swim, to 4th off of the bike. When I came into T2, both gals from my AG were still at the rack. I quickly racked my bike, threw on my socks and shoes and left. I beat both of them out of transition, moving myself into 2nd place (although I didn't know that at the time).
Nutrition on the bike was scarce. I took a VESPA Junior at mile 10. I packed 600 calories of fuel and 2,000mg of sodium on my bike with the intention of getting most of it down. Honestly, after the swim, I was feeling slightly nauseated and the thought of eating made it worse. So I managed to get down my Freedom Fuel (1 packet Hyper Hydration Skratch, 1 packet of Exercise Hydration Skratch, 1T organic brown rice syrup and the squeeze of an orange) and 1 Endurance Bite (a homemade glorified rice crispy treat). Over all, I got all 2,000mg of sodium down and about 350 calories in with multiple bottles of water. It felt like the right amount. I wasn't hungry, but I was still feeling strong.
When I got out onto the run course, you better bet I was running scared. I knew those 2 girls from my AG were right behind me and I so badly wanted to hold them off. Despite my many desires to look behind me and see where they were, I didn't. I kept saying to myself "THIS MOMENT" to remind myself to check in and stay focused on my here and now. "Do you need water? Do you need calories? Do you need electrolytes? How is your stride rate? How is your breathing?" I just kept asking myself these questions over and over again.
The run course was a flat, 2 loop run course with 1 out and back per loop. We had a fairly strong wind, so one side of the lake was definitely harder than the other. The temperature was hot (for me...I'm not so use to the heat) and it was very humid. Good training for IM Cozumel. I took my VESPA Junior at the first aid station (around mile 1). I carried 12 Salt Stick tablets and 1 packet of Honey Stinger gummies. There were 12 aid stations on the course. My plan was to take 1 salt tablet at each aid station with 2 cups of water and slowly eat the gummies throughout the run. I was on track with water, salt and the gummies until mile 4 when I went to grab out my bag of salt and it wasn't there. It had obviously fallen out of my pocket. Plan B- Gatorade Endurance. Not my favorite option, but the only option I had as they didn't have plain salt at any of the aid stations. So I stopped eating the Honey Stingers and switched to 1 cup of Gatorade Endurance and 1 cup of water every other aid station (still 2 cups of water at alternating aid stations). It seemed to work out fine.
When I hit the first out and back, I checked my watch at the turn around. The 2 gals from my AG were running side-by-side, 2 minutes back. Motivation. Keep up my pace. At this point, I started asking myself, "Is this all you've got?" I never said no. I was pushing as hard as I could in the moment. Some aid stations I was able to plow through, but some, I had to walk a few steps and regroup. As I write this and think back on the run, I never remember worrying too much about the two girls behind me (except for when I could see them on the out-and-back). I looked for ponytails ahead of me, but could never find any. I knew that the leading women were WAY ahead of me. I started racing the men (in my head). Spectators were yelling things that made me feel like I was one of the ladies at the front of the race, and for once, it gave me more energy. And so did the guys that I passed. Many of them were VERY supportive saying that I looked strong and to keep up the good pace. When I finally hit the out-and-back on the second loop, I knew it was my opportunity to see how much time was between me and the gals behind me. I checked my watch at the turn around, and again, exactly 2 minutes. They hadn't gained any time on me. At that moment, I knew they saw me and since I didn't know what they had left in the tank, I knew this was time to leave it all our there. I had a little less than 2 miles left and just started to push as hard as I could. Funny, I felt like I was going faster, but my splits were nearly identical to my first loop. Luckily, I was able to keep my position until the finish. The run was long. 13.6 miles. So when my watch buzzed at mile 13 and I wasn't close to the finish chute, it was a LONG .6 miles. As I approached the finish line, I saw Jim and Sean who were both all smiles. And then the announcer said, "And from Grass Valley, California, one of our top 10 women, Tiana Rockwell." I think that was the first time I smiled all the day. But then I never stopped smiling.
Definitely not a PR run, but the absolute best I had for the day. 1:59.03 and the 5th fastest run in my AG on the day. And with that, I finally reached my goal of getting onto the podium at an Ironman event.
After I crossed the finish line, I walked for a few minutes then headed straight over to the massage tent. After a quick massage, I met back up with Jim and Sean and we headed over to our car to change and get our phones. When I turned my phone on, a text popped up from Kristian:
I was shocked. And I thought, "I GOT 5TH PLACE!!!!" And I was so happy. And I was smiling from ear to ear and couldn't believe that I finally made it onto the podium! I changed my clothes, grabbed my recovery drink (1/2 serving of Ultragen with water) and headed back over to the finish line to watch my fellow Gold Country Triathlon Club teammates finish. On the walk back over, I pulled up Ironman Live Tracking to check my splits and was in absolute disbelief when I saw 2nd place. As I write this, it still feels unreal. I keep waiting for Ironman to call and say, "oops, we made a mistake." But they haven't called.
The day felt like it kept getting better and better. All the GCTC athletes had great races! Jim had finished 5th in his AG (putting him on the podium!), Sean finished 6th in his AG, Michele finished 12th in her AG and most importantly to me, Shelly felt great, finished strong and took 11th in her AG. With those results, we (Gold Country Triathlon Club) won the division 5 TriClub category.
Once everyone had finished, I could feel my heart being pulled to Australia. I feel strongly that I have 2 wonderful triathlon families. I have my local family. Gold Country Triathlon Club. These people are my friends, my biggest fans, my everyday supporters and are there for me through the good, the bad and the ugly. Then I have my TriSpecific family. I've been a member of this family for just over 1 year, but have already found so much support in them. They are competitive, driven and selfless with their wonderful information about how to become better human beings. They push me to want to be a better version of myself. The thing is, I've only met a handful of them face-to-face (in Austria). Most of them are based in Australia and are all working their tails off to earn spots to the World Championship in their home country. With a true EARNED slot to Worlds (the last 2 years I have received roll down slots), I feel like I should take it. This is my opportunity to meet, face-to-face, the members of the TriSpecific family who have been so encouraging to me over the last year. And after getting a thumbs up from Sean (and Kristian) to take the slot, I did. The best part was that Sean was able to take a slot as well. And so the planning begins...
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!