Ironman 70.3 World Championships Race Report
No race can occur in a bubble. This past week has been a whirlwind of news reporting on catastrophes ripping through the US and Mexico via natural phenomena and man-made phenomena. I geared up for this year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga, TN with my dad in a sweet hotel in downtown only a city-bike-share ride away to the race start. We were glued to the news as the White House Administration announced their plans to rip away rights from nearly 1 million people with the threat of deportation all while hurricane after hurricane ripped away roofs and electricity from hundreds of thousands with the threat of more to come. As of this writing, Hurricane Irma is diminishing as it rides north, while Hurricane Jose grazes westward in its shadow. The Homeland Security policy of 2012 that granted over-the-table, working rights for a specific set of people who arrived in the US via undocumented parents, also known as DACA, is under the threat by the President’s Administration to expire in six months should our Congress not act. Close friends of mine are under attack by both of these destructive forces ripping through our country. All the while, I prepared to race a half-Ironman with the very best in the world. To block that all out, to block out personal challenges, to block out the world while racing the world is not possible. As much as I would want to focus on my race and isolate myself into a bubble to achieve that high-level intensity, I refuse to race or even train in a bubble of ignorance (even if it’s only suspended). I harnessed the raw energy and conflicting, troubled emotions of those around me, including myself to focus into a performance of a strategic and patient attempt at reaching my maximum physical potential. It’s a form of release, art, goal-setting, and target-hitting. In times of anger, rage, sadness, and confusion, sometimes I can only process and problem-solve so much. Being human, being primal, I must also roar and release.
This year’s race of course was stacked in the professional and age-group fields. The women’s race was separated this time from the men’s. It seemed to have worked out great. I enjoyed watching the women race and giving them their space. I think that was reciprocated as well on their part. The best of the best made it here by qualifying at a previous Ironman 70.3 over the last year. I got my slot last year in Western Sydney with a first in my age group performance. I had tons of friends this year who were ready to humble me in all the age-groups, but especially our 30-34 age group.
The swim was of course switched last minute to a wetsuit-legal swim. We swam upriver for over half of the course and then shot back down for the last 600yds. It was fun to swim my own race with a rolling start which started off the dock with a dive! The rolling start meant that we all went off 10 at a time. This was meant to decongest the entire race, not just the swim. I think it worked pretty well! I also was able to start the swim calmly for once. I tested the current’s variable strength by swimming on the outer edge on the way up (less current) and then towards the middle on the way down (stronger current). As I swam through this flowing body of water, I had flash-backs to the power of one of the veins of Karuk country. Every time I go to Orleans, CA where our tribe, the Karuk tribe, is mostly located, I swim in the Salmon River. Depending on where and when, this river can be icy cold and raging or warm and gentle. I learned how to river-swim in this body of water that has been a life-blood of my people since my ancestors’ ancestors. Chinook and Coho Salmon swim up its flows with their furiously destined reproductive urges. River otters play and glide through this river and feed at its countless snow-melt tributaries. I know this because I’ve seen it. I’ve felt it. I’ve swam with these spirit-animals and I feel them each time I jump in any river. I felt nice and tired at the end of this swim with a 30:30 swim time. The pros were in the low 25’s for reference.
I took my time in transition and shot out onto the course with a disc-cover, flat repair kit, a caffeinated Picky Bar and three bottles of Infinit hydration solution for the road (800 calories). Lookout Mountain tested our patience as we climbed around 3000 ft in elevation within the first 20 miles. I played it cool and stuck to my power-goal. I knew the race wouldn’t start until the back half. As coach Matt Dixon told us, “Race the course, not the competition.” I turned that into a motto I slapped it on a sticker onto my top-tube of my bike, “Race the course, not the horse.” This philosophy had to be drilled into me. If you recall, the last two World Championships, I got caught up in the negativity of my own anger caused by draft-packs (cheaters). There was less this time, but most importantly I tried harder not to let them get to me. I calmly told them to split up. I tried to not cuss at them when they soared by in a pack of eight or ten as I told them that they needed to spread out. A friend and killer athlete, John Savage (also a high school teacher!) rode by me at that moment and told me, “Hey remember, we’re here to ride bikes and have fun! Let’s show ‘em how to ride fast!” So we zoomed by them and tried to break them up as if they were a temporarily tamed group of dogs, that needed to go feral again. I smiled and laughed as we rode by them all the way until the end.
To survive the backside descent of Lookout Mountain was enough of a reason to be happy. Inspired by my young cyclist, friend, Malik Makana, I bombed those five glorious miles of descending almost strictly on my top tube, like I first saw Chris Froome do a few years ago. I never have done that during a race. It was such a rush passing guys who were pedaling in their aero bars, while I was a tucked and furry, bat out of hell. I wanted to save some power for the run, so I planned on dropping my normalized power output to 220w for the whole course. Looking at my files now, I see I did just that, right on the dot. I ended up racing the 56 miles in 2 hours and 28 minutes. The top female pro did it in 2:20 with most of the female pros racing a comparable time to me.
I forgot my Frodo-inspired headband in transition two, but started the run feeling solid. I let myself “find my legs” for the first mile, then settled into the perceived exertion I hoped to maintain for the next 12.1 miles. I found it! I ran with a few quick dudes, but let them go when they maintained their speed on the up-hills and downhills. Again, Dixon’s words of, “Race the course,” echoed between my ears. The elevation change throughout would create havoc on my heart should I try to maintain a consistent pace. This means I had some sub-6:30 miles, and then some 7:10 miles. I breathed through my nose and grunted a lot. I downed a Hawaiian Ola noni shot, and a Hot Shot to prevent cramping. I finished my Infinit solution and started on the Red Bull for the last four miles. I saw friends from Oakland, New York, San Diego, and Miami running as I trudged up some dreadful hills and flung my arms out flying down their backsides. A few Hawaii-athletes cheered me on and I must thank Ben Williams and Sam Corace for helping me dig deep during some tough spots. My heart rate climbed steadily, but slowly as I managed to break 1:30 for the half-marathon. For more reference, the winner of my age-group and second overall for the day ran a 1:11! Javier Gomez, who won the top professional prize ran a 1:10. This is a sub 5:25 mile for 13.1 of them. I cannot fathom what that would feel like. I am in awe while still having mad respect for myself for not blowing up like I normally do!
I raced the course’s terrain, and ignored the horses. I ignored the urge to rip in too early. I saved the sprint for the end. I had to dig deep all day, but it was never a panicked digging. I slowly kept shoveling that lava into my engine for four hours and thirty-five minutes (4:35). The perfect weather and breath-taking course definitely helped. The love and support from my father who came to make life so easy for me was essential. Last month I left Ironman Santa Rosa, telling my dad I wasn’t even sure about doing triathlon anymore. I hugged him at the finish line yesterday and told him, “I’m so happy dad. I love this sport.” When it’s done right, it’s what I imagine is like reciting, verbatim a Shakespearean soliloquy in front of the Queens and Kings of some God-forsaken medieval hamlet. In other words: stoked.
I’ll end it here early this time. The race went so well and I’ll let the pictures and numbers tell their supplemental stories. This is despite the other things going on in this world. The forces of nature and branches of our government are wreaking havoc through the country and I have been lucky enough to be placed in a geographic and socio-economic sweet-spot that is temporarily safe from these threats. I did nothing to deserve this lucky spot and coupled with my gratitude, I am also furious that our fellow community members are suffering while we get to indulge in sport and race in an imagined bubble. If not taking direct action, I encourage you to stay informed. Find out what DACA entails. Find out what letting it expire would do. Talk to a DACAmented member of your community or extended community. Story-telling is a powerful tool, so I encourage you to be a story-listener as well to those who may be affected by the removal of DACA. As for the hurricanes, please be aware that not everyone has the means or abilities to evacuate. Do not be so quick to judge those who could not leave their homes. Also, if there is not a time to talk about climate change, then when? Perhaps our personal actions may not make a difference at this point, but our pressure on the government and large corporations still has a chance of making a difference in slowing climate change. These hurricanes are far stronger with the warmer waters created by human-made climate-change.
Thank you to my sponsors for getting me to the 2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championships. The nutrition and gear are huge pieces of this puzzle that is triathlon. Bikeworks of Kona, Hawaiian Ola, Bioastin, Oakley, and Zoggs USA: mahalo nui loa! Sending love, aloha and southern-hospitality to my family and friends who sent me texts, Instagram comments, Facebook shout-outs and calls throughout the season. A huge thank you to my dad who took me to Chattanooga and helped make this race so easy and logistically possible. I literally could not have done it with out you dad! Thanks to all of you for following my journey through the sport of triathlon in what is ultimately a part of the journey in finding myself and in finding my place in this world.
Stay tuned for one more big race this year. When and where this race will be is still to be determined. ¡Vamos!