Friday, September 9, 2016

Pre-Race on Sunshine Coast for Ironman 70.3 World Championships

On Thursday midday we arrived in Mooloolaba, where the race would be held and a location I had only explored briefly on Sunday. The city was transformed in those few days that I had been gone though and Ironman mayhem was in full effect. Roads were beginning to be shut down as the race barriers were put up and “Ironman Village” with all its glory was there to welcome us.

Our initial goal was to beat the rush and check in for the race, however, the lines for check-in were already MASSIVE and after standing in the way back of the line for a bit, we decided to abandon that plan and spend our time in the Ironman store instead. Both Kristin and I wanted to seize the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of being at this race and empty our wallets on official gear branded with “World Championships” on it so that we could wear it for basically the rest of our lives.

The store was already complete mayhem and by midday on the first day had already sold out of a lot of gear and sizes. We snatched up some awesome finds and then stood in line for about an hour before I emptied my wallet to the Ironman brand. I’m really happy with everything that I ended up with, although it did cause quite some indecision on my part for a bit. I went back and forth with what to get and ended up with some really cute gear that I will be wearing until the end of time.

We grabbed a late lunch, checked into our AirBnB for the night, picked up our bikes, and got in short workouts. I went for a 40-minute ride, having difficulty finding a good place to take my bike, but enjoying some of the scenic views and finding a great place to swim that we would check out in the morning. For dinner we had heard rumors that everything in the area closed early (which was very true!) so we went out for a short dinner and a couple glasses of wine at a local restaurant and watched some rugby outdoors. We were both nervous and excited for the race but I had so much fun with Kristin just enjoying the town. There was one moment during dinner where something happened and we both just looked at each other and burst out laughing. These moments kept happening throughout the weekend and it was awesome.

We started Friday morning with individual workouts, although we both ended up doing virtually the same thing. We went to the beach I had scoped out the day before and I did about a 20-minute swim followed by a 2 mile run. The area of the beach we were on was pretty quiet but further down closer to the race site it was packed with athletes also testing the waters. Without access to any ocean, two days before the race, believe it or not, was my first time in my life attempting to do an ocean water swim and actually try and get somewhere in that swim. I have swum in the ocean since I was a little kid, although mostly just diving into the waves, and I have always been extremely comfortable with open water swimming in lakes and rivers, so although I knew it would be different, I hadn’t thought too much about it. Then, Friday morning, when I went out to swim, I had a near panic attack.

Being out in the ocean was so scary to me. I kept thinking about sharks swimming up to me, I was getting tossed around in the waves, and even after swimming out beyond the break in the water, I was still rolling around in the swell, swallowing water and feeling like I could barely keep my head down for a few feet of swimming.

I panicked a bit for one of the first times ever and swam into shore. I worked up the guts to swim back out again which was good practice for swimming in and out of the shore, but frankly, the ocean swim that morning made me SO much more nervous for the race. I felt a bit like I did after driving the bike course in Chattanooga – it made me so much more nervous but I was also glad that I had done it. I now knew what to expect. And for me, that meant to lower my expectations even more of what my swim time would be. I nervously sent my coach an e-mail and also messaged some triathlete friends for tips swimming in the ocean water and readjusted my mind to a plan of “just get through it.”

My run felt decent but my nerves were definitely on high alert on Friday morning.

Luckily, we started to feel a bit better about life after going over to the race expo and checking into our race hotel. It was a slight process to move from our AirBnB to the hotel we would be in for the race weekend (Friday to Monday) with the rental car, two bikes, and all of our bags but we planned to get this done all early so that we could just get it out of the way. We were in great spirits feeling like we were completely winning in life after we checked into the race with ZERO lines or waiting (after abandoning a massive line the day before) and saw the absolutely beautiful and perfect view ocean/transition/race view of our room that was so incredible. And on top of that, there were tons of adorable signs all over the athlete checkin made my local little kids. The day had definitely gotten better since the swim!

We had a lunch of pizza for me and pasta for Kristin and relaxed for a little before some of the official race prep began.

The first official event that we were attending was the Parade of Nations. We all lined up on Brisbane Road with our countries and then proceeded towards Mooloolaba Beach where a kickoff ceremony was held. I really felt like I was in the Olympics and it was amazing to see so many nations represented and so many flags waving in the mighty wind by the beach.

My personality type tends have me want to be in the front of things. I like sitting in the front row at events and I had ended up being at the front of the group of the Americans after wanting to get a picture of the flag. The guy who was actually holding the flag said that he got the honor to do so after just being the first person to show up from the U.S. at the parade. So it wasn’t a super official thing, but as we entered into the circle of all the nations, Kristin and I were marching at the front of the U.S. crowd with the flag waving behind us and all the American athletes in line as they announced “The United States of America!” It felt so official and gave me goosebumps but I also turned to Kristin at the absurdity of it saying, “We are literally leading the American athletes into the ceremony for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships… who would have thought?” Given that athletes like Michael Phelps and Simone Biles had this honor in Rio Olympics, it struck us as really funny since we both were likely at the way back of the pack for the American athletes and we both started laughing hysterically.

The event was very cool and was followed by a few glasses of wine and then the Welcome Dinner for athletes and athlete briefing. The food was pretty good and Kristin and I sat at a table with a lot of Australian athletes from Sydney and their coach. It was interesting to get their perspective and their coach had a lot of really good information about the rules, transition set up, and the course. This was the first time that we heard of this 18% grade hill on the course and we were all ears trying to get more information. There were also many other athletes wondering about the weather for the next few days as the waves that morning hadn’t just worried Kristin and I!

It was an early bedtime for us following the athlete events and Saturday morning started with final workouts and then race prep. I went out for a 30-minute bike ride and a 1 mile run, which went much better than my bike ride from the other day. We also wanted big carb-y lunches again and getting our transition bags ready and bikes checked in. This race had a different process for transition than any other triathlon I had done and this is apparently actually the process that is used for full Ironmans. We were given specific bags for transition 1 and transition 2 and we needed to put everything that we would need for each transition into the bags. Those would be dropped off the day before with our bikes.

The process I thought would be a lot more stressful than I thought but I kept things simple with what I needed in each back and didn’t overthink it too much. In the first bag was bike shoes, helmet, gloves, and socks – my nutrition I would bring in the morning. In the second back was run sneakers, bib and race belt with nutrition, visor, and another pair of socks. After dropping them off, I realized that I had forgotten I wanted to put towels in each bag so I actually went back and added a small towel to each bag.

When dropping them off I walked through transition a few times and asked the volunteers to point out which way we’d be coming in and out so I was sure I had a clear understanding. I devised a plan to run through transition in my socks instead of my run shoes and made sure I knew which racks held my T1 and T2 bag so I would have a clear understanding of where to run to in the moment.

For food the day before, I had toast with avocado and mushroom, scrambled eggs and coffee for breakfast. Then for lunch I had a chicken sandwich. That evening for dinner, Sondra and Debbie, two now-friends from Atlanta who had come to spectate made a family style supper of pasta, garlic bread, and salad that we with some cookies for dessert. One other Atlanta Triathlon Club athlete was in Australia for the race and him and his wife came over to our hotel room to join us all. It was a fun and relaxing evening.

I spent a good amount of time by myself that day as well, I had breakfast alone to start the day with a clear head and spent a few hours in my room by myself with music on. I sat down and worked on a race plan. I compiled all the advice I had been given from friends and more importantly from my coach, I studied the race route and where the major turns and hills were, things I wanted to remember throughout each portion of the course, I reread my race report from Chattanooga to familiarize myself with the portions that I might have forgotten about that were hard or difficult, etc. I studied this and tried to commit it to memory and tried to visualize the race for myself. This was something I had done in Chattanooga and even before that for Chicago Marathon and I found it extremely helpful.

Having put together the race bags earlier in the day, there really wasn’t much to do or worry about in the evening which was sort of nice! I called my mom once in a tears in a panic of nervousness on Saturday. But otherwise, it was all systems go. I studied my race plan. I had my race nutrition ready. I had my breakfast out for me – which was a box of Special K cereal (not Chocolatey Delight thought!) and strawberries and skim milk. And I went to bed early.

I wish I could say I slept well but it was a little challenging. From our room I could hear the waves crashing against the beach, which is usually a soothing sound to me, but in this case just had my nerves on edge thinking about what would be in store the next day!

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