If you know me, you know I write a race report about all significant races. To say Oregon 70.3 Ironman was a big race for me would be an understatement. It was my first long course after taking the first real break since starting triathlons back in 2012.
There’s also been some pretty big life changes…. entering into motherhood is the most well-known, but my now ex-husband also left us in 2020. I’ve been blessed with a lot of family support and I couldn’t have trained for a half Ironman as a single mom without them. Training with a 2-year-old is hard enough but doing it as a single parent was daunting.
I wasn’t in a headspace to be able to write this until now and I’ve been a bit busy. But I’ve healed enough to get my story down on paper (and been asked by friends if I was doing a race report). So, let’s start from the beginning….
THE GAME PLAN
My sister wanted to do her first half Ironman and asked me to do it with her. My family came up with a plan to help me train to just get to the finish line and I tried my best this season but it was difficult to get the minimum training in. I cycled after my son went to bed or at nap time. Some runs I would do with a jogging stroller. The other runs and swimming I would do after my son went to bed with a family member, usually my mom, staying at my house to watch him. This meant I was often working out until 9pm and towards the end of the training cycle long rides had to be split up to be during naps and after bed so I could have time to sleep. My goal going into this race was first just to finish. Second, I wanted to get off the bike before my sister so I could pace her on the run.
A few weeks before the race my coach had a big talk with me. Basically, saying this race was going to hurt a lot more than other long races I’ve done in the past and I was more undertrained than in the past. But she knew I could gut it out and finish.
Leading up to the race I was having increasingly worsening lower back pain. I sucked it up and knew I was just trying to finish under the cut off time. We drove from Fresno to Salem on Thursday to check in early and be able to scope out the venue. I was stiff getting out of the car, but we went for a shake out run and headed off to transition. We stayed at the Grand hotel which hosted the expo, and everything was a short walk, or jog, away. It was nice to check everything out during our shake out run and run along the swim exit and transition. I would highly recommend the Grand for convenience especially for a first-time half ironman.
Friday was a chill day where we tried to just stay off our feet. We picked up our packets, went to lunch, prepped our bikes, and just chilled in the room.
We kicked off Saturday with swimming the course. By this time walking anywhere or doing anything was agonizing and made my back hurt more and more. I wanted to do our scheduled 10 minute swim and call it a day because I knew swimming aggravated it. Well, on this swim course it’s all or nothing. There are no additional safe entry/exit points on the swim course. So…. we walked over a mile to the swim entrance where I dragged and tried to do a pace that wasn’t painful but that really didn’t exist at this point. We donned our wetsuits, and literally jumped into the river!
I’m glad we opted for a practice swim because the current instantly swept you out. We could make a game plan and figure out how to navigate the current without the extra nerves and adrenaline form race morning. I swear I coasted for at least 1/3 of the swim and still went 1.2 miles in under 30 mins which is crazy fast for me! Swimming the course gave all of us extra confidence for race day.
Next, we dropped our bikes at transition. Bike drop is always a mix of sadness and excitement. I never like leaving my bike over night but I’m glad it’s one less thing to do in the morning.
We tried to go to bed early Saturday night, but it was tough with a hotel room of 5 athletes. By the time we were winding down for the night I was in so much pain I was crying sitting on the bed. I wasn’t sure how I would be able to sleep, let alone race the next day. My sister gave me some NSAID, and Josh massaged my back (hard enough to bruise 3 days later apparently) with Voltaren gel. The combination was enough to get a good night’s sleep. We also made a pain management plane for race day which calmed my nerves.
I never take NSAIDs when training or racing but I was desperate to survive the day. The pain management plan was to take NSAIDs in the morning, at each transition, and to us bio freeze at transitions. Fingers crossed it was enough to just get through the day.
Transition set up always gets me mentally in the right place. After 10 years it’s become almost meditative, and it was nice to be back! Time flies race morning and before I knew it, it was time to walk to the swim start. I stuck with my sister so we would start the swim together. We were indecisive about getting our wetsuits on at transition or waiting until we walked to the swim start. We ended up getting the bottom halves on and then finishing the top half at bag drop. We felt a bit rushed getting into our wetsuits by the time we got to the bag drop but we just hustled with team effort wiggling into wetsuits, which we all know is the worse part of race day.
Since the wave corrals kept moving past the bag drop area, we had to try to squeeze by people to make it up to our corral. Tonia and I had opted to wear swim booties for the over mile walk to swim start and the tough walk back to transition after getting out of the water. There was still a stretch of rough road to walk from bag drop to water, so I was very grateful to have booties on. After finding the back of the corral we wanted to seed ourselves in we inched forward with the crowd. This year we jumped into the river feet first two at a time. By the time you hit the water you were whisked out with the current and had to immediately try to stay on the right side of the buoys even though the current was pulling us past them, and the fast current was on the left side of the buoys. I got pulled past the buoy and it took about half the course to get back on the right side. The race staff seemed to be ok with it as long as you were making an effort to go towards the right side. I believe this was just to make you prepared to exit the course at the dock on the right side. I’ve never been able to “coast” during a swim before and it was AMAZING. As a weak swimmer I LOVED this course. I barely had enough time to enjoy the swim course before I was rounding the corner to the boat dock. Volunteers helped us out of the water. I stripped my wetsuit on the dock before making my way up to transition. Tonia was just ahead of me, and we waved at each other on the zig zagging path back to transition.
My sister was right next to me in transition so we got to see each other as we stripped out swim gear and threw on helmets. She got on to the bike course a few minutes before me. Hopefully I would be able to catch her by the end of the bike course.
I knew my sister was ahead of me on the bike and in the back of my mind it made me a little anxious wondering if I would finish the race in time. My game plan at this point was to take it easy on the hills and save my back for the run. My sister had told me the course is faster on the way back, but the first 5 miles seemed really fast…. if back is even faster, then this must be a very fast course! I finally found her at about mile 6. We shared a few encouraging words but lost sight of her on the rollers quickly.
The course as a whole was beautiful with just the right amount of rollers with only two “hills” of significance. I did opt to walk half of the biggest hill to save my back for the run. This course has several railroad crossings that are known to eject water bottles. The one near the turn around was by far the worst. The first time I crossed it there was not just a water bottle but an entire seat post with attached cages and two water bottles…. how someone lost an entire seat post I still don’t know. The turn around was a bit awkward at the beginning of a hill, but I was glad we didn’t have to go far up it. For some reason one of the turn around volunteers decided I looked like I didn’t know how to turn and descend and tried to coach me on the spot what to do. I chuckled to myself and gained as much speed as I could from the short decent. I took note of what time I turned around so I could watch for my sister and know how far ahead I was. I had to refuel at the next aid station and I’m glad my sister had talked about the railroad tracks and the bottle graveyard so much because I opted to fill my torpedo hydration bottle instead of just grabbing a Gatorade and throwing it in my water bottle cage. I would have lost it immediately because just ahead was the bad railroad track again. This time, the volunteer yelled “it’s worse this time” from the back of his hatchback with the trunk open and a PILE of water bottles with a rake. The water bottle graveyard was not an exaggeration even after it was well known. All of us back of the packers were grateful the bottles were being cleared off so we could ride safely. I found my sister 6 minutes after the turn around so I assumed if we both maintained our efforts, I would get off at least 12 minutes ahead of her. That kept me motivated to keep up my speed for the seconds half of the course. The earlier assessment of it feeling like an all-around fast course was accurate. If I hadn’t stopped for a few minutes refilling Gatorade I would have been a few minutes faster on the second half than the first half. Towards the last 1/4 of the bike I always start getting chatty trying to encourage other cyclist and cheer them on. It helps make the last few miles go by quicker and the fellow back of the backers usually appreciate it!
I was so grateful to be off the bike! And be a little ahead of my sister. I usually have decent transitions but felt like I could waste sometime today. I ran in to my friend Meredith as I was walking my bike to the rack. She offered me a Fireball and of course I said yes! So, she said she would meet me at the run exit to give it to me. I decided to use a port-a-potty for the first time in transition in 10 years because why not if I had some time to spare. I asked a spectator standing at the fence near the port-a-potties to help get my suit off. My sister and I had opted for sleeved one piece tri suits knowing we had trouble getting the first arm off, but I thought we would probably be together when I needed to get it off during the run or after the race. I didn’t really consider needing to get it off in transition but thankfully the whole tri community is friendly and happy to help each other. Next, I sprayed on some bio freeze that I desperately needed, loaded my pockets with GU, grabbed my race belt and visor and headed to the run exit. Meredith found me and gave me the promised bottle of Fireball. I stashed it in a pocket and started off to the run exit of transition!
I knew from training I was a little bit faster runner than my sister, so I wanted to give her time to catch up. My plan was to walk until she caught up and then pace her to finish under the cut off time. I found some friends waiting along the beginning of the run course and stopped to get some hugs and talk for a few minutes before making some progress walking.
I was hoping a little walking would loosen up my back and make running a little easier, but it didn’t help very much. My time for the first timing check point at mile 1 was 24 minutes which I found a bit amusing, and a few people back home were worried by how long I was taking. The fireball was burning a hole in my pocket, but I hadn’t quite decided if I wanted to drink it or save it. My sister caught up to me at about mile 1.3 before I had really decided if I should drink it or not. She said people kept telling her “Your sister is just ahead, you sister is right there” and it pushed her to do a very fast first mile. We started making our way through the run with run/walk intervals which my sister had been training with. We ran for 45 seconds and walked for 45 seconds. Our goal was to average 16 min/mile to make the 8 hour and 30 minute race cut off. The run course was beautiful with most of the paved running trail shaded. We crossed two bridges and had gorgeous views almost the whole time.
The course was two loops and had two stretches with runners going both directions, so we were able to see our teammates as we ran. We made pretty good progress until Tonia had to use a port-a-potty at mile 6.5 which set us back a little. We were starting to cut it close. My back was hurting pretty much the whole time for almost 7 hours now and it seemed to be getting worse and worse while running. I was grateful for each walk break and for the distraction of focusing on my sister and her race than myself. At mile 7 my back just stopped hurting! I joked that I wasn’t listening so my body just gave up giving a pain signal but I was a bit worried about it in the back of my mind. For now, I had to just finish this race. My sister started struggling to keep our run pace. At mile 9 she decided she needed to slow down and was worried about heat exhaustion setting in. She wanted me to finish on my own to make cut off time and she would do her best on her own. At mile 9 I picked up the pace by a whole minute per mile. That’s no easy feat this far into the race. I settled in to 1:15 running, 45 seconds walking. I was trying to make up enough time to walk the last 1 or 2 miles. It was a lot easier to run consistently when it was to keep my sister on track. Now that it was just for me, I was struggling mentally. Every time a run interval started I internally groaned, but I had to get the work done. I only had 4 miles left to get through. By mile 11 I didn’t feel confident being able to walk but I slowed my intervals down to 1 minute running and 1 minute walking. At this point I was glad my coach had given me a pep talk before the race. I knew this race was going to hurt and this part was going to take a lot of determination to finish under time. I had to just keep going. Only 2 miles left. I was so relieved when the bridge to the finish line came in to view and I knew I was going to make it! I was ecstatic to finally run through the chute and officially finish. I doubled over to catch my breath as soon as I finished, and the medic came over to make sure I was ok. At this point the pickup pace was wearing on my back and I needed to get some kind of relief. I made my way to the medical tent just past the finish line and got Ironman’s version of bio freeze gel to put on it. This was one of the most painful races I have finished and I’m just glad I crossed the finish line.
I was hoping to make it back out to the finish line for my sister coming in, but I barely missed her. We found each other next to the finish chute and waited for our last friend to finish. I gave her the Fireball I had carried on through the whole run and we celebrated both finishing.
After the race I took some much-needed time off in Moro Bay. Walking and resting seemed to be helping a little bit but it was still pretty bad. Two weeks later I finally got in to see my doctor. I was given NSAIDs, muscle relaxers, and referred to PT. I also saw my chiropractor which helped immediately. It’s been slow progress to recovery but after 6 weeks it’s 90% better. We determined my sacrum was compressed from carrying my toddler around and not activating my core enough. Starting Tri training again exacerbated the base problem. My take away is as a first time or repeat mom don’t neglect reengaging your core and hips. I plan to start more strength training and yoga in a few weeks to set a solid foundation and try to return to tris again next year.
I’m disappointed GB3 has yet to reopen their day care. Gyms are open and day cares are open AND other gym day cares are open. There is no reason other than not wanting to provide this service to not reopen the gym day care. The primary people this impacts is moms (and care givers) of young children. It’s difficult enough getting back to exercising after having a kid in general. We need all the resources we can have. At this time, I don’t see myself being able to do another long course until either gym day care is available again or my son is a lot older.
I’m proud of myself for finishing and I know this race was all heart!
Swim (27:10) Point to point downriver
Bike (3:49:25) 1,149 ft of elevation gain with rollers
Run (3:44:30) Asphalt running path with 70% shade