In May this year I qualified for the 2022 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in St George, Utah. That was a big race for me as it was the first time I qualified outright rather than relying on roll down (other people not taking slots). Unfortunately, since then things haven’t gone my way and I have had to battle a number of injuries.
These injuries, my restricted training and the fact it was my third World Championships in St George in 12 months meant I wasn’t really mentally or physically in the right place for a serious race. This combined with our recent move to Penticton and the desire for a new adventure led to my decision to drive to St George, an 19 hr 1,950km drive taking me through Britisg Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada & Utah.
Fortunately for me, Lauren’s great aunt Carolyn lives in Southern Idaho, just off my route, at about halfway point. This gave me the perfect pit stop to break up the journey and a chance to meet some of her family.
The Journey – Day 1
Driving rather than flying makes life so easy! I just popped the bike in the back, threw all my tri stuff in and set off in Pria the Prius.
I crossed the border at Osoyoos, which went smoothly and continued South into Washington. When I drove to Montana in August, I found it pretty boring. This time though I had cruise control and had downloaded 2 audiobooks, Harry Potter 1 & 2. This was an absolute game changer and not once in the close to 20hrs of driving did I get bored or tired. The spectacular scenery always helps…
Washington – The first section took me down the Okanogan River/Valley (spelt differently in Canada). This was a beautiful section with lots of fishing potential. It’s also now my route into the states so sure I will be visiting plenty. On exiting the valley the road passed over some grassland hills before cutting through the most amazing valley to Soap Lake. This was the highlight of Washington and on another trip with more time I will stop to explore. The remainder of Washington wasn’t very exciting, lots of farmland but the snow-capped Rockies were always lurking to the west.
Oregon – I had never been to Oregon before so didn’t know what to expect and would only get a glimpse as I cut across the Northeast corner. It turned out to be the highlight of day. The scenery was incredible and so wild. It was grassland mountains/rolling hills and just went on and on. The border of Washington also went through a beautiful gorge with what I think was a river running through it, but it was enormous so could have been a lake. This lit a fire and I now really want to go explore Oregon as clearly there is some epic wilderness to get lost in.
Idaho – I had driven across Norther Idaho this summer and it wasn’t that special. Southern Idaho was better but mixed. Around Boise it wasn’t very interesting and quite industrial. As I moved South to where Carolyn and David lived it improved. Again, more rolling grassland, impressive valleys, beautiful rivers and escarpments. The most interesting thing was the water pouring out of the cliffs of the plateau. I later found out this is because Idaho has a massive underwater lake that feeds the rivers.
I arrived with Carolyn and David in time for dinner. They live on a golf and fishing resort which unfortunately there was no time to explore, as I was leaving early in the morning, but hopefully, I would have more time on the way back. Carolyn and David looked after me so well and I couldn’t have asked for a more luxurious mid drive pit stop.
The Journey – Day 2
I set off at the crack of dawn on day two, the slightly shorter drive, of my adventure. Today was Idaho, Nevada and Utah.
Idaho – I started close to the border but the Snake River Canyon was beautiful.
Nevada – On the two previous trips to St George I had flown to Vegas and driven north. Southern Nevada was quite cool, but the North is something else. It is so barren and wild. There had been some recent snow making the mountains beautiful. Desert and snow are a cool combination (see the snow shower below). I had to drive through a blizzard at one point and it was windy, cold and wild. I loved it! I did have one drama. As I left one of the very few towns in the whole North of the state it said 137 miles to next fuel. I checked and with over half a tank I figured that would be plenty. By 75 miles to go I had slowed and was nervously driving in fuel saving mode. I did not want to run out if fuel here. Eventually I made it, but it caused quite a lot of anxiety.
Utah – I had been twice before so knew what to expect, but the size of scenery and the red rock is still impressive.
After 2 long, but fun, days I finally arrived. I loved the drive with my favourite parts Oregon and Northern Nevada.
Ironman 70.3 World Championships
Having been twice before I knew exactly what I was doing. I quickly registered and set off for the house. This time I was staying with my fellow coach Lori, one of her athletes Charley and three others, Lily, Kent and Tori.
After my long drive I had a very relaxing evening getting to know the others. Thursday would be prep, Friday watching the women’s race and Saturday my race.
The girls were getting ready for their race, so Kent and I squeezed in a quick swim and bike. In the afternoon I tried a 1km run to see if my ankle was going to hold up. It seemed ok but my muscles seemed unsure about running having not done it for 3 months! Beyond that it was just a relaxing day and sorting out my race kit.
Friday – The women’s race
The girls were up at 4 for their race which meant I had an early start before getting back to sleep. I resurfaced at 8 to go watch the pro women come past the house. The change from my previous experiences here was the temperature. It was freezing. Not literally but at the pro women’s start it was 2 Celsius. To come out the water wet and then cycle through that was brutal. There were all sorts of outfits to try and stay warm. The best being marigold gloves on the hands! A few people who came past looked in a bad way, so stiff and shivering. This was useful to see ahead of our race the next day.
After seeing the girls come past Kent and I went into town to watch the run. We saw the pros finish, 1st place was boring, she rode away 5km into the bike and was never seen again, insane. 2nd-6th however was really exciting. We also saw Lori, Tori, Ely and Charley coming in on the bike and back and forth on the run.
This was the first time in a while I have watched a race. I had forgotten how tiring it is. Kent and I had been on our feet and on the go all day. As we headed home with the girls, we were both feeling pretty drained, not ideal the day before a World Championship race!
We went to Sand Hallow to drop our bikes off. This is where we encountered the theme of this World Champs – it was too big. There were 2500 women and 4000 men racing. The infrastructure wasn’t in place, so it was impossible to do anything. We had to wait 45 minutes to collect our chips and rack our bikes. This was already 30 minutes after it was meant to be closed and there was a long queue behind us. Ridiculous. Ironman making these events so large is not helping the image of money grabbing and also means a lot of venues world wide won’t be able host.
I hadn’t really got my head into race mode all week and I still wasn’t in the morning as headed for the shuttle. There was plenty of kill and we were fortunate it wasn’t as cold as the lady’s race. Not warm but not icy.
I checked my bike and as we put our wetsuits on, I still wasn’t really in race mode, but kept telling myself it would happen at the start. I met a friend from races in Daytona and Cozumel before the start which was a nice surprise and headed to the start.
I put myself at the back of my wave as I knew I wouldn’t be racing. Thunderstruck played and we were off.
Starting at the back meant I had pretty clear water throughout the swim. I also learnt that while I focus, I swim well. When I daydream, I go off course. Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of daydreaming. The swim went pretty smoothly and about as I would expect. Someone came flying past in the last 400m and I accelerated to stay on their feet for a minute but then fell off. I pushed hard to the end as I knew this was probably the only leg I might do OK on. 33 minutes is at the slower end of my swims but not bad.
I exited the swim and walked up the slipway and through transition. Running was going to be a problem and I didn’t want to waste any here! I even sat down and took my time in transition putting on gloves, socks and arm warmers. I collected my bike and was on my way.
Something wasn’t right. I couldn’t push any power and my heart rate was through the roof. Given my walking and sitting in transition it really should have been down. I just had nothing in my legs. Not much I could do about it but keep going. It already felt like it was going to be a long day. Normally I would be around 245 watts, I was struggling to hit 210.
I persevered and by the time I was through 30km it was warm enough to take off the gloves and my legs were starting to improve a little. I still wasn’t going anywhere fast. Next update was at 60km whenI started to get really hungry. I hadn’t taken anything to the start and breakfast had been 7 hours ago. Ooops.
I did some rough calculations as I was going up Snow Canyon and if I really pushed, I might be able to get under 2 hrs 40, at least that was something to aim for. I put the hammer down as I now had a little bit in the legs. It didn’t matter if my legs were toast as I might not be able to run anyway.
I scared myself quite a bit on the decent but was flying past people for the first time. As I crossed the dismount line my computer said 90.3km and 2 39:47. I had done it. It later turned out on the official time I got 2:40:07. Booo!!!
Like in T1, I walked through transition, taking my time to put on my shoes and ankle brace. I pottered off at a very leisurely pace, so far so good, apart from the 100’s of people just cruising past me. I just had to put it out of my mind that normally I would be the one doing the passing.
Around the 1km mark I saw the girls supporting which was a nice boost and I kept mocing forward. I continued up to the golf course (3km) and things started to feel a little funny, so I decided to add in some walking. The course itself was about the worse course possible for someone with a tendon issue. It was never flat either forward or side to side. In the end I walked the entire golf course as didn’t want to do any damage. I was also starting to get a blister from the brace so had to remove it.
On the long downhill I was flying (relatively) and as I passed Lori, I shouted I would go sub 2 hrs (normally sub 1 25 is the goal). On the loop in town that went out the window as some knee pain and sore muscles started to creep in. I would no longer be going under 2 hrs and had to start walk running.
I had learnt at Ironman Cozumel that you should always keep pushing, even if injured or walking, so I constantly set myself pace goals and pushed as much as I could. As I came back up past Lori, I shouted I would no longer be going sub 2hrs. Apparently, Lori and her friends found that hilarious so soon after the previous pass.
I soldiered on, making sure I was always moving forward. I mostly walked any uphill and ran any downhill to take advantage of the free momentum but my joints were really feeling the lack of running.
The only positive and why I was still pushing my body so hard was that my ankle/tendon was pain free. Lots of other parts were screaming but the injury I was worried about was all good. It was at least nice to know that the bits I was running, I was running very fast. My body was hurt but it wasn’t that tired.
With 2km left I figured I could go sub 2hr 10. I pushed myself through the pain, despite only moving on about half a leg at this point. I finally turned the corner into the finishing chute, and I crossed the line with 5hr 30 above me.
This was my slowest time in years but given my prerace goal was to finish and not be more injured than before, I am counting this race as a success.
I collected my towel, medal, cap and T-shirt and headed to the finisher zone. I wanted food but the queue was 100’s of people long. There was only one food station for 4000 athletes! Crazy!
I skipped the food queue and collected my bag. Luckily, I met up with the Kent, Tori and Charley pretty quickly and we didn’t hang around. After two days of supporting/racing we were all exhausted. I had a weird feeling in that I was very tired, in quite a lot of pain, but my body wasn’t that tired as I hadn’t been able to push very hard. Despite that I had a feeling the stiffness in the next couple of days might not be very fun.
The evening was a relaxed debrief of everyone’s races and packing. It would have been fun to go celebrate but to be honesy St George is severly lacking in this area! I didn’t really mind though as was leaving at 8 in the morning to get to Idaho in decent time.
I said goodbye to everyone and was on my way. This time I drove up through Utah and past Salt Lake City to explore. A poor choice. It wasn’t nearly as exciting as the drive through Nevada but luckily, I had American Sniper on audiobook, which is a great read/listen.
I arrived mid afternoon with Carolyn and David and had time to for a tour of the local area. We checked out parks, lakes and fishing spots. the fun fact of the day was that some of the houses are on a hot spring so had no cold water. They have to cool water to drink and their toilets are warm!
We returned to their house on the golf course and I convinced David to take me for a quick fish. He is a serious fisherman and used to run fish farm. We had a quick go as the sun set but no luck despite quite a lot of fishy action. With the red sky setting over us though it was a pretty special experience. I can see why they love it here.
I left at 8 in the morning as I had another 11 hours ahead of me. It was the same drive as the way down and my experience was similar to the first trip. I loved the same spots and found the dull bits just as boring.
Tired and pretty stiff for sitting so long post race I finally pulled into Penticton at 6pm. Exhausted it was time for bed but the bug for exploring the wilder bits of the US continues to grow. Montana, Idaho and Oregon definitely call to me, and they are just the ones I know of…
So much exploring to be done but after 3 visits to Utah in the last 12 months I am not in a hurry to heading back any time soon!