I went into the Challenge half distance race with little to no expectations. Training post-birth went far better than expected although after the recovery from my emergency C-section I was left with only about 2 months to train. My coach, Curt Chesney, was apprehensive about beginning hard training under his guidance only 4 weeks post surgery. Typically mothers are to avoid any physical activity until at least 6 weeks have passed. I discussed training with my doctor and with a little persuasion, I was cleared to run and swim only 2 weeks after birth and at this point I had already resumed biking. I attribute my speedy recovery to my health entering into pregnancy and my ability to maintain exercise throughout. Even still, I was nervous I would embarrass myself in the race. Although I was comforted that I had a great excuse for coming in last should my race fitness not be up to par.
Traveling to Ixtapa-Zihuatenejo was logistically challenging. Anders needed a passport and our itinerary included 2 flights with an overnight layover in LA. This was Ander’s first time flying, so we were apprehensive, but he ended up loving the flights and behaving well. The most disappointing part of our trip was having my diaper bag pick=pocketed during our flight losing some cash and credit cards. Who does that???
Once arrived we were greeted by the race director Fabian and his wife Angie at the airport. We immediately bonded as they were expecting their first child. We were treated with class all the way; they picked us up from the airport, took us on a tour of the bike course and even ran an errand to the grocery store for me. We were also put up in an all inclusive resort near the finish line and right on the ocean.
Race morning I pumped as much milk as possible in our room while eating breakfast. I was able to pump enough milk in Mexico leading up to the race for Owen to feed Anders while I raced. After setting up my transition I pumped a little more just to ensure I was starting as empty as possible.
I couldn’t very well race full, looking like this…
I began the swim with little pressure on myself, I just wanted to execute my ocean swim with no panic and stay with the pack. My swim training leading up to this race included lower volume than usual. I was swimming only 3 days per week compared to my usual 5. This was recommended by my coach to focus more on my weaknesses and to spend more time with Anders.
I had a decent start; I lead the girls on the left while Carrie took off on the right. Carrie and Robin bridged a small gap on me which I closed before the first turn buoy. I was now swimming easy drafting off these two.
Unfortunately the women did not have a lead paddle boarder and the high waves created difficulty sighting the buoys. We started drifting off course. I saw a lifeguard pointing us back. Even though Carrie and Robin continued ahead, I made the conscious decision to follow the guard’s direction. I dropped from their feet knowing this was my chance to get ahead without them drafting. Unfortunately my plan backfired as the girls still reached the next turn buoy before me. While I could still see them I could no longer bridge the gap and now I was swimming alone with little view of where to go. I was lost in the ocean! I used the hotels to sight from but still found myself stopping to take a breaststroke stroke here and there to gain my bearings. I finally came out of the water about a minute behind, certainly not swimming to my potential but onto the bike.
Having not raced in a triathlon for over a year I was out of practice. I slid through transition (literally) taking a fall when arriving at my bike after the long run up the beach. I grabbed my bike only to realize my swimskin was still halfway on. I stopped, leaning my bike up against a fence to tear off my swinskin and continued on. I felt strong beginning the first of the 3 loop super hilly course. I immediately felt the heat and humidity and adjusted my salt and nutrition plan. I had already increased my caloric intake to account for my milk-making by about 80 calories/hour. I grabbed an extra water bottle at the first aid station to dump over my body, I soon realized it was gatorade rather than water. So much for staying clean on the bike.
I closely watched my watts on the ascents and maintained my targeted average power which was slightly lower than pre-birth but accounting for the hilly course my average was right on. It was difficult to stay on my power track since Carrie and Robin were putting time in on me and Brooke was slowly catching me. I knew this would turn into a race of attrition due to the severe heat and humidity. While riding on my base bars up hill my hands were slipping from all the moisture and sweat, and I’m a low sweater. So I knew the other girls must be suffering. On the first loop I took some of the descents too cautiously since they had speed bumps. This improved on the 2nd and 3rd loops, but the time was already lost. On one of the 9 180° turn arounds an amateur racer crashed in front of me (he was fine), I didn’t have to wait long for him to clear the course but I was forced to unclip and maneuver around him.
Overall my bike leg was decent for me. I’m a terrible climber so I held my own for my ability, but Brooke did catch me on the 3rd loop. Riding into transition in 4th place my confidence was shot, I remember thinking; “well, maybe I did need more than 2 training months to prepare”.
I popped into transition grabbing my run gear much more gracefully than T1. Heading out on the 1st loop of the 3 loop course I felt super strong and really went for it pushing beyond my comfort level. I quickly passed Brook and Robin. They were both suffering in the heat, therefore they didn’t react to my pass. I was on a mission but Carrie was still 7 minutes up the road. Although I was told I looked the strongest out there, the gap was just too large to close.
After the first loop I mentally pulled back to a comfortable pace. I knew I had locked in 2nd place and didn’t want to blow up in the heat. If I started walking I was sure to get caught. This was a safe strategy and I was definitely tired during the final miles but had I pushed my limits on the run Carrie and I could have had a battle for the win. I finished with the fastest run split of the day, but had I pushed her Carrie may have had more in her as well. I guess we’ll never know.
This was by far the hottest race I’ve ever done and I’ve raced IM Kona, Boulder, Florida, and Texas. Everyone was sweltering in the heat. Times for the day reflected the difficult course. The best part was seeing Owen and Anders on course cheering and greeting me at the finish line.
I’m proud to place 2nd in my first race back as a professional and hope I’ve motivated other women to give it a go. Most of all I was able to prove to myself that I’m still the competitive athlete I once was. I wasn’t able to control everything through pregnancy and birth. Racing allowed me to gain back some control and restore confidence in myself plus some pretty awesome bragging rights. Anders was able to join me to our first podium.
Post-race we stayed an additional 4 days for a family vacation. We had an amazing time exploring Zihautanejo. Anders learned to enjoy swimming, swam in the ocean for the 1st time and even swam with the dolphins (compliments of the race).
Here is my race review video prepared for the Challenge family races;