All of the hype turned into race day energy Saturday morning, September 18. All the nerves settled. I was READY to race!
We drove into St. George from our AirBnB to catch the shuttle to the race start. Aside from waiting for about 20 minutes, the process was smooth and we loaded up and made our way to Sand Hollow.
The day appeared to be off to a perfect start. Blue skies, little wind - despite an ominous forecast of a 70% chance of rain and thunderstorms during the day. All I hoped is that the storms would hold off until we made it to the run course.
Transition setup was a breeze. Basically putting bottles on the bike and airing up the tires. Then a quick safety check of the brakes and it was off to the swim start we went.
I was in the first female wave of the day. The start for the female 40-44 was set for 8:58 and I had about 15 minutes in the chute to work out the nerves, stretch and set my sights on the day to come.
Finally, it was our turn to funnel into the water. I lined up in a chute that put me in the best position to make a straight shot to the first buoy. The beeps still resonate in my head, as it was similar to a time trial start. The volunteer’s hand went down and I jogged to the water and made my dive in. The day had just begun!
Instantly I had a great feel in the water, stroke rate was where I wanted it to be and I had the course lined up. With the time trial start that meant there wasn’t a lot of congestion or traffic. But that also meant finding fast feet was a difficult task.
All I could do was find my rhythm and keep my eyes open for a drafting partner. In the meantime, I settled in to a strong effort and counted my breathing pattern and the buoys as I passed them. This always makes the swim go faster for me and gives me a good cadence to keep the pace up.
Around the first turn buoy I was happy with my effort and I thought it was cool they had an intermediate timing zone in the swim - that was a first. As I swam under the arch, I wondered what my followers were thinking as they monitored the tracker.
It was just a short distance to the second turn buoy and the return to shore. Still doing well, I was keeping close to the buoys to swim a direct line as possible.
I can’t recall if it was the second or third orange buoy heading home, but another competitor crowded my line, grabbed and yanked my left arm and forced me into and under the buoy. I let it slide because my main focus was to enjoy the day and stay positive.
At the same time, that competitor was swimming a pace that was perfect for drafting. So I dropped back, got in her draft and was hanging on. I tried to drop back just a bit and as I did, I tapper her feet two or three times. I mean it when I say I *gently* and unintentionally tapped her feet as I was trying to position myself. At that point she rolled over, yelled some very unsportsmanlike words at me and gave a hard kick and carried on.
I am sorry she felt the need to respond in that manner and that negative exchange dominated my thoughts for the remainder of the swim. I lost count of the buoys so all I could do was focus on swimming strong - and I think her attitude actually made me pick up the effort.
Not too much later I saw the sweet sight of land and the swim finish. I picked up the pace and my enthusiasm was building as I anticipate a challenging but epic bike ride to come.
Coming out of the water I was trying to catch my breath, navigate getting out of my new Roka swim skin - this was my first race in it - and then I looked at my watch to see I hit my swim time goal of just over 37:00. For a non-wetsuit swim, I was very pleased with the performance.
When I made the turn to the chute toward transition, I also noticed the western horizon had a different look to it. What started as a clear day was no longer. Dark gray clouds built up in those 37 minutes and I knew it was a matter of time before they would impact the course.
No worries, this day was going to be epic!
I grabbed my bike bag, put my helmet on and asked the ladies around me if anyone wanted to join me for a 56-mile bike ride. Most laughed but one athlete said “yes, but not on this course.” Eh. I was still smiling! Bring on the challenge was my mantra.
I made it to my bike and decided to carry my shoes through the seemingly endless transition. I stopped to put them on just before the mount line, and then mounted my bike to make my way.
The first short bit was simply about settling in, re-checking the brake response and switching the mindset to the bike course. Not too long into the bike was the first long gradual climb.
As I was still catching my breath from the swim and run through transition, this climb was no easy task.
I kept calm, found the gearing I needed and made sure not to overexert myself along the way. Once I reached the top I felt accomplished and then enjoyed some downhill. All the while, the clouds were continuing their path to the bike course and it was only a matter of minutes before I knew I would be getting wet. There were also a few lightning bolts in the far northwest sky. An ominous sign I was hoping we could avoid.
After another uphill segment, we turned right on a short out-and-back section. The sky was now completely overcast and the storm was imminent. I made my way back and to the right turn before the storm hit. Before the rain was a very strong gust front - I estimate the winds easily topped out in the low 40mph range. I struggled to keep my bike upright and all I could do was lean into it. As I was fighting the wind, the rains appeared - coming in horizontally as big, fat drops.
At this point I was approaching the first bike aid station. In the interest of personal safety and an opportunity to regroup, I decided to pull off for a few minutes as I could see the worst of the storm would move through quickly.
Caitlin actually passed me at this point but I made sure to let her know I was ok, just waiting on the wind to subside.
Then I was back at it, in the rain. It was also a cold rain and I found my teeth chattering along the way, even as the rain ended.
Next up was another long gradual climb. This time felt much better than the first – but the rain was still coming in strong – and, oh, did I mention there was hail? The camaraderie among all the ladies riding by was positive and energetic. I exchanged well wishes with several of the women and told a few of them that we were going to have an epic story to tell.
Just before mile 20 was another climb - and descent. While coasting on the descent I noticed my chain was bouncing all over the place. I thought I might have been in a bad gear, so I made adjustments on the flats but even that didn’t help my issue when I was descending or not pedaling. Essentially any time I wasn’t pedaling or didn’t have any tension on the pedals, my chain was so loose it was bouncing to the point I was concerned it would drop at any moment. This is nothing I have ever experienced before and knew it was not normal for my bike.
Right before the second bike aid station was a left turn for another out-and-back section. I thought I would try to ride that section and get back to the aid station where I could have a bike tech give it a look over. The last thing I needed with Snow Canyon in my future was a chain issue.
Once again I crossed paths with Caitlin and gave her a wave. I wish I could have told her things weren’t good for me but I didn’t want her to worry. She looked strong and I knew she was dead set on conquering her own journey on the Snow Canyon climb.
Shortly after we passed I didn’t feel it was safe to keep riding. My chain was bouncing so much and if I didn’t keep pedaling it was a chore to get it back into gear. Definitely not good for what was to come.
I pulled off on the side of the road and looked for any obvious fix. I didn’t see anything that stood out, so I was hoping support would pass by soon. As I stood helpless on the side of the road, hundreds of athletes zoomed past me. About five or six asked if I was ok and if I needed help. I said I needed a bike tech, and I figured the word would make it to the aid station at the top.
Twenty minutes later, nothing. Big cheers to my fellow NVDM teammates who did take extra time to check on me.
Then I decided to start walking, feeling dejected but still with a desire to make forward progress and hopefully get my race back on track. An officer along the course asked what I needed. I told him and he radioed in and told me he would let them know I would be walking.
I probably put at least a mile of walking in - wearing bike shoes (I have l blisters on my feet now). Then, another 20 minutes later support finally arrived. Except he couldn’t “see” my problem and told me to ride easy to the top of the hill back to the aid station. I don’t know how far that was, but it wasn’t fun or fast going back. I recall seeing the 40K sign and feeling deflated I wasn’t even at the halfway point. Now, the hard thoughts of possibly being a DNF started to enter my mind.
I held out hope the chain issue would be a quick fix and I could carry on. Not getting that medal. Not getting that finisher hat. Not getting that finisher shirt. Not celebrating with Caitlin. Those thoughts were devastating already.
Unfortunately, the help at the top of the hill couldn’t help. It took them awhile to see the issue - which wasn’t the chain - but the rear derailleur. The spring tension was gone and there was no way to fix it on the side of the road. An hour and forty minutes later I made the gut wrenching decision to pull out from the race. Even if the bike were deemed safe to ride at that point, the last few competitors were straggling by and it would have been very tough to keep going.
This was my first DNF that wasn’t a weather related race cancellation. It was and is the most awful feeling I’ve ever had in triathlon. As I tried to process my feelings while I waited almost another hour for a ride back to town, I stood there lonely, empty, emotionally pained. Meanwhile, life went on around me as if I was invisible, in the middle of nowhere. Alone.
Finally SAG came. The volunteer, Stacy, was very friendly. I tried my best to not sulk and rather, engaged in the conversation she started. Although all I wanted to do was get out of my kit, get clean and cheer Caitlin to her finish.
SAG dropped me just outside of T2 and I walked my bike to the hot corner to meet up with our videographer, DJ. I was still wearing my bike helmet and shouted his name while he was getting video from the VIP stands. He turned and saw me and I could sense the relief, but letdown, on his face. He quickly made his way to me to ask what happened. I gave him a quick rundown and then we positioned ourselves to keep an eye out for Caitlin who was finishing her first lap on the run.
Still standing in my bike shoes I had a little cry in the hot corner. Then I looked up as I heard DJ shout out “There goes Caitlin!” When I looked up all I could see was her backside as she had already passed. Another gut punch as all I wanted was to get eyes on her, yell out encouragement and hope she knew I was okay.
At the same time, the tracker app showed me she did the first loop in under an hour. I was ecstatic for her and ready to make my way to the finish line to cheer her there.
It took a little longer than an hour for her second loop. Apparently it was quite the hilly run course, ha-ha!
Finally, I saw the bright orange coming around the sculpture and I screamed so loud and proud for my wife. I was over the moon that she finished this horrendous day on a beast of a course in 6:05:18.
At the same time, I was crushed knowing I wouldn’t be joining her in the finish chute. Devastation permeated deep within me and a DNF at the World Championship was my reality. Obviously it’s not what anyone wants to experience - especially at this level on this stage.
While I cannot celebrate a finish, I’m grateful to have experience the bike mechanical failure before it turned into something worse - and grateful I ended my race safely.
I’m not sure what is next - aside from Ironman 70.3 Waco to end the season.
Part of me wants redemption at St. George, part of me wants to move on and think of other goals in triathlon for next year.
As I type this, I’m on the flight home and I still haven’t fully processed what happened to me - and I haven’t fully mourned my race. We were busy enjoying our last few days of race-cation, which was nice.
One thing is for sure, I know I’ll be back, I know I’ll bounce back and I look forward to launching my journey forward and sharing it with Caitlin. Whatever that path may be.
So many weather changes, so many emotions.
The morning started off beautiful as we were shuttled to T1, Sand Hollow Park. We easily prepared our bikes, placing our nutrition and airing up tires. And for once there was a plethora of port-o-potties, we were able to walk straight up to them with out any line.
After taking care of that business we headed to swim start. Tif’s age group had already started to make their way so we had our embrace, this one lasting just a bit longer than most races, and I told her to race mighty.
As she made her way I found my age group and got ready for my race. I got into my swim skin and took a gel about 20 minutes before my wave was set to go off. I was hoping these few calories would be enough as I had some nerves during the early morning and I was only able to eat half of my prepared breakfast.
As I stood on the boat ramp, approaching the start, I took time for more stretching and went over in my mind the swim cues I would tell myself. Big, wide arms. Don’t let them lope. Keep pressure on my hands during the pull.
I was in the start chute and I made sure to thank the volunteer that was there sending us in. This would be one of the first of many volunteers I thanked throughout the day.
I was next, the ‘beeps’ went off and I started high stepping and then dove into the water. I was now racing in one of the biggest events of the season.
I felt really good in the water. The temperature was perfect, the sun was higher in the sky at that point, and I was easily able to sight the buoys.
I stayed in my rhythm up until the third buoy from the finish. As the weather started to turn it also started to create some chop in the water. I noticed a slight leak in my goggles, which then became so bad I had to stop to empty them. Once I stopped to adjust I couldn’t seem to get them to suction properly to my face so I had to repeat this several times before making it back to the boat ramp. During this I knew it was costing me 2-3 minutes but I was also worried about getting an eye infection.
I was so grateful to be done with the swim, as that is my weakest sport. I made it through the swim exit chute, grabbed my T1 bag, took my swim skin off and sat in a chair. I placed my helmet on and held my shoes in my hand as I ran to my bike. I felt I would be quicker running barefoot to my bike than in my bike shoes. Just before unracking my bike is when I placed my shoes on. I ran my bike down the side of T1 and to the mount line. (Maybe one of these days I will practice a flying mount).
It always feels good to be on the bike, I get excited to see how good I can do. It was also nice to have that descent right out the gate to help get my bearings and take in some water before the gradual climbs began.
As I made my way out of the park I could see that the storm was quickly closing in. I knew that it wouldn’t be long until I would be riding in the rain.
Before the rain hit I got my eyes on Tif for the first time since before the race. She was finishing up a short out and back that I was just starting. It is always a relief to see her.
On this flat bit of road I was flying at 30mph with the tailwind. I looked to my right and saw that the grass was whipping. I knew once I turned around that headwind would be intense. And it was, but nothing compared to what awaited ahead.
The rain started as I was making a climb and it quickly became severe. It pelted my bare arms and I was so grateful to have a shield on my helmet to protect my face. And it took extra focus and strength to stay upright and not let the wind blow me off the road.
Just past that climb was the first aid station and I could see Tif pulled off to the side. I quickly prepared myself to unclip and stop to see if she was ok. I yelled out to her but carried on as she assured me she was ok, she was just waiting for the winds to die down some.
I rode through the pelting rain and sideways winds for almost 10 miles. I told myself that safety was most important, but also it was a race at Worlds so I tried to maintain the best pace I could.
When the weather started to subside some I asked some riders nearby if that was hail we just went through. A fellow rider said yes! She noticed it bouncing off the road.
It seemed as though Mother Nature was trying to make this race as epic as she could. It had not rained in this area in over a month and the forecasts just a few days leading up to race day had been high in the 90s and sunny. It was only 2 days out from the race that the forecast shifted showed cooler temps and a chance of thunderstorms. Race morning the temperature had dropped even more and the chance of thunderstorms had risen. No one could have predicted the intense weather that came down on us.
The bike had many gradual climbs and descents. I tried to push as much power on the descents as I could but still be 100% in control.
At around mile 20 I crossed paths with Tif again on the second out and back portion. She looked like she was riding great and it was a huge relief for me knowing she made it safely past the bad weather.
The big climb up Snow Canyon came shortly after mile 40. This is where the true test came. We had driven this part of the course the day before so I had an idea of the grade and distance.
This climb turned out to be more challenging than I thought it would be. I sat up in the saddle for the whole climb and went through my bike cues. Keep the heels down and pedal using my glutes.
Also during this challenging time I tried to channel all the love from our friends and family that I knew where cheering us on from home.
I held out using my last gear as long as I could. I switched to this gear with about 1k left in the climb. It gave me a little sweet relief. Once finally reaching the top my legs were quivering from the effort I had to use. And like the swim, I had to pedal easy for a minute or two to help gather myself and get ready for the fast descent that was approaching.
As you approached town the bike course was parallel a short bit with the run course. It was fun to spot two other NVDM athletes as they were running. Simon Shi and Anthony Rose. I saw Anthony in time to call out to him and it was encouraging for each of us to get that acknowledgment from the other.
I approached T2 feeling pretty pumped with my bike ride. I dismounted and handed my bike over to a bike handler, ran to get my T2 bag and sat down to get ready to run! I dumped my bag and placed my helmet and cleats in the bag. I put my socks and shoes on and grabbed my hat, glasses and run bib to put on as I ran through the rest of T2.
As you start the run the sight takes you back just a bit as it appears to be straight uphill. But it wasn’t that bad as you turn left just before the grade becomes higher.
The NVDM team house was on the run course at Mile 1 and it was great to see Coach Harold out there cheering us on and giving cues. Shortly after passing him the skies opened up again and I rain the next mile and a half in the rain. At this point it was nice to run in the rain, but at the same time I became worried again because I still thought Tif was on the bike course.
The big climb of the two loop run course came at about Mile 3. I slowed my pace but then knew that if I didn’t want to burn too many matches that maybe I should run/walk it. I also knew there would be a great descent afterwards and I would be able to make up time there.
After the big climb I spotted Coach! Always so good to see her. She rode her bike alongside me for a short bit and told me that I was running the best she had ever seen me run. This gave me the encouragement to keep it going. I told her that I did a walk/run up the climb and she agreed that was best. That gave me another boost knowing I made the right call on that.
Before she turned back around to see her other athletes I asked her if Tif was still out on the bike. She had no service on that back side and did not know.
I continued on the first lap at a solid pace. I even blew myself away a little bit when I looked at my watch at the start of the second loop and saw I was just under an hour. I knew to do that same pace on the second loop would be difficult as the sun was shining through at this point and the heat was starting to rise.
In front of the team house Harold now had a couple of the guys that had already finished cheering with him.
As I approached I yelled to them, “Where is Tiffany?” One of them replied that she had pulled out on the bike. As soon as I heard those words I was completely overcome with emotion and found myself struggling to breathe. I was having a panic attack. I know that Harold hollered some words of encouragement, but at that time I could only think about trying to get some air and to keep my feet going. I told myself “ Don’t stop, Caitlin. That is the LAST thing Tif would want me to do.”
For the next mile I ran with tears in my eyes not knowing exactly what had happened. From the way they told me she had pulled out seem to imply she was physically ok. But still not knowing was hard.
I saw Natasha again in the same spot. I asked her if she knew anything, but again, no service.
As I knew it would, the run got hard. But other than aid stations and a little bit of run/walk on the big climbs, my feet never stopped.
I ran alongside several other badass women and we would talk a bit as we ran. I told some of them that I was now racing for my wife as well. This I believe is what gave me my strength on the run. I knew I had to finish strong for each of us. I wanted to make Tif proud.
Just before mile 12 I spotted Erin Carson at the top of a climb. So cool to see her I told her thanks for being out her and gave her a fist pump.
At this point it was all downhill! Literally! It really took some focus not to go head over feet. I had to stay in control.
Half mile to go. I think to myself ‘is that Heather Jackson on the rail? It is!’ “Heather Jackson!” I called out and she high-fived me as I ran by.
I can see the red carpet to the finish line and as I step foot on it I tried to channel my best ‘Tif’. I waved my hands in the air in effort to get the crowd going. This is something I always enjoy seeing Tif do. As I waved my arms I gave my best primal yells. I was pumped and proud of myself for the race I just put down. I crossed that line and I couldn’t stop. My momentum kept me going all the way to the back of the finish line area.
I stood up and turned in all directions looking for Tif. I couldn’t see any bright orange kit and I hated that she wasn’t in sight. I finally saw her through a large, tall fence and had to go through a maze to get to her.
Proud I was to finish, but wrapping my arms around her was the absolute best feeling of the day.
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