I had been in Salida, CO (~7,000 ft. elevation) prior to this race. Derick and I decided to escape the Austin heat for a few weeks, and found a small, outdoorsey town that we both love that would suit us well. The cycling out there is incredible, but I found after about a week, my quads had a constant 'ache' to them which was due to the huge climbs (and inescapable false flats). Needless to say, when I flew to Indiana from Denver on Thursday, I proceeded to take 2 days entirely OFF going into Steelhead. Not typical for me, but my body was quite tired and I felt it needed some extra rest. Point being, I had no idea what to expect from having been at altitude coming into this. My cycling felt strong, but I had been swimming solo (and missing the awesome UT Masters group) and my running felt it was missing some leg turnover. That said, I was excited to race having taken 5 weeks away from competing since Coeur d'Alene.
We drove in on Friday mid-day, and I hit up the usual pre-race meeting, only to see 3 pro women there! I figured that a few more may trickle in, but I knew then that this would be a rather small race. Nonetheless, I figure you have to go out and attack it no matter who shows up. Anyone can be on top on any day, and a chance to race can always be an opportunity to get stronger. I love to race big, high quality fields, but a smaller field like this makes it a bit more laid-back which is always a nice thing.
I arrived at about 5:30 to transition on Saturday AM to find Heather Jackson there as well, and we set up our things under a steady, cool rain. I am not sure where all the other pro's were, but I was a bit jealous of them, obviously staying under shelter, warm and dry. I finally made my way down the 1 mile beach walk to the start, in my Zoot speedsuit (to sadly have to be retired in a month!) and found myself shivering for about 30 minutes! The weather was not threatening, but we were going to have very wet conditions for at least the first half of the bike. We were off right at 7:02, 2 minutes behind the men, all 4 of us, the non-wetsuit, straight shot swim in Lake Michigan.
I found a groove pretty quickly and plugged along, solo, catching a couple of men but mostly enjoying the nice splash in the lake. It is pretty cool as we swim only about 50 meters out from the beach right along the lake, so the spectators can walk along beside us. I exited in about 26-min flat, which was rather quick for the distance without a wetsuit, and began the challenging run up the beach. I did not know who was behind me and by how much, but pushed as quickly as I could to get onto the bike, as Heather Jackson is a phenomenal cyclist and I did not expect her to be too far behind.
Out onto the QR CD0.1 machine and I just hammered it! Having come off of Ironman CDA, I had to really pace myself there, coming through the first half with it feeling 'easy' and resisting the urge to hammer the hills like I would have liked. I like to go HARD! So now I had my chance again! I have to admit I was biking scared, as I knew that if Heather caught me, I would have my work cut out for me. The awesome Aaron Scheides along with his guide passed me, part of the K-Swiss team, and I have to admit I was glad it was THEM in the white and blue and not Heather! I continued to stay on top of my PowerGel's (I take about 7 of them throughout the 56-mile bike), push the flats and keep aero as much as possible on the flat yet slightly rolling course. I could not see the Mile 55 sign too soon, and I was ready to be done with the bike and see what my running legs had in store for the final 13 miles.
Into T2, I grabbed my PowerBar visor, slid into my Zoot Ultra TT's (just like green slippers!), gel flask in hand and was off. I did my usual hair-fix as exiting transition area (low pony-tail to high, gotta be comfortable!) and quickly found a rhythm. This run course is not particularly flat, but I have done many significantly more challenging. It greets you with a hill right at Mile 1, and you then proceed to wind through a neighborhood. You then come to the 'sucker' part of a lollipop loop, which you run around twice. At both Miles 5 & 10, you hit the other good sized hill; nothing crushing, but enough to keep this an honest run course. I felt great cresting the hill, especially the second time, and they are nice enough to not have a Mile 11 marker so that Mile 12 looks even better. As I came back towards transition, I saw many exiting who were starting the run, yelling and cheering at me... Thank you so much for the cheers, and I am sorry I did not return them! I was in a world of hurt and ready to see the finish line by this time. Which brings me to the finish...let me flash back to pre-race on the beach.
Karen had jokingly said as the 4 of us stood there, "So, ladies, lets all get paid today! No super hero's out there today, are there?" (To which I thought, "Well, hell, I hope I am a super hero today! I want to win!") There is currently a rule intact which states that to take home any prize money, a professional must finish within 8% of the winners time. While I can respect the rule in that it is aiming to 'raise the bar' for us professionals, I would also like to see those who show up get paid, especially when the field consists of only 4 women. After Karen said this, the idea kept creeping back into my head throughout the race. So, as I approached the finish line, I figured why not take this opportunity to at least try to allow us to all get a paycheck. I did not know the exact spread, but when I came to the line, the clock said "4:15" (which was 4:13 as we had gone 2 minutes back) and upon a quick calculation, I realized this was going to mean they would need to be within about 18 minutes. I slowed down, high fived a few spectators, then about 5 meters from the finish line, stopped and waited. People looked around, a bit confused, but I knew what I was doing and simply held there for 2 minutes or so. Not knowing the exact spread, and knowing that Heather was likely not too far behind, I decided not to push my luck too much and crossed. While a bit anti-climactic for my first 70.3 win, it still felt incredible to break the tape, while also showing some respect to my fellow competitors.
It was awesome to have my parents there, as they have seen me through this crazy sport from the start. The Muncie Endurathon was my first half-ironman race back in 2004, and I distinctly recall coming in from the bike, hearing my dad yell out, "Kelly, where ya been?!" to which I replied not so silently, "Shut UP, dad!". Good times. Anyone who says the bike is the easiest discipline to 'pick up', I beg to differ. It used to be I would post one of the fastest swim and run times, yet the bike would be so slow it would remove me from contention at all. I have always known that I was better than that, better than the mediocre bike splits I kept posting, it just took a few years to dig it out of me.
Thanks to my parents and my husband Derick, who have seen me through many ups and downs the past few years. Thanks to the Steelhead 70.3 crew; you all put on a spectacular event, even better than in 2009. And thanks to my fellow competitors, albeit a small group of us, Heather Jackson, Karen Smyers and Annie Gervais. I have seen Karen at races here and there for the past few years, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for her. I hear she is a big fan of good beer, as am I. I sure would like to share a few with her someday! It has been a long time coming to 'officially' be a 70.3 Champion, and I am going to savor this one. Hopefully there are more to come!
Next up is Austin Triathlon on Labor Day, a local favorite, put on by only the best, Jack & Adams and High Five Events. Thanks so much for stopping by!
P.S. BIG THANKS to Sean Watkins (www.wattieink.com) for the awesome photos during the event!