Board Certified Sport Dietitian, Master of Science in Exercise Physiology, 23-year Vegetarian, Writer/Speaker, 11x Ironman finisher including 4x IM Kona finisher, Doggy-mommy, Wife to an amazing Czech cyclist turned Ironman Kona finisher, Triathlon Coach.
Challenge Williamsburg race report - 13.1 mile run + finish
Almost every triathlete wishes to be a faster runner off the bike. Perhaps if the swim was the last sport in a triathlon, athletes would all wish to be faster swimmers and would spend more time in the water doing speed work and long workouts.
I use to wish to be a faster runner. I would create workouts in my endurance training plan that I felt would help me be a faster runner. I would add more miles to my weekly and long runs to make myself feel more ready for race day. Sadly, I found myself either injured or never able to run what I felt was my "true potential" on race day.
Rather than changing my goals, I changed my plan.
I learned how to train and race smarter.
For the past few years, I have developed a great appreciation for seeing what my body is capable of achieving in training without getting too stuck on the end result. I enjoy goal setting to keep me motivated but rather than training at all costs to move closer to my goals, I really find great joy in the developmental process.
Every season is different with new races and new goals. Every past season provides an opportunity to reflect, learn and grow.
Challenge Williamsburg proved to be a CHALLENGE with extremely hot and humid temperatures and a run course that included an up and down, mostly shaded rocky gravel trail for a little over 1.5 miles followed by almost 1.5 miles of running under the hot sun on the sidewalk with a slight incline followed by a decline and then another incline and then flat road to start the loop again...and again....and again. Four loops of this very challenging run course.
Without any expectations for pace (or goals) for the run, my only focus was to take care of myself. In between each aid station, I would sip my flasks from my Nathan hydration belt which each contained 80 calories and 300 mg sodium. I also had a tube of electrolyte/salts to lick as needed. I kept Clif Bar margarita blocks and a gel in my belt pouch in case of an emergency.
When I approached the first aid station, I grabbed just water and took a lick of salt and continued to alternate calories from my flask in between aid stations and water at aid stations for the first loop.
I can't really exactly say how I felt on the first loop because 1/2 of it was on the trail which I absolutely love (running on trails) but when I got outside of the trail, it was so extremely hot that I could feel the sun sucking my energy.
My legs felt ok, not super fresh but also not tight and as the miles clicked away (without any focus on my pace), I started to feel a bit better with every foot strike.
When I exited the trail, I spotted Amy who was looked to be leading the race and then Jen who appeared to be behind Amy. Both girls were running really strong and I really wasn't positive if I was 3rd overall amateur or maybe I missed someone ahead of Amy. Because of the loop course, there was only one opportunity for an out and back (on an incline/decline) on the sidewalk to see the competition.
As I was making my way out of the trail, Amy and Jen were so far ahead of me that I didn't really focus on catching either one of them. After I made the turn around, I could see my competition behind me so that became my big focus - don't get caught!!
As I made my way back on the long hot stretch of road to start loop 2 of 4, I spotted Karel who gave me a big cheer. My mom was down the road and she gave me a big cheer too. Campy was chilling on a chair under an umbrella and my friend, Katie Thomas (who was racing pro and did amazing) had her parents on the course and her mom was babysitting Campy.
When I started loop two, I found myself wanting to be a bit more competitive. But although my mind wanted to race, my body did not want to respond to any "hard" efforts in the heat (and I didn't blame it!).
When I got to the first aid station to start the loop, I took a sip of coke and began to become quite diligent at grabbing ice to keep myself as cool as possible. Whereas on the first loop I took ice from the aid stations and grabbed a few pieces in my hand to hold and the rest went down my sport bra, I made sure to constantly keep myself as cool as possible so every aid station, ice was under my hat, in my sport bra and in my hands. I continued to stay well hydrated with water/salt, my nutrition in my flasks and every now and then I would take a sip of coke as needed.
As I made my way out of the gravel trail for loop two, I didn't immediately see Amy and Jen. The gap was closing and I was beginning to feel stronger with every foot strike. My pace didn't feel fast but I didn't feel as if I was fading - despite the heat sucking away all my energy with every 1.5 mile segment of this looped run course. Seriously - it was so hot I felt like my insides were shutting down.
Rather than thinking about how exhausting it felt to race on this run course, in these conditions, I approached Karel and he gave me the pick-me-up that I needed. He told me that I was gaining on the girls ahead of me and he said I was racing so strong.
Yes - strong is the word for the race. Not fast, not speed, but strong.
Looped courses work really well for me as I don't find myself counting miles throughout the race. With 4 loops, I strategically broke down this race and tried to build my effort so that the last loop was my "strongest".
Despite feeling stronger, there were certainly low moments throughout the race. I choose to minimize walking in the trail at the aid stations as this was my opportunity to gain ground on my competitors. There was one aid station in the gravel trail section that I choose to walk each loop and then I walked every aid station in the sun. I didn't think twice about passing up an aid station without walking and some aid stations I took a bit longer than I would have liked but I was all about trying to keep my body in the best shape possible.
When I got to loop three, I was on a mission.....still not sure about catching the girls ahead of me, I needed to make sure the girls behind me didn't catch me. My only goal for loop three was don't get caught. I had no choice but to try to pick up the pace in the gravel section to gain any ground that I could.
The gravel section included several ups and downs with one steeper climb and then downhill. It was certainly a challenging run course but the heat was just so intense that it was hard to really feel "recovered" in the shade. With so many athletes walking all over the course, I often found myself thinking "oh walking...that looks like a great idea!" But I convinced myself to keep moving forward and that I could rest at the finish.
When I got out of the trail section, I found myself passing Jen. She still looked strong and I told her that she looked good. Not sure what position I was in, I spotted Amy and I guessed that based on our 1/2 overall finish at Knoxville 4 weeks ago (with Amy beating me by several minutes) I may be second overall female amateur.
Karel could not have been more excited when I saw him. He kept saying how great I looked and reminded me that I loved racing in the heat. I was so ready to stop racing in the heat as it was a fight with every foot strike to stay as strong as I could for 13.1 miles. Oddly, I never once counted miles and there were many times on the course when I had no idea what mile I was at and that didn't even phase me. As hard as it was to "race" in the heat, I was really loving this run course. I loved the challenge of the trail and then putting myself in "survival" mode in the hot blazzing sun.
As I made my way into the trail for my final loop, I just told myself to go as hard as I could until I exited the gravel. With a few strong girls behind me chasing me down, I didn't focus on Amy but instead, just stayed determined to not get caught. I really pushed as hard as I could on the gravel as I knew there would be little left in my tank for any type of hard effort for the last 1.5 miles.
As I was nearing the one aid station in the trail section, I spotted Amy. She was in my eye sight and I wasn't sure when I should make my move. Managing my effort was my only goal for the run but somehow I found myself being the one who was slowing down the least on this extremely hot day on this hard run course. I decided to make one quick stop at the aid station as I told myself that would be my last walk before the finish. I stayed behind Amy for the rest of the gravel trail and made my move when we were climbing the incline before the turn around.
(oh - I saw a turtle on the trail and said hi to him - I forgot to mention that in loop three).
As I was running by Amy, she told me great job and I told her she was running so strong. I asked her what place we were in and she wasn't sure if we were 1/2 or 2/3. Either way, we were both supporting each other. There's just something so special about racing which brings out the best in all of us - without a push, we never discover our true potential.
After the turnaround, with less than 1.5 miles to go, I found myself in the lead. I no longer thought about my sub 5-hour time goal but instead, GO FOR IT!!
I was on a mission to not slow down but with a real-feel of 124 degrees and between 85-100% humidity, I made sure to not take too many risks as I was entering a very dangerous zone with my body to "race" in this heat. I grabbed ice/water and a sip of coke at the last aid station with less than a mile to go and had one last lick of salt and finished off my flask to make sure I was well fueled/hydrated for the last mile. Yes, even with 1 mile less, I did not assume an easy finish and I still made sure to keep up with my fuel/hydration and electrolytes.
As I made my way to the finishing chute, I gave Karel and my mom a tall hand raise as they didn't see me coming. They both were smiling super big and so was I....
I couldn't believe it....sub 5-hours for the first time and overall female amateur.....by 37 seconds.
It only took me 68.8 miles, but I achieved something that I never thought was possible by my body at this race, on this day.
Once again, I proved to myself that racing is not always about who is the fastest. When it comes to training and racing, it's all about who slows down the least.
We all have our strengths and weaknesses as athletes. Never let a weakness stop you from using your strengths wisely in training and racing.
My love for hills, loops, trails and the heat paid off on this run course and even though I didn't have the fastest run, I ran strong enough after 1.2 miles of swimming and 56 miles of biking and that's all that matters when it comes to racing.
After the race, Karel, my mom, Campy and I went back to our hotel to shower and relax before awards. It was so fun to have all of the Trimarni athletes at the awards ceremony - and congrats to Elizabeth, JoAnn, Rob, Danielle and Karel for great races!
Great job Amy and Jesse - two amazingly strong athletes who really pushed me to my limits at Challenge Williamsburg!