The line was decreasing and I was approaching the water, this was really happening, I was about to do my first Ironman 70.3 in the beautiful back drop of Greater Palm Springs. Anxiety was swimming through every part of my body, so much so I had no idea which doubtful thought or query to listen to because it was so noisy. I had no time to indulge in it because before I knew it I was in the water. I was doing Ironman 70.3 Indian Wells, La Quinta.
Covid race delays – what next?
I had entered this race back with my 12 in 12 challenges, well, not this race specifically, I had actually planned to do Ironman 70.3 Oceanside April 2020. As we all know COVID happened and for many of us, race plans went out the window, including mine. Even rebooking was a risk because nobody knew when the world would begin to turn again. We decided to chose one of the options given my Ironman, and sign up to Santa Cruz in September. That race was cancelled so to give ourselves as much time as possible, we went for Ironman Indian Wells 70.3 the next year. We’d no longer race in 2020, but instead go for 2021.
Can we travel yet?
Thank goodness USA opened its borders to the UK the week before we needed to travel. Before going to Palm Springs, I was actually heading into Tennessee first before making my way to San Diego for a week of training. Definitely needed that time to shake off the jet lag and get the chance to train in not only an idyllic backdrop, but in a place that was nothing but sunshine and blue sky! What a novelty for a Brit, no rain in December!
Hello California! Let’s get ready to race
After my week of swim, bike, run around Fiesta Island, I was off to Palm Springs. Race day was fast approaching, and before I knew it was the day before the race. This incorporated the logistics of dropping transition bags off in different race locations. Having never done such a large scale races like an Ironman branded one before this was a bit daunting to say the least.
Bag drop before the race
We firstly drove to the event village at the La Quinta Tennis Centre. At this location we would be doing our run portion of the race, and getting to that finish line. It was here we dropped off our running transition bags. The event village also had merchandise, different brands with pop up stands and of course the pre-race talks.
After this we needed to take our bikes and wetsuits to where the start of the race would be, at Lake Cuhilla. Luckily on the way to the lake we got to drive some of the bike course, allowing me to take in what I was going to be tackling the next day. We firstly had to take our wetsuits to get dunked in water to avoid any impact from non-native marine species. They were hung up with our race numbers attached ready to be collected in the morning, The bike bags were hung with our numbers attached ready for swim exit, then bikes racked on their own. It was a bit strange seeing just bikes in that transition area, no helmets or neatly laid out towels, it was a non-cluttered transition area.
Starting Ironman Indian Wells La Quinta 70.3
On race day we parked our car at the La Quinta Tennis Centre where the run and finish would be, but got one of the many frequent coaches over to the Lake. This was super easy and really well organised. After leaving the bus, my nervous tummy kicked in. Sorry for the content but I get toilet anxiety before a type of race I’ve never done before. I kept needing to go for a number 1.
I’d thankfully had my oats and banana, been for the lavatory necessities then decided to let some Imodium help me out on this race! Always take stop tablets before a race, I’ve learnt that the hard way before! It was the last thing I needed to be thinking about, especially as Mother Nature had oh so kindly greeted me the previous day. Lady and tummy issues a side, I got my wetsuit, frantically lathered myself in anti chafe balm and made my way to the water.
Bye bye mass race start
I remember getting towards the beach area and remembering I hadn’t petted a dog. It’s become a good luck charm for me to stroke a dog before a race! Dogs petted and the clock was approaching 7.10am. Nearly time to go. Now normally with an Ironman race it’s a massive blow horn sounds and people are hurting to the water, that wasn’t the case this time. I assume things have changed due to covid, so we went in waves. That was a bit frustrating because we stood for 30 mins waiting for our turn.
Lake Cahuilla Swim
In the water and we were off. It was a beautiful morning, the water was cool but not super cold, about 16 degrees. Initially I got a little bit of face freeze but it soon wore off as I got into my swim rhythm. The loop of the swim was a good stretch giving swimmers lots of opportunities to relax into it. I didn’t enjoy swimming into the sun, it made it quite tricky for sighting. Ultimately this was the only portion of the races where people got a bit too close.
After exiting the swim, getting slightly stuck in my wetsuit, I went to grab my transition bag. Having never done a transition with bags or to this scale before, I just tried to be as calm and efficient as possible. A few seconds behind me, my husband exited the water and was in transition too. Once the wetsuits were off, cycle gear went on, we dropped our race bags off at the designated point within the bag area and ran (as fast as you can in cycle shoes), to collect our bikes.
Big girl pants on the bike
The bike I was hands down the most nervous about. I’d got a TT bike, but I’d not quite cracked being in aero, however we took the bike because it was lighter and I could ride it without being in aero. Luckily I’d also been training on Rouvy that had all the Ironman routes, so I had ridden the La Quinta route at home. I never seem to ‘race’ the bike part of a triathlon, it becomes my ‘just get to the end’, and I don’t push myself. I promised this time I’d push myself.
We added my husbands Garmin Edge 25, to give me my speed, distance and time, and that was my focus. I needed to keep my speed up. After a while of long straight roads, I felt in a position to want to try aero and before I knew it I was down on the bars over taking. Over taking!! I’m baffled that happened. Whether it was the race, the adrenaline or the speed, being on my TT bike just clicked.
Is it me, or is it hot?
In the last 10 miles I was riding into the wind, it was getting hotter, the roads weren’t as good, and I was starting to feel it. I got to the dismount line and felt shattered. Uh-oh. Kept saying to myself it was just because I was a little warm. I racked my bike, opened my bag and began to change to my run gear. I had to throw a bottle of water over me! It was 31 degrees, the hottest December on record and very different to the 18 degrees we were expecting.
Attempting to shake off that hot feeling and began to run aiming for a 2 hour 10 half marathon run for my first 70.3. I’d been running really well and hitting PBs, my pace had increased, for me, running was my safety blanket… or so I had thought. Exiting the Tennis Centre as I headed down to the golf course, the mental barrier hit me as I passed a sign for mile 6. I was just starting, the sign was for those on their second lap. Boom. I was barely 2 and half miles in and I’d hit that almighty wall… had nothing. I was so hot I couldn’t concentrate, I didn’t know how to run, I felt lathargic.
This was my worst nightmare. I stopped to go to the toilet hoping a little pause might help as sometimes If I’ve been really active just slow pace briefly helps me bounce back. It did nothing. Leaving the toilet the heat hit me and I plodded on.
Running on empty
Entering the golf cause you were the suns target, you couldn’t escape it as you ran along the golf cart path ways. At points you could see other runners, it was at this point I spotted my husband. Nick is a faster cyclist than me, but I’m a faster runner, so we had thought I would catch up with him. There was about 20 minutes between us. I had waved at him across the golf course, but then on the way back to start lap 2, I started to crumble.
Nick was running towards me and I had to just stop and take a few moments. As this was happening a lovely guy took the banana skin out of my hand and told me to run with him. Nick gave me a hug and told me to keep going as this guy talked to me. He was on his final part in the race, but he told me I was overheated and gave me some great tips about keeping cool and walking in the shaded spots. He told me to keep going and that I had to cross the finish line. I promised I would.
The mental brick wall
I tried to basically distract myself by talking to people along the way, obviously to people who wanted to engage as I do appreciate sometimes you need to be in your own zone. But it got to a point where I had nothing to say to anyone (very unlike me) and I just needed to get my head down. ‘Yo yo yo!’ Was what I heard shouted at me as I was making my way around the golf Course. It was Nick. Yes, we do love Sam Long, and it is a great way to get someones attention! We stopped and spoke, both saying how hot we were. At least it wasn’t just me! We promised to push on. He gave me a hug. I had 4 miles to go then I was done.
Completing Ironman Indian Wells La Quinta 70.3
It become the longest run I’ve ever done. I went through an emotional rollercoaster of being too hot, upset I wasn’t running fast enough, disappointed I’d let myself down, frustrated I had nothing left to go any quicker and mad that I had to result to a walk run. I managed that half marathon in 2hours 53, I gave it everything I had and did everything I could in terms of training, hydration, nutrition, but I hadn’t had the heat training. Regardless crossing that finish line was incredible.
I remember being able to go to the right side of the pathway on the run, then suddenly seeing those arches. Electric. Even typing it brings back that feeling. As I ran (my legs were going everywhere at this point), my husband was cheering me on and the guy who had given me that pep talk, was waiting to give me a hug.
Wow! I did my first 70.3
Honestly, nothing quite like that emotion. There isn’t anything quite like an Ironman race or it’s community, there is this surreal unified feeling to each other. I’m so happy I took part and managed to cross that finish line regardless of how much I told myself I couldn’t.
I just perhaps now need to do another Ironman 70.3… just in less heat!