They say “you never forget your first,” and I can verify that is certainly true when it comes to triathlons.
It felt like things had come full circle this year for me to return to Lake Logan Half, the race that was my first ever half iron four years ago. I very distinctly remember the experience of training for and racing this event the first time. The distances were daunting and my volume was higher than ever before. I was all kinds of excited and all kinds of terrified. Race day was full of successes but also mistakes; I over-biked and under-fueled, leading to one very painful and miserable run. After a 5:35 finish, I was equally exhausted and euphoric. Just over a month later, I was signed up for my next 70.3.
Fast forward 4 years, and I’m driving down the same roads to the same race site, feeling a lot of similar feelings. I’m excited and I’m nervous. But so much more has changed. I’m more comfortable and confident. I have more experience, more concrete plans, and much more ambitious goals.
I arrived at the race site early and got set up efficiently, with enough time to get down to swim in a not-last-minute-hectic-rush, which is a nice change for me. I jumped right into the lake, which was just as stunning as I remembered, and got in a warmup before lining up to start with my wave. We took off quickly, aided by a strong burst of early race adrenaline. I ended up swimming directly next to my teammate Tom for a bit before shifting over to catch a draft that I rode for almost the entire swim.
Many strokes later, we made it under the bridge, where the water temperature drops at least ten degrees to give you a nice chill before you finally haul yourself out of the water and onto the dock. I slipped out of my wetsuit and moved briskly through transition, and heard that I was the first woman as I hopped onto my bike.
That’s when I gave my first real, big smile of the day.
I was excited for this bike course. It’s hilly and dangerously beautiful – so much so that it’s easy to get overly excited and bike way too hard (I’m looking at you, 2015 self). I had a simple race plan to stick to target power numbers as best I could, accounting for modulation for climbs and descents. That was really the key for me: to race my own race. When I was passed by another woman 10 miles in, I just let her go and tried not to dwell on it. If I was going to beat her, it would have to be on the run. The rest of the ride was beautiful albeit uneventful; I saw a few other riders but otherwise was mostly alone on the course, steadily chugging along at my target power as the course climbed uphill through the second half.
After my second pass through transition, I started the run feeling pretty good. Soon I heard that I was 5:30 behind the leader, which felt like a lot of ground to make up. Again, I told myself that I needed to race my own race at my own pace, and either I was going to catch her or I wasn’t. Maybe I could take a risk later, but for now it was too soon – I needed to be patient.
I was surprised when I saw her in front of me only 4 miles in, and I made the pass not long after. That’s when I knew that, barring catastrophe, I could win the thing. At the halfway turnaround, I came up behind Tom and momentarily raced alongside him for the second time of the day. After some words of encouragement, I was off to finish the second half of the run on my own. By this point, I was hurting physically and mentally and definitely slowing down, but I forced myself to smile and grit it out – I had a solid lead but I didn’t want to get too complacent. After a few short eternities and not much else to note other than general suffering, I finally made it to the finish line, in just short of 5 hours.
In between gasps for breath, I was beaming.
Returning to the course where I raced my first ever half made this win especially meaningful. For me, it symbolizes so much of the progress I’ve made as an athlete. Physically and mentally, I’ve come a long way – and I’m still going.