Worlds Toughest Half- word to the wise
- This is not a PR course
- Hot. Hilly. Hard.
- More like 3/4 of an Ironman, not 1/2 of an Ironman
- Don’t race sick, unless you don’t mind blowing snot rockets all over yourself
- Hydrate. Hydrate. Hydrate.
The Auburn Half Ironman is named the “Worlds Toughest Half” and for good reason too. A few weeks after Oceanside half ironman I decided I needed more than just a few races, after all we spend so much time and energy training, racing is the best part. So I talked to my coach Jon, said I wanted to do the Auburn Olympic. His response was, I’d be okay with you doing the half. My mind flashed back to last year when Justin and I trained on this course, it was hilly very hilly. I thought well why not, it’ll only make me a better athlete and more prepared for my next big race so I signed up about three weeks prior.
One week out from race day I woke up pretty sick. Told myself I’d rest for a few days but was pretty worried about losing fitness. Tapering weeks are the time to dial it back, focus on rest while maintaining your sharpness. You don’t want to over do it with your workouts while tapering but you can surely lose fitness while tapering, it’s a fine line. Being sick + tapering is about as bad as it can get. That same week, Justin sent me a text “You ready for the most painful race of your life this weekend?!” Coming from a studly, fast Amateur Elite that did not make me feel any better about race day.
Race Morning– 2:58am on Sunday morning my alarm is buzzing. Anytime I wake up at 4am or earlier I ask myself, is this really worth it (answer still to be determined). I quickly made breakfast then my mom and I jumped in the car and headed up to Auburn.
Pre Race– I got to the start of the race, set up my transition area and ran into Freeplay Teammate Elise Winter who was racing (and dominated) the Olympic distance. I also ran into my friend and training partner Jen, who was doing the half and crushed it. We wished each other good luck and I told them I’d see them at the finish because they’d be way ahead of me!
Swim– Headed out to the start buoy where Boost Swimming was giving us our pre race talk. After being delayed about 10 minutes, floating and treading water we were finally ready to go. The swim started out strong but I quickly felt out of shape, short of breath and like my lungs were on fire. I just kept swimming, breathing every other stroke, got through the swim and ran up the boat ramp to T1. As I ran up the ramp my mom yells “Dad said be careful with your breaks and race wheels”. Not really understanding what she meant by that and thinking, did my breaks not work, did my dad forget to do something or was it just a precaution and my breaks were fine?
Bike– After a quick transition, I jumped on my bike and headed out for 56 miles and over 5,600ft of climbing. Straight out of the park there’s a climb, no time to get your HR down from the swim- transition- bike and my lungs were still on fire. The bike course was hilly, all kinds of hills- rolling hills, steep hills, long hills, short hills. The hills were never ending! I remembered a lot of the course from previously riding it last summer. On the bright side it was a gorgeous course, so many hills, trees and green everywhere it took my mind off the pain in my legs and burn in my lungs. Side note- racing sick will cause you to blow snot rockets non stop. Sorry to anyone who had to witness that, luckily that’s not the worst thing people see on race courses. My mom drove all over the course to cheer me on and I loved seeing her out there, yelling and taking pictures. It wasn’t until later I found out it was because there were reports of a crash and she automatically assumed it was me due to my breaks, so she drove the course to make sure I was okay. Either way, it encouraged me to go faster so she didn’t have to wait so long. Mile 48- the last little push on the bike, they sent us out for a short out and back and I remember thinking, no I just want off my bike how can we do an out and back we’re so close to 56 miles. There was an older girl not to far ahead of me, we had gone back and forth on the bike throughout the whole race. I could tell she was fading as I passed her. On my way back in I realized she wasn’t near me anymore, I came up on her walking her bike. At mile 50, she got a flat, just like that her race day ended early. I felt so bad since she had been doing great on the bike but I knew I only had 6 miles left so I put my head down and pedaled as fast as I could.
Run– The run hadn’t even started and I wanted to stop! Racing sick really takes a tole on your body. I could hear my mom yelling and cheering for me as I quickly slipped on my shoes and headed out for 13.1 miles of trails and over 1,300ft of climbing. I started off strong the first 3 miles running sub 8’s but that quickly changed as the hills went from rolling hills to a straight up hill people were crawling up. The highlight of the race was getting to an aid station and seeing Susan and Harvey Soule, who I’ve known for years through racing dirtbikes. They were volunteering at the aid station and cheering so loud for every racer. They hooked me up with ice- cold sponges to put in my shirt, dumped water on my head, gave me salt tabs & a cup of coca cola to sip on as I headed back out. The next 10 miles felt more like 20. I’ve done well over 25 half marathons, so 13.1 miles to me doesn’t seem bad, however this specific day, constantly coughing and the heat, it was bad. The course was set up funky, at mile 10 we ran right by the finish but continued for another 3.1 miles. As I hit mile 10 I saw my mom and remember saying f**k this, I seriously contemplated running through the finish and taking the DNF. I’ve never quit a race or competition of any kind in my life, even with broken bones I’ve always tried to keep going, but this race I have never wanted to stop and be done so bad. The only thing that kept me going was knowing my mom woke up at 2:58am, drove me to the race and all around the course and had been waiting around for hours. So I put my head down and slugged out the hardest 3 miles I’ve ever ran.
Finishing the Worlds Toughest Half– I slowly shuffled across the finish line where my mom, Jen and Sheila were waiting for me and cheering. I fell in a chair, sat and talked with them about the course, our highlights and our struggles. I actually enjoyed the bike way more than the run and would do the bike course again. I quickly started to feel sick, and then got sick… I’ll spare details but sick enough to not care when my mom told me I was the first female under 30 to cross the finish line and I won my AG. Overall, it was the hardest race I’ve ever done but my goal was to use it as a training day and prepare me for what’s to come so I did accomplish my goal. On the drive home I texted Justin a picture of me after the race and he sent me one of him after the race last year (when he won as well) and our pictures were one in the same- I’ve never seen so much suffering and pain in one photo.
Thank you- A big thank you to my mechanic (aka dad) for getting my bike race ready in a couple hours, turning it from pretty in pink to badass blue, putting my race wheels on it and making it look like the fastest bike on the course… maybe one day the rider will match the bike! 😉 Thank you to my mom for being the best cheerleader and Sherpa! Thank you to my training partners Jen and Sheila for all their encouragement and help! Thank you to my teammates who were their racing and the ones who were sending messages! My coach, crew and friends for always being so supportive! And of course to Freeplay Magazine and everyone who helps me out along the way, Freeplay Magazine, Rudy Project, Natures Bakery, Salming, XX2i, Folsom Bike, Hoffart Chiropractic, FLUID, Sacramento Running Association, Obdura and Vitality Multisport.
Stay tuned, more fun to come in the next 61 days!