I consider myself an Ironman after racing at nine Ironman triathlons and earning an invitation back to Kona this year by winning my division at Ironman Brasil. But earlier this month, I also became an IronGirl. And that race has been a major highpoint of the year.
IronGirl is a sprint distance triathlon (500 meter swim, 20k bike and 5k run) for women run by the World Triathlon Corporation, the same folks that bring you Ironman (3.8k swim, 180k bike and 42.2k run). I signed up for the IronGirl in Seattle to race with my sister Stephanie who is a recent breast cancer survivor. This would be her first triathlon and I told her I’d come to Seattle to do it with her. And then I talked KC Carlberg, the owner of TryFitness, into coming along too. As the race director of Hawaii’s popular Na Wahine Festival, it would be a great opportunity for her to experience another all-women’s event. I was super excited that my husband Rick, my son Geoff and my mom would also be there.
It was a beautiful setting on the shores of Lake Washington in Seattle, and a gorgeous morning for a race. There were over 1000 women participating and they were of all shapes and sizes and ages. It was great to see such a broad representation of women who had chosen triathlon as their way to be active and healthy. Many were quiet and nervous, especially about the swim. Others were talking and laughing with their training buddies as they set up their transition areas. Most had a large workman’s bucket that they used to carry their gear and then flipped over to serve as a place to sit during transitions.
There was a huge flotilla of boats and kayaks (my sister, Rocky and my former sister-in-law Liz were among them) on the swim course to keep an eye on the many waves of swimmers that would start 4 minutes apart. I was in the first wave of women 60+. There were 45 women in my 60-64 age group and another 25 or so that were older. The gun went off and away we went! Unlike most races, I wasn’t left by the pack as the swim progressed. I exited 3rd out of the water with only one woman in a later age group passing me. In disbelief, I ran out of the water and darted across the street to a transition area full of bikes and devoid of people. I quickly found my bike (experience counts) among the 1000, got into my bike gear and was the second person out of T1. Soon, I passed the first woman and then quickly I was passed by the speedy chick who had surged ahead of me in the swim.
As she zoomed away on her tri bike in her pink racing helmet, I settled into a high cadence, high energy effort on my rental bike. Right away, a police motorcycle raced by and positioned himself in front of the speedy lady in pink. It was then that I realized that I was the second person in the race. Mind you, not the second fastest, but the second person in the race due to the wave start. I glanced back occasionally, expecting a bike to pass me at any moment, but I didn’t see anyone on my tail. After the turnaround, I was still riding in second position and it was several hundred yards before I saw anyone approaching. Wow! Totally pumped, I redoubled my effort determined to keep my lead. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to be out in front!
I held my position and rode right up to the dismount line. It was then off with my bike helmet and bike shoes and into my running shoes. I grabbed my race belt and hat and put them on as I ran to the exit of T2, (experience still counts). And then, I ran the loneliest 5K I have ever run. Approaching the first aid station, the volunteers were scattered and bored. After all, they had only seen one person so far and that person was probably about 2-3 minutes ahead of me. I slowed down and enjoyed a leisurely drink of water while I looked behind me. Nobody. I was keeping an eye on my pace, but my motivation to race hard was tough to conjure up. With no one to chase and no one close to catching me, it was easy to opt for less pain. I also encountered a turn that was devoid of volunteers and I didn’t know which way to go, so I had to stop and ask a police officer. Ha ha! Now I see how some top pro triathletes can easily get off course.
I crossed the finish line all by myself with a slower than PR time of 1:19. I had that same wonderful happy-to-be-across-the-finish-line feeling, without the 140.6 or 70.3 exhaustion. I was first in the 60-64 age group and 33rd over all.
But, what was even better about the day was watching woman after woman cross the finish line and then absolutely glow about her accomplishment. I saw how exhilarated my sister was when she finished and it underscored to me once again how life changing the sport of triathlon can be. And the race also refreshed and reinvigorated me on my way to the ITU Long Distance World Championship and the Ironman World Championship. I had forgotten how challenging and rewarding a sprint triathlon can be. How invigorating it was to see so many people reaching for their goals while smiling and laughing, compared to the steely concentration and faces of pain I see at Ironman races. So even though I am an Ironman triathlete, I am as happy and proud to be an IronGirl triathlete.
Consider doing a sprint triathlon soon, no matter who you are! If you happen to be in Hawaii (and a woman), the Na Wahine Festival is coming up on September 14. I’ll be there and would love to see you! Sign up here. (And be sure to ask KC Carlberg about her wetsuit experience at IronGirl.)