7.3 Things I Learned From My First 70.3 by Malia Crouse-Mullen
Sunday, September 11th was my first half ironman distance triathlon in Aurora, Colorado at the 11th Annual Harvest Moon. If you had told me last year that I would be racing a 70.3 (as they’re commonly referred to in triathlete circles), I would have thrown my arms up and said, “No way, not me. I’m not ready for it!” Funny how things change. Not only did I complete my first 70.3, I also won my age group and placed as the fifth female overall. So what made me change my mind you may be asking yourself? In the year leading up to Sunday’s race, a lot changed including major life events such as getting married, but the two most significant factors that lead to me signing up for and racing my first 70.3 were a) peer pressure; and b) coaching.
Peer pressure was thankfully the good kind in my case. Of my wonderful and accomplished triathlete friends, I was one of the few that had yet to complete a 70.3. While I did not envy the additional hours of training, brutal sun burns and other assorted rashes from race days; I did feel a slight itch of desire to push myself to the next level, to join my friends in the water on race morning, instead of watching and cheering from afar. The most direct form of pressure came from my close friends and Team TrainRight teammates who’d tell me, “Malia you would do great at this distance;” “the swim isn’t much longer” (as swimming is my weakest leg of any tri); and “we’ve all signed up for this race, you’re going to be there any ways, why not?”. Sigh, the last question, taunt if you will, Why Not?, was the kicker. Ok, let’s do this- sign me up for the Without Limits Harvest Moon half iron triathlon in September.
Peer pressure can be an athlete’s best friend and worst nightmare. Best friend if you are mentally committed and you’ve given yourself enough time to train. Worst nightmare, at least in my book, if you got talked into something that you haven’t bought into and/or haven’t had the time to prepare for. This is where the second factor came into play. Last year around this time, I was a self-coached triathlete who had only completed in races that could be counted on two hands. A runner turned triathlete, I could self-coach through Sprint and Olympic distance races with confidence. But the idea of a 56 mile bike leg scared me enough to keep me content with the Olympic distance. Starting with Carmichael Training Systems’ Team TrainRight in December of 2010, I soon had a coach, and a coach with the experience and knowledge to take me to the next level. After racing well in the early part of the summer tri season, I had the right mix of peer pressure and trust in my coach, to take the leap and sign up for the Harvest Moon in July.
While I finished well, am happy with my overall performance, and have received plenty of “I told you so”s to keep me smiling for long time- not everything was peachy during my first 70.3. So below are the top 7.3 things I learned from completing my first 70.3:
1. It will hurt in ways you might not have been expecting.
Coach Lindsay had prepped me for long rides on the bike; for long runs at tempo; and for the open water swim, but until you throw all three of those elements together on race day, at race intensity; you can’t really know what’s going to hurt and how bad. I don’t mean to scare anyone and to have you think that I was in excruciating pain at any point in the race, but I wasn’t prepared for my back to tighten up as much as it did on the last half of the bike, or to have a few stomach cramps towards the end of my run. Your first race at a new distance is going to have a lot more bumps and possibly bruises, so the best thing to do is mentally prepare yourself to be tested and you will be able to work through what’s thrown at you!
2. Take “nothing new on race day” one step further.
I abide by that sage saying of “nothing new on race day.” But I learned that I need to take that one step further and ensure that race day isn’t the second time I’ve tried out a new piece of gear. Let’s just say that I could have used a couple more test runs, and not lost so much valuable water, if I had dialed in my water bottle between my aero bars setup a few more times before the race.
3. You are not alone.
Miles 32 through 56 were pretty tough on the bike course. Winds shifted to head on and there were sections of gradual climbing with short rollers. I was mentally starting to fatigue and started counting the miles to transition. When I thought that I was the slowest one out there, I looked around and realized that everyone else was in the same boat. Make friends with those brave souls suffering right alongside you. The smile, slight wave and occasional “looking strong” to the person that passes you or you pass, goes a long way out there during the race.
4. Find your song, your rhythm, for each leg.
Nothing works better for me than finding the song or saying (mantra if you will) that helps you through each leg of the race. Open water swimming gets my nerves and heart rate all over the place, so I find a slower song that keeps me happy but calm. In contrast, the bike and run legs I need more upbeat and energizing songs to keep my turnover high and mood uplifted- find what works for you!
5. Keep it clean.
Even if it requires 30 more seconds in transition, take the extra time to wipe your feet. Running from the swim to the bike, I picked up some gravel on my feet that I didn’t notice until I was on the bike. I didn’t stop to dust off my feet in transition from the run to bike and boy did I pay the price. I ended up with a nickel-size blister on the bottom of my left foot that burned and I had to endure for the last 5k of the run.
6. Soak it all up.
Even when you feel horrible, you’re tired and contemplating your sanity, take a second to look around you and soak up your surroundings. Instead of concentrating on your breathing- what other sounds do you hear? Besides your own sweat, and hopefully not blood- what else do you smell? And most importantly, instead of the minutes and hours on your watch, your speed on your bike- what else do you see? Each race has its own unique beauty and landmarks, remind yourself to take in your surroundings and feel them propel you forward with a renewed strength.
7. Express you gratitude!
7.1. Thank the race promoters- It takes a lot of long days, nights and weekends to put on each and every race. There are so many details that go into each event and they are the ones that have figured out the systems to make it work for so many different racers.
7.2. Thank the volunteers and aide stations staffers- Hands down, I would have not had such a successful race if it wasn’t for the countless volunteers. They played critical roles ensuring our safety, marking the course and providing hydration and nutrition along the way. Special thanks goes to the aide station at mile one with the volunteer in a clown wig, swimming speedo and cowbell hung from his waist- the smile and laughter that I got from that aide station was more supportive and refreshing than any cup of water of gel pack.
7.3. Thank your personal support crew (friends, family, partner/spouse)- My friends, teammates and spouse were the ones that talked me into my first 70.3, and they are the ones that helped me achieve and surpass my goal. I am so grateful to them for that and look forward to supporting them in their future races; it’s the give and take that makes this sport so rewarding!