To say that this race was epic, would be an understatement. I’m still not sure what adjective to use…there are too many!
We arrived in Las Vega, Nevada s on Monday, September 13, 2021. We planned this arrival date so I would have ample time to acclimate and ensure the bike made the trip, and this was based on an original race date of Friday, September 17, 2021. For many reasons, the women’s race was moved to Saturday, the same day as the men’s; all of the women’s waves were after all the Professionals and the men.
So, my start time was 9:30 a.m. That start time put me right around 1:30-3:30 p.m. for the run, which was in peak sun and heat. The temperature in Las Vegas on arrival was 105ºF. I thought I was going to melt right on the sidewalk waiting for the bus to the rental car place! Driving up to St. George, Utah the terrain was flat and dry and kind of sad looking. I felt some despair and wondered, “Why would anyone actually live here?” Then, as we got close to St. George, the road was very curvy as we navigated through slot canyons and it was so beautiful. Our hotel was very athlete-friendly and nice, but there were still minor issues to adjust to such as yucky coﬀee and the constant air conditioner noise (although the dew point outside is 28, it was somehow 60ºF in my room).
The next few days were spent hiking in local trails, Zion (Watchman Trail, Emerald Pools/ Kayenta) and Snow Canyon with temps greater than 100ºF, swimming in the beautiful Quail Creek reservoir, and doing the usual: checking in, visiting the merchandise tent, racking my bike at Transition 1, and then dropping oﬀ my race bags at Transition 1 and Transition 2. I felt some anxiety because once I dropped off the bags, there wasn’t any further access on race day. I said to myself, “Don’t mess up!”
Race day morning was somewhat leisurely since I didn’t have to be up at O’ Dark Thirty. My friend who was also racing took the bus with me to Transition 1. We hung out together until go time although her wave was the very last.
The swim venue at Sand Hollow is very beautiful! The water looked calm and I was so ready to go. It was not wetsuit legal. Upon turning to head toward “home” toward the swim finish, I noticed the sky was very very black. I observed that I seemed to be swimming leftward; I realized the winds had picked up due to the incoming storm and I adjusted.
After getting out and onto the bike, the winds were whipping the sand going right to left across the street; my legs were being sandblasted, I could taste it my mouth, and I could feel it in my eyes. I could barely manage to hold on to my bike; it was wiggling with all the wind gusts. I said Hail Mary after Hail Mary. Then, the rain. It poured and then hailed. But all of us just kept riding. I thought, “Surely soon the storm will pass and the sun will come out.” And it did.
The course was spectacular: the red rock, the black lava rock, the petrified dunes. Then, at Mile 48, there was another storm; more rain and wind and hail all during the steep descent back into town. By the time I handed my bike to the bike catcher (so cool!), grabbed my Transition 2 bag, and started my run, it was bright and sunny and hot!
The run course has over 1100 feet of elevation gain for the 13.1 miles; I know a lot of trail runs that don’t have that! It was a test of mental fortitude and I definitely had it; I never felt despair. I was putting ice in my hat, down my kit front and back and in my arm sun sleeves; I held ice in my hands and rubbed it on my face. I took salt, Sports Legs, and Skratch chews as per my predetermined times. By the second loop, I knew that unless something very odd happened, I would have that medal in hand very soon. The last mile, (of each loop), is very steep downhill; I was worried that my IT bands would go on strike but they cooperated and I put the hammer down till the very end and I smiled the entire way!
What I learned at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship is: I can do hard things. Wind and rain will not blow me over. I can manage a very diﬃcult bike and run course. It is good to be challenged and feel a little uncomfortable. I am so grateful to have qualified and to have experienced this race in this beautiful part of the country that is so diﬀerent from where I live. I was very well prepared!
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.