By Grace Alexander, All3Sports Elite Team Member.
A little more went into Gulf Coast 70.3 than any race I had done before. Prior to October 2019, I was self-coached in the swim and bike, and had a run specific coach (@TrailATL). Big plans were set for the 2020 season, but we all know what happened to those. With the unknown component of when racing would resume, my coach (@JPElitetri) kept uploading workouts and I kept on truckin’ through them. The weeks leading up to the race is when things got really tough. Having been mainly self-coached for my first 70.3, this time having a full-time coach that pushed me physically and mentally (that’s why we have them, right?) added some extra nerves, but also confidence. I was nervous because now I had no excuse, I had had a proper training plan and race block. I was confident because I knew I had put in the work; I was just hoping everything would fall into place on race day. Besides the training, a few months before I had also decided to cut alcohol, gluten, dairy, and most refined sugars from my diet (caved a few times, you know…cookies and wine). This was not all for training purposes, mostly skin related. However, it made picking out my pre-race meals and race nutrition more difficult (I ended up training and racing with refined sugars…whatever).
Race day was a late start. 11am. Hadn’t had a race start that late before but having done doubles every day, I knew what I couldn’t eat before exercising. Got to a nice spaced out transition where I had already set up bike-y. Overheard them say the first swim group would head down 45 minutes before the start. Cool. Maybe I can make a sandcastle. I went with the first group, 27 and under swim time ETA (it was self-seeded). I don’t like going first, sighting isn’t a strong suit. Plus, you know, sharks. I positioned myself ~15th. We waited on the beach in direct sunlight for 45 minutes, luckily a guy prior hinted to hold off putting on the wet suit, so we were the few not dripping sweat (or maybe people were peeing through their wetsuits, idk). Anyway, thank you to that guy.
Gun goes off and within a minute I am in the water. Waves were coming at us, breaking along the shore. I dive under two and start swimming. Within the second buoy I realize people had overestimated their swim time. Confidence boost. I get past the pier and the water is now dark; I don’t see anyone near me. I check the pier to make sure no one is fishing. All good, hopefully no sharks. I make the final turn to the beach and somehow it gets choppy. I’m not sure if it was planned, but there were flashing police lights right by the swim exit buoy, so I swam towards the light. I touch the sand with my hands, and I pop up and start running. Spectators, yay! Someone yells “second out of the water, first female”…sweet. I get into transition, do my thing, hop on my bike, and see the motorcycle lead me out. I guess I passed the other guy in transition? I get all my ducks in a row, start the Wahoo, and settle into aero. A few miles later my fellow ATL friend, who was part of a relay, flies by me and gives me a thumbs up while simultaneously taking away my motorcycle. Go Carlos! We are on course with the full IM people, but after about 30 miles I realize no one else had passed me yet. Well, it was a self-seeded start so they could be catching up…keep pushing. The tail wind on the way back was nice, distracted me a little from my power numbers as I glance at that 30mph speed. Coming in there was a never ending bike line of full IM participants to ride by and cheer on. Didn’t see Chris Nikic, dang.
Hit dismount and started towards T2, the volunteers were pointing me towards the full IM transition. I pleasantly decline and run into the designated 70.3 transition. I see no bikes and start to realize what’s happening. I run out and start with my original pace plan. A half mile in I decide that the heat and humidity may attack me later so I play it safe and back off; I’ll pick back up in the second half if I’m feelin’ it. Didn’t feel it…Or maybe I was just enjoying the moment? Yeah…let’s go with that. I pass back my ATL friend, Carlos, with a few miles to go and he gives me a boost of energy in the form of a fist bump. I turn into the final stretches before the finish and start hearing the love. I make my way down the red carpet and grab the coolest piece of tape I have ever seen. Still, I was thinking due to the self-seeded start, I may not have finished first. It wasn’t until they confirmed it a few minutes later that it hit me. First woman in an Ironman branded race to win overall amateur. Lit.