To call the 2021 70.3 World Championships in St. George, Utah, an epic race is an absolute understatement. Every single weather condition imaginable, aside from snow or the bomb cyclone that hit Sacramento, cancelling the highly anticipated Ironman California, reared its head during the race. Torrential rains, gusting winds strong enough to blow transition apart, hail and hot sun - all occurred within a few hours. The weather was the definition of extreme.
We knew the course would be very challenging, given its demanding elevation profile, but the addition of the physical and mental challenges from tough weather conditions, made this particular race even more world championship worthy. I am so grateful that I, along with thousands of other triathletes, safely crossed that finish line.
To cross that finish line and to take in all the absolutely stunning views along the course was certainly memorable. But it’s something else that keeps coming back to me when I think about that race. It is the magic and wonder of the energy you get from your teammates. I knew many friends from Atlanta competing in this race; it is always comforting to see familiar faces at the races in remote locations. But, I didn’t know Susie.
I met Susie in the midst of the race, as we climbed out bikes up the hills of Snow Canyon. I spotted the Podium kit, and said, “Go Podium! What’s your name?” “Susie. What’s yours?” “Izumi,” I said as we huffed and puffed our way out of that climb. That was it - no other exchange happened since we both just needed to focus on our races - but it was just enough.
As I finished my bike and transitioned to running, the rain started to pour again. I was happy to just have the run left, but I was also acutely aware that this run was going to be a killer. Going through a few miles, trying to find my rhythm, I hit the first steep climb. I was determined not to walk but just chug along like the Little Blue Engine. And guess what I saw - that bright pink on black Podium kit again in front of me.
Have you ever done a long run with your friends? Compared to running by yourself, doesn’t that feel a little easier and make the time go by faster? There is definitely an energy that two people sharing the same challenge give out to each other. Or, perhaps, it is just the boost you feel when you sense that you are not the only one suffering.
As I was catching up to her, I said, “Hi again, Susie! Stick to me and let’s run together.” She may have said something, frankly I can’t recall, but that is all we needed to communicate. Susie and I ran together for the rest of the run course. We did not have to say anything out loud, but there was nonverbal communication. All I heard was my breathing, my footsteps, and her footsteps, together creating a steady rhythm. Whenever we slowed down at aid stations or started to resume our run, I would look for her to make sure I kept her close to me. We shared a comradery, but also a competitive spirit, that we did not want to be left behind. I sincerely believe we helped each other have a better run.
The run course in St. George is a two-loop course. One the second loop, I told her, “Go ahead - do your run.” I did not want her to slow down since I was pretty sure I had to walk on that steep hill. I walked and she went on, but a bit later, I found her again and we ran side by side. As we approached the final steep descent toward the finish line, I told her again to go ahead, because I had to go downhill steadily to be kind to my old body. She went ahead, but with the finish line in sight, I found her again. Our competitiveness kicked in and we pulled each other, sprinting towards the finishing chute, side by side.
Could I have run as well all by myself? Maybe. But, I believe racing with Susie made me run better on that challenging course. I am always amazed when we, as athletes, can find an extra gear, even when we thought we had used them all up. I am fascinated by those times when pain simply goes away, even when moments before, you thought you could not go on. I believe it all comes down to the Power of the Team.
The Power of the Team.
By Izumi Yamashita