The Background: Last week Laurel traveled to Florianapolis in southern Brazil for race in the biggest race her season. Unfortunately, her race gear (including her bike!) was flown to Lima, Peru instead of to Brazil [insert warning never to fly LATAM airlines]. Laurel didn't let that stop her and borrowed a bike, did the race, and finished a respectable 8th place.
To most of us, the thought of even completing an Ironman is totally impressive, but to do it on a bike you've never ridden and then run a 3:14 marathon in shoes you usually reserve for dog-walking? That's just unheard of. But as we know, Laurel doesn't believe in barriers. She's a fighter and we're so proud of what she was able to accomplish on the day.
Continue reading to hear more about Laurel's experience.
-Rebeccah and Melissa
It's taken a week or so to finally sit down and write out a report on my trip to Brazil. I have received so many notes, texts, tweets of support, encouragement, and congratulations from my family, friends, fans and, maybe most impactful, some of the greatest champions in triathlon. I say that because those are the people I drew upon in the hours and days before the race when I faced the reality that I would not have my bike, bike shoes, Garmin, wetsuit, running shoes, race nutrition, etc. I just kept saying to myself, "What would Chrissie do?", "What would Meredith do?", "Sam Warriner once rode a bike with no seat and won", "Craig Walton biked in running shoes at the Chicago tri and out split everyone", "Sam McGlone always covered up her power meter in races, I don't really need one." I couldn't see any of these great athletes, or myself, pack it in and go home without a finisher medal. Champions don't give up when faced with challenges, they do their best to overcome and adapt and still put on the best show possible. I told myself even if I had to ride one of the rental beach cruisers outside of the hotel, I would finish the race.
Most fortunately, I did not have to rent a bike. After I gave up on the airline helping me find my bike (it went to Lima, Peru instead of Sao Paulo), I went to the pro meeting and expo and started asking around about a bike. Being so small, I knew it would be hard, but good thing I was in Brazil and not Europe, and there were plenty of other short women triathletes! I bumped into Ana Lidia Borba at the race meeting and assuming she was racing (she's a local Brazilian pro triathlete , asked her if she knew of anywhere I might find a bike. She came out from behind the table where she was standing, revealed a big knee brace and said, you can use mine. Just like that. No questions asked. And before I knew it, we were in her apartment outfitting me with a top of the line bike, wheels, wetsuit, goggles, water bottles - everything I would need for the race. When we realized she has normal sized feet for her sized and not fins like mine, she called another local triathlete Mariana Andrade and found me bike shoes. I'm not sure I have ever experienced such generosity. I went from two days of crying on the phone with the airline to focusing on getting everything to fit. The night before that, while I was drowning my sorrows with some local treats, I met Bill McCarrick, the mechanic for Endurance Sports Travel and told him of my situation. He told me he'd be there for me all day Saturday to try to get the bike to fit. So, after a bunch of adjustments and test rides (max ride of 2 blocks!! Yes, I rode a bike for a total of 4 minutes before riding it 112...), I went to transition and racked the bike. Pre-race drama over!!
As for the race, I finished 8th, but what is most disappointing is if I had executed a better race (didn't even need to swim, bike or run faster), I could have been on the podium (even with a borrowed bike!). So that stings. So does the paycheck, and the fact that it looks like I won't get into Kona. Professional women can't afford to have one "bad" race...meanwhile, again, I heard a pro man who finished about the same as me say "I'll be good for Kona now". After so much exposure, and media attention, nothing has happened regarding equality in Ironman Triathlon, and to be honest, that is more frustrating than any of this. My 8th place means I go home with nothing to show my sponsors, while a guy's 8th place at a championship race means he books his ticket to Kona, makes his sponsors happy, probably acquires more sponsors and most likely they pay for him to go to Brazil next year. It's this cycle that the WTC doesn't seem to care about. It's not part of the "math" equation. Also, some of men that bump up the entry lists numbers (which WTC points to as higher participation from men), drop out of races when they are not in the top 10 and not making money!
But, back to the race. After making a tactical error in the swim (I thought we had to swim around all the buoys and we didn't. I asked the only English speaking person on the beach if we had to and got bad info). I ended up swimming extra and not coming out of the water first. I just stayed focused on getting on the bike and catching Lucie who was 2 over minutes ahead (we swam together last year). After losing a bunch of time in transition trying to tighten my bike shoes (cost me $$$ but just happy I had them!), I got on the bike and rode very hard. Not something I'd typically do in an ironman but I wanted to get into the lead and try to take advantage of the motorcycle escorts and then settle in. However, 50 miles into the race, instead of gaining any time, I lost 7 minutes, even though I was averaging over 200 watts (which is a lot for me!). I soon realized I wasn't going to catch and didn't get discouraged. Instead, I focused on staying steady and ignoring the aches and pains that started to pop up from riding a bike that wasn't my own. About 75 miles in, I received a penalty for not dropping back fast enough after a girl who was riding behind me for a half hour pulled in front of me. Despite all the blatant drafting on the course, I was only the 2nd person to go to the penalty tent all day. At the time, I was just relieved I was going to be able to get of my bike - riding a different saddle for 112 miles is a feat unto itself!), but now....ugh those minutes were dollars!! With the penalty, translation issues (that 5 minutes stretched to 10 when I had to attempted translating why I was in the tent in the first place - what a mess!) and a stop to adjust the bike, I lost somewhere around 15 minutes I'd guess. Aside from that, the bike could not have been faster and more well equipped. Thank you Ana!!!
When I got to the run, my legs felt fresh, I couldn't believe it. I knew not to be get too excited so just settled into my pace. Around 4 miles into the run I was fumbling with my ziplock baggie of random gels and gummy blocks that I bought at the expo. Next thing I know the contents of the bag are on the ground in a dirty puddle. I grabbed the two gels, but just couldn't, as much as I knew I'd need them, retrieve the gummy blocks from the water. I had already eaten a few and just told myself I'd be ok. BUT, this is where the race got hard. Riding on a new bike, swimming in a different wetstuit, and even running in my dog walking shoes were all doable. Uncomfortable and painful at times? Yes, but I was able to push through that. However, when it comes to running a fast marathon after 6.5 hours of exercising...proper fueling is essential. Where was my Xrcel fuel and Infinit hydration combo I have used so many times in training and racing? Sitting in my bike case in Peru. So, I relied on those two Brasilian brand gels I bought at the expo and drank pepsi for calories. There are no gels at aid stations in Brazil so I just did what I could. I went from holding back and waiting to drop down under 7, to seeing 7:43 on my watch. It was the first time in a race I have actually felt hungry, which is the last feeling I'd expect in an Ironman!
I crossed the line relieved it was over and upset with my marathon. My watch died at mile 16 and the way I was feeling I figured I ran in the 3:30 range. It wasn't until a few days later that I checked the results and to my total surprise I ran a 3:14:01. It's 7 minutes slower than I ran last year, but with three days of stress, extra time on my feet, brand new position on the bike, wearing my walking shoes and running on empty? It is this marathon time that I am most proud of in this whole lost bike debacle. On the plane to Brazil, I felt strong, confident in my training and was blissfully envisioning seeing 8:5x on the clock and standing on the podium. However, I was able to adjust my goals. I can walk away from this race proud of my ability to persevere, and confident that my fast Ironman will come.
Again, none have this would have happened without Ana's help, and the support of the triathlon community. I had people all over the world looking to help me secure equipment and sending me words of encouragement. Unbelievable! Thank you for those of you reading this!!
A huge bummer about this experience was not being able to represent my sponsors in Brazil. Finally I have a bike that fits me, fast wheels, components, the best nutrition, etc etc and couldn't put it all to use. Next time!!
One more thing: HUGE CONGRATS to Liz Lyles for the dominant win!! She came back this year and owned it. It made me very, very happy to see her cruising in for the win!