Something Happened on the Way to St George

When the email came announcing the change of the Ironman St George race to a World Championship race, and my invitation, my reaction was “who me?” I emailed my coach Julie to ask if it meant what I thought and she confirmed. When I asked if I should do it she said “why the f*ck not?” Inner imposter, and respecter of all those who qualify, I asked if it was fair. (She’s a multiple time qualifier and now the new world champion in her AG!)


Her response? “The only reason someone shouldn’t do it is if they’re too scared of that tougher course. If you’re dumb enough to sign up for this course, you deserve to be there.” That’s Julie. Decision made. I wasn’t NOT scared - but if there’s one thing triathlon has given me, it’s the knowledge that if it scares you enough, it will change you.


I wasn’t scared of a super hard course, I was more afraid of my inner imposter syndrome showing up, cutting me down, tanking my training and my race day performance. Keeping me up at night. Life, coaching, getting in the way. I have never considered myself a climber on the bike and wondered whether I could get up those hills. For the first time ever (and partly thanks to St George 70.3 WC), I wasn’t afraid of the run, even a hilly one. But yes, I was afraid.


But what if I could? I love this sport - the shiny and the messy, the extreme discomfort and the way it makes you wrestle with any inner demons left in there and churns you up and spits you out. The (surprise to me) gift of this sport is not physical fitness, but the belief and love of myself it’s given me.

My mission, as an athlete and a coach, is to lead by example. Who would I be, if given this amazing opportunity, if I declined? How could I ask others to do the work, and face their fears? The opportunity was to kill a little more of those imposter syndrome cells that still quietly lurk, and to race a world championship course, to be at the top of my sport.


A year ago, I wouldn’t have said yes. A year ago there would have been reasonable excuses, and a lack of faith. But a lot can change in a year. Last year, I made the best decision I’ve made in a long time, and asked Julie Dunkle of NYX Endurance to coach me. Julie is a total badass athlete, racing and giving it all. She’s a knowledgeable smart coach, who knows her shit. She’s no BS and tough. Frankly , she scared the living shit out of me. I told her I’d think about it, because I was uncertain if I could hack it. I texted her back 15 min later and said “You gotta go with your gut. If you’ll have me, I’m all in.” She laughed. And after a few weeks of showing up scared, I pulled up my big girl panties and started really showing up for myself.


And the kick ass training and the progress, on my fitness, my skill, and my mindset all helped my attack the training block for St George. Working with Julie in 2021 cracked the door open so that when that opportunity came in December, I was willing to believe in myself enough to say yes, and in Julie and the training enough to believe it was possible.


It was scary. It wasn’t pretty. It was the biggest hardest longest block I’ve ever done. There were workouts that just said “go find hills for 5 (6,7) hours,” and I did. I created “make yourself cry” Thursdays, and my weekly long ride became finding the hilliest, toughest climbs in the Bay and grinding myself up them. I ran hills, I ran TRACK to get faster (something I was never asked to do during an IM build before). I swam more swims greater than 4k in a build- 18 to be exact, plus a 10k swim. That doesn’t include shorter recovery swims. It was a lot of swimming - and I LIKE swimming.

The magic happened. It does when you show up and do the work as assigned to the best of your ability, day in and day out. I got tired, I was busy, I wanted to quit. But I knew that quitting would hurt more than the work, and quitting would hurt more than failing.

I showed up in St George, heart and soul. Race morning, I believed it was possible. It hadn’t happened yet, and it didn’t happen.


I wasn’t not nervous, but I was calm, as I was in Cozumel. I was facing another big demon, but I knew I was well prepared for battle. I was ready.

The race report spoiler is that it didn’t happen. I did not become a World Championship finisher - yet. But I put it all into my training. I put it all on the line race day. Coach Laura, Julie’s partner, texted me after the race, “we define ourselves far more by the start lines that we are brave enough to show up to than the finish lines.” and this says so much to me. I showed the f up. Body and soul.


Big Girl Panties (my Quintana Roo V-PR) and I in the arena, photo: https://www.justinluau.com/


I gave it what I had and I came up moments short. Minutes. As I pulled in to T2, I was told they had moved up the bike cutoff from the time we had been told, and I was made to stop and not run. I was mentally and physically prepared to finish that marathon, and I believe I had enough time. But those are the rules.

We had a really tough day on a really tough course. Would I have had those minutes if not for that? Most assuredly - I know what I have to do to get myself through in the heat, and I did that, making sure I was ready to run. It took some extra time. Am I mad that the day was so tough with heat and crazy ass wind? Oddly no. I felt privileged as hell to be there, and there harder it got, the uglier it got, the more I thought how privileged I was to be in the arena. I would not trade that hard day on that hard course for a disappointing result in all the world.


Because I didn’t finish #utahkona on an easy day and then wonder if it was all just a COVID fluke and an easy day, and I wasn’t really worthy of a WC finish. I got a badass course on a badass day and I came up minutes short. minutes. It sucks. But that crack in the door is WIDE OPEN NOW.

I saw that finish line. I was on that course. I fought my ass off to keep moving. Heros fell to the side of the road, crashing (literally), blowing up. There was more carnage on course in terms of DNFs than I’ve seen before and I’ve seen quite a bit.

But now I’ve seen, smelled, tasted that World Championship finish line. I don’t just think maybe it’s possible. I know it. Time to get back to work and make it happen. There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s happening.

Something happened on the road to St George. I didn’t just believe in Julie and the training. I didn’t just think it was an accident. I started to really believe I was worthy, and now I know I am and will be.

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