Thursday, October 7, 2021

Race and Trip Report: St Jude Ironman 70.3 Memphis (October 2, 2021)

 St Jude Ironman MEMPHIS 70.3

What a week it’s been. I’m sitting in my bed revisiting our trip to Memphis, and I can’t help but feel like it’s been a lifetime since I boarded the plane. But here we are again - another day, another race review!

Two years ago, Chris and I had decided to do a local race. We signed up for IM 70.3 Superfrog, which was supposed to be fall of 2020 - but the race was canceled (not just because of Covid, but forever!). The race was originally supposed to be in San Diego - 100 miles away. What now? We had already raced the other races that had been closer (Oceanside, Indian Wells). 

We were offered the opportunity to defer to another race - but all of our choices were ones we had either raced before or were not interested in racing. We settled on Tennessee for October 2021, knowing that there was a huge chance it was not going to happen because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic - and the countdown began. 

In March of 2021, we really started to train. By really, I mean I finally climbed out of the rock I was hiding under, got vaccinated, and decided I was going to start riding my bicycle again. No joke - I forgot how to put air in my tires. It had been over a full year since I had last ridden. It was rough, but I forced myself to commit to riding every weekend. Chris and I took turns driving from our respective cities (70 miles away from one another) and rode. We did 30 milers, then 40, then 50 and layered on hills. 

In late August, we partook in the Santa Barbara aquabike, which I was thankful for since I had not swum much over the course of the year. The course was challenging - over 1500 feet of climbing in 34 miles - but worth it!

Finally, the end of September rolled around and it was time to leave for Tennessee.

Wednesday, Sept 29 2021 - 3 DAYS PRIOR

The flights didn’t go according to plan. Of course. But then again, when does anything ever go according to plan? When I booked, I looked for direct flights. Unfortunately, as the months progressed, our flights were changed multiple times. We ended up with a three hour layover in Minneapolis after a VERY full flight with kids kicking our seats, had Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner, and then were treated to a lovely and empty flight to Memphis. We had our own row, no one behind us - ahh!! 

When we landed around midnight, Cheryl and Chris were waiting for us and we headed to the hotel. 

Thursday, Sept 30 2021 - 2 DAYS PRIOR 

We tried to sleep in as much as possible - I incorrectly assumed that TN was three hours ahead - it was only two! - and we went to Ironman village to check in. There was light rain, but the line moved quickly, and we picked up our chip, our race packet, swim cap, and t-shirt. Then we did some damage at the merch tent. 

We saw our friend Andrew and took a quick picture with him as well!

Obviously had to get a jumping picture.

Chris was not amused.

Walked by the lake and couldn't resist this shot. 

We even stopped at a little coffee truck that had Ironman cookies for swim bike and run! Yes, I bought them. Yes, they cost $4 each. 😂

For our race in Calgary, we bought bike boxes, took our bikes apart, and brought them onto the plane with us. We chose to use Tri Bike Transport this time around to ship our bikes, since they shipped the bikes whole (you only needed to remove your pedals) - so we went over to their tent next to transition, grabbed our bikes, and headed home. 

I was so tired that I went to sleep at 8 that night. I couldn’t stay awake. 

Friday, October 1 2021 - PRE-RACE DAY

Pre race day. My goal was to drink as much water as possible. Just inhale it. We were watching the weather, since the rain was intermittent. At one point, it looked like it wouldn’t rain for the race at all! 

Matt and I met up with Chris and Cheryl around noon to head back to Ironman Village and drop off our bikes. There was definitely a lot of anxiety. 

We ended up driving the 56 mile bike course and noted the turns, the rough roads, and the hills. There was one part of the drive where we got caught in the rain (it was INTENSE) and we hoped for the best. TN weather was all over the place! But as the night wore on, the weather reports got worse and worse. 

We went to Amerigo for dinner - a local Italian restaurant- I had a smoked catfish and it was delicious! A great way to wrap up the evening. 

We went back to the hotel, I repacked my gear, and went to bed around 9. 

Saturday, October 2 2021- RACE DAY

Chris and I had decided to leave at 5:30 in the morning, and we got into the car with our gear bags to make the roughly 5 mile drive to the parking lot at Shelby Farms Park. There was only one way into the parking lot and one way out. The forecast predicted rain all day, which meant everything was going to be wet and muddy. 

We started the drive and were almost immediately hit with traffic. We sat in traffic for AN HOUR AND A HALF.  We were worried because transition was supposed to close at 6:45 and at 6:45, we were still in the car. I had to pee so badly I almost considered jumping out of the car (it's not like we were moving!)

Ironman released a statement that - due to inclement weather - the race start would be pushed back by half an hour. We finally asked Cheryl around 7am to just pull over so we could walk the rest of the way in. 

We booked it. Cheryl and Matt would look for somewhere to park and we’d figure out how to make it to the starting line. We were definitely rushing. It was pouring rain. We made it into transition, unpacked our gear bags, covered what we could with bags to protect from the rain, and made it to the start line. 

The water temperature was 77 degrees. The cut off for wetsuits was 76.1. If you chose to wear a wetsuit you forfeited any age group winning, but I knew I wouldn’t be anywhere near that, so I chose to wear a wetsuit. It was a day of so many variables that I needed to be able to control what I could. Comfort of a wetsuit? Ok. All wetsuits had to start behind the age groups, so we got into the corral behind swimmers who were targeting over an hour to swim (the cutoff for swim is 1:10 for half ironman races).

In our rush to do things I realized I forgot my bike computer in my bag. I knew T1 would be a rush so I kept repeating BIKE COMPUTER to myself in hopes that I would remember. Turns out Chris forgot his bike computer too. 

We made our way to the swim start, where they were releasing three people every five seconds. The swim was beautiful and serene, minus some athletes who just couldn’t get it together. Some people were swimming on their backs. Others were just grabbing swimmers as they passed - but overall a good swim. Slower than my other swims but good for the lack of training I had. I could feel the rain hitting my wetsuit as I was swimming - it must have been pouring! I kept thinking about how I had PAID to work out in the rain. That's commitment right there. 

As I ran out of swim, I heard my name and saw Matt and Cheryl! I felt volunteers pull the cord on my wetsuit to help me get it off, and heard someone shouting my name behind me. It was Chris! We finished at the same time! 

BIKE COMPUTER. Could not forget my bike computer. We ran back to transition (about .25 miles - painful on cobblestone-like concrete barefoot!), mounted our bike computers, and donned on our wet jerseys and shoes. The mud puddles to get out were ankle deep and disgusting. My shoes were soaked. Some people picked up their bikes to avoid the mud, but it was inevitable. 

The rain never let up. In fact, I'm pretty sure it got worse and worse as the day continued. The ride was beautiful, though. It was heartbreaking to see so many athletes on the side of the road - flat tires, accidents - I read on the Facebook pages afterward that people flew into ditches or never made it past the turns. There were so many ambulances. 

At one point, it rained so hard that water streamed down my helmet. I made a last minute decision in transition to leave my glasses off, but every time I’d ride behind someone I’d get sprayed in the face with their tire water. There were puddles everywhere. I felt like I was in Jumanji and we were in a bicycle stampede - slowing or stopping would mean getting trampled - and one wrong step could mean the end of the game! 

I took the course slow wherever I could. I was terrified of my brakes not working or my tires skidding. 

When the 56 miles were over, I dismounted, trampled through the mud to get to my bike, changed my socks and shoes, and set out for the run. 

So much for having dry feet: to get out of transition, you had to run through at least a quarter of a mile in mud. My shoes were caked. I told myself that as long as I trudged on through it would be ok. 

Around mile 3, I could feel the blisters form under my feet. The wetness combined with the friction in my shoes were not a great combination. I jogged for about 7-8 miles before I had to switch to a walk/run mode. I felt every blister every time I took a step!

I saw Matt at mile 9 and was so delighted to recognize a familiar face. He had flowers in hand. My sweet, sweet man. I ran up to give him a kiss, and went on my way. A tall bearded athlete behind me was like, “Was that your husband or boyfriend? Us bearded men are sweet, aren’t we?”


Finally, I crossed that finish line. I made it! Despite the water and the rain, I DID IT! I don’t know who pays $400 to swim, bike, and run in the rain, but me and 1,500 others had the same mindset going in.

This makes 7 half Ironman races completed. So proud of my accomplishments and where I am today. 

Matt met me at the finish line with flowers, and I saw Chris and Cheryl soon after. We took pictures, packed our gear sopping wet and returned it to TBT, then started the long walk to the car. Many people were stuck in the mud and said they had to pay $125 to get their cars towed out. 

We got home, I sat in the shower for 30 minutes and then proceeded to eat an entire pizza for dinner from Pyro’s. It was delicious. They even had spicy ranch 😬

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Because the race started so late, the day ran late, and usually after races I just need a few hours of me time. I was so drained. We usually get back around 3, but by the time we got back to the hotel, it was 6pm, I had done nearly 40,000 steps, and I was done. 

The good news was that the stress and anxiety from the race was gone, but the bad news is that everything that had tensed up from the days leading up to the race was taking its toll on my body. My shoulders hurt. Oh well - it was time to enjoy Memphis!

We had purchased tickets months prior for a brunch on the Mississippi (I know, sounds amazing!), and were excited. I was picturing something like this:

and what I ended up getting was not that. 
It was more along the lines of... this:

I am a huge fan of water and I love excursions, but I realized right off the bat that my dreams of being an LA boat princess with cucumber sandwiches was not going to happen. Instead, our $54/person ticket meant live entertainment by someone who couldn't sing as well as his backup singer, a "brunch" of pebbled eggs, a sausage patty, and frozen pancakes, and people using the words "Open bar" to literally mean a bar that was open and definitely charging by the glass. 

Well... we made the most of it! It was nice to be able to feel the breeze and cross over state lines into Arkansas!

We went to Mud Island, saw the Memphis Sign, and went to the Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid! It was like going into an aquarium that you could shop at. Do they have bass at every one of these stores?!

To finish the day, we signed up for a Haunted Memphis Walking Ghost Tour - it took us down Beale Street, into brothels-turned-bars, by the hotel MLK Jr was shot, and finished at the Orpheum, where we learned about 12 year old Mary who permanently sits in seat C5. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

It had been non-stop go go go since we got to Memphis, but we knew we couldn't leave without seeing the place Elvis called home!

Graceland was hauntingly beautiful. It was like a time capsule stuck in the 70s, with each room telling a different story. 

Imagine having a garage with 20+ cars! Elvis purchased Graceland at 22 and was such an international phenomenon he was able to add 17.500 sq feet and a racquetball court to his property "just because". Meanwhile "splurging" for me is extra guac at Chipotle...

Since we were already at the border of TN (hah! get it?!), we made the drive into Mississippi for some good ol' Memphis BBQ. 

I won't lie - I had VERY high expectations for this BBQ because it was on EVERY list I saw while researching TN. Melissa Cookston has won so many awards, and the food itself was award winning! For me, however, the food was just ok.

I want to chalk it up to us going at an odd time (around 3pm), because the meat was a little dry and felt like it had been sitting under a heat lamp for some time. Of the baby back ribs, sliced brisket, burnt ends, and mac n' cheese, the burnt ends were by far the best part of the meal. 

Definitely left a lot to be desired. 

Capped off my night with a little bit of dessert at Mempops (Mexican Chocolate!), and headed to bed early once again. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Our last full day in Memphis meant going to the zoo! Memphis's zoo is massive, and we were lucky enough to see a lot of different animals!

They even let me feed the giraffe! This is Nicholas. He's 12.

Overall, Memphis was fun. I thoroughly enjoyed the company we kept, but there were so many things that didn't go according to plan, and so many people who just looked like they were miserable (not just at the race as a participant, but the customer service everywhere we went). I hope things change as the pandemic progresses - we all need a little light in our lives!