I get out and running on the course and suddenly there is a guy on a bike with me. I asked if he was my lead biker and he said “are you Sonja Weeeek” and I said “yes” and he said, “then yes.” I was pretty excited about this!
The first mile was very twisty-turny as we wound through the village area, past the finish line, around the parking lots and finally onto the bike path headed towards squaw city. It was really strange to have him calling out to people ahead asking them to move aside. I felt bad about it. They were farther into the run than me, I could go around them.
I was running too fast in the beginning, I knew it while I was doing it, but the adrenaline really got to me. And you have a lead biker, which kinda feels like pressure! Going into this race, because it was last minute, Muddy and I talked and I really didn’t want him to support me much out there. He had other athletes who this was their A race, and even though we both have a lot of fun with the coach/athlete relationship during races I knew his focus needed to be on others. I asked if he could sick Doug on me.
Who’s Doug!? Well, in 2013 I trained a ton with Doug, he’s coached by Muddy, and he’s one of my favs. In 2013 at IM Tahoe he was racing and I was coaching/spectating/yelling at people. Well, Doug was having a great race but I happened upon him walking, at which point I became his worst nightmare. He did not walk another step after I harassed him into running and continued to torment him for the rest of the race. He was coming to Tahoe to unleash his payback on me! I say this in jest because Doug was my saving grace out there. He appeared every few miles with a calm look on his face. He gave me information, splits, and support when I needed it and was the friendly face I hoped to see around every corner. He didn’t yell at me, he just provided that calm collected support.
I was running and looking for Doug. The first time I saw him was just before mile 2 and he told me I had a 13:57 lead. He literally said “thirteen fifty seven lead.” I gave him a confused look. Like 13 minutes? I asked him, he said yes, and told me Annie had won her wave. I had a fist pump for that. I ran the next few miles thinking about 13 minutes and envisioning my daughter winning her wave.
I know that deficits like that get run down, but in the moment I was wondering what I should be thinking about with that information. Do you play it safe? Take some risks? What do I do? I kept running, that was my plan.
It was hot out. Not a cloud was in the sky and Tahoe is dry dry dry. I tried to keep drinking as much as I could. That was my goal, get the OSMO down in large quantities. At mile four I came across Muddy and he told me Rob was up ahead. YAY Rob! I soon saw him and pulled up beside him. He had the best words for me, and he ran with me for a little while. That was a highlight of my day.
At mile 4-5ish we left the 70.3 course for a 10 mile out and back section. Muddy was there and so was Doug. Muddy told me I needed to take my own split at the out and back because nobody was going to follow me out there. Doug told me I had a 17 minute lead. I got on the out and back and it was desolate. Totally desolate.
But I had my biker. He had spent most the time after mile 1 behind me. He said something about not going in front of me because I wasn’t allowed to draft and so he stayed behind. I secretly was bummed about this. On the out and back he came up beside me and I told him I really liked that. He said “I don’t think this is pacing so I’ll stay here for a little while.” I was thankful for that. There were sections of this course where I couldn’t see anyone ahead for as far as I could see.
Eventually the lead men started coming back the other way and I got excited for them. They all looked strong. I came across my friend Eric who had passed me on the bike. I knew he wanted a Kona spot so I tried to convince him to run with me. We ran together for a little while and chatted. He’s a big dude and the heat ate him up a little out there. He will get there though, definitely has the talent!
At the turn around at mile 9.25 I looked at my watch so I could take a split and then spent my time looking for the number two woman. Every time I would make it another quarter mile I would look at my watch. I set a secret goal to hit the mile 11 marker before I saw #2 and it was right there that she went by looking quite fierce I might add. I had a 24 minute lead at mile 11. I then spent several miles thinking about how many minutes per mile I could slow down if she was running 7 min pace and still win. Math while racing is hard and I eventually gave up.
Thinking back, I would have thought that this would have provided me with a lot of comfort, knowing I had a big lead. But it didn’t. I was nervous. I know that anything can happen out there and I’ve watched people go from leading an Ironman to in the ambulance in a matter of miles. I found myself to be super outcome focused (winning) rather than being process focused (doing my best). In retrospect I’m glad for that experience. Glad to know that’s where my head went in this situation, and excited to be able to work on that area of mental skills. Outcome focused is not a place I enjoy racing in, so I have some work to do there.
I made it back to town around mile 17. I had slowed down quite a bit, and my feet hurt. I was feeling pretty dehydrated, and hot, and yet the crowd in town really lifted me up. The second loop is 8 or 9 miles and started with a few miles of downhill. I loved those miles. The course was mostly all Ironman athletes at this point and I remember hearing Elizabeth (new RTTC athlete) cheering for me which really gave a boost. Doug was still there at every junction giving the smiles and cheers I needed.
Most of that last loop is a blur but I do remember running into my friend Sean who said something to the effect of “Who’s that sexy woman winning an Ironman.” He sure knows how to talk to a girl who is covered in spit, snot, urine, sweat, salt, other peoples spit, other peoples snot….you get my drift! I was thankful for the hilarity he provided. The final turn around on that loop was heaven. I was so excited to be heading home. The number 2 woman was putting time into me.
Doug told me at mile 22 or 23 that I had a 21 minute lead. I started doing the math and knew then that something major had to happen to lose. But it was late in the race and I was tired and moving slowly. I made my way and before I knew it I had 1 mile to go.
Suddenly, I had all the energy in the world. I had pretty much ignored my lead biker for 25 miles but suddenly I was telling him my life story, and thanking him for being there for me. I was all jibber jabber and I could hear everyone around me saying “That’s the winner” and “shes in the lead” My biker went in front of me and as we wound through the crowd in town I was overjoyed. Rob (who I ran with earlier) and his wife Trina and their friends were leaning over a balcony that I ran under and seeing them got me really happy. Tony and Jody were there too and I was overjoyed to see them. The biker peeled off and suddenly there I was in the chute and they had a finish banner all held out like I was a PRO or something.
The guy was announcing just like all the Ironmans I had watched and the crowd was totally there for me. I high fived as many people as I could and I broke the tape (what?) and tried to jump. Then I tried to jump again. It was a finish worthy of two jumps.
The rest was a bit of a blur but I the one moment I remember is looking through the crowd behind the finish line for Muddy and seeing him standing on a little cement wall. We made eye contact and I pointed at him and we just smiled.
Then the announcer asked if I would be willing to go back into the crowd and answer some questions. I said sure. This is all right away. I remember very little but I do remember him asking me if I ever thought I would win an Ironman.
And the only reason I tell this story, is honestly, because someone told one of my friends that I didn’t seem very humble in this moment. So, I’m going here. (It’s uncomfortable though)
So I get asked this question by the announcer….did I think I could win?…and I pause. In my excited state I’m thinking “how do I answer this?” Honest or Demure….how does one go here? During the pause I can hear people in the crowd, I think half of them are my fellow Muddy athletes like Jenesse and Alli yelling “YES!!!” and I decided to say “Yes, you have to believe to achieve.”
It’s so interesting to me that I got the “not very humble” comments for this, not to my face, but in that lovely “I was taking to so and so and …” kind of way. A few weeks ago I sent out a survey to triathletes, anonymous, asking if I could give them a special magical gift as a coach, what would it be? Do you know the number one answer?
So, I have to, as a coach, bring some light to this issue, not because I’m upset that someone thinks I’m not humble, but because there is a bit of an interesting standard here, and as a coach, I jump at teachable moments. Many athletes, especially women, are out there wishing they had more confidence, says the data. But I ask myself, what does confidence look like? Sometimes, it looks like thinking you can win. Me thinking I could win wasn’t a pie in the sky idea, I have won the amateur race at two Ironmans. If that doesn’t build the confidence for me to think I can win what would? I’ll actually go out on a limb here and say that in order to actually win, thinking you can win is both wanted and necessary. But here comes the kicker, are you allowed to say that? If you speak that truth (the truth that is absolutely necessary) are you now a pompous ass hat? It’s my opinion that we need to celebrate women who show confidence, especially in sport. One of the big reasons why I think women don’t believe in themselves is because they are afraid of being judged as arrogant, or implied that they shouldn’t have said such a statement, like I said. In fact, when I first started working with Muddy he told me the reason I wasn’t reaching my potential was because I didn’t believe in myself. The truth is I was a people pleasing mo-fo, constantly scared of criticism and judgement, and hustling for my worthiness. We worked on that for years. One thing I have learned is that with confidence and success comes criticism….not the possibility of criticism, the certainty of criticism.
And from the always awesome BB:
“If you’re going to show up and be seen, there is only one guarantee, and that is, you will get your ass kicked … That’s the only certainty you have. If you’re going to go in the arena and spend any time in there whatsoever, especially if you’ve committed to creating in your life, you will get your ass kicked …” –Brene Brown
Okay, rant over!
I waited for 2nd and 3rd to come through the finish and Korbel was there asking us to do a champagne spray. I can definitely check that one off my bucket list. I always wondered if after those champagne spray situations people smelled like booze. The answer is yes, yes you do. My finisher medal STILL smells like champagne. I have to give a huge thank you to the ladies I shared the podium with. I enjoyed getting to know them after the race, great ladies!
The rest of the evening was awesome. I watched as two of my athletes became Ironman finishers once again. I shared drinks and food and celebration with many friends, and I went to sleep that evening knowing that I had raced an Ironman from start to nearly finish with pure joy in my heart. Okay, there were some dicy moments in that run, but for the most part, I felt very thankful for this awesome adventurous life.
Thank you to my amazing sponsors, you have been awesome this year at letting me explore my boundaries, and infuse more fun into the sport. Thank you Coeur, Tribella, QR, Osmo, LifeBeam, Honey Stinger, Punk Rock Racing, and YAY!
Huge thank you to Muddy for the whole enchilada. There are no words. Thank you Troy and Annie for always being there for me through thick and thin.
Also, big thank you to Doug for the on course support and Anthony for being my travel buddy on this trip (and Mo and Jody, an Mik and Audra and Brian)
And lastly thank you to Audra and Mikki, my fellow Rising Tide coaches. This trip was amazing with the both of you. I’m so grateful you are in my life.
I’m really sad that Ironman Lake Tahoe is now a discontinued race. Ironman did not renew the contract and I understand why. In three years, they got one successful year. That’s a hard business venture. I am so thankful to the communities we visited, the friends I made in the area, and the locals hospitality. Next year, although a race won’t be happening, I’ll still be out there training for Kona on the course, and making more sweet memories.