We're super proud of Cassie Whittington (Ohio) for qualifying for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and making the journey Down Under for this prestigious race.
Before qualifying for the World’s at Eagleman 70.3, I signed up for the first ever Ironman branded race in Ohio. I was super excited to get to race in front of my friends and family. The only problem was Ohio was just two weeks before the World Championships. While this was enough time to recover properly, the two races, with the extra travel time required for Australia, wasn’t ideal for me.
I was just getting use to my new Argon 18 bike when I found out I had to ship it to Australia three weeks before the race, which meant before the Ohio race took place. The Thursday before Ohio I jumped on my older bike I hadn’t been riding, and something about the position change caused my ankle to tweak a little. Luckily I had two days before the race was taking place, so I rested the ankle and hoped for the best. On race day, my ankle felt fine during the swim and only hurt slightly during the bike, and luckily was okay for the run. I ended up having an amazing race, finally breaking 5 hours with a time of 4:56. This was enough to qualify me for World’s next year, a good feeling to have going into the race this year!
A few days after the Ohio race, my ankle started to feel worse. I decided to avoid running and had three massages on the ankle, hoping it would help. I had to fly out on Tuesday for Australia, and on that morning I couldn’t even place weight on my ankle (start the FREAK out!!). I PAINFULLY made it to Australia, with the 24 hours of travel to get there only making things worse as I hobbled through the airports. The 14 hour trip from Los Angeles to Brisbane was painfully long, both in duration and the fact that my ankle was throbbing most of the way. My ankle was swollen, it was definitely impinged, and I could barely walk to the expo to Athlete check-in. I’m sure my competitors were wondering what I was doing limping through the line. I checked in, grabbed my bike from TriTransport (had a quick panic attack, the brakes rattled loose on the flight and weren’t working but the bike mechanics fixed them), and went to my perfectly located apartment RIGHT across the street from the race start to take a quick nap and try to adjust to the 15 hour time change forward. I began doing banded distraction of the ankle…which I continued for the next three days along with plenty of self-massage with a lacrosse ball. This gave me temporary relief, enough to feel a little more confident that I didn’t fly all the way to Australia only to be unable to race.
Since running and biking were out of the question, I attempted an ocean swim. Mooloolaba was simply beautiful with the sun shining and athletes everywhere. The weather felt perfect except for the wind was horrible! It was so bad that the surf club advised that nobody go out into the water! Well, athletes were still swimming so I thought I would try since I would be in a wetsuit. There were big swells and crashing waves (this isn’t Ohio!), so after getting killed by waves, swallowing a ton of salt water and swimming nowhere, I quit after 10 minutes and a messily 200 yards….the only part of the race I was calm about now was scaring me! Being tossed and tumbled made me motion sick, which would show up again race day. I tried to remain positive and smile through all of these obstacles, because it’s insane to complain and be negative when you are at the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS IN AUSTRALIA! There were athletes from 83 different countries, and I was simply in awe of the magnitude of this race. I enjoyed the parade of nations and the welcome dinner, making friends from all over the world. It was now time to chill and hope for the best race morning…I had so many people sending well wishes that I couldn’t help but be excited and grateful for all the love and support I had, no matter what happened race day.
Race morning was gorgeous!! The wind was much calmer, making EVERYONE breath a huge sigh of relief. My ankle was still impinged, but wasn’t extremely painful like the days prior. I was hopeful and figured no matter what, I was finishing this race! The only positive about the injury was that it allowed me to stay relaxed since my expectation for the race was now only to finish without permanent damage to myself.
I set up my transition and headed down to the start to watch the pros go off, as my wave was the last one so I had a few hours to spare. I’ve yet to figure out why they have our age group go last, as it means we have to pass many slower age groups, but I’m not sure my complaining will get anything done. I stood by many of the pros as they got ready to race, feeling lucky to be able to race alongside such amazing athletes.
The ocean swim had me a little nervous since I’d never raced in the ocean, but it did not start on the beach but instead was a deep water start and I was very thankful for that. Our age group was huge and it was a very chaotic swim with bodies everywhere, I never found clear space and was being hit the whole time. The chaos did help me forget about the ankle for the time being! The rocky-ness of the swim plus swallowing salt water made me a little motion sick, so I swam the whole race breathing every stroke so that I could focus on the sky, which seemed to help. If I took multiple strokes before breathing, something about looking down made me nauseas. I was thankful when the swim was over, yet nervous to run on the ankle to transition for the first time. Swim time was 30:51, not a bad start to the day but not as fast as I had hoped for.
Transition was narrow and LONG, a half mile long to be exact – it took up five blocks of street. Most of that had to be run in my cycling shoes, so I was extremely cautious jogging to my bike with my ankle and was actually shoved to the side by numerous competitors. Definitely my first experience with full on contact in transition! It was a reminder of how serious this race was.
Jumping on the bike is where the fun began. The ankle felt weird from the get-go, so I had to be cautious putting too much pressure on the right pedal. I typically mash the pedals and ride at a very low cadence, but with the ankle I had to pedal lightly and fast. I had a large group of girls in my age group around me, so that was fun as we all kept trying to get ahead. We were going fast for the first 30 miles on a straight highway averaging over 23 mph and I was feeling great since my legs were very well rested. But I knew what was ahead, so I tried to keep myself in check.
At mile 33-ish came a very steep close to 20% grade hill, a grade I certainly have never ridden or seen in my life. I couldn’t believe how many people were walking their bikes up the hills. There was no way I was going to do that, so I weaved through the carnage and got to the top, afraid to death to stand on my pedals because of the ankle, so I tried to do the climbs seated most of the way. I thought climbing was an absolute blast, but the descend was scary! I never had a chance to ride or drive the course before hand, so I didn’t know how the descends were or where the sharp 90 degree curves were, so I had to slow down quite a bit to feel safe. I also didn’t have the handling skills on my new Argon since it’s relatively new and I haven’t ridden it much yet. I lost a lot of ground riding my brakes down the hills, as many flew by me, but I was okay with that. Coming into the last 10 miles, I had a few girls blatantly drafting off of me, which was annoying. I went about my own race without worrying about it. My bike split was 2:42.
Starting out on the run, I felt great. I always try to avoid looking at my watch during my run and just go on feel. I actually do the whole race that way, only looking at time to fuel and never wearing a heart rate strap or using a power meter to gage intensity or looking at my speed splits. For some reason I glanced down at the 3 mile marker and was excited to see 20 minutes…I started to feel good about things! THEN the hill at mile 6 is when my ankle got impinged again and I would get sharp pain on landing. I walked it out for a minute and then managed to run on the outside of my foot to avoid the pain, which was awkward and slowed me down.
I was having an interesting conversation with myself at this point, but certainly wasn’t going to stop. By mile 9 it felt loosened up again and the pain lessened. I began staring at the ground, never looking at the crowd (I wish I did because they were amazing!), and just counting every single step to distract my mind away from the ankle pain. I found a nice pace that felt okay with the ankle, but then by mile 11 I started to cramp in my right hamstring.
This has happened before with my left hamstring, but never the right leg…which I attribute to the awkward running gate I had to do because of the ankle. I did walk it out a little, and at this time I looked around at the amazing crowd support along the whole finishing chute. It was so cool, and felt like the crazy fans you see at the Tour.
I began seeing people in my age group passing me, but I knew I just couldn’t do anything about it because my body wasn’t cooperating and I was doing the best I could. I grinded it out and found that finish line! Finishing time was 5:06, enough to place 31st in my age group. Races like this teach you a lot about yourself and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to race!
I am so thankful for all the love and support I received from my friends and family and work family at Goodbodies. Having everyone behind me got me through the toughest race I’ve had. Thank you to Triple Threat Triathlon for the support and Argon 18 for the FAST bike.