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Nicole Reflects on Her First Pro Podium at 70.3 Maine

When I signed up for Maine 70.3, I was highly motivated by the fact that it was driveable - less than 2 hours from my New Hampshire home - and that it would be a good "B race" en route to my first full ironman three weeks later at Mont Tremblant. It was also the inaugural pro women's race at Maine 70.3; prior years had a men's pro field and was hosted in Old Orchard Beach with an ocean swim.

When the start list came out, it was the first time I thought "I could podium if I have a good race!" Usually "getting in the money" is my goal, but I set my sights higher. The downriver swim would neutralize the field a bit, and the relentless hills (read: 3700 feet of gain!) on the bike course would be a welcome technical challenge.

I was already winning when I made it to the swim start - a mile north of transition - by 5:40am for a 6:05 am start. The air was 60 degrees while the water was 74, so I opted for a dry land warmup. While waiting for the race to start, I could see some women shivering in the water. I got in the water as late as possible and almost didn’t make it to a clear spot on the pontoon due to the strong current. The swim was blazing fast given the current, and 17:33 later, I was running up the steep hill to transition.

I started the bike in 12th place, so I had my work cut out for me to move up the field. The course was the textbook definition of rolling - there was nary a flat in sight. I was constantly pushing FTP watts uphill, then trying to gain speed on the downhill, then pushing up the next hill. The only break I got was when I did a legal tuck on extended downhills since it was faster than pedaling.

I moved my way up to a pack of women who keyed off of me the final 10 miles. I guess if I were them, I’d try to ride the power of someone who worked their way up to me too, but I couldn’t shake them. I ran into transition with “5th through 9th place,” according to the on-the-ground race announcer.

When I started the run, I saw my friends Ben and Ann, who told me I was in 6th and 30 seconds down from 3rd. Now, I’m used to hearing where the next woman ahead of me is - and in this case, I could see her - but being told time gaps to *third* put me in a very different mindset. And that was when the anti-gravitational force field set in.

Around mile 4, I entered a cute downtown, and there I got more intel from Amber, a friend and fellow pro triathlete spectating, that I was 30 seconds down from 3rd. “Still?!” I thought. Fast forward to mile 8, and I’m - you guessed it - 30 seconds down from 3rd, still in 5th. I almost got content at this point, figuring that I’d finish within the money. I had another conflicting thought of “but what if you could do better?! People are telling you where 3rd is because it’s attainable! Don’t you want to be like Jackson and Lesley and get 3rd?!” At mile 8, I felt trusting enough to push my pace a bit. I went from low 6:30s to 6:16, and I could see that I was starting to make up some ground. I had broken through the force field!

Photo Credit: Brian Wilson

At mile 10, there is the only significant hill on the course. It gains a little over 100 feet, and I ran a 6:50 mile up it while making a pass for 4th. At the top of the hill is a plateau and a wide u-turn marked out by cones. The cones delineate the two directions on the hill, so I started to count how many steps separated me from 3rd place, Pamela Bachelder-St Pierre. I find this to be a really effective tool to determine if I’m making progress or not. When I got down to 7 steps, the shiny lens of the cameraman on Pamela came into view like a jewel I could reach out and grab, like Abu from Aladdin eyeing the ruby in the Cave of Wonders. As I passed Pamela down the hill (where I dropped a 6:03 mile), she gave me an encouraging pat on the back. My first thought was “don’t concede, give me a fight!” but I knew there might be more fight behind me, other women chasing me down. I kept pressing, almost trying to catch up to the camera moto in front of me - my god was that motivating. I thought of friends and family watching the livestream at home, how I *finally* got on camera after all those times my parents would watch the whole livestream just to maybe see my name pop up on the ticker in 8th or 6th place along the side of the screen. This time, my face looking slightly up to the sky (something I do when fatigued) was on camera, and my charging pace was chugging along for two sweet, strained, focused miles.

I ran a 6:13 and 6:26 final two miles, running up the final hill to the transition area. Once the moto pulled off just before the finishing red carpet, I finally felt like I secured 3rd. I stuck my tongue out (thinking I was no longer on camera) because apparently I think I’m Miley Cyrus? and - no joke- I leaned at the line! This was caught on the livestream, which is pretty entertaining to watch.

Any feelings of elation were quelled almost immediately by the next several tasks assigned by the Ironman media team. I gave a very short video interview, then was asked if I was ready for a post race interview for the livestream in which I was seated in one of those director chairs. I was still just starting to drink my water when the interview started - and I continued to do so throughout the interview, (link to: like I couldn’t wait 10 seconds? I told the interviewer, Nick, that it was my first pro podium and my 6th year as a pro, which turned out to be good fodder for his two interview questions. I then gave a few words to the local newspaper, the Portland Press Herald, which was interrupted by the podium ceremony. “Stand here!” was a direction given a few times before it clicked in my brain where to stand. they announced my splits and name, during which I, uh, cleared my nose out thinking I was off camera since I was off-[podium] stage. I was actually given an option of which Athletic Brewing flavor I wanted. Pilsner was the best for spraying, so I chose that and had a friendly spray with Amy and Giorgia, my podium companions.

Photo by Robbie Deckard of Uphill Visuals

I finished my local press interview and went to athlete food. It was 10:30, and awards were at 3pm, so I hung out with my boyfriend until we realized we needed to get out of the sun for a bit. We went to Barnes and Noble to burn some time!

The flood of messages came soon after, and I took my time to respond to each of them in hopes it’d make the feeling last a little bit longer. In the next few days, just like the whirlwind of post race media which had me “sit here!” and “stand here!”, I focused on the next task, a quite overwhelming one in fact, which is my looming full distance ironman three weeks later. While I’m now less than a week from my full ironman, my podium flowers (minus a few dead ones I plucked out) are still on my desk. I just snipped off my Ironman wristband a few days ago. The plastic wrap that protected my 3rd place plaque that I’ll have for the rest of my life is still in my garbage can. It’s a funny place to be, but we’re all in between places and events, even goals. We may not be so lucky as to get three wishes like Aladdin, but we are lucky to get three disciplines, and, sometimes, third places.

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