Less was more for Canadian triathlete Paula Findlay in 2020.
After 12 months without a race, winning the World Championship Challenge at Florida’s Daytona International Speedway has the 31-year-old from Edmonton rethinking future race schedules.
Findlay’s body was unusually healthy ahead of what was the event of the triathlon season because the COVID-19 pandemic decimated the race calendar.
The men’s and women’s fields for the swim, bike and run were stacked with the world’s top pros seeking a payday from a US$1 million prize pot.
In order to keep the event compact and athletes “bubbled” in a pandemic, competitors swam two kilometres in Daytona’s infield lake, followed by an 80k bike and 18k run on the NASCAR track’s asphalt oval.
Findlay triumphed Sunday for a winner’s cheque of $100,000. She edged reigning women’s world Ironman champion Anne Haug of Germany by two minutes 36 seconds.
“It was kind of the race everyone was talking about and targeting this whole year because of the prize purse, and the only kind of championship race that was happening, so it was a bigger deal,” Findlay told The Canadian Press on Thursday from Portland, Ore.
“I was very grateful and it was just cool to be actually racing after a year off.”
Findlay’s triathlon career has been one of promise and pain.
Ranked No. 1 in the world in 2011 in Olympic-distance triathlon — 1.5k swim, 40k bike and 10k run — Findlay was beset by injuries and anemia heading into the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
She finished last and in tears in London.
Blessed with natural speed and cursed with a body that doesn’t stand up to the kind of training she wants to do, Findlay couldn’t replicate her success of 2010 and 2011 when she was a regular atop the international podium.
After knee surgery and a foot injury kept her off Canada’s 2016 Olympic team, Findlay gravitated toward longer races.
She found success again in the half-Ironman distance of a 1.9k swim, 90k bike and half-marathon run. A half-Ironman is called a 70.3 because it is half the miles of a full Ironman.
Findlay triumphed in the 2018 North American championship and won another race in Utah in 2019.
She claimed the 2019 Challenge Daytona, which was a 75-kilometre race with a smaller field and prize purse than Sunday’s event.
An empty race calendar in 2020 meant Findlay wasn’t pushing through nagging injures to race.
“The stress of constantly getting ready every month for a race, feeling this deadline and the need to get run fit even if I’m feeling a little niggle has kind of been my downfall,” Findlay said.
“Over the last 10 years, I’ve been almost nervous to run sometimes because I’m like ‘what’s going to hurt now? Is my foot going to hold up?’ and also having that mentality heading into races of “Can I even finish the race, let alone win the race?’
“It was really nice mentally to not even have to think about that and be able to trust my body, and know I was fit and fast and ready to go.”
The 2021 race schedule remains uncertain, but Findlay is targeting a 70.3 triathlon in Slovakia in May, as well as the world 70.3 championship in Utah in September.
She lives to race, but Daytona showed her pulling on the reins once in awhile could benefit her in the long run.
“I think I have learned that maybe I need to space out my schedule more, take a little bit more of a gradual approach to the season,” Findlay said.
“It’ll be hard to control myself. When there are races on the calendar, I just want to go do them. This year having it not be an option made it easy, but I’ll definitely do some careful planning.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2020.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press