Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Ironman St George 70.3 Race Report

aka - that wasn't nearly as scary as I thought it would be.  And it was FUN.

(and good grief this is a long one.  Its like I haven't raced in 2 years or something!)

So, we left Denver at 6 AM on Thursday for what should have been a 9.5 hour drive at 6 AM on roads that looked like this:
Taken in Silverthorne, wishing we had skis instead of bikes.  Will winter ever end?
Let me just say that this was the slowest road trip ever.  From having to deal with crappy ice-covered roads until Vail Pass (seriously, WTF CDOT?  Do you put the plows away after May 1st?) and having three very hydrated triathletes in the car who needed to stop and pee every two hours, we were s.l.o.w.  slow.  I will also say that this was a gorgeous drive, so it wasn't all that bad.  But it was nearly 11 hrs of slow.  Damn.

We rolled into St G at 5 PM and decided to head straight to race check-in and get our stuff.  We happened upon the pro introductions. This race was the US Pro Championships and most of the big names were out there.  We literally walked right past Crowie and the Wurtles and Leanda Cave and countless other pros.  Way cool.

Pretty much all of the pros said the course was "brutal".  Awesome! :/
And on the way out, I managed to get this photo of me and my new boyfriend.  I am certain that he got 3rd overall because of this moment.  Or maybe I PR'd the swim because he touched me? 

Me and Andy Potts!
I rented a condo for myself and 4 other Denver-based triathletes and it worked out great.  Plenty of room for our bikes and gear, a decent kitchen and a huge countertop, and a patio with a grill.  Perfect!

Thurs night, one of my condo-mates was invited to a Training Peaks - WTC VIP party and she asked me to be her plus one.  I think the event was more fun for her than it was for me, as she got to meet some of her Newton teammates face to face for the first time.  I didn't really know anyone and just talked to random people and ate free food.  I did get to meet Fireman Rob, who really isn't all that big in person, and who was also super nice.  I also got to meet some guy from Sugarland (Thad Beaty), which other people were really impressed with, but I had no idea who he was.  To me, he was just some guy that people were fawning over.  To his credit, he seemed really nice and down to earth.  I also got to talk to Crowie, but I didn't get a photo.  Considering I got a photo with him last summer, I'm ok with that.  Also: they were serving the largest and most amazing shrimp ever.  Maybe that's why I didn't talk to too many people, I smelled of an 11 hr car ride and was stuffing myself with shrimp.  It was a late night - we didn't leave until 10:15 and I got to bed at 11 PM.  Pre-race prep fail.

The day before the race is always crazy busy with so many things to do.  I tried to plan it so we had some time mid-day to sit and chill.  We did ok with this and I didn't feel like I spent too much time on my feet.

My coach and her best friend had a "team" breakfast at 8:30, so myself and 2 condo-mates headed over to meet the crew.  I had a tasty omlette with potatoes.  Mmmmm

Then it was back to the Race Expo to pick up a friend's bike.  And then a trip to the grocery store for lunch/dinner supplies.  And then back to the condo.  By that point it was already 11 AM.  Damn, that took a while.

Ryan and I took a quick 30 min spin on our bikes to make sure everything survived the road trip.  And then he had a quick run while I tried out these things:

I know they are expensive and should have loved them, but they were weird.  It felt like a boa constrictor was eating my legs.  And they squished the hell out of my right foot and now (5 days later) my metatarsals hurt.  They felt fine during the race and right after, but they're a tiny bit achy.  And that makes me cranky.

Around 2 PM we loaded up and went to Sand Hollow Reservoir to drop off our bikes and to get a swim in.  Bike drop off was pretty simple.  Just rack your bike, let some air out of the tires so they don't pop in the heat and then wish your bike a good sleep.

Then we headed over to the lake to get in a 15 min swim.  I haven't done an open water wetsuit swim in 2 years.  The water was ~60 degrees and clear.  And beautiful.  Seriously.  We swam out to this baby rock and climbed onto it then dove back in and swam back to shore.
Who actually looks good in these things?
After that, we were running short on time and booked it back to town for the 4 PM athlete meeting.  We got there at 4:15 and missed the meeting.  Oh well.  We hung out and got some free stuff and then went off to drive the bike and run course.  My coach had already driven the run course and said it was "no joke".  Yay (?).

We drove the run course first because it started from the race expo. Hills and lots of them.  At mile ~2, you go up this 8% grade for ~1/3 of a mile.  Driving up that thing, I was just laughing hilariously.  People expect me to run up that?  HA!  So yeah, my expectations of doing much running were set pretty low.

We didn't drive the full bike course, just the part from where it crosses over the highway and into Snow Canyon.  The canyon was the big climb, so we felt if we saw that, we'd have a good idea of what we were up against.  Again, I have to say, this is the most beautiful course.  Wow.

petrified sand dunes in Snow Canyon State Park
We drove through and looked it over.  Ryan and I both agreed that it wasn't easy but it was definitely do-able.  Actually, the canyon profile looked similar to Palmer Lake with stair-stepping uphills.  There was a steep part at the top, but in all honesty, it didn't look any steeper than the steep bit in Palmer Lake and maybe twice as long.  For once, I was looking at a hard bike course and I wasn't petrified.
blurry, but you get the idea.  See that flat green-ish bit up on the right?  We were riding our bikes to the top of that.
After that, we went back to the condo and made dinner and got all of our race crap put together.  I was a dummy and didn't think to make sure I had enough Liquid Shot for the race.  I barely had enough.  :shakes head: 

Race Day!
I planned on waking up at 4 AM (ugh) but my condo-mates were up earlier so I got up at 3:45 (double ugh).  We had to check our run gear in at T2 and then hop a bus to Sand Hollow by 5:30, so that made everything much earlier than normal.  We got a sweet parking spot a block away from the finish pavilion, dropped our run gear, and hopped on the bus.  Which was free.  (I'm looking right at you Boise, charging racers $8 to ride the bus to the swim start).

We got to Transition and I was feeling ok.  Not really nervous or anxious, just neutral and ready to get the show on the road.  I immediately got in line to air up my tires - it was ridiculously long and took probably 15 minutes.  Then I got to work getting everything set up just so, talking to my rack-mates, and talking to some other friends.  With 15 min left before transition closing I hit the port-o-can line.  They had a bazillion out there and each line was only 4 people deep, which meant very little waiting.  They closed transition down and I somehow found my club-mates and we all hung out.  I was in an earlier wave with Daria, and we were the first ones of our group to swim.

Random sidenote: it was so awesome to race with friends.  We had 7 people from my club and I knew probably 5 more other racers.  I saw friends (mostly passing me) the whole race, which was great.

Daria and I made our way down to the swim start.  I had taken a hit of my inhaler and some Liquid Shot with Pre-Race and was READY to roll.

They had a deep water start, which meant you swam out a few hundred (?) yards and hung out at the start buoys.  Everyone in my wave was super cool, no jostling or aggression.  I was maybe 2 rows back, which is unusual because I like being in the front normally. The horn went off and away we went.  Nearly immediately I found some good feet and did my best to stay with them.  The water was so clear that it was really easy to just follow bubbles.  I managed to hang onto those feet for the first leg of the swim.  We rounded the buoy and I lost the feet.  I just focused on swimming close to the buoys and staying stretched out and relaxed.  The back stretch seemed to take forever, so I'd play games.  Switch to breathing on my left, take ~10 fast strokes and then cruise for a bit, switch to my right and repeat.  It seemed to make things move a bit faster. I was moving through earlier waves and encountered quite a few people swimming backstroke.  Ugh.  I made the final turn buoy and almost immediately found feet and focused on just following them.  This was the first time in a race that I did a good job in finding feet.  I looked at their kick and decided that given their pace and form, they should be decent swimmers and hoped that they were swimming straight.  I think I looked up maybe once that whole way back.  About half way through the final stretch of the swim the fast guys started coming through on the left side, hugging the buoys.  It reminded me of the water pipeline with the sea turtles in Finding Nemo.  I put myself as close as I could to them and tried to stay with them.  I got dropped a bunch but I think the net effect was helpful.  I just channeled my Inner Dory and just kept swimming.  I swam until my hands touched and stood up and went up the boat ramp into transition.

I felt that my pace was pretty comfortable.  I wasn't working super hard but I wasn't exactly cruising.  This felt like my IM pace.  I think.

I saw 0:44 on the clock and I had to idea what that meant for swim time.  It felt solid but it also felt like a 40 min swim.  I tried to do the math on the bike but my brain just wouldn't compute.

Swim time: 36:52
Swim Pace: 1:53
Swim Rank: 18/118 AG, 656/2685 OA

Holy shit, a swim PR by ~3.5 minutes.  And this was the first time I was in the top 10% in my age group for a 70.3 distance race.  I guess I need to find feet and keep my head down more often.  My coach commented to me about my swim times and how I should be getting better times.  This time, my time reflected my ability.  Go me!

Something about not having raced in a wetsuit for 2 years made for a really crappy time getting my wetsuit off.  I couldn't find the zipper cord.  And then I got it unzipped but I couldn't get the damn thing off my upper body.  I actually had to have a stripper peel the whole thing off me from shoulder to feet.  I don't know if my hands were cold or if I was out of practice, but I know I can do better.
not a swamp-monster photo but it still isn't flattering.
I got to my bike and was happy to see there was only 1 bike missing from the rack.  It felt like I was taking my time, putting on gloves and my helmet, making sure I got nutrition in my pockets.  La la la, I'm racing but taking forever.

T1 time: 3:19

A near-2 min PR for my 70.3 distance T1.  I guess I wasn't that slow after all.
I got on the bike and started rolling along.  Here was my plan:
  • Spin up the hills to save legs for Snow Canyon and the run.
  • Push the downhills
  • Medium pace (145 HR and cadence of 85-90) for the flats or shallow hills.
  • Nutrition: on bike - 40 oz of EFS (400 cal), 1.5 bottles of Liquid Shot (600 cals), 2 packs of Honey Stinger Chews (400 cals), 1 SunRype Fruit Source Bar (120 cals), and some salt stick pills.  Idea was to drink EFS for the first hour or two and dilute it with water at each aid station so it was mostly water by the time I hit the mile 40 aid station.  Supplement with Liquid Shot for add'l calories and take in chews as I felt I needed to.  After Snow Canyon, start gobbling up calories for the long 10 mile downhill to allow time to digest prior to the run.
My stomach felt a little iffy right off the bike, probably because I had swallowed some lake water.  I gave it 5 minutes before drinking and it felt much better.  The air temp was fairly cold and I had my DeSoto Cool wings on (I wore them under my wetsuit) and I was actually pretty damn cold.  Those sleeves work. 

At about 4 miles in, there was a nasty little climb.  Not cool.  I must have pushed it a bit too hard going up because my right adductor decided to get cranky on me.  (This used to happen on hilly or hard effort 2-3 years ago.  It hasn't happened in over a year.  I was not a happy camper that it decided to act up).  It was also on this hill that Daria passed me on her sweet new Specialized Shiv.

Things weren't that exciting.  We were on chipseal for a good long time and I felt slow.  I didn't know if I had a flat tire or a brake rub or what.  But it felt SLOW compared to what I was used to doing.  In talking to others after the race, I think my legs were just cold from the swim and it took a while to get them warm and moving.

somehow, I managed to have my helmet on straight in all of my photos this time!
The bike was pretty uneventful.  I rode, I talked to people as I passed them up the hills, I enjoyed the scenery, I took in calories per my plan.  I hit the harder calories (chews and Liquid Shot) when I felt like I had some good downhills ahead of me.  This didn't work all that well because I didn't really know the early part of course and somehow managed to have some climbs with a belly full of chews.  It was only slightly uncomfortable and really not that big of a deal. 

Ryan passed me right around mile 35, most everyone else passed me much earlier.  It was also at mile 35 that I decided to really get in some calories to prep for Snow Canyon.  I jammed my front Liquid Shot into the velcro holder thingy too well earlier on and it was now stuck.  That meant I got to practice reaching around to my rear cage and getting my back-up container and then putting it back in.  I'm actually glad I had the back-up and it was a good thing to identify for CDA.

Merlin likes to fly
At mile 40 I stopped to pee, get my front Liquid Shot unstuck, stretch my adductor, re-filled my 40-oz bottle (it was 75% water at that point), took a few hits of my inhaler (preventative) and soaked my sleeves with water.  I also made the aid station workers admire the sparkly clear coat on my bike.  Because I'm a dork.

Then was the test - Snow Canyon.  Which was actually my favorite part of the course.  For starters, it is BEAUTIFUL.  The canyon was ~4 miles long and had ~800 feet of climbing.  Merlin (my new Alchemy bike, in its triathlon debut) felt super light and nimble.  I just rode up the canyon, giving myself gentle pep talks on the steeper parts.  The stair stepping helped, because it gave me a chance to spin my legs out a bit on the flatter bits.  The other cool thing about this part of the course if that you can see the road all the way through the canyon, with cyclists winding their way to the top.  It was a bit intimidating but also really cool.

This part of the ride was going to hurt but at least the scenery was beautiful
I wasn't quite to the hard part and there were people having issues.  Having to stand and pedal or worse, having to get off and walk.  I was concerned about the really steep push at the top but I just told myself to try it.  Just try it and see what happens.  My HR was in the 170's but I told myself to hold on and keep moving forward.  In my head, I kept thinking about the Boulder Epic Century ride from last September and how that, right now, Snow Canyon was not the hardest thing I had ever done.  I just kept focused and pedaled my way up the hill.  And I actually passed people.  That never happens.  It was awesome.  Merlin kicks ass. 

I got to the top of the canyon and got ready for some fun.  I had conquered the hard part of the race and felt awesome.  I was having fun and was riding along with a huge grin on my face.  So happy.

Per my plan, I got to work stuffing my face with calories.  I also decided to take 2 salt pills, as a preventative measure for the run.  I'm happy I did the pills first, because when  I took out my 2nd bag of chews from my bento box, I lost my container of pills.  Lame.  I got down a few handfulls of chews and a few gulps of Liquid Shot, chased that with some water and I got ready to fly.

My front brakes got gunked up with Liquid Shot from when I got my front container unstuck.  I acutally had to unscrew the lid, which resulted in some goop leaking onto the front of my bike.  I tapped the brakes for the first time and my front one make this awful squealing noise.  Tried it again, same noise.  Ok, I'm using my back brake only for the end of the ride. 

From this point on, I just focused on staying tucked and flying.  The road was smooth and had wide sweeping turns.  I took one downhill in aero at 44 mph and later hit 44 mph on my hoods.

Then we had one nasty little weird out and back (with a detour on a bike path with several 90 degree turns) and a return uphill.  I wasn't very happy with that last, tiny uphill (maybe 120 ft in a half mile), mainly because I was on cruise mode.  And also because I had a full stomach and it didn't feel that great going uphill with all those calories bouncing around.

After that bit, it was all smooth sailing to T2, where there were crowds of people cheering for us.

Bike time: 3:37:49  (6 min off my PR from Galveston... which was flat)
Bike Pace: 15.43 mph
Bike Rank: 70 /115 AG, 1584/2685 OA

Got my bike racked pretty easily, gloves/helmet off, shoes on.  Grabbed my race belt, hat, and handheld bottle and put those on as I headed out of transition.

T2 time: 3:38

So let me just say that I had ZERO expectations going into the run, given the hills and the heat.  And I also didn't really have expectations for the race as a whole, other than "survive". 

My plan was to run/walk based on HR intervals.  I set my Garmin to beep when I hit a HR of 165 (high limit) and 135 (low limit) and would run until I hit the high limit and walk until I hit the low.  For nutrition, I had 400 cals of Liquid Shot and a full scoop of Pre-Race, mixed with water.  The idea was to take a good sized sip at every aid station.  I still had on my Cool Wings and discovered that I could cram ice down the sleeves to stay cool.  Way, way awesome and I will be wearing these things for every warm race from now on.

So the run starts with you going out the chute, up a small hill, around a roundabout, and onto Diagonal which is a gradual long hill.  Right out of the chute, I came across Fireman Rob.  Since I felt like we were buddies (I talked to him for a whole 30 seconds 2 nights prior), I decided to joke around with him.  With two transitions, we had to keep all of our run gear in our red run bags.  I jogged past Rob and joked "I'm sure all that gear didn't fit into one red bag!"  That got a big laugh out of him and he commented that it took many red bags to store his fireman get-up.

So yeah, the run.  I don't think I ever hit a HR of 165.  I'd get to 158 or 160 and start to walk.  But, I think I only hit a low HR of 135 once, and that was during an aid station.  Typically I'd start running again when I saw 148 or so on the Garmin for my HR.  I just plugged along doing that run/walk up hills, chatting with people and making friends.

This was a really strange run course because so many people were walking.  The aid stations were pretty laid back, people taking their time to get things, acting like it was a buffet.  Very few people (by the time I went through) were hustling.  We were just trying to get it done.

I made the turn from Bluffs to Red Hills Blvd and I heard "Erin, is that you?"  It was the wife of the guy I was supposed to relay with in Boise last year.  I stopped, made jokes, and posed for pictures.  During a race.  (yes, I know.  :facepalm:  also see: low expectations).  Then I started to make my way up the 8% grade, running and walking per my plan.

I don't remember that first uphill being awful.  I was pretty fresh off the bike, feeling cool thanks to the ice in my sleeves, and generally happy.  I got to the top of the hill at mile 3 and I cruised the downhill parts.  When I was running, I was running around a mid- to lower- 9 minute pace.  When I was walking, I was sticking around a 15 min pace.  Pretty good.

The course took you up a big hill for almost 3 miles then you had a saddle and up to the top at 4.5 miles, then a dowhill for a bit, then through a park with rollers, then more downhill to a turn around, where you got to do the course in reverse.  Yay (?)
First time through the park, feeling good, singing to myself
I saw Michelle (my coach) on a uphill portion maybe around mile 4.  I told her I was ok and I killed the bike and wished her luck. I also saw all of my club-mates on the opposite side of the road (ahead of me) and we high fived eachother.

I'd say I was pretty happy for the first half of the race.  After my broken heel last year, I was just happy to be out there.  Anytime I didn't feel like running, I'd remind myself that last year I couldn't run, and then I'd get going.  And the ice in my sleeves were brilliant.  I wasn't hot.  I just sang a dumb little song in my head, like a kid: "I've got ice in my sleeves, I'm not hot, everyone else looks hot, this is awesome".  I'm a dork.  But at least I'm a happy dork.

After going back through the park again (mile 8?) my stomach got hungry, and I said uh-oh.  I was supposed to drink from my hand held every mile but I put too much Pre-Race in it and it tasted disgusting (bitter) so I was only taking baby-sips, if that.  I took a few bites of my SunRype Fruit Source bar (still in my tri shorts pocket from the bike) to take care of the hunger pains and started hitting the Coke at the next aid station.  The next few miles weren't pretty - the damage was done in terms of calorie deficit.  Dummy.  I got to the top of the hill, still doing my run/walk thing, but I was only running until I hit a HR of ~155 or so and I was letting my HR drop into the low 140's before I started to run again.  I forgot how to properly drink water and decided to inhale it.  I can breathe while swimming - surrounded with water - and be fine.  Apparently I can't drink while running.  So that kicked off my asthma.  Super.  And let me tell you, running downhill with an asthma attack going on sucks.

You get to the top of the last hill and say to yourself, "sweet, its 3 miles to the finish and its all downhill".  Only the race director is evil and put this mean little out and back up and down leg into the end of the run.  That part really sucked.  And there was a photographer there to document how happy we all were.  

Once I finished that point, I had about 2 miles left.  I had no idea where I was on the clock and I flipped my Garmin display to show time of day.  I saw that I had the potential to PR if I ran the whole way back.  Holy crap.  Unfortunately, due to my asthma and idiotic lack of nutrition, and also developing blisters, I just couldn't make myself run downhill those 2 miles.  Boo.  I managed to run 0.2 to 0.3 miles then walk 0.1 mile, repeat.  Until the last bit, where I'm pretty sure I ran at least the last 1/2 mile.  It helped that the crowds got denser and I could hear the finish line by that point.

I went down the hill, back around the roundabout, and I could see the finish - and it was all downhill.  Finally.

I had the chute pretty much to myself, which was really fun.  In the past, I was so focused, I just zoomed down the chute, not really taking things in.  This time, I was still running, but I was also high fiving kids and absorbing the atmosphere.
I heard them say my name and my town.  Then I crossed the finish line.  And then I was done.  Awesome.

If you look closely, you can see the ice that's still in my sleeves :)

Run Time: 2:45:29  (5 min faster than my worst 70.3 run split, only 8 min slower than my best)
Run Pace: 12:37 min/mile
Run Rank: 78/115 AG, 1639/2685 OA

Overall Time: 7:06:52, 78th in my AG.  This was 8 min slower than my PR (Galveston) and my highest placement to date.

Closing Thoughts
My race experience in St George was beyond expectations and fantastic.  It was one of those truly perfect days.  The entire town is genuinely proud to host this race - they're so friendly and helpful.  The couse is BEAUTIFUL.  It is hard, but not impossible.  I'm so glad I followed our tri-club head lemming and took the leap.  Other races wouldn't have been as hard and I certainly would have had a huge PR, but I wouldn't have learned anything either.

This race was a huge confidence boost for IMCDA.  I know that my training is solid, based on my bike performance.  This makes me really excited to put my head down and get to work for the final stretch to CDA.

No comments: