Thursday, September 12, 2013

Vegas Baby!

After nearly 18 months of dreaming about it and viewing the bike and run elevation profiles every time I went to my refrigerator, my shot at this championship worthy course finally showed up on September 8th, 2013.  How did it go?  Read on to find out!

Ok, so let's back up a couple steps for anyone who stumbled upon this blog post by Googling something similar to "how brutal is Ironman 70.3 Silverman".  I'll save you some time; it's tough, but survivable.  Now, if you would like to read about my journey, you should know a few things.  I qualified for the 2012 Ironman 70.3 World Championship.  During my training build to race day, I had a bike wreck which left me with a fractured hip and resulted in having a dynamic hip screw being surgically placed in the top of my left femur.  This ended my 2013 season and my dreams of toeing the line against the best half iron distance triathletes in the world.  I did end up travelling to the race last year and convincing my body to cross the finish line in a hair under eight hours, but it was far from the race I had envisioned.  I entered 2013 with a goal of once again qualifying for this race and making it to the starting line healthy.  Despite a lackluster run at San Juan 70.3, and with the aid of roll down, I secured a qualifying spot to the 2013 event.  Step one: done.

Ok, now on to the race!

Kim and I traveled from Columbus to Las Vegas on a nonstop Southwest flight on the Wednesday prior to the Sunday race.  We were graciously picked up by a Team RWB teammate and local Las Vegas resident, Robert Baker.  He made sure we immediately went and took pictures at the famous "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign.  This is something I had never done and I'm really glad we took the time to do this.  Robert then drove us the ~30 minutes to Lake Las Vegas where we would be staying in a rental home with six other people.

I have to give credit to Brad Williams for finding this gem of a house for race week.  It was incredible!  We had 4 bedrooms (which were huge), 3.5 baths, garage, pool, full kitchen, washer/dryer... so many things that make race week much easier and more comfortable.  It was also located one mile from T1 and the swim start inside the exclusive Lake Las Vegas subdivision.  Best of all, it was WAY more affordable than staying at a host hotel.

Despite being a 70.3, this race very much has the feel of a full Ironman event.  The expo is large, there is an athlete dinner, no packet pickup the day before the race, etc.  On Friday night we all headed to the Westin for the athlete dinner.  Thinking of how competitive it is to get a table for our entire group at races like Kona, we showed up about 40 minutes early and found that we were the first ones in line.  Lesson learned.  The dinner was really nice.  Food was plentiful and good, entertainment was entertaining, and the athlete meeting was fairly painless.

On Saturday, the logistics of a point-to-point race show their true colors.  I went down early to the swim start for the practice swim.  Lake Las Vegas is not open to swimming except for this two hour window and, of course, on race day.  We then had to take our bike-to-run bags to T2 in downtown Henderson.  Finally, bikes had to be taken down the hill to T1.  Now it was time to eat, groom, relax, and get ready to sleep.

We woke up at 4 AM and I quickly looked at the weather.  The radar showed a huge blob of blue, green, yellow, and a little red directly over the Henderson area.  I then looked outside and it was raining.  Surprisingly, it had rained every day we were there, but it had come in the form of pop up showers in the mid to late afternoon each day.  This was different... an actual rain storm.  There was nothing that could be done about the weather, so our morning plan rolled forward.

Out of the five racers in the house, my wave went first.  Transition opened at 4 and closed at 6.  Pros went off at 6:30 and the entire mass of men 30-34 went at 7:02.  While the rest of the house went down a little after 4 to set up their T1 and then came back to the house to rest until their waves went closer to 8, Kim and I waited until 5 to walk the mile down, set up my bike, and then wait by the swim start until it was time for me to begin.

After I got my bike ready to race, we found a dry spot to sit in the Ravella's covered bridge that spans the swim course.  The rain continued at a steady rate, not pouring, but more than sprinkling.  Around the time the cannon went off for the pro men, I pulled on my swim skin and prepared myself for the 80 degree water.


We entered the water with about five minutes before our wave would go off.  It is a deep water start, so unlike last year, I swam over and stood on the giant rocks that make up the shore of this man made lake.  While standing there, I had a thought; "I'm not an elite swimmer, especially against this pool of guys.  I'm not gonna pretend that I am today."  With 30 seconds to go, I swam over and seeded myself in the middle of the pack. I took off when the horn sounded but not at the break neck pace that I normally do.  I had a goal to swim strong, long, and solidly.  I followed feet as much as possible, but found myself alone for a period of time on the way back to the swim exit when I made a few sighting mistakes.  Swimming toward the final turn buoy and the swim exit, I told myself that I would be content with anything under 36 minutes.  Typically, I would cringe at that number, but I knew I was getting out of the water with a controlled heart rate and ready to attack the longest leg of the race.  That was worth the extra few minutes.  When I stood up on solid ground, my watch read just over 34 minutes - bonus!


After exiting Lake Las Vegas,  I ran around the end of the lake into transition, past the rows of racks, until I found the one that I had mentally marked as being mine.  I knew this would be an extended transition due to some decisions I had made pre race.  Mainly, I was going to don a long sleeve DeSoto Skin Cooler shirt.  This is like trying to put on a tri top while wet, which is tough, but with full sleeves.  The shirt wears tight and is made to cling to skin when wet to lower body temperature via a evaporative cooling effect.  I also wore a DeSoto Skin Cooler beanie under my S Works Evade helmet.  Yes, you're noticing a trend.  I was prepared to battle the desert heat with every weapon I could find.  Who would have thought it would be in the upper 60's with rain!?  Either way, at my size, there was not much chance of being chilly while rolling up and down this nasty bike course.  I also figured that at some point, the clouds would expose the sun once again and this place would turn into a sauna.

After my costume change, I headed up the switchback cat walk to the mount line where I had a decent flying mount and quickly got my shoes on.


It was amazing how great I felt when I got on the bike since I didn't overexert in the water.  My breathing was under control, my HR was reasonable, and my leg turnover was solid.  I just kept telling myself that this was my kind of day; it was much cooler than expected, it was raining, and I felt good.  I constantly reminded myself to stay within my race each time someone went past as I knew going out too hard would make for a brutal final climb into T2 and an even more miserable run.  After the first 15 miles, I found my Intensity Factor (Normalized Power/Functional Threshold Power) to be near 93% and I knew that if I sustained that, I would have no chance of running well.   I tried to back off, but each climb it seemed to kick back up.  No matter how "easy" I spun up the hills, the bottom line is that it takes a lot of power to get my big load to the top.

Despite riding at an intensity factor more suitable to an olympic distance event than a half iron, I felt good.  I was enjoying the ride through the Lake Mead Recreation Area, chatting with some riders on the climbs, and taking in the scenery and atmosphere that was the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.

On a side note: I have an "Auto Lap" feature set on my bike computer for every five miles.  It is a good indicator to me of how quickly I've been riding for the past 12-16 minutes and on a flat course it can become a challenge to keep or better your previous five mile time.  Obviously, on this course, my lap times were all over the board depending on the topography I encountered during that five mile stretch.  Up until this race, I had never seen a five mile split pop up that was under 11 minutes.  (For anyone that doesn't have a sense of pace on the bike, at 20 mph, a mile takes 3 minutes.  At 15 mph, a mile takes 4 minutes.  At 30 mph, a mile takes 2 minutes)  During one five mile section of this race, shortly after the turnaround, I had a split pop up of 9:42 - hell yes!  I, of course, was aided by gravity in that five miles, but it was still motivating to see that I had averaged over 30 mph for five consecutive miles in a long course event.  That makes up for some of the grinding, small ring, 12 mph climbs that are frequent on this course.

There were definitely a few white knuckle moments of bombing down a descent at 40+ mph (max speed was 44.8 mph), dodging standing water. Carbon brake tracks are also much less than responsive in wet conditions, so any emergency braking was basically impossible. All I could think was "this is really gonna hurt if I bite it here", but it's race day, so you go with it.  With about 12 miles to go, the sun decided it was time to make itself known.  The roads were suddenly dry, the heat was baking me and everything else,  and my hydration bottles seemed to be draining much more quickly.

I had come to the race with my full armada of hydration options.  I used the internal Shiv Fuelsalage for pure water, my between-the-arms On-The-Level bottle cage held my concentrated nutrition, and I also had a bottle of electrolyte sports drink in my Wedgie bottle mount above my bottom bracket.  (More to come on the On-The-Level and Wedgie, but I will quickly say that these products are stellar!!) I also had an empty behind-the-saddle cage that I could use for playing musical water bottles at the bottle exchanges.  With the cooler and wet weather, I never made it through any of my bottles.  I went through nearly all my nutrition, but still had fluid left in my electrolyte and water bottles at the end of my ride.  This lack of thirst isn't a good thing and is a challenge of racing in wet weather.

At one point, I thought I had a shot of a sub 2:30 ride.  I should have known better as the final 10 miles into T2, while not steep, are pretty much a constant climb all the way up to the dismount line.  I rolled in right at 2:40 and felt like I had put together a good ride while still leaving something in the tank for a challenging half marathon.


Once again, similar to a full, this race has bike handlers to rack your machine at the dismount line.  After handing off Stella, I quickly found my bike-to-run bag and made my way into the men's changing tent.  I threw on my Swiftwick socks, Scott Race Rockers, DeSoto Skin Cooler hat, number belt, and fresh Oakleys.


After a challenging bike ride, this run feels very much like the course designer was mad when they mapped it out.  The run is very basic.  Transition is in the middle of one giant hill that is the run course.  You begin by heading down the hill, ~1 mile, to a quick flat turnaround.  After that it is time to head back up the hill, past transition and the finish line, and continue climbing another mile to the top turnaround.  You repeat this process three times.

I had planned on needing to walk aid stations to ensure proper hydration and nutrition and to get volunteers to fill the genius ice pockets of my DeSoto shirt.  To my delight, through nearly nine miles I never slowed more than a few steps, mainly to get ice in my neck and middle back ice pockets.  This continued until I was coming back down the hill on my second lap, about a half mile from beginning my third lap.  I had been fighting the urge to urinate for a lot of the run, but I finally gave in and knew it was time for a port-o-potty stop.  I quickly darted into the purple stink box and did my business at the aid station.  I continued down the hill, where for the first time I saw Kim and the rest of our non-racing crew near the finish line all decked out in RWB gear.  As I made my way past transition and back onto the bottom downhill (that may not make sense unless you've seen this course), I suddenly felt light headed and like I may fall out.  I began to walk without a conscious decision making process.  I stared blankly at the ground in front of my feet, literally seeing little dots in my field of vision which I knew were not really there.  This was the first time that I realized there wasn't a single aid station between the very bottom of the course and the last one I had passed which is about a half mile from the top of the course.  I knew I needed sugar, stat.  Knowing this, I decided my best course of action was to attempt a run down the hill, let gravity help me, and get to the aid station as quickly as possible.  When I arrived, I treated it like a buffet.  This turnaround is a quick quarter mile where you hit an aid station twice, on both sides of the road.  I walked this entire section and got in as many cups of sports drink, coke, and water that I possibly could without major fear of getting ill.

I did not immediately feel better, but I knew some sort of relief was on the way.  This gave me the confidence to trot up the hill as quickly as possible.  At that point, just about anything was faster than the zombie walk I found myself performing while coming down the hill.  I cautiously proceeded up the hill past transition and the finish line, hitting aid stations hard and running through the misting stations.  By the time I made it to the top of the course for the last time, I knew it was all downhill from there - literally.  I saw Brad Williams just as I began down the final hill and he was climbing to the top.  Shortly after hitting the last aid station, Brad comes flying by, where he had apparently just made a pass on a member of his age group.  He encouraged me to come along and I tried my best.  We crossed the line about four seconds apart (he had started later than I had) and gave each other the exhausted bro hug at the line.  He had destroyed the course and claimed a top ten finish.  Dude is a beast with no signs of slowing down!

In the end, my nutritional snafu had cost me about 12 minutes over where I would have been if I would have maintained my 7:40'ish pace that I had been on.  Honestly, I'm not that upset about it.  I wish it wouldn't have happened, but it is something that is correctable.  I'm most happy that I was able to put together a well powered ride and then run a solid nine miles on that course.

Post Race:

I sat in a chair in the finishing chute for a moment and the guy next to me mumbles "it's a tough day for big guys".  He had a similar build to me and even though I dont recall verbally acknowledging his comment, my body language told him that I couldn't agree with him more.  Once I had my bearings, I claimed my freaking heavy finisher's medal, t-shirt, and hat.  I found the food area where I loaded up a plate of fruit and also took some rice, chicken, and chips which were supplied by Rubio's, a local Mexican restaurant.  After sitting for a few moments in the shade, I got stiff, but felt much better mentally.

That evening, we hosted a Team RWB social at the rental house.  Grill master, AKA Ace, cooked up some seriously delish burgers and chicken breasts.  It was a great atmosphere of talking about the race, talking about life, and just relaxing with fellow RWB members and supporters.  Pro triathlete, RWB Advisor, and all around stud, Tim O'Donnell even stopped by to keep all our egos in check with his 8th place overall finish during his build to Kona.

Kim and I stayed the next night at the Hard Rock in Vegas and partook in some activities more commonly associated with the Sin City.  We had a great day hanging at the pool, enjoying some adult libations, and even giving up a few bucks to the video blackjack gods.

All Said and Done:

My final time of 5:15 is actually slower than my first 70.3 back in August of 2010 and pretty much any other I've done since.  It is very tough to compare these events though.  This course is totally worthy of a World Championship status and is definitely the hardest I've ever raced at any distance.  I have also had a  major injury that I am unfortunately still recovering from.  While my hip didn't bother me in this race one bit, there is no doubt that it has taken it's toll on my training this year.

I am really happy with my overall performance and comfort level in this event.  I found myself actually enjoying this experience.  To me, that is really important.  In my mind, I was able to resolve the unfinished business that I had from 2012.  Closure is a sweet, sweet feeling.

Stay safe and go fast!

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