Ironman 70.3 St. George

Ironman 70.3 St. George

To say that I’m completely happy with how my race went in St. George, Utah wouldn’t be true. A couple days/weeks post-race is a roller coaster of feelings. Overall, I crossed the finish line, which was priority #1, but the end result wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. Yes, this was my first race of the year on a horribly difficult course. As Alyssa put it, we really threw ourselves to the sharks on this one. But finishing 20 minutes slower than my goal time has been a pretty difficult pill to swallow. I was hoping to be competitive in my age-group and finish within the top 5. I’ve been stuck in an 8th place rut for several races, and I wanted to break out of it. But that’s going to have to wait till next time.

UtahIronManScenery-3You couldn’t ask for a more beautiful race setting! Only 90 minutes NW of Las Vegas, St. George is one of the prettiest places I have ever been. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent all but one year of my life in the Midwest, but I absolutely love the dry, desert climate with rock and sand.

My dad and I flew into Vegas around 2pm on Thursday afternoon. We got the rental car picked up, packed and were on the road probably within an hour. Time changes confuse me, and with Vegas being two hours different from Des Moines but St. George only being one hour different, I had no idea what time we were going to get arrive. The goal was to hit the race expo on our way to the house to get registration out of the way. We made it with 30 minutes to spare. Volunteers at all the races I’ve been to are always incredible. But the ladies working the registration table in St. George were some of the nicest people I’ve ever talked to. I spent an extra 5-10 minutes listening to one recount their stories of previous years volunteering and how much she enjoyed this weekend each year. Love it! These are the people that make the sport work!

Friday was all about shaking out the body with a bike and run, dropping off gear bags and bike and relaxing. We were staying a mile away from the swim venue, so that gave us great access to check things out and get on the first few sections of the course. One thing I was really excited for was getting to see Hillary and Maik. On our way downtown to drop off my T2 bag, we made arrangements to meet up right after the pro briefing. UtahIronMan-6We got there just in time to see everyone filing out of the room. I was kind of surprised at how star struck I was. Luke McKenzie, Beth Gerdes, Linsey Corbin, Mirinda Carfae, Andreas Raelert all within arms reach. But probably the coolest thing was getting introduced to Meredith Kessler by Hillary. She’s such a great person and was super encouraging! It’s so much fun knowing legends of the sport and having their immense knowledge to tap into! With bags dropped off and the day drawing to an end, I found myself a lot more nervous that I thought I was going to be. Sometimes it’s super tough to turn the brain off, trust the training and enjoy the moment.

Race morning: Being so close to the swim start, it felt like sleeping in not having to get up till 5:00am. We made the one mile drive to where we would enter Sand Hollow Park, and I was getting my backpack out of the car, a very familiar “Benny Boy” came out of the car that was parking behind us…I guess we chose our spot wisely if Hillary and Maik were in the same spot. As we walked up to transition, Hillary gave me lots of great advice about the swim start and general encouragement for the day. UtahIronMan-25With almost 50 minutes between the pro start and my swim wave, there was plenty of time to play spectator and get excited; thankfully my nerves from the night before had turned into excitement. We got to see the pro men head out onto the bike course, but then it was time for me to make my way to the water.

Swim: The swim was a counter-clockwise loop, so I started in the front off the right, hoping to avoid some of the starting mayhem. The plan was to go out hard and try to get in a group that was swimming slightly faster than I would be able to on my own…the beauty of drafting. With little time to warm up in the fairly cold water, I was concerned with how I was going to feel, though, starting out hard. UtahIronMan-13Hillary gave me some great advice to try to stay calm, going 20 strokes completely focused on swimming hard, ignoring what was going on around me before looking around. After that, swim 18, 16, 14, etc. strokes between sighting. By then, I should be in a rhythm and able to figure out what I need to do to stay straight and consistent.  This is a great technique that I plan on using in all swims, but it unfortunately didn’t keep me from having a slight panic attack at the second buoy, forcing me to breast stroke and get my heart rate under control. After a few seconds, I was able to continue swimming and felt decently strong from there. Unfortunately, I was completely by myself for the rest of the swim. I managed to finish in 33 minutes, 36th in my age-group.

Bike: I was really focusing on the plan Alyssa and I had talked about, staying controlled but uncomfortable during the first half before “biking like there is no run.” Things were feeling really good, and I felt like I was making up time on those guys that swam faster than me. Being a very competitive race, there were several guys from the 30-34, which started after my wave, that passed me. But knowing that there was a lot of race left, I really wanted to race my race and not get caught up in pushing too hard too early. Coming into the final 20 miles of the ride, you get to Snow Canyon. I knew this was going to be the toughest section, but I didn’t expect to struggle as much as I did. One of the first sections of the climb was on a serpentine bike path that provided some technical difficulty. Coming around a 180-degree, hair-pin turn I made the mistake of looking where I didn’t want to go vs. where I did want to go and went down. Fortunately, I was going super slow, so there was no damage to any equipment or myself. From there, however, the climb was super hard. I was in my easiest gear, going 7 mph and still having to work to keep my cadence above 70. It took everything I had to put my head down and focus on getting to the top, where I would have several downhill miles before T2. Knowing that my pace was well below what I was hoping for, hitting 43-45 mph back to town helped mentally, but the legs were still screaming as I tried to keep them parallel for the aerodynamic advantage. Reaching T2 in 2:37 was disappointing, but I had managed to move up to 19th in my age-group.

Run: Trying to wrap my head around running 13 miles after the bike was pretty difficult; I had no idea how my legs were going to behave. The plan for the run was the same as the bike…controlled but uncomfortable for the first half and then pick off as many people as possible in the last 10k. This was the first race that I had a functional GPS watch for the run, but I made a concerted effort to try and ignore it for a couple of miles as I got to settle in. When I did glance down, I was pleased that I was managing a 6:30 pace…but then came the wall, not the bonking wall, but a portion of the course that takes you up an 8% grade for the better part of a mile. As much as my pace slowed, it’s amazing how much time you can make up by continuing to run vs. walking. It would have taken so much longer to walk up that hill and probably would have hurt just as much. Once on top of the “bluff” there is plenty of up-down, back-and-forth running before heading back down towards town. UtahIronMan-54With about three miles left, Hillary found me on her bike and leap frogged me to the finish line, offering up encouragement and instruction. I’ve never heard, “pick ’em off” more than I did in those 20ish minutes. This was exactly what I needed to finish strong and not cash in the final miles. I managed to pass a lot of people and even squeaked by a guy in my age group with probably a quarter of a mile to go (he’s the guy in black right behind me).

UtahIronMan-63Crossing the finish line, I don’t think I’ve ever felt that out of it, or that close to collapsing. One of the volunteers had to help me out of the chute area, and it took quite a bit of coke and food to get me moving again. I was ushered into the pro lounge area, not sure why, but it was great because I was able to find Maik and de-brief a little with him before Hillary and my dad found us. I was even able to recount my war story to Mirinda Carfrae! Well, not really…I think she was looking at someone else. UtahIronMan-59

Despite not quite having the race I was hoping for, it’s always good to cross a finish line. Now the goal is to turn the effort in St. George into increased fitness going into the rest of the season. This was just the first race of the year, and I’m stoked to get out and test my limits again!

Thank you to Zoot Sports and Scheels for amazing, continued support throughout this triathlon endeavour! And special thanks to my dad for making the trip with me and being my official, personal photographer (check out his website and the gallery from St. George); Hillary Biscay for on-course support; and the entire Team HPB crew for more posts and notes of encouragement than I could have ever imagined.  You guys are great!