A spindly tree was my only shade as I sat with my friend Laura at the Lucky Peak reservoir waiting for our wave to start. We’d arrived by shuttle at 10 AM, and the sun was already blazing down on us. Sunscreen was our focus for the moment, and we reapplied layers of it, looking at the cloudless sky and our skin that hadn’t seen the sun since last summer. Last year, I’d heard reports that this race was so cold and windy that the bike course was shortened to just 12 miles – long enough to get off the reservoir and back to town. I’d packed arm warmers, a vest and toe covers, all things I couldn’t imagine using as I baked under the tree that morning.
I didn’t know then that the noon race start, heat and dry air would slowly and stealthily bite me in the rear end within the next few hours. (And apparently I wasn’t the only one.)
My friend and I picked this race due to the time of year and its relative proximity to home, and it was going to be my first coached 70.3. My hope was to have a more successful race than my previous try at this distance. I wanted to finish happy and feeling strong.
Hot air blew at us while we waited. I didn’t feel like eating, but earlier that morning I managed to get down a decent amount of breakfast: Rice Krispies, milk, banana, a hard boiled egg and coffee. Closer to the noon start I forced down more food: a bagel with peanut butter and part of a bar. The water and nuun and the food (and possibly the heat) left my stomach sloshing during my warmup.
The first plunge into the bright blue reservoir water shocked me. After baking all morning in pseudo-shade, the water felt icy. When the gun went off, I swam hard and got out in front right away. Once we approached the first turn, the water became incredibly wavy, sloshing over my face and bobbing me around. I swallowed water and coughed and kept swimming, eventually passing swimmers in the waves ahead of me, keeping an eye out for some good feet to follow. I began to notice some fatigue as I approached the finish, which was probably from fighting the rough water. I swam until my fingers brushed the bottom, ran up the hill, threw myself down by the wetsuit strippers, and my friend’s husband yelled that I was first in my age group. So far, so good!
Swim time: 31:45
Division place: 1
T1: 3:04. Boise is a two-transition-location race so T1 held just bike gear. All went smoothly, aside from not finding any volunteers with more sunscreen to apply after the swim.
Gusts of wind shoved me around right away as I pedaled off the reservoir. My disc acted like a sail, wanting to push me all over the road. My instinct told me to hammer it down the hill to try to be more stable, but I wasn’t comfortable with a rider in front of me weaving around (probably like me) in the middle of the lane, so I waited to pass him until later. Once I was off the hill I tried to calm down my too-high heart rate as we began the loops through the desert. I remember two colors from the bike course: the brown hills and the blue sky. The Boise bike course is long, steady uphills and long steady downhills. Some people say it’s a biker’s race because of this, but I hadn’t done enough long-distance riding or racing to determine whether it was my kind of course. The roads were wide open and peaceful, thanks to getting to start in an early wave. I settled into aero position and pedaled steadily with the wind at my back, feeling good, strong, and smooth. The day felt definitely hot, but the breeze and speed on the bike kept me comfortable enough. I was breathing easily, and my heart rate was a constant 162. This was high, but I didn’t feel I was overworking, so I let it go, even though my coach had a cap of 160 in my race plan. Looking back, perhaps I should have realized that perceived effort at an HR of 162 should have felt a lot harder. I was getting hot and losing fluids, and that’s what was raising my heart rate, but I didn’t think about this then.
On the windy sections, I couldn’t get comfortable. My neck was fatigued from fighting the wind and my saddle wasn’t feeling right. Still, my HR stayed steady: 162. I began to be passed regularly by younger men from the wave behind me, but didn’t see a woman pass me until the out-and-back in the farmlands, so I hoped I might be holding a relatively high age group place. Maybe this type of course suited me!
Eating was the last thing I felt like doing, but I forced down my nutrition as planned: four gels and a bar. I constantly sipped nuun and water. Sipping, however, was the wrong thing to do. I should have been gulping. I exchanged bottles at each station and figured I drank maybe three 20-oz bottles. I poured some on myself to keep cool, so maybe I didn’t exactly drink all of that. I thanked myself for carrying a tiny bottle of sunscreen which I used to spray my back an hour into the ride. (It may have saved me from some deep burns I saw on others later, though I was still burned enough to peel.)
Bike time 3:01:51
Bike MPH 18.48
Division place: 3
T2: 1:36. No issues.
I began to think about the run on the way into town. The last six miles on the bike were tough and long. As soon as I was off the bike and running, I was drenched in sweat and the sides of my ribs were cramping. Remembering a similar feeling at Lake Stevens, I kept my pace around nine minutes per mile and relaxed my breathing. The cramping went away around mile two or three, but my pace had slowed down.
The run is two loops near a temptingly cold, flowing river. Part of the run is on a shaded path, and part of it is on exposed roads. I plodded along, the heat weighing down on me and I eyed that cold water just a few feet away. Suddenly, I wanted to quit. I hurt, my legs were heavy, and once we hit the exposed section of the loop (mile 3 to 4 I think), the heat made me feel ill. I could feel my pulse skipping beats, something that happens occasionally, but worried me here. I plodded, one foot in front of the other and I wondered if I would really consider dropping out. It was the first time I’d ever had that thought in any race.
At every aid station I drank, poured water over myself, loaded my top with ice, and held ice in my palms. Every few miles, I saw a teammate or two, and it gave me a temporary lift of solidarity to exchange pained greetings. I could see they were just as hot as me. By mile five I was walking at every aid station to get fluids in and cool off. By mile eight or so, I couldn’t get anything down but small sips of water. Ice – ice was all I could think of. It sounded so good and so refreshing. I finally fished some out of my top and tossed it back and yes, it hit the spot. After one of the aid stations on the second loop, I got extremely ill, feeling like my insides had turned to churning mush. The race time was 4:42 on my watch. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, though that was probably because my brain wasn’t working at that point, except to make myself move forward. Obviously, the heat and lack of fluids were finally taking their horrible toll. My skin felt dry. I felt so nauseous I was afraid to eat or drink anything else. I told myself to run for ten more minutes and then I’d take an inventory of myself and reevaluate. Ten minutes passed and I hadn’t thrown up and was somehow still moving forward. I repeated this until finally there were only two miles to go! At the last aid station, a wonderful, smiling volunteer yelled: “Coke!” Coke! That sounds so cool, dark, and bubbly… I grabbed a cup and downed it. Nothing ever tasted so good. Somehow, I ran until I crossed the finish line, saw my friend’s husband and garbled something about being sick and made a beeline to the hotel room.
Run time: 2:05:46
Run pace: 9:36
Finish time: 5:44:02
Division place: 5
Back in the room I was afraid to lie down. I was dizzy and short of breath, and severe cramps kept me running to the bathroom. I couldn’t eat or drink anything for an hour, and then finally could sip water. By 8:30 PM I could get a sports drink down, and by 10:00 PM I had part of a milkshake. (A week later, I still didn’t have much of an appetite and felt like sleeping all of the time.)
I was disappointed. I’d hoped that this 70.3, one I’d prepared so hard for, would feel better than my last one. It felt worse.
Still, I was shocked to find I’d placed 5th in my age group, just missing a rolldown spot for IM 70.3 Worlds in Las Vegas. I texted my coach about missing the spot and he replied with two words and a smiley face: Lake Stevens 🙂.
Another 70.3? I couldn’t even think about it.
I’m adding this report to the blog almost two years after racing it. This race is the reason that the heat at other races over the next year didn’t leave me in such a mess. Boise taught me more about hydration and cooling strategies that I ever would have learned by theory, because I was truly afraid to have another experience like this one! The biggest takeaway for me was to drink early, often and a lot, and also be aware of how much my heart rate will raise and pace will slow due to heat alone. I’ve also added salt to my nutrition plan for hot races.