Lake Las Vegas
Three 70.3s in one season wasn’t how I originally planned my racing for 2013, but here I was, tapering down for my third and last one of the year, and feeling if not comfortable, at least familiar with the distance.
The weather was my biggest concern heading into it, because the heat in Boise was literally seared into my memory. My coach, Ben, and I talked over and over about how I might manage it better here in Las Vegas. Drinking a lot more water was the biggest thing, and then there were other small things to remember, like your palms being a cooling point and carrying ice in them. One more piece of sage hydration advice came in from him via text as my two teammates and I were boarding the plane: “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I strongly suggest no alcohol from now until the race.”
I guess we’ll just have to make up for that afterward.
For all that worry, the weather looked like it might actually be mild for Las Vegas, with temperatures in the 90s rather than the 100s. That was still hotter than Boise, but I’ll take as cool as I can get in the desert. The race would feel similar in other ways, with long desert climbs and a hot, looping run. However, this swim would be non-wetsuit, and rather than being flat and shady, the run would take us up and down exposed suburban hills of Henderson, NV.
My friend Kari and I stayed at the Green Valley Ranch in Henderson, an enormous and gorgeous golf resort. It was the first time I’d been to Las Vegas and stayed anywhere but the Strip. Henderson is tidy and suburban, with palm trees dotting the sidewalks and has a beautiful view of the the brown mountains and the faraway Strip. The race start and first transition is at Lake Las Vegas, a resort fifteen miles from Henderson, out on its own in the desert.
Well, for all that worry, race morning dawned with rain! Pouring, dumping, drumming rain. We got up at 3 AM to make sure to find parking at the space-limited start area. We sat in the car staring at the downpour, and I downed my bagel, banana, peanut butter, and a lot of water. I began to feel really nervous.
Finally, we walked to transition and set up our gear. That took us to 5:15, so we still had tons of time on our hands. We walked around some more, visited the porta-potties, found my two VO2 teammates, took some pictures, went up to the covered lake bridge to get out of the rain, and watched the pro start.
Per my race plan, I didn’t do a run warmup to avoid getting behind on hydration, but instead just used my swim cords to loosen up. Finally, it was time for us – we were wave 9 at 7:08. I stood in the corral and looked around at my comrades, the middle-aged fit women. Something was different here. Most people are in great shape in any race, but this group… I couldn’t put my finger on it at first. I watched a woman down a gel and stretch her very toned arms over her head. There wasn’t a lot of chatting going on. They were serious, they were jumpy, they were – every one of them – extremely lean and muscled. Every one of them had to get a pretty high age group place in another 70.3. I tried to reassure myself that I had done that, too.
Here we go! I feel slightly naked and not buoyant with just my swimskin on when I jump into Lake Las Vegas. The start is about a hundred yards from the swim entrance, so we have a mini-warmup to get ourselves there after we’re allowed into the water. It’s line up time. I’m a fairly fast swimmer, and before usual race starts I confidently swim myself up to the front of the pack knowing I’ll get out ahead with some of the lead swimmers, or sometimes I am the lead swimmer.
I take a few strokes, moving myself to the front, but something doesn’t give. I’m in the front, but then I’m not! A few people have taken strokes and positioned themselves in front of me. I move to the side of them to get a clear view of the water and where I’m going to go, but more women elbow me out of the way. Nobody talks or looks at each other, but there’s a lot of mild shoving going on. Wow. I remind myself again that I’m not out of my league, I just need to focus and get myself into position, somehow. I try to squeeze between two gals, who don’t look at me, and one of them blocks me with her arm. If this were a different race we’d be chatting or saying “good luck” to each other.
The countdown begins but again I’m behind the front row! The start gun goes off and I’m trapped. It’s the first time in a race that I feel like I can’t go anywhere. I try to squeeze through some swimmers, but it takes a few minutes of head-up flailing before I find a path to get out front. Then I’m off, feeling strong and getting into my rhythm, trying not to get the notoriously reddish-brown water in my mouth. (The water doesn’t actually bug me much, because it reminds me of a nice, warm Beaver Lake back home.) The course is long and banana-shaped. Once we reach the first turn buoy, I see someone in my wave that I can’t quite pass, but I can follow. I promptly get on her feet and draft her for most of the rest of the race.
Swim time: 31:35
Swim place: 6
A huge hand grabs onto my arm. I’m yanked up between two volunteers so burly they could be bouncers at a Las Vegas nightclub, and then I’m off around the bridge to transition. I try to soft-jog to prevent my HR from getting too high, but too late, it’s already 170. I grab my wet, slippery bike and slip my feet into my soaked shoes and then run up the long switchback ramp to the mounting area. No need to stop at the sunscreen station today – it’s still a downpour. I hop on my bike and repeatedly try to force my mud- clogged cleats onto my pedals. It takes forever, but once they finally attach, I’m off, still trying to be calm and relaxed. An uphill out of the Lake Las Vegas resort area is next, so I soft-pedal and finally, after the crest, get my HR where it should be. I take it easy on the first rainy descent, testing the roads, and after that I feel more comfortable. We loop out into the amazing Lake Mead rec area – a desert of craggy red rock and distant foggy mountains. The rain brings out pungent mineral scents, and the raindrops sting my face like needles. I’m actually enjoying the ride, but noticing that I’m feeling a little heavy. I don’t have the same easy-spinning energy that I had at Lake Stevens. Interesting.
The rain pours down, people get flats, a few ambulances scream by. My teammate passes me early on, asks me how I’m doing, and then says that everyone is being weenies on the downhills. They are. I’m comfortable flying down the hills and passing people, but unfortunately, every minute or two women are passing me on the flats and inclines – women in my age group. Too many of them to count.
Finally finished with the desert loop, we pass the Lake Las Vegas resorts again and head into town. The whole ride goes quickly with all the concentration needed to deal with the rain and the descents. I glance at my watch and know that I won’t make sub-three hours. When finally six miles are left through the town of Henderson, I’m relieved. However, the last miles entail a lot of climbing on tired legs and my final bike time, I realize later, is my slowest.
Nutrition on bike:
At least three and a half bottles of water/nuun and about 600 calories worth of gels.
Bike time: 3:08:17
Bike place: 49. (No wonder I lost count.)
Onto the run. The sun comes out as if on cue and the heat comes out with it. I’m prepared. I have my arm coolers in my back pocket and I know I am mostly on top of my fluids. I stop quickly at the porta-potty and sunscreen station, and then head out onto the sunny run. It begins with a downhill and I’m already feeling better than Boise. No digestive issues, and I’m feeling, if not strong, at least competent. The run is three loops through residential Henderson consisting of two out-and-backs with the center near the finish line. Each direction has a long uphill and a long downhill. I love the format. Before I know it, I am finished with each branch of the loop and the miles click by. On each loop I see my teammates. One is about ten minutes ahead, and one is five minutes behind. I know she’ll pass me, as the run is her strength, and I didn’t think I’d catch the other one (the speedy descending queen from the bike leg), as she looked very strong and solid. Spectators, yelling, cheering, waving signs, and some dressed in crazy outfits line the entire course. It’s very hard to keep my HR down to 165. It creeps up on the uphills or when the sun is especially strongly beating down. I relax on the uphills and try to ease quickly down the downhills. I drink two cups, per Ben’s advice, at each of the many aid stations. I use ice in my palms and my arm coolers. I drink a few cups of coke after the halfway mark, which sits well. My stomach feels great. I know I’m not going to be fast, but the course is hilly and hot, so I’m fine with it.
When the finish finally arrives, I’m elated, then disappointed and drained. I know it’s not my best race, and I’m not sure why. I nearly pass out waiting for pictures and food. I finally force down some chicken and fruit, find some shade and my teammates, and start to feel better.
Nutrition on run:
2 cups each aid station (coke after mile 6), three gels. Two endurolytes around mile 8.
Run time: 1:57:14
Total time: 5:44:52
Final Place: 60
I admit I was discouraged with my time and placing, especially on the bike leg. But I was truly thrilled to have been able to make it here and compete with so many amazing athletes. I owe a huge thanks to Ben for his intelligent and insightful coaching which got me to a place where I can qualify for not only for these 70.3 Worlds, but also for Team USA next year, not to mention feeling great the entire season and staying injury free. I’m also thankful for my completely, 100%, supportive family who encourage me to do these incredible races, because they know how much I love it.
My friend and I capped off the day at Lindo Michoacan, a restaurant that claims the “best bar” in Henderson. We looked out over the entire valley and the Strip, drank a couple margaritas and ate house-made guacamole and chips. After that, we went back to Green Valley, lounged in a cabana under the once-again clear desert sky to write up the race reports and reflect on the end to a great season.