May 3, 2014
My friend and I stared at the red cliffs in the distance, lit up by the 90-degree sun. “I hope we’re ready. We’re going to be out there a long time tomorrow,” she said.
Maybe the view of mountains baking in the sun, or maybe gusts of hot wind when we got off the plane, or the knowledge that this was one of the toughest 70.3s out there – I was starting to feel nervous. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t get my head in the game for this race, couldn’t picture myself getting up the next day and putting my entire physical bodily effort into hours under the sun. It seemed completely impossible.
Ironman St. George has hills, unpredictable weather, and lots of competition. If I wanted to start off the year with a little “test” of my training, it was perfect, and somewhere under the nerves, I was definitely excited for it.
Sometimes I just have to have faith that my nerves are a byproduct of loving this racing thing and wanting to do my best, and if given enough time and allowed to follow enough of a routine, the worst of it will pass. Three days ago I was beyond excited to travel to the desert again to race. My daughter once asked me why I would race if I feel stressed and nervous beforehand. It’s a good question; one I’ve asked myself before. I said that because the positive emotions – joy, sense of community, overcoming obstacles, realizing a goal – are so worth it that some tension beforehand is a price I’m willing to pay.
Anyway, I finally shook the bad feeling, or I should say, my friend shook it for me, by cracking me up over dinner so that that the nerves had nothing to do but disappear. So, I was able to go to sleep truly anticipating the next day in the best way possible.
On race morning, we got up at four o’clock, ate in the Best Western lobby, whose awesome staff set out an early breakfast for the athletes. We walked over and dropped our run gear in the bike-to-run transition in the historic downtown and then hopped aboard the shuttle to arrive at the reservoir with about an hour to set up the swim-to-bike transition. The sun rose in almost perfectly clear sky while I pumped my tires and went over my race plan. Then, it was time to do the run warmup, swim band warmup, drop off the morning clothes bag and zip up the wetsuit. The reservoir water was calm, deep blue, and, I knew from the previous day, would feel cold. The course stretched out in a long u-shape around the back side of a rocky island. The announcer said the water was 60 degrees.
As soon as the wave ahead of us went off, we were allowed to swim from the shore to the start buoys a hundred yards away. With thirty seconds to go, I had lots of space and turned to see that some of my wave was still swimming toward the start. At the gun, I kicked forward, into the sun. After a few sightings, I was on my own and swimming hard but had no idea where I was going. With the sun in my face I couldn’t catch sight of any object, until finally I realized I was too far to the left, near the kayakers. The first buoy was way to the right. I corrected my aim and swam on. Once we turned and began the long stretch behind the red rock island, I could see better and swam buoy to buoy. I finally began to feel warmed up and relaxed. By the last buoys, I could hear the cheers of the spectators on shore.
Swim finish: 29:02
Division place: 2
I jogged up the exit ramp, pulled my arms from my suit, and plopped down by the wetsuit strippers who yanked it over my ankles. Wetsuit in hand, I ran to transition, trying to remain calm as I arrived at my bike. After getting sunburned in at the Boise 70.3 last year, I’d decided to wear a sun shrug. I grabbed it and stuck my arms in. Even though it had worked the day before, now, of course, it was taking me forever to stuff my arms into it. One side of it ripped a little as I shoved an arm in. I jumped on my bike with the thing only halfway on. It cost me a minute or more to struggle with it and I lost a few places in transition.
Onto the bike and an uphill highway to start. My HR was high as usual. My power meter read in the 150s but jumped around. I let the HR stay at a high rate for about 20 minutes, past the first hill and then some rolls. It began to drop to the range it needed to be. The ride was longish hills and some flats before the canyon climb. I relaxed and spun whenever there was a relative flat and felt pretty darn good. I worked through water and food. I’d forgotten my nuun at the start, so made sure I was also popping salt pills. The temperature was climbing fast and was glad now that I had the shoulder cover.
At around mile 35, we turned into the resort town of Ivins, made up of red adobe buildings that matched the red hills behind them, and then I found myself in Snow Canyon park. I could see the snaking line of riders winding up between the huge red and white cliffs and sage brush. At first, it didn’t look very steep, but I soon realized it was, as my computer showed that I hovered under 10 MPH. Forty minutes later I reached the top and then dropped into aero-position for an amazing, screaming downhill. Due to the crowds on the course, it was difficult to go as fast as I wanted to. (I was geared well for the climb with my 12-27, but spun out on the downhills.) Parts of the ride were windy, so I was also glad I’d gone with my 404 rather than disc.
Bike finish: 3:01:53
Bike place: 14
T-2: Bike to run transition was quick. Quick stop at the porta potty and then I was off, feeling pretty excellent.
The temps were climbing and the run began with a slight grade through downtown, so I just made sure to stay relaxed and give myself a mile or two to get the run muscles working. I rounded the corner at the end of downtown and… wow. I felt myself deflate. A baking, uphill highway stretched out ahead of me, with people crawling (it seemed) up it. Gone was the slight grade. I knew there was a hill, but good thing I hadn’t studied the course elevation too closely. No good would have come of me dreading this. I moved on forward, slogging up the hill, keeping my HR in check, wondering if I could walk faster. Thankfully, the aid stations came quickly every mile, with awesome volunteers and tons to do: get two cups water, throw ice down my top, squeeze a sponge on my arm coolers, and grab more ice water to pour on my head. Once all of that was done, I would fish out a few pieces of ice from my top and hold in my palms. Once that melted, I’d take in a gel or some salt. It seemed to be a pretty good system and things stayed bearable. At around mile four, I noticed runners funneling into a little canyon park. Oh good, I think, we can get off this hot pavement for a bit. It looks nice, trails and change of scenery. As soon as I stepped into it though, I knew it wasn’t going to be as comforting as it sounded. It was steep, hot, sandy, and narrow. We repeated this challenge around mile 9 on our way back. However, after that, things were looking up quickly. The good thing about the uphill at the start is that it made it downhill at the finish, and I saw my first shade in five hours – a couple of small trees off to the side of the road. I veered toward them, catching some shade and some mist from a sprinkler. Then I sped it up (or tried to) for the last couple of miles, glad to be done and feeling pretty good.
Run time: 1:58:31
Run pace: 9:02
Finish time 5:37:25
Division place: 16
Dinner – take out chicken and rice from Japanese restaurant
Breakfast – Bagel, peanut butter, banana, coffee, lots of water
Pre-swim – water, Powerbar, 1/2 of a 5-hour energy
Bike – 4 bottles water, six gels (3 caffeinated), 5 salt
Run – 2 cups water every mile, 2 gels total (one caffeinated), 4-5 salt caps
Ironman 70.3 St. George, with its hills, wind and unpredictable weather lived up to its reputation, but also confirmed that I’ve learned some things from last years’ hot races – Boise and Las Vegas. I assumed it would hurt, that it would be extreme, that I would be out there for a long time, but I was happy that I felt prepared for it.
Quads very sore on Sunday, went for a short hike in Zion but really couldn’t walk downhill without flinching. Monday, feeling better and went for a swim and hot tub at the hotel pool. Soreness almost gone Tuesday morning. Went for a 50 minute ride around St. George and although didn’t push it, felt recovered enough for an easy workout. I’ve had intermittent headaches and afternoon sleepiness. Tuesday evening, I feel nearly back to normal, but a bad cold completely knocked me out by Thursday.