11 September 2012

Vegas 70.3 World Championships - Race Report

While I wish the saying What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas could apply to anything having to do with my race last Sunday (because I'd kind of like to forget about it altogether), I'm sure there are nuggets of wisdom and learning buried in there somewhere.  And sometimes the progress and growth you make as an athlete comes from difficult experiences and disappointments.

Pre-race: the mental stuff.
I got a slot to Vegas last year when I did 70.3 Galway.  I had come in 8th in my AG and before the race I told myself that I could go to the rolldown if I was in the top 10.  I managed to nab a slot and looked at this as a once-in-a-lifetime sort of opportunity.  Kind of the way one might look at qualifying for the Boston Marathon - the goal is to qualify and once you are there the goal is to enjoy the experience.  I knew going into 70.3 Vegas that this would be a super stacked field and that coming in anywhere near the top would basically take an act of God (as in God striking down all of my competitors with bolts of lightening until I was the only one left standing).  Walking around the Expo in the days leading up to the race was intimidating.  Heck, walking around Whole Foods, surrounded by sweaty fit people wearing spandex and carrying giant jugs of water and handfuls of bananas, cleaning out the bagel section - THAT was intimidating.  The best triathletes in the world had descended on Henderson, Nevada.  Many of them, no doubt, looking at this race as simply a tune-up for Kona.  Meanwhile there I was, buying anything emblazoned with World Championships 70.3 because who knows when I would get the chance to compete in a race like this again (as if I needed another IM-brand hoodie.  Seriously.)  It was also hot out and I'm not the greatest competitor in the heat.  And when I say hot out, I mean triple-digit heat.  I feel like when the number of digits in the temperature exceeds the number of digits for race distance, that could be somewhat problematic.  The day before the race I took this lovely temperature photo:

Doesn't this just make you want to ride your bike?
I drove the bike and run course on Friday so I would have an idea what I was in for.  The verdict - I better really like sun, appreciate the lack of shade, and enjoy looking at desert scenery (actually, the desert scenery was quite pretty).  The swim was in Lake Las Vegas, a resort area on the outskirts of Henderson.  T1 was located by the lake and once you jump on your bike, you head out to bike about 30+ miles in the nearby National Park (Lake Mead National Park?).  The last 16 miles of the bike course take you into downtown Henderson, NV where you find T2 in the middle of a pretty neighborhood and proceed to run the 3-loop run course (which started to feel like 2 mile hill repeats, I am not kidding).

Scenes from the bike course.  There's a lake in the distance.

More bike course

In short, I didn't have PR-aspirations for this race.  In fact, I didn't really know what my aspirations were.  I wanted to finish well, but what was going to be my definition of that since a PR was out of the question and I likely wasn't going to be anywhere near the top of the field?  Anything under six hours?  How about not melting into a sweaty puddle on the sidewalk?  Or wanting to still do triathlons after this race?  Or not coming in last?  Actually, none of the latter items really crossed my mind.  I had looked at the results from previous years and saw that the majority of people had come in within the 5 hour range, so I figured I could easily do that.  I hadn't gone over six hours since I did Savageman in 2009 and that race has billed itself as the hardest half ironman in the country so going sub-6 at Vegas should be cake, right?  Hmmmmm, not so much.

The swim: 37:28.
Well, the day didn't start off on a high note with a relatively slow swim (spoiler alert: this is going to be a theme - NONE of my splits were even close to fast).  Actually, I take that back, there was a bit of a high note - as we were standing in line with our wave, waiting to enter the swim start corral, the pro men came flying by us on their way to their bikes in T2.  We had a perfect, unobstructed view, and I fully enjoyed the three minutes of eye candy.  OK, so THAT was the high note of the day.  On to the rest of the race.  It was an in-water start, right in front of the pedestrian bridge that went over the water (very Florence, Italy-esque).  It was a pretty neat place to start and I spent a little time flipped over on my back looking at all the spectators crowded onto the bridge and the hotel guests standing on their balconies above them, all watching the swim start.  The water was hot, definitely not wetsuit legal.  It was a simple course to follow, one loop - swim out, then swim back in and it basically followed the shore.  Unfortunately, we were swimming into the sun on the way out, but that's life.  On the way out, I managed to stay in the mix with my wave.  The water was murky so it was tough to see feet in front of me to draft off of, but every time I breathed, I saw that I was surrounded by my fellow purple-capped women.  We rounded the turn buoy and then headed back in.  It was right about here that I was dropped off the pack and ended up swimming the rest of it alone.  I put in a few surges here and there to try to bridge the gap and catch the girls in front of me, but the gap size remained the same.  I kept reminding myself that this was a competitive race and EVERYONE is a good swimmer so keeping up is going to be a bit more difficult.  I put in a final surge at the end before I made it to the swim exit.  I was disappointed with my swim time, but the swim was over and it was time to move on to the bike.

T1: I haven't looked at my time, nor do I plan to - it was a long run to T1 and a long run with my bike out of T1.

The Bike: 3:10:27
Holy hell.  Hi slow bike time, it's not really nice to see you and after our rendez-vous on Sunday, you're never invited back again.
My plan was to take it easy for the first 25ish miles, to the turnaround point in the National Park, and then try to pick up the pace for the back half of the bike ride if I was feeling good.  I wanted to negative split this ride and be smart about it.  There was a long uphill after you left T1 so I had my bike in an easy gear and spun up it, getting passed right and left by guys and girls alike.  I kept my ego in check and didn't try to chase anyone.  I put a cap of 155 on my heart rate so I wouldn't implode.  I kept an eye on my cadence the whole time, keeping things around 85-90rpms in an effort not to kill my legs.  I remembered how not fun it was to be dehydrated during IM Lake Placid so I made it a point to take three giant gulps of water from my aerobottle every 5 minutes.  I also downed a saltstick tab every 20 minutes and for the first two hours I was knocking back a Hammer gel every 15 minutes.  I was probably a bit overzealous with the Hammer gels (I think I was still in an Ironman nutrition mindset) but I didn't want to bonk either so I went with the belief that more is better (note: more is not always better).  I'm not a big drinker so I was quite proud of myself for polishing off more than 4 waterbottles worth of fluids during the bike ride.  This was my only PR-setting for the day.  On the way out to the turnaround, I felt like I was moving so slooooowly.  I was spinning up the hills, trying not to burn my legs out, but I felt like I should've been going much faster based on how hard I felt like I was working.  People were cruising by me and sadly the only people I was passing were the 60+ year old women in the waves ahead of me.  Every time I passed a water stop I remembered Jen's advice and grabbed water to both drink and dump all over me to keep cool.  By the time I hit the turnaround, it was starting to feel warm.  The way back after the turnaround felt much easier and went by alot faster, so I think there was a definite false flat on the way out.  When I reached Mile 45, I managed to hit one of the reflectors embedded in the road, knocking my rear tire out of alignment.  At first I thought I got a flat, but then I realized the awful noise and bumps were being caused by the tire rubbing against the brakes.  I stopped and quickly fixed this and continued on my way.  I don't know if the stop caused me to lose momentum and motivation or if it was simply that the last 10 miles of the course were demoralizing; either way, I felt slow as molasses, the sun was hot, the last few miles were uphill, and I was really tired of being on my bike.  I had stopped looking at my watch to track my time a long time ago.  I'd basically shifted into survival mode.  I was feeling pretty full from all the drinks and 9+ gels I had eaten (a bit excessive, I'm now realizing).  Oh, the one major accomplishment of the bike ride - I managed to get my feet out of my shoes and dismount shoeless and without falling over.

T2: Major accomplishment - I peed.  Dehydration was not going to happen today!

The run: 2:13:22
The run was basically the Ironman shuffle without the excuse of a full Ironman.  I left T2 and my stomach was unhappy, being so full of fluids and gels I think.  I had decided I wasn't going to stare at my pace, or even my overall time.  I was going to run this as well as I could in the heat.  My main goal became not walking.  I did walk a few of the aid stations to get in fluids and calories (because guess what brilliant racer forgot ALL of her nutrition in her T2 bag.  On the upside, it was gels and now I had an excuse not to eat any more gels).  I dumped water on myself at each aid station to cool off.  I walked once at mile 3 (what is it with awful mile 3) because I was dry heaving on the side of the road.  Again.  And I walked once at the beginning of my third lap because I was tired and cranky and wanted to spend as much time moving through the misting tent as possible.  Other than that, it was all running.  Little victories.  The run was basically a four mile loop run three times.  It was up and down a hill in a neighborhood.  Most of it was unshaded and it was as hot as Hades on the pavement.  My pace was dismally slow and I didn't even care at that point.  I would've liked to run faster on the downhills but the jostling was bothering my stomach so I simply ran a pace I could tolerate.  I saw Melanie out on the course and she looked strong and fresh, like she was just out for a run and hadn't swam or biked earlier.    I was pretty thrilled when the finish line came in sight.

Like an oasis in the desert
I finished in 6:09:58.  Pretty far away from a PR.  Actually, much closer to my personal worst time for this distance.  I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about the race.  The heat took alot out of me, more than I expected it would.  My legs aren't super sore right now, so that makes me wonder if I worked hard enough out there, but then I remember how my legs were protesting those last few miles of the race and I don't know if I could've gotten much more out of them that day.  If anything, this race has made me want to buckle down and work harder so my next half will be much closer to a PR than a PW.  

Overall, even though I am not thrilled with any of my splits or my finish time, I'm glad I went and did this race.  It was an honor to be there racing with some of the fastest age groupers in the world.  I know, looking at the results, that I wasn't the only one to have a rough day out there, it looks like a number of people had a hard day.  It makes me feel a little better to know that I wasn't alone in that.  I'm still trying to figure out the take-away lessons that I learned from this race.  An as hard as this race was, I want to someday go back there and give it another go - only this time, have more confidence in myself and really race like I belong there.  I had a great time racing with old friends and meeting new friends.  By far, this is the best part of racing.  Melanie had a great day out there and so did Andy - running himself all the way to 6th in his AG by the end.  

Melanie and I in front of the fake Tour Eiffel on the Vegas Strip



Mindy Ko said...

Sounds like you ran through a furnace! Congrats on the bike dismount - shoeless! Can't wait to track you in Poconos :)

Jon said...

Holy crap that race looks hard! Way to grunt through it. If you qualified for it again, would you do it again?

Beth said...

That sounds hot and terrible. I heard that on average people were about 25 minutes slower than their usual 70.3 time, so a 6:10 really isn't too bad.

Congrats on GETTING THERE and competing with the best of the best!

Anonymous said...

It may not have been your favorite race, but it was your best race report yet! Way to battle through the furnace, g/f! --Kendra

Katie said...

ugh. this makes me want to go crawl in a freezer. you deserve extra cupcakes.

William Hancock said...

Way to battle through the race! I can certainly empathize with the IronMan shuffle and don't feel bad b/c I did that at an OLY!

Congrats on qualifying - next time will be better.