Monday, September 19, 2011

RACE REPORT: Ironman 70.3 World Championship

Here it is... (finally).  
My race report for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada.

You already know how Thursday, Friday, and the self-conscious bike check-in on Saturday went, so let's jump right into race day Sunday.

The alarm was set for 3AM.  As usual, I banked on giving my body about an hour to wake up before heading out at 4AM.  In typical fashion, however, I woke up at 2:30AM and sat there resting for a half hour before getting up.  I had my breakfast - oatmeal with honey, strawberries, grapes, multivitamin, and airborne.  I packed all my gear up, got my sister up, and headed out into the cool 70 degree pre-dawn morning of Nevada.  I had left myself 20 to 30 minutes to drive down to T1, but given that I'm OCD about getting there when it opens (and not many other people do), it only took 10-15 minutes.  We stood around for a bit while they finished constructing the Bike Out ramp and then headed into transition.

Given my youthful age, my bike was racked all the way at the back of transition.  I got the tires inflated, took the plastic bags off of my seat/handlebars, filled up my water bottles, reorganized my bike bag, and started stretching.  In hindsight, I really didn't need to get there as early as I did (I had way too much time to sit around), but everything went smoothly so I was happy.

At 5:55AM, they started corralling us out of transition.  I dropped off my morning bag, but hung onto my fruit for snacking and my sweatshirt.  I WAS in Nevada, but at 6AM, it was still only about 75 degrees and I had two hours to wait around.

They lined us up on the shore of Lake Las Vegas and at 6:30AM, the male pros started their race.  We got to watch Andy Potts exit the water first as well as plenty of other competitors.  It was interesting watching the front end of transition empty out and the listen to the announcer give us bike course updates on the men's race when we haven't even started the swim yet.  One good thing about getting older is less time to wait until you start your race.  However, I found out from another competitor that they swap the order in Europe - youngest goes first.

Anyways...  7:50AM came around, I threw my sweatshirt and fruit to my sister who was hanging out at the swim entrance and dove into the water.  Let me tell you...  they may have told us that the water temp was 80, but it felt a lot cooler than that; a welcomed surprise.

I swam around a bit to warm up and acclimate to the water before standing near the rocks under the bridge.  After the group ahead of us had gone off, they called us to the line.  While we waited, I kept noticing that the front line was creeping forward - beyond the start line.  I didn't hear about this until after, but apparently the kayaker int he picture below hit a competitor on the head because he kept creeping forward.  Another reason to start mid-pack!

At 8:00AM PST, we were off!

My goal for the swim was to not start out too fast, which is what happened in Rhode Island.  I also wanted to stay closer to the buoys, so I sighted more often.  I had started my 15 minute timer on my watch one minute before we started; my hope was to make the turn around before it went off.  The swim out went well; I stayed to the right, hugged the buoys, and made it around one of two red turn-around buoys before my watch went off; PERFECT!  I was in a rhythm and felt great.  On the way back, I didn't sight as often and ended up drifting to the left (repeat from Rhode Island).  I did my best to realign myself with the bridge and kicked it up a notch figuring I might have added a bit of time by going off course.  My watch went off again prior to making it back to the bridge.  I had really hoped to make it under the bridge before that happened. With the thought of a slower swim time, I kicked up my pace.  The buoys were every 100m and with three left to go, I figured I could burn the rest of my arms and still be fine.

I exited the water, took off towards transition and hit my watch as I crossed the timing mat.

Watch time: 35:25
Actual time: 35:28
Div: 62/89 

It wasn't my goal (34:59), but I was still happy to have essentially kept pace with Rhode Island and feel better going into the bike.

From the swim exit to T1, we had a nice 0.2-0.3 mile run.  The day before it took me 1:00 to jog it.  I began thinking T1, despite having a changing tent with volunteers helping you change, was going to take longer than I wanted.

I ran out of the water, around the lake's edge making sure to not slip on the muddy tracks, grabbed my bag, and headed into the changing tent.  The great part about the WC, is that they do everything so well.  I dropped my swim gear, emptied my bag and a volunteer came right over and started organizing my gear - helmet and sunglasses together, shoes and socks together, and wet goggles/cap set aside.  I dried my feet, rolled my socks on (whoever it was that gave me the idea for rolling the socks up like a condom - that was AWESOME!), slipped my shoes on, had help putting my shirt on, and grabbed everything else as I took off.  The volunteers put everything back in the bag for me.

THANK YOU to all of the volunteers.

I grabbed my bike, ran out the Bike Exit and up the horrible hill.  I spotted my sister on the way up, but she didn't even recognize me at first.  I ran up to the mount line which was blocked by two other riders standing on the line mounting their bikes.  One noticed me behind him and scooted over just enough for me to run through.  I ran over the line, jumped on the bike, and was off.  Behind me I heard "Nice flying mount!"  Hey, if I can't win the race, I might as well take style points where I can get 'em.  =P

Those are the two guys I ran right in between.  I'm right in front of the guy in blue in this picture.
Watch Time: 3:49
Actual Time: 3:47

I'll start the bike by saying that this was the most mentally challenging portion of a race I've ever faced.

The first mile out of Lake Las Vegas was a steady incline.  Once out on Lake Mead Parkway, it was much better.  During the race briefing, they had mentioned "there is no flat spot on this course."  When I drove the last third of the course on Saturday, I called BS.  Well, when I entered Lake Mead Park, which was the 40 mile section of the course I hadn't checked, I found what they were talking about.  For 40 miles, it was either 30+ or 10 mph.  The downhills were SCREAMING!, but the uphills were pure torture.  They very much succeeded in making this a tough course.

Anyways...  It hadn't hit me until I was standing next to Lake Las Vegas waiting to start the swim that this was the World Championship.  What I mean is, 99% of the people here qualified by making 1st or 2nd in their age group; aka. I'm going to be very slow compared to these people.  I had naively presumed that I'd have plenty of other older age group racers to pass on the bike.  That wasn't gonna' happen.  Once out on the bike course, I even started keeping track of how many people passed me.  I got up to 20 something and then lost count.

I was also the only one with a cycling jersey.  One person went with no shirt, one had a full sleeve, but everyone else had the triathlon jersey.

The first 40 miles was an out-and-back.  On the way out, I saw plenty of riders on the other side of the road.  Once I hit the turn around I thought "Ok, now let's see how many are behind me."  From my recollection, there were 8.  I was truly at the back of the pack.  Start the mental games!  What seemed like a very busy bike course now seemed quite desolate.  And to add to the toughness, around mile 32, I got a flat tire.

I pulled out a CO2 and reinflated.  It went flat again.  I took off the tire, pulled the tube out, replaced it, put the tire back on, and a tech guy reinflated it.  It went flat again.  He took the entire thing apart and found that the tape inside the rim had a rip in it allowing the tube to rub against a sharp edge.  He ripped the tape off, replaced it, put a new tube on, put it all back together, reinflated it.  It held; I was good to go.  We packed back up, put the tire back on the bike and I was off.  During this endeavor, I had noticed that my watch had stopped; I must have hit it at some point.  My guess is that this stop took about 15 minutes.  It had also let at least 6 of the bikers behind me to zip by.  I only knew of one definite biker who was still behind me and she was being followed by a police bike, so I assumed she was the last one.

As I rode off, I realized that the last biker to go by was probably 5 minutes ahead and that there was no one in sight.  I was completely on my own in the Nevada desert.  THAT makes a race real tough!

I trudged along doing the best I could to watch my speed instead of the long road.  I knew what paces I had kept on the way out and I figured attempting to keep those paces on the way back was the best way for me to fight the empty road.  I did that for about 15 minutes while I battled the idea of just giving up.  Did I actually ever consider doing it?, NO.  But it crossed my mind.  Then as I crested the next hill I saw something up ahead; another biker.  "It couldn't be!" I thought to myself.  I kicked up the gear and took off.  Having someone to pass, a small goal to work towards, brought me out of my mental despair.  Not long after that I passed a couple more riders.  I felt like Chrissie Wellington when she got a flat tire in Kona; she still came back and won.  Now, I knew I wasn't going to win, but it felt like a comeback either way.

We exited Lake Mead Park and I hit aid station #3.  I still stand by my previous THANK YOU to all the volunteers, but will take this moment to point out that towards the end of the race, they did start slacking.  I hit the aid station and grabbed a water.  I could tell it was chilled, so I opened it, sprayed my head and back, and dropped it.  I only needed one bottle and that one was half empty now.  I came to the end, yelled "Water!" again and heard one kid (yes, a teenager) say "Fuck."  They only had Perform at that end though they were supposed to have water as well.  Oh-well.  I pulled out my other water bottle and filled the aerobottle with what warm water I had left.  I pushed on knowing that the hills would end in the next few miles and I'd be back in my own element, flat ground, soon enough.

In the last 10-15 miles, I picked off a few more riders and realized that my previous position on multiple loop courses may have been biased.  Previously, I had concluded that I prefer single loop courses because it keeps things fresh and avoids the mental game of knowing what lies ahead.  As I approached the end of the bike course, I realized that one benefit I had overlooked was that the racers in the back of the pack still get to run with everyone else on multiple loop courses; they're not doomed to be alone for the rest of the race.

I hit T2, handed off my bike, ran into the changing tent, and thankfully said good riddance to the bike course!

Watch time: 3:06:30
(plus stopped time)
Actual time: 3:22:59
(I didn't hit my watch until part way out on the run, 
so we know then that my watch was stopped for over. 16:30)
DIV: 88/89

In the changing tent, the volunteers again were amazing.  They emptied my bag, asked me what I needed, and sat silently helpful while I didn't say anything.  I was thankfully back in "I can still hit goals in this race" mode and just did what I needed to do.  I pulled off my cycling jersey and helmet, grabbed all my run gear, and ran out of transition half dressed.  The rule is that you have to wear a shirt at all times, but they'll let you run without it for awhile out of transition.  I took the first 400m or so to put my nutrition in my pockets and get my headband on.  Then I finally put my shirt on.  I figure it saves me time either way; I did the same thing in Rhode Island.

Actual time: 1:19

My goal was under a minute and if I had been ready for it, it would have been no problem, but I had forgot to put bodyglide on my arpits in the morning.  I ran out of T2 with it, opened it, and fond it was in pieces, so I said "F this" and went back to put it in my bag.  That probably took the extra 19 seconds.  Oh-well.

Overall, I learned / re-learned a few good lessons on the run.  First, leaving my shirt rolled up around my chest makes for a great place to put ice!  Ladies, this is one aspect in which I envy your bra.  Second, racing me thinks he's smarter than non-racing me, but in reality racing me just has his mind going in a million directions; I need to follow my preset plans better, especially with nutrition.  Third, starting out with a slower pace definitely helped maintain consistency right to the finish line!  Lastly, multiple loop courses can be beneficial. 

The rolled up shirt REALLY does work!  It may not look great, but other than the spectator in the orange sports bra I didn't give a hoot.

Temperature check - it was just over 90 degrees when I started the run.

I take off out of transition, get dressed, and run past aid station #1.  It came so quickly after transition that I opted to not take anything.  I drank just before entering transition, so I didn't need to waste time for a mile or two.  I rounded the corner and headed down Paseo Verde Parkway, a slight decline.  I purposefully started at a slower pace in hopes that I wouldn't bonk this time around.  I found out later that I was at a 7:25 pace for the first ~1.2 miles; it's funny how paces feel slower than they are at that point in a race.  About half a mile later I hit aid station #2.  Knowing how much water I drank at the end of Rhode Island and how it made me feel better, I stopped, grabbed two or three waters, chugged 'em, and ran on.  Despite not wanting to stop, I would make a stop at every aid station to drink 2-3 cups of water and toss a cup of ice in my shirt.  I'd find out later on that water wasn't what I needed.

After the aid station, it was an incline back to Library road before heading out to the second turn around which was up the bigger hill.  I knew this was probably going to kill my mental game, but I played it anyways.  Instead of thinking of making it all the way up the hill (a mile long hill seems like forever after 4 hours of racing), I chose the firehydrant, the street sign, the spectators, a bush, anything that was within 100 yards to focus on.  I'd make it to that and pick another thing.  I still don't know how my mind is able to fool itself with this game, but to be honest, as long as it works I don't care how it does.  I made it up the Paseo Verde hill and into aid station #3.  Three more waters, ice, and I'm off again.

As I exited Library road onto Green Valley Parkway, I could see all the way up the perfectly straight hill.  Walking it would take FOREVER and kill my time.  I again started playing my mental games and maintained my slower pace.  Half way up, they had an aid station - two waters, ice, and off again.  I made it to the top of the hill, hit the turn around, and then enjoyed the glorious downhill.

Now, apart from the race, during the entire first lap I had been searching the spectators for my sister.  I had left her at T1 without a sure way over to the finish line, so after not seeing her on the first lap, I started worrying that she was stuck at T1.  As I headed back out on Paseo Verde Parkway again, I resigned myself to dealing with that later; there was nothing I could do about it now.   It wasn't until half way through loop #2 that I spotted her.  Phew!  That was a relief.

As you know, I was very worried about A) the multiple loop course killing me mentally and B) hitting the wall.  I can't say exactly why this multiple loop course had little effect on me, but I was happy for it.  I ran each lap knowing what was coming and not dreading it.  Yay!  Unfortunately, I did end up hitting a wall.

On my second trip up Green Valley Parkway, I was happy to feel that I was maintaining my pace and actually passing some people despite the fact that they were probably on their last lap.  It wasn't until I headed out on loop #3 that I felt like I was really at the back of the pack.  I watched a lot of people ahead of me make a left into the finisher's chute as I kept right for my last loop.  This loop was much more bare; fewer racers, much less spectators, the radio group who had been blasting music was packing up, the groups of screaming spectators were gone.  When I got to the 2nd aid station at the bottom of the 1st hill, the wall hit me!

I walked through the aid station, took my water and my ice, and continued to walk another 0.25 miles up the hill.  My body just wanted to rest.  I started running again and made it half a mile before I walked.  After a few minutes, I started thinking. I had hit another wall, why?!

Well...  Despite having taken in lots of water, I had ignored my original plan of taking a Clif gel on every loop.  For some reason, racing me decided that it wasn't worth the risk.  I've experimented with lots of gels and most of them have odd textures, require lots of water to get down, or just taste weird.  I didn't want that to ruin my day.  While I was walking up the hill, I pulled out a gel and thought "Why not?  It couldn't ruin anything at this point."  I took the gel and found it rather delicious and easy to go down  No duh Kurt!  You drive to a specific bike shop in CT to get that ONE type of gel because it's the only one you like - IDIOT!  I looked ahead and knew I wasn't far from the next aid station.  I took off.  At the aid station, I took my water and ice, but then someone offered me pretzels and potato chips.  I took a bunch of chips.  Let me tell you now that I have never tasted anything as delicious as those chips did at that very moment.

Ding Ding! 
You idiot, you wiped out your electrolytes.  
That's why you hit the wall!

I rounded back onto my last out-and-back, made my way up the hill, stopped at the aid station to get my usual and then was disappointed to find they didn't have more chips.  I took half a Power Bar instead and kept on running.  At the top of the hill I saw a Marine's Hummer.  I pretended to try hitch-hiking and we had a good laugh.  That was the icing on the cake!  I turned to head back downhill and I was golden.  I ran right through the aid station only taking a cup of ice - directly into my shirt - and kept running right into the finisher's chute.  I even heard a guy at the bottom of the hill yell out "Way to use the hill to pick up the speed!"  I had been an idiot for two laps, but at least now I have an experience to pull from for how to eat on the run.

As I entered the finisher's chute, I pulled my shirt down, took off my headband, and crossed the line in full stride.

Run Time: 2:09:12
DIV: 87/89

Overall Time: 6:12:45
DIV: 87/89

I would leave you with an image of me in high spirits and great physical condition, but that just wouldn't be the bloggers way, especially since my sister has photographic proof for the contrary.

Yes, I had help over to the finisher's area.  haha  I didn't collapse though.  I got the finisher's picture...

...some food, a massage, talked to some guys in my age group I had met that morning, and then headed out to find mi hermana.

All-in-all, this race tested my mental game more than any other and I learned a lot.

Things I Learned:
  1. Don't forget bodyglide on the armpits - you'll end up with bad chaffing
  2. Power Bar Energy Bars are too dry and won't work during a race.  Gotta' find something new.
  3. Ironman Perform does not go over well in my stomach.  Gatorade Endurance does.  I'll have to carry extra powder with me on the bike.
  4. I need to take my pre-race Aleve right before swimming.  Taking it 2 hours before allows it to wear off.
  5. I need to carry disposable water bottles on the bike.  Refilling my bottles is bothersome.
  6. Stick to nutrition plans!  Take nutrients EARLY on the run.
  7. Clif lemon-lime gels are delicious and go down easily.  
  8. Rolling up your shirt offers a great ice container.
  9. Mental games work.  I don't know how, but who cares!

Stay fit.  Stay healthy.  Stay safe. 


Matthew Smith said...

Great race report! Man, it sounds like an incredibly tough day. The heat. The flat tire. The single loop course. The extremely fast competitors. But, YOU DID IT! Congratulations! Way to go, Kurt. That's something to be proud of. Great job!

Chris @ Heavy Steps said...

Great race report. I worked the Branson Ironman yesterday and loved it. I have set a goal, 2013 is the year I do my own 70.3! GREAT JOB!

SupermomE13 said...

GREAT JOB!!! You have to be so proud for sticking with it and not giving up under tough conditions. The mental game is HUGE and a lot of people who have crumbled where you stayed strong. Awesome! :)

Anonymous said...

Wow - wait to fight through a lot of tough parts of that race! I think I would have given up with the flat tire issues for sure.

You should feel so proud that you did so well on that big stage! Congratulations!!

it's all about pace said...

nice sowing of fortitude... you kept it together despite some tough circumstaces... and learned some good lessons... I've been there BTW... last out of the water at IMFL.. and 2 flats


ajh said...

Great job and great race report. What's next or is it too soon to say?

Coy Martinez said...

Great great job!! Wow!! I read every word, almost like I was there! Oh the flat tire! How tough that must have been. I would have had an anxiety attach watching people pass. You look great with that medal on!

I think you and I are a bit the same when it comes to fueling. I have to plan really carefully so I don't hit the wall.

Unknown said...

Great Job! It was hot and you didn't give up!! Keep practicing nutrition! It took me 5 years to get it right!! :)

Quix said...

Quite inspiring! Way to push through tough conditions. Congrats!!!

And I hear ya on nutrition. I thought I had it all down but it's way easier in retrospect. I had a HUGE bonk on a run this weekend and had the brick of my life yesterday. Difference? A little bit of sugar to keep me going.

TriGirl said...

Gripping report!! I loved your references to Chrissie Wellington :) I do the same mental game when running and it works! Hope you're basking in your success :)

dsmith1031 said...

Kurt- Congratulations on finishing the World Championships!

A suggestion for you based on your lessons learned specifically 3 and 5. Get yourself a rear hydration mount (profile design and xlab both make ones at various price points). You can carry up to 4 bottles (two on the down tube and two in the back). This will allow you to carry your specific nutrition needs (i.e. endurance vs perform).

Great job

Unknown said...

Holy smokes... that sounds like a tough race! You did awesome...