Monday, September 16, 2013

Ironman 70.3 World Championships Race Report

A more accurate title may be "The toughest course I have ever raced".  Or we could go with the cliche title "Hard Races Build Character".  Optomistic: "It's the Freakin' World Championships, Baby!".  Nostalgic: "The Last World Championship Race in Vegas".  But I digress.  Back in September 2012, heading into Ironman Augusta 70.3, I only had one thing on my mind: Qualify for Vegas.  I had a nearly perfect race and got the 3rd of 4 slots in my age group.  So I've had quite a while to think and prepare for this race.

That worked out well, because since I was flying to this race, it adds a whole other dimension.  Since I qualified so early (49 weeks before the race) I was able to take my time to get a good price on the airfare and the rental car.  Plus I could find a good hotel before they were all booked up.

I flew out through Salt Lake City and had a 4 hour layover in SLC, which kinda sucked.  But everything thing went smoothly and my sister was there waiting for me at the gate when I got off the plane.  I checked one bag, so we picked it up and then got on the shuttle to the rental car terminal.  Tim O'Donnell was on the shuttle with us.  Unfortuately he was alone as Mirinda Carfrae was racing Muskoka the same weekend.  The rental car company didn't have our car "ready".  Whatever that means.  I thought of the car reservation scene from Seinfeld.  But it worked out for the good as we got upgraded to a minivan for no extra charge.

We stayed at the Springhill Suites there in Henderson.  I was pretty pleased with it.  It's pretty centrally located to both T1/Check in (Henderson Pavilion) and T2 (Lake Las Vegas).  There were a ton of other athletes staying there.  You really got the vibe of the culture down in the lobby. Thursday we just checked into the hotel, got settled and went out to eat at the KingFish.
The view from our room.  About as close as we got.

Just slept in that morning, which was like 5:00 am since I was still on eastern time.  We drove down to Paseo Verde Park to run.  That is the first turnaround on the run course.  I just ran 3 miles total down past Henderson Pavilion and back.  I felt pretty good.
Packet Pickup

Foreboding of how tough the course is?

We headed down to check in soon after they opened at 9am.  Went through the big check in tent, signed a bunch of waivers, got my wrist band, and chip and strap.  We also got a little poster.  We had to go back over to the merchandise tent in the expo to get the sweet backpack.  We perused the mechandise tent and I only bought a couple small things.  Everything is so outragesouly priced, its ridiculous.  I ran into Tim O'Donnell again and thought maybe he was following us.

Get your Ironman Underwear Here!
IM Stuff

Your name on a T-Shirt: Cool.  $30 T-Shirt: Not Cool

After we left the "IM Stuff" tent, We checked out the rest of the expo.  At the Felt booth they had the new IA on display.  It's pretty impressive.  If I had $13K I didn't know what to do with, I would surely snatch one up.  But the coolest thing was that Jim Felt himself was in the booth.  I introduced myself and we spoke about bikes and the race for several minutes.  He thanked me several times for riding a Felt.  He is definitely a super cool guy.

The Man, The Myth, The Legend.
After we checked out the finish, we headed over to Tri Bike Transport to get my bike.  There was a short wait, but only like 5-10 minutes.  They put my pedals on, and had a pump to put air in my tires.  Using TBT was pretty much a no-brainer for me. I booked it early (another perk of qualifying early) and got it for $250.  I just had to drop the bike off at IOS in Charlotte.  It was super easy.  The downside is that I had to drop off my bike 8 days before the race.  Which is also a big bummer after the race because I won't have my bike right away.  This is definitely one of those times I wish I had a road bike in addition to Green Lightning.
Picking up Green Lightning

We went back to the hotel and checked out all the stuff.  The backpack is very nice.  I especially like the aero helmet holder in the back.
Lots o' Stuff

Ready to Rock

Trimmed Stickers for a nice fit.


We didn't have to put this on, so why did we get it?

I did buy some stuff.
Then I got all my stuff back on the bike (flat kit, BTA hydration, race stickers).
Overlooking Lake Mead
 Then we grabbed some lunch and headed out to Hoover Dam.  Both my sister and myself being engineers we enjoyed it quite a bit.
US93 Bridge

Power Plant

This was in the Shade!

After we got back, we visited an old college roommate of mine that just happens to live in Henderson, within walking distance of the finish.  We had a good visit with his wife (who also went to Michigan Tech) and their 3 daughters (age 9,6, and 4).  The two older ones have done a triathlon already!  We had some sushi for dinner (you can't throw a rock in Henderson without hitting 5 asian themed restaurants, most of which are sushi).  Then headed out to the Westin at Lake Las Vegas for the Athlete meeting.
Dinner and a Show.

The awards banquet ran long and the briefing started 45 minutes late.  There was some good info in there and I'm glad we checked it out.  The place was packed however and there wasn't enough room in the main dining area for everyone.  How they get all the non-participants to pay $30 a head for that mystifies me.

Woke up early again and went for a short bike ride.  I rode on the course as it goes right in front of the hotel.  I really just wanted to check and make sure everything was functioning on my bike.  I got to see the hill on Gibson Road and thought, this is just freakin' insane!  This massive hill right around the 50 mile mark of the bike.

I got all my bags together and we went down to drop the run gear bag off at the Henderson Pavilion. I spoke to one of the volunteers for a bit regarding the logistics of T2, since we don't have to rack our bikes.  It sounded pretty cool in that you just hand your bike off to someone and then grab your bag and change in the tent.  I didn't have a whole lot in my run bag: just my shoes/socks and a visor.  I was planning on having my number and sunglasses on already coming off the bike.  I set my bag down in the spot and that was pretty much it.
Bag Check

Women on the left, Men on the right

We grabbed some lunch and headed back to the hotel to get my bike.  We then headed out to T1 at Lake Las Vegas.  We parked on the road there and walked my bike down into transition. They took a picture of everyone's bike coming into transition.  Security purposes I would would imagine.  I decided to put my shoes on my bike and cover them with plastic bags (the whole day had been overcast).  I then left my helmet in my bike gear bag on the ground under my bike.  I only had a few questions for the volunteers, so we checked out the venue and headed out.
Lake Las Vegas

Mandatory Photo Op

Ready to go until Race Morning

From the Bridge

I spent most of the afternoon just resting and hydrating.  I got my water bottles and morning food ready to go. Pretty boring.  We went to dinner and got to bed early. 

Sunday (Race Day)
Alarm was set for 4am.  I made it to 3:50am.  We got up, got ready, my sister grabbed some coffee and we were off.  Even though my wave did not start until 7:28am, they said they were closing the transition at 6:00am.  So I still had to get up and going early.  I'm glad we did because as it turns out the traffic got really backed up going into the resort after I was dropped off.  It was raining like crazy. I got everything ready in transition.  After pumping up my tires, I taped the wheel cover back down the put the sticker over the valve hole.  I wish I had a towel as it was pretty wet and I wiped it with my shirt.
Rain, Rain, Go Away, and don't come back 'til the run.

They finally closed transition and the trucks for morning clothes bags at 6:30 when the pros went off.  So now I had an hour to stand around and wait.  I ate a little more food and threw the rest away.  The time went by relatively quickly as I watched the earlier waves go in.  I was wave #12.  Then the pros started finishing so I got to watch them all run around the lake and into transition.  My buddy Tim O'Donnell was at the back of the lead swim pack, but he made it out onto the bike course first.
Heading down the ramp

45:31, Garmin had 1.29 miles 225th of 238 Age Group (1190 / 1370 Overall)

I'm there in the green cap

That's me in the circle!

And we're off!
It was a deep water start.  We had to swim about 25 yards to the start and tread water.  First time in a race that I did an in water start and it was too deep to stand and there was nothing to hold onto.  They gave us a countdown and then we were off.  It was a little hectic the first 100, but then I was in pretty clear water.  Well clear meaning not bumping into swimmers, the water itself was quite brown.   It took a while to make it to the first turn buoy.  I only saw a few swimmers from the wave behind us catch me by then.  I got knocked in the face pretty hard mid-way through that final stretch.  It knocked my goggles off and I had to flip over on my back the get the water out.
Happy to be done.  Does it show?

Thumbs up for a 'Thumbs Down' swim.

As I got close to the exit ramp it seemed like all of a sudden 20 people were there at the same time trying to get out.  It was a little hectic as some people grabbed onto other people.  You couldn't touch the bottom of the lake at the ramp either, so you had to pull yourself up like you were getting out of the pool.  Anyways, I got out, looked at my watch that said 45 minutes, and I wondered how I could possibly be so slow. I wish I had a good excuse, but basically I think I cannot swim without a wetsuit.  Frustrating does not even begin to describe it.  After all the coaching sessions, training, and my times in the pool getting faster, I am much slower in the open water.  So slow that I'm sure people questioned if I actually qualified for this race.  Well I did (in a race with a down river wetsuit swim!).

So we had to run around the end of the lake into transition.  I got the top of my speedsuit off easily enough and found my bike.  I had covered my shoes with plastic bags so they wouldn't get wet from all the rain before the race.  Somehow I rubber banded one of the plastic bags on, so I had to pull the band off with the bag.  I still had one shoe rubber banded on, so off I went.  And went and went.  Up the hill behind a bunch of people and onto the road.  I ran 0.42 miles in transition.  Pretty impressive actually.
Seriously long Transition

2:34:23, Garmin had 56.76 miles and 22.14 mph avg, 36th of 238 Age Group (291 / 1370 Overall)
It was raining pretty hard at the start.  It didn't really faze me much, though I did decide to forgo my sunglasses.  As we went around the resort on our way out, I hit a huge crack in the road that kinda forced my back wheel over a couple of inches.  Then I heard something flapping, and initially thought I had a rear flat.  But then it just kept flapping, and I realized it was my sticker over my wheel cover valve hole.  Evidently it didn't stick.  After 20 seconds it just ripped off and I was good to go.
Follow the Orange Tape

And people worry about the black electrical tape coming off

They surely treat this race like a championship.  538 feet of elevation gain in the first 5 miles! There was some downhill in the next 5 miles as we entered Lake Mead Nat Rec Area.  Just as I passed throught the gates, a support vehicle pulled out in front of me doing 15 mph.  I tried to go around him on the right and then he veered over and forced me off the road.  I hit some huge holes in the dirt there and just held on for dear life.  My A2 bottle went flying, which was my main source of nutrition.  I slowed enough to get everything under control and then bunny hopped back onto the pavement.  It was all kinda in slow motion and when I got back on the road, I honestly could not believe I did not crash horribly.
Seriously.  This is the bike course.  Seriously.

Then it was on to the relentless hills in Lake Mead.  They are not rollers, as in they are too big to have your momentum from the previous downhill carry you back up.  You have to work on every single one of them.  I started eating my shot bloks early on to try and make up for my lack of nutrition from my A2 mix.  I also took a gel at each of the next 2 aid stations.  I did pretty good nabbing the gels from the volunteers.  At one station she cheered when I cleanly grabbed the gel.  Evidently most people before had not been so lucky.  I also got a "Nice!" comment from on of the volunteers further down the aid station.  I only mention this because the first time I ever tried to get aid on the bike last year, I nearly ran over 4 volunteers.
One of my sister's sweet signs.
Still Raining

Anyways, I was glad to finally get to the turnaround, and even happier to get out of Lake Mead Area.  I looked over and saw my A2 bottle still on the ground where I came in.  Miles 30 to 35 was 370 feet net downhill.  I hammered it for a 29.7 average.  I was actually averaging 22.6 at mile 50, but the last 6.8 miles were 587 feet of climbing. That hill coming up Gibson Road was just stupid hard.  Plus it was packed and there was a marshall riding around there. So I didn't push it and kept my legal distances.  I did see the women in front of me get nailed for a 4 minute drafting penalty.
Out of my shoes and ready for T2

I actually did have a good ride.

I did see a couple other people drafting.  One guy was really bad.  They passed me once, and it pissed me off so I passed them back and waved my "no-no" finger at him.  I didn't say anything and I never saw them again.  I find it hilarious now when people always say you need a hilly course to stop drafting.  The hills bunch everyone up together.  If people are gonna draft, they're gonna draft.  I was pleased that I did not see a lot of blocking in this race.

Not as scenic as one might think

The second transition.  Probably my favorite part of this race.  This is the first race that I've done that you did not have to rack your bike.  You handed it off to a volunteer and then just started running.  You run through all the bags on the ground.  There was a lady with a megaphone shouting out race numbers.  Mine was nearly at the front.  The volunteer had just picked it up when I grabbed it out of her hand.  I unclipped my helmet and went into the change tent.  I picked a chair near the end and sat down and got my shoes and socks on. I threw on my visor and a volunteer grabbed my helmet.  He put it in the bag and took care of the bag for me.  I thanked him and off I went.  Suhweet!  Just like you see at Kona on TV.
Fun Fun (Didn't hit lap on my watch at the right place)

1:40:50, Garmin had 13.17 miles and 7:39 avg, 98th of 238 Age Group (573 / 1370 Overall)
Getting off the bike, my legs felt pretty beat up.  The swim and bike took a lot more out of me than they usually do.  The clouds had cleared up and now the sun was out, but it still wasn't really that hot.  The first mile was downhill so I felt pretty good and ran a 6:14.  This course was a 3 loop out and back.  You started in the middle then once you got to the first turnaround it was 2 miles uphill, 2M down, 2M up etc.  On that first 2M uphill I didn't do too bad, but really felt like crap.  My legs were just dead.  Through the first 6 miles I averaged 6:58's.  Then the wheels kinda came off.  The final 7 miles I averaged 8:15's.  For a while there I just wanted to finish.  That last 2M uphill from 10 to 12 was brutal.
Hills Rule
Not raining anymore.  Clear Blue Skies.

In the midst of the 2M downhill you hit the finish area.  So you go by the finish twice before you go through the chute.  But then you have to loop up and around the ampitheatre there at the Henderson Pavilion.  It adds a nice touch.  Once I reached the 12 mile mark, I just wanted to push for the finish.  My quads felt like they were gonna cramp any second, I felt a blister on each foot, and my number band had rubbed a raw spot on my hip.  So I was damn glad to finish.
Almost Beer Time

Well, I did finish.

5:06:30, 97th of 238 Age Group (599 / 1370 Overall)
I felt wiped at the end.  I walked with a volunteer for a little bit. They were great.  She was gonna walk with me as long as I wanted to.  Another volunteer handed me some water and that helped a lot.  I staggered over to get my t-shirt, hat, and medal.  I skipped the line to get my picture taken in front of the Ironman sign, and the line to get results.  They had a couple guys on computers looking up your info and then writing it down on a sheet of paper.  Really?  Not very high tech.  Actually the least tech of any race outside of the local YMCA series. Then I got in the food line, which was kinda long.  I found my sister and we sat in the ampitheater and ate. 

Happy to be done.

We walked back over to T2 to retrieve my bags and my bike.  I found my bags quite easily.  We took the bike over to Tri-Bike Transport (got my bike back home 6 days later).  They took my pedals off and gave them to me, and we headed back to the car.
More Sweet Swag

This was the first race I've ever done that I really died on the run.  That swim and bike took a buttload out of me.  I just kept getting passed on the hills on the bike, so I pushed it some.  Even then my bike wasn't super fast.  That course was just brutal. 
Avocado Egg Rolls.  Yummy.

Avocado Burger.  Double Yummy.

After I showered we headed over to BJ's Brewhouse.  We had some avocado egg rolls, and I had the avocado burger.  We enjoyed several microbrews and stayed for quite a while.  Headed back to the hotel, watched some football and crashed.

Slept in some, and headed for the airport early.  My sister had some free club passes.  The lines were long for check in and security.  My frequent traveling sister was able to bypass the lines for both of us.  The club was nice with free drinks and food.  So we sat for a while and had lunch and a few beers.  Soon it was time for my flight to Salt Lake City and then Charlotte.

So I've come to the conclusion that I cannot swim without a wetsuit.  Seriously.  Luckily all my upcoming races have historically been wetsuit legal (Rev3 SC, Charleston, IM Raleigh).  And for the love of all that is holy, Chattanooga will be wetsuit legal as well.  Even though I got destroyed, I'm glad I came out to Vegas and raced the World Championships.  I would definitely have regretted passing on this race.  The competition level was through the roof.  There were athletes from 50 different countries participating.  The experience was definitely off the charts.  The swag was pretty sweet too.  Now I can say I've done it.  I just have to decide how long to keep the stickers on my bike.