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Ironman 70.3 St George 2015 Race Report

Race Leadup

This past weekend was Ironman 70.3 St George in the desert of Southwest Utah.  It is known as being one of the toughest half Ironman triathlons around.  1.2 mile swim in 60-64 degree water, 56 miles of very hilly roads (3600 feet of climbing) through gorgeous red rocks, and 13.1 miles of hilly running (1200 feet of climbing, yes ... 1200!) without an ounce of shade in 90+ degree temps.  It is also the North American Pro Championship for professional triathletes, so there were a number of well-renowned pros in attendance. 

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Landing in St George 

This would be my first triathlon of 2015 and a set up to my next race in Victoria BC, another half ironman tri.  I knew this was going to be a challenge – the course is very unforgiving and there are few opportunities to train in the heat during the Seattle winter.  Still, this type of course suits me well – anything hilly tends to fall into this category.  Gravity is your friend when you weigh only 126lbs, it takes so much less effort to cycle and run up hills.

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Ironman Village on Thursday - fairly quiet for now

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Previewing the Snow Canyon climb 

Arriving in St George on Thursday afternoon, we were greeted with 90 degree temps.  Oof.  Fortunately it’s a “dry heat”, but it is still hot.  Nutrition the week leading up to the race was vital – especially electrolytes.  The last half-Iron I completed was also hot and I cramped badly on the run, want to avoid that this time!  I had consumed a LOT of Nuun tablets, including three the day before the race. Checked into the race, my in-laws Gene and Deb also arrived on Thursday, had some In N Out burger (you know, for some more salt ;) ), previewed the infamous Snow Canyon climb on the bike course and then went back to the hotel to start re-assembling the bike…

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Something appears to be missing here...

SHIT!  Um … what happened???  A piece from where my seat post goes into the seat tube broke off during shipping.  The saddle won’t go in.  After freaking out for about 10 minutes I work on assembling the rest of the bike and realize this is probably something minor, and I’ll head to a bike shop in the morning.  Turns out this isn't uncommon as it's a very poor design and the newer Felt's don't have this any more. (post-edit, turns out it is NOT replaceable and I can get by for a little while.  The risk of a "catastrophic failure" is near 0. But at some point I guess I get to go shopping for a new frame... or bike. So that's ... good?)  At the bike shop, we jerry-rig a solution – use some electric tape to hold down some of the protruding pieces, file it down, put the seat tube in, then slap the sleeve back on and tighten it down.  It’s pretty damn secure and is going to have to do.  Attend the athlete briefing, water temp is 62 degrees and now it sounds like the drafting rule is FIVE bike lengths now not three and the penalty is a full five minutes if you are caught.  Wow.  Will have to keep that in mind.  Head to T2 to drop off my bike and do a short swim - 62 degrees doesn't seem TOO bad.

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The swim venue at Sand Hollow State Park.  We swim around this island actually.

Race morning goes fairly smoothly.  4:15am the alarm goes off and normally on race morning I want to shoot myself (until I get my coffee), but not today – I was feeling fairly refreshed.  Gene dropped me off at T2 around 5:10am, I took the athlete shuttle to the start and went to transition and got things settled.  The event camera man recorded me airing up my tires, and I made the video (see 4:11)!  Unfortunately I was in a later wave, 7:42am with half of the M30-34 age group so I had some time to kill.  I watched the pro men and women take off, then eventually started a light jog and put on my wetsuit.  Caught up with my swim wave in line, tried to warm up my arms a bit and then got into the water once the previous wave went off.  Had 3 minutes and then …

Swim

GO!  This time around I figured I should try to go a bit aggressively at the start and then settle into my pace.  I figured I would do 200 “hard-ish” strokes and then settle in.  Well, about sixty strokes into it things start to go haywire.  The right side of my swim cap starts leaking.  My right goggle starts leaking.  I stop and adjust the goggles and then the group of guys I was with leaves me in the dust.  Hm, oh well.  Another 40 strokes or so and I’m having trouble breathing.  I slow down a bit, and now my body feels hot.  Damn, it must be this new wetsuit – it’s smaller than my previous one (which was a little too big).  Why did I get this XS wetsuit, maybe I should have gotten the S?  Now my head is hot.  Oh no!  That’s the problem… my new cold water neoprene swim cap (which I’ve swam with three times this year) is too hot!  I’ve never raced with it, only practice-swam!  What do I do?  OK I’ll breast stroke a bit.  Hm, nope that doesn’t help.  Sidestroke?  Negative.  Dump more water down the neck of my wetsuit – oh man that’s cold.  That doesn’t help.  I’ve got to get rid of this extra cap.  There’s a safety kayak with two people hanging on!  So, I pull up to the kayaker, ask if she’ll take my swim cap, she does and reacts “wow that’s really hot!”, put my race cap and goggles back on, she says she’ll take it to lost and found, I thank her and am on my way.  Oh man, my head is cold now!  What is this, amateur hour?  I had to laugh to myself about this because what else am I going to do, I was on-schedule for my worst triathlon swim ever!  Go through my old tricks of fighting panic attacks (count strokes, use breast stroke to sight, my “glide/side/wide” mantra) and finally have a solid swim for the last 0.5 miles. 

Swim Time: 43:36, place in race: 1549
My second slowest half Iron swim time – about five minutes off what I probably should have swam at.  They say you can’t win a triathlon in the swim, but you can lose it.  Sigh. 

Bike

Well, at least I had some positive momentum with how the swim ended to propel me into the bike.  The wetsuit strippers helped pull off my wetsuit, got to my bike (with shoes already clipped in of course ;)), put my wetsuit into my bike transition bag (so they can take it back to the finish line end of race), and then head to the mount line and ride.  Fortunately, there was practically ZERO wind today, so this was going to be a good bike day for me.  Strategy – try to emulate a race simulation bike ride from two weeks ago – 140 watts for the first hour, 140-160 watts second hour, 160+ watts for the third hour, trying to avoid going over 180 and rarely over 200.  I realize that those watts are not the highest, but again I am light and I knew I have a hilly half marathon looming.  The great thing about the power meter is the ability to know what output you are actually doing when your brain may be telling you something else.  Coming out of the swim your adrenaline is going crazy, HR is often spiked, and it’s hard to know how “hard” you really should pedal.  I was passing people left and right at 21+ mph and was worried I was going too hard.  Nope, 140-145 watts, right on schedule.  Groovy, this is going to be a great day.  I roll through the first half at around 1:16 and I’m thinking “OMG, I’m definitely going to break 3 hours on the bike”.  Well, naturally – the harder part of the course is the second half, plus the temperatures are rising and fatigue sets in.  Snow canyon was indeed tough, that 7-8% climb at the end of a 900 foot hill is always going to be challenging.  A number of people were walking their bikes up the last part (sucks to be them!).  The reward is a long 1100 foot descent, with much of it over 40mph, that was fun.  Many people don’t pedal and take advantage of their aerodynamic tri bike, and I continued to pass a number of people downhill (despite my light weight!).  Roll into T2, take off helmet and sunglasses, put on my socks and shoes, put on visor race belt, get some sunscreen and am on my way.

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My best bike leg to date.  Variability Index of 1.06 for those interested ;)

Bike time: 2:56:12, place in race: 833.  Bike PR by over 10 minutes!

Run

Running after biking during a tri is often a strange feeling.  On one hand, your muscles have been biking for a few hours so the running motion causes them to feel odd.  On the other hand, the transition change (and the spectators around transition) sparks adrenaline which provides energy.  For the first half mile usually feels pretty good, but the next 1.5 miles after that often suck and I think there is no way I can run a half marathon.  After 1.5 miles I check my watch time for the run and realize it still says 0:00.  Turns out my watch got paused during the bike and remained paused for the run.  Well, let’s start it now.  To add to the suck factor, the first three run miles at St George are almost all uphill, gaining over 400 feet, with some steep grades.  You then get to go down a bit, only to go back up.  In short, you’re rarely running on flat.  Did I mention that it’s almost noon, it’s nearly 90 degrees and there is no shade? 

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Yep, no shade + nearly 90 deg

The good news is that a light breeze did pick up and I never really felt “hot”, just really tired.  I knew this was going to be tough, and just decided to keep moving and not dig too deep, at least not right away.  My slow swim already set me far back that I’m not going to worry too much about my time/place and just try to enjoy the experience.  If I couldn’t sustain my current pace, I slowed down.  If I felt OK, I sped up. What I found most striking about this is that almost everyone was walking, similar to a full Ironman.  In an Ironman, almost everyone walks a portion of the marathon – some more so than others.  In a half Iron – usually much fewer walkers.  This had a lot of walkers, so given that I’m passing people left and right, there wasn’t much point to dig too deep and potentially hurt myself or suffer heat/sun stroke.  I did force myself to run the whole time, except at aid stations … which I admittedly spent a little too much time walking through drinking gatorade/water/coke.  After reading other race reports, I developed a good strategy at aid stations to take a cup of ice and put half down the front of my jersey, half down the back (and sometimes a little in the tri shorts!) and it kept my core cool.  Again, I never felt “hot”, just physically tired!  What helped get me through was a new modified mantra I picked up from Chris “Macca” McCormmack – who says that in an Ironman there is really just “30 minutes of shit” you have to deal with in the day.  Well, I decided to adopt that for a half Ironman.  I figured 10 minutes were on the swim.  The last 5 minutes of the snow canyon climb.  10 minutes of the first big run hill, and then approaching the last hill on the run before the final downhill 3 miles I told myself I only have “5 minutes of shit” left.  And you know – I was right!  I look down at my watch at the base of the last hill, and then when I get to the top, sure enough 5 minutes have passed.  I roll into the finish line at a decent clip, the clock is still set to the pro start, and I honestly have no idea what my finish time is.  I was expecting to find out from my watch but since it was paused I really don’t know – and to a certain extent I didn’t care (surprising for me!) - just relax and enjoy the atmosphere.

Run time: 1:48:53, place in race: 487

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Cool down a bit, try to find some shade to stretch, then get some food.  Eventually I go to the information booth and learn that I finished in 5:33:44.  Not bad!  I was hoping for around a 5:30 and given my shitty swim, I am perfectly happy with that time.  That time also puts me in at the top 24% overall, top 35% in my age group.  Stopped by lost and found, no swim cap :(  Sorry Mom and Dad, I lost one of the Christmas presents you got me!  Overall I really enjoyed this race - I would definitely come back again - I want a redo of my swim and I have a better idea what to expect on that hilly run course.

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Looking ahead to Ironman 70.3 Victoria on June 14… the bike will still be pretty hilly (but not as hilly as this), but the run is flat and shaded!  Can’t wait!  Some other pictures from nearby Zion National Park - we saw a lot of people in IM StG gear that day - a popular place! 

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Court of the Patriarchs 

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Viewing the Great White Throne from Big Bend

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Walking towards the Narrows