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Ironman 70.3 St George 2019 Race Report

It’s amazing what four years of consistent training can do. 

I first raced Ironman 70.3 St George in 2015, during my first full year in Seattle. I was running with the Seattle Green Lake Running group, set a great Half Marathon PR in March, and worked with my bike power meter all winter, and overall things were going pretty well. I wanted to come to St George to race because I heard that the location was beautiful and that the course was challenging with many hills. Both these rumors were correct! I blogged about this race  previously at http://ericfahsl.com/blog/43-ironman-703-st-george-2015-race-report

Four years later, I have been consistently training for triathlons and seeing steady improvements over the years. I wanted to come back to St George because I enjoyed the venue and wanted to see if I could improve and see if I had a chance at grabbing one of the 75 slots to the Half Ironman World Championships in France this coming September (most races have 30-40).

This race was my primary goal for the first half of 2019. I even took a weekend trip to St George this past January after I was in Las Vegas for work. I rode the bike course (plus a bit more) and ran the whole run course. I have even had some great race results so far this year as I raced the Lavaman Olympic Triathlon on the Big Island in Hawaii about 5 weeks ago where I placed 26th out of 1100+ finishers and 3rd in my age group. I also was able to stay a few extra days for more training in the heat. A week prior to St George I competed in a local short-course duathlon and was 3rd overall out of 69 finishers. Basically, I had some great momentum and was extremely ready for this race.

However, I’ve never had a “great” half Ironman triathlon race. I’ve had a number of these races that have been decent but none where I felt like I really maxed out, so I planned to do a few things differently. One, I planned to NOT overheat in the swim unlike last time (as detailed in the other article) but still swim quite aggressively. Two, I was planning to “go for it”, as in race more aggressively in terms of effort, as that usually seems to benefit me. Finally, I planned to maintain great running form on the downhills and leave nothing left in the tank crossing the finish. Just race “harder”, right?

After Hawaii but before St George, I took a work trip to Taiwan three weeks before the race, which meant that most of my training build had to be complete about 4 weeks before the race, and the remaining weeks were more about maintaining fitness and tapering. After arriving to St George on Thursday evening before the Saturday race, I checked in to the race and reassembled my bike. Friday morning was a swim in the lake, which was a brisk 62 degrees. I decided that I was going to wear two swim caps, which should keep me warm enough. After a big, late breakfast, I did a 1 hour ride with efforts of 6 minutes, 4 minutes, and 2 minutes. My bike power numbers were really high, and at first, I thought my power meter was off, but performing certain calibration efforts validated the numbers - apparently I’m just fucking awesome, really well rested and my body is feeling quite strong!

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Ready to roll!

Race morning I take the shuttle, run into my buddy Travis around transition, and do a little bit of a warmup jog with him. I decide that I’m going to try to swim aggressively, and that I won’t need the second swim cap for warmth - I’ll just go harder. This decisioni was likely a mistake. After getting in line for the rolling swim start, I run into a few people I recognize from the Tri Cities of Eastern Washington (amazing how the triathlon community can seem small; you often run into people you know and/or recognize). Well, we end up standing around for a while, maybe 20-25 minutes in the low-mid 50 degree weather, and I start to get fairly cold. Once I get into the water, I swim aggressively and seem to warm up, but my hands are fairly cold and slightly numb. I have been swimming pretty well this winter, both in the pool and in the open water in Kona, Hawaii a little over a month ago, so I feel confident in the water. I  try a technique of swimming with a higher stroke rate in the open water, especially once we start getting a headwind after the first turn. In retrospect, I was probably flailing around and losing some of my swim form and speed. After the second turn on the home stretch, I get kicked pretty hard in the goggles by a swimmer doing breaststroke. That was a bit disorienting, and I have to get my bearings and adjust my goggles, though I doubt I lost all that much time. I get out of the water and look down and see a high 38 minute time for the swim, which is fairly slow for me and a bit disheartening. I have a bit of trouble getting my wetsuit off as my hands are quite cold. I probably should have worn that second swim cap. I think my body was just too cold, so I didn’t have a good feel for the water, and I forgot the fundamentals of my swim stroke. Oh well. 

swimErngh - get that zipper!

Swim: 38:58, place in race: 1026

Moving onto the bike, first I’m  just trying to warm up. The weather is actually pretty perfect, maybe high 50s and warming up into the high 70s by the end of the bike, with minimal wind. Before too long, I do warm up. In past 70.3s, I have paid too close of attention to power numbers, and I usually under-ride the first half or so of the bike. Today, I was planning to go a little more aggressively and hammer a bit more on the hills where needed. I’d keep an eye on my power but wouldn’t try to limit myself too much. 

bike-2Riding out of the frame - isn't that like photography 101, give your subject a place to move in the frame? I'm glad I didn't pay for this photo

Given my recent trip here in January to ride the course, I knew where the big hills were and what to expect. In particular, Snow Canyon is a deceptive climb - you think you are done about halfway through, and then, once you are done, the road looks like it climbs further but that’s actually the end. With my recent experience, I know what to expect and ride near perfectly. Ultimately, this is one of my favorite bike courses - it’s challenging but rewarding - for every big climb, there is a fast descent without any hairpin turns causing you to lose too much speed. Plus, the views are pure money. For my efforts I am rewarded with a new bike PR, over 13 minutes faster when I did this race 4 years ago.

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The money shot. As in I actually did pay money for this image.

Bike: 2:43:11, place in race 514 (movin on up!)

The Run (yes with a capital R) at St George is arguably the most challenging run on the Ironman North America Circuit. This course features over 1100 feet of elevation gain, completely in the exposed sun and heat. The first three miles feature over 450 feet of climbing. So your legs are trashed from the bike, and now you need to start climbing. I take it “easy” for these first three miles, mainly trying to give my legs some time to get used to running, take in plenty of ice to cool, and find some equilibrium with the heat. Some people are walking - when I did this 4 years ago I was a bit further back in the race and more people were walking then. Once I hit the top of the first peak after mile 3, it’s go time, and I pick it up. My running form is coming back, and I pick up some real speed on the descents. Run from the hips, light on your feet, good turnover. At each aid station I’m alternating between water and Gatorade and usually adding additional ice to my race jersey or pouring water on myself to stay cool. I look at my HR to make sure it doesn’t drop too much, and when it does, I pick up the intensity. At mile 4, I take one of my two SIS gels for the run, which gives me a noticeable boost. The one benefit of climbing up a few hundred feet is that there is a breeze, and combined with the water/ice, I never really felt “hot”, despite the temp being close to 80 degrees. Nearly everyone around me is walking or at least running slower than me, so I passed many of people, which is always motivating. The miles tick off, and I’m still feeling strong. Normally, I’m pretty dead by about mile 5 or 6 on the run and feel like I’m slogging my way through, but I actually felt strong enough to race hard all day, which is a great feeling. Basically, on the uphills, I watch my HR and make sure it doesn’t drop too low and tough it out until we get to the corresponding downhill, where I focus on my form and keep some speed. I took my second SIS gel at mile 8 which gave another boost. Once I hit the final peak around mile 10, I know it’s literally all downhill from here, and I really gun it. The splits of my last three miles were 6:39, 6:40, and 6:22 (well below the whole run average of 7:14), which is super motivating and awesome at the end of the race.

Run: 1:34:53 

run

Total Time: 5:03:34, place in race: 324

Wow, a sub-1:35 run! Sweet! I think I pretty much gave it my all today. I felt fairly strong all day, similar to how I normally feel on shorter distance races - but for a longer event. I was more than 30 minutes faster than back in 2015, which is awesome. For age group placing, I was only 60th out of 293 - which isn’t bad, but it’s pretty far off from making the 70.3 World Champs, which is OK. If I could have magically put my time into the same race last year (which I can’t), I would have been 35th in my age group. So, either it was a fast day, or there was some stacked competition (or both). 

However, I’ve learned to try to be happy with the process and the lifestyle, and while I really enjoy racing (and traveling to cool locations of race venues) - in the end the results and times don’t REALLY matter, unless it’s my profession, which it isn’t :). I found the book “The Happy Runner” by David and Megan Roche to be a very intriguing and helpful read. One of the primary themes is that everyone is going to get worse at running (and endurance sports) whether through old age and/or death - so focus on the “why” running/triathlon/etc makes you happy. From a pure results standpoint, 60th isn’t that impressive. From a personal development and experience standpoint, the race was incredibly fulfilling. It’s also deeply satisfying to see the hard work pay off throughout the years.

Sorry to get all philosophical up in here… so all in all, a successful race and a good experience in a cool place - isn’t that what life is all about? Special thanks to my spouse and her parents for coming to St George to help and spectate! Also thanks to Team ZOOT for accepting me on the team last year and I'm proud to represent them. Up next, Ironman 70.3 Coeur d’Alene at the end of June!

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Travis and I at the finish. He had an impressive 4:46

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Red Rock Canyon outside Las Vegas

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Saw "O" in Las Vegas after racing - so amazing!

 

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