Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Vegas Race Report 2012

On Sunday September 9th, I raced in and finished the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas, or more accurately, Henderson NV. This was my first time racing in the 70.3 Championship event, though I had qualified numerous times before but never made the trip for whatever reasons. Initially it was that the old venue in Clearwater FL did not really appeal to me, both because it was known as a draft-fest, and well, because Florida in general does not appeal to me. But I digress, and the event egressed, to it's new home in Henderson NV last year and I think that most will agree that this a world championship caliber event. Below, a view of the bike course as seen from a preview drive of the course the day before the race. Imagine this under an unrelenting sun, 100 degree heat, bone-dry desert air, and you get an idea of the challenge that was in store.
I got in the Friday before the race with friends Fay and Joe (+teammate) and we went about settling into the greater Las Vegas area and getting ready for the race. This was made a little bit more difficult than usual as my bruised and battered bike case somehow came partially open during transport, and spit out my pedals and some crucial bike re-assembling tools. Luckily, I was able to find a local bike shop that was willing to rent me a pair of compatible pedals for the weekend (thanks as well to all those who offered to ship me replacements), and I was able to get my bike built back up into ride-able condition. Friday and Saturday was then spent checking out the expo, packet pickup, and checking in with existing sponsors such as BlueSeventy as well as potential partners to come. (more on that any day now ;-) )
BlueSeventy has the best swim gear
Race morning dawned in Lake Las Vegas (site of the swim & T1) at a frigid 80 degrees. I don't know why I bothered to bring my Ballou Skies warmups with me for a race in the Mojave Desert in September, but needless to say it didn't take much to warmup on this day. Speaking of warmups, I didn't do one before this race and more and more, I'm thinking that this is necessary for me for all race distances short of iron. I was down in transition shortly after it opened and got my bike and nutrition ready to roll for the day.
The first of the three waves for men 30-34 (the one I was in) was set to go off at 6:50 local time, 5th total wave and 20 minutes after the pros. Teammate Chad and I were pretty fortunate to get to start relatively early and hopefully beat a little bit more of the intense heat that was to come, but Joe had no such luck and was scheduled to start at 7:45. We made our way down to the "beach" and queued-up to start the swim.
After a short swim to the in-water starting line and a brief tread, we were underway and swimming out towards the first turn buoy. The start was hard, but not totally chaotic and I settled into a nice rhythm about 300 meters in. I was feeling good, so I was looking for some feet and a draft, but unfortunately we were also swimming directly towards the rising sun and I couldn't see a fast pack for the life of me. I kept checking and hoping that the angle would change or the glare/fog diminished, but I couldn't see anything above or below water in this man-made lake. I just did my best to swim a straight course, and not totally maul some of the slower swimmers I was catching from previous waves. At two points during the swim I looked off to my right as I was taking a breath, and there was Chad, as is custom and we usually see quite a bit of each other during these long races. I seemed to lose him on the way back in during the final 500m of the swim, perhaps when zig-zagging around a slower mass of swimmers, and came into the beach to finish the swim leg. I felt really strong in the water, perhaps as strong and fluid as I ever have in a 1.2 or 2.4 mile swim, so initially I was a little disappointed to see a 29:5X something on my Garmin. I wanted to be mad, but I felt strong and composed, in truth it felt like a 27, so I let it go and ran off to tackle the long transition.
 The bike course started with a couple miles uphill, right off the bat, and this was to set the trend for this bike course. A lot of ups, and a lot of downs - not a whole heck of a lot of flat terrain on this course. I had my HR and wattage targets for the bike, but I knew pretty early on that I was going to struggle to hit these marks. I was pushing hard early on, getting my nutrition in and guzzling my PowerBar Perform, but despite taking in about 40-44 oz/per hour, I just couldn't quench my thirst and I had no urge to pee. Not even a little. In the first half of the bike (more of an uphill trend), I was within 5 bpm and 15 watts of my respective targets, but upon turning around and hitting more of the downhill trend back towards Henderson, I fell further off the mark. My perceived exertion felt right and I was motivated to push as hard as possible, but I could tell something was a little off and I lacked that extra gear that I needed. 

Taking JV's advice and attacking the hills
As the bike ride went on the temperature went up and and up, my power and HR slowly faded off. In the end, I thought I handled the pacing and nutrition correctly, but apparently the weather conditions and my form on the day were not in alignment with the plan. A fellow competitor wrote on FB later in the day, something to the effect of "It was like the desert sucked the life out of my legs."

Tough-ass bike course.
The bike "fade"
Lost two places in my AG on the bike
T2 had a lot less real estate to cover than T1 and after a brief (the only) respite in the shade of the changing tent, I was off onto the run. The plan was to take the first mile at about 6:30 pace, regardless of HR, to allow my body to adapt to the effort and the heat. The first mile was a gradual downhill, so no problem there, and the HR was definitely under control. The run course was a 3-lap affair and each lap had two out and backs, so there was plenty of opportunity to get a look at your competitors and get some time splits. Most everyone out there looked pretty cooked and to be struggling in the heat, so my main goal became to take care of my core temperature and push as much as my body would allow. I had a similar feeling on the run leg as I did on the bike, with my legs lacking that extra gear, but at this point overdrive was not an option, the only goal was to keep running steady. I didn't feel fast, but I did feel strong.
My pace fluctuated accordingly with the hills, but the one thing I took note of and thrived upon was that I didn't have the need to stop at every aid station like most of my competitors seemed to require, and that I was steadily picking people off throughout the run, especially on the inclines. This was by no means a fast run course, with constant ups and downs, numerous turnarounds, and even some switchbacks behind the finish line area at the end of laps 1 and 2, to say nothing of the purported 108 degree temperatures reached on the run course that day. Despite the difficulty, indeed I did feel strong and felt like I redeemed myself from my Ironman Coeur d'Alene run failure, and ran to the fastest run split in my AG and 2nd fastest amateur half marathon time on the day. This moved me up to 13th in my division at the finish, and while not reaching my goal of a World Championship podium, I was pleased to finish as I high as I did on just an "OK" kind of day.
Coming across the line. *Chip time 20 minutes faster

In the end, I finished 13th in my AG with a 4:33:40. This was good for 57th overall and 25th amateur in the world. I was hoping for a faster time to be honest, closer to 4:20, but then again having never done this race or course before, this may not have been an easy target time to calculate. Had my swim or bike been more in line with how my training has been going, this time and the podium may have been possible. All things considered though, with where my training has been and the focus firmly on Kona five weeks later, I am pleased with the effort and how my body has responded coming off this race. I have put down the two largest weeks of training of my life immediately on the heels of Vegas, and I have been pleasantly surprised at my body's resiliency and capacity to dig deeper and deeper. This is something I never would have attempted in years past, so I am confident I am on the right path and that very good things are in store once race time on the Big Island rolls around on 10/13. 18 days to go - Pomaika`i to all that are racing and for the rest of everyone's season!

Team BallouSkies post-race

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