So, I lowered my expectations - and remembered that this wasn't an "A race". And then things went off the rails last week, as our plans changed about ten different times. This was, without a doubt, probably the worst planned race trip for me. We left early Friday morning, but I was in a mood because we didn't leave early enough, to my way of thinking. Plus, my pre-race prep was an absolute disaster. I just kept my fingers crossed that had my ID to check in and the necessary gear. I was mainly right...
After a longish morning's drive, we pulled into St. George around 12:30 California time which was 1:30 in St. George. Oops, I had forgotten about the time change! Suddenly, the already packed afternoon seemed THAT much crazier. Not only did I have to check in, but then I needed to figure out race day bags, check my bike, go for a pre-race swim/bike/run, drive the bike course and get dinner.
Random stop in Baker, CA at the Bun Boy Motel - Driving CalTri1,
Fortunately, packet pick-up went relatively quickly, and then I sat through most of the mandatory athlete meeting, making some quick decisions for my run/T2 bag. Around 2:15, we headed out to Sand Hollow Reservoir where I would drop off my bike and fit in a practice swim/bike/run. As we headed over to T1, I cursed the fact that I had chosen a race with two transitions, but once I saw the reservoir, all of my doubts about the race dissipated. I'm not really much of a swimmer, but this was, without a doubt, the most beautiful 'swim hole' in which I'd had the pleasure of racing. I was finally excited about the race!
This doesn't quite do it justice, but it's a gorgeous swim
I managed to get in a very short ride (from the car to transition), checked the Bat into T1, and then did a quick swim and run. Okay, I was ready to go! More or less. I also saw Beth, who was racing on Saturday (and placed 9th!) right as I was finishing my run. She gave me instructions for Saturday's race: Go hard on the bike and really push it on the downhill of the run.
Looking and feeling a bit tentative
Saturday morning rolled around early enough (4:00 am, which was 3:00 am for me), and I ate cereal and a banana and made coffee in our room thanks to an electric kettle and French press that we brought along with us. I was already dressed in my tri kit when I realized that I had a major wardrobe malfunction - I had brought BIKE SHORTS and not TRI SHORTS for my kit (I have a bike kit and tri kit that are the same pattern). I really couldn't run in bike shorts - or didn't want to for 13.1 miles, so the question was to wear the kit that I had worn on Friday or mix and match. The fashionable part of me (which does exist) pushed for the matching kit, but I didn't want to wear a solid black kit on race day due to the heat. So, I begrudgingly opted for the mix-and-match look. This, by the way, is the most RIDICULOUS thing to worry about on race day, but I also hadn't ridden that much in these particular shorts, so I was concerned for more legitimate reasons too (I'm happy to report that it worked out in the end).
For St. George 70.3, you can either take a bus from downtown St. George to the reservoir or drive - if you drive, you need to get there early to park, but it was a relatively easy process. We drove, parked, and then took a quick shuttle to the reservoir. I had plenty of time to set up my transition and get ready for my wave - Women, 40-44! For the first time in ages, I didn't have a pink or purple swim cap which made me very happy! Our wave went off at 7:18, but we got into the water around 7:15 and then swam to the "start" line. This wasn't my first in-water start, but damn it was rough! The water temperature was chilly but not freezing (around 62 degrees), and it was a beautiful venue with clear water (unlike the black silt and sludge of Wildflower), but it did not make for a fast swim for me. I felt good in the water but not speedy, and I exited at just over 39 minutes. Something of a disappointment, but only by a minute or so, which isn't a huge deal over the course of the day.
Once I exited, I took advantage of the wetsuit strippers (now called something else by the Ironman corporation), but it was still a slow transition, even for me, at 6 minutes. But once I was on the bike, I focused on that leg. We had driven the course the afternoon before, so I was somewhat aware of it. The first 30 miles are fast and FUN! Some rolling hills, and plenty of speedy sections that the hills break up.
Getting passed by a bunch of dudes
I knew that the real work would start in the second half of the course, but knowing it intellectually/on paper/driving it is completely different from first-hand experience. The most beautiful part of the course starts around mile 37, which is also when the climbing starts - up Snow Canyon. I told myself, when we drove the course on Friday, that it wouldn't matter that it was hard with such beauty, but that was complete bullshit. By mile 40, I would have happily quit if someone had driven by and offered me a ride - it was soul-crushing. Looking back, I'm not sure why I was so surprised by the challenge or why I thought that it would be easier than Wildflower's "Nasty Grade" because it wasn't. I finally crawled to the top - and then it was mainly downhill to the bike finish line. Beth thought that I could average 17 miles, and I made it! Woo-hoo!
Other random details: I ate 2 bonk breakers, a packet of honey stinger gels and a packet of pro bar gels (just discovered those recently and I *love* them!), plus some salt tablets, and most of 2 bottles of Skratch (just switched to Skratch and I'm a huge fan), and I grabbed water and gatorade at the aid stations.
I racked my bike and had a much faster transition than T1 - under 3 minutes! And then it was time for the run. I usually look forward to the run, but I had no idea how my legs would feel after that ride. Plus, once off the bike, I felt the heat. But, Mile 1 passed by pretty quickly, so I was hopeful that it wouldn't be as slow and painful as I feared.
Starting out on the run
The hills started, oh, almost immediately, and my pace dropped. Seeing a 10+ pace for Mile 3 depressed me a bit, however, Beth had warned me not to focus too much on the splits. That was good advice because mile 3 was my slowest split of the day - I managed to pick up the pace, especially on the downhill, and I hit the half-way point right around 60 minutes. I told myself that if I could stay focused, I'd pull off a 2-hour run, maybe go under? In the 3 previous 70.3 distance races, I've had a good first half of the run and then slowed down in the second half (I guess last year's Wildflower race doesn't really count because of the swim/run/bike/run course). I didn't feel overly confident about the hill that peaked at Mile 9, but I kept trucking along, only walking on occasion.
Getting the work done - in my mismatched kit! Also, beautiful scenery, not that I even noticed
Two comments about the run course: 1. Great support in terms of aid stations. I took a packet of Clif shot blocks, had 2 of them, and then stuck to water, gatorade, cola from the aid stations which were every mile, more or less, and I frequently poured ice down my shirt. 2. It was a great course to see other people - I was able to cheer for tons of CalTri people, when I had the energy to do so.
Much of the run, however, was a put-your-head-down-and-work experience. For the Mile 9 hill, there was a very small group - 3-4 of us - working together and keeping a decent pace (not walking). Once we hit the top of that hill, a volunteer called out to us "Last hill!". Although this was not quite true, it was the last long climb, so I started to pick it up. For the first time ever, I actually negative split my Half-IM run! The last miles were hard but fun (sub 8 for mile 13!), and I had enough energy for a good strong finish. I also have to admit that I teared up as I approached the finish line. It was a hard race, but I was really proud of how much I pushed myself on the bike and the run.
Smiling at the finish - representing Vanderkitten and Smashfest!
My final run time was 1:58:49 - just under 2 hours! And my overall time was 6:05:34 - ¡A PR by just over a minute! On the run, I knew that a PR was possible, but I certainly didn't expect it, so it truly came as a nice surprise when I checked my time.
Noting that finish time - my splits were almost even with my 2013 Vineman race, but St. George is definitely a more challenging course, so I'm more than happy with my time and with my improvements! And while I didn't feel super confident, I never doubted that I could finish the bike course which is a shift for me. Even last year, at Wildflower, I was nervous about the bike and making the cutoff - maybe a silly concern, but it's telling that I no longer worry about cut-off times.
Not to do the Academy thing, but I need to acknowledge the support from Beth, who is a really great coach and manages to support, push, and inspire her athletes; from California Triathlon, a fantastic group of people - it was fun to ride to St. George in style and cheer for people out on the course; and, of course, I couldn't do it without Michael, who spent a long day spectating after putting up with my pre-race mood on Friday (not an easy thing!).
As I said in my abbreviated 'race report' from St. George - it really is a fantastic course. Punishing, but rewarding in the end. As I gear up for IM Boulder in August, I know that plenty of hard work lies ahead, but I'm feeling good about where I am at this point and excited to work towards the next big race!
(By the way, I hope I don't sound like one of those assholes - although I probably do - who constantly talks about being undertrained and then winds up with a PR. I think my issue isn't that I'm undertrained but lack confidence to realistically assess my expectations)