Wednesday, May 6, 2015

St. George 70.3 - Race Recap

Back in February when I finally pulled the trigger and signed up for St. George, I felt great about my training.  As the weeks and months passed, doubts gnawed away at that confidence, and on more than one occasion I actually wanted to withdraw from the race - and would have done so, had it not been for the Michael who convinced me that I should stick with the plan.  I had some good rides, great runs and okay swims (note the theme?), but in comparison to Wildflower last year and Coeur d'Alene, it seemed that I hadn't fully committed to training during this training cycle.

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)


One Crazy Penguin said...

Well done! That's a super hard course to PR on, but you did it! Also, I'm the complete opposite of you. I like to mismatch as much as possible and would have specifically chosen to do that :p

Kristina said...

Too funny that you are a mismatch fan! Someone actually complimented me for wearing two of her favorite brands!
As for the PR - it's always nice to get one of those, but especially on a tough course.

erin said...

Love the mismatched kit! I do that often actually :) Way to negative split your half and snag that PR on a super tough course! Congrats!

mindful mule said...

Great racing!

And you got to drive the team car!

Kristina said...

Erin - Apparently the mismatched kit is in and I just didn't know it! It is a tough course but really fun too, as crazy as that sounds.

Rob - Thanks! And the team car is a bit silly but kind of fun. Lots of random people took photos of it, which was even funnier.

kilax said...

LOL, you do NOT sound like an asshole. You make it very clear in your blog that it's your doubt that makes you think you are not going to PR/do well. And we shouldn't be cocky... but I do think you are a bit too much on the unsure side. Look at how much you rocked that run! Negative splits?! DAYUM! And the parts of the bike that got you probably got every one else, too. This sounds like such a beautiful course! I am happy it ended up being a fun day for you! Congrats!

P.S. And you looked fine in your mismatch kit ;)

Unknown said...

Awesome run time! And awesome race! I can definitely understand the thinking you aren't going to do well and doubt. Training for Ironmans and half Ironmans can leave you feeling a little bit defeated and it is easy to let that doubt creep in! But now you can use this race as a confidence booster!