Tuesday, June 11, 2013

STG Half Ironman 70.3 Pro Championships

Several years ago I kind of got interested in triathlons, I like swimming and I like biking and of course I was coming from a running background being a runner and all. I liked the aspect of them they just seemed a nice challenge and added a little extra to races but at the time I was on a mountain bike and just using it for a short 5 mile roundtrip commute to work. I did my first sprint triathlon in April of 2011 and it just kind of got put on hold. I wanted a nicer bike to race on and wanted to put the proper training in as I did literally no training for that sprint triathlon and just kind of winged it on 2 swims and my bike commuting.

2011 was also the year I decided to do my first marathon. So once done with my lone triathlon I went into full marathon training that consumed me. The race went well but I didn't meet any of the expectations I wanted for the race so I decided to wing another marathon in March of 2012 that was a complete disaster coming off ITBS in my knee it was one of the worst races I have ever done. I was burned out, I was done, I was losing my love for running. So I picked up a fairly cheap road bike in April and started to think about doing triathlons again maybe trying for an Olympic in the fall or next spring and redoing the sprint tri I did the previous year which had a winter version too in November.

In May everything changed though as the local ironman that had been a full became a half as they had trouble selling out the full the previous 2 years (I actually talked to one of the operators of the race on Friday and he let me in on the fact that what happened was that when they signed the 5 year contract they tried to get ironman to try and guarantee that they wouldn't put on any other earlier spring ironman events as most of the country can't train for one in the Winter and it would hurt STG. They wouldn't go for it though and ended up offering another full 3 weeks prior in Dallas which hurt registration for STG plus STG had gotten the rightly deserved reputation of being the hardest ironman in the country and one of the top ten hardest in the world). This altered my plans entirely as I was fairly confident I could be ready for a half in a years time so I decided to sign up.

Luck would have it another coworker also wanted to do it and he actually got our employer to sponsor us for it and my work paid the registration fee (that is huge as the race cost $225). Getting into triathlon training completely reinvigorated me. I found my love again after what had been a pretty low couple of months. I actually can't imagine not triathlon training ever again I love it too much. Now that I was committed and registered I no longer could think about a spring Olympic I needed to do that fall Olympic. I had signed up for STG marathon again in October and luckily Kokopelli Olympic was exactly 3 weeks prior and could lead into a taper for the marathon. I still wanted redemption at the marathon so I decided to train for both at the same time. This led to some very odd training that I love. It was kind of done on a 3:1 basis. Heavy running for 3 weeks (40+ miles a week) with biking of around 40 miles and 1-2 swims a week, and then a 4th heavy bike week with light running (70+ miles biking with just 20-25 running).

Funny enough it actually worked really well for me, I ran a 1:51 half in July as my tune up for the marathon and started to contemplate trying to go for sub 4 for the marathon. Kokopelli went good but with lots of learning lessons having only done a sprint tri and that as a pool tri. Open water was a completely new beast and had lots of issues like sighting and the heat after being out for a couple of hours. Everything went great though and I was still contemplating a sub at STG in October but laid back and ended up with a 4:18 a 40 minute pr.

Then came the winter of misery. After training for both an Olympic and a marathon at the same time I was completely burned out and took it easy in both October and November I still set a half pr in November of a 1:50 and then turned around and set a new sprint tri pr of 1:25 by 20 minutes 2 weeks later. December I started to get back into training for the HiM but started having mechanical issues on my $200 road bike I had bought. I missed several weeks of bike training when I had to get the crank and bottom brackets replaced. Then I got really sick on Christmas and had that lingering cough from the flu that didn't go away for a month. Making January rough again.

I didn't have many races planned and started to just pace so I could keep fresh but not have to race and I got free enteries. I paced the 2 hour group in January for STG half and then the 2:20 group for Zion national park half in March. I signed up for a dualathon (3.1 run, 24 mile bike, 3.1 run) in February that was a perfect brick training leading up to the half ironman. But it was a complete disaster where I got two flats on the bike course and rode 2 miles off course and it just wasn't a good day. Frustrated with the bike I decided I wanted a new bike and I wanted to get a triathlon bike. Originally we had been saving to go see my sister in Canada who had gotten cancer but she moved back locally in February because she had a better support system here. That meant I could save for a bike instead.

The great local bike/triathlon shop I go to allowed me to get on a layaway plan and set me up with a nice Quintanaroo Kilo triathlon bike. I managed to get the bike a month before the HiM and got around 300 miles on it before the big race. But then I discovered something in March as to the reason i probably had a really low year the previous year its because I get really bad spring allergies that makes racing and running extremely difficult I never correlated the two before. I have suffered from spring allergies my whole life never thought on how much it would effect me racing wise and why my winter races are always so much better. But I fought through them and just kept plugging away at the miles.

I did the spring sprint triathlon again and despite being sick and suffering from allergies set a 6 minute pr which was fantastic. Got back on track and 3 weeks prior got a great training day in. I swam a half mile in the lake, went for a 52 mile bike ride all on course then ran 8 miles on course afterwords for a nice 60.5 training day giving me a great boost and confidence that I had my 70.3 in the bag.

I do admit to adjusting to more of a 2 week taper as I wanted to get my running mileage over 100 for the month as I wanted to keep my streak alive of 100+ months running and this was my 30th straight. Taper went good although I was a little manic and a little freaked out.

Not since my first marathon back in 2011 have I been so nervous and out of my mind the week before a race. I manically checked the weather everyday as wind can be brutal on the bike and swim. It looked to be hot upper 80's but I can deal with heat on the run, wind is another matter. Wednesday rolls around and we are seeing winds of 45mph out at the venue. Last year the wind was so bad for the full they pulled tons of people out of the water and I am not that good of a swimmer in chop so it had me freaked out even though the forecast kept showing winds of just 5mph the morning of.

I took Friday off work because there is a lot to do. I went and did the triathlon club breakfast that I am involved in. Then we went to the expo and the mandatory meeting for athletes and did athlete check-in. Man athlete check-in for an ironman event is insane. You gotta sign a waiver first, then they shuttle you from one table after another getting bibs, and stickers and info, and then your swag and then your timing chip. Head off to lunch with the family and then go do bike check-in. You have to check-in your bike the day before to race. Next thing I know its 5pm. Really easy to forget about your nerves when you are so busy.

We came home and laid down for like an hour and half and then headed out to do the ironkids race with my three year old. I signed him up for the one mile event because he was able to do half of a 5k last September and he would have been ok had they started on time. I don't know if anyone has ever tried to corral a rambunctious three year old at a start line while the announcer prattles on for 15 minutes but you end up wanting to punch him in the face. Off we go Oliver is the typical run then get tired then walk then run some more. About 3/4 of the way through he wants me to carry him but I knew we were so close we just kept going. He did fantastic finished the whole mile and even though we were DFL he was so excited to get his medal and of course just like a three year old he completely forgot he just finished a mile and was complaining to be carried and went and ran in the splash pad and screamed when we made him leave.

Went home and prepped all my bags for the race the next day. You have three bags a swim bag, a bike gear bag and a run bag and all your stuff must be in each bag for each portion. I didn't do much in my run gear bag just a running tech tee as I didn't want to run in my bike jersey. Get some dinner and off to bed by 10am. Alarm is for 4am because I want to get to the shuttles at 5am so I can drop off my run gear bag in T2. Of course I wake up before my alarm and just get up. Make some breakfast and am out of the house in perfect time. Even though I set up all my bags the night before I keep having that panic mode like I forgot something because I have forgotten things in my last 2 tris (my swim goggles and my helmet). Almost want to rifle through my bags to make sure I have everything.

Bus ride out is a nervous ride and I don't really talk with anyone. Get out around 5:30 and my swim wave is at 7:33 so I know I got 2 hours before my start. Get marked for the swim and go to my bike to make sure my tires are good and everything is set up. Your not allowed to set up anything in your transition area I find out and everything has to stay in your bike bag. I checked the weather before I left and it said 55 but it was 50 in hurricane and I am little cold because I wore nothing extra just my bike jersey and triathlon shorts. Glad to realize I forgot nothing and use the portapotties real quick and then just stand around and talk and shiver a little. Go use the portapotties again around 6:15 and get back and the guy is announcing we have to be out of T1 by 6:30, I hadn't planned on leaving T1 until 7 with my start being at 7:33. Oh well I bag up my morning gear that is going back and start to line up to head out to the swim start.

This is where my day went completely went downhill. Most people used clips and biking shoes meaning that they had other shoes on for the walk down to the start. I use my running shoes and cages. with the new bike I didn't want to overwhelm myself with too much new stuff race day and will get clips in the next month or two but opted to not and try and get them before the race. This meant I was completely barefoot all the way to the start. The road was filled with gravel and pebbles and my feet were completely torn up, where as the people with shoes got to drop them off at the bag drop and had to walk less than half the distance because of it barefoot. The walk was probably 1/3 of mile and my feet were bleeding by the end from the rocks. (I mentioned it after the race to one of the people who put it on and she agreed they should do something and that they may lay down carpet next year for it).

We watched the pros go off at 6:55 and actually finish before we even got in the water as most of them did it in 23-25 minutes meaning they were out of the water by 7:20. Line up for my swim start and am surprised they actually have you swim out to a start point in the lake. Its not much of a swim maybe 50 meters but still kind of odd. Waves go off every 3 minutes. So you get there and kind of tread water and bump into people and wait until an air horn goes off.

The lake is cold probably like 58 but I had swam it twice in the last month so I was expecting it. I told myself just get your head down and you will be fine, settle in and don't worry about anyone around you as your slow and several waves will likely catch you (which they did). A lot of people went in a tight line to the buoys but I kept a little wider as I am slower and know eventually that some waves will catch me from behind and I am ok with that. It means I won't have to get swam over when they come from behind and it really doesn't add much to the swim except when i got to swim to the turn buoys and make up the little distance I am out.

Unlike Kokopelli sighting goes perfect for this race. We are not swimming into the sun and I bought some new clear goggles instead of my tinted ones on Monday (I know crazy first time using them for a race but I had the same exact brand and model just tinted before and I have 45000 meters on them this year and like them). I did use some anti-fog spray and my goggles stayed clear the whole time. I could spot up to 2-3 buoys at any given time as they had a lot more buoys out then Kokopelli and it just went great. Plus no real way to swim off course as they had kiyakers and boats all along the perimeter for assistance. This was to be my longest open water swim so I just settle in.

The only time it got crazy was during the turns as everyone was tight in on the buoys (we had 2 turns it was kind of like an open ended square) and I swallowed a lot of water during these turns with all the packed bodies in kicking water up. Make my second turn and you can see the shore even if its off at a distance. Man that shore just never seemed to getting any closer drove me crazy. I know I am close and just want to be out of the water and on the bike. The swim was the only portion I was worried about as that would suck so bad to get pulled and that's it your day is over a years worth of training for just a swim. Finally hit the shore and am excited to get out of the water. I got an odd cramp near the end but just shrugged it off.

Had to stop and use the portapotties for all the water I swallowed on the turns, I tried to pee in my wet suit to save time it was just too cold for me to pee. Get to transition and most of my bike rack is empty which I figured it would be with me being a slower swimmer. I was actually very happy with my swim time my best time of the day in my opinion for me. 1:05:01, which is great everyone with the swim watches said the swim was even a little long. I swam the 1500 meters at Kokopelli in a hour so this was great for me though. The swim cutoff is 1:10 but it goes off the last wave which was at 8 so I would have had 1:37 to the swim but I totally made the cutoff without even needing the extra time which made me so happy.

But as I go to put my shoes on all of a sudden I get a cramp. My feet bleeding and then getting salt water in them is making me crap something I have never had happen on a swim before. Ruh roh Shaggy its going to be a long day, no way am I freaking quitting though. Not a lot you can do about it though so I eat my chomp and get some water and get out on the bike. Yea with having to stop to use the bathroom and working out the cramp I ended up with a very slow T1 a 7;46.

I am feeling ok though I would get some minor cramps every now and then on the bike and I would switch positions say to aero or out of aero and just work the cramp out. I know I am not putting in my fastest bike times but I have gotten really strong on the bike in the last year and knew I would be under an hour on the cutoff on the bike. The cramps forced me lay back a little and not take it too aggressive which cost me time. Now this bike course is brutal with almost 3600 feet of elevation gain in 56 miles. STG Half Ironman is still considered one of the toughest in the entire country if not toughest even as a half. But I had ridden 52 miles of the 56 so I knew what to expect. You really have 4 major climbs with tons of little ones in between and a fair share of downs too.

The first portion was more of a nuisance than anything you are kind of packed in with one lane and can't use the shoulder because of the rumble strips and some bikers and racers are just complete jacktards. I had one lady illegally pass me then slow down then drive me crazy by keeping looking back and saying I was drafting off her. Or several riders who would ride right in the middle of the lane and you would have to call out on your left to pass them. I heard there were several accidents on course and I am not surprised. Get through the first major climb and am feeling ok.

Aid stations were at 11, 16 and 40. I am feeling the cramping so I make sure I stop at every aid station and not just ride through, get some Gatorade, some chomps and a banana every time. Volunteers were great helped out greatly at all the aid stations.

Settle in for the long bike. My wife was tracking me and was expecting me at mile 35 on the bike up from the in-laws house. I am coming down the road and I am confused there are bikers coming up it though too and I am like am I lost I thought we weren't doing this hill. Trust me they found every single little extra hill they could find. The whole 4 miles I didn't ride were all uphill SOBs. See my wife and son and scream out Oliver as I am going fast and downhill and that was it they were gone haha. I guess they had just arrived so at least they got to see me on the bike, heard they saw me on the run too but don't know where.

Climb number 4 is the most brutal and happens at mile 43. Pull into aid station 3 and hear you want a batman water, I actually did want a water to fill up my water bottle but I am like batman water huh. Look over and the volunteer was dressed as batman so yea I took a batman water. I get my chomps, get my banana, get my gatorade and take my last s-cap for the bike ride (was taking them every hour or so). Man climb number 4 really beats me up, I had trouble standing up at times because my calves are pretty much locked up into a massive cramp at this point. But I know if I can just get up this climb its all downhill baby to the finish (except for 2 hills one you take fast enough that its easy Ledges on the marathon course). Hit the downhill and am just happy to be nearly done, I pretty much hit the wall at mile 45 on the bike and the rest of the day would be all wall all day.

Find the stupid hill at mile 52, I mean they divert us off the road for half a mile just to climb this stupid hill, I swear they are actively looking for hills at this point. Get to T2 and am glad to be done even though I know several more hours await me. I actually can't even swing my leg off the bike it is so cramped up it takes me two full minutes to actually manage to get off my bike as I massage out the cramp in my calf. Bike time was ok not nearly anywhere as good as I normally am 3:39:35 (keep in mind I did the 52 miles on course just 3 weeks earlier in 3:13 and that was with me having to stop at lights as I wasn't on a managed course). I am ok with it though because it could have gone worse. Saw multiple flats and accidents (talked to a guy on the Snow Canyon climb completely covered in dirt and blood who wrecked on the bike course) and was happy no flats and no mechanical issues.

T2 again is slow with me having to stop and work out the cramp 5:55 (I can do t2 in less than a minute as I don't switch shoes). Hit the run course after stopping for my first soda of many of the day (the sugar really helped me). I realize its going to be tough the bottom of my feet feel like I am running on broken glass from the bleeding in the morning and I am cramped up. Decide to run the downhills and straights and walk the uphills. Problem is the first 4 miles is all uphill its a brutal run course with nearly 1300 feet of elevation gain. Do my best and I stop at every aid station to dump water on myself and get soda I decided I wanted real food to help with the cramping rather than chomps or gus. So I take pretzels, chips, twizzlers, bananas, oranges and these yummy watermelon balls this one aid station had. There is an aid station every mile so I get a little of each of that at each station, Chips at one, oranges at another.

The volunteers were amazing and so accommodating and cheerful. Some even seemed to take sick joy out of it haha like the one volunteer who dumped ice water down my back which made me jump even though I asked for it and was expecting it. They were all so great as were the spectators there was one guy on the run course with a hose that I just let soak me to death with how hot it was and amazingly enough the only place I chafed was on my neck where my helmet strapped rub for some reason (never had that problem before).

I hit mile 4 and seem to get a second wind might have helped that we are finally going downhill. Actually do my best running of the entire day between miles 4-7. I dropped my overall pace by nearly 1:30 minutes per mile. I would give it all back the last 4 miles though. Hit I think aid station 8 and the head volunteer comes up to and congratulates me as that is the aid station I volunteered at the last 2 years for the ironman and she remembered me. I hear my name a lot during the run but I just want to be done. I know I got the cutoff in the bag and will be an official finisher but you just want to be done. Its now hot outside about 90 degrees and you have been out there for more than 7 hours at this time.

Get to about mile 11 and magically they found another hill for us to run up, they divert you off on a detour to run up a stupid quarter mile hill. Someone needs to show em they can do diverts without finding hills SOBs. At mile 12 I am expecting my friend who is going to have a slushee dr pepper waiting for me. I guess he got really sick the night before and dropped it off for me and the bike shop owner has it waiting for me instead (that baby was magical at the end as I sat on the park bench and drank it and watched my son run in the splash pad again) as he was running that aid station.

You round the corner and can see the finish line oh how magical it looks. Oliver is waiting for me to give me a high five as I go through the shoot and they announce your name. What a long day I had hoped to do the run in 2:30 but when the cramping started I hoped to just be under 3 neither happened as I finished in 3:10;11 but I could care less I just finished 70.3 with over 69 miles of it cramping My overall time was 8:08:28 about an hour after what I wanted to finish in but I finished and it was glorious.

I no longer really see myself as a runner anymore and more of triathlete now. I am going to train for STG marathon again and try and get my sub 4 but I am also going to train for Kokopelli again too and do better there too. I think I will be back next year for the HiM and to get a little revenge on the course with some flip flops haha

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