Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What happens in Vegas....

Traveling to Las Vegas to race a triathlon seems like a strange thing to do indeed, but when the WTC decided to relocate the Ironman 70.3 World Championship to Lake Las Vegas I was intrigued.  Heat, wind, hills.  Sounds kind of like a certain volcanic island in the Pacific, doesn't it?

In the days preceding the race, we toured around the course and started to understand why the race organizers selected this location for the championship.  It was clearly intended to be a challenge - non-wetsuit swim leading to a hilly and hot ride in the desert, capped off by a 3-loop run course on black asphalt.  Even T1 was difficult - you had to exit from the water, run nearly half a km to transition and then drag your bike up a switchback.  Yes, a switchback!

Race morning did not start well.  Note to self - remember to bring your nutrition to transition in the morning!  Upon realizing that we had forgotten our GU Brew in the hotel fridge, I set off on a panicky 2k run back to the hotel (in my flip-flops no less) to retrieve my nutrition before the 6am closure of transition.  Not good!  Luckily, the medical director was kind enough to give me a ride part of the way back to the hotel and another kind spectator gave me a lift part of the way back to transition so I made it back, frazzled, precisely at 5:53am.  7 minutes to clear out of transition.

A typical 70.3, it was a wave start and I lined up with my AG for a 7:20 start.  We were over 40 minutes back of the pro start and watched all of the pros exit the water before we even got our toes wet!  The swim course was one-loop in the rather murky waters of Lake Las Vegas.  What a strange little man-made lake.  It was an in-water start, so each wave had 10 minutes to warm up and move into position as the preceding two waves moved through to the start.  Even though the water was over 80 degrees, it felt cold and I was shivering as I treaded water, or perhaps it was just nerves.  The start was surprisingly rough for only 100 people and I was pretty battered around for the first few buoys.  I managed to hold myself together enough not to backstroke and by the turnaround had passed a few blue-capped swimmers from the preceding wave, but started to struggle on the return.  The sun was glaring on the left and I found bilateral breathing to be dizzying, so ended up breathing right only and stalling my stroke.  I felt awkward and heavy in the water and knew even before I hit the dock that my time was rotten.

Sure enough, some quick math in subtracting 40 minutes from the clock time told me that I had spent 38 minutes flailing around.  I was annoyed, frustrated and felt like crying.  The little devil voice in my head really, really wanted to was Kona deja vu as I plucked my bike off a nearly empty bike rack.  I had exited the water in 62nd position - almost 2/3 to the back of my wave.  Really must learn how to swim.

As I mentioned previously, the exit out of T2 was a rather treacherous switchback and my heartrate was jacked by the time I hit the mount line.  But along the way up the switchback came a game changing moment.  Several of the spectators were being really rude and saying stuff like "see ya later, suckers" and "glad it's not me out there".  It was inappropriate, rude and really, really got me going.

I may not be able to swim, but I can ride.  And ride I did.  I took the first hill fairly conservatively up to Lake Mead Parkway and through the no-pass zone, but after hitting the first hill it was game on.  The course was challenging and hilly, but definitely easier than Sooke and I had nothing to lose.  As Bjoern had suggested, I rode the uphills hard knowing that I could recover on the downhill and by the time I hit the turnaround, I was averaging 35kph.  My favorite moment of the day was the reaction of one of the men in the 35-39 age group whom I traded positions with a couple of times (me on uphills, him on the downhills). When I finally passed him once and for all on the final descent out of the park, he shook his head and said "but you are just so little".   

The turnaround yielded headwind and it was at that point that I became cognizant of the heat, so I dialed it back a bit.  I was also starting to struggle with nutrition - the aid stations were quite far apart and I was not able to quickly refill my water bottle so ended up running out of water three times.  The air was dry, my eyes stung and the back of my throat was scratchy and parched, yet I had to keep riding fairly hard to stand a chance to make up for my abysmal swim time.

By the time I reached T2, I was dehydrated and headachy.  Fearful of bonking or getting a migraine, I spent extra time in transition drinking water.  Three full glasses of it!  Without water, my run would be over before it began and I knew I had to pay special attention to hydration.

I'd like to say that I felt springy and happy coming off the bike...but the adjectives dull, hot and wilted come to mind.  The black asphalt was hot, so very hot.  The three loop run course was full of people as I exited T2 and there were spectators everywhere.  If the run had been more desolate, it would have been easy to surrender to the hot black asphalt, but with so many people around there was no chance I was giving up easily.  I spotted Bjoern almost immediately, and he told me that I had ridden myself into 8th place in my AG with a 2:39.

Wow, talk about information having an impact.  My heart leapt a little....8th in AG at the WC!  My hard work on the bike had paid off!

Then his next words put fear into the mix - "run as hard as you can, you can do it".  Damn.  There were only 4-5 minutes separating 4th to 12th place in my AG.  If I fell off, there were several girls hot on my heels that would happily run me down even despite the heat and the challenging course.

Because of the looped run course, it was very hard to tell who you were passing in your AG and whether they were even on the same loop.  I was passed very quickly by two girls who were absolutely cruising and started getting down on myself.  The run course was 1.5 miles down, 2 miles up, 2 miles down, 2 miles up, 2 miles down, 2 miles up, 1.5 miles down.  The downhill hurt, the uphill hurt and it was just damned hot.

What I rationalized, however, was that if I was hurting...chances are everyone else was too.  Those girls passing me fast and then walking up the hills were messing with my head, and by the third lap I had had enough of the tortoise and hare bullsh*t.  My pace may have been slow, but it was steady, and that was somehow good enough to keep me in the game.  I skipped the aid stations on the last hill and ran as hard as I could, passing two girls in my AG in the last 2k.  I felt really fast but I know better :)

Sub-5 was out of the question, but I ended up holding on to 8th in my division with a 5:04.  Am I entirely satisfied with that?  No, of course not.  My swim was disappointing and I lacked focus for much of the run.  Knowing that a mere 3 minutes separated me from the podium really made me kick myself after the fact.....but I'll be back for another go!

There were some victories - my bike split was the second fastest in my AG (one of the fastest female age-group times of the day) and I was able to bounce back from being dehydrated coming off the bike.  I played it smart, took the time to drink and eat on the run, and ended up feeling great at the end.  So while a podium finish would have been nice, 8th in AG is not terrible.

Big hugs and thanks to the awesome Vancouver team - Stephanie, Rachel, Susan, Stephen, Amy, Andrew and Mark.  I'm thinking Whole Foods should definitely give us preferred customer cards for our patronage this week!

Huge thanks and gratitude to Coach Bjoern for all the wisdom, support and patience.  You somehow managed to keep us all in line and still smiling despite the tough heat training.  

And of course, huge props to Speed Theory for your support and assistance.  That bike split goes to you.  :)

Team Oss-some!

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