|St Croix Ironman 70.3 RACE REPORT||May 6, 2007
All that said I needed to focus on my race plan. I was a bit scattered and I tried to put it all together: stay hydrated and fuel up pre-race, swim steady and stay straight, ease into the bike, maintain 75% effort - about 225watts, don't blow up, don't crush it, don't get sucked into passing people on the climbs (there's a lot of "don'ts" on the bike), keep up the nutrition, salt on the :15's and :45's, gels on :30's and top of the hour, finish a bottle of water between each aid station, finish the Infinit throughout the ride, run smart, start slow for a couple miles, shoot for 160 HR, get in your zone and go, use what you have at 3 miles to go. Having that set always helps to go in knowing exactly where I needed to be. Things change but at least I have a baseline to start from. And that leaves me to execute and not have to figure anything out while I'm delusional.
The day before was calm. Breakfast. Registration. Quick swim, short bike and run. It was hot. It was humid. The ten minute run had my HR at 160 after a couple minutes. The 4 mile bike left salt streaks on my jersey. Could I manage 8 minute miles on a run like this? Did it seem possible after having run a 10 miler a month ago at a sub 7 minute pace? I was hopeful but not quite convinced.
I was excited and a bit nervous as usual but it was the most relaxed I'd been for a race. All the pre-planning had really paid off. And with every race the swim becomes less of an ordeal. I've learned and come to expect that race day is really just a marker of where you're at in your training and what the day gives you.
With 15 minutes to go I headed down to the beach. The DC Tri group was there and everyone was itching to go and tweaking their goggles. Paul was in the first wave after the pro women and we cheered him on. Then it was the 30-34 wave. And then us. We lined up.
Ready, set, GO! I ran in following the mass of arms and legs churning the water until I dove in. It was a fight all the way to the turn. I got hit in the face and re-arrange my goggles. I started paying more attention to feet kicking inches from my face than the actual course. And slowly it thined out. I tried to keep my line and stay straight. I concentrated on my stroke and being efficient- but not getting overly relaxed and slack on my pull. I wondered how well I could stay focused. I tended to drift into what my bike and nutrition plan was - especially on the second half of the swim coming back into the harbor. But I put that aside and switched gears to focus again on my technique.
It wasn't exceptionally interesting. I had a full mouth of salt water at one point and that wasn't pleasant. I got my goggles kicked off- not great for efficiency, but I stayed on course and I knew that I was headed out soon. I kept my head down in the last 300 yards and figured I would get out faster if I didn't look up as often. When I made it to the ramp I looked at my watch. I knew I was mid pack and even though I wanted better it was what I had expected.
I noticed my heart rate (HR) monitor was not reading on my watch which wasn't critical on the ride because I have my bike computer which also reads my HR from the same strap. But the idea that I wouldn't have this for the run made me uneasy. I fooled around with the strap but knew that wasn't it if the computer was picking up the signal. It must have been the watch. There wasn't much I could do about it then- and I didn't need it just yet, so I put those thoughts aside.
The first large climb came at about mile 6 and then I quickly descended into town- it's an 8 mile loop from the transition area (also used as the bike course for the Sprint race). On my way through town the "hot corner" slowed everyone down but the crowds pumped us back up as we headed towards the Beast and the rest of the loop around the island. That's when I started my nutrition plan. My goal was to get plenty of fluids and finish a bottle of water just as I got to the base of the Beast. Mentally it was great to get rid of any extra weight that I could and that water bottle looked like a rock when you stare up the climb. The ride along the coast was one the nicest parts of the course and there were many sections of new pavement on the left hand side-- we rode on the left since they drive on the left. Still there were plenty of rough patches but the view was gorgeous.
The jokes started early and the chatter among athletes grew as we got closer to the climb. And then as I made that last uphill turn and dropped my gear into low it was all right in front of me. About .75 of a mile up. I looked at my heart rate numbers, my power numbers, my cadence, my speed- all of it. It really didn't matter. But it's nice to know that I averaged 5.4mph (one could almost say about 6mph!) and kept my heart rate down to 154. As I rode up I could see the percentage grade spray painted on the ground, as well as the tenths of a mile that ticked off in slow motion. I tried to stay seated and about half way up I needed a break- right around the one main switch back that gets real steep on the short side. For the most part I was either passing people biking or walking and I knew that when I made it to the top I could take some time to recover on the back side. As I neared the top the cheers grew loud and peppered with coaching, "pull up with your legs!" as if I hadn't already tried that. At the top many people pulled over to refuel at the aid station- I kept rolling and took my break on the way down. I took it cautiously on the winding descent.
After that it was back to sticking the numbers and getting enough to eat. The course is mostly large rollers until the last 15 miles when the rollers get bigger and sharper. At this point we were on the south side of the island open to the elements whipping across the Caribbean Sea- a nice head wind in the heat of the day. It was nice to know the course and I was looking forward to getting around the corner of the island to have some of the wind at our backs. Problem there was that once we turn the corner we're on the north side sheltered from any positive wind influence, oh and the hills are worse.
But it was a great day to be riding in such an amazing place. And the faster I rode meant that the run would come more quickly. Near the end of the loop I felt some strain in my legs - the onset of potential cramps and so I took it easy trying to spin through some of the sharp climbs and focus on pounding all my fluids. I went through my bottles so quick that I actually ran out of fluids at this point- not having been training in the heat made it easy to drink a ton. It was a careful balancing act to keep pushing to transition and not push too hard to put my legs in distress. This happens every year just around this part of the course but this year I was able to catch it before I felt them seizing up. And that's knowing the last large climb at mile 53 will be a hard one to negotiate.
And while I had my own issues to deal with the racers around me were noticeably being beat down as well. The complaints and the frustration was easy to see. Heck it was easy to hear. The field was thinning as I made my way slowly forward through the course of the ride and it was also more competitive. There was plenty of jockeying for position and I tried to keep my numbers in check. As the climb came I felt better and part of my mind was mitigating my cramping legs while the other was creeping up and passing one rider at a time. As I reached the top I knew the rest was downhill and I tactically tried to add to my lead by cutting a sharp line down to town.
And the crowds were out in force- like sun dancers asking for more heat.
So at this point I knew I had to go out easy and race on perceived effort. As soon as I made that mental switch, about a minute into the run, I was fine. Or so I thought. I was going great for the first mile and I was at about 7:30 or less. The second mile was a rude awaking and a sure indication that I was going too hard so I slowed it down- rather I slowed down because of the first couple miles out. The heat was swamp like- with the clouds breaking and letting all the sun in on a damp and humid course. It was as if you could feel the vapors rise from the ground and the sweat on your body was a coating that only dripped off at maximum saturation. The golf course we ran around was stagnant and runners looked more like zombies. But with each step we got closer... to the second loop.
I dropped my glasses as I passed an aid station- after removing my cap to fill it up with ice. I didn't need them and needed a new pair anyway- so as I looked back to see the lenses scattered I kept on running.
Being out there in the swamp with relatively few people, my desire to urinate couldn't be postponed any longer. I took advantage of the circumstance to try a mid-run pee break. The idea seemed as ridiculous as it sounds but maybe heat stroke was to blame. A nice pair of snug tri shorts hiked half way down while jogging sideways pointing towards the brush must have been a sight to see. Like a sky writer I felt better with each step and amazed that I could run and pee at the same time- without getting it all over myself. Note: However I never got my race photos from that section of the run.
The run course isn't completely flat- more like hilly with some trail running and one good size climb. It's also two loops so all the fun on the first lap was even better the second time around.
The second loop was much like the first but slower. The difference being that my heart rate monitor decided to come back to life. I was now convinced I had gone out to hard. So I spent the rest of the run trying to manage my heart rate at the high end of where I wanted to be so I could still run down the finish chute. It was hard. It was hotter than hell. And I was ready for my rum and coke. I picked up my sunglasses as I rounded the station that I had dropped them on the first loop- slowing to pick them up at this point wasn't really slowing that much.
I knew what I had left and I introduced the thought of finishing sub 5:30 which helped me refocus. With this in mind I split up the last three miles with a goal for each. And I was going to hammer the last 1.1, or so I thought. I was on autopilot. I got into a rhythm and kept passing people along the last few miles. It was easier to pick them off now as most people were on a shuffle/walk protocol. I downed whatever I could running through each aid station- getting some fluids down and the rest poured all over myself. Town came into view, the cheers signaled the last half mile. And then the route through town took me up and out for about 6 blocks, drags you around and gives you one last jab. At the turn back with 6 blocks left to go I got another racer in my sights, probably 50 yards ahead. I started to ramp up my speed with the idea of passing him with about a block to go and having enough to make it all the way through the line. I was stressing my body to the max and reaching him slower than anticipated because his pace increased as well. With a block to go I was side by side and then all hell broke loose. We were like two kids running with all that we had for the ice cream truck. There was no more in the tank and he took me by a couple steps. He had a runners body anyway.
I was beat at the end. Those last couple miles took ALL I had- but
I had them to give and that was a great feeling at the end of the day. It was just enough to get my sub 5:30 and that felt awesome. My personal record (PR) for a half iron distance race is sub 5:00, but I can honestly say this was far more challenging than any other 70.3.
Rankings: Overall 110/482, AG 15/69
After taking a breather I was in the massage tent. I was back on island mode and ready for some time off. Thoughts of rum drinks and soft sand in clear waters was my main concern now. From there it all got better. Even the heat was absorbed by this tropical paradise.
Click on images
Everyone gathers on the beach tweaking their goggles and itching to go. A few port-o-poties are lined up on a barge at the waters edge and the sun rises over the east end of the island. The first glimpse of the day illuminates what’s in store for the race. Broken clouds move slowly and the heat of the day is already in motion.
You line up in age groups on the beach and watch the ceremonial start of the pros kick off into the bay. The water is warm, salty and buoyant all year long so it’s a no-wetsuit race. Ready, set, GO!
After the first turn the athletes slowly thin out on the straight shot out towards the ocean. The ocean floor, always in sight, is deepest at the turn around which is about half way through the course. The water is relatively calm on most days but can get choppy at the farthest point and the swells are more apparent as well. You get a wide range of tropical fish and sea life to distract you, not to mention the security and filming scuba crews below you. The hardest part is staying focused.
On the return stretch the current tends to be behind you guiding you back to shore. Sighting becomes easy having a range of building and land forms to set your course. The fort tower is a great indicator of which line to follow. But don’t assume you’re finished once you make it back to the dock. The last portion of the course follows the shore for about 200 yards to an exit ramp and for some reason it always seems like there’s a current against you.
When you make it to the ramp reach up to get a helping hand into transition.
As you cut through town you start the 48 mile long loop. Some technical riding takes you around the "hot corner" – a tiny 90 degree turn. The crowds pump you up as you head towards the Beast, the headwinds on the south side, and the rest of the loop around the island. The ride along the coast is one the nicest parts of the course and there are many sections of new pavement. Still there are some rough patches but the view is gorgeous so make sure to stay on the left hand side of the road (they drive on the left).
The jokes and chatter among athletes grows as you get closer to the Beast – the notorious three quarters of a mile long climb. And right around mile 20 you make a sharp left turn and within a few feet you’re already in your lowest gear. Heart rate, watts, cadence, speed– all of it doesn’t mean a thing. With an average grade of 14% or more and sections reaching 24% it’s all you can do to keep the pedals going forward. A 39/27 is highly recommended by race organizers but even that doesn’t stop competitors from brining flip flops strapped to their saddle bags in order to walk up. At an average speed of 5mph it’s easy to see the markings painted on the pavement, showing you how far you’ve gone in tenths of a mile and how steep in percentage grade.
As you near the top the cheers grow louder and peppered with coaching tips like, "pull up with your legs!", which of course is good advice if you haven't already tried that. A well placed aid station at the top is a great place to refuel and take photos of the Caribbean Sea. Quickly over the crest you begin a winding descent that takes you through quiet farm roads.
Before you know it you’re sharpening your BMX skills on a series of speed bumps through a neighborhood that leads you across the island to the south side. At this point you’ve reached the southern plains which are open to the wind whipping in from the sea- a stiff head wind. The course is mostly rollers until the last 15 miles when the terrain becomes tougher. Once you make it to the tip of the island you climb over to the north side once again. The last 8 mile stretch and final notable climb is the same as the first climb on the small loop that began the bike leg. The upside to this is that you get a nice 3 mile descent into transition.
There’s a great network of local police making sure all the road crossings are clear and this event essentially shuts down the entire island. The crowds are out in force- like sun dancers asking for more heat.
The run course isn't completely flat- more like hilly with some trail running and one steep climb on the resort grounds. This is a common walk section where you get to meet athletes from all over the world. Many racers including Kona veterans walk side by side on this grueling section of the run.
The first loop is tough but the second is a test of will. The heat cranks up as the sun is at its highest. The hills become less forgiving and the miles stretch out. The hardest part of the race is often misconstrued as the Beast when in reality it’s the intense heat of the run, especially on the second loop.
Cheering crowds signal that you’re nearing the final half mile as you race into town weaving through historical side streets. The route drags you around town for another 6 blocks and gives you one last jab before you cross the finish line.