Wow, what a weekend. It was a beautiful venue with an incredible group of volunteers.
The race was hard, very hard. Hills, heat, and wind. I am grateful to my wife and coach for helping me finish this amazing race.
Here’s how it all went down…
Friday: The day before the race. We started the road trip on Thursday and spent last night in Las Vegas to break up the drive. We got a relaxed start on Friday and pulled into St. George, Utah around noon. I definitely was overwhelmed with the whole race check in which included two separate transition areas 20 miles apart. There was a time limit to get it all done so it probably would have been better to arrive on Thursday instead. In addition, bringing the family including our child made it it a bit more complicated but that’s the way I wanted it. I want the family included. Of course, I can see the advantages of going alone. If you feel that you really need to focus, then perhaps leave the kids at home.
It was a very hot day on Friday and it would have been best to get it all done early so as not to get drained by the heat. I was out running around in the hottest part of the day so that wasn’t the best. I was at least hydrating well.
Dinner was a little tricky. All the other athletes had the same idea to go to the best Italian restaurant in town: Cappeletti’s. We did manage to get a table but then had to leave because our child was too fussy to sit through dinner. So we had to take the food to go. Then a miscommunication with my wife about where to meet up caused us a little delay in getting back to the hotel so we ended up eating later than I wanted. After dinner, I felt disorganized and so I spent some time organizing my food and the transition bags plus tinkering with the new food storage box for the bike. All of this made it a busy evening. I would rather have just relaxed. But it’s not really an issue that I see ongoing as I’m such a newbie. I had to get a few things worked out, i.e. how to store stuff on the bike, where to store my tools, and getting last minute essentials like body glide and a sun visor. I set all my stuff out on the floor and plugged in my heart rate monitor for a charge and went to bed.
Race day: I didn’t really sleep that great. Spent a lot of time thinking about all that I needed to do in the morning and it took a while to get to sleep. Then I was up very early to eat. There was a one hour time zone change thus making my wakeup very early. I also didn’t have everything I needed. We ran out of bananas yesterday. And I did not have a bowl to cook my oatmeal. D’oh! Ok, no problem. I improvised with a coffee cup.
I grabbed my stuff, caught the hotel shuttle, dropped off my run bag at T2, and then caught the bus. I sat next to a pro who seemed extremely nervous which made me less nervous. Good luck my man! You will do great.
It didn’t take me long to set up the new stuff on the bike but while setting up everything in T1, I noticed I had made a major error. I put all my gels into the run bag that I had dropped off at the T2 and thus I did not have what I wanted to eat on the bike. Ok, calm down. Luckily I planned for this. I brought some extra things that I will now have to eat. It was a bit funny because my coach even asked me what my backup plan would be if I lost all my food. I thought it was a ridiculous question. How could I lose all my food. Well now I know because it happened. I was very lucky because I grabbed a bunch of things as I left the hotel: banana, a sandwich I had made with almond butter that I thought I might eat on the bus, and a bagel.
I was a little slow getting to the swim start. There were very long lines for the bathrooms. And I had to put my wetsuit on and then drop off my “morning bag” at the drop-off point. Once I got into my wave group and approached the water, I felt the nervous energy. We got in the water and I took off. Whoa, that water was cold! I did not realize how the start actually worked which I should have figured out ahead of time. The groups enter the water and swim up to the start 100 yards deep and then wait for the horn. But it was a little confusing because the horn was going off every minute. I thought our wave started right at the shore. So I got a little surprise. Next time I’ll know to be more attentive.
Swim: As I mentioned, the water was cold: mid 60 degrees and the athletes had the option to wear booties. I am happy I stayed warm prior to the start because it was quite a shock. Right from the horn, there were collisions everywhere. Lots of contact. The cold water (despite wetsuit) put me in a bit of a crisis mode. I was not very relaxed. I was breathing every stroke. I also got a tiny bit of upset stomach too but nothing major. It took a few minutes to settle into a rhythm. There was already a lot of wind which made the water choppy and I got a few unexpected mouthfuls of water but no big deal since I have been swimming a lot. Once I got into the rhythm things seemed fine but it was hard to know how to pace. Plus there were people swimming crooked lines and running into me. I caught a lot of people from previous waves so I was dodging bodies here and there. I didn’t want to blow a ton of energy so early since I knew it would be a long day. I should have taken a little time to look at the course the day before so I didn’t really know it well but the course was well marked and I stayed on course fairly well. It was only right at the end where it was a little disorienting where you couldn’t see the exit easily unless you stop. The goggles were a little foggy by the end. 37:57. Not terrible but I think with a bit more open water practice I could really shave off a lot of time.
T1: 5:48 This was the first time I ever had wetsuit strippers help me. They were fast. I didn’t really want to run so I half walked/ran and it was a little uncomfortable on my cold feet. I sat down to put my shoes and socks on. I took a massive drink of water even though my coach encouraged me to get all the drinking done on the ride. I really wanted to get my fluids going early. It only took a few extra seconds.
Average speed 15.4 MPH
Average HR 133, max HR 153
My HR was high right away and it was a bit frustrating when 100’s of people flew by me. Nevertheless I stuck to the plan and was patient and let my HR get under control. I was a little disappointed that the first hill was so soon and I was already doing a fair bit of work early on. Plus that first hill got my IT bands fired up way too early and I felt the tension begin. My HR jumped up to 150 and I really had to go slow to get it down again into my mid Z3. During hour 1 I ate my entire almond butter sandwich plus the half banana. And I was drinking constantly. After 45 minutes I was settling in. I had to pee a lot which was uncomfortable. I’m still not sure how the pro’s do it well.
Once settled in it was a nice ride in to town. We had a bit of a head-wind so I didn’t fight it and stayed in a higher cadence and lower gear. I did enjoy a few of the rolling hills because I was very fast on the down and if I knew it was a short hill I was able to put in action the method of dialing up the intensity just a bit at the base and up through the hill to keep some momentum. Unfortunately I am still not that good of a cyclist so most of these hills really crushed me. I not only didn’t train for hills but I have been avoiding them to prevent provoking my IT bands.
The middle section was reasonable. Once we made it to town, we headed up to snow canyon and it became difficult. Snow canyon was very VERY hard. The hills just kept going. My thought during the snow canyon section was “I’m not sure what I was thinking when I signed up for this race!” It was really hard to keep the HR down and I recall the goal of trying to not burn too much of my Z4 time. I think I was burning more z4 time than I wanted. I played around a bit with different gearing. I tried a bigger gear and standing but this immediately jolted my IT bands with pain so I kept it in my lowest ring and sat down. I think at one point at the steepest section my cadence dropped into the 40’s or 30’s. But that was brief. For the most of the hills it was higher but still far from my usual 80’s to 90’s. Once I got to the top it was a huge relief and there were some spectators that were shouting some words of encouragement. “You just destroyed Snow Canyon. I know it feels like it’s the other way around, but you did it!” he said. There was 10 miles to go and I took off. Indeed I was smiling as my coach had predicted. I had conserved my energy and my IT bands survived some nasty hills. At this point I thought to myself “I can finish this thing.” On the descent I was feeling good and I kept up my HR in my mid zone 3 while others coasted. I saw a lot of that: people pushed hard on the hills and backed off on the flats and I was always the opposite. I hit over 50 mph on the down which was probably not wise with the intense cross wind. It was pretty scary and a few of the gusts were so strong that they almost blew me over. I also had a bit of a hard time passing people as they would ride barely faster than the person they were passing and there was very little room. At 45+ mph with little room it was tricky and I was wishing I could just get away from people. So my suggestion to others doing this course is to just be cautious here. I had heard of at least one crash in this section. It was an abrupt finish after a grueling ride and my left achilles was quite sore as were my IT bands. Plus my hands were going numb. And my neck and back a little sore from over-gripping and being super rigid during the wind gusts.
T2: 5:18 I prepared an electrolyte drink for myself to carry on the run but I just chugged it. I didn’t want to carry anything. I found all my lost gels and happily put them all in my pocket. I let the volunteers quickly put sunblock on me (this was my second round, the first being prior to swim) and I was happy I did because I still got sun burned.
Average pace 10:42
Average HR 142, max HR 167
It was a very tough start to this run course. It was 3 miles of uphill to start. My HR was 130 on the start which was about where I was trying to keep it. My left achilles was very sore on the start and I was worried this would be the thing that could make me drop out. The plan was to keep it real easy on the first two miles. It was all uphill so just a slow easy shuffle as per the plan. And again I was being passed by a lot of people. I kept the HR nicely parked in mid zone 3. There wasn’t really a HR plan for the run so I arbitrarily decide I would stay around 130-135 for the beginning to conserve. After I got my legs back I let it go up to 142. My achilles eventually stopped hurting and I was very happy. I was definitely happy that after all this. I had no pain nor soreness now so I started picking up the pace. I stopped at every aid station and drank two little waters, 1-2 little gatorades, and put ice cubes in my suit. Did I mention it was hot? It was HOT. I think it was over 90 degrees by this point. I think I had 4 gels total on the run. It was a bit of an experiment still as I have not had to eat while running this hard. I just went slow and took a little bit of gel at a time. I was pleased as I was running 98% percent of the time. I just walked very short periods of time if my HR got out of control or if it was very steep. Halfway through the run I was passing everybody and I was enjoying it. My pace dropped down to the 10’s, 9’s, 8’s, and then 7’s. Wow, 7:40 mile was fun. I haven’t been able to do that in practice.
On the downhills I would push it as long as I wasn’t pounding too hard. I let the HR creep up a little and then bring it back to see how I would react and then slowly push again to see what I could tolerate. Once I got to 4 miles to go I brought my HR up to 150. I started the run with a 13:44 min mile and by the end I was in the 7’s. I really enjoyed this fast ending although in hindsight maybe I could have pushed harder all along. Honestly I don’t know. I paced it exactly as planned. The nutrition and hydration is still new for me. There were times when I was just worried about whether the old painful body parts would flare up so bad that i couldn’t continue. I definitely did not expect to be able to run a smooth fast finish.
Total time: 6:46
This was a really fun day. But it was very long. I was hoping for a time more closer to 6 hours but given the difficulty of the course and the heat, I am pretty happy to have not only have finished but finished with energy leftover….or at least enough to significantly pick up the pace. Also I finished without knee or ankle problems. For sure this was a lot harder than I thought it would be.
Here are some conclusions about my experience at Ironman St. George 70.3
1. It was a fantastic host city and the volunteers were incredible. The whole town was aware of the race. Our hotel staff was extremely accommodating and wanted to do whatever they could to help.
2. With regard to my race, I think I enjoyed most having a race plan in place. At every single point during the race I had something to think about and I continued to execute the plan despite people passing me like crazy. And then it was fun to pass people later on. The run was the most fun. If I did not pace it as I did, I do not think it would have been fun to be walking that run to the finish.
3. I was pretty sore for sure but nothing out of commission. So I am very happy to have finished with no injury. No damage. But for sure I was sore. And my stomach was a little funny in the evening. Plus a headache. Kind of felt like a hangover.
4. I really conserved my energy and did exactly what the plan was. Easy the first part. Shuffled up diagonal. Almost too easy. Then gradually picked up speed. I started passing people. By the time I got to 7 or 8 miles I was picking up speed and felt good. I kept the heart rate right around 135 in the beginning and the. Up to 142. And little by little I would increase the intensity and them bring it back down to see how I would respond. And then I brought it up to the higher 140’s, then 150’s.
Resources that made this race possible:
Eat and Run by Scott Jurek
Finding Ultra by Rich Roll
The Cool Impossible by Eric Orton