Monday, May 6, 2013

Ironman St. George 70.3 Race Report

Where to begin. My Ironman St. George 70.3 experience was a personal lesson in overcoming obstacles. In some ways it left a bad taste in my mouth, but overall I’m happy with how I responded to adversity. First of all, my car broke down two days before we were set to leave. Not ideal. My bike was also “in the shop” at this time, getting tuned up to fix some issues with shifting into my big ring. By Wednesday we had figured out the car situation and got my bike back, and things were looking up. I took my bike out for a short ride that evening and realized I still couldn’t shift into my big ring. This was frustrating. Thursday morning we headed out, and while driving I called High Knees Cycling, a new shop I’d heard of in St. George that is right on the bike course. They told me not to worry, they’d take care of everything. I eventually pulled into St. George, dropped off my bike and checked in for the race. I can’t say enough about High Knees Cycling. I expected to pick up my bike the following morning, but they powered through tons of bikes and had mine in tip top shape a few hours later. 

They replaced the internal cables and adjusted the front derailleur quickly and for only $15. I highly recommend them to anyone in the area! A little later was something race organizers had put together called “meet the pros.” Being the US Championships for the 70.3 distance, the race boasted a very deep professional field. Many of them took the stage to speak to the crowd (moderated by Craig Alexander), and while waiting for their turn they were hanging out off to the side. I strolled up not really knowing what to expect before realizing that Andy Potts was standing right in front of me. A woman virtually tackled him with a huge bear hug as a picture was snapped of them, and then I talked with him for the next 10 min or so. Such a cool guy. He posed for a picture with me (I refrained from a bear hug), but I discovered later that the knucklehead taking it didn’t press the button down all the way. Oh well. I then looked around and realized that the place was swarming with pros. I’ll write another post soon about some insights I got from talking with them, but I was able to chat with Craig Alexander, Matty Reed, Greg & Laura Bennett, Leanda Cave, Ben Hoffman, Paula Newby Fraser, and Kelly Williamson. Every one of them was incredibly friendly... I was blown away by how down to earth and cool they were. I understand they’re not celebrities a la Michael Jordan or Justin Bieber, but still it was very impressive the way they handled the onslaught of amateur triathletes asking for pictures and autographs or just to talk (more my style, although I did manage to get one with 2x US Olympian Laura Bennett). 

2x US Olympian Laura Bennett... incredibly nice

Also present was Jordan Rapp, Heather & Trevor Wurtele, Meredith Kessler, Lisa Norden (Silver Medalist in London), and others. As I told a few of them, it was more meaningful for me to meet them than athletes from more major sports (NBA, NFL, etc). Honestly. I know I’m in the minority, but it’s true. These guys work so hard for a miniscule fraction of the pay and glory of major sports. I admire that.

Friday I got my race stuff organized, then went for a 20 min bike ride before heading out to Sand Hollow reservoir, where my family was playing on the beach opposite the swim start. I tested out the water and it initially felt pretty frigid. It stung my face and was tough to get acclimated, but after a few minutes it got better. I checked in my bike, had a pasta dinner with my in-laws, then headed to the IronKids race. My 5-year old son “competed” in the 200 meter event last year, but it clearly wasn’t very memorable as he declined the invitation this year. He’s a “one and done.” My 2-year old daughter on the other hand was all in. She was very excited to be a part of it, and was beaming as she jogged in with my wife. I met up with Spencer Woolston who was waiting for his kids to come by in the mile run. He mentioned he was seeing improvements in his biking and running compared to last year, which is a scary thought considering he placed 10th overall last year including pros. 

I turned in for the night, watching a little NBA playoff basketball before hitting the sack around 9. I was drifting away when I heard a neighbor's dog barking up a storm. I pictured headlines declaring “IRONMAN COMPETITOR KILLS DOG” but decided the better choice was to simply grab the ear plugs I had brought in case of such an event. It wasn't the best night's sleep of my life, but I got a few hours in before up for good at 4:00.

I made the short drive to T2 and hopped on one of the shuttles. I had planned on rocking out to some music, but the guy sitting next to me from Rio de Janeiro was really funny and cool so we just talked for the duration of the ~30 min drive to Sand Hollow. We got body marked and wished each other a great day. I did the usual pre-race stuff, then met up with my wife. 

The combination of a chilly morning and some nerves caused me to shiver a bit, even in my wetsuit. Talking with Lindsay and a few other competitors calmed me down a lot and I started to get into a good mental zone picturing myself attacking the cold water one buoy at a time. We watched the pros start (around 7:00) and in my mind I still had “tons of time” before my 7:18 wave start. I had previously heard that there wouldn’t be much time at all to warm up in the water, so I had it in my head that I’d be entering the water very close to 7:18. What I didn’t realize was that the starting point for the swim was actually a good 100+ meters from the water’s entrance, so in reality you entered the water several minutes before. Unbeknownst to me, while I was chatting away, getting my Garmin satellites up and running, and boppin my head to the blaring music, my wave was making its way towards the start. I caught the announcer say mens’ 30-34 A-J (right before me), so assumed my wave would be called next to enter the water. What was really being announced was that they were out there about to start! I asked a guy lined up at the edge of the water what age group he was in, and he said M35-39, which was 2 or 3 waves after mine. He yelled, “you gotta get in the water!” 
what was I smoking? follow the yellow caps!

To my horror I looked out and saw yellow swim caps (my wave) bobbing in the water out at the starting point. I couldn’t believe I had made such a stupid mistake. I frantically pushed my way through some people and swam out towards the start. With all that adrenaline, the water didn’t feel cold at all. Shortly after, the announcer called out “1 minute men’s 30-34 K-Z,” and I knew I wouldn’t make it in time. I kept thinking “how did I let this happen??” The gun went off and I started my watch, still a good 90 seconds or so behind. The waves started every 3 minutes, and I figure I was right in between mine and the next one. No man’s land. A minute or two over the course of a half Ironman is nothing, but there’s something more traumatic about being late to the party. Lesson learned… I can promise you I will never make that mistake again! 

I was concerned that the frantic start to my race would be a double whammy and affect the rest of my swim, but it really didn’t. I was pissed at myself, and swam hard. I wished I had some feet to draft behind, but eventually I was able to reel in a lot of yellow caps. I haven't taken a hard look at the results, but it looks like I was right around the average time of all competitors despite the miscue, somewhere around 40 min.

Entering T1 I was determined to make up further time, and despite cold hands making it difficult to clip my helmet on it was pretty smooth. I pushed hard on the bike from the get go, still beating myself up over my silly mistake. The bike course has a lot of climbing, but I was feeling strong. About 20 miles into the bike I thought of a conversation I’d had pre-race with a friend who ran the Boston Marathon last month. He mentioned that he was a little disappointed with his race, but then the bombings provided so much perspective about what’s important and what is not. I realized that beating myself up over a mental lapse that cost me 1-2 minutes was totally and completely not worth it. I thought about how those two brothers came to America and placed bombs at an event similar to the one I was competing in. It made me angry. I thought about how their actions caused people to have their legs blown off, and how an 8-year old boy and two other people lost their lives. An 8-year old boy. I got a bit emotional thinking about that, and what if that had been my son, standing there cheering on his mom or his dad. Needless to say I was driven over the next several miles and pushed extremely hard. I climbed up the rolling Red Hills Parkway, which would also serve as the run course, and flew down the backside of it onto Snow Canyon Parkway. My in-laws live just off this street, and I knew my father-in-law would be watching nearby. I spotted him, yelled out and waved as I whizzed by. About 20 seconds later, at mile 37 on the course (of 56) I heard a loud POP! as though a gun had gone off. WTF? I came to a stop, clipped out, and rested my bike against a speed limit sign on the side of the road. I checked my front tire and sure enough it was completely flat, but thankfully the tire was still intact. This was my first flat ever in a race, and I turned away from the action in order to avoid getting too flustered by the sight of people whizzing by. 

A spectator came running over, saying he heard the pop, and asking if he could help. As I worked on the tire I told him I had to do it myself, but it would be great if he could stand by. Moral support is fair game, right? While I was frustrated by the flat, I was happy with how quickly I was able to change it. The guy commented “you get the award for the fastest tire change” and was kind enough to throw away my trash. Whoever you are, I appreciated the support. From my watch I know the flat cost me 6-7 min. While I’m still not sure what caused it… probably a pinch, it could have been a lot worse. I'm guessing I lost another 2 min. or so from riding a little more conservatively the rest of the way. I didn’t have another tube or CO2 cartridge, and I just wanted to get back to T2. A second flat might have caused a Normann Stadler re-enactment (see seconds 10-42 in above video), which was undesirable. I made the long, difficult climb through Snow Canyon, then flew down highway 18, praying I wouldn’t flat again and suffer a gruesome crash with a side of road rash. Today I realized the tire is shot, but thankfully it held up the rest of the race. I came in at 3:02 including the flat, which I believe was still around 35-40% or so. After a quick T2 I headed out on the run. I was happy to have handled the adversity thus far, and set out to just finish it out the best I could. 

I played the heart rate game through the first half of the run. I know from past 70.3s that if my heart rate is in the 160’s early on I’m vulnerable to crash in the later stages. Even though it felt relatively “easy” in the beginning, I had to pull on the reins to keep my heart rate in the 150’s, letting the pace fall where it may. I always tell myself that the goal is to be running miles 8-13. The first four miles of the run were varying degrees of uphill, so it was a challenge to keep the heart rate in check, but eventually the climbs turned into pounding downhills. Being a bit conservative in the early miles paid off, and I was able to run with solid form the whole way, although not quite as fast as I had hoped. 

Unlike last year, thankfully the wind was never a factor, although it did get pretty hot on the run. It was by far the hilliest half marathon (road race or triathlon) I’ve done. I closed it out in 2:05 for a total time of 5:53. Although disappointed to have squandered 8-10 min or so, that’s peanuts compared to the other ~345 total minutes of racing. All in all I gave it my best and it was a great day. Congrats to everyone who conquered that difficult course!
Side note: Yesterday my wife and I had the chance to meet Slater Fletcher and his wife Monique. Slater is nursing a running injury but did the swim and bike in 29 min and 2:22. Spencer Woolston went 34 min, 2:20, and 1:29 on his way to the age group victory. It definitely would have been an interesting race between those two, who are both stellar people as well as athletes. If they’re both 100% it will be fun to see how Ironman Coeur d’Alene plays out next month. 

one of the best decisions I've ever made


  1. Great blow-by-blow account. I will have to send you my crazy account of a multiple flat triathlon! Jim N

  2. Thanks Jim, I'd love to hear it!

  3. Thanks for the detailed summary. I'm excited to race this year.