Ironman 70.3 St. George – Redemption in the Run

After a disappointing Ironman Los Cabos, I was looking for a win in my next race, IM 70.3 St. George. By “win,” I don’t necessarily mean 1st in my age group, but rather a race in which I performed up to my fitness and expectations.

Or, to put numbers to it, a great race would be anything that began with a digit less than 5. A good race would be anything that began with 5 and had a low second digit. I didn’t allow in my mindset for any result less than good – I find negative thinking counterproductive to getting positive results.

I was, though, a little distracted coming into the race, both by work and by trying to help my friend Jim get through his first-ever triathlon. I had basically talked him and two other friends, Karl and Marc, into doing this race, and I even had a friendly loser-buys-dinner bet with Karl, where somehow I had agreed to spot him 30 minutes (Karl is way too good of a triathlete – except in the swim – to give this kind of time to).

Everything was going smoothly up until just after bike checkin at Sand Hollow Reservoir on the afternoon before the race. I had planned a little open water swim session for Jim, who had done over 100,000 yards of swim training…in the pool…leading up to this race. He’d never done an open water swim, but was a certified scuba diver, avid sailor and boogie border, so I figured this would be a formality.

Wrong! He started off like a bat out of hell and was soon hyperventilating. Then sheer panic set in – the kind I had read about but never experienced myself. I figured it was probably a combination of the 61F water and his early effort, so I tried to talk him into relaxing and letting it flow. We tried a couple of short out-and-backs and swimming along the shallow shore, since being able to touch bottom seemed to calm him a little.

He was solemn at dinner, full of negativity and a resolute can’t-do attitude. So it wasn’t a surprise when I received a “Jim bailed” text from Karl the next morning as I walked into T1 to get set up. Well, shit. Time to focus on my own race.

The swim in this race was broken out into age group waves – the pros went off first (males, then 5 minutes later the women), and then the age group waves went off every 3 minutes. My wave was third from last, which put me starting at 7:57 a.m., 62 minutes after the male pros. Heat was going to be a concern for the later starters. The good part about being close to the end was that the portapotty lines got considerably shorter as the earlier, mostly younger age groups got underway, so I was able to take care of pre-race business without stress.

I got off fairly well in the swim, though the cold water made me thankful this was only a 30ish-minute swim instead of an hour plus like an Ironman would be. There wasn’t much contact, and I found some feet to draft off of for a while, but staying on feet was complicated by the constant reeling in of much slower swimmers that had started in earlier waves. I’m not the world’s fastest swimmer, but some of these people were barely moving, so I came up on some of them pretty quickly. Luckily I managed to avoid errant breaststroke kicks to the face.

The final run-in to the swim exit seemed to take longer than it should have – it seemed as though we were swimming against a current or some headwind. I saw a somewhat disappointing 35-minute split when I hit the exit ramp, but the day was going to be tough, so I told myself not to worry about a couple of minutes. The race had wetsuit strippers, which made getting out of the suit a lot faster – nice touch!

I took an extra 30 seconds in T1 to put on a zippered FusionSports sun top, trying to avoid the sunburn and dehydration I suffered in Cabo. This equipment experiment worked out great – it’s definitely coming to a lot of my longer races! I got going as quickly as I could and settled into my upper Zone 3 of power – 200-220 watts on the flats, pushing up to 250-280 watts on the climbs. The bike course had very little flat in it, constantly rolling up or down. The wave starts had spread the field out pretty well, and one benefit of my later start was the constant positive reinforcement of passing people vs. getting passed. I traded passes occasionally with a few guys in my age group, but mostly focused on keeping my power in check, keeping myself hydrated and avoiding the occasional slower rider who wasn’t riding to the right.

The “queen climb” on this very hilly course is the 4-mile stretch up Snow Canyon, with almost 1000 ft. of gain and average gradient of 4%. Not super hard, although there were some steeper sections toward the top that forced me out of the saddle a couple of times. I passed a ton of people on the climb, including one guy in my AG that had passed me pretty strongly on the earlier flats. He was a bigger guy, so physics was against him on a long climb. I wouldn’t see him again.

My normalized power up the climb was 240W, which is roughly 20-25W less than my threshold, so it had been a pretty good effort. Then came the long descent back into town, which gave me some recovery time. I didn’t pedal on some of the steeper sections and soft-pedaled on others, but as soon as I could get any resistance on the pedals I pushed it – I didn’t want to lose position after all that work on the climb. A long recovery period like this before T2 usually results in a good run for me, so I was taking maximum advantage of the opportunity to get fluids and calories in.

I executed a perfect flying dismount coming into transition and had a pretty quick changeover. I left the white top on to protect my shoulders from sunburn and keep cool, but I did unzip the front for better ventilation. It was pretty hot but I felt good.

Having blown up in the run in Cabo, I was conscious of not repeating that experience at the half distance, so I settled into a conservative pace for the first few gradually uphill miles. Actually, some of the uphills weren’t so gradual, but I was passing people right and left while still running controlled. I had no idea of my place in the age group, but I was looking for whatever old guys I could find. After mile 4, the course descended 2.5 miles to the turnaround, and then we had to come back up what we had just come down. I had been dreading that return climb a little, but it wasn’t bad at all – I was picking up steam and passed a few 50-54 calves on this part.

Once up that last climb, I knew it was all flat or downhill, and the last 4 miles were mostly down –  here my pace sped up to around 6:30 per mile. I saw my friend Karl right as I passed 9 miles (he was hitting 4), so I knew my 33-minute cushion in our little wager was safe. I was running hard but controlled, and I was confident at this point that there would be no cramping – nothing to slow my flow. It was one of those rare race moments when everything just felt right – every runner up ahead became my prey to pursue, and I feasted a lot in those last few miles, even getting into a sprint battle with a fellow Wattie Ink guy in the final 100y (I prevailed, somewhat unusually for me, since I don’t have much of a kick).

I knew my run split was around 1:31, but I wasn’t sure of my overall time. I found my friend Donna, a local I knew through the online running group Dead Runners Society, and asked her if she could find my result. As I stood there, it started becoming apparent to me how hot it actually was – really baking. Anyway, as I said, anything under 5 hours would constitute a “great” day (and a PR), so I was overjoyed with a 4:58:39, good for 7th in the age group. A half Ironman PR at age 51 – I’ll take it! I also ended up with fastest run split in the age group, but it wasn’t enough to make up for my deficit in the swim and bike. There are no prizes for fastest run. 🙂

Karl finished with a fine 5:45 – dinner was on him. 🙂 Marc also finished, albeit it past the official cutoff time, but he had survived his first half Ironman on a very tough and hot course.

St. George result 2014

The epilogue is that all glory is short-lived – a couple of weeks later, I strained my calf in a routine track workout and had to bag the run in a local sprint triathlon, so my status for next Saturday’s Hawaii 70.3 is questionable. I don’t plan on running until race day – in the meantime, it’s just icing and swim/bike training – so I guess we’ll see what happens in T2. The joys of aging.

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