Here is a little recap of the race and the experience of my first Ironman race.
This race was the Pro Championship race for Ironman 70.3 distance for 2013. As such, a stacked field of professional triathletes from around the world were there to test themselves in the hills and heat of St George, UT. Ironman does a great job of organizing and running their events. We arrived in town on Thursday, 3 days before the race, and the atmosphere was buzzing. It was pretty cool to see all the big-name pros in person. It was cool too to run into Matt Reed in the local bike shop getting some last minute tuning done on his new Fuji NORCOM STRAIGHT.
I picked up my packet on Thursday afternoon. Pretty straight forward. The tricky part was figuring out what to put in each of the three different race bags; there was a bike gear bag, run gear bag, and morning clothes bag. The “race bag” concept was all new to me as this was my first Ironman event. To add further complexity this race has two separate transition areas. The bike-swim transition area was at Sand Hollow Reservoir, where we would swim. But, the bike-run transition area is in downtown St George, approximately 35 miles from the swim venue. With some help from other athletes and friends who have done this before I was able to get my things organized and bagged-up, ready for race day.
Friday we spent doing a short bike ride — just an all-systems-go ride to make sure everything was shifting, rolling, and braking smoothly. Later in the day we met up with our fellow racing teammates at Sand Hollow for a little swim. The weather was sunny and beautiful so we donned our wet-suits and did a short loop of about 1000 yards. Everything felt pretty good. The water temp was around 60-62 degrees and felt ok after a few minutes of swimming. Later that night I really wanted to get to be early but ended up going to be around 10:30… then I laid there for probably an hour or more before finally falling asleep. Having bikes and most of my gear already checked-in reduced some of my pre-race anxiety but I still had to mentally walk through T1 and T2 for the next day. I tried to figure out how all the bag unpacking and re-stuffing of gear was going to work.
Saturday I rose at 4:30 a.m., ate my standard breakfast of oatmeal & bananas. Grabbed my “morning clothes bag” and my nutrition for the day, and headed out. Given that I probably had 5 hrs of sleep I actually felt pretty good and alert. We headed downtown to catch the bus, which took us out to the start area at Sand Hollow Reservoir. When we arrived I still needed to pump-up my bike tires and get water bottles & nutrition lined up for the race. My age group wave wasn’t until 7:54 a.m. so I had a good long time to hang-out and mingle with friends, etc. The pro waves started at 7 a.m.
The swim was pretty un-eventful. However, I was a little aggravated that I went out too hard and then was too winded for a bit. Toward the last 1/3 of my swim I had caught many of the slower swimmers from the previous several waves. It was very congested and I spent a lot of energy sighting about every other stroke and weaving in-and-out of swimmers. I’m sure it cost me some time and I ended with a 34 minute swim. I had really hoped I’d be closer to 30 minutes but 34 wasn’t bad.
Heading into T1 I was dizzy, like I always seem to be after the swim, but nothing unusual. I felt pretty good and had a SLOW T1… pulling gear out of a bag and then stuffing wet-suit, goggles, etc. back into the bag took a long time. I was in T1 for about 4 minutes. I had also taken time to put on socks (which I usually don’t do for shorter races), I knew the day would be long and hot and I didn’t want to get blisters on the bike or run sections. Weird things stick with you on race day… one of them was the music playing as I finished the swim. Running into T1 they had Rolling Stones, Gimme Shelter blasting out. I didn’t hear anything around me, not the cheering of my family & friends, all I heard was that music. And it just stuck all over my brain… I was singing that song ALL DAY LONG. By the end of the race I really was thinking, “gimme shelter!”
Heading out on the bike I felt pretty good. This course has a LOT of climbing and they hit you with the first hill right out of T1. I just needed to make sure to not go too hard on the hills and save some juice for the Snow Canyon climb, oh yeah, and I’d need some energy for the half-marathon run too.
By the time I reached Snow Canyon it was getting hot and the sun was high–on the steep sections of Snow Canyon I saw several other riders who were now walking their bikes up the hill. It was a great relief to reach the top of Snow Canyon, as now the bike was all but over; about 12 miles of high-speed descent back to St George was all that remained of the bike. It was a good time to get some water and nutrition in me and start getting ready for the run. I knew I was pretty well hydrated on the bike because I needed to pee for about an hour before the bike was over. I didn’t bother stopping until I got back to T2 and was ready to head out on the run. A stop at the porta-potties made for a long 4 minute T2 but it was good timing
The run starts with about 3 miles of uphill before you get any relief. I felt pretty good the first 2 miles but was really slowing down when I hit the steep hill going up Red Cliffs Parkway. I walked about 1/2 of that hill. There is a good downhill leading to the turn-around point but that meant a long climb back to the high-point before heading back toward the finish. I took water and cola at just about every aid station and tried to keep cooling down with ice and wet sponges. It was really hot by then, I’d guess about 85-90 and I felt like I was on fire. The bottoms of my feet were cooking on the hot pavement. The saving grace for this hard course is that its downhill for the last 3 miles. I saw several friends out on the course and was able to talk to a few of them on the home-stretch. Nearing the finish line the spectators were lined-up on the course and cheering–it was a real boost for that last mile. I also loved seeing my family out there on the course during the day–their cheering and support takes your mind off the race and sure makes it easier to step-up the output a notch or two!
I crossed the finish line with a time of 5:43. I was tired and glad it was over but shortly after catching my breath and relaxing for a few minutes I felt really good — it was fun to see other friends come down the finish chute and cheer them on. Looking back I really loved this race! The course is challenging but it never got boring. Hills are tough but the descents afterward were a lot of fun. I’m already looking forward to next year!
One post-race highlight was when we went out to dinner later that night. I ran into pro triathlete Andy Potts, who was also waiting for a table. I talked to him for a few minutes and he was just a genuinely nice guy. I asked him about his race and he just chatted away like we were the best of friends. Of course, I HAD to get a pic with him! What a great ending to a great day.