Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ironman 70.3 St. George

My third half Ironman was a success! Despite the choppy water and panicked swim start, 20-30mph head- and sidewinds on the bike, and 90F temperature on the run (3/3 with super hot 70.3s), I had a blast (mostly) and finished strong. 

I accidentally stopped my Garmin as I entered T1 instead of hitting the lap button, so its overall time is a bit off.

St. George was slower than Toughman NM and Ironman 70.3 Boulder, but I loved it. Except for the swim...but I digress.

My main 2017 goal is my first full Ironman: Ironman Canada on July 30th in Whistler, BC. Counting back, St. George was appropriately timed to be a warm-up race within driving distance and my two main tri ladies, Liz and Lani, were interested. ROAD TRIP!!


Thursday, May 4, 2017
We loaded up Lani's SUV with three bikes, three sets of half Ironman gear plus pre-race workout gear plus regular clothes and toiletries (not many of either, honestly), and lots of hydration and carbs for Thursday Carb Day, and headed out on the backroads of New Mexico. Thanks to riding with Geologist Liz, we had a delightful running commentary on the amazing landscape of the Southwest.

Bikes are just as exciting as mountains. No? Whatever.

Drinking my juice. Hydrating and carbing it up.

We arrived in St. George in time for Athlete Check-In, which we left as soon as possible, due to the outrageous 90+F heat. The EconoLodge offered sparse accommodations, but its AC kept the humans sane and the bike tires inflated.

Check-In yielded the usual swag.
Friday, May 5, 2017
Our pre-race workouts were spectacular. The morning was cool and the reservoir calm. I had a brilliant, panic-free swim in my first long-sleeve wetsuit...until something slimy (likely wide-mouth bass) brushed against my foot and grabbed my toe. Yeesh. I biked on the course for a quick fifteen minutes and then ran along the dam for a short twenty. My own mini-triathlon felt rather creaky--my knees both hurt. Oh well! Lani's foot with its torn ligament swelled after a wee run, so she made the tough and intelligent decision to not race on Saturday. Instead, she was a totally awesome cheerleader/sherpa!

Q and I just chillin'.

We continued the carb loading with bagels at the cutest little cafe, Muddy Bees, which had a beehive inside the store (with a very cool plexiglass system to contain the bees and funnel them outside). One of the things we loved about St. George was how welcoming everyone was to the athletes and how involved businesses were with the race:

Training and breakfasting complete, the next task was to drive the extremely beautiful and challenging bike course. See the actual race report, below, for those pictures. Following lunch, we packed up EVERYTHING we needed for the bike-to-run transition (T2) and our bikes (for swim-to-bike transition, T1) and dropped them off at Bike and Run Check-In. This was my first race with separate T1 and T2 locations, which was fortuitous, as Canada will have separate transitions. I made several lists (you should not be surprised, dear reader) and kept them for July.

Q hangs out at our 1946 spot.
Never had to leave a run bag. Left a run bag.

Now, at Run Check-in, Lani and I dressed up in our T-Rex costumes (despite the heat), confused many people, and almost killed Liz, who was laughing harder than we've ever seen. T-Rexes fulfilled life-long dreams of completely half Ironsaur.

Jessica T-Rex (L) and Lani T-Rex (R) try to high-five.

Liz was Wonder Woman of Preparedness and packed dinner from home. Lani and I definitely did not, so we had an adequate meal of pasta at the bar at Olive Garden, where we sat with six other pasta-eating and water-drinking triathletes. Finally, we stopped by the store for morning bagels, peanut butter, and bananas, and eye masks for our very bright room, and tried to sleep at 9pm.

Saturday, May 6, 2017 RACE DAY!

I warned Lani, who spent over a week in Norway with me last year and thus already knew, that I'd likely be less-than-chipper prior to coffee. I was weirdly nervous, however, despite this being my third rodeo. Nerves often manifest in me as stoicism, so even after a small cup of passable coffee, I was fairly grumpy.

(For Ironman Canada, my family has reserved a giant house on AirBnB near the Olympic Village and we're making a big vacation out of it. Family, be warned. Wait, you've known me for 32 years; you're prepared.)

Roaming around T1 at 5:30am in the crowds of athletes under bright floodlights is a bit surreal. While organizing my 1946 spot, I chatted with 1944 and 1942 (the WWII bike rack). 1942 was trying a half IM for the second time, after failing to complete the swim before cutoff time in her first try and not being allowed to proceed onto the bike. 1944 was attempting her FIRST TRIATHLON EVER. For the record, Friends, I recommend you at least do one little local sprint tri before jumping to a half Ironman, but why not??

Dude behind us Facebook-Live-d for five minutes. Why?

Soon, it was time to squeeze into our wetsuits and join the mob that was slowly funneling into the chute, organized by waves. Due to crazy forecasted afternoon winds (20-30mph with strong gusts), the waves were compressed so that instead of the planned four minutes between, we had two. This ended up contributing to my swim issues, and as my part of the pack was destined to hit whatever weather the afternoon threw at us, I wish they'd have kept it as is.

SWIM 1.2 miles, one loop in Sand Hollow Reservoir: 1:02:06

LESSON LEARNED: carefully read the athlete guide and understand the swim start well in advance. I found out that morning that we'd have two minutes to get from shore to yellow buoys about 50 meters out in the water. This would be super easy for me on a normal, calm swim day, in a pool or if I'm having a good open water day. When I have a good open water swim, I've had time to warm up in the water, breathe and blow bubbles (I am three years old), position myself in the back, and start with a calm heart rate. However, we couldn't get in the water until it was time to swim hard to the buoys for the start, so my heart rate started much higher than I wanted. The water was the choppiest I've swum in, so after a couple face-fulls of water when I tried to breathe, the panic really set in, before I even reached the start buoys. I had to hang onto a yellow kayak, while the kayaker sweetly reassured me that everything was fine, for another two waves to start. At least four minutes after my age group started, I was able to get through the buoys and onto the course.

LESSON LEARNED: I would have lost less time if I paused waist-deep in the water, blew my bubbles, simply got at it like a lumbering manatee without regards to The Start Line.

I struggled the entire leg out to the first turn. Each new wave brought faster swimmers clambering past me and around me and over me, the wind kept the chop a splashin', and there was one speedboat that obnoxiously zoomed around creating giant wakes. I paused countless times to tread water, before telling myself that I had to at least breast stroke and keep moving forward, and started wishing I could get pulled from the water.

Praise the Lord, upon rounding the first turn, I got angry. I was angry that my race wasn't going as planned and angry that I was being so dramatic. It takes a while to talk myself down from panic in the water, but eventually, the rage kicks in and I find a vengeful groove. My long-sleeve wetsuit made my stroke feel like flailing, so I decided to Flail with Determination, and the phrase "though she be awkward, she be determined" was stuck in my head for the last 75% of the course.

Rage did, thankfully, turn into a calm joy as the chop turned more to rolling waves as I continued around the little island. The undulating lake was soothing and I almost felt like I was flying as the waves gently raised and lowered my ungracefully flailing self. I finally recognized how beautiful the morning was, with fluffy clouds on a bright blue sky, with glimpses of the red rocks on the island and shore. I was so tired though. So spent. I had no idea how long I'd been out there, and I sincerely hoped I hadn't made the swim cutoff, because I was exhausted already and couldn't fathom finishing the final 69.1 miles. I was legitimately disappointed to realize that, despite this being my slowest half IM swim by eight minutes, I had made the cutoff with plenty of time to spare.

I love these pictures of me leaving the swim. So accurate.

Why. Why did I do that. 
I'm so tired.

Lani took this! HELLO LANI!! Is that man prancing behind me?

T1: 5:46

I changed without incident, stuffed my wetsuit and paraphernalia into the designated bag to be shuttled to the finish line for me, decided to not put on more sunscreen, and tried to shake off my disappointment that I got to finish the race. (...that I've looked forward to for months, that has the most gorgeous course ever, that was important for Canada, I know. The swim stunk for me, readers. Have I conveyed that yet?)

BIKE 56 miles, point-to-point from Hurricane to St. George: 3:53:38

This was my first race with Q, my pretty pink Quintana Roo! The first five miles of the ride were challenging, partially due to my funky attitude. However, after that initial peak around five miles, I realized--again--how beautiful this race is and my heart warmed for good toward Ironman 70.3 St. George. The last 6.5 hours of my eight hours out there were full of joy and love for triathlons and I was so thankful I made that swim cutoff.

Top of the first real hill after the swim--smile through the huffing and puffing.

We tooled around town for a few miles and then started climbing in earnest. I passed soooo many dudes. They were huffing and puffing and I got in a nice low gear and smoothly spun past them. Thanks to Mariann for the training at 7000'+ with ridiculous elevation gains in Northern New Mexico.

The descents were of course better than the climbs, and this was the first time I utilized my aero bars for a significant portion of a long ride. Sadly, the photographers didn't catch any of it, but I promise, it happened.

One of the best descents was a short little 8% hill. I actually yelled "WEEEE!" and I don't think anyone heard me.

Despite enjoying the ride, I was relieved to reach the Snow Canyon entrance: the start of the most beautiful and difficult climb of the course. I stopped at the aid station before heading in to use the facilities. The sweetest volunteer noticed me peering at my chafed underarm before I got back on my bike and ran over with vaseline and baby wipes. She offered sunscreen, and I really should have asked her to get my back...there were two spots that I clearly can't reach myself sufficiently, and in the future with this kit, I will ask for help! 

Snow Canyon was unequivocally my favorite part of the ride. I climbed so smoothly and passed so many dudes. It was so beautiful. 
A 77-year-old man (everyone has their race age Sharpied on their calves) said, "You're a strong climber!" 
"I'm from 7000' in NM!" 
"Do you believe in the old adage 'thighs matter?'" 
"ha ha ha...yes?" 

On the steepest part of the climb, near the very end of the four-mile-long canyon, lots of people were walking. My climbing was not smooth, but there was no need for walking. Here, look at Snow Canyon's beautifulness (pictures I took the day before):


At the top of Snow Canyon, we were all triumphant! It was only ten more miles to T2, mostly downhill!! MOST disappointingly, when I rounded the corner to the descent, I was slammed by 20-30mph headwinds. These were soon accompanied by strong sidewinds. So, we all spent a much longer time than anticipated finishing the "easy" final ten miles, extremely tense, trying to not get blown over. I had to slow way down in fear and stayed out of aero to try to stay more in control. Bah. Lani noted that everyone rolling into T2 finished red-faced, wind-blown, exhausted, relieved.

T2: 5:04

T2 is a blur. I swapped helmet for hat and bike shoes for running shoes and DID put on more sunscreen. Then I trudged out. I saw Lani! She cheered and took a picture and I tried to smile and not stop for a walk break until I turned the corner away from her.

RUN 13.1 miles, out-and-back on hot hot roads: 2:56:17

I was trudging. Legs were lead. Upper body tense from gripping the bars in the wind. 

The first three miles were uphill. I had to walk a bit to bring HR down and drink some water. Thankfully, I had great company. It was so hot and the wind had been so draining, that everyone I could see ahead of me and behind me walked the uphills and ran the flats and downhills. I kept my walks very brisk and was able to keep up a solid pace when I ran. I passed people both walking uphill and running downhill. At every aid station, I gulped some water, stuffed ice down my shirt and under my hat, and accepted any offer to be doused in water. Basically, I followed all tricks I learned in my last 90F half IM run that kept me sane and moving forward. 


My favorite aid station (AS) was a giant one that spanned all four lanes of the mildly annoying out-and-back-and-out-and-back portion of the run. Do we need to see the same scenery four times? No. It's pretty, but no. The AS, however, had watermelon and coke! It was so refreshing. They also had beautiful super soakers. Bless them. AND, they played the Beach Boys!!! 

I made friends. Friends for a single uphill stretch when we were both walking and friends who yo-yoed with me for a while when our walk breaks didn't sync up. When we got closer and closer to the 10-ish mile AS, I knew the last three miles were downhill and I could easily finish in under three hours, which had become my only goal for the run. 

I ZOOMED DOWNHILL! My Garmin says I kept up a 9:30min/mile pace for some stretches. I had to take a couple more walking breaks when the downhill flattened out, but then I ran and ran and passed more people. Finally, I turned the final corner and RAN. I choked up! I saw LANI!! And LIZ!! RUN RUN RUN RUN! Done done done. :)

This is the closest I have to T-Rex arm race picture this time. Except the actual T-Rex costumes. HA.


YAAAY! Do the victory power walk.


Still trying to rein in the tears and choked sobs, I got my medal and hat. I saw my buddy from T1, 1944, who finished her very first triathlon a couple minutes before I did. We gave each other big high fives, and got victory pictures:

Liz and Lani found me, and I drank much of Liz's huckleberry lemonade (she finished hours before I did). We sat in the grass a while and enjoyed not moving. Eventually, we had to walk to T2, pack up my bike and such, and walk back to the hotel. The very slow walk was good for my muscles, and a bit painful for Lani's injured foot, which had already trod 19,000 steps being our cheerleader! On her birthday!! On the way, I got my own huckleberry lemonade and lemon cookies. The best.

After a good shower, Liz, Lani, and I met up for Lani's birthday dinner at a divey-looking Mexican place that got 4/5 stars on Yelp. It was amazing. We ordered fried ice cream, because obviously we needed desert. Our server suggested we share one. We said no way dude. He said fine, ladies.


He definitely had the last laugh.

Lani and I said goodbye to Liz, and drove a couple hours toward home to Page, AZ, for the night. Despite not finishing my fried ice cream, I bought a Frosty on the way. We slept for seven hours and  then drove the rest of the way home, where I spent forty-five minutes cuddling the kitties. Then, I flew off on a work trip. Ah, the glamorous life of a physicist!

Total registered: 2462

Total finished officially: 1917
difference includes DNS and DNF (within 8.5 hours)

Next up:
July 30, Ironman Canada (THE FULL ONE)