Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ironman Kansas 70.3 Race Report – The race that almost never was.

Hello all,

I am going to do my best to run through this race in chronological order as best I can remember it. Due to everything that happened, I may get things a little muddled.

And for those of you not at all interested in the details of triathlon racing but want to know how I did…I placed 115th overall, 20th in my bracket, got a horrible time of 5:06. But because everyone else had a horrible day I managed to get a roll down slot to the 70.3 World Championships in Vegas. Had I executed better, I could have been top 10 in my age group.

Also, I’d like to give a quick shout-out to Roy. I was waiting in the roll-down line after the race and he’s a spot or two behind me. He heard the announcer call my name, knew who I was and said hello and that he read my blog. Imagine that, someone reads my ramblings!! Roy, drop me a line, we can meet up in Vegas.

Pre Race:
The week prior to the race started like any other. The taper was moving forward and I was starting to feel pretty good. Unfortunately Tuesday came and I caught a head cold. Tuesday was fairly bad with headaches. Wednesday I skipped my swim, but was feeling better. The rest of the week I continued to feel better with a bit of a persistent cough and some really sticky, nasty phlegm. I didn't miss any of the workouts.  Overall my body felt fine, so I was hopeful it wouldn’t impact race day too much.

I drove down to Kansas with Adrienne who has an uncle in the area. And everything about the trip was uneventful and peaceful. Got to the hotel, got everything setup and ready to go. Fast forward to Saturday and we got in a nice pre-race ride-run and then checked in our bikes and everything else. Everything went well and despite the remaining cough and phlegm, everything was going well. I was hydrating and taking in salt as normal.

Race Morning.
Got to the race site, no problem. Walked into T2 to set up my run gear and everything was set to go. No issues. We walk the ½ mile down the hill into T1 and the swim area. Announcements are already going out about closing transition…this sucked because it was 15 min earlier than they had advertised in the packet. So we hurried up, started pumping tires…and quickly realized that Adrienne’s pump didn’t work and had some kind of odd leak. I took it over to my bike to give it a try and fiddle with it a bit. I push it onto the valve and next thing I know pssssssssssssssssssssst…my tubular goes dead flat, apparently pushing the pump on it punctured the tire. CRAP!!!  Not a good start to things.

Well, I’ve gotten pretty good at changing tires. I go to pull of the rear wheel and am having all kinds of trouble. It won’t come off and is really aggravating. Much swearing is happening now. Finally it comes off…next thing I know the whole free-hub falls off the wheel.  WTF is this??!! I can fix a number of different things, but this is not one of them…certainly not in T1 with 15-20 minutes before getting kicked out of transition. Shit, shit, shit, shit!!!!!!!!!

Me being me, I calmly walk over to Adrienne and say – Well I think my race just ended. At which point she looks up and sees the wheel in one hand and the hub/rear cassette in another.  Her reaction was similar to mine...WTF?

It was pretty hopeless and bleak, but I ran over to tech support. She took one look at the mess in my hands and was like “SHIT, my tools for that are up in T2 a half mile away”. She’s very busy pumping tires…and it looks more hopeless. Eventually she says, “I’ll tell you what, I have to help all these people. I’ll make some calls to get a new wheel or tools. What’s your race #? I’ll do my best, you go get ready and if there is a wheel on your bike when you get done swimming, you know I fixed it.”

I figure that’s about as good of a deal as I am going to get anywhere…so I get her my number, go get as much ready as I can…but T1 is already closing and I’m getting yelled at. I sprint to my bike, get everything on it I can remember, get my stuff out of my bag and ready for a transition and move out.

I walk over to the line of the port-o-poddy and next thing I know I see the tech with my wheel in one hand, and the hub/cassette in the other being raced up the hill to T2 in a golf cart. I can’t do anything but hysterically laugh out loud. People around me are gawking at me, so I explain what I just saw and what it means and everyone around me is like HOLY SHIT, good luck.

I get out of the nastiness that is a race-morning port-o-poddy and try to get my mind right, look over and the tech is already back. And she’s putting a new tube onto my wheel. I start freaking out trying to get her attention to see if that means the hub is fixed, she sees me and gives me 2 thumbs up and tells me to get myself to the start line as I’m about 2-3 waves away from starting.

The Swim:
This was easily the most challenging swim I have ever done. First, no wetsuits were allowed. That’s no big deal at all, but the conditions were also very choppy. I’ve seen some people on slowtwitch talking about 3ft waves with whitecaps.  I think that’s a bit of an embellishment. But the swim was very rough, I took in a fair amount of water including one mouthful of what tasted like gas/oil slicked water which I immediately threw back up and gagged a bit. Fortunately I am a good enough swimmer to do that and continue moving forward without breathing a bit. But I did get a pretty good side-stitch shortly after that and had to dial things back a bit. I had some struggles with sighting due to the waves and all the people.  Otherwise there were a couple people in my wave around me...both pretty strong swimmers.

I ended up with a 29:5x. While this is much slower than I had anticipated.  Considering the conditions there wasn’t much I could do. I ended up with the 22nd fastest swim of the day including pros, 4th in my age group. Not fantastic, but not horrible.

The Bike:
Got into T1, there was my bike, WOOHOO!!!. It had a rear wheel, WOOHOO! The brakes looked good, it was in a good gear, WOOHOO!! IM Kansas 70.3 Bike Tech girl – YOU RULE!!!

Get myself situated and pull the bike off the rack and make my first mistake of the day. I hit the start button on the Garmin which was on the bike. My Garmin averages in 0 watts, and does NOT show nPower. I get on the bike, rip out of T1, look at my power and am at around 100watts because it took 30-45s of running my bike to get out of there. So now my power is going to read really low for the first 5 miles/15 minutes. So those first 5 miles were challenging on the pacing side. I also noticed that I did not put my saltstick onto my bike. Nothing I could do about it at that point, but I had a pretty good inclination that the run was going to hurt as a result.

I’ve taken a look at my power file, and gotten a note from my coach…here are his comments with the numbers:
“You came *storming* out of transition – you spent the first 5 minutes averaging 293 watts, and you averaged 270+ for the first 10 or so, with a NP of 288 for those 10 minutes. Those are some *serious* match burning minutes – especially that early in the ride. Your first 60 minutes was NP 270 or ~88% of threshold, with the second hour being a NP of 260 and the last 30 minutes being a NP of 246. There is also 7 separate occasions where you punched out in excess of 300 watts for 1 minute – one of them is nearly 380 watts for a minute (not to mention your 1 minute power was 397 watts). The 2 hour sim ride you did a few weeks ago, brings up 0 stretches when doing a fast find by the same criteria.”

Scott tends to be fairly gentle when I do stupid things, so let me translate this into what he really means…

“Eric, moron. You were practically at threshold for 5 minutes and then hardly brought it down. Next time shoot yourself in both legs and save us the trouble. Moron. What happened to slowing down in the heat??”

In any case, conditions on the bike were easily the hardest I’ve ever had to deal with. I am a very poor judge of wind/temp when I am actually racing. So I am taking these numbers off of slowtwitch. I suspect they are exaggerations, but conditions were still very tough. 20-30mph winds all day with stronger gusts. There were only small sections where the wind was at our backs. The temperature was in the 90’s, I heard 95.

I was passed on the bike by 4 guys in my age group. One of them was Adam Zucco who eventually won the amateur race. To say he went past me with a certain amount of zeal and gusto would be an understatement. It was like a rocket ship went screaming past (and I was 45th overall on the bike). Of the guys that passed me, I reeled 2 back in and played leap-frog with one of them for at least 15 miles.  He out-ran me.

As I got up to the last hill of the day, I stood up on the pedals to stretch and try to get up the mountain, my quad gave me a light cramp. Not good. But that’s the price of no salt on the bike and stupid pacing.

In any case, I finished the bike in about a 2:31. Considering the day it was a very good split. I had the 4th fastest bike split in my age group – so I held my position. And I was 45th overall on the bike.

In hindsight, that was too fast.

The Run/Walk/Crawl:
Got off the bike, ripped out of T2 and was holding pace. I was nestled right into a 7:30-7:40 pace trying to keep things under control and hoping to not cramp up. Got to mile 1 and immediately cramped as I started down a really light decline. First the quads in both legs, then hamstrings. I stopped right there, hobbled a bit, and tried to stretch a bit. This of course is very challenging when it’s both the quads and hamstrings.

I had packed some extra salt for the run just in case…very smart decision. As I hit the first aid station I promptly took 2 saltsticks and tons of water.  It's more salt than I’d normally take at one time, but as they say…desperate times. I hobbled a little bit to work out the cramps and started a real light jog. I was really hoping to not have to DNF after everything I’d been through. Made it to aid station 2 and was doing alright, took 2 more salt sticks. Now I was taking in way more salt than normal. My thought process was simple; if I continue to cramp I’ll have to DNF. Either the salt will stay down and help me continue, or it will make me puke and I’ll DNF. Either way I’ve lost nothing. My biggest complaint at that time was that I felt perfectly fine. Breathing was good, overall I felt just fine…except my legs.

I was fortunate and able to continue on…and in fact was able to manage a fairly decent jog. But I had lost all the snap out of my legs and the 7:40's became an 8:30 pace. But the problem I was running into at that point was no calories. Because I took in so much salt, I wanted to hold off on calories and stick with water.  So for the first 4-5 miles I didn't take in any calories.  At mile 5ish I took in a sip of coke that was not de-fizzed and threw it up right away. I figured it was the carbonation, but wasn’t willing to risk trying to get in more calories for a while. It wasn't a full on hurl, just a little gagging reflex.  So for that first half I only took in water and was dumping water and ice all over myself. It was burning hot out there and almost no shade of any kind. Eventually all the energy was sucked out of my legs and I just wasn’t able to hold pace and started to walk/run.

Somewhere around this point I noticed that my left foot/big toe was KILLING me. Around mile 7 I actually took my shoe off and hobbled without it because it hurt so badly. Looking back, I am pretty sure it is due to the elastic laces. I’ve run in them, thought I had them dialed in, but I clearly did not. The pain went away quickly with the shoes off, but returned quickly as well. It started to cause some limping and was a real annoyance for the remainder of the race.

In any case, the last 6 miles were at 10 minute miles. Stupid slow. But, I did not have to DNF.

Looking back, while this was a poor overall performance and execution on my part, I am going to take a small amount of pride in it. First off, there were around 400 people that DNF’d. Considering this was just a half, which seems like a really high number. The conditions were brutal, this was my first race back in 2 years, and my first full half iron since Racine 70.3 back in 2010. So it’s clear I have some kinks to work out.

Furthermore I managed to work through a lot of race-day adversity. Not just the bike issues, but the cramps and nutrition as well. Overall I managed to keep my wits about me and finish up in good enough position to get a roll down to Vegas.  I'd have preferred actually qualifying, and in the future I doubt I'll take a rolldown...but this year, after all the rehab and everything else, I'd like to go.

Overall I was 20th in the age group, had I raced smarter I could have been top 10. The race was run in a spectacular fashion. It really was a pleasure despite my troubles. I will go back, if for no other reason than to redeem myself.

Lessons Learned:
1. Funny enough the biggest mistake that I made was hitting the start button on that Garmin too early. By doing that, I was playing catch-up on the bike in the first 15 minutes. And it was those first 15 minutes that more than likely did most of the damage. Riding in Z4 for extended periods during a half Iron does not lead to a good run.
2. Pay attention to the details. Make sure you have salt and nutrition on the bike. Literally ON THE BIKE. Sitting in my transition bag doesn’t help.
3. Don’t be a moron on the bike. Granted I have a small excuse here. First off, hitting start screwed things up so I didn’t really know where I was at with my power. But second, my Garmin does not show normalized power. On a very hilly course like Kansas, nPower is an important metric. With all of the coasting on this course (bombing downhill), average power including zeros was giving me a number that was too low, making me think I was being a puss, when in reality I was being too aggressive.
4. Must fix race running shoes. I don’t know what that pain was all about, but I don’t get it in normal laced shoes, only the elastic laces. Perhaps they are too tight in the toe box.

Ultimately the cause for my poor performance was pacing on the bike. Yes I was sick, and that may have played a role. Yes conditions were tough, and that did play a role. Yes, I heaved up some lake water. Yes my bike disintegrated in my hands. But putting all that aside, had I been smarter on the bike and ridden a 2:35 or possibly even slower, I would have easily made up those 4 minutes on the run. Everything else is just an excuse. On that day, in those conditions, I should have been trying for a time in the 4:40s-4:50’s instead of pushing for 4:30’s or even faster. If I had been smart, backed off, and played it smarter on the hills I could have easily come into the top 10 with a 4:50ish type race.

30 swim
2:35 bike
1:45 run
3 min Transitions
Total = 4:53

Those splits would have had me racing for 9th place at a major Ironman event. They are splits I am more than capable of even in those conditions.

Overall my end-goal was met. I have a slot to Vegas which will now become my next “A” race. I have plenty of work to do as Vegas should be just as hot and just as hilly as Kansas was. I am hoping much less wind. There were several times when I was bombing down some hill at what seemed like 50mph with 30mph crosswinds catching the rear disc I was running on the back. All I could do was pray.

Next on the docket is the Pleasant Prairie Olympic Distance race. That is in about a week and a half. After that I have the Racine 70.3 where I will try to get a little 70.3 redemption. If there was ever a race built for me, it was the Racine course. I am a flat-lander.

As for right now, my quads have been ripped to shreds and are very sore. Sitting in the car for 10hrs may not have helped that.  I am taking in my bike for a major overhaul and tune up, the rear wheel certainly needs some professional work.

Until next time.

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