For those interested in the results without the lengthy report, I finished in 5:32:33. 775th overall and 117th in my age group. Not what I had hoped for, below is the how and why.
Before the race:
Got into Vegas on Thursday night, very late. Slept until I couldn’t sleep anymore and went to athlete check-in -- It was hot! Went to the airport and picked up my parents who came in on Friday. Everything was going well as I unpacked my bike and got it built back up.
Saturday was gear check-in day. T1 was about 30 minutes away from our hotel, I woke up early to go to the practice swim and ride/run on the opening hills. Unfortunately the parking situation was out of control, and despite getting there pretty early I didn’t find parking until it was too late. So I could not swim, but did get in a nice 10-15 minute ride on the opening hills followed by a quick run. Checked in my bike later that day. T2 is about 15 miles away in town, so I went there and dropped off my run gear.
After being able to riding the opening hill that day, I was not nearly as intimidated by the course. If you look at the bike course profile map, it looks very intimidating. It was not nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I really relaxed quite a bit after that. The whole course was longer gradual climbs. Slower to be sure, but not as brutal on the legs, and nothing like Kansas.
Friday and Saturday were also spent hydrating. I drank a huge amount of Gatorade and water. On Saturday evening I took 3 salt tabs to get some pre-race electrolytes. I also had an early dinner which consisted of Subway at around 3pm followed by chicken and rice at around 5:30. I was feeling really good.
Everything was all set, and I took in my breakfast exactly as planned. One medium bowl of golden grahams, 1 banana, 1 10oz bottle of coconut water, and 2 24oz bottles of my Gatorade mixture. And the really good news was that I had to pee right before the swim. I had no heartburn, slept good and felt ready to go.
Totally uneventful and basically perfect. It was a non-wetsuit swim so I figured I’d back off a little bit and conserve some energy. I knew I wasn’t going to go a 26:30, nor did I want to. At the end of the day I consider this a somewhat lazy swim, which was intentional. I really needed to focus my energy on being able to run.
I did get a little side-stitch towards the back half of the swim, but I pushed through it. I actually thought it was a good sign, that I had lots of fluids ready and waiting in my guts.
The ending was very crowded and rough as they made everyone come up and out at a small narrow pier. But I finished with a 28:23. My stopwatch had been kicked and was stopped at 24:30ish, so I didn’t really know my swim time. Knowing it now, I am perfectly content with that swim. Yes I could have swam quite a bit faster, but it wouldn't have been worth the additional effort.
T1 is very very long (took me 4:31). First there was an extended run from the water to get to T1. Then I ran all the way through transition to get to my bike. Then after I got my bike I had to run up a winding uphill path to get out of transition. I got stuck behind an older woman that was walking up and could not get around her. My focus was on the run, so I wasn’t too worried about losing a few seconds in T1. I have no real idea, but I think T1 was about a quarter mile long in total.
Looking at the profile of the bike I was very intimidated. It looked like I’d be climbing mountains for the first 5 miles. But having ridden the morning before, I was feeling much better about things. My plan had been to ride really easy in the early goings and then build it up. I’m pretty sure I came very close to that goal.
I held close to 240 for the opening 5 miles or so, 230 watts was just too low given the nature of the climbing. I was keeping a high cadence up the hill, so I wasn't really all that worried. I was not winded and my legs felt really good. The next 5 miles or so were pretty fast with some smaller climbs. I held wattage close to the same.
From there the ride was uneventful. The course was almost entirely long gradual inclines vs. really steep climbs. And while I am slower on those kinds of climbs, they don’t crush my legs as much. Overall, based on what the Garmin was showing me, I was very happy with my ride. There was one 5 mile section where my power was low as it was an extremely fast section. And there were a couple other sections that I pushed and was in the 250-260w range. The very last 5 mile section was a litte rough and all uphill. By then I was a bit tired, but not struggling to hold wattage at all.
I took in my 2 24oz bottles of Gatorade mixture. I had added a salt stick to the mix. Unfortunately my little box of salt sticks fell out of my pocket early in the ride. I wasn’t too concerned as I’d only intended to take a couple anyway.
About mid-way through the ride I heard my brakes rubbing. I didn't think much of it at the time, but the bike did feel a bit sluggish. I adjusted the brakes while riding, but it didn’t help. I actually got off my bike to see what the problem was, found nothing. After finding nothing there wasn't anything I could do...so I just kept riding. (more on that subject later).
I finished the ride strong, and got into T2 with a time of 2:47. I was shocked at how slow my time was given the wattage I rode. But I felt really good and wasn’t going to let that worry me. I always knew I was racing myself in Vegas, and if my target wattage was only worth a 2:47 then so be it.
After the race I learned that some electricians tape holding my wheel cover onto the wheel had literally melted, fallen off and gotten lodged between my rear fork and wheel. I didn’t see it, but that was the cause of the rubbing noise I heard and probably why the bike felt sluggish. It also *might* be responsible for why by bike time was way slower than the watts I put out. There was very light wind, and given previous results and wattages I was expecting my wattage to get me home in about 2:40ish. So 2:47 does seem kind of odd. Unfortunately I have no real way to know what the tape cost me, if anything.
As another note, during a lot of the uphill sections I sat up off the aero bars. The reasons were simple…deep breathing and legs. I have cramped in other ½’s this year and wasn’t sure if my bike fit was partly to blame. I spent more time sitting up in this race than most if not all other races I’ve done this year. Mostly to make sure I did some good breathing on the hills and to change bike positions. I rarely stood on the pedals, but did a few times to stretch my legs.
I also had my HR monitor on and would occasionally check it on the bike ride. I have not seen the files yet but am pretty sure I was around 140 for most of the ride.
Came into T2 and felt pretty good. Changed and got going. Nothing eventful.
First off, the run course was much harder than I anticipated. The run basically consisted of a 1 mile downhill run, a 2 mile uphill run, 2 mile downhill run, repeat twice more, and then finish with about a 1 mile downhill run to the finish. We’re not talking about mountains or anything, but the climbing was a bit steeper than I anticipated. And it was almost all on blacktop…so it was like a furnace. I believe it was in the low 80's for the race start and in the mid 90's by the time I started running. But the blacktop really radiated the heat and it was sweltering.
I came out of T2 feeling pretty good. My fuel belt had leaked everywhere, so it didn’t have much in the way of fluids in it. But it had enough for me to hammer back about 5 oz of Gatorade and a salt stick. I took the salt stick because my quads were giving me that cramping feeling. You know the one…not muscle soreness, but the “if you make a wrong move I will go full-on cramp and screw you” feeling. I had that for the first 3.5 miles at which point I was nearing the end of the first 2 mile climb. At that point mentally I was still in good shape and felt good. I was also hoping that like in previous races the cramping feeling would go away.
But at mile 3.5 the leg cramps stopped me dead. It was both legs, quads and hamstrings. I think I was stopped for at least 2 minutes, not sure. I couldn’t move without something cramping. I literally had to stand there frozen still trying to keep both muscles somewhat stretched until they relaxed. Finally I was able to walk it off a little bit. And after that I was able to start a jog. I do not believe I stopped again except for aid stations until I started the 2nd climb. I was still hoping the cramps would go away like my other races. That was not to be. Every single step of the run I was on the edge of complete cramping. No joke, every single step, especially my right quad.
I muddled forward like that until about mile 7.5 and was generally making good progress. I certainly wasn’t running fast, but mostly running with some walking in there at aid stations and if the cramping threatened again. Again, overall I felt fine. I wanted to run and was getting pretty frustrated. In fact that first downhill I was making some decent progress and feeling pretty good about things. After my bike time I knew I wasn't going to hit any time goals, so I really just wanted to finish strong and feeling good.
At mile 7.5 just as I started the second 2 mile downhill section, I was actually feeling pretty good about things. I really thought that for the next 2 miles I’d be able to run down the hill, hit the aid stations, and generally feel pretty decent with only one climb remaining. My first stretch downhill was pretty good. And honestly, despite my slow times I really felt like I could be happy with my race if I was able to just run through the remainder despite some slower times.
As I was getting some momentum down the hill and running fairly decently, the worst side-stitch of my life hit really hard and really fast. I tried pulling a Macca and digging my fingers into it, massaging it, deeper breathing...nothing helped. It got to the point of being so bad I struggled to breath and was groaning/grunting with each step.
I was pissed. I’ll have to look at the files, but other than the initial cramping and aid stations I don’t think I really stopped to walk until this point. My running was slow, but it was still running. I was also pissed off because I didn't feel bad. I remember specifically thinking that to myself too...that if it weren't for these leg cramps I'd be doing a whole lot better because I feel pretty good and pretty strong right now. That was incredibly frustrating.
The side stitch stayed with me down the entire hill. I tried some walk/run, but it was pretty bad and stayed with me. At this point I get a little blury as there was way more walking and a lot of cursing and frustration. I seem to remember the side stitch finally subsiding as I started up the hill for the last time (great timing). It didn’t go away, but became bearable. I did some jogging up the hill as best I could, but not being able to run down the hill like I wanted demoralized me pretty badly.
About halfway up the final climb with about 2 mile left to race I saw Aimee and my parents. I stopped to say hi and gave Aimee a kiss. Told them about the cramping and moved on. At that point I just wanted to make it enjoyable and was doing a run/walk based on how I felt. Based on the amounts I was drinking at each aid station, I doubted hydration would be an issue when I finished, but to make sure I started drinking more at each aid station. I wasn’t about to end up in medical.
I finished the run with a 2:10 and a lot of questions about this cramping. Is it really nutrition related? Is it bike fit related? It is always the same muscles that cramp, my quad (vastus medialis) Often referred to as the teardrop. (Although the Sartorius is right in that area too).
Plus my hamstring. However I don’t know that my hamstring would cramp if I didn’t have to deal with my quad. Typically my hamstring only cramps when I try to stretch my quad…not on its own.
Post race thoughts:
First I loved the race and the course. The whole area was beautiful and the race was very well run and a lot of fun. Despite my troubles I am really happy I went and would like to go back, next year if possible.
I got to see the zip by while on the bike. Wow!! Granted I was climbing a long steady climb as they were screaming down it with their hair on fire, but those guys were hammering HARD. It was pretty cool to see. It was like a freight train going by.
Monday my legs were still cramping with certain movements, mostly my hamstrings. The side-stitch was also sore to the touch. That’s a new one for me, side-stitch so bad it hurts the next day. My quads still hurt. Not just sore, they hurt. My hamstrings are touchy and hurt to massage.
Had the cramping not occurred my race would have been a lot different. I know for a fact that I am not pacing poorly. In Kansas it was pacing, but at Racine my power was fine, and in Vegas my pacing was fine. I've gone equally hard in training, if not harder and gotten off that bike and run a HELL of a lot harder with no cramping of any kind. Something is causing this. Something doesn’t make sense. I need to find out what that something is.
There really are only a few options.
It can't be my run fitness or pace because I'm getting these cramps too early. In most cases I feel the cramping before I'm done with mile 1 and every time they have hit running paces that I routinely do in training.
So first in my mind is my bike fit. It is vastly different from 2 years back when I never, ever cramped in a race. Waaaay more aggressive. I'm so much lower today that while on my base bars now, I am lower than I was on my aero bars back then. I should probably get my fit looked at again. Perhaps I am too far forward/backward on my bike and am putting too much pressure on the front of my quads. Perhaps the fit is just too aggressive. I’m really not sure.
Nutrition is a possibility. 2 years back I did ½ irons with 400-600 calories of Heed, almost no salt and just water. Never once cramped. That includes a rather hot Racine race. Maybe I need to get a salt study done. (Prior to this year I have never cramped in a race other than IMWI which I knew I was not in proper run shape for).
I should also point this out: Despite all the fluids I took in the night before the race (at least 80-100oz of Gatorade, plus water and other stuff.) (I had to pee 4 times during the night) I also took in 70oz race morning, 90-100oz on the bike, and the 2-3 cups of fluids I took in at every aid station (5oz x12 = 60oz while running)…I still only went to the bathroom one time during the race, and it was midway through the run, and it was not very much. I got off the bike feeling rather thirsty as well.
To top it off, I did not go to the bathroom again until much later that night. Having said that, I felt perfectly fine after the race, helped pack up my stuff and walked 15 minutes to the car almost immediately. (in the burning hot sun)
I’m not really sure what else that leaves for consistent quad/hamstring cramping. It will be the subject of many discussions this off season.
As for what’s next, I have not decided, nor do I have any goals set for next season. I’d like a few weeks to be unstructured, although I may do a couple races for fun. Jhawk, or a half marathon are possibilities. I’m not sure at this point.
I am considering the possibility of doing a training half Iron at really challenging paces in an effort to replicate the cramping in training. A really hard non-stop swim followed by a challenging ride at 250+ watts, followed by a run. Not a half marathon, but a hard 4-5 miles to see if I cramp. In every race so far I’ve been ready to cramp at mile 1, so I should know pretty quickly.
Anyone with ideas or crazy suggestions let me know. At this point I am open to suggestions.