Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ironman St. George

It had finally arrived. After four months of dedicated training and more blog posts on one race than ever before, Ironman St. George was upon us. We were lucky enough to have two S2 teammates, John Rymes and Lisa Ransom, to drive us to Logan for our 5:40am flight to Las Vegas. After a brief layover in Detroit, we arrived in Vegas, played a few slots at the airport and then drove to St. George.
Amber vs. one-armed bandits
 What a gorgeous ride once you get out off the strip. Crossing into Arizona then Utah we were surrounded by various colored cliffs and canyons rising or dropping hundreds of feet. As we were dropping we also noticed that we were both sweating despite having the air conditioner on full blast-not a good sign for race day.

We checked in and picked up our race packets- I was 545 and Am was 43. Already we were both hot. We met up with S2 members, Dolly and Reggi, at the expo, got our bikes from Tribike and checked into the hotel, and went to the Athletes' Dinner. About a pound of pasta later, we all hopped into Reggi's mini-van she rented and we drove the run course. Not exactly sure of the roads, we started up towards where we thought we had to go. And up we went. With a pitch a little steeper than Washington we climbed about a mile before coming to a road that we knew that we would be running. Luckily, we soon discovered, the road we had just taken, would not be on the course. However, there would be plenty of others to make up for it. Starting from transition we started to climb gradually until we took a sharp right hand turn which brought with it the first steep hill. We groaned as well as did the car as we climbed up toward the big "D" on the top of the hill. Both miles 3 and most of 4(as well as 16 and 17) were up. We then took a left into a little park which added just about .4 miles to the run but plenty to the beauty. In addition to the great view, the park itself was amazing with red rock formations creating tunnels, cliffs and huge boulders. We all got out of  the car and scrabbled around for a while taking some fun pictures.
Getting back in the car we started a two mile descent at a screaming pace to find the turnaround. Oh yes, we then had to climb back up those two miles, re-run the park, descend sharply those 2 miles, and then run a mostly gradual downhill for the last two. TWICE. I could already feel my quads yelling AND my stomach sloshing.

After that fun experience, we woke the next morning to deal with race logistics. As the bike was a point to point we had to rack our bikes one place and drop off our run stuff another. After a great breakfast at Bear Paw Cafe, we dropped off our run stuff only to be warned not to put our gu's in the bags because the pavement on which they were lying could easily reach 120 degrees. Yikes! I thought for a minute to put out some bacon and eggs but decided against it.

We then drove to Sand Hollow State Park, the site of the swim and bike transition.
Sand Hollow State Park
After reading about how cold it was, Amber and I decided to check for ourselves. While it was fairly cold, I think the temperatures in the 90's for the past week must have warmed it up a bit. After setting up the bike transition, Am and I decided to take a trip out to Zion National Park. We, unfortunately, wouldn't be doing any hiking but thought it would still be worth taking the trip for the sights. We were right. It was amazing these cliffs, canyons and how water can change the landscape.

Zion National Park

Getting back from a fun day at Zion, we had an early dinner, quickly jumped in the pool/hot tub, then went to dinner knowing we'd be up at 3am for the race.

The Race:
  Amber was racing pro so she started at 6:45am and I started with the rest of the S2 gang at 7am. I had been waiting in line to use the porta-potty when they closed the transition and rushed over to the swim start to get in before the race started. I made it into the water(but nowhere near the start line) before the gun went off but I'd say nearly 300 people didn't as they were still filing in to the water. The swim was great. It was a rectangular shape. With the large amount of people in front of me, I had to do minimal sighting. This allowed me to focus on nice even strokes. Despite a few kicks to the head and a few extra yards going off course(as opposed to usually hundreds), I finished in about 1:18 good enough for 783th best swim of the day. After a relatively quick transition, making sure to put on sunscreen after the Texas debacle, I made it out on the bike. Things were feeling good but I couldn't pull up with my left foot because my cleat had apparently loosened. I didn't have a multi-tool and tried, unsuccessfully, on several occasions to flag down a mechanic. After about 8 miles riding unevenly, I was finally able to stop a motorcycle who luckily had an Allen wrench. Three quick turns and I was back on the bike. Looking down at my bike computer descending the first hill, I reached 48 mph and seemed to be passed by nearly everyone. However, the ascents would start and I would pass back everyone.
The bike course was a lollipop, with the stem being the point to point from the lake to the finish and two loops of about 45 miles that would take us around Snow Canyon and Gunlock State Park. From the race reports I had read, I was expecting brutal climbing and lousy pavement. The reports were right on one account. The chip sealed pavement was tough. I went from 21 mph down to 16mph the moment I bruised my way on to the chip seal which unfortunately covered the majority of the two loops. It took a while to get used to the jarring and for me to stop looking down at my tires to make sure they weren't flat. The course wasn't brutal at all. It was amazing. There were definitely some climbing to be had but they were short and allowed someone like me to stay relatively competitive as the downhills allowed nearly everyone to pass.
What I expected from the bike course: Amber pulling me along

After the race, I mentioned to Amber and Sean Snow about the awesome waterfalls by Gunlock and the beautiful river, but they didn't notice it. I, however, was mesmerized. I would do this race again just for the scenery on the bike. The second lap got a little old, especially as the wind picked up and around mile 100(about 30 miles longer than I had ever bike) I wanted to be finished. Luckily from that point on, it was pretty much downhill so I was able to stretch out and make sure I was hydrated enough. As I came into town, I was Sean as he passed the 2 mile mark on the run and Amber as I pulled into transition. Amber? What was she doing there? She said she'd wait for me, but I knew based on my transitions that would be a long wait so I encouraged her to take off which she did. I pulled in after biking a 5:52 bike split bringing me to 302nd place.  
After a nine minute transition(changing into run gear, sunscreen and bathroom break), I took off on the run.
I went through eight miles in a little under an hour, slower than I was hoping for but fast enough that I could do a 3:20 marathon. I ran seen Amber on the out and back and she told me she was having some stomach issues. I caught up to her around mile 11 and I slowed to find out what had happened that brought her into my racing world. Apparently 14 miles into the bike she had hit a pot-hole and broke two spokes and flatted. She didn't realize she broke the spokes until after she had fixed the flat and gotten back on the bike. Only when her wheel started wobbling did she realize something else was going on. She then stand on the side of the road for about 45 minutes before a mechanic was able to help her fix the spokes(since she rides 650 wheels they didn't have any replacements). Despite that 45+ minute delay, she still was ahead of me by a few minutes going out on the run.
The heat and extra exertion had taken its toll on her though, so by the time I caught her by mile 11 she was fried. We walked/ran for the majority of the remainder of the race, until mile 23 when someone said something obnoxious about a pro being so far back in the pack, at which point Amber threw down some low 7's to finish up the race. We finish hand in hand crossing the finish line.

I came in with a time of 11:19:03-not too bad for a first Ironman but definitely had enough left over to want to see what I can do if I actually RACE one. We'll have to see. Volunteering at Lake Placid so maybe I'll sign up for next year's.

One more thing: If you are at all considering doing Ironman St. George, DO IT! It was great. The course was amazing, the volunteers were spectacular and the town is fun. I signed up for this race because of the letter to LAVA from the Ironman who wanted his money back after not finishing. I want to write to LAVA and tell them how wonderful it was and amazed that it hadn't sold out. Soon, the word will get out and it'll be like the rest but for now, enjoy the fact that we can still get in to it.
St. George

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