Two weeks ago, I participated in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas, which proved to be a fitting end to my 2013 triathlon season.
The last month or two leading up to the race had all been going exactly to plan. I had been increasing my volume and intensity, which had resulted in some great results in training as the big race approached. Unfortunately, two weeks out from race day, I managed to slightly tweak my left calf. It wasn’t anything serious, but it was enough to force me to shut down my running training for the last two weeks before the race in an effort to minimize the damage. Frequent visits to see Brian and Amanda at Phila Massages also helped ensure that I would make it to the start line in one piece. Although I lost a little bit of fitness due to the larger than anticipated decrease in volume, I still felt really happy with where I was at going into the race.
I was lucky enough that my job allowed me to work part-time from Vegas so that I could get acclimated to the heat out there – forecasts were for temperatures over 100 degrees on race day. I arrived on the Monday of Labor Day and was immediately struck by the heat as I entered the jet bridge exiting the plane. I had already decided to maintain a positive attitude about the heat and so I just embraced it, acknowledged that I was here now to get used to it, and that everyone else would be having to deal with it come Sunday. I think that going into the week with this mindset really helped keep my spirits up through the final few training sessions and ultimately throughout the race.
The couple of days before the race ended up being a little more stressful than I had anticipated. The race had two transition areas that were separated by a 20 – 30 minute drive, which meant that there was a decent amount of driving back and forth between the two places to go for a warm-up swim in the lake, rack our bikes and drop off our run gear among other things. Just to complicate matters further, as I went to drop my bike off I realized that my power meter wasn’t working anymore (which is a vital tool to maintaining an appropriate pace throughout the bike), which resulted in more driving to get it fixed. As it turned out, all it needed was a new battery, which the guys at the SRAM/Quarq tent were happy to supply, helping me to calm down a little.
On Sunday morning we woke up to lovely steady rain – something that we hadn’t even really considered as a possibility based on the forecast the night before. The one advantage of this was that it kept things nice and cool; however, it meant that all of our gear was nice and wet and that the roads were going to be slick for the bike. Once I had set myself up in transition, I went back and took shelter in the car with Alexis, my mum and my coach, Todd. An hour later (my wave was almost 90 minutes after the pro start), we all meandered back to the start area to get ready for the swim. Alexis’ wave went off 8 minutes before mine and, once the gun went off for my wave, it was time to start catching the waves in front of me.
While I expected to be towards the front of the pack on the swim given my background, I wasn’t expecting to be in the very lead group. I managed to latch on to one of the guys who was going at a good pace and just took advantage of the draft through the halfway point. At that stage, we started to catch the waves in front of us and I changed my tactic to just avoid people as best as I could rather than trying to sit on his feet. As we got to the last quarter mile of the swim I pulled back in behind him but took a heel to the eye so decided to just put in a little bit of extra effort and pass him. I held on to this place until the swim exit, which turned out being 3rd in my age group – I was off to a good start!
My plan for the bike was to target about the same effort as prior races, which would be relatively easier since I had gained fitness since then. The reason for this was to make sure that I actually had some energy left for the run given the tough hills that I’d have to navigate 3 times before the finish. I settled in to my goal power pretty quickly and made sure to not push the hills leaving the lake area. This is where I just kept repeating to myself to “Execute!” as people would pass me. I knew I had to be okay with letting people go as they passed me so as to not ruin my chances on the run. It was certainly better than going with them for the whole bike and ending with a nice death march in the heat for 13.1 miles. The rain continued until about 40 miles into the 56 mile bike leg but then the sun came out and it started to get hot. With the constant rolling hills on the course, I was keeping my effort up the hills steady and then keeping the effort going on the downhills. This resulted in people passing me on the climbs only for me to fly by them on the descents. I got to recognize a lot of the people that I was yo-yoing with and it brought a little smile to my face to see some of these people really struggle on the run after cooking themselves on the uphills.
After a quick transition, which included a sock change (best idea EVER after all of the rain on the bike), it was time for what has been my Achilles heel so far in my triathlon career – the run. The course was three loops that was effectively 2.25 miles downhill and 2.25 miles uphill. At no point was there flat terrain to allow you to settle in. Thankfully the location of transition and the finish meant that we started and finished going downhill. My goal for this leg was to maintain a steady pace for the first two laps and then build the last one. Not long after I got out on course, I got to see Alexis' and my huge fan section that had traveled to see us compete (read: to spend time on the Strip). The group was comprised of family and friends from near and far and they were absolutely awesome as far as providing that extra little boost every 2 miles. After settling in on that first downhill, I again relied on the mantra of “Execute!”, reminding myself over and over to just keep sticking to the plan. Any time that I started to feel like I was running out of energy, or that there were too many miles to go, just saying that one word would help me refocus and keep my legs turning over. I got through the first two laps with pretty steady pacing and then started to build the effort going into the last 2.25 mile climb. As it turned out, even though my effort increased, it was really only enough to stop myself from slowing down. But I managed to keep executing and kept running the whole way (something that isn’t always the case for me in half-Ironmans). I finished the run in 1:41, which was a personal best for me in a triathlon (even faster than at Eaglman, which was dead flat), for a total time of 4:55:11.
Overall, I was extremely proud of how I executed the whole race. I was able to hold back when needed (on the bike and early in the run) and then leave everything I had out there on the run on a hilly and sun-baked course. It was great to see the joy on my mum’s face as I finished too. It’s crazy to think that only just over two years ago she was watching me complete my first sprint triathlon in a less than stellar time and now here I was finishing right in amongst it at the world championships!
As I look back on this season, it has been wonderful to share the ups and downs of training with my wife, Alexis, as well as having a whole host of friends and family come out to support us at our various races throughout the year. It’s moments like crossing the finish line at the end of race like this one that really make all of the training and sacrifices throughout the year worthwhile.
Last weekend, Alexis and I shared our first anniversary together and, after a week of not even considering being athletic, the weekend included a nice leisurely ride around the Lancaster, PA area, which also was a great reminder of how much fun it can be to just be outside and active, even when there isn’t a specific purpose to the exercise.
Going forward I plan on taking another week of only exercising when I feel like it but then, after a two week trip to Peru to see Machu Picchu and the Amazon river, it’ll be time to get back into things and start re-building a base for next year’s season.
Have fun out there,