Race Priority: A
Race Execution: C
Performance Summary, comparing Boulder 2013, St. George projections and actual data:
My TrainingPeaks reports are linked to the hyperlinks above, where the words Swim, Bike and Run are shown.
• Breakfast: Honey Stinger Waffle, Hammer Gel, Beet Juice, 1 salt tab plus vitamins (260 cals total)
• Swim: 1 GU prior to swim (100 cals total)
• Bike: 2 Scoops of CarboPro per 20 oz water bottle (200 cals/bottle), in three bike bottles and 3 Gels (100 cals ea). Actually drank 1 1/2 bottles + about 1.5 GU’s for a total of 450 cals and 40 oz of fluid for the bike ride… this would come back to haunt me later.
• Run: 1 GU at miles 1, 4, and less than 1/2 GU at 7 and 10. Probably 2 to 4 oz of water (estimated) at several aid stations for a total of roughly 250 cals & 30 oz of water.
Weather conditions: Hmmm… crap? At 5:00 am on the way to the race, the forecast was for 52 degrees increasing to mid 60’s by the time the race finished (for me), with light south-west winds. There was a 20% chance of rain at 8:00 am switching to 40% at 11:00 am. Reality was quite different. The wind was much higher than predicted (and switched to the North), the temp was much lower, and it rained most of the time between 8:00 am and around 11:00 (pouring at times), with intermittent rain thereafter. My Garmin shows an average temp on the bike of 47 with a low of 41, which corresponds to the data I found on one of the Pro’s Garmin as well.
• What went well: I finished the race. I didn’t fall down or wipe out. I didn’t end up in the medical tent. Hmmm… I’m reaching for these… ☺.
• What could have been better: I took a risk on clothing choice based on the weather forecast that resulted in hypothermia for much of the race. With my complete lack of thirst / hunger in the ride from the hypothermia, my shortfall in nutrition turned into a significant bonk / slog fest on the run. Reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments; there are consequences.” – Robert Green Ingersoll
• What I learned: When Mother Nature decides to rain on your parade, no amount of planning or fitness will compensate… prepare to embrace the suck.☺
• Age Group Rankings: I finished 44th (50-54 male) out of 148 finishers. Nearly 1/3 of the total people in my age group who signed up, either chose not to start of didn’t finish (69 of 217 total).
Race Report Commentary:
Half Ironman races have always been my favorite triathlon distance. Having more endurance than speed, this distance plays more toward my strengths without requiring the time and energy commitment of full Ironman racing. It’s been three years since my last 70.3, and after another round of surgery, recovery and rebuilding, I felt I was ready to test myself again. In the back of my mind, I’ve been toying with the idea of an “extreme triathlon” (Ax Tri in Norway) for the past few years. It’s a fantastically masochistic course, and possibly one of the hardest 70.3’s in the world. Before committing to the training required for a race like that, I wanted to see how my body would hold up to long course racing again. Ironman’s description of St. George is “the bike and run courses are two of the most challenging on the IRONMAN 70.3 circuit”… so it seemed like a good test without being too over-the-top.
Overall, my training went well for St. George. My build went without too many hiccups, with a nice steady progression. I focused heavily on my cycling, as the bike course tends to get the most attention for it’s difficulty. Going into the race, I actually had a higher total fitness level than my last race at Boulder, although my swimming and running were slightly less. As I looked at St. George, I didn’t want to just finish, but rather take a bit more risk (in terms of aggressive pacing) with an attempt to place in the top 20 of my age group. Looking at historic times, it seemed I’d need to be 5:15 or less for the race, which seemed achievable based on my fitness level and modeling of the cycling course. My race plan (cycling details and projections) are shown here.
All week the weather hinted that there was the possibility of rain on race day. I checked the weather on the way to the race Saturday morning, and it said there was only a 20% of rain until around 11:00 and then a brief period of time with 40% chance of showers. Although I had a cycling rain jacket, as well as arm and legs warmers designed for rain, based on the weather, I chose to put these in my morning clothes bag and only leave my standard arm warmers and gloves in T1. With temp in the low 50’s, I decided to go shirtless under my wetsuit, so I could have dry shirts to put on for the bike ride, thinking that would help me stay a bit warmer.
It was cold standing around for the hour between the Pro’s starting and my wave (18). Since we had to turn our morning clothes bags in when transition closed, I had no additional warm clothes to wear. I put on my wetsuit along with an old pair of socks and shoes (which I threw in the donation pile before the race start). I walked and bounced around in the windy 50 degree weather. It seemed that the wind was already above the predicted high for the day, with the waves building up on the water. I had a GU and watched the Pro’s coming out of the water. Nobody was wearing arm warmers… they were simply hopping on their bikes in their wet Tri suits. It made me think that maybe I didn’t need the gloves or arm warmers after all. When my wave was called, we entered the 62.7 degree water. I had opted to wear my neoprene cap under my race cap. It was a good decision. The water felt cold when I got in, but I warmed up fairly quickly once we started swimming. I breathe on my right side, and the waves were blowing right into my face during the first section. It wasn’t a huge problem, but meant that I wasn’t always getting air when I wanted, and was sometimes getting a mouth full of water. Overall I felt okay in the first section and based on my Garmin data, was on track for my goal pace. When we turned to go North, it wasn’t long before I started to run into people breast or back stroking. I was really surprised how many there were. I’m not sure if it was the waves, or that I was in one of the latter swim waves, but there were a lot of people to dodge. Swimming with the wind blown waves, I was again feeling okay overall. When we turned to swim back to the swim finish, we were bucking the waves and again there were a lot more people, a lot more contact, and I was swimming off line quite a bit more. Looking at my data, I lost quite a bit of time in this last leg, even though I was pushing harder (based on HR and feel).
Coming out of the water I opted to skip the wetsuit strippers, and had no problem getting my suit off. I expected to have some problems getting my Tri shirt on with my wet skin, but it went on pretty easy. My bike shirt was another story. It has zip front, and should have been easy and quick to get on… but it just wasn’t. I was getting ready to go and noticed that it was starting to rain. I decided to put my arm warmers on and skip the gloves. The arm warmers were an incredible wrestling-match, and I’m pretty sure I was actually muttering out loud to myself by the time I got them on. I put my helmet and shoes on and went out of transition and hopped on my bike… with the wind and rain getting worse.
I got hypothermia pretty bad in CDA in 2011, so I decided quickly decided that I needed to alter my plan. My thought was that by increasing my power above target for the first ½ hour to hour, I could generate extra body heat (about 75% of your energy turns into body heat rather than actual bike power output). After the rain stopped and it warmed up, I could then cut back my power, recover and then try to get back on track.
The first 8 miles are crappy chip seal on the course, but with the increase in wattage I felt like I was flying and passing a lot of people. I was glad I had my latex tubes and my air pressure at 100 front 105 rear… it helped keep the vibration somewhat in check. Starting in the back, I had a lot of bike traffic to navigate. While it’s fun doing a lot of passing, it was also frustrating how many people were riding left, not passing anyone. At one point a person meandered left forcing me over the rumble strips and onto the shoulder to make a pass. It didn’t take me long to realize that I really had no hunger or thirst at all. With the cold temps, I wasn’t sweating and I had quite a bit of water that I had taken in from the waves. Although I was conscious of the need for nutrition, I was really having to force down any of my bike bottle fluid (which had CarboPro) as well as a GU… and I wasn’t doing a good job of staying on top of it.
For the first hour I was holding my own with my temperature. My hands and feet were pretty cold, my teeth were chattering, but my upper body wasn’t shaking. Then the sky opened up and it started to pour. I noticed my legs getting goosebumps, and I had to start to pull back a bit on the corners as the roads felt a little greasy. Leaving St. George toward Ivin’s, there’s a long downhill section. At this point I needed to pull back a bit more, as I didn’t have a lot of confidence in the rain with the bike traffic and descending. It’s then that I noticed that the wind had switched (now a headwind), and my upper body started to shake a bit… I was getting really cold. I felt like I needed to just try to hold on, for the next section of the race. My thought was that once I got to Snow Canyon, the slower speed and higher power would help raise my body temperature. I couldn’t do a lot of passing with the sort of tight section into Ivins, and frankly I wasn’t making good power at this point because I was so cold. I felt like I was just riding along with the crowd, passing when I could.
When got to Snow Canyon and started to climb, I picked up the power as well as I could. I was still very cold, and the headwind was making the long slow climb even worse. There was a sign that said something about the money we had paid to be in pain… it might have been funny if I had a sense of humor at that time. Although I was able to get my wattage back up to the 230’s, I was still shaking cold when I got to the top of the Snow Canyon climb, which I knew would be trouble.
The last 10 miles is primarily all down hill. And after the change in wind, the wind would be at our back as well. On a good day, this might have been fun with a high speed descent. On that day at that time, the temperature was 41 degrees with a steady rain, I was just hoping to survive. I tried to push a bit at the top to stay warm, but I wasn’t doing a good job of staying in control of my bike. I was shaking so bad that I had difficulty riding in aero at all, and I peaked at 47 mph in this section… and decided that was just stupid. I saw a guy on the side of the road trying to change his tire, and knew if I flatted I would be done for the day. I was too cold to have the dexterity (or will) to change a tire. I ended up just sitting up on the hoods and coasting (and shaking) most of the ride in. Frankly much of it was a blur to me… Kelly and Ana yelled at me and I didn’t even see them.
Finally I made the turn toward T2. I was shaking so badly and my teeth were chattering out of control. I got off my bike and the volunteers wrapped me in an emergency blanket. I am always amazed what people are willing to do to help. Upon seeing me shaking, one of the volunteers agreed to wrap herself around me in a big bear hug to try to get me warm. I just stood there for several minutes. She said she’d never seen anyone so cold, that their butt cheeks were shaking (and I didn’t even know I could twerk). I decided I needed to move on to try to warm up on the run. I walked my bike into the bike rack area, dropped my bike on the way, and finally got my bike picked up and put on my rack. I had trouble getting shoes on and off due to my lack of dexterity. I stopped in the porta-potty on the way out, and just hung out for a couple more minutes as it was warmer inside than outside… the appeal of warmth overriding the assault on my nose. Finally I left T1 and headed out for the run, trying to warm up.
The run course at St. George is tough. The profile doesn’t look that bad, but you start with just short of a 3 mile hill, with the end being about 9% grade. Then it is a series of out and back rollers, that never really give you a chance to recover. It would be tough on a good day. It was really tough when you start with little to no stored glycogen. Looking back, I did a really poor job of forcing nutrition down on the bike. After the swim and ride I burned nearly 2400 calories exercising. This doesn’t include any extra calories consumed by shivering, which is sometimes approximated at 400 calories per hour. Assuming 75% of my calories came from stored glycogen at this intensity, that would be 1800 calories of stored glycogen from exercise. Even if I only burned a couple extra hundred calories due to the hypothermia, it could have easily pushed me past the typical 2000 calories stored in a typical male athlete. This was the perfect setup for a slog fest.
On the upside, somewhere in the first mile or so the rain stopped, and I finally warmed up enough to get rid of my emergency blanket by mile 2. I started feeling a little warmer (and better), but really lacked energy at all. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go faster… I wanted this day over now… but simply didn’t have the physical energy to go faster. Yes, I felt a little wonky, but mostly it was an overwhelming feeling of fatigue. I tried to stay on my nutrition, but frankly it was having almost no impact that that point. Every time a guy in my age group passed me, I’d try to hang with them. It never lasted for more than 100 yards before they’d simply run away. And I was crabby. I’ve noticed that when I get low on carbs, I don’t have a lot of patience. We call it SFS in our house… short fuse syndrome… and I had it during the run. There was a younger guy from Mexico who was doing a lot of walking, and when he’d see his teammates he’d start running and waving, high fiving, etc. like he was having the time of his life, and would run past me while they were in sight. Then he’d walk and I’d trudge by him. It’s like the people on the highway who don’t use their cruise control, and you keep passing back and forth. And it was shockingly irritating. 🙂 This kept going until we got back to the downhill section at the last 3 miles, when he ran away from me… and I was happy to see him go.
As I approached the finish line, I heard a couple of spectators say, “go Greg, go Todd, you are almost there”. Todd passes me, and he’s in my age group. Since I could actually see the finish line in the distance, I mustered all that I had left and dropped the hammer (or something, because it probably wasn’t the hammer at my pacing) and passed Todd. And I just kept that pace up, hoping to keep him behind me until the finish. The real bonus… there was the young man from Mexico up ahead as well. And yes, I caught and passed him before the finish… giving me just the smallest bright spot on a really long day… and making me just a bit less crabby.
Yes, it’s a tough course. But I think it’s completely manageable with decent weather. The challenge is that often the weather isn’t great at St. George. In some years the temps has been in the 90’s (or warmer) and in some years the winds are 30+ mph. Then it becomes a really tough course. But… that can be part of the appeal as well. It’s a great place to look for a challenge, and for me… the opportunity to test myself again. Although the day wasn’t what I’d hoped for from a time or ranking perspective, it was a great experience overall. It gave me some important perspective in thinking about the possibility of an extreme triathlon down the road, and the importance of changing the focus from racing to enduring, and of course the importance of having the appropriate gear. I don’t know what my future holds at this point, but I’m happy I did St. George and had the opportunity to face… and finish… a truly challenging race situation.
For more race perspectives from the 2016 race: