There's always a bit of uncertainty going into the first race of the season. Sure, you can get a handle of how training has gone and what your goal paces/power look like—but until you're out in the middle of the course, you don't always know the state of the union, per se. It's a lot like the first time you race long distance: you can know you have put in the work and you are ready, but just don't know what things will necessarily look like race day.
So I went into St. George with this mentality: a good, hard effort to see where things stood. After a winter of injury, craziness with work and life and the big move to Colorado, I literally did nothing from my monster 10 days of training camp in Cozumel back in November until I started back seriously training on March 1st. Maybe a few group rides and the occasional swim—but no more running than fingers on my hands. My off-season was most definitely an off season, to put it lightly.
How not to off-season:
But I had strung together some of my most consistent training in a few years leading up to St. George and my 100m swim send-offs were starting to match my old 100 yard times after a few weeks of masters and fitness in general was coming around. I didn't hope to win, but I certainly arrived in St. George hoping to execute and rip off the first-race-of-the-year band-aid.
Lucy and I made our way westward before the race, before I dropped her off at a local doggy daycare. If any of you travel to St. George with a pet, I highly recommend Red Rocks Pet Resort. All boarded dogs also get to enjoy their regular daycare as part of their stay—She was so tuckered out from playing with all of the daycare dogs afterward!
Two days before the race, I went to get some things on my bike fixed up (more than expected—yikes!) at IBB Cyclery, a super cute bike shop owned by a former pro triathlete along the bike course, just outside of town.
Kirk and Charity were so incredibly nice and knowledgable, and later invited me to join in their "Pro Bike Round-up", where we would be talking about our sponsors via Facebook like. They convinced me and I got to join the Wurteles, Ellie Salthouse and Sarah Jarvis in showing off our favorite gear. You can check it out here, or on my facebook page. I jump in a few minutes in after Ellie:
It was really fun, but also made me realize I need to get a little more technical in what I can speak to about some of my favorite gear!
Two-transition races also mean extra running around the day before. There are some things I could have planned better to limit time in the car and in the sun the two days and day before the race—but some of that is always inevitable. Good thing for folks traveling to St George (or any other two transition race, for that matter): create a plan and set timetables and stick to it to avoid too much running around!
The pro meeting also included the following clip from one of my favorite movies as a warning for the weather forecast ahead... it was looking steamy:
Also notable: the night before the race, I put the finishing touches on my kit, painting over the logo of a former sponsor whose values and ethics I feel no longer align with my own. I cannot condone blackmail (the police's words—not mine), lying to authorities, stealing mail and/or doping—for starters).
It was cathartic both painting (an old hobby of mine) and feeling the release that I was no longer putting myself and my reputation at risk. It looked beautiful and in the post-race photos my handiwork and cover-up job is barely noticeable. I may have to start bringing paint and brushes to races in the future because it was incredibly relaxing.
The morning of the race was fun—I have really come to like the pro transition racks, especially now that I occasionally know a few fellow pros setting up in the morning. Before it was extra intimidating, but now it's always nice to say hi to a few familiar faces. We took advantage of the pro porta-potties, I tried to act natural around Alistair Brownlee (even when he cut in front of Amanda in line... don't worry, he was only chatting with someone else and went back to his spot like all of us other non-gold-medalist plebians) and it was nice to not feel rushed and stressed like I sometimes am pre-race.
Officials got us in the water super early—18 minutes early to be exact. The water wasn't as cold as expected but did start to get chilly waiting around for our send-off. We lined up, got yelled at by kayakers to stay back (the usual song and dance) and the cannon went off.
The swim might have been the highlight of my day—a far cry from my previous races where I felt like it was 1.2 miles of red-lining and near-drowning. For the first time in my life I never felt like I was overreaching on the swim or on the verge of blowing up. Hint: I probably could have gone a bit harder. Oh well, next time.
The swim was broken up into 550m - a turn buoy - 900m - a turn buoy - 550m to the finish, which I liked for the reference. For the first 550m I was able to sit just off the hip of another athlete and try to take advantage of the draft. Well, after that first turn, the girl who was leading our pack could not sight to save her life and the group veered way outside the buoy line. While the pack of six or so went wide, I resigned myself to swimming solo and just stayed my course and swam the tangent between buoys.
They eventually cut back in and I rejoined the group for the last stretch back to T1. At this point I realized my sustainable, moderate pace was way too easy but I wasn't satisfied sitting in and going slowly and I couldn't see anyone ahead to bridge a gap to, so I swam to the front and led the pack into the swim finish.
Also, I almost never share finisherpix like this but I had to document this moment, and I'm just not willing to spend $25 on a single photo just for photographic evidence (sorryyyyyy....). Leading the pack!
While I would have liked to and probably could have gone into the 28s with just a little more effort, I was super happy to have accomplished my goal of swimming with the second main pack and hoped that by holding back on the swim, I might have a little more in the tank for the bike and run ahead. Spoiler alert: it didn't help much.
It was fun coming out of the water and into transition with such a large pack of people, as opposed to the normal lonely, 'where is everybody?' feeling I usually experience out there. The only downside is that I had very specific instructions for the bike, and this meant these girls would soon be long gone and I would have no one else to chase after.
My coach and I had talked about the bike and the plan was to only ride certain watts, hoping it would save energy for the run and I could pull back time there. I was essentially riding Ironman watts the entire time, which was frustrating—but also WAY easier than normal HIM pace and meant I got to have fun and smile and wave/chit chat with the aid stations, thanking them as I rolled through. This level of effort had me worried. Nevertheless, I stuck to the plan.
The course was pretty much dead, aside from the single female pro who passed me early on and then the age group men who I didn't start seeing until about 40-miles into the bike, around the Snow Canyon climb. This climb was far easier than I expected but gorgeous. The good news is that since I wasn't suffering as much as I normally am during a half-Ironman, I was actually able to take it in and appreciate the views. There was a long bombing descent down into T2 to cap off the bike before you head out for the run.
And this is where things started to go south. I held back the first four miles of the run, a gradual incline where I could see my heart rate staying steady much higher than I would have liked. The climbs are bad but you figure there's an end in sight... until you get to miles 6-9. These miles pretty much broke me. It's an out and back and out and back, pretty much along the same road—just different sides.
My pace slowed, my stride decreased and this section was just a slog. Even on the downhills, I just could not get the turn-over that I had hoped for and the uphills were painfully slow and shuffling. I got passed by one female pro around mile 10 and then another within the last mile. Normally I have a solid kick and have out-sprinted people when it was close in the past but just did not have it in me on Saturday—my guess is that the heat and current lack of run fitness is to blame, especially given that I did only one hill workout in prep for this race. I cruised into the finish, happy to be done and happy to have knocked out race #1 of the season.
17th in the North American Pro champs isn't shabby, but leaves me hungry for much more.
Overall it was a great training day, good first result and definitely some motivation and a kick in the butt. I think the bike course at St. George is right up my alley—and if I ever went back and pushed a little harder on the bike, I think I could have done some serious damage. I'm just not sure whether this run course will ever be something I can wrap my mind around or be successful on. So will I be back? Maybe—for a training race... we'll have to wait and see. I did like the timing and location.
But not a lot of time to dwell because up next up is Chattanooga 70.3! Now, I KNOW this course is one I love (after having a great day there at IMChoo in 2015) so I've gotten back to work and excited (hopefully) for a little redemption race and a better indicator of my fitness in just over a week-and-a-half.