Race #2 of the season would land me at one of my all-time favorite courses, Ironman 70.3 St. George, Utah. This course is seriously tough both physically and mentally. Between the pre-race logistics, the course terrain/elevation, the weather, the 3 miles up a bluff to start the run… it’s easier to just say “if you know, you know.” However, I wouldn’t have it any other way as courses like this suit my racing style and also tend to deliver a more fair/honest race up front. Being that it was the North American 70.3 Pro Championship with $75k on the line, the competition was very solid. As with every race my goal for this one was to execute the best I could. I was confident that if I did that it would land me into the top 10. Here’s how it played out:
The water was cold but manageable with a wetsuit. Warming up my stroke felt good and connected and I was confident and focused. I lined up on the left side of the pro field, thinking this would allow me to breathe right and see what was going on during the first few hundred meters without needing to do much sighting. My plan was to then move over into whatever group was forming as we hit the first turn. In hindsight this actually left me solo for quite some time until I merged over and found Sam Long to swim with. Once with him I didn’t sight forward, but rather relied on him to direct us. At the first turn I could see the main chase pack had gapped us a bit and slowly I moved from Sam’s shoulder to his hip, and then his feet… and then off his feet… and then solo. Something that has happened to me repeatedly in open water swimming is that I lose the rhythm, focus, stroke, whatever you want to call it and it’s hard for me to gauge in the moment what it is that will bring it back, or even if the effort I give is actually improving my speed. There is no reference like a clock or a wall every 25yds to see if the input is working, or another swimmer next to me to see if I am matching their speed or swimming away. So I am swimming in this state of unknown AND with this mental sense that if I took a couple easy strokes, rebalanced myself, and went again, that would of course be costing me time and I can’t lose any more time… so the stroke must go on.. poorly… and at a high rate of exertion. Sigh. I am working on this.
Anyways I came out in 28:11, about 1:30 behind the main chase pack and 1:00 behind Long. Overall it’s still a step forward from where my swim has been in previous years. But if you ask anyone I swim with in training, they will understand how much of an underachievement that is.
T1- I was gassed. Couldn’t catch my breath and felt dizzy. My HR was so high, and I just kept thinking “what is wrong with me?” In fact, at my bike Kitty was there to let me know what was going on and I just said “something is wrong with me.” She didn’t disagree. LOL.
Onto the bike I felt ok once I was able to let my HR settle. The power was decent up the first climb and I was catching the few in front of me pretty easily. Once over the first climb I started to settle into my race watts and focused on what I needed to do to get myself back into this race. I had trouble keeping any nutrition down during the first hour of ride for some reason. That was odd, but I wasn’t overly concerned because I felt ok energy wise. My watts were down about 10 from Oceanside, but I had plenty of times the 55-11 was not enough to hold race watts, so I was ok with it. Nothing much to report here… lots of ups and downs but nothing too major until Snow Canyon Climb at mile 41. I was pretty happy with how I rode up that 5 mile climb considering I have hemorrhaged time to my competitors there in the past due to just being exhausted at that point in the ride. I averaged 4.45w/kg for 16min up the climb and felt totally in control. I bombed the long descent into t2, catching another 4 riders. One of them was Andrew, who I coach and train with often. I was excited to come into t2 with him and hopefully be able to work together on the run, as we have so many times in training. Unfortunately, and almost expectedly at this point, he crashed dismounting his bike. I can’t make this stuff up. Something happens to that guy on the bike every single time he races. It’s funny but it’s not. When I heard the crash behind me I knew. I didn’t need to look back, but I did and when I did we had through helmet visor eye contact and this telepathic conversation where we both just mumbled “of course.” Bike split was 2:12 and I was into t2 in 16th place.
T2- as I’m putting on my shoes I see Andrew walk by me pushing his bike with his rear Der dragging on the pavement and blood coming from his arm. He said something like “let’s go, you’ve got a shot” knowing that top 10 was my goal. I responded with “I can’t even believe you right now” in reference to his crash and think back on how many Coach mode conversations I’ve had with him about practicing his dismount.
A quick t2 had me in 15th place starting the run with 3 guys right ahead of me. I was about 3min from the top 10 and knew that a few guys up the road weren’t typically as fast of runners AND that this course would likely eat a couple others alive. The first few miles I felt fine. I gradually caught and passed Trevor Wurtele on the long climb up the bluff and put in a small gap on the mile 4 downhill. However, although it happened a little later this time, my left leg started to go numb/tingly again from my piriformis syndrome. I was pretty frustrated because I had made a bunch of progress on this since Oceanside, and thought I had left it behind me. Also, the tightness in my glute and lower back, mixed with the odd leg sensation really destroys my stride. And that is a bad thing to have happen when you are trying to run fast downhill or grind out a 2 mile uphill. At mile 6 I had closed time to the top 10. By mile 8 I was going backwards, losing time and actually being caught by guys from behind. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t there mentally. When I am suffering on the run I can dial into that pain like it’s a volume knob. Turn it up, tolerate it, settle into it, dial it up again, etc. But when it is something I can’t control like my piriformis, I can’t even think about the volume. I’m just overwhelmed with trying to keep my legs under me. I saw a video of me running thanks to Josh Terwoord and WOOOOOF, it looked bad. Kitty and Andrew also both said it looked nothing like my normal stride.
It’s frustrating, but I do feel like I’m making progress here and hopefully won’t be an issue much longer. So, I was passed back by 2, passed a couple others, etc. and ended up running in 14th with 2 miles to go, and magically I could feel my leg again. Ernest Mantell caught me in the last 800m and put about 10 meters into me. My thoughts were: “why dude? I wanted to jog.” and then “whatever this is for 14th place.” and then “ok self, we are either doing this or we aren’t doing this.” followed by “you will be mad if you don’t do this.” So of course I sprinted the last 100m or so and luckily was able to pass him back. Yay. 14th. I ran 1:19:58 which is my slowest run in about 2 years, but I am running better in training than I ever have in the past. So, yeah… doing glute work as I write this :).
Overall I was 4:04, 2min faster than last year and 1 spot higher overall. Yet the feeling after this race was so much different than in years past. I felt that last year I raced to my potential and that was satisfying even though I was not in the race at all relative to the top 10. This year I felt like I lacked across the board, and that’s never satisfying, even if the result is decent.
However, the best news about not racing to your potential is that you can learn from it, make changes, and try again knowing that your next one could be the breakthrough you’ve been working for and seen glimpses of. So, keep working on my PS/leg issues and then Chattanooga 70.3 in 2 weeks…?!?! Probably. Definitely. Yes.
Thanks for reading.