Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ironman St. George Race Update

Ironman St. George will forever be known as the race that almost wasn’t and in the end was a race that probably shouldn’t have ever happened. I thought my race at Oceaside in March was the worst of my career and one to learn from then move on. Today's race attempt tops Oceanside and is one I never want to repeat again.

I had targeted racing IMStG 2012 last year because I had really enjoyed the course when I raced it the inagural year in 2010. I liked the hilly bike course followed by a challenging run course. I had a decent race that year and finished 2nd overall amateur. I had made goals to improve upon that performance now as a first year Pro and felt confident that I could post some good splits on this course. During the week of the race I was paying close attention to my nutrition and hydration because the 80+deg temps would require me to listen to my body and try to stay ahead of any potential issues. Just days before the race, IM announced that this would be the last year for this race at the full IM distance and that starting in 2013 it would move to a 70.3 distance. That fueled the desire to have the best race I could for the day since there wouldn't be another opportunity for redemption.

Any of you following Heather Wurtele on Twitter this morning would have seen this tweet at 6:52am:
Oh dear. New pro woman slept in at #IMSG just ran out of a car and jumped in the water 3 min after pro start #oops #megastress
Unfortunately, that would be yours truly.

Let me flash back a couple of hours…I'm in bed trying to sleep and it almost appears to be frivolous. I look at the clock and it reads 2:05am. I've been in bed for hours but keep waking up every half hour because I’m afraid of oversleeping. My alarm was set to go off at 3:30am and I can only think about how important even a little bit of sleep would be, almost like taking a nap. I close my eyes hoping for 90 minutes of deep sleep before I get up to get the day going. When I open my eyes again to check the clock, instead of it being 2:30am, it reads 6:10am! Why hadn't my alarm gone off? I quickly checked and it was set for Saturday at 3:30am. I must have slept through it. Panic instantly set in and would have cried had I had time to think about it. My swim starts in less than 35 minutes and it'll take me 20 minutes just to get to Sand Hollow and I haven't even dropped off any of my nutrition for T2 or finish setting up T1. I had just spent the last 6 months meticulously training specifically for this race and I haven’t even sat down to calculate how many hours were spent on the on the road, trails and in the pool. So many things rushed through my mind and the first thing I do…call my husband. He’s been home all week chauffeuring the kids around to school and their various sporting events so I could be here. Why I called him? I don't really know. It's not like he's going to be able to do anything 1,000 miles away! I couldn't help feeling like I had let him down. I could tell I had awoken him but it must not have been a very deep sleep because he answered quickly and sounded amazingly coherent. I blubbered out a bunch of information that I’m sure didn’t make any sense. His only response…”stop talking to me and get out the door, I’ll see what I can do.” I’m not sure what he did or how the next series of events transpired but next thing I know my host Dad, is driving me to the swim start while I choke down a banana and try my best to put on my TYR Freak of Nature in the passenger’s seat. As we rush to Sand Hollow reservoir one name comes to mind who might be able to help. The voice on the other end says, “Trish, where are you? You are supposed to be getting in the water right now.”
To make a short story, shorter…I'm only able make it to Sand Hollow reservoir by following a race support vehicle and tell host Dad, “slow down to
 30 mph and I'll jump our real quick." He screeched to a halt at the swim start and I jump out, hand my Special Needs and Morning Gear bags to a volunteer while shouting out instructions of what goes where then try to make my way through the crowds to the beach. It's loud, nobody can hear over the music and nobody is willing to move out of my way. The cannon had already sounded to signal the start of the Pro race and I'm about to go UFC on the sea of black wetsuits that stand in my way when somehow I find myself being lifted over the fence by a couple of guys and then my legs carry me into the water as I put on my swim goggles. I have so much adrenaline surging through my body that when I hit the water and take a couple of strokes, I find myself gasping for air. I had to roll on my side for a couple of seconds to catch my breath before trying to find a rhythm for a solo 2.4 mile swim. Then I get stopped by a kayaker because he thought I was an Age Grouper trying to get a jump on the competition.

If the day couldn’t get any worse, what started as a somewhat light headwind quickly turned into a 40mph dust storm before I made it half way to the first buoy and made the water very rough. It was almost like it came out of nowhere. It was white capping so bad that they had to pull the kayakers for safety reasons. It actually reminded me of IM CDA a couple of years ago where they made the swim optional because the conditions were similar and bordered on unsafe. I'm talking 3-5 foot swells that were going over the bow of boats. I heard of a couple of boats that were completely sunk. The more I swam the more I had to do a quick check of my own sanity because I was getting tossed around like washing machine and was feeling very nauseas. The swells were so high I couldn't see any course markers at times. One thing I did figure out afterwards is that the reservoir sits by a small town called Hurricane and the locals try to mask the history behind their town's name by pronouncing it "Her-u-kun" but now that I have raced here twice and experienced strong winds both times, I know how the town really got its name. I swear I was so disoriented by time I reached the halfway buoy that I swam around that sucker twice. There were times that I honestly felt like I was trying to swim up a river. I held it together as best I could and beat the water long enough to find dry land in T1 more haggard than I’ve ever felt before but anxious to get going on the bike…the biggest problem, the 20-30 minute deficit. Not to mention I feel really nauseas and wobbly like I've just set a Guiness World record for riding the Sour Apple ride at the carnival the longest. Mentally, 20-30 minutes is almost insurmountable and you can't help feeling inept when your bike is the last one on the Pro rack. Staying positive, I knew there was another 138 miles to go where anything can happen.
My heart goes out to the hundreds of athletes that prepared so hard for this race but were overcome with the "Her-u-kun"-like conditions during the swim. There are dozens of videos, pictures and blogs that give a a pretty good idea of how bad it really was out there...words don't do it justice.  

I "cruised" towards St. George into the wind, getting sandblasted along the way, open your mouth for a free teeth whitening. One way to get nutrition, I guess. My Trek Speed Concept was feeling the call of the road but the dry heaves had set in…sweet! Everyone should try this as part of your race tactic. I had a new bike plan based on what I had learned at Oceanside but now I felt sick to my stomach and was getting the dry heaves. But wait, as if the deck wasn’t stacked against me already, at mile 44 my power meter goes out and then 4 miles later my cadence sensor stopped working. I had replaced both batteries at the same time a while back but what are the odds they would both stop working at the same time? And during a race? Is this karma? As if the red sand in my eyes didn't make it feel like I was riding blind already. The winds were brutal and I spent most of the time out of aero just so I could stay vertical. By the end of the first lap I was feeling the combined effects of improper nutrition and the dry heaves...I needed to stop at the porta potty or I would never make it through the second loop. 

I have to apologize to anyone I passed on the bike that I might have scared with my dry heaving, I really wasn't trying to puke on you.
I took a conservative approach on the first loop and tried to get down some nutrition while keeping from being blown off the road . There were times when I was only going 8mph as I battled against the wind. I heard that the men's winner, Ben Hoffman, was even blown off of the road at one point. After the first loop I was thinking that I could make up a lot of time now that the dry heaving had subsided but as I rode I noticed that the snap in my legs was fading and I was starting to feel physically drained. I hadn't fueled the engine soon enough to keep from going negative. In the end my bike was a little off from what I had planned but as I came into T2 I could feel the energy of the crowd and wanted to feed off of that as I started the run. As I went into the changing tent I had to take a realistic look at my physical condition and weigh that against the task that lay ahead. It was brutally hot and I was already at a nutrutional deficit. My body was in no condition to run a marathon in 90deg temps without causing more issues than I wanted to deal with for the next couple of weeks or possibly longer. I hadn't properly fueled my body prior to the race so I opted to listen to my body instead of trying to push through. I tearfully decided to call it a day and better set myself up to race again at CDA without needing a couple of weeks to recover from a marathon.
It was by far the hardest choice I’ve had to make since I started racing in Triathlons. I didn't even know how to DNF. I’ve never DNF’d by my own choice in the past 10 years and hope to never do it again. I’m ok with my decision? No. I still struggle with my decision but, like I tell everyone else, take the positive from the race and move on. So, I’m going to take the 3rd fastest bike split, even with the occasional sand blasting, knowing the porta potty stop and my dry heaving cost me some time, forget the rest and regroup to race again next month at Ironman 70.3 Boise and Ironman Coeur d’Alene. There's no risk of oversleeping at Boise with the 12:00pm start time and hopefully this time I can get the winds of fate to blow a little more in my favor.

Congratulations Meredith Kessler and Ben Hoffman, you both rocked it today!