I finally finished my race report! I wrote it slowly so that I could make sure that I really thought about the race thoroughly.
Our hotel was in Las Vegas so we all got up early and were out the door around 5:00 to make it to Lake Mead around 5:45. Scott was amazed that we were there so early, but he quickly learned that with big races like this everything takes longer. I was the hero with the bike pump in the bike transition area and was lending it out to anyone who asked for it. I will say it again that triathletes are THE friendliest people! On race morning, they are even friendlier. The announcer was asking for people to help out athletes that broke goggles or forgot the straw to their aero bottle (that one cracked me up).
The sunrise over the lake was really beautiful as we stood on the carpet waiting for our wave to start. My family found me based on the sign for my swim wave, so that was cool.
This was the first time I have experienced a wave swim start, as opposed to the mass start that I’m used to. I’m so glad that races have changed to this type of start. I hope I don’t have to do a mass start at a major race ever again. I was worried about the men starting right after us (3 minutes to be exact) so I swam wide. Too wide in retrospect. But I was comfortable and not stressed. This year racing was all about finding comfort in racing again.
On race morning they announced that it was a wetsuit-legal race. I highly doubt it was actually legal, but I wasn’t going to question it. This was only my third open-water race in the last three years, so I knew it would not be my best. I was thinking it would be around 45 minutes. My official time was 46:32, so that was a pretty good guess on my part.
In retrospect I could have swam closer to the buoys and turned sharper at the ends. I probably swam an extra 100-200m, but I was comfortable and I had a great rhythm. I also swam very straight – I sighted every 12 strokes, as opposed to every 3 or 6 (I breathe on both sides).
The water was amazing: warm, calm, and clear. The only waves on the lake came from the stupid motor boats, which I know are necessary, but very annoying. Scott said that there was a distressed swimmer at the first buoy, so one of the boats had to go there. Honestly, I have no idea how any swimmer could be distressed. The biggest wave was around 200 people, which is a small group for a major race like this. The swimmers that were stressed must have been inexperienced triathletes or had some extraordinary circumstances.
Coming out of the water was difficult with a big step up from the bottom of the lake to the ramp up to the beach. The volunteers were amazing pulling the athletes up as we all stumbled trying to find our feet on uneven ground after a long swim. I have dizziness issues after a long swim, so I needed two volunteers to help me up. I made it without falling down. Yay!
The transitions were “clean transitions” meaning that all of the gear was in race bags. Because it was also a split transition, the bags were at the bike racks. At T1 you could have your helmet and shoes outside your bag. My bike was on the rocks with no carpet beside it so that was painful on my feet before putting my shoes on. My transition was pretty slow, but I wanted to make sure I was going to be comfortable on the bike. I even wore bike shorts over my tri shorts, which is atypical for me. Again, it was all about comfort.
Prior to the race, I was not shy about sharing my fear about the bike on this course. The fact that I was so afraid of this bike course actually made it seem not so bad because I was mentally ready for the toughness. It was extremely difficult with the heat and the hills. My strategy for the hills was to go up with high cadence and push as hard as my legs would allow and then recover on my way down the hills. For me and my lack of fitness, this worked very well. I got passed lots, but I expected it and was okay with it. It’s not easy, mentally, to be passed so much. I’m not a competitor in triathlon, but I’m still a competitive person. Watching people go by me hurts the ego for sure.
I definitely had a tough time with the heat, which also wasn’t a surprise. The week before we left we had a few days of hot weather, which I took advantage of and went out a few times in the heat of the day. It was a shock to the system because we didn’t have a hot summer, but it helped to prepare me for the heat of the race. It was a difficult race, but there were no surprises in this race.
It is the only time in my triathlon career that thoughts of not finishing had crept into my mind.
In my opinion, another aid station was needed on the first part of the bike. I just looked at the map and it looks like maybe an aid station at the beginning wasn’t set up. The first aid station was about 15 miles in and by that time my head was starting to pound; I’m prone to heat exhaustion, so I’m careful to keep my head and core temperature cool while I take in lots of electrolytes. Once I got to the first aid station, I stopped for some sunscreen and to pour a cold bottle of water on my head and in my tri top. My other trick is to put ice in my bra; this is one great thing about being a woman, in addition to no bleeding nipples.
Before the first aid station I actually wondered if I would going to be able to finish. Typically I’m a positive person, especially during a race. I cheer people on, I say “good job” when I get passed. On this bike course, though, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to finish. The doubts quickly left my mind when I thought about the training, time, money, and effort I put into getting to this race. My triathlon future depended on this race. It was important… very important. It is the only time in my triathlon career that thoughts of not finishing had crept into my mind. I have DNFed twice before, but it wasn’t until I was physically unable to continue that it dawned on me that I wouldn’t finish. They were both devastating to me. The memory of that feeling, as well as the other factors, kept me going with renewed positive thoughts.
On the second half of the course I pushed a little harder and moved from my small front chain ring into my big one. This was part of my race plan. I rode the rest of the bike in my big ring, trying my best to turn the pedals at a high cadence and push a little harder going down. By the end of the bike my legs were pretty spent, which was also part of my plan. Since I’m not a strong runner and I wasn’t going to run up the hills anyway I figured I might as well spend most of my legs on the bike.
The last few miles of the bike were extremely difficult. It is a very long and steep climb… very long. Like, really, really long. I could see the hill coming up from a ways away. It was daunting. I just put my head down and climbed up and up and up and up. Then you go around a corner and there’s more hill. Then you go around another corner and OH! another hill! By the time I got to T2 I was pretty frustrated. I knew I was getting very tired because I was grumpy, but I knew Scott and my folks were waiting for me on the run. It makes such a huge difference to have something to look forward to, whether it be an aid station or a loved one. It creates a happiness shot of adrenaline and dopamine giving the energy to keep going.
Not much to report, except that my bike was at the VERY end of the racks, near the run out gate. I hated walking past all of the full bike racks (as in lots of people are already on the run). I put on my hat and shoes, and off I went just happy to be off the bike.
I was hoping to do a 4′ run, 1′ walk. That lasted about 2km when the first big hill came. I ran for a bit and then walked the rest. From that point on I walked up the hills and ran down them. The hills were long and steep. As I was walking up, with various people who were in the same boat as me, I shook my head wondering why they had to make the run so stupidly difficult. It was ridiculous! I’ve never been on a course like it. I knew that it would be tough because the profile showed it as being up and down. There was no way to prepare me for what the course was. It was truly ridiculous. I made it through, seeing my support crew 4 times, and ran the last 1km to the finish line. I was so relieved to be done.
I saw my family almost immediately after I crossed the line. It was so awesome. I was almost crying from relief. This race was so important to me. In a way, it’s my comeback into the sport of triathlon.
We went into the food tent and I was prepared to drink sports drinks and eat pretzels. I walked along the food line and I was shocked and excited to see that there was a huge variety of healthy food! Grilled veggies, rice and beans, tortilla chips and salsa! I was in vegan race food heaven! If I could have jumped up and down I would have! I still have to write an email of appreciation for the wonderful, healthy food that they spread out for us. It beats the hell out of potato chips and pizza! It was truly amazing and a highlight of the race!
The rest of the day was a tired haze of Las Vegas. My legs cramped up even though I had a cold bath when I got back to the hotel. I drank lots of water and sports drink. I ate good food. That night I slept like a baby. The next two days in Vegas were not easy. The day after the race was tough. Walking up stairs was painful and walking down wasn’t much fun either. Two days after the race was better, though. My legs recovered pretty well. I wasn’t sure how my body would react so it was good to know that it can recover fairly quickly.
They say the fourth leg of a “tri”athlon is nutrition. It is incredibly important and can sometimes make or break a race. I’m happy to report that I had an extremely good nutrition day! My fluids were great, I only peed once on the run. My stomach/GI had zero trouble, which is extremely rare for me. Almost all triathletes know the feeling of the body rejecting the race, the food, the gels, the water, and everything else either in the form of puking or diarrhea, or both. I almost always get the runs (pun intended), especially in a longer race. This race, though, was a pleasant surprise. I was so happy. I’m not really sure what was different, but it worked! I’ll have to do some experimenting to figure it out.
While it was the hardest race I’ve ever done (aside from Ironman of course), I was very happy with it. You’ll notice that I did not include any times in this race report. That’s because the times were not important. Many triathletes focus on finishing time and the pace of the different legs. My focus was on making time cut-offs and to finish with a smile on my face. I made my goals and finished the race. It gave me a lot of insight into what my body is capable of right now and gave me encouragement for Ironman in 2015. I’m happy I did this race and I look forward to getting back into the sport in a real way, through training and focusing on my fitness.
Thanks for reading!