This was Vicky’s (my wife’s) fourth trip to Las Vegas. No, she doesn’t have a gambling problem; she’d played tennis there during college. Having been so many times, she 1) didn’t mind going again, and 2) didn’t mind going with me for a race. The latter, as most triathletes can attest, means no drinking, early to bed, early to rise, logistically incomprehensible schedules, and eating rather mundane meals.
Thursday. We arrived in the evening, rented a car, checked into our hotel, assembled the bike, and went to bed.
Friday. I did a quick run. It was hot. Did packet pickup. Had lunch with my cousin who lives in Vegas. Then met up with Hallie and her Mom, Chris. We toured the Hoover Dam. Then we drove the bike course. My estimates of a 2:15 bike split were quickly re-estimated to reflect what was obviously going to be a grueling course. To top it off, Vicky and I headed to the Strip to eat and see the sights. I was impressed.
Saturday was busy as well. In their infinite wisdom, WTC chose to separate transition 1 (swim to bike) and transition 2 (bike to run) by about 15 miles. If triathlon has any translation to real life, it’s most certainly that in order to succeed in it, perhaps even just to complete one, you have to be somewhat competent in logistics. How guys who didn’t rent a car completed the multiple trips required to do check in’s, pick up’s, and drop off’s, I have no idea.
The schedule of events:
6:30 to 8 am – swim practice at T1.
9 am – bag drop at T2.
11 am – bike check in at T1.
That’s 30 miles of driving for 10 minutes of pre-race activity. Somewhere amongst all this non-sense, I did a 30 minute ride with a few efforts to warm up the ol’ legs. Then I did a little easy jog. Saturday afternoon was pretty low-key. We watched some U.S. Open tennis, and then I drank some warm milk and fell asleep.
At 3:45 on Sunday, I woke, dressed, stretched, rolled, ate my oats, drank some coffee, and rolled out to pick up Hallie at her hotel. We arrived in transition before 5:15. I pumped up tires. Luckily I had a pump, cause about 20 people from my rack and the surrounding ones borrowed it. We were forced out of transition by 6. And then I waited.
My wave was to go off at 8, an hour and a half after the first pro wave. Luckily I had Vicky to entertain me. Also, our friend Emily Ewing, who swam at Auburn, invited me to the Westin Hotel’s pool to do some warm up laps. That was a luxury I hadn’t expected. After that, I did some dynamic warm-ups and a few minutes of jogging and strides.
The race start was in the gorgeous Lake Las Vegas – a deep, cool, stream-fed lake. Water temps were right above wetsuit legal, so I slipped on my TYR Torque swim skin. I was happy with my swim (27:40). I had a great starting position, with the shortest line to the first turn buoy. The course was basically an out and back but with a crescent shaped first half – Who designs a crescent shaped swim? I sighted well and stayed with the large lead pack until we caught earlier swim waves. Our group of 100 or more eager, young, and hungry guys annihilated some of the earlier waves. I was probably in the top 20 at the turn, but the group dispersed, so I just tried to pick off yellow swim caps one by one. I exited 16th in my age group (AG), about two minutes down from a few of the leaders.
The transition to the bike was slow. For that matter, everything felt slow, just due to the volume of participants clogging the arteries of the course. I felt good on the initial climb out from the lake. The strange thing about such a large start wave is that you’re never riding by yourself. I was strong on the first hill, but quickly caught about five guys from my wave who all went with me. We climbed about four miles, with only a slight downhill section through a pedestrian tunnel (a “no passing zone” that no one obeyed) to cross under and back onto Northshore drive. The next 40 miles were brutal, with nearly 2000 feet of elevation change, 95 degree heat, only two bottle exchanges, and huge packs of riders that pounced on every attempt to escape their grasps. Initially I chased anyone who went off the front of our group, but it didn’t take long for things to settle down. I’d look over my shoulder and see 15 to 20 guys just huddled together. Admittedly, I was too eager to be on the front and probably should have just backed it off.
It was a great bike course – truly a championship course. Actually, my biggest, and probably only real complaint with the bike course was that the two lane road (with minimal shoulders) hadn’t been swept and was open to traffic. I only had to pass a few cars, and was only passed dangerously once when a pontoon boat and another truck met while hugging the center-line. The rocky shoulder claimed many a rider. I saw at least two guys who went down, and multiple flats. Our speeds were in excess of 45 mph on some of the downhills. That’s pretty fast in traffic.
The heat. I knew going into this race what to expect as far as heat. We get a lot of acclimation here in Alabama, but what we can’t prepare for is the intense sun. My skin was hot, my back was hot, and for most guys there wasn’t a way in hell to take on more than a single bottle per aid station. There were just too many guys crowded into a bunch trying to do the same thing. I got lucky and took on a water and energy drink at one station (wanted two waters, but took what I could get). But unfortunately I dropped the water when crossing some rough pavement. Altogether, I consumed more than six bottles on the bike with about 800 calories. I came up short on calories cause I was out of water to take gel shots with. Note to self: bring more than two bottle cages when it’s 100 degrees in the desert.
Anyways, I got dropped by a few guys on the final 10 mile stretch into town. It was a combination of cracking and just having exploded a few too many times trying to cover all the attacks in the hills. Whatever it was, it led to a less than desirable way to start a run that was already set to be hard.
Upon entering transition, I saw the first and second guy from my wave exiting the changing tent. I thought: “well, they’re not actually that far ahead of me. They must have had a slow transition.” That should have been a clue that transition was about to be a cluster. And it was. There were two teenagers working my line of hundreds of bags. It took them about forty seconds to find my bag, at which point I had already started shedding unnecessary trash and accessories from my back pocket. It only took about 20 seconds to change shoes, once I had my bag. I wore socks, something I have only recently started doing – the ol’ feet are just too tender these days. So that added a few seconds to the transition, but I was thankful for it later when my shoes became soaking wet.
According to my pre-race reconnaissance, the first run aid station should have been right out of transition. As I was running out, I realized that it was somewhere inside transition. The plan had been to pound the gel I still had left in my pocket as soon as I had water – I had been without fluids for at least 10 or 15 minutes by this point.
The run. I ran as hard as I could without walking, if that makes any since. It was hot. The pavement radiated heat like a charcoal grill. I cooked. Call it racing on empty, over heating, or whatever, but I was busted. I did a 1:38 half marathon, something I should never be happy about.
Notice the run paragraph is pretty sparse. Truth is, I really don’t remember all that much. It was hot. The ice had long ago melted, and the volunteers were starting to get tired, hot, and certainly overwhelmed. Something that often goes un-said after these events is how important the volunteers are. I don’t know the numbers, but there were at least 150 volunteers on the run course alone, not to mention the volunteers on the bike course (too many to count) and the medical and food tents. I can promise that those volunteers were not paid commensurate to the time and energy they spent helping out racers. It certainly reflects well upon the Henderson, and larger Las Vegas, community as a whole.
So a quick recap: 4:38.00 on a very challenging course racing some of the best guys in the world. I’m not proud of the time, but I’m happy to have finished – many did not. My mind was a bit scrambled after all of that. I asked to get an IV, but was turned away due to the volume of casualties. I might start bringing my own IV bags and lines. Is that legal?
This was my last race as an amateur. What’s next will depend upon how I feel over the next few weeks. Next weekend is my 10th high school reunion. That should be exciting. For those of you who can’t do math, I graduated in 2002. It doesn’t seem that long ago.
Next up: There’s the possibility of racing Augusta 70.3 and Rev 3 SC. I’d love to do a full this fall, like IM Florida, but time will tell.
Enjoy the cooler weather, I know I will.