I have come to this race report over and over again … at times disappointed, angry, overwhelmed, complacent, dreading it, etc … but it’s amazing what about two weeks can do to your perspective.
So I started writing down a few thoughts as I was sitting on the plane out to Las Vegas … amidst people who were having an early afternoon cocktail and practicing their card playing on Ipads, Iphones, or just with a good ol’ fashioned deck of cards. All of these people were undoubtedly going to Vegas for the reasons you would think … the annual guys/gals trip, bachelor/ette parties, Vegas shows, card games, big lights, big nights … AND A WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TRIATHLON , right ?!?!
I was pretty sure my Vegas experience would be anything but typical (… much less crazy fun, and more just craziness out in the HOT desert sun).
But then again, there will be …
- Those individuals who return again and again to the venue for that thrill of the race/game, the competition, to get another crack at it because last time wasn’t good enough (yep, already planning my revenge on this brutal course)…
- Copious amounts of drinking … actually I bet I out drank all of them …to no avail I still dehydrated
- Split second, decisions that have lasting consequences … surge, swerve, hold on, bluff, push, bluff some more … stop, go, bluff like your life depends on it … stop, go, … stop, go … stop … walk … stop … walk … stop, turn, drop, vom …
- To say nothing of the fact that we have all invested a lot of “resources”, dreaming of the best outcome … knowing we could go for broke and win big or lose it all!
Alright, I’ve stretched the comparisons far enough. I’ll really be fine if I’m never a typical Vegas-goer. On with the race report …
Thursday afternoon I met my race support (aka MOM!) at the Vegas airport, and we packed up the rental vehicle with my bike box and bags and headed to find the hotel and food. I’ve flown with my bike quite a bit this year, but this particular time (instead of merely peaking inside) the TSA felt the need to open my bike box, unpack and unzip both of my wheel bags, and disturb the meticulously crafted jigsaw puzzle. Not surprisingly, they also felt the need to inspect (and not reseal) the ziploc baggie of unmarked white powder, and the entire inside of my transition bag got a nice dusting of EFS Ultragen. We found our hotel, quickly settled in, found food, and called it a night.
Friday (or two days out) before a big race is always my day off. I built up my bike and headed to athlete check-in. Just standing in that line felt like an exercise in heat exhaustion. We met up with FFT teammate Jay McCurdy and his wife, Vicki, and headed out for some course recon.
Then it was onward to Lake Mead National Park to scope out the bike.
Barren. Austere. Exposed. Hilly. Hot.
I’m not gonna lie … I was pretty excited, a tough course favors my strength as a cyclist. We made our way back into Henderson, and decided going back out to T1 (a good 12-15 miles from out hotel at the finish) for the “mandatory” athlete meeting was just not going to happen (Jay does a nice job in his race report talking about what a logistic pain in the @$$ this all was). Good and bad things come from decisions like this. Good … you avoid the masses of up-tight and anxious athletes asking annoying questions and who generally serve to only make you more anxious yourself. Bad … you can miss some potentially important details :/ (see below).
- View of the swim course from the pedestrian bridge
Saturday we drove all the way out to T1 to make the 6:30-8:30 window at the swim venue. Of course, I missed the memo that you had to have your chip on your ankle in order to get in and swim (new protocol to me), so this turned out to be a wasted trip. I was more upset about the waste of time than not getting in the lake.
Back to the hotel and on with the day … quick bike and run to shake out the legs (and make sure I built my bike up appropriately) … and then a swim in the hotel pool.
Later that morning Matt (friend/sponsor/super fan) arrived, and I had a mission for him immediately. In their infinite wisdom, the otherwise quite nice and luxurious hotel would not provide us with a coffee pot for our room. You can mess with almost any of my daily routines, as long as you don’t mess with my first-thing-in-the-morning-very-strong-cup-of-coffee routine. SOOOO … there was a successful Kurig heist from the LVH (Matt’s hotel) to the Green Valley Hotel, Spa, and Casino.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent going to drop off my run gear and figure out the logistic of T2 and then on to T1 to check in my bike.
There was a distinct hissing sound all through transition that afternoon … people letting quite a bit of air out of their tires in fear of that awful equation: heat+expanding air+soft tubes = KA-BOOM!
Then it was on to pre-race dinner (my usual pizza and beer) and an early night sleep.
Sunday (race day) Jay and Vicki came to pick me up around 4:30am to head out to Lake Las Vegas. My wave (17 out of 19 total I think) was not due to start until 7:50, a good hour and twenty minutes after the pros started their race at 6:30am. This meant a lot of standing/sitting/laying around and waiting after getting everything set up in transition. At this point, I wasn’t really nervous … just ready to be racing!
Swim: It was finally time for the swim. 83+ degree water meant no wetsuit, so it was time to zip up my TYR Torch fastskin and head to the swim start. The procession went something like this. Wait in a long line out in the sun (yep, it was already HOT at 7:50) on the bank of the river with your wave, get into the water and have 5 min to warm up, and then get called to the line and tread water for another 5 min as you try not to get pulled out too far by a slight current and probably a 75-100 other girls jockeying for a “good” place to start.
My swim is something I have been working on a lot this year, and I felt confident I was coming into this race with the best swim fitness I have ever had. When the gun finally went off, I was prepared to swim HARD and get out of the typical melee that I normally get caught up in. I managed to find a pack to swim with, do a little drafting, a little defensive swimming, and begin to pass a few more women (than I was expecting) in my wave on the way back in. I came out of the water 10th in my AG (with my fastest half-IM swim split of the year) and started the quarter mile run around the far end of the lake and into transition.
Bike: Let me just say … I LOVED THIS BIKE COURSE! It was tough, and I loved it! It was hilly, and I loved it! After another nice long jaunt, this time uphill, out of transition to the mount line, it was time to do some damage on the bike course. We started with a nice, long climb out of T1 onto the main road and headed into Lake Mead National Park. I settled in pretty quickly to my task of being conservatively aggressive. What time I lost to my competitors in the swim was mine to get back on the bike. On the way out to the turn around on the bike, you could see the pros on their way back in and the look on some of their faces gave you a good idea of what was in store … hills, inescapable heat, and more hills.
The occasional male from a wave or two behind would pass me, but I do not think I got passed by another woman out on the course. One such male (riding Farris Al-Sultan style) passed me just at the crest of a hill, but then did not get very far past me before we started a big descent. This meant I was trying to brake and get out of his draft zone while we were both going down hill. I wasn’t really thinking, and I pulled out to the left to try to get out of his draft zone that way. Well this was flawed logic obviously because once to the left you are obliged to make a pass, and my just staying there on the descent was essentially “blocking” according to the motorcycle official who promptly pulled up next to me, flashed me a yellow card, and told me to stop at the penalty tent at the turn around. This was my first bike penalty in 15+ years of racing, and well … I really couldn’t change it now. I had no idea how long of a penalty I would have to serve, so I just used it as motivation to ride a little harder. When I did actually stop at the tent, I pulled in and told them my name and card color. The guy said “really, oh you won’t be here long then,” started a stop watch, marked my helmet, wrote down my name … and then sent me on my way. It could not have been longer than 30 seconds. Lesson learned.
The bottle exchanges on this bike course were absolutely crucial. The first time I grabbed one bottle of water, the second time I grabbed two, and the third and fourth time around I think I managed to grab two bottles of water (quickly dumping them into my aero bottle and on myself for cooling) as well as an Ironman Perform to try to get more calories and electrolytes. At times (and more and more by the end of the ride) it felt like a hot, hairdryer was blowing in your face. But all in all, I was having fun and feeling very good about how I was riding.
The last leg of the bike course had us climbing all the way into Henderson and T2 to complete the 4000+ meters of elevation gain on the course (see profile above). It was about at this point that I certainly started to feel some fatigue in my legs, cramping in my hip flexors from staying aero as much as possible while climbing, and just overall awareness of how hot it really was.
Over the course of the bike, I took in a flask with EFS liquid shot and pre-race powder (300 calories), an aerobottle full of EFS electrolyte mix (100 calories), a bottle with water and 6 oz EFS liquid shot mixed (400 cal), countless bottles of water, a few bottles of Ironman perform (being handed out as well), and a Gu in the last few miles (probably close to 900 calories total). My plan was to take in only liquid calories since this race was so hot. In hindsight, the bike might have been a good place to take in some solid food, as I have since been reading about how solid foods can slow the rate of fluid loss.
I finished the bike and entered T2 in 3rd, handed off my bike to a volunteer, and despite calling out my number to the volunteers as I had been instructed found my own bag of run gear in the long row of bags that all looked alike. I actually think it went a lot smoother than I expected it would. Into the change tent, socks and shoes on … cup of water from a volunteer … and out we go to the run.
Run: Like the bike, there was very little that was flat about this course. It was either up or down, and again … very exposed. I don’t think they believe in shade, of the natural or man-made kind, in Nevada. The three loop nature of the course made for a very crowded run, but it also meant there were also always people to pick off. My plan was to be more conservative than I thought necessary early on in hopes of having more for the end of the race than I have had in past races this year. I was averaging around 6:50s on the downhill and 7:15-30s (-ish) on the uphills. I remember thinking the first 5 miles went by pretty quickly. At least once during my first lap, I remember passing a female with a P on the back of her calf (obviously on her 3rd lap) …. and thinking, man she must be having a rough race (maybe I should have taken the hint about what was in store for me).
Early on in the run, I started noticing that my ears had started to feel full and I could hear my breath ringing inside my head. I’d had this kind of sensation before, and I could recognize it as a sign of dehydration. I never missed a water stop … grabbing water, ice, coke, and some ironman perform at times. BUT I made the crucial (and probably fatal) mistake of not taking on any gels or solid calories. The best I can speculate is that in the extreme heat on the road the thought of anything remotely solid or even thick and viscous wasn’t in the least bit appealing. All I wanted was cold fluids. I kept on trucking though, and everyone I saw told me I looked strong … so I kept pushing. In past races, I was disappointed in myself for being pessimistic on the run when I would see family or friends and tell them things like “I’m hurting!” or “Not such a good day…” I may have been hurting and really starting to struggle in the heat, but I did not want to let anyone know.
My third lap is now mostly a blur … I remember overwhelming heat, aid stations, dousing myself with water , drinking as much as I could as I walked through the aid stations, and the now epic task of re-convincing myself I needed to start running again after each one. Things were getting rough, but I kept pushing (don’t give your competitors anything) … almost all of the liquids at the aid stations by this point were hot. My apologies to the one volunteer who happened to have a precious cup of ice in his hand … I basically demanded that he pour it down the front of my racing suit. Thanks dude … and thanks to all the volunteers who stood out in that crazy heat all day long doing what they could to try to keep us safe and hydrated. I had noticed a few girls dropping out in front of me, but I kept on pushing. Things quickly went from bad to worse when I hit the last loooonnngggg slow hill. I made it through the aid station, convinced myself to run again … then cracked and started walking (just a few steps I told myself). I tried running again. I was already wanting another aid station. I needed fluids. I was baking, frying, about to internally combust. My ears were ringing, and things began to get fuzzy around the edges. I stopped to walk again. Somehow I started running again, and then I did something I’ve never done before … My body said “I quit,” … and for the first time in my racing career … I listened. All I can remember of this split second decision was that the roughly quarter mile uphill that remained before the turn around seemed like a marathon in my glucose-deprived and dehydrated state. I turned sideways and as I searched for shade on the sidewalk, I remember noticing how much I was weaving from one side to the other trying to stay on my legs. I must have run into someone eventually who then pulled me into the shade, handed me a coke and an electrolyte pill. I tried to drink it … and then I got sick, for a while. Just that quickly my race was over a mere mile-ish from the finish-line. I went from 3rd at the World Championships … to a DNF. The run course that day was full of carnage, and I was officially one of the casualties.
I’ll spare you the details of the “aftermath” other than to say the medical tent looked like a war zone. They let me sit around in triage long enough that by the time I got a cot … “I looked too good and they were running out of IVs,” so I didn’t get one. Subsequently, I didn’t pee until 10pm that night (thank you kidneys for not giving up on me). It took me the better part of the next week to feel “normal,” hydrated, and not nauseated again.
Just before this race, I finished reading Chrissie Wellington’s autobiography (It’s a fantastic read). She references a poem by Kipling entitled “If,” and if you aren’t familiar with it, I encourage you to seek it out. Before, during, and especially now after this race I have turned to one line in particular. The poem insists that in this life one must
… meet with Triumph and Disaster/ and treat those two impostors both the same.
I won’t over-analyze here … What happened sucked! I hate it! hello glorious Disaster … I see you, but I refuse to dwell too long on such an intrusion. I had one bad race in a season of otherwise very good races. I know I am not defined by my performance in a single race, and I heard nothing but messages of unwavering support from so many friends.
People keep quoting the typical “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Yes, there are certainly a few things I am happy to leave in Vegas …
- a DNF and the ensuing disappointment
- the miserable, dry heat (I’ve decided I don’t mind the Alabama humidity so much … )
- the casinos and that whole racket
- oh yea … and my amateur status