My race last year in St. George had been a colossal failure, so this year I was determined to perform better. Training leading in had gone well, and other than some lingering muscle soreness (strangely severe but maybe not surprising after the family had been through a gross stomach virus), I was feeling stronger than ever. I expected a very challenging and painful race but felt ready for it. To sum it up for those of you short on time: my performance was as up and down as the course, definitely not what I’d expected, but I am satisfied with my 7th place / 3rd American finish.
For anyone considering this race, a few details: St. George is about 2h north (slightly east) of Las Vegas, where I flew Thursday, staying in nearby Henderson, NV. Brendan met me Friday to drive up. The drive takes you out of Nevada, through a tiny corner of Arizona, and into Utah, a state you enter after climbing through picturesque, jagged layered rock mountains. This part of southern Utah is one of my favorite places in the country; it seems everywhere you look is a post card waiting to be made. The race course begins at a lake 20 minutes outside of town (they shuttle the athletes over beginning at 4:30am), while T1 & T2 are in the heart of town next an amazing children’s museum and a beautiful Mormon church. No surprise that a race in the heart of Utah presents the perfect family vacation opportunity. The bike course includes about 3600 feet of climbing, and the run course presents what I consider even more of a challenge as an out-and-back loop with some slight undulation and 730+ feet of climbing. It’s basically 6.5 miles uphill (with a couple of downs thrown in) and then the return. I find this kind of course particularly difficult because the long downhill comes at a time when my muscles are already cramping and unable to make full use of gravity! But for anyone considering a super challenge in a great location, I highly recommend the race.
Race morning went smoothly with my early breakfast, the bus ride to the lake, and a short run & swim warm up. The cold lake water (60 degrees) was probably ideal to keep core temperature low on a day expected to reach mid-90s. The swim was disappointing: I got out hard and had a little panic very early on as I felt like I couldn’t breathe, with numb hands and feet, overly constricted, and like I was being pulled under. I’ve had that feeling in ITU races before but it was not particularly rough and I hadn’t been feeling much anxiety prior. My wetsuit fits perfectly, and I had done a good swim warm up with good accelerations, so this feeling should not have happened. My only thought is that the altitude (3000 ft at the lake, even higher on the bike & run courses) had a greater effect on me than I realized and I was just short of breath because of that. I slowed way down and got into a slower, a little-too-relaxed rhythm. I know I am not a fast enough swimmer to come out with the 4 leaders, but I think 2:30 is further back from them than I should’ve been.
Onto the bike I had a similar feeling to last year: just not ready to attack, like my legs were overly heavy and sore. I wonder again if I was just feeling the altitude and needed just to fight better through that early discomfort. I intended to stay with Heather Wurtele, whom I’ve ridden with various times, but I lost contact early on: maybe around mile 10 or so. I should’ve taken the 3-5 min super high effort to get back in contact and just didn’t do it. I’m not sure if it was lack of confidence or a wild confusion at how drained I felt.
I had a couple of mishaps, which I ignored: the top of the first water bottle I took at an aid station was loose. As I squeezed it into my Speedfill bottle (mounted on aerobars), the top got stuck in the hole, sending the water spraying out. Gingerly I loaded as much water in there as I could, but slowed down in the process and again several times while trying to fish out the piece blocking the liquid ‘s flow. I never got it out… so at subsequent water stops, I squeezed the new fluids in super carefully but ended up missing about 150 calories of fluids I had intended to drink. Also, upon picking my bike up after the race, I found it completely covered in Gu, my gel of choice. I had about 300 calories mixed with water in a flask – apparently each time I squeezed some out, more landed on my bike than in my mouth! Other than that, my bike problems came from my legs and head. The brakes were great, the wheels loaned by Bonzai were phenomenal, and I had gotten an excellent tune-up from Cervelo the day before… so I can only blame myself for the lack of pop on the bike!
Once I was on my own (for most of the bike ride) I tried to keep a good rhythm and make sure I took my salt, etc. Having Melanie McQuaid pass just before we entered a very long climb in Snow Canyon actually was good: it woke me up and reminded me to compete. I rode Snow Canyon the way my coach had advised, being smart and controlled early and saving my legs for the steepest grades. McQuaid and I ended up going back & forth for the rest of the ride, but I felt like the Snow Canyon climb was one of the highlights of my ride.
Out onto the run I was shocked that A), I didn’t have the typical sudden cramping of all leg muscles when I jumped off the bike and B) I felt a spring in my step. I suppose this was a happy consequence of riding easier than planned? I passed McQuaid within first 1/4mi and had put over a min on her by the first split (I think 1.4 or so). I felt like I was going very conservatively up the long uphill but Brendan, who was standing near mile 5 checking the live splits, said I was outpacing most of the field at that point (the 5 leaders were 6-9 minutes up the road, though, mind you). I was determined to fuel & hydrate well but somehow when I took my first salt tab I didn’t close the container and managed to drop the rest out before mile 2’s aid station. So I took Perform whenever I could for extra electrolytes and also ate my 3 Gus. For a good while I felt extremely positive, knowing for sure I was beating myself of last year, and clearly making up ground on a couple in front of me. Nevertheless I had a sudden energy drain around mile 7, just after the turnaround when you go back up hill somewhat steeply. Looking back, I think it was because I was low on calories, once again. (Brendan gets very frustrated with me when I make these rookie mistakes like not drinking all of my calories on the bike…) I didn’t pull back in effort at all, and still felt like I was running pretty well, but suddenly my pace slowed quite a bit. People whom I’d outrun handily during the first half came back and ended up outrunning me in the second.
So I got passed with about 3/4mi to go by Rebekah Keat, who was running really well…. My legs were not really cramping, at least not as bad as they have in other races, and I was pleasantly surprised at how I’d handled the long downhill, but I just didn’t have it in me to respond to her attack. Brendan yelled that Sarah Piampiano was fast approaching. I did all I could to sprint it into the finish, ending up 7th. They pay through 8, so I covered the cost of the trip, thankfully! Promptly, a drug testing rep met me in the chute, so I shoveled in a bit of food and drink and headed out to pee.
Looking back on the race now, I think it sums it up to say I’m not happy with how it played out but I’m fairly content with how it ended up. I don’t think even on the best of days I am fit enough right now to compete with what the front 4 women did – I do think I could’ve been 5th or 6th, and I wish I had swum and ridden stronger and closed out the run better to make that a reality. All of the women who beat me are very strong racers with very good resumes, and virtually all are Ironman specialists. I think the strength and mental capability their experience brings to the table is the perfect skill set for a race course like St. George – I have great respect for what they did and hope to get to myself to the point where I can ride & run to my full potential and be much closer to them! It’s coming…