Las Vegas in September... it's usually hot. Our summer here in the San Francisco Bay Area... very mild this year. So, we decided to arrive in Vegas a few days early to acclimate to the heat, somewhat, and try to get a few days breather before the big event. I wish I could say there was success on both efforts but truthfully, I still worked and it was still hot!
It has been several years since my wife Joy and I had taken a trip to Las Vegas. Since our last visit the entire south end of the strip has changed with the addtion of City Center. Notably the most drastic change was the shear size of humanity floating along the streets. It's astounding to imagine each of these hotels/casinos bursting with guests numbering in the thousands! A weekend walk along the strip is now similiar to a stroll through Times Square.
We booked a one bedroom villa at a time share resort off the Strip. Here it's not horrible but you get to see a little of the underbelly of this town. It's like stripping off the makeup of an tired chorus girl... you knew there was beauty there once but the signs of a hard life are evident once seen up close. Contrasting this was the host city for our race; Henderson, Nevada. Henderson is a sprawling suburb filled with parks and lined with wide, freshly paved roads. Here there are plenty of familiar retail and restaurant choices making any visitor feel instantly comfortable.
The Expo is in the Green Valley Ranch area, specifically the Henderson Pavilion. Here there is a fantastic city managed competition pool for getting in a few good pre-race swim efforts. I highly recommend using this very inexpensive and available resource for anyone going in the future.
When I arrived the expo was just getting underway and many exhibitors were still setting up. However, there was no line for registration or to purchase any necessary goods. I visited the folks at KSwiss to acquire a new pair of KWicky Blade Lights as my first pair had worn down and was retirable. Then I pulled out my brand new Specialized Transition which had been delivered to me just two day prior, the evening before we left San Jose. At this point I had only ridden the bike 15 miles and was about to put on another 15 or 20. Now donned up in my Team Compassion Kit riding my custom painted Team Compassion bike I rolled out of the parking lot feeling like a pro. However, I had no clue of where I was going! Kinda, all dressed up with no where to go. So, I pulled out my trusty iPhone and retraced the final 9 miles of the bike course and rode it out and back. It was a fast and furious ride out of town and a slow, hot and breezy ride back up to the expo. On a side note: One of the most notable differences about the World Championship races, whether here or in Kona is the presence of many international athletes. On my practice ride I was nearly taken down by an Italian woman screaming at me for directions. There were eight of them and completely lost. I'm afraid to think what would have happened to me should I had kept on going.
So, the bike feels good, the swim feels good... the run feels okay. But what will it be like on race day. I have my concerns. As many now know, back in early August I was nearing the end of a training ride along the Mendocino coast when road construction conditions caused me to crash at 30 mph. This crash destroyed my bike and significantly hindered my ability to train having severe neck and shoulder pain. And though I had been able to race well just weeks ago, it was due to shear base, plenty of rest and the short distance of the race. Here not having been able to do the crucial training for a half Ironman distance was causing me to doubt my ability to compete on Sunday. I told my wife, "We'll just see how it goes."
So, this is how it went.
Having stayed after the banquet and getting the usual briefing at the athlete's meeting there was nothing unusual to prepare. Saturday, the day prior to the race they opened up the lake for a swim practice consisting of a one loop, 650 meter swim. Here you had to prove your were in the race by not only wearing your wrist band but putting on your timing chip as well. So, it September and it's the desert. I knew before they declared it during the briefing there would be no wetsuits for this swim. Sure enough the water temps were 80 degrees. PERFECT for a non wetsuit swim. When I got in the water it was instantly enjoyable and I began to look forward to the start of the race. After the swim, I put on my shoes and ran 3 miles just to get the legs loose. The sky had clouded over and the temperature stayed relatively mild and we were told the weather pattern would repeat itself the next day. Well, not quite.
Later that day we checked in the bike, bike and run gear bags, check out the expo one more time then went to church. Yep, Central Christian Church where former colleagues now work is a great church with vibrant Saturday evening services. It was great seeing our friends Aaron and Allison on stage sharing their amazing talent and it was good to chat with them briefly as we were leaving getting us back to our place just before 7pm; time for dinner, final preparations such as shower, cloths laid out, alarms set... good night!
Alarm pings at 4:05am. I'm already up with a couple of minutes to spare and a very calm and restful sleep. Both Joy and I are up and actually prepacked to check out race day and not return as we decided to check into the Green Valley Resort after the race. I was able to get a killer rate allowing us to stay close for a shower, post race meal and easy access back to Lake Las Vegas for the Awards Banquet.
We left right at 4:30 and made a quick stop into the 24hour Starbuck drive through (only in Vegas)! The next 25 minutes out to the lake was dark and calm. We found good parking right away and I strolled into T1 at 5:10. After checking my bike, going to my bike gear bag I prepared everthing for a faster transition. I put on my sunscreen at the first break of dawn around 5:30 and then at 5:46 the race announcer called for a moment of silence to reflect on the moment the first jet hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center as this day was September 11, 2011, marking the tenth anniversary of that tragic, life changing event that affected us all.
At 6am they were hustling folks out of transition lining everyone up in their respective waves. I was in wave 4, meaning the earlier the better! At 6:25 another moment of silence and then the National Anthem. At 6:30 the pro men were off... then the pro ladies, then 40+ women then us... 50+ guys.
Swim: Again the water was just perfect when I jumped off the ramp. The sun was just starting to glow at about 2 o'clock. Soon it would be fully above the mountain ridge and glaring down... there was no cloud cover as there was the day before and telling us to get ready for some heat! As we gathered it was getting a bit aggressive at the front... oh yeah, this is the World Championships. "Watch the kicking!" "Hey arms in buddy!" I could hear it all around.
Then the horn. and surprisingly we didn't bunch up or start slugging for position. In fact it was almost too mild of swim and I started to look for a pair of feet I could draft off. At the turn around again I expected a wild bunching of swimmers, especially since we were now swimming into many of the women who launched 5 minutes prior to us, but no, there was again no contact. Now heading back to the swim exit the sun was behind me and it was easy to sight however, because of the practice swim I thought the exit would be under the first arch of the resort bridge and used that as my mark only to find as I approached the bridge it was actually the middle arch. Doh! I should have looked before hand. As I crossed underneath the bridge I began to think how nice the water temp was and calm and smooth the swim had been. I told myself, "Enjoy this now while it lasts. It's gonna get warm out there!" Next thing I'm swimming up to the exit ramp, grabbing the handrail, I pull myself up and run along the backside of the lake edge to the other side where T1 lies and look at my watch which tells my my swim was 36 minutes... Ooh, I didn't realize it was THAT calm. Oh, well. Here we go!
T1: my bag was in perfect line upon the entrance into T1. Here you grab a bag stuffed with all the gear you need for the bike. Since I didn't wear a wetsuit and didn't purchase a swim skin I had to put my singlet on in transition... I hate doing this as your wet torso always makes it impossible to put the darn thing on! I need to practice this! Now with bike in hand you have to run it up a moderate, steep little path before you can mount... The climbing begins.
Bike: The first two miles is a steady 4 to 5% grade. It's best to just settle in and let the work happen later. When you turn on Lake Mead Parkway you first head down into town about a mile before you turn onto a little chicane putting you on the other side of the road now heading out into the Lake Mead National Park. Again climbing then descending, then climbing then descending and so on and so on and... They pride themselves in having NO flat sections in this race other than the swim and they event try to claim that goes up hill too! Now remembering this is my first real ride on my bike and with very little fitness for such a new fit and feel I had a inkling I wasn't going to display the type of power I'm used to but wanted to stay conservative on the bike due to the difficulty of the run course. It became evident to me by the rate of those passing me I was off my game. So, I just kept telling myself, race to your comfort and hold it steady then push after the turn around. Which is exactly what I did.
Now one of the celebrated aspects of this race being moved was the less "draftable" this course would be. However, as I was approaching a group of riders I noticed they were incredibly close. But I just passed them and thought little of it... sometimes that happens. But 30 seconds later here comes this group all nice and tight coming by me. Since it's an up hill we're not going too fast so I have to drop back then on the down hill I pass em again. and this went on for over 15 miles and I was getting pretty upset. "Just ride your own race Daniel... let them do their thing." But I got to tell you, it is so discouraging to see blatant cheating and disregard for the rules when you know all of these athletes know better! Enough said and you know who you are!
Once you head out of the park and past Lake Las Vegas it starts out as a false flat that had a moderate amount of cross headwind. Then you start a steady climb up into T2 that isn't difficult but you're not gonna make big gains here! Stay seated and keep those legs relaxed because the run is just around the corner... no literally, just around the corner!
T2: They have bike catchers here! a bit unusual for a 70.3 race but it's nice, except I was later told how many bikes the volunteers were just dropping. Oh, my. I'm glad I didn't know that at the time. Fortunately, I had an experienced adult swooping my ride away. Again T2 lay out is smooth and easy to navigate. As I place my shoes on something isn't right... I try to reach in but to no avail... What is that? I pull off my shoe and inside are stuck a couple packets of Endurolytes... ugh, bad transition design. Gotta work on that later too!
Run: As you come out of the change tent the first thing you notice is the heat! It's now officially hot! Low 90's and as you exit you have a short dirt path up to the pass through of the Library and then a turn to the left and a one mile downhill. It's fast and not a good stretch to determine run pace for your feel or heart rate. Once at the first turn you run a short section to the official turn around where sponges are staged on one side and the Aid Station on the other. My legs were already feeling a bit crampy for the bike effort and lack of fitness so I know the next two miles up hill was not going to be fun at all!
As I passed through the expo area to turn left up Green Valley Parkway I was getting dizzy. My heart rate was 158 and I knew I would sustain that so I slowed but that seemed fruitless the HR wasn't dropping so I slowed to a walk for a hundred yards and started running again and the HR bounced back up so I began a series of walk/runs to moderate my heart rate and give me relief. I knew this strategy wasn't going to bring me great pride on the day's effort but would keep me in it and hopefully the reconvery on the down hills would be quick enough to not drop too far off. Primarily my motivation was to at least keep up in not slightly ahead of my friends on course Dan and Lori. I saw where they were on the first loop and only a moment of time would tell me if my walk run strategy was enough to hold them at bay. So, far in loop two, it was working... next lap... the same. At the top of the final loop with only a one mile downhill run my legs were cramping so bad I was worried I'd have to roll down the hill but I shortened my stride and kept my feet low and made it to the bottom of the hill... now the only goal left was to try and break 5:30. So, my relief was had when I came across the finish with 5:29 still showing on my watch. It was over... my 2011 triathlon season too, is officially over.
It's been a good year. Lot's of podium finishes, great experiences with friends, memorable training days, a couple significant instant face to face meetings with Terra Firma, encouraging many within the sport to explore and succeed, the ministry from and to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA-Endurance) and most significantly, Working with Compassion International to establish a means by where many of us "A" type, driven, triathletes can actually do something more than a race for themselves but to bring awareness and support to children in poverty around the world. I look forward to next year and telling new stories of triumph and tragedy.
Thanks for your support!
|Swim 36:36||Bike 2:51:15||Run 1:55:16||Total 5:29:48|