Monday, November 16, 2009

Ironman 70.3 World Championships Race Report

What a super weekend! Where do I start? This was the end of year race celebration for me and I’m so happy with the outcome. It was the opportunity to travel to Florida with a group of amazing friends, race with the best in the world, and make another boatload of memories.

Jules, Jmac and I accepted our Worlds Qualifier slots at the Buffalo Springs 70.3 back in June. We had an amazing trip then, and we were looking forward to another fun group getaway. Although Clearwater has not established the respect of a true World Championship Race (due to the less than challenging bike course), we accepted our slots and knew November would be a great time to get out of Minnesota and play in the sun.

We had a beautiful Condo for the six of us about a mile from the race start. We arrived Wednesday evening and this extra time to unwind and reconnect was priceless. I had Jimmy Buffet tunes playing in my head as soon as I arrived, and needless to say, I had some difficulty cultivating any competitive mojo. I’ve been sort of checked out of racing the last few weeks, but I still had a goal to make the podium in my AG, and finish under 4hrs30min. My previous 70.3 PR was at BSLT (4:46), and I knew there was no better place than Clearwater to shatter that.

We certainly didn’t waste any time on race morning. We arrived at transition about 6am (just 30minutes before they closed), and I quickly attached my bottles, PowerTap, and shoes to my bike. I really didn’t do any sort of warm up (they didn’t let us in the water before the start), so it I just walked to the swim start and put on my wetsuit. Some could argue that getting into a wetsuit counts as a warm up, and at that point, I had no choice but to go with that theory. It was a time trial start for the Age Groupers (they grouped everyone according to their AG wave, and then just sent people off one by one). I like starting at the back of the AG in these situations, and was happy I was able to position myself there on race day. I really like these TT swim starts- I can do my own thing without worrying about finding the best feet or about dropping the people on my own feet. I simply jumped in and enjoyed my own journey. The swim was into the sun on the way out, making it very challenging to stay on course. I just kept swimming around people and thankfully quickly found the first turn buoy. I felt pretty smooth, and did my best to avoid swallowing the nasty salt water. The swim exit was a tad chaotic, but I was happy when I saw 26;xx on my watch. That was faster than expected, but it was a longer run to T1, so I had to get going to ensure I was out on the bike in 30min. I quickly grabbed my bike and was ready to start the journey on this infamous bike course. I didn’t pre drive the course, so I had no idea what to expect.

I will refrain from ranting about the drafting, the packs, and the precarious nature of that bike course. We’ve all seen it and heard it before, but… COME ON WTC, PLEASE MOVE THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS TO A FAIR, CHALLENGING COURSE!!! This course would be great for a standard 70.3 but a WC???

I am proud to say that I rode fair, and I feel very good about my relatively slow (2:21) bike split. One of the advantages of starting in an early wave, is that there are simply not as many people on the course. I had my own space until about mile 45. After that, well like I said… I will not rant!

The highlight of my ride included being able to pee on my bike. I’ve never been able to do that before, but I knew it would be important not to waste any time in a porta potty. I know its gross…and for you non-triathletes reading this, this is common practice in the long events. I took down about 475 calories, 85 ounces of fluids, and 3 or 4 Thermolytes during the bike.

While coming into T2, I knew I was on target to meet my sub 4:30 time goal and I figured I was about 3rd in my AG at the time. I knew the hardest leg of the race was about to start, and I was a little intimidated by the distance and the course. We didn’t pre-drive the course, but I was well aware that we had 4 big climbs facing us. My run plan was to go out conservatively, and then hope to build strong to the finish. My goal pace was about 7:10, and I was pretty steady holding that pace early on. I took a PowerGel at mile 2, and again at around mile 5, and fully utilized the stocked aid stations taking water, cola, sponges etc. I did everything I could to keep my body temperature down with sponges and water- That really helped. After Beth passed me at mile 4, I was worried that I was losing sight of that podium. She was moving so fast, I couldn’t even fathom staying with her. She immediately bridged a significant gap. I really wasn’t sure where I was in the field, but I knew I had to keep it together. At no point did I even consider the possibility that I could move back up, but at the 6.5 mile turnaround, I saw a girl closing in behind. I really wanted that podium, and somehow I was able to keep my legs moving. I saw Lars F. at the top of the bridge on the first loop and again on my way out for lap 2. With a surprised tone, he said “you look stronger the 2nd time around-Go for it.” His tone helped me realize that it was probably a unique situation, and that provided the confidence to keep it together. To my surprise, at mile 8.5 I spotted Beth up ahead. I truly did not expect to see her again after watching her speedy feet go by at mile 4. I came up to her at about mile 9, and this was probably the point in the race when I was feeling the strongest. I think that was a 6:40 mile, and I was confident I could stay relatively strong till the end. After the final climb over the bridge, it was just 2 miles to the finish. The finish line was a beautiful sight. I figured I was about 3rd or 4th in my AG, and saw my watch at 4:24. I still felt great and could have kept running- that’s a first!! Mission Accomplished.

After making my way through the finish chute, I met up with an old HS friend Melissa who came over from St Pete’s to cheer. It was so fun to catch up and watch the rest of the field make their way to the finish line. At that time, Kerry pulled up the Ironmanlive results and to my surprise, I had actually finished 2nd in the AG. Just 3 seconds ahead of 3rd. I guess that’s the good and the bad of the time trial start…It certainly worked out in my favor this time around. Evidently when ELF yelled at me around mile 8 that “every second counts” she knew what she was talking about!

The afternoon was filled with great food and beverages which started at Crabby Bill’s.

We finally got back to the condo, then off to the beach to watch the sunset.
Before too long there was a great crew assembled in the condo, and as the laughter continued, I realized I was late for the awards ceremony. It started at 6, and I’m pretty sure it was close to 7 when we checked the time. We flagged down a cab and made it there just as they were calling the AG winners to line up on the side of the stage. It was perfect timing on our part, but I’m a tad embarrassed that I’m still holding my ‘slurpee’ cup on the podium.

With the party in full swing back at the condo, I picked up my award, then loaded back into a cab and rejoined the gang. I just love these folks and I know I’ve said this before, but it’s truly because of them that I do this sport.

With prefect weather on Sunday, it was the ideal day to truly relax and recover: Laid on the beach for a few hours, enjoyed a delightful beach walk with Mary, and consumed one final Grouper meal before heading to the airport. There were no shortage of great memories made in Clearwater, and that’s what it’s all about for me.

Although this weekend was such a high, I’m thankfully not experiencing the crash back to reality today. I’m very excited for the off season and the changes I have in store for next year. We’re also headed to Arizona Friday afternoon to cheer for all our friends at Ironman Arizona. We have Julie/Erik/Jen/Merilee joining us at the condo…. There’s no doubt the Fun Factor will be high once again.

Congrats to all the racers in Clearwater and Best of luck to those racing in Arizona this weekend.