I flew into Tampa on Wednesday with 2 other friends from Seattle – Carly and Sean who were also racing in the 70.3 World Championships. We rented a three-bedroom condo half a mile away from the start which was very convenient. After a long flight and our commute from the airport, all we had time for Wednesday night was dinner at a local Italian joint, Gondolier's Pizza, and putting our bikes together.
I started Thursday with a short jog along the beach (no more than a mile) – just to see how my right leg felt about running (I had been staying off running for almost 2 weeks due to a hamstring injury). It felt totally fine which made me happy. Sean and Carly met me at the beach and we dipped into the Gulf for a quick 20 minute swim. The water temperature felt perfect for a wetsuit swim.
After a satisfying breakfast at IHOP where we ran into a few other friends who were racing, we picked up our race packets and checked out the expo for our last minute needs (CO2 cartridges and carbon-specific break-pads) I also wanted to have someone give a once-over to my bike to make sure I put it together right. They were charging $35 at the official Ironman Bike Tech tent, so I thought I'd ask the Cervelo guys for help. Sadly, they didn't have any tools with them. Meantime, Carly was getting her Felt serviced in the Felt tent next door. I asked them if they could take a quick look at mine too. The mechanic made a face and mentioned something about his hands burning if he touched a Cervelo, but he did help me nonetheless (thank you, Felt Tech guy!!!) He tightened a couple screws and then said that my rear disk wheel was wobbly, most likely it was because the hub was loose and I'd better have it looked at. Luckily, the Zipp tent was right there and a very helpful Zipp mechanic took a look at it and noticed that there was a small spacer missing inside the hub. He found a replacement spacer and was done with my wheel in like 10 minutes. Whew! Glad I had it looked at! Otherwise, I would have been wasting precious watts on Saturday.
We went for one last hour-long ride in the afternoon to loosen up the legs and make sure the bikes were working well. It was so much fun riding in the warmth and the sunshine. Makes me a little bit jealous of Floridians!
Later that night we went to the Welcome dinner and the pre-race briefing on the beach. There were speeches from the race director, a local pastor and race sponsors. There was the usual business of calling out the oldest and the youngest competitors. It didn't even come close to what Kona pre-race celebration was... The pre-race briefing consisted of a pre-recorded generic video lecture by a dorky dude (not even dorky in a triathlon way, just plain dorky!) about using common sense if the weather gets bad and the cutoff times for an Ironman distance! Really? People flew from all over the world to participate in the 70.3 World Championship and they couldn't even edit the generic full Ironman video? Or better yet have a real person talk about it?
Friday morning we went for an early swim again. This time we saw a dolphin by the pier. :) The rest of the morning was spent preparing our race bags, doing a little bit of work and napping. In the afternoon we checked in our bikes and gear bags. I had an early boring dinner of Walgreens-bought pasta, marinara sauce and canned salmon. We went to bed at about 8pm.
The alarm went off at 4am. First things first, I started some coffee and took a quick shower. I had my usual bagel with Nutella, banana, OJ and coffee for breakfast. I got into my race outfit, covered myself with sunscreen, braded my hair and was ready to go. There wasn't much to get ready since our race bags were already in the transition.
As we were walking towards the start, a golf cart shuttle drove by and asked if we needed a ride to the start. How lucky! We didn't even have to walk that half a mile. There was quite a line-up for body marking at 5:30am.
Once body marked and in the transition, I borrowed a pump from someone and filled up my tires. After I got back from the bathroom I realized that my front tire was almost completely empty. That was disconcerting. Sean suggested that most likely the valve extender got loose after using the pump. Thankfully, he had the valve extender wrench with him and after we tightened it up and pumped up the tire again, it was no longer letting out air. Relief!
I visualized my race step by step and realized that my bottles were placed incorrectly on the bike. I have one bottle on the frame and two in behind the seat cages. I am most comfortable reaching my frame bottle cage and a lot more comfortable getting the right behind the seat bottle compared to the left one. I normally place my first nutrition bottle on the frame, my water bottle in the right behind the seat cage and my second nutrition bottle in the left cage. This way, I only have to reach back with my left hand once, to get the second nutrition bottle after I'd gone through my first nutrition bottle and tossed it. For whatever reason, that morning I placed my second nutrition bottle in the right cage and my water bottle in the left cage. I corrected my error. I am glad I do my detailed race walk-through in my head before my races. This would have caused me unneeded stress on the course!
We got kicked out of the transition just as the pros started their swim at 6:45. My wave didn't start till 7:50, so I had some time to kill on the beach. Sean, Carly, Heather and Kevin were also there. We hung out, took some pictures, made a few more bathroom trips. Finally, came our time to line up in the starting corals.
Swim – 34:23
Even though our wave was pretty small (under 100 people), it was really crowded for most of the swim. I think it's because people are much closer in their ability at this race so there's no spreading out like at other races. I tried to line up at the front, but I still had to pass quite a few girls in the first 200 yards, so I guess I need to line up even more aggressive. It was also really choppy, definitely, more so than during our practice swims on Thursday and Friday. After the first couple hundred yards I got on some girl's feet. She was going about the same speed as me (not much faster) but I figured at least I would save some energy in her draft, which I've been spending plenty of fighting the waves and trying to swim around people. This was working out well for me – I stayed right on her feet while she did most of the navigating and picking the lines to swim around people – until the turn around where she started having some issues with her goggles and stopped to adjust them. I kept swimming and was able to get in a pretty good groove on my own. It was really hard to sight on the way back with the sun rising above Clearwater, but I managed to at least locate the next buoy I had to swim to. I even passed a few more red caps (my wave) and a good number of blue caps (the previous wave) which made me wonder if I picked the wrong girl to draft. Despite the crowds and the waves, I thought I was having a really good swim. I was unpleasantly surprised when I saw 34 minutes on my watch as I came out. I later learned that most folks had slower swims than normal (due to the chop), so I don't feel quite as bad about it anymore. Still, I have some work to do! Particularly, I need to get better at finding the right people to draft of and navigating around the slower swimmers in a more efficient way. I will need that at the Ironman where there will be 2,000 people instead of 100. Not sure how to practice this though? I guess I should join some group open water swims.
T1 – 3:17
I stripped the top of my wetsuit on the way out of the water, slowed down for a couple seconds in the showers to get most of the salt water off my body to avoid chafing later. The wetsuit strippers were amazing! They took my wetsuit off in literally half a second. I ran through the transition, picked up my bag, got in the tent and grabbed a volunteer who was stuffing someone else's stuff in their bag at the time. I just said: "I need you to help me, please". She was really accommodating: helped me put some sunscreen on my face, got my shoes and race belt for me, then – my sunglasses and helmet. I was out in no time. Grabbed my bike and ran towards the Bike Out. My T2 certainly wasn't the fastest of the day, but I think it was pretty efficient. I didn't waste any time at any point.
Bike – 2:31:27
I got up to speed quickly and passed a couple folks in the first mile, before we even got to the bridge. I made sure to gear down on the bridge to avoid burning any matches early on the bike. I tried to keep my power in the 180s and watched my HR. It was a little high in the first 30 minutes (high 170s), but that seems to be normal for me (happened at other races this year), so I wasn't concerned. I didn't worry about my speed too much. I'd look down at it occasionally and I always saw a number above 21, and sometimes it was 24-25. Flying :)
The packs started forming right away, but I was determined to race honestly. I got passed by a bunch of draft packs. It was a little bit scary – they'd come 2-3 abreast and some sections of the course were fairly narrow. Plus I was passing a lot of people myself, and the packs would sometimes go into a double pass while I was passing another rider. Yikes! I just made sure to be extra alert when they flew by me and had my hands on my breaks to be ready to react in case they pulled anything stupid. Luckily, I didn't personally witness any wrecks, but I sure saw a lot of people on the side of the road who had crashed. I didn't count but I must have seen at least 8-10 people bloodied up, sometimes 2 or 3 at a time, and one poor guy was being taken away on a stretcher. I don't remember it being quite as bad in 2008 :(
It was a bit windy on the course, mostly side winds. I kept on schedule for my nutrition, hydration and salt intake and stayed strong the whole time. As per plan, I controlled my power for the first hour and allowed myself to go higher for the rest of the ride if I could. Looking at the power trace, it didn't work out quite the way I wanted – my highest average power was in the first hour and it got a bit lower (not dramatically) later in the race. I passed 13 girls in my AG during the ride (though I don't remember seeing that many) and got passed by 1. I did see a couple under 25 girls, who I'd passed early on, fly by me in a pack of guys a few miles down the road, but I didn't let it annoy me too much especially since they weren't even in my AG.
I am a little disappointed that I didn't meet my time goal of sub 2:30. During the ride it felt like I was giving it all I could, but knowing that my power output did drop a bit in the second half I wonder what I could have done differently... Control my power more in the first half? Eat more?
T2 – 2:30
A volunteer took my bike and I ran to grab my run bag unclipping my helmet on the way. I had another great volunteer help me in the tent. I put my socks and shoes on quickly while she opened my bottle of Coke for me. I might have lost a couple seconds putting on my visor. I should have put it on while running out instead of inside, but I don't think I lost that much time. Overall, it was an efficient T2.
Run – 1:35:55
The run course consists of 2 loops including a mile-long steep bridge at mile 2. You cross this bridge 4 times – out and back on each loop. My left quad cramped up in mile 1. It was very weird because I've never had my quads cramp up in a triathlon before. I've had my quads completely shot at the end of marathons that had some significant downhill, like Boston or Yakima River Canyon. But the way they tightened up this time was different. They weren't completely shot, just super tight. I was still able to move at a pretty good pace – I was dropping 7:10s, but running was not as easy as at Oliver or Troika earlier this year. My range of motion was definitely constricted.
After I finished the Coke I picked up in T2 and drank some sports drink, the left quad released at about mile 2 and I was able to put a couple faster miles and catch the folks who passed me in the first mile. Then at about mile 3, my right quad tightened the same way. I dropped down to 7:20s again and lost my faster pace group. More sports drink and a gel – it released in a mile or so and I was able to run faster again. Then both of them tightened up again as I ran up the bridge. A guy with "28" on his calf passed me as we came down the other side of the bridge. My quads loosened up on the downhill and I tried to hang with him. It worked and I stayed with him through the end of the first lap. Then at the start of the second lap (mile 6.5), the cramps came back. I lost my pacer just to catch him again at mile 8 after the cramps released on the downhill side of the bridge. At mile 9, I got caught by a speedy Lithuanian (could tell by the flag on his race bib) who was running low 7s. He said: "Come on, stay with me! Is this your last [lap]?" as he passed me. I decided to give it a shot. My 28 year old pacing buddy couldn't hang with us, but I was able to stay behind my fellow Slavic runner for a good 2 miles. The cramps kept coming on and off in waves, but I kept playing mental games with myself, ordering my legs to stop cramping. As we hit the climb up the bridge, I had to let him go. This last climb was painful, but I at least I was in the home stretch. As I descended down the back side of the bridge I saw one of the sub 25 girls who passed me on the bike in the pack of guys. She was a couple hundred yards up the road. Even though she wasn't in my AG I really wanted to pass her back. That gave me enough motivation to speed up in the last mile and finish strong in 4:47:30.
I got my finisher hat and my medal, stood in line for the photo op. My legs were in pain after I crossed, so I went straight to the massage tent. After a 10min massage I went to get some food just to find out that they were out of veggie pizza :( I had to resort to ice cream. It was perfect though :)
I finished 27th in AG. My final time was slower than I hoped for (was shooting for sub 4:40), but given the choppy swim and the cramps on the run, I think I managed it pretty well. I am proud to get such a fast bike split without drafting. I wonder what my place in AG would have been if everyone raced honestly. I guess I'll have a chance to find out in Vegas next year :)