Friday, December 30, 2011

ITU Long Course World Champs - Race Report

Having arranged a "take out" breakfast from the kind and helpful staff at the Hilton the day before, I awoke at 4am and got up about 4:15 to stuff my face with bread and jam, apply copious amounts of anti-chaffing cream (being careful not to accidently swap the jam for the anti-chaff pot)... and hoped in a fellow team-mate's car (Chris who was racing and Sarah his support crew) for a lift to the start, leaving at 5am promptly as we had some pick-ups to do on the way.

The race was due to start at 7am (pro wave) and my wave was off at 0720.... with Jules starting in a wave 10mins before me I had but one chance of trying to get ahead of him during the race (my aim was to get him in transition as we know he is the master phaffer).... So with a belly full of food and a crouch full of lube we arrived to Lake Las Vegas... now when I say it was chilly let me tell you that the car was telling us it was a mere 2 degrees C (36 F)... which was COLD especially given 6 days before it was over 80 at 5pm at night. Now lucky for me the weather had been deteriortating during the week temperature wise (which suited me for the run)... however we weren't expecting rain on the Friday and then temperatures plummeting overnight.

What did this all add up to?...

Well we got to the race venue and walked towards transition, as we went I mentally noted that they had moved the bike mount mat about 30metres from inside the parking area to on to the main road. I thought at the time what a strange thing to do so late on but dismissed it as immediately as I had seen it. Then we got stopped by a marshall... "Have you guys been told about the change this morning?".... Bleary eyed we replied "no...".... "Oh... Well there is no swim. It's a timetrial start at 5sec intervals wait for further instructions. The start will be delayed"....

I beg your pardon?

The poor marhsall must have seen the same blearly eyed gawp from many people as the words slowly computed the competitors brains.... "Yeah, the swim has been cancelled due to the conditions. Go wait in the change tent it should be warmer in there".

And so that was that. All those 4k swims (ok I did about 4), but long swims sets... my dreams of getting ahead of Jules even for a milisecond... ruined.... ha ha ha... oh... so off we plodded with something like amazement and disbelief to the change tent to sit and wait. Of course your nutrition and hydration plan doesn't counter for such things. I soon ran out of water to drink and sitting just made the bread inside me bloat a bit. So we waited to hear the start would be delayed to 7:45 and they eventually decided to then race off in number order (this order was changed several times), given I was number eight hundred and something this meant I wouldn't be getting on my bike for some time! So we huddled in the change tent, putting on every layer available... at this stage I for one was happy with my 25% body fat, those 10%ers were suffering I tell you ;)... bizarelly whilst wrapped up some of us then decided to strip off and get some sun lotion on (this would have been planned for T1 and despite the temperature only planned to be 16/61 the sun is strong and I am fair skinned so lotion was a good idea). Finally our number range was called forward. By now there were rows of empty racks - all the boys having gone off... the woman now starting in age group order - young to old.... So the good thing about this was at least not so many people a usual would overtake me on the bike - not only was I not ahead on the swim but also there were fewer people behind me... probably only about 60.

As we were starting in number order this meant the GB ladies in my age group (of which there were 3) were off together, with team USA first (as hosts), and I think most other countries before us it did mean we were at the rear of our Age Group BUT it did mean I was to be 5 seconds ahead of Anita at the start (Yesssssssss)....... as her surname starts with a J and mine a G!....

As it was still cold I opted for arm warmers, club bike top and gillet for the start, figuring I could strip and hand over the gillet and top if necessary at an aid station.

We were orderly marched/ carouled up the T1 exit ramp (at least we were dry)... and shivered as we waited in the shade to get to the front timing mat. Given I have never done a time trial before this was going to be an interesting start. I moved forward, we weren't be held static but had to have a foot in a pedal and one on the floor. My count down began..... 3, 2, 1 .. GO!

I pushed off with my left foot and down with my right, missed the cleat with my left which span around ridiculously (never done that before) and pretty much stalled the bike... HA HA HA.... within 6 seconds Anita came past me...It had taken her a whole second to make up the 5 second gap!!.. Oh how we laughed..... and we really did :)

Now the bike course was always going to be dramatic. Dramatically pretty and dramatically hilly! Dramtically fast and at times dramatically s-l-o-w.... Actually if I'm honest it was pretty awesome, although there were times I felt far from awesome.

The highs - without a doubt descending from the top of Lake Mead Parkway and into the National Park. I'm not a confident speed monster on the down hill, but with little to no side winds and with a spectacular vista ahead there was nothing but tears of joy (and you know your eyes do leak when you hit 40mph, in cold wind even with glasses on)..... pretty amazing. Here was little old me with Team GB emblazoned on my bum at a world championships in a spectacular place.

The happiness soon descended in to a huff of huffiness as "what am I doing here" at around the 20mile mark, about 1hr and half or so into the race. I was in a bit of a miserable place, after some navel gazing I realised I needed to get logical about it and then soon worked out one major thing... with no swim and a stack load of jam and bread in me, plus my standard 30min nutrition and carb drink I was over carbed... this always makes me grumbly and miserable on the bike.... So I decided to miss my next food intake... my mood soon lifted (YEAH) and by mile 30 I was smiling again :)  I also took off my gillet in case I was overheating a bit (didn't feel like it but I didn't get cold afterwards either...  A few miles more and this marked the end of the south shore road, happy days!

Next onto the North shore - whilst the South shore was undulating the North shore was pretty much a swift sharp descent followed by a 4 or so miles of gradual climb, nothing too steep or even noticable in places - but up up up it went. At Mile 40 on the way up a sudden sharp pain happened in my right knee (just on the side of my knee cap)... I initially dismissed it... but as I carried on cycling everytime I put some power through the bottom of the pedal stroke it hurt. This was not a good place to be with 35miles still to go, and knowing the last 20 were pretty much up hill including those damn sisters.... hummm.... So I peddaled on with putting as little power through my right leg as possible ... I thought about quitting and thought of my family who had travelled a long way to support me and how I would feel if I quit and for no reason...... So I wasn't going to quit... not unless I physically couldn't carry on.... I got to the turn point and coasted back down to an aid station and got off my bike for a moment. Asked if there was anyone who knew about knees... despite there being a paramedic there there clearly wasn't anyone. It soon dawned on me (I was being a little slow this day I feel)... that given I had only recently been studying anatomy and physiology and had just sat my sports and remedial massage diploma exams that I ought to be able to help myself out!! Given when I wasn't peddaling hard I had no pain, and walking off the bike was fine I decided that actually I was ok and I had probably just twanged a muscle somewhere, which meant my knee cap was pulling slightly and that was causing the ouchiness of the knee. So nothing serious... and so take a couple of the stashed painkillers and carry on. I decided to get to the three sisters, see how I felt before and after... if all ok I'd start the run and see what happened. If it was the knee it would not work for the run, if it was a small something else then I would probably get away with it.

So onwards I went.... whizzing down the hill at high speed only being scared by the large American campavan things which always seemed to be towing an abnormally sized people carrier......

Mile 55 and the three sisters were upon me. The support at the rise of all hills was great - especially the third which by now necessitated a moment of out of the saddle cycling... I was more then happy, what with the knee thing and tiredness, of my gear choice - thank you granny ring! Whilst the sisters themselves only last for about 7mins, there was still another 30-45mins of gradual climbing to be done.... a descent and then ... you guessed it... more climbing.... so another hour of racing.

Arriving back from the foothills into civilsation though was great. It was at this point can you truly say the organisation of this race was second to none. There were marshals and police at every road junction, lanes were coned off and competitors had right of way through every junction. The local Police did a great job of managing the traffic it has to be said.

With little left in the bike legs and with my sense of humour failing over yet another sodding hill... we climbed up the final rise towards transtition..... A mixture of relief and excitement mixed with concern as to what my legs (particular the right) would do on the run. But at least it wasn't scorching hot :)

Happy to be off the bike I completely forgot to take my feet out of my shoes, so I dismounted slow style and handed my bike to a helper and clip-clopped my way to the aid tent.

I decided there was no point in hurrying but took my time to get my socks on, shoes on and nutrition stuffed in my trisuit. Left T2 and decided I needed a loo break - proceeded to almost lose my entire nutrition store down the toilet as I undid and took down the tri suit!!... Luckily I managed to avoid that disaster, did my thing and carried on... Popey was right by the tent/ transition exit fencing which was ace..... I staggered out wondering about whole knee thing, up a small dirt track and then a left on to the course. Looked at my watch and realised I was going down hill and too fast as it was registering 5:15km pace.... I concentrated on slowing down, getting into a rhythm and getting my cadence up to the right range. As I hit the turn and passed the aid station I was in a comfotable place, both legs and pace seemed to be ok.... The transition from bike to run done, now all I need to do was run for a few hours.... Oh how we laughed... especially as I saw the gradient of what I was supposed to run back up (no wonder my pace had been 5:15).... I got back up to the main thorough fare which I had joined out of T1 and saw the rest of the clan gathered... Mum, Dad, my cousin Sarah (who had flown in from New York the day before - amazing to see her), Enid and Popey... all wrapped up and with GB flags to wave... The support through this main bit was great, the GB and Kiwi supporters certainly giving the most cheers. Through there and on to the "long drag" ... This wa a big wide road, a lane of which was for the race, up one side and we came back down the other. Now whilst I had done quite a bit of hill running in my training I need a coping strategy for this beast.... so decided the best bet was to run to the aid station, walk fast through it and run again to the top of the road... where we turned left and went slightly down hill for about 50-100m... before turning back... the turn back was another walk break for me before running back down the hill... and so the war of attrition started... there were 4 laps to do in total...... Lap 1 done in something like 46mins ... this was to be the peak pace wise !!

As is the norm I think on these long races I now only see myself enjoying the run, but I'm pretty sure whilst on it I was a miserable sod until lap 3 or 4!!  The dodgey leg seemed to be less dodgey and holding up well... bottom half of the course I tended to run down and tended to have more walk then run stages on the way back up (it seemed considerably steeper)... the top half of the course - the long drag - certainly seemed to get easier as the race went on... The feed stations were well manned and well placed, all the volunteers were extremely enthusiastic and helpful with a good selection of food and drink options... my favourite ended up being chicken boullion... ummmm... I loved that stuff.... it was served particularly warm at the long drag feed station as I recal. On the final run down the long drag towards the finish shute I my right leg almost decided enough was enough with my quad going into a crampy spasm.... but really I wasn't having any of that and it wasn't like I was going to finish walking now was it... as I turned towards the finish shute I saw a GB supporter who had a couple of little flags... so I asked if I could grab one and headed in to the finish.... There weren't many people left supporting out there by the time I finished, it was all a bit of a blur.. but I was happy as could be waving my flag with some glee... I trimuphantly crossed the finish line with my arms held high... had my picture taken and was grateful to receive my space blanket from a rather cheery chap... Popey was over at the fence so I reached over for a big hug and promptly burst into tears... saying "if I ever say I'm thinking of doing one of these things again you may shoot me and stop me at all costs"... to which she replied "yeah which is like a drunk saying they will never drink again when they have a big hangover. You'll soon forget and want to get back on it".... HA HA HA... OH!

All in all - despite the highs and lows..... I did have a good race (from a results point of view). The best time I expected to do for the bike, given the several thousand feet of climbing was 5hrs and I came in on 4hrs 46mins (the lack of swim probably helped that slightly).... For the run I somehow managed to ekk out a 3hr15min for the 30k which in itself had over 900feet of climb.... which I'm actually very pleased with. This time beats anything I've done over that distance before (ok I've only ever done one 30k race which was this one... but marathon wise I did 4:45 on a straight marathon and 5:30 on an ironman marathon, and his pace is far ahead of where I was on both races... ).... Also whilst I did walk during the run I did this much more tactically so then I've managed on long run events before.

I came 32nd in my age group from 37 starters... so also completed my aim of not coming totally last!

I couldn't have achieved all this without the support of my family and friends leading up to the race and the support on the day was immense.

There were some inspiring people at this race... the elites who finished several hours before me are simply amazing..... but more amazing still were the athletes of all ages taking part and the parathletes are all the above and then some.

Race photo's can be found here

ITU World Champs - Preamble

As in all things this year this race report is long overdue, some would say late......
So here it is ... The preamble.....

Anyway..... So myself and the support clan arrived a whole week before race day (mainly to help with the jet lag but also take in some sights and sounds of Las Vegas). The journey from the airport was fairly straightforward (not too many u turns) and we got to our nice little hotel, the Hilton Garden Inns at Henderson. Unlike most hotels in Vegas this had no slot machines anywhere in sight (thank fully), but if we needed one desperately enough we were pretty much located in the parking lot of SunSet station so all was not lost if we fancied a little gamble!

The jetlag barely happened (which was a good thing), on Sunday late afternoon I went for a little run in the surrounding area (basically I ran up a fairly long hill and back). It was still over 80 at 5pm. I hadn't really settled on my expected race pace for the 30k run, but the weeks before I was knocking out 10ks in an easy 5:50/ k... but with the hills of the race course I expected this to drift to 6:00 and then with the race fatigue probably nearer 6:15s..... however when faced with the prospect of 80 degree heat I thought I simply wouldn't worry about it and see what happened!

The days preceding the race I got my bike set up and headed down to what was the main talking point of the 120k bike course - namely the "3 Sisters". These are basic 3 rather nasty lumps one after the other which we would hit at about the 85k point of the course.... and when I say nasty I mean it, I believe the final lump had a 20% ramp in it. However having read all about this and finding some youtube footage I had geared myself (literally) for it, having had something like a 13-29 put on my bike - this would have been good enough to see me up a alpine mountain - and indeed probably saw me overgeared for these little beauties - however I was thankful of gear 28 on race day!! So - I bimbled out a couple of times to the three sisters and got less scared of them pretty quickly.

The other days before the race we spent doing some sight seeing:
  • Hoover Dam in truly awesome and an inspiration ... Amazing to see what past generations have achieved with little in the way of what we know as modern technology. If you are ever near it you really should go and find out about it.

  • Red Rock canyon - whilst geared up for tourism this seems to have been done so without any real invasion to the area which is an achievement in itself. Taking the 12mile scenic drive after a stop at the tourist information centre is well worth the short trip north of the strip. Spectacular scenary for sure - I would love to have had the time to walk and maybe camp around that area.

  • The Strip - well a trip to Vegas simply wouldn't be complete without a journey along the strip (at least the section from the Luxor down to the Belagio and on to the Venetician). Doing this the day after the flight in may not have been the greatest idea (as we were all tired and grumbly bears by about 6pm), but still an interesting if somewhat completely different spectacle from the above two.

I also did the usual thing (dragging the support crew around) of race reccie - taking a look at Lake Las Vegas (the swim), and driving the south and north shores of Lake Mead (the bike). Wasn't so worried about the run, I knew it would be hilly so why make it worse for myself by actually looking at it beforehand?!

Venue for the 4k Swim. Nice!
  Prior to race day I had seen many svelt like athletes around the expo .... and I mean the fat free type. Feeling a little bit out of my league (like what was I doing here type thing), I decided my best coping strategy come race day was to pretend I was the equivalent of a lottery winner at Kona. ie love the experience, be amazed you are there and don't worry about all the people coming past you, they are allowed (afteral they clearly didn't enjoy life as they don't have any body fat ergo do not dring beer and indulge in chocolate....)... now I'm sure this isn't the case, the fact is they train hard and are talented - but it helped me mentally speaking to think this!!

Anita looking in pain but actually this was excellent treatment!

The day before race day the inevitable phaffing took place when it came to bike racking - and without going into too much detail by this time the usual tri race buddies of Jules and Anita had arrived, although staying at another local hotel and yours truly had agreed to give Anita a lift down to the race start (it was a 12mile split transition) for bike racking. Significant amount of PHAFFING nearly led to me blowing a casket and I ended up taking Jules and Anita (incl all three bikes) and the every so calming Popey (sherpa) in our rental "car" (said losely as it was a substantial vehicle - to fit 4 adults and 3 bikes in with only taking off one front wheel (of a bike!!) you can see what I mean. We got to the lake and I had to phaff quite a bit (although not entirely my fault as my racking block didn't allow my back wheel in to rack my bike)... we finally said goodbye to bikes and got back to our respective hotels for some rest before the inevitable 4am wake up on race day.

Anita, Myself and Jules - race briefing D -2. READY NOW!