138 days: Ironman 70.3 St George race recap – long version – part 1

I have a plan to raise $10,000 for some awesome organizations by Sept. 22, 2013 – the day I run in Ironman Lake Tahoe. Only 4 1/2 months away! Raised so far: $5,187! Want to increase this total? Chip in a few bucks to one of our causes here, or find out how you can get involved by pinging me on Facebook or by dropping me a note.

Thank you to all that contributed to the RMHC and AHA matching funds challenge! $530 was donated to these causes… and, yep, I’ll be depositing my matching funds into the appropriate accounts this week!

Ironman 70.3 St George race recap – long version – part 1

Yesterday I offered up the executive summary race recap of the Ironman 70.3 St George race I participated in this past Saturday. To summarize in one sentence:

I shouldn’t have raced, but I did, and had an amazing time.

Trust me, by writing this I didn’t give away any of the real story.

Pre-race shenanigans

It’s been well documented here (and here, and here) that work has been kicking my butt for the last several months. As St George weekend grew from a distant speck on the horizon to an ominous, looming cloud the feeling of dread continued to grow over me. There is no way I was going to be ready for this race. I had logged no serious triathlon training since July of last year.

For a sprint triathlon I can get away with that – last October, for example, I didn’t prepare at all for the 2012 Hermosa Beach ‘Day at the Beach‘ triathlon and still knocked out a 14th place overall finish and an age group podium (3rd place in M35-39).

Heck, I could probably get away with racing an Olympic distance event, or maybe even a really flat 70.3 course – in each case finishing with my dignity intact would be considered victory. But certainly not in St George at what was being billed as the most difficult 70.3 course on the Ironman circuit!?

With 3 weekends left before race day, I finally did what I should have been doing all year long: I forced the time for training to exist. I got in a decent week of swimming (1 mile in the pool), cycling (46 miles), and running (21 miles) – but not even close to the volume or intensity levels I should be at a mere 3 weeks before this race. The miles should have been triple, and the effort right at peak performance levels.

But, the following week, I fell back into old habits as the siren song of work responsibilities called me back… and that week of training momentum was lost in a sea of spreadsheets, programming, and technical documents. 0 miles.

Did I have enough built up in the reserve tanks to get me through this race, when it just barely got me through the Napa Valley Marathon a few weeks prior? I honestly didn’t know the answer to that question… so with two weekends remaining until the race, I put myself through a test weekend where I did my best to replicate the course locally and perform each leg over the course of a weekend. I passed this test… barely.

Dissatisfied, I took a couple of recovery days and tried again. Test Wednesday, where in one afternoon I did half of a 70.3 – 0.6 miles in the pool, followed immediately by a 28 mile ride, then capped off with a 6.55 mile run. No breaks. I got through this fine – it wasn’t fast, but it didn’t crush my spirits. OK, good. I was confident I could go to St George and not make a complete fool of myself.

Until the next day… 9 days to go to the race, and a virus settled in that I probably picked up on the train or bus while trying to be a good citizen and commute via public transit (Redondo Beach to Pasadena… 4 hour round trip!), likely helped along by the intensity of those two race test sessions weakening my immune system. Head cold and fever… migrated into a sore throat and chest cold… then back up to a head cold… before settling back into the chest and throat. A visit to the urgent care on Monday morning confirmed it was a viral infection and I just had to ride it out… but would it get better before the race?

Tuesday evening I started to feel a bit better, and was hopeful that if the recovery process continued at this pace I would be ready to give the race a try on Saturday. We decided to make the trip and see how things went.

St George before the race

We headed out on Thursday morning, the Rocket Bike attached to the top of the vehicular spectacular and started the journey toward southern Utah. The deeper inland we got, however, the winds started picking up something fierce. The same winds that kicked up that nasty wildfire in Ventura were the very same winds that almost ripped my racing bike from the top of my vehicle! We made an emergency stop and brought it in to the safety of the passenger compartment – with the winds kicking up so severely that car doors refused to stay open, and the bike itself would float off like a sail if you weren’t holding on to it with a death grip.

The rig with the Rocket Bike on top as we leave Redondo Beach. We had to take the bike off the roof when we got to highway 15 - the extremely high winds terrorizing the area almost ripped it off the roof!

The rig with the Rocket Bike on top as we leave Redondo Beach. We had to take the bike off the roof when we got to highway 15 – the extremely high winds terrorizing the area almost ripped it off the roof!

We passed through Las Vegas (no stopping this trip!), crossed Nevada, spent about 20 minutes passing through northern Arizona and the wicked beautiful Virgin River Gorge, before we reached St George. Our jaws dropped as we approached the city. Beautiful isn’t a strong enough word to describe this region. Red bluffs and soaring vistas in all directions… but not off at a distance. You feel as though if you could reach your arm out just a wee bit more you could touch these soaring cliffs, bluffs, and rock outcroppings.

We checked into the hotel and immediately were welcomed by what would become the theme for the weekend. Everybody was ridiculously friendly. Almost to the point of absurdity… but it was earnest, honest, and sincere. St George really rolls out the red carpet for this race.

Perhaps I’ve been living in Los Angeles for far too long and have become jaded… but here every race is simply endured. The Los Angeles Marathon isn’t viewed as an incredible event that is welcomed by the locals, but is rather perceived as nuisance that gets in the way of the Sunday morning drive to pilates class or to the beach for a seaside brunch. Los Angeles doesn’t need these types of events. For smaller cities like St George (and Lake Stevens), however, these races bring an incredible opportunity for the local businesses to thrive and the community to rally together and show itself off. And boy did St George rally.

After checking in to the hotel and getting settled in our room, we headed down to the St George Town Square that had been converted into Ironman Village. As we were hunting for a parking spot, a young man was walking along, saw us pulling through the parking lot, knocked on the window, and asked if we were looking to park. He said that if we followed him we were more than welcome to his spot, as he was leaving. A few seconds later he pulled out, we took his spot… and, lo and behold, we had the best parking spot in the city, right next to the entrance to Ironman Village. Seriously – EVERYBODY was incredibly friendly.

As we walked into Ironman Village the race organizers were going through the race rules and course particulars on the stage, an hourly event during the pre-race period, and I went through the race check-in process. In a lot of races you show up and kind of fumble your way through the check-in mechanics – but not here! You walk up, somebody finds your name on the list, hands you the waiver and safety forms, tells you exactly how to fill them out and where to go next. You fill them out, hand them to the next person who checks them for completeness, and are pointed to the next person you need to see. A greeter meets you at that station and walks you over to the person that puts on your race weekend wristband, hands you your race packet, walks through everything in the packet so you know exactly what to do with each item, and even offers up a friendly chat before she tells you where to go next. At the next booth you are handed your shirt, race duffel bag, the transition area bags for race day, and are given instructions on how to use them, what goes in each bag, and where each bag should be on race morning. The next booth is the timing chip where your race number is tied to the chip of your choice… and then you are done! Checking in to this kind of race can be intimidating and confusing, but in St George it was easy, transparent, and a ton of fun! I had several fun conversations with the race volunteers in the 10 minutes it took to work my through the process.

After check-in the stage events shifted from the race announcements to the “pro panel” – this is where the professional triathletes get up on stage and chat for a bit. And though he wasn’t racing, none other than Craig “Crowie” Alexander was up on stage having a chat, and helping to moderate the panel. (FYI – Crowie is triathlon racing royalty, 5-time Ironman World Champion… 3 at 140.6, 2 at 70.3). The list of pros at the race this year was long and littered with some of the sport’s very best. Andy Potts, Leanda Cave, Sebastian Kienle, Michael Raelert, Meredith Kessler… this list could go on and on.

At race check-in we got to see the Friday "pro panel" - Crowie is on stage along with Leanda Cave (the 2012 Ironman 140.6 and 70.3 World Champion) in this photo! Ironman royalty!

At race check-in we got to see the Friday “pro panel” – Crowie is on stage along with Leanda Cave (the 2012 Ironman 140.6 and 70.3 World Champion) in this photo! Ironman royalty!

We hung around for a bit listening to the pros chat (Andrew Starykowicz was more than just a bit awesomely crazy), then headed off to dinner at a nice restaurant on a golf course just south of town. The meal was wonderful… the view was wonderful… Ahhhhhh… St George is WONDERFUL….

Additional proof of the awesomeness that is St George. As we were leaving dinner at the golf course the locals were readying for the evening's entertainment: golf car drive-in movies! Yes! AWESOME!!!!

Additional proof of the awesomeness that is St George. As we were leaving dinner at the golf course the locals were readying for the evening’s entertainment: golf car drive-in movies! Yes! AWESOME!!!!

Will this trend of St George overall awesomeness continue? Stay tuned for the Ironman 70.3 St George race recap part 2 (will be posted on Wednesday).

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