Vegas 70.3 Worlds 2012 – Refusing to Fold

I made it to the big show of 70.3 racing.  It was the half Ironman World Championships in Las Vegas.  I trained incredibly hard for this event and I was going to leave it all out there.  No regrets. Balls to the wall racing.

Driving to Vegas with the cowboy hat.

I stayed in Vegas with Angi and JR. We were the three best friends that anyone could have.  Angi was kind enough to be our sherpa for the weekend.  She provided massages, ice baths, food, gangster rap, and Asian jokes.

And we’re the three best friends that anyone could have…

I left Friday morning and got to Henderson around 1 p.m. for athlete check-in.  It was 100 degrees.  My shirt was soon soaking with sweat. I walked around the expo. I ran into Linsey and she gave me a hug. Victory.

Dan got me VIP tickets to the athlete dinner at Lake Las Vegas.  We got front row seats!

Athlete dinner

Saturday morning, JR and I went for a ride and run.

Going out for a ride

Ready for take off

Then, we had to check in our bikes and gear bags.  The logistics of the race were a little crazy.  First we checked in our run bags at T2, the Henderson Pavilion.  Lake Las Vegas was 20 minutes away, where we checked in our bikes and bike gear bags.  The rest of the day, we spent laying on the couch, relaxing, taking an ice baths. and rapping.

Sleeping

JR and I at the Henderson Pavilion

Prepping the bikes for battle

Bike drop off

Race day.

Unlike the mass swim starts at Ironman, the 70.3 races have wave starts.  Pros began at 6:30 am.  Waves began every five minutes. I was the last wave to go with an 8 a.m. start.  With a day time high of 105, this was a definitely a big concern for me.  I likely wouldn’t be getting to the run course till around 11 a.m.  and it would be HOT.

Wave starts

Transition closed at 6 a.m. I got there at 5:40 am.  I quickly set up my transition area, check my tires, tape my nutrition to my bike.  Then, I laid down in the sun for two hours to get my race day tan.

There was around 2,100 athletes racing, with just over 1,000 of them being international.  I thought this was pretty cool.  There’s actually other Asian triathletes besides me!!!

Lining up to start, I couldn’t believe all the incredibly fit people around me… and the 18-29 women wave… wow. This is where all the good looking triathlete women show up.

7:45 a.m. – I ran into Josh Terwoord and we chatted for bit.  It was already starting to get pretty hot.  I took one last swig of my Gatorade and I walked towards the swim start.  I thoroughly enjoyed the swim venue: the crowds, the atmosphere, the scenery.  It was a great place to get the big show started.

7:50 a.m. – Into the water. It wasn’t nearly as hot as Lake Pleasant the other day, but still pretty warm… around 82 degrees.

Pre-race swim with Dan at Lake Pleasant

7:55 a.m. – The thought crossed my mind- I am racing in the World Championships. To be honest, I wasn’t very nervous for this race… until I got in the water.  I still had five minutes before I started, so I floated on my back, closed my eyes, recollected my thoughts, and went over my race strategy.  Then, I swam to the start line and the countdown began. There was about 150 people in the M18-29 wave.  The swim was a rectangle course.  One of the only benefits of starting late was that the sun wasn’t in my eyes. I lined up right at the buoy line, in the front.  The first sight buoy was a couple hundred meters away so my plan was to ease my way into this swim until I reached the first buoy.

Swim course

Swim.

8 a.m. – I was off.  I followed my plan. I swam relatively easy until the first sighting buoy.  Unlike all the other races I’ve done, I noticed that most everyone in my wave were decent swimmers.  I swam with a fairly large pack of swimmers, all in my wave, for the majority of the swim.  It seemed like the bulk of people in my wave came out in the 30-35 minute range.  The three turns on the swim course were congested.   I got cracked in the head a few times, kicked in the face, and got shoved down into the water. I didn’t let it rattle me though and swam strong.

Swim start line

I got out of the water in 31:26… a great swim for me.  I’ve worked hard in the pool this year and it’s nice to see my swim times improving at every race. I’ve PR’ed my swim times the last three half Ironmans- 32:27 in Florida (non-wetsuit); 32:06 in Boise (wetsuit); 31:26 in Vegas (non-wetsuit).  It was a great start to the day.

Swim time: 31:26 (1:37 /100m) , 54/115 AG, 400/2,159 OA

My Garmin read exactly 1.2 miles.

Outta the water!

T1: 3:25 – a long run around the lake and into T1.  I quickly put on my helmet, shoes, and had another long run to the mount line.  Transition times were a significant improvement compare to my prior half distance races.  I minimized the clutter in transition area and it significantly reduced my transition times. Thanks for the tips Klas!

T1

T1 map; 0.41 miles long!

Bike:

The bike course immediately starts out with 1.5 mile climb out of Lake Las Vegas.  I’ve rode this course two times in training and I  was prepared for the hills ahead.  My plan was to ride at 205-215 watts, a power range I practiced in training.  This range was slightly out of my comfort zone but wasn’t overdoing it.  I believe it was a range that would give me enough energy off the bike to put in a quality run.

Bike course

With my heart rate still jacked up from the swim and transition, I sat in the saddle and spun up the hill out to Lake Mead Parkway.  I maintained 210 watts with my heart rate slowly coming down.  The course contained many rolling hills.  There aren’t many flat sections, and I knew it would be very easy to completely blow up on the bike if I didn’t ride smart.

Darth Vader

I never got out of the saddle on the climbs.  As Phil Liggett puts it: “I climbed like an angel.” I conserved my energy on the uphills and maintained my power on the descents.  I saw many people hammer the uphills, and coast the downhills.  I let my ego completely go.  I didn’t ride with anyone. I let people pass me at will.  I raced my own race.  I knew I was riding to the best of my abilities, and I was riding right at the top of my power range.  Looking at my power graph, I believe I executed my plan well.

Power/elevation chart:

Average watts: 210

Normalized power: 220

Average heart rate: 155 bpm

3,458 feet climbing

94 degrees avg temperature

I carried two bottles of water on me at all times with PowerBar gels taped to my frame.  I drank often and never felt thirsty throughout the bike.  I took in a gel every 30 minutes.  It’s a nutrition plan I’ve followed in the past and it has worked well.

I caught Dan Cadriel around mile six.  He was looking strong.We took turns passing each other a few times.  The father/son battle was on!

Father vs. Son Flyer

At the turnaround on North Shore road, about 23 miles into the ride, I started to get really hot.  I sprayed myself down with water at every aid station.  There is a little hole in my Louis Garneau Vorttice helmet, that allowed me to spray water in and cool down my head and face.  I pulled up my jersey to my chest and this made things a little cooler as well.

Josh Terwoord, a fast AZ’er in my age group (also doing Kona this year) who biked a 4:50 in Arizona last year, didn’t pass me until mile 47.  Carlos Mendoza (another local Kona guy, who was one wave behind me in the 45-49 age group) caught me around the same time.   I knew my race was going well.  I felt comfortable on the bike.  I never felt like I was expending too much energy and my power was consistent throughout most of the ride.

I talked to my buddy, Stephen, who raced Vegas last year and he reminded me that there’s still 12 miles to go once I pass Lake Las Vegas heading into Henderson.  These miles were tough, as the course ended on a slight uphill.  More so, the scenery wasn’t so great.  The last part of the course consists of riding through an industrial area throughout Henderson, with several turns.  I sprayed myself down one last time at the final aid station and felt decent riding into T2.  It was95 degrees.

Bike time: 2:37:53 (21.3 mph); 45/215 AG, 305/2,159 OA

T2: 1:56 – a volunteer grabbed my bike, I ran to get my run bag, headed straight through the change tent (which was extremely crowded) and I put on my shoes and socks outside.

Run:

3 loops , 965 feet climbing.

Run course

I felt uncomfortable the first mile, but it was nothing I haven’t experienced before.  Usually it takes me a mile or two to get my run legs under me.  This time, the pistons weren’t firing.  The engine room had no steam.  I was never able to pick up my pace.   I started to panic.  It was time to dig deeply into the suitcase of courage.  I closed my eyes, and tried to push it.  I tried to shut my brain off and ignore the pain.  I knew I could run sub 90 minutes, as I proved it at Florida and Boise earlier in the year. I kept yelling at myself.  This is the World Championships, let’s go!

Faking a smile

It got worse.  Everything hurt. I was cramping, my stomach was in knots, my entire nutrition plan was out the window.  I kept on throwing up whatever I drank and ate.  It hurt to walk.  The run quickly turned into a death march.  I tried drinking coke.  I couldn’t eat anything. I was very dehydrated as I chugged water at every aid station… then threw it up shortly after.  I was a mess. The elastic had snapped. It’s the first time I legitimately thought about quitting.

The meltdown

I saw Nick and Angi along the course and they motivated to keep going.  I walked with Nick for a while with my arm on his shoulder. I felt absolutely horrible. I crouched over to puke. It was the lowest point I’ve ever reached in triathlon.  I got to Angi, put my head on her shoulder… humiliated and in pain.  She told me to keep going, to dig deep.  Then, I realized- I’ve trained too hard, I’ve invested way too much time to just give up.  Sure, I was embarrassed about this  run split, but I would have gotten a lot more shit if I called it quits.

I saw J.R. at the top of Green Valley Parkway on my second loop.  He was crouched over, throwing up as well.  I give him a lot of respect for getting to the finish line as he was in bad shape. He walked the last couple miles.  As he put it, after spending a couple hours in medical after the race: “We ain’t no quitters.” He’s damn right.

Fake smiling

I “Ironman shuffled” to a 1:54 half marathon… probably the most uncomfortable 1 hour and 54 minutes of my life. I ran past a group of people playing music.  They were playing that LMFAO “every day I’m shuffling” song.  It suited my run perfectly. I was complete course clutter.

I learned a lot about myself on this day.  When I started throwing up, it terrified me.  I’ve never experienced this in training or racing.  I had no energy, and I honestly didn’t know I was going to get through another mile.  I felt incredibly weak.  I was embarrassed.  I was on the side of the road, with spectators all around me, puking my guts out. Every incline on the road seemed like a mountain. My quads cramped on the inclines, and my hamstrings tightened up on the descents.  It was a pain I’ve never experienced before.  I will keep this feeling of agony from this race in my memory bank, and know that I can get through pretty much anything.

I crossed the line and immediately fell into two volunteers arms.  I was seeing stars, completely out of it.  I chugged three bottles of water, threw it up, then went on to chug some chocolate milk.

I couldn’t keep anything down, but I was incredibly thirsty.  I knew I needed medical, but by this time, the med tent was jammed pack with reports of 500 people needing medical attention throughout the race. I was still conscious so I figured I’d just wait it out. I sat in the air-conditioned athlete food tent with my head down.  It took about an hour for me to recollect myself.  On this day, I pushed my body to its absolute limits.  Everything in my body was giving me the signs to stop.  I probably lost 10 years out of my life doing this race.

… but it was totally worth it.

Although my time doesn’t show it, this was my proudest athletic accomplishment to date.  This was the World Championships and I left it all out there.  I rolled the dice and went all in.  I swam and biked for show, and, unfortunately, ran like shit. With the hills and heat, this had to be one of the most challenging race I’ve ever done.  I congratulate everyone who battled the elements and finished. Being on the run course this late in the day was complete carnage.

Run stats: 154 average heart rate, 965 elevation gain; this was an incredibly high heart rate for me at such a slow speed.

Run time: 1:54 (8:42 min/mile), 41/115 AG, 404/2,159 OA

Despite my miserable run, I gained four spots in my age group.  It just shows how tough the conditions were on this day.

Final result: 5:08:40

So, what went wrong? I stayed up all night thinking about this race. I know I am capable of a sub 90 minute run.  Doing so would have put me close to the top 10 in my age group.

It’s the day after the race and I’ve come up with an extensive list.

1. Going too hard on the bike.   I averaged 210 watts on the bike.  It’s a power average which I’ve done in training.  One factor I didn’t take into account was the heat and how it affects heart rate.  Yes, I live in Phoenix and it’s been well into the 100s, but all my long rides started at 5-5:30am when it’s in the 80s.  My heart rate average was 155 bpm, which is a bit high compared to my half-iron paced training rides.  If I rode at 207 watts in the 80s, my heart rate would have been a few beats lower.  I made the mistake of only looking at power, and ignored how hard my heart was working.

2. I wore a black triathlon kit and a black helmet.  Although I looked like Darth Vader, my hero, it was freakin’ hot. I sprayed myself down with water at every water aid station.

3. My nutrition on the bike- I had a PowerBar gel every 30 minutes (five gels), water (drank 6 bottles), and half a banana.  It’s the same nutrition plan I followed for Florida and it worked fine.  With the increased heat, should I have ate and drank more?

4. Being exposed to the sun more than two hours before my race even began.

5. Because of my late start time, I had two breakfasts:  one at 4:15 a.m. (oatmeal, granola, strawberries, and blueberries) and another one at 6:15 a.m.  (orange and an almond butter and honey sandwich). I went through one bottle of water and three quarters of a Gatorade.

6. The 100 degree heat on the run course, with limited shade. I tried spongeboob iceballs, a strategy that worked for me in the past.  Unfortunately, the sun melted the ice balls and dried the spongeboobs very quickly.

Final thoughts:

Triathlon is all about finding the fine line of conserving enough energy on the swim and bike to run well.  I read Macca’s “I’m Here to Win” book before the race, and he reminded me that there always will be a point in the race where you’ll feel awful.  As I raced, I remembered this insight.  I tried battling through it on the run, but the “awful” feeling never went away.  This race deeply humbled me. I can’t even tell the the last time I ran this slow in a training run.  Going into the race, I knew that pacing was key.  Though, I may have crossed that very fine line of going too hard on the bike, which resulted in a complete meltdown on the run.

We live and learn.  This is what I find so intriguing about triathlon.  It’s great to have days like Florida 70.3, but I learned far more about myself at this race. I’ve realized that every race can’t be a success.  Though, I will do everything in my power (in my training and race execution strategy) to figure this out and become a stronger, faster, better triathlete.  I’ll be back.  At our next showdown, Vegas will be MY bitch.

Special thanks to Angi for all the pictures and being our sherpa for the weekend.  It made racing a lot less stressful!

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6 Comments on “Vegas 70.3 Worlds 2012 – Refusing to Fold”

  1. September 11, 2012 at 3:15 am #

    Brilliant recap, well done for not giving up! That’s a very nice looking medal!

  2. teri
    September 11, 2012 at 5:23 am #

    Elliot, what an accomplishment. Pushing through and overcoming the demons is not something for the meek. You are amazing. Thank you for sharing the dark moments that don’t always get captured. You are my hero.

  3. September 11, 2012 at 6:13 am #

    I only skimmed your long ass post, but did you really start the race at Lake Pleasant and then end it at a milk bar in Vegas?

  4. September 11, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    Love the report. You’ve made quite a journey and its super inspirational Elliot.

  5. September 11, 2012 at 11:22 am #

    Hey! Loved reading this, I had a lot of friends race and a few professional who have said that race was hard, and they really struggled, main thing was heat and cramping like you mentioned. Also heard quite a few people quitting, so well done for not giving up… I haven’t read Macca’s book yet but it’s on my list! Anyway hope you enjoyed your time there, I can’t wait to start doing triathlon again, miss it sooo much! Auds 🙂

  6. Jen
    September 12, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

    There’s actually other Asian triathletes besides me!!! 🙂

    Awesome report. You’re a total badass,

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