This past weekend I headed out to Sin City to race the inaugural Rage half Iron with fellow Outlaws Mighty Mike, Sluggo, Ironmaiden and the Silver Bullet. We also hooked up with JT and Form and had a great time getting acquainted and reacquainted. The race was Saturday beginning at 6:10 and the weather was perfect…well, maybe except for the wind and the increasing temps.
The water temps were anywhere between 57 and 60 degrees, I heard the official temp was 57. The Outlaws and I had been worrying about water temps in the upper 50’s all week long but I thought is was pretty nice and didn’t have any trouble. Prior to the race, standing around in the water, I spent some time talking with JT and he seemed to be taking everything in stride which I thought was pretty good for a first half-iron. The gun went off and I dove in and started swimming. I have been working a lot on my stroke and am very happy with it at this point but I still had a lot of unpleasant memories from my last swim in Lake Mead at Silverman 07. Fortunately there really wasn’t any wind so the lake was pretty calm. I was swimming very well and very straight and had no issues at all with having to fight for position and the pack was pretty sparse. One thing I enjoyed is the ability to see other swimmers under water. Lake Mead is so clear you can even see fish swim by.
The Swim course was basically a long triangle and the direction of travel was clockwise. I don’t know why the race directors in the Vegas area are so enthusiastic about having swimmers sighting into the rising sun but it appears to be their greatest joy in life. I, on the other hand, hate swimming into the sun. As soon as we turned into the sun I started to loose sight of the buoys and started swimming in zig-zags. Memories of Silverman began to return and I started to get pissed but was able to keep things under wraps and did a little better at sighting. When we turned the final buoy for the home stretch I was still swimming a bit crooked but not too bad but someone else had a different opinion. I was swimming along minding my own business and when I took some extra time to sight because I had lost the buoy some guy yelled out “You swim crooked” and I said “I know” to which he relied “You suck!” so I retorted, “You are behind me.” Score. I drug myself out of the water in a time of 38 minutes, not spectacular but not too bad either.
Now for what may have been the most grueling part of the race, transition. The Rage easily had the longest non-Ironman transition area I have ever seen. Not only was it a long ass way from the lake to the beginning of the transition area but it was a long ass way through the transition area to the beginning of the bike. With transition added to my swim the Rage results has me at about 44 minutes.
Like all races at Lake Mead the bike begins with a bit of a gradual climb out of the lake basin and onto the main north-south road. For some reason there were people rolling all over the place at the bike mount line having trouble getting clipped in and getting going. I suspect that they had forgotten to put their bikes into the small ring. I was able to weave my way through the mob and only almost got run down once before I broke free. Once out on the main road I took a quick look at my heart rate and saw it was at 174, too high. I slowed it down to try and bring myself more into the 150 – 155 range. As I was slowing fellow Outlaw Sluggo blew past me like he was racing in the sprint and I was changing a flat. We had come out of the water at the same time and somehow I had gotten past him in transition but this would be the last time I would see him anywhere but on out and back sections.
The bike course is very challenging but also very scenic and the hills, though tough to climb and a blast to ride down. The hills on the course are not ones that you can scream down and then pop up over the other side, no, they are anywhere from a half-mile to three or four miles in length. Because of my size I kept my 12-27 cassette on the bike and spent a lot of time spinning in the smallest gears heading up hill at 10 to 12 mph. Fairly early in the ride the wind started picking up and between miles 10 and 40 it seemed we mostly had strong cross winds to content with but from about mile 40 to 54 it was nothing but headwinds at 25 to 30 mph with gusts to 40. My primary goal for the bike was to keep my HR in the low-150s and secondarily I wanted to break 3 hours on the bike, the headwind crushed any hope of making it in for a 3 hour bike but I did end up making it in 3:15 so if the wind would have been more cooperative I am confident I would have made it.
Once again into the appallingly long transition area and I was still feeling good but the temperatures were starting to heat up. I took my time in transition and took in some nutrition, checked my gear and headed out.
Now, it bears stating that before the race began I was carrying my bike and gear to transition and I gracefully tripped on a rock and landed hard on my left knee not only putting a good gouge in my knee but also scraping up my shin and also jabbing myself in the mid-thigh with my big chain ring. None of that seemed to bother me on the swim or bike but now that I was on the run the sweat and dust had plenty of time to roll into the wounds and it burned like hell. One other problem I seemed to be having was a radiating pain in my lower chest/upper gut area. I felt like it might be related to having taken in too much nutrition on the bike but I’m not all that sure that I actually did take in too much. In any case the pain was a limiting factor because I had to keep slowing down in order to bring it under control.
I was hoping for a two hour run but once out on the course I could see that was not going to happen. The biggest issue at hand was a climb about a mile and a half long beginning at about mile two. Not only was the climb long but much of it was in a sand filled wash that had its share of rocks and wash-outs. Once off this climbing area there was a long flat dirt road that wound along a cliff face and presented huge views of Lake Mead that were stunning. The road also took us through about a half-dozen tunnels that had been blasted through the basalt mountainside. When I first encountered the tunnels I kept my sun glasses on because the tunnels weren’t that long but I soon discovered that the darkness of the tunnel accentuated by the sun glasses made or a difficult run. Basically you could not see the ground and so I started to feel dizzy and disoriented so I snapped off the glasses and was better in no time.
The fact that this was a training race and that I had not tapered at all was really starting to weigh on me later in the run and I was quickly running out of steam and had to take frequent walk breaks which were also punctuated by breaks to dump sand and rocks out of my shoes. Despite the fact that I couldn’t keep the insides of my shoes debris free and the fact that my legs were smoked I was able to keep a positive attitude, which is something I have been working on this season. However I did start to become frustrated at the very end of the race when I was caught between being within sight of the finish line and being farther out than I felt like I wanted to run. The final stretch mush have been a half-mile or more of straight, flat, dusty, dirt road and it was fully exposed and hot. You could see the finish line way off in the distance and so I started running but the stupid thing just never seemed to get any closer and I really wanted to walk but I really did not want to be seen walking up to the finish line so I trudged on and on and on and on and then I was suddenly there at the end with a un time of about 2:35.
My total time with transitions was 6:38 and change, my slowest ever half-iron, more than an hour off my PR at Soma. However, I feel pretty good about the race. I feel like I kept with my strategy and that my nutrition was pretty good and that my training is right on target for IMCdA. With the remaining training and a good taper I believe I am on track for an IM PR this June. The post-race festivities with the Outlaws, JT, Form and friends and family were excellent and I am grateful to call such people friend. I can’t wait to have the opportunity to see them again. Of course JT and Form have an open invitation to come out to New Mexico for some racing and the Outlaws will do what we can to get them here.