May 4, sometime before 10am
We are somewhere around mile 30 on the bike and the boys up front are setting a startling pace. Until that moment I had been in 2nd/3rd place the whole race. The timing of the attack put me in the hurt box. Having just closed a couple of gaps in the last 10 miles this one is asking too much of my legs. The surge also happens while leading into an aid station, most of the riders skip it, I don’t risk missing out on some fluids and this puts me further off the pace. Although I’m riding strong and feeling good, the attack Jesse Thomas initiated heading into Nasty Grade has all but Leon Griffin and Joe Gambles on the edge. Those three would ride and run their way to the top 3 spots. For every rider save those three it becomes damage control. I chase hard seeing sweat pour out of my helmet onto my bike before hitting the pavement and evaporating in the searing heat. Riding as hard as I dare with the temperature climbing and a lot of racing left to do, the three up front pull away and now, I’m just off the back of another group of 3 chasing them. Gut check time.
I start climbing Nasty Grade and stand up the whole way bringing the group back but not enough to make contact. Matt Lieto is with me at this time and I say to him, “We should get extra credit for being the only 2 guys that once weighed over 200lbs” to lighten the mood as we put massive power to eke out movement in the cranks. We keep each other honest the rest of the ride but lose a few minutes on the studs up front. I start the run with great form and high hopes. The sun is beating down rays on me.
Thirty+ pros stand inches from Lake San Antonio, when the horn sounds and we hurl our bodies at the water. Lining up with no one on my left helps get me free and clear of the fracas. I’m also putting countless hours of fitness and finesse into each stroke with an effort that is relaxed and powerful. The first two minutes of the race turn into a microcosm of the rest of the swim where a gap of a few seconds can turn into minutes. I find myself just off the back of Clayton Fettel and John Dahlz. Knowing that having a non-wetsuit swim will make this swim slower and harder, essentially giving it a touch of weight for the overall results, allows me to dig in.
I come into T1 in 3rd position having swum solo the whole way with 50 seconds to the leaders. I rip T1 and climb hard out of the lake trying to make contact with them. It took some stronger than I wanted efforts to real in John around mile 10. I rode strong, enjoying the simple fact of riding in second place. Looking back around mile 18 I notice the entourage of racers and motorcycles. By mile 20 we are engulfed and I stop counting at 10 riders. In hindsight it would have been smart to linger near the back but I proudly stayed in the 2nd and 3rd position enjoying seemingly endless energy!? There were a few light hearted attacks and a couple strong ones and I found myself closing gaps. Doing the riders behind me huge favors.
High noon, 4 hours into the race.
I pass miles 9, 10 and 11 holding onto a battle for 9th place with Karl Bodine (fastest bike split on the day). The run feels OK, but I’m kidding myself. Turns out I’m in a losing battle against a rising sun. I knew coming into the race that my run fitness was better than ever and was hoping to better my last run at Wildflower (1:21:xx). Based on feel for those first 9 miles I would have guessed I was on pace to do just that. Coming out of The Pit (Wildflower’s version of the Energy Lab at Kona), climbing out of that hole on black pavement with little wind, cooked me. It happened quickly, at mile 12 someone put a fork in me…I was over-cooked, done. My mind sent encouraging messages to battle through, but the body just could not and would not respond. A few more minutes and I would not have been able to finish. It was tough to go from 9th to 12th in the last mile and find out later that I ran 9 minutes slower than my last run split.
Coming across the finish line my body feels drained, wilted, limp and weak. The sun’s rays feel like a poison draining the life out of my cells. I linger in the heat slowly processing a way to make things better. I’m dizzy and feel like disgorging the contents of my stomach. I’m also ravenous for food stumbling around like a wild animal that comes across a smorgasbord of meat; I grab two items out of some ice buckets that look like ice cream. I hope they are ice cream. They aren’t. I open up my mouth and shove them in anyway. Now, I have a stomach ache and all these sensations intensify. My body is pissed off at me. My mind and body get in an argument over the ordeal we just went through like an old married couple hashing out each other’s faults. I start looking for some shade and find a tent. A nurse in the tent asks if I need help, I shake my head but she helps me anyway. A few minutes later I’m getting the first of 3 IV’s. Finally, nearing the completion of the 3rd bag I stand up on my own feet and pee in a cup right there in the Med Tent for the first time since warming up in the swim.
It took those 7 pounds of IV’s to bring my body back to a state where I could function. It’s impressive to me because I took strong precautions to battle the heat and drank so much; 12 bottles on the bike (my initial 3 and then 1 or 2 at every aid station) a bottle in T2 (albeit, warm) and then, 1 to 4 drinks at each of the 13 aid stations on the run. None of that hydration reached my bladder and I’m sure my blood plasma levels were super low; a big detriment making my heart work harder than I’m already asking it to while making it next to impossible for my body to cool itself. Thankfully, I finished.
Unfortunately, I’ve needed IV’s before, but it’s been a couple years since I’ve done that to my body. Just when you think you have things figured out; a challenging situation forces you to dive deeper. After lots of contemplation and talking with several people I think there are some valuable take home lessons.
Number 1 acclimating to the heat. I haven’t been in 90 degree let alone 80 degree heat for over 6 months. The best option would be training some place nice and warm (Hawaii, the Caribbean, South of France, Costa Rica) but with a full time job and a family I’ll have to keep dreaming about those options. I can, however, do a few things like sit in the sauna and train indoors with the heat turned up. Right on queue Idaho has turned up the heat having just gone through a few days of 90+ heat.
Number 2 taking further options to stay cool in the race, an icy cold beverage in T2 would have been huge. Possibly having a cold soaked cotton t-shirt would have helped. I usually wear my CEP arm coolers under my wetsuit, but with no wetsuit swim I opted to not mess with putting them on during the first few miles of the bike; I should have.
Number 3 slowing down. Not happening anytime soon, Ha! Seriously, pacing has to be adjusted, and I did that several times near the end of the bike and throughout the whole run. Slowing down when you are racing other pros is very hard to do. However, my early solo efforts in the swim and the bike, with the power of hindsight, would have been the best place to ease off the pedal. But you try to slow down when you are riding in 2nd place at Wildflower…easier said than done. Case in point; the swimmers setting a strong pace early all melted by the end of the race.
The race and the weekend were a valuable, memorable, and overall joyful experience. It’s a tantalizing place, Wildflower…next year I’d like to bring the whole family; I missed them dearly.
It’s worth noting that we had 5 Pros from Idaho racing! We’ll just let you triathletes in on a little known secret…Idaho has home grown hot potatoes.
Enjoy the journey!