When signing up for Ironman 70.3 Silverman almost a year ago, I did not bother to look at the course. Oops! I didn’t realize what I was in for. When I finally did study the course, it was quickly clear why the Ironman 70.3 World Championships were held here several times. This was supposed to be a warm-up event for me as I prepare for Ironman Arizona (IMAZ). It was going to be an interesting weekend in southern Nevada.
As I got out for my practice ride on Friday at Lake Mead, I was welcomed by wind and climbs. This was supposed to be a low-stress practice event. Maybe the wind would settle down by Sunday.
No such luck. After a calm Saturday, the winds from Friday had returned with gusto on race day.
Lake Mead was anything but calm. Other than the wind, it was a beautiful morning. T1 set up was quick so we had time to take in the sunrise before the race start. Pretty nice.
The age-group “wave” start had me in the water 36 minutes after the Pro athletes went off at 7 AM. My starting group was the largest. What is it with us old guys doing these crazy events? The horn blew and we were off. The waves and wind were coming right-to-left as we went out. It was going to be a long 1.2 miles. I’m a left-side breather so the outbound was not horrible since I was breathing away from the oncoming swells. It did not make the waves crashing into me and the bobbing up and down any easier though.
I finally made it to the first turn and we got a little reprieve as we had the wind behind us. Then came turn two and the swim back to shore. Now the waves were hitting me on my breathing side. Every breath was a struggle not to get a mouth full of water. In addition, the sun was still low and I was looking directly into it on each breath. Ugh.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, I was at the shore and stumbling along the rocky exit from the water. Even though there was a padded run-up to T1, my tender feet were screaming at me with each step. The sharp rocks seemed to be piercing right through the mat. Just get to the bike, I thought.
After the race, my daughter Brittany (who was crewing for me for the weekend) overheard one of the female Pros saying that the swim was the toughest she had ever experienced. I agree.
The 56 mile bike portion of the race didn’t get any easier. Right away there was a climb out from the shore, and the going was pretty slow as I was trying to get my land legs moving. The next stretch wasn’t bad as we had the wind at our back. Going down one 8% grade descent, I topped out at almost 50 mph. Yikes! Then came the turn that led to the “memorable climbs” that the race website mentioned. Just what I needed: memorable climbs. The first bad sign was when I saw the Pro men returning from this out-and-back portion of the bike course. They were on one of the long inclines and slowly moving along like ants in single file. They are Pros, why are they moving so slow, I thought. I would soon find out.
There was nothing flat on this part of the course. You were either going up or down. Probably the biggest challenge for me was the crosswinds. On a couple of the downhills, I topped out at 40+ mph and the wind was tossing me around all over the road. This was just my second race using my Flo Cycling race wheels and the first time in real wind. The crosswind definitely grabs the deep-rim wheels. Just hang on tight, I told myself. I did pass one guy that had crashed on a descent. He was ok but certainly a little bloodied from the mishap.
When I finally got to the turn-around at around 30 miles, I was not feeling great. I took on some nutrition and braced myself for more wind and climbs. And then I realized that the trip out on this section of the course was a net elevation gain and I was now moving pretty well going back down. No wonder I was feeling bad at the turn-around. Lesson learned: studying the course before race day is always a good practice.
As I was riding through the Lake Mead National Recreation area, I took the opportunity to look around. The sights were amazing and I was definitely taking it all in. It made me remember that part of the reason I do these events goes beyond the race itself. It is also about new experiences. Those memories stay with me long after the race experience has faded.
Now we were heading for the town of Henderson. This last portion of the course was essentially all uphill. It seemed that the wind had gotten even stronger. I had made a bit of a recovery on one long slightly downhill section and I was feeling pretty good. Then came Gibson Road. Gibson should not have been special. But today it was. As I turned onto Gibson, I was heading directly into the wind. Ahead of me was a long uphill grade as far as I could see. Well crap! The only thing to do was put my head down and grind it out. On a couple of instances, I wish I would have been running because I know I could have been moving faster.
I finally reached the right turn that got me off of that hell road. Now just a few more miles to T2. Just to make it memorable, the last mile into the transition area was one last climb. I could see runners on the other side of the road coming down the hill I was climbing. Well, I have that to look forward to, I thought. I pulled into T2 trying to avoid looking at the race clock. Unfortunately, I caught a glimpse of it. Yep, I was going as slow as it felt. Just a practice race I kept telling myself. Now, let’s get this 13.1 mile run done and call it a day.
Happy to finally be off of the bike, I headed out onto the three-lap run course. The first mile was refreshing as it was mostly down hill. My legs felt good starting out but I knew that this run course would not be easy. As advertised it was up and down with not a lot of flats. The other factor was that the temperature was starting to go up. Throughout the morning there was cloud cover, which kept the bike portion relatively comfortable. Now the sun was out and it was getting hot. After all, we were still in the desert.
What I loved about this race was the volunteer support. Every aid station was full of all types of volunteers. From small children to teen groups to a group of elderly people; they were all cheering and enthusiastic. For those that are not familiar with Ironman events, the race numbers are printed with the athlete’s first name on it. So, often when you run by, the volunteers will shout encouragement like: “looking good, Michael, keep it up.” My favorite was a small girl that could not have been more than 7 or 8 years old that shouted “Go Michael” as I went by. Very cool.
Getting into mile 3 of the ~4.4 mile loop, we were faced with a long uphill grade that went directly into the wind. Knowing that we had to make that climb three times was a little demoralizing. However, I’ll take that run up the hill three times over the hell that was climbing Gibson Road once on the bike. After the uphill, we got to turn around and run back down the hill with the wind at our back. That was a nice way to finish the race after the third lap.
When you do one of these events, it is always nice to have friends or family there to support you. I was very happy to have Brittany there with me. She was awesome. It seems that every time I looked up she was there cheering me on along the run course. I couldn’t figure out how she was doing it. And then as I was looping around the finish area for my third lap, I could see her sprinting from the last place I saw her to her next vantage point. That was pretty special.
The one thing I chose not to do in this race was to worry about time, so I didn’t look at my watch or check pace during the run. I wish I had. In my Training Peaks workout plan, there are some run workouts that instruct you to run “embarrassingly slow” on certain training days. Well, based on my run split for this race, I think I achieved that unintended goal.
As I went through the finishing shoot, I was happy to have this one behind me. It was a tough day. Physically, I felt that I had something left in the tank, but I was mentally spent. I felt like I had been beaten up all day by the course and the elements. Keeping the negative thoughts out of my head was difficult as I progressed through the race.
Immediately after finishing, I was asking myself how I would ever be able to go twice that far. But after having a little time to reflect, I will trust my training and I should be ok physically. I think it is also critical to train your mental toughness as you prepare for an endurance event like a full distance Ironman. This Ironman 70.3 Silverman was definitely an event to help sharpen my mental toughness. One step closer to IMAZ.