I always feel more comfortable doing a practice run when I have a big event at work or a big race. I have been known to pace around a hotel room reciting a presentation prior to speaking to clients or presenting at a conference. So when I signed up for Ironman Arizona (IMAZ), I was happy to pay the extra money and also get entry into Ironman 70.3 Silverman, which would allow me some IMAZ travel preparation.
Traveling to Las Vegas would be the perfect “dry run” for traveling to Arizona a few weeks later. All of my previous triathlon races have been local, so I have never had to ship a bike or pack all my gear for an out-of-town event. I don’t want anything to go wrong at IMAZ so practicing travel seemed like a good idea. And besides, it’s a long weekend in Vegas.
Step 1: Shipping the Bike
I did a little research on methods for getting my bike to the race location. Options included a turn-key solution like Tribike Transport, have the local bike shop do the shipping for me, or a do-it-yourself approach. After looking at costs for each type of service, I opted for do-it-yourself (remember from earlier posts-I’m cheap!). The main criterion for me for doing it myself is that I had to minimize the amount of dis-assembling of my bike since my bike mechanic skills are novice at best.
My internet searching led me to shipbikes.com. The site provides discounted shipping and they also sell bike shipping boxes. I decided to purchase the AirCaddy shipping container. This particular box is triangular in shape and minimizes bike break down. Much like those toys you buy for your kids, there was “some assembly required” for the box. I spent a fair amount of time figuring it out, but I will say that the instructions were pretty good. Getting the bike into the box required me to remove the saddle and post, remove the front wheel, and loosening the handle bars. I did have to remove the aero bars because there was not enough “slack” in the cables to allow me to turn the bars down enough to fit. The bike and components fit nicely into the AirCaddy and everything seemed very secure.
The next part was the actual shipping. The shipbikes website allowed me to enter all the shipping information, pay for the shipping, and print a shipping label. The packed box was actually very easy to handle. I was able to put it right into the back of our Honda CRV and drive it to the shipping pick-up location (you can arrange for home pick-up as well). From there it was out of my hands and into the machine that is FedEx Ground shipping.
This is where my concerns started creeping in. My bike is my prized possession, to the point that the Crew Chief refers to it as “the girlfriend.” I was worried about the girlfriend. From day one of shipping I was constantly tracking progress on the FedEx website. Each night I reported the whereabouts of the girlfriend to the Crew Chief. At which point she began singing the theme song from the old children’s show “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.” And thus the girlfriend, who never had a real name, was christened “Carmen.” I’m happy to report that Carmen was safely delivered to my hotel in Henderson, NV.
Step 2: Onsite Preparation
I arrived in Las Vegas on Friday for my Sunday race. I got to the hotel early in the day and I was able to retrieve the AirCaddy and Carmen. I sat out in the hotel parking lot re-assembling the bike with no major difficulties. My plan was to head out to Lake Mead, the swim and T1 site, and do a short ride to check out the terrain and loosen up my legs. I had not been there before and the sites were incredible. I’m a lover of the desert southwest, and I was not disappointed. There were more than a few hills on the part of the course that I rode giving me a glimpse of what to expect on race day.
Next, I went into Henderson and got checked in at the Athlete Village. After the athlete briefing, I perused the Ironman store and went on my way. I drove a bit of the run course and, yes, I found more hills. Sunday would be a fun day. Just a practice run, I kept telling myself. The day ended with me picking up my daughter, Brittany, at the airport. She flew in to crew for me for the weekend.
Saturday came with a few more logistics. First, back to the Athlete Village where T2 and the finish were located. I dropped off my run gear bag at T2, which I had carefully packed the night before. The bike in, run out was simple enough, and I took a mental picture of my T2 location. Next, we took the 30 minute drive out to Lake Mead to drop Carmen and my bike gear off at T1. Easy enough. I was all set and we still had most of the day left.
Since I was considering this a practice race, I did not take any special precautions to “rest.” We were in southern Nevada, so it made sense to do some site seeing. First stop was Hoover Dam. If you haven’t been there while visiting Vegas, it is definitely worth the short drive. Pretty spectacular. After a short break back at the hotel, we ventured down to the Las Vegas Strip. Brittany had never been, and I felt it was a must-see for her. There was lots of walking and people-watching. Interesting place. The day ended with a good meal and early bed time. It would be a big day on Sunday.
Step 3: Race Day and Pack Up
I was very happy to have Brittany along with me. With her taking me to the race start, I avoided getting up extra early to go to T2 to catch a shuttle bus out to the lake. Transition set up was quick and easy. We had plenty of time to relax and watch the sunrise over the mountains. There is something special about a desert sunrise.
My full race report is here. I’ll just say that this race turned out to be much tougher than I ever anticipated. Although it was a tough race, afterward I felt reasonably well. Which is good because there was a new set of logistics with getting everything mobilized for the trip back to Austin.
My flight was not until Monday morning so there was plenty of time to get everything done. The biggest task was getting the bike broken down and secured back into the AirCaddy. This second go-round of packing went much faster. I actually remembered packing tape so I didn’t have to make a last minute run to the Office Depot. I had the bike packed in about 20 min. Again, I used shipbikes.com to manage the shipping. Using the hotel business center computer, I was able to purchase and print out a shipping label. Carmen was packed and ready. The funniest part of the bike packing was loading the AirCaddy onto one of those hotel luggage carts and rolling it to the lobby. I felt like I was navigating a barge through a narrow winding river. I only got a few funny looks from the other guests. Apparently, I was the only triathlete staying in the hotel that chose this method of bike transport.
Step 4: Getting Home
Getting home should have been the easiest part. That is if you have made the correct flight reservation. Which I didn’t. I figured it out when I was trying to check in online for my Southwest flight and it wasn’t letting me. Hmm? I went back to my reservation and realized I had booked my flight for TUESDAY, not Monday. Damn! Using my wily skills as a frequent flyer, I was quickly able to get booked on a Monday flight. Unfortunately, at the expense of losing my direct flight back to Austin and a few more frequent flyer points. Oh well, so much for booking my flight six weeks in advance to save points.
Aside from tough conditions on race day and the one hiccup of booking the wrong flight, I would say my practice run for IMAZ was a success. The event was fun but looking back on the weekend the best part was getting to spend some quality time with my daughter.
Next stop, Tempe, Arizona.