Ironman 70.3 World Championships

The only way to get into the World Ironman 70.3 Championships is to qualify at another Ironman 70.3 race. Winning your age group qualifies you automatically and each race has a few extra spots which go to the top finishers in the age groups with the most competitors in them. I qualified twice, once at Ironman 70.3 Syracuse in September of 2011 by placing second in my age group and again at Ironman 70.3 Mont Tremblant in June of 2012 where I also placed second in my age group. The race was held in Clearwater, FL up until 2011 when it was moved to Las Vegas. Why WTC has to hold all of their championship races in extreme heat is a total mystery to those of us who live in northern climates!
I was feeling relatively positive about the race and even coming from the great white north I had a pretty good understanding about what I was dealing with heat wise having competed at the World Ironman Championships in Kona in 2009.
We flew out a week early and spent some time in Bryce and Zion hiking with the kids it was hot but not unbearable. We went back to Las Vegas on the Thursday before the race and stopped by athlete check in at 3pm. It was over 100F. I picked up my bike from Mcghie’s bike and board who kindly stored the bike and box and put it together, the bike computer said it was 51C. Standing outside was like riding your bike behind a city bus, the air was hot!
On Friday I rode from the hotel to T2 and around the run course, it was still 48C and the run course was 3.5 k uphill, then 3.5k downhill repeated three times. My pre-race prep should have included time running uphill in a sauna! When I came out of the prerace meeting at 8:30pm it was still over 100F. No wetsuits needed: the water temperature was 82F. We also learned that the local endangered turtles had right of way on the bike course!
On Saturday I did the practice swim. Lake Las Vegas is a private lake so we were only allowed in on Saturday morning from 6:30am to 8:30am, we could only swim out 150m and we had to have our chips on. I left the hotel a little late and they would not let anyone park in the close parking lot so I got a 2k run in as well as I sprinted to the swim to make it in time in my sandals. I got in just before the cut off and my goggles snapped and sunk to the bottom of Lake Las Vegas. The water is so murky you cannot see your hands in the water so there was no hope of retrieval. After the swim I set off to drive the bike course. After going 7 miles in the wrong direction. I went out to the real bike course and confirmed that it went 25 miles straight out into the desert and it is really hot in the middle of the desert. It was the kind of place where I would not go in a car without a cell phone and a full tank of gas let alone ride a bike!
It was at this point that I changed the plan from being fast to surviving the heat.
Race morning I was the most popular women in my section of the T-zone because I was the only one who had a pump (if only the rest of life was that simple). It was a wave start and we were the first wave after the pros, good because we got a 30 minute start on the heat but bad because we were going to get passed all day. The swim start is an in water start I started near the front. I had a pretty pain free swim, no kicking or punching but no feet to hang on to either.
My T1 time was slow because I took extra time to put on socks and arm coolers. A wise woman by the name of Leslie gave me the best advice ever about racing when it’s really hot, keep your core temperature down above all else.
The bike starts uphill which is rather nasty. We rode out of the resort and into the desert. As expected the young 30 something guys from the wave behind started passing me like I was standing still. The first 25 miles was definitely more up than down. Not much wind but it was hot. I did not see much drafting going on and they seemed to be enforcing drafting rules pretty aggressively. I drank more than I have ever done on the bike and picked up all the water I could at the aid statins so I could drench myself with it The water was chilled which was great but I quickly discovered that it only took 2 or 3 miles to warm up and at that point it was a bit like pouring warm tap water all over yourself but it was still better than nothing. The turn-around on the bike is a little before 25 miles and it was definitely better coming back than going out. I checked my time at the halfway point and was disappointed to see that I was a little under 30kph. Not what I planned but I was thinking maybe the second half will be faster. By 60k I was really needing the cold water at the aid stations, two full bottles of water was not enough to keep me wet. I also discovered that I always use my right hand to pull water bottles off my bike and as a result I find it very difficult to pour water on my right arm. (You think about these things when you are alone in the desert). The last 20k of the bike course bring you out of the desert and back into Henderson. The roads get wider and the cactus are replaced by casinos. As we got closer to the end the officials were carding people in front of me for drafting, it may have been but I have seen a whole lot worse!
T2 was fast and uneventful.
The run course is three loops of a figure 8 course. I heard it described as a course that will keep you honest before the race. It is effectively 3.5k uphill and then 3.5 k downhill. It’s like doing really long hill repeats with the added bonus of an extra hill as you go through the T-zone area so everyone can see you suffer. I tried to keep moving on the uphills and to take advantage of the downhills. There were aid stations every mile but they did not have ice. They were using ice to cool the drinks but the volunteers were told not to give the ice to runners.
The first loop was hot and painful but I was doing OK. Loop two was hot and really painful, l I was managing. By loop three there were people walking everywhere. The three loop course makes it very spectator friendly and it was nice to have Harold and the kids out cheering with a big Canadian flag. I was passing women who looked my age but by now the numbers had worn off everyone and I was not sure who was in my age group. By the last loop I felt like there was a piano on my back and the one aid station where I went through getting less water than I wanted left me with that big time overheated energy lab kind of feeling but I made it up the hill without stopping and pushed with what I had left on the downhill finish.
I must have looked a bit iffy at the finish because the catchers were really holding me up and they were pretty demanding about getting someone to take my chip off NOW. I recovered and resisted joining the very long line of people looking to get into the medical tent.
With a finish time of 5:37 I was sure I was going home with a well-deserved finisher’s medal. Harold checked the results while I was “resting” in the shade and my son blurted out that I had placed 3rd in my age group. I honestly thought it was a mistake at first but five hours later I was on stage so I guess it really happened.
The bottom line: hotter but dryer than Kona, a great course for spectators to watch the run if they don’t get heat stroke but you are really out there alone on the bike course! It would be really hard to do his race without renting a car. If you ride 90k in the heat and then leave your bike shoes in a plastic bag in the 100 degree sun for an a few hours they really stink! And I will never fly with a bike on United again!
A few thank yous: To my husband Harold for his amazing support and to my kids for coming along and being out there in the heat. To my coach JR Tremblay for yet another year of putting up with me. To Bushtukah, Bob and Dave, and Adrian and Geoff in the tech shop for their help and support! To Westboro Chiropractic for keeping me healthy and to everyone at K2J Fitness and Nepean Masters.

Published by judyapiel

Runner, triathlete and coach. Owner of RunK2J, Community Events at Bushtukah. Always looking for a new travel adventure.

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