Adventure in the Desert - Ironman St. George, Utah 5th May 2012

Travel down and preparation

Myself, my wife Ana and my son Jamie travelled down to Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon, around a 4 hour flight from Chicago. By the time we picked up the luggage, a rental car, and drove 2 hours through the desert it was about 9pm when we arrived at the Green Gate B&B in St. George. Interestingly we drove through 3 states, Nevada, Arizona and into Utah to get to St. George, we also moved back from Pacific to Mountain time. We ended up in a nice small cottage of our own in the B&B ‘complex’ - clean, a comfortable bed, close to the finish line, and welcoming owners – perfect.

Friday morning we had a hearty breakfast with a few other athletes, some of whom had been there since very early in the week, and headed down to get registered before the final 11am cut off. I also picked up my bike which had been transported down to St. George by Tri Bike Transport which makes things so much more convenient.

The swim is in a reservoir called Sand Hollow Reservoir just over 20 miles out of town. The bike course goes back into town and does 2 circa 40 mile loops before heading into the town for the run. The run is 3 loops on the streets in the town center so very good for spectators.

Once all registered and I had checked out my bike setup we headed out to the lake to put my kit into transition and have a quick swim. One of my concerns going into the race was that the water has been very cold during previous years. However, soon after I jumped in I felt great – much warmer than early season training in Lake Michigan!

Once checked in we headed out to have a look a quick look Zion National Park – wonderful scenery - Ana took some photos and we agreed we need to return for a longer stay next year. We then went back into town to a prehistoric dig site where a number of original dinosaur fossils were on display. We also met my cousin who drove up with her kids from Las Vegas to meet us for a few hours. We shared some great frozen yoghurt, watched the kids running race in town, cooled our feet in the fountains in the town center and played with the kids. Very relaxing!

To finish a busy day we found a supermarket for the pre-race breakfast supplies the next morning and bought a pizza for dinner. And so to bed at 9pm…..we were all exhausted and it was only day one!

Race morning

Up at 4am…followed by breakfast of bagel & cream cheese, banana, some granola, and the mandatory two mugs of coffee. Adequately full, I left the room, handed in my special needs bags, and got on a bus to the lake. The B&B was right across the road from the bus pick up so zero stress or concern here. Little note on my special needs bag, given what happened to me last September in Madison the bike special needs bag was full of spare inner tubes and gas just in case!

Swim

The swim course is one loop of 2.4 miles starting opposite a small island in the lake and then out and back where the back involves going past the other side of the island and in to the finish - the corners being at roughly 800m, 1400m, and 3200m.

Felt good at the start, found a place on the right and started a good paced swim with very little kicking and fighting which is unusual. I was really hoping to get a PB on the swim – this is where a lot of my winter training had gone! This confidence carried on up until the first corner, but when we turned we had large waves going across our path. The wind had suddenly got up and was causing large waves to kick up – plenty of white water. I kept calm, put the idea of a PB out of my head, and kept my stroke consistent breathing to the right to avoid the swell.

After 1400m we started to head into the wind and the swimming got a lot harder! Every few strokes I was either slapped in the head or got a mouthful of water. However, I still kept calm and got on with my swimming just making slower progress!

After a good period I was getting very close to the island – roughly I guess about 800m to go and I heard a lot of shouting around me. I stopped swimming and had a look around. There were a lot less people in the pack I was in and I could see some boats way behind me with many competitors hanging on. Also there were boats to my left with athletes being transported to shore. This was obviously worrying to me…had the swim been cancelled and I had not heard? Also I could not see the buoys that were there before we started – they almost all had disappeared. All I could see ahead was one orange buoy but not the red one where we were supposed to turn to go into the swim finish. Finally, and most concerning there were no kayaks or canoes around as support. It suddenly occurred to me that if I had a cramp or something go wrong there was no one around to come and help. They would find it difficult enough to find me in what must have been up to 10 foot waves.

I carried on swimming but after a few more minutes where my calmness was beginning to be replaced with genuine concern for my safety a motor boat bouncing in the water came nearby. The guy driving the boat asked if I was ok – I said yes but that the swim was crazy. He said that many had been pulled out and that it may make sense for me to get out also. So at that moment I had to make a call….should I stay the boat may not come back? With no support in sight, no bouys marking out the course, and so many being pulled out, and with his advice it seemed unwise to continue. I did not feel tired at all and felt confident that I would finish despite the conditions but the risk/reward at that moment seemed to be in the wrong balance. So I decided to get on ….

We then went on and spent quite a lot of time collecting more athletes some of which were injured or shivering badly…one guy in particular looked bad. We then headed to the swim finish…


When I got off the boat, grateful to be on firm ground, I started to walk off the marina and I noticed that a few athletes were finishing the swim. I assumed that they were finishing but that the swim time would be discounted and a duathlon would then be the order of the day. Just then an official walked up to me and ripped off my timing chip…he told me to go to his colleague behind him and talk to him about a duathlon.

I walked on looking for his colleague but there was no one about…several officials were, quite rightly, looking after the injured person on the boat I had just dismounted. So I thought ‘what the hell’ keep going and I will work it out at the finish! So I ran through to transition got my bike gear and ran out to start the bike. The race clock just ticked to 2 hours and I was on my way.

Here is a link to an article in the local newspaper about the swim…this should give you some context to what we had to deal with http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/sports/54055727-77/race-didn-george-athletes.html.csp

Bike

So I immediately put the experience of the swim behind me confident that I had made the right decision at that moment and got on with second part of my day. I immediately felt the wind on the bike that we had been swimming through. I hoped that this would not continue for the whole 112 mile route – that optimism was drained away over the following few hours!

After about 3-4 miles I met a guy who told me about his swim experience…he had got to the island, had a rest and then joined up with a few other athletes and swam directly in from there without going round and following the race route. This confirmed to me that I had made the right choice but he had not had his race chip taken from him!

I had looked at only the 20 mile route into town as part of the pre-race prep so it went without any event of note except the continual wind. Thereafter I only knew that there were basically 25 odd miles of climbing followed by 15 miles of downhill back on the two loops. I also had heard from fellow athletes that there were two steep climbs on the loop – one called The Wall.

I had spent a lot of time preparing my bike and checking and re-checking everything that I was quietly confident that I was not going to have the disaster of Madison where my bike basically collapsed on me (another long story) and caused me to DNF in September last year. In fact this race was really meant to be redemption for what happened that day!

Anyway back to the bike, we were cycling uphill and into a strong wind. Furthermore the course was not just a gentle climb up 25 miles, it was constantly rolling! So the wind plus the 2 steep hills just continued to sap strength from the legs…very hard work. Then at about 25 miles into the loop we finally turned a switch back up another steep hill for about a mile but this time the wind was behind us! A few more rolling miles after that and suddenly we started to plunge downwards…..smooth roads and steep downhill I noticed several times that I got to 50 miles an hour on this section – what a relief! With strong side winds it took all my skill to not get blown off the bike – I heard later that one of the pros with a disc wheel did indeed get blown off the road.

And so to the second loop – I was at about 70 miles in at this stage so I knew that I needed to get 25 more uphill miles done and then I would have a fast downhill again to the finish. Every one of these 25 miles were painful and tiring. My only relief was seeing Ana and Jamie who had made the effort to get a bus out to the one point on the route that spectators could get to. They had waited so long for me but they really cheered me and made me even more determined to get the job done.

Finally after leaving part of myself on those steep hills, especially the one at 90 odd miles I finally got downhill relief and made it into transition for the run. My timer showed just over 7hours 30mins for the bike just under 14.5miles per hour for the 112 miles.

Run

And so the last part of the day…the marathon. My basic aim here was to try to 10 minute miles for as long as I could and measure where I was at this point in the tri season. I took a walk break at each rest station to take on water and ice to keep my temperature down. I was bit overheated after the bike so I really worked on this for the first few miles of the run. Ice down the shirt, in the cap, cold sponges etc etc..after 2-3 miles I started to feel good and was hitting 10 minute miles easily.

However, after I had done 12 miles the wheels started to come off…I knew this was going to happen I just didn’t know when! Despite Ana and Jamie’s constant and unbelievable support I could not keep the pace going and I gradually got worse and worse as the miles went by. The rest of the run was a combination of run/walk until the end - the last 5 miles being more walk than run.

Finally after 14 hours 40 minutes and 30 seconds I crossed the line and finished my fourth Ironman!

Post Race

I was expecting that because I had no timing chip that the organizers would not give me a medal but to their credit I got the finishers hat, shirt and medal – I was very pleased. I then walked through, grabbed some pizza and finally rested – I couldn’t eat the pizza so I gave it to my hungry family!

After some time talking about what had happened we handed my bike back to Tri Bike Transport, grabbed my gear, got a bad case of the shivers in the shower, and collapsed into bed. Apart from terrible sun burn on my calves I felt very tired but basically fine. My body was so ‘cooked’ however I could not sleep – I heard the final athlete go over the line and the fireworks go off and I drifted off to sleep happy with what I had achieved in a long and very rough day.

Another report from the local paper sums it up for me… http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/sports/54054992-77/ironman-com-hoffman-livestream.html.csp