St. Croix 70.3 Race Report I don’t even know where to start. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many things to say about one race before so I’m going to skip the pre-race jibber jabber to cut down on length. The only things you need to know about pre-race are that Dave and I are here with one of my athletes, Brian (who picked St. Croix for his first half iron distance race), and his girlfriend and that this race had, hands-down, THE BEST goodie bags ever. See photo for evidence – what’s in our hands was in the swag bag:
Oh, and something else important to mention is the weather the night before the race: the weather. As we were chilling out watching the Kentucky Derby, there were massive storms – torrential downpours, lightning and a lot of wind. Our power went out just as Orb won and we sat in darkness for several hours.
Race morning was uneventful. Rack spots were first come first served, so, of course, I was the first one there before 5:00 am when transition opened, and claimed spot number one — sometimes it pays to be an anal retentive early bird. I enjoyed the vibe in transition – way different than the usual “cold” attitudes that are generally served up. Though 99% of people doing this race are competitive, as most athletes who come here to race are coming to claim a Kona spot, there wasn’t that icy cold “I’m going to kick your butt” vibe going on – I think being in paradise takes that out of you. I was talking a lot with the woman next to me, who was from France and spoke a bit of English. She was a doctor and, like me, said she had done all of her training indoors over the winter because of weather and lack of time. She looked at my Joule and asked what kind of power I was planning on throwing down. I told her and asked “you?” After she answered me I looked at her and said “Good luck at Kona!” She laughed…I laughed. I was right – she won our age group.
My blood sugar was perfect – holding steady at 140 and not moving. I was thrilled because this race starts on an island around 200 yards away that you have to swim to at 6:00. My wave didn’t start until 6:50 am so I wouldn’t have any way of bringing my blood glucose meter with me (not water proof). Brian and I swam over and waited with everyone else for our waves to start. Being without a glucose meter before a race is not easy for a diabetic. While I knew my sugar was ok, there was always that “but what it if dropped in the last 50 minutes? What if it went high because I’m nervous?” If I am not above 160 before a swim of this distance (assuming adrenaline doesn’t kick in and force my sugar to go high, which often happens to me), my sugar will most definitely go low…and very bad things could happen. In the end, I decided to drink about 4 ounces of Power Aid right before my start to be safe.
The start of the swim was a beach start. About 30 of us lined up while the race director explained the course to us. To date, this was the most bizarre start I’ve ever experienced. We are all looking at the race director, listening intently, with our back to the water when in mid-sentence he yells “Go!” and blows the horn. It surprised all of us and we all were like “Huh?” turned around and ran into the water. I was planning on doing my dolphin in but it didn’t happen. I completely missed the front group and things quickly broke apart. I didn’t have feet for the entire swim – I was all by myself. You often hear a lot about the swim in this race – how pretty it is, that you can see fish and all that cool stuff. The storms the night before had dumped a lot of run-off into the water so the water wasn’t very clear. All I saw was stuff – twigs, branches, etc. Oh—and the underwater divers who were there at the buoys for our safety –they scared the crap out of me! It’s weird to be swimming along and see people under there! And before the first buoy my armpit was killing me – I could tell something was going on with either my tri suit or my speed suit and there was some major chaffing happening. It wasn’t pleasant and bothered me the whole way. Nevertheless, it was still cool to be swimming in the ocean. Despite being my first non-wetsuit legal swim of this distance, I felt better on the swim than I ever have. I swam a little bit off course after turning the last buoy because it was really difficult to see with the sun in my eyes (I was sighting off a building because I couldn’t see the buoys). I forgot how LONG the swim seems in a 70.3. That building kept getting closer and closer but I felt like I was never going to get there and the more I swam the more my mouth felt like I had eaten a whole bag of potato chips earlier in the day. Man, that water was salty! But eventually I got there and exited a little under 40 minutes – a tiny bit faster than Jorge had predicted.
T1 was pretty bad. My lack of practice over the winter definitely showed. I fumbled around with stuff and couldn’t get my speedsuit unzipped (first time wearing it). But eventually I got out of there and onto my bike. And that was where things got “interesting….”
We were warned before the race that the bike course was in rough shape from the storms the night before but I had no idea what we were in for. You might think I’m joking when I say this but I was very, very glad I had raced cross this season because my skills came in very handy. The first 20 miles of this course are known as the only “easy” part on the entire course – it would be the opposite on race day. Patches of gravel, mud, standing water covering the entire length of the road was standard. You’d be cooking along at 20+ miles an hour and WHAM! Gravel.
And none of it was marked…you’d just come up on it. There was nothing you could do to be “safe” in this race but be conservative, and play it safe. Those who didn’t paid the price. I have never in my life seen so many flats and accidents in one race. You’d ride through a bad patch and 100 yards up there would be three or four people next to the road with a flat. It was impossible to gain any speed and we all quickly realized that the day would be about survival of the smartest. It was very hard to maintain my wattages when having to brake, sometimes almost coming to a dead stop, almost every ½ mile. This also played with my mind a bit – this was supposed to be the “easy” part of the course and I was barely cracking an average of 18 mph at this point. I knew the infamous “Beast” was coming and the race directors words from the night before “The race doesn’t start until the top of the Beast because what comes after that is very hard – wind sun and constant hills” kept echoing in my head. I kept thinking “this is going to be a record setting slow bike time for me.” But I kept squashing those thoughts and telling myself we were all in the same boat, though I really had no idea where I stood in my age group at this point. There was no body marking and all the female waves started 2 minutes apart. Our numbers had all fallen off our bikes early in the race as they were cardboard and we were all covered in much mud and wetness, so if I passed someone, I had no idea what age group they were in.
As I approached “The Beast”, a 7/10 mile climb with an average grade of 15% (and max grade of 26%) that gets all the attention in this race, I found myself actually looking forward to it – very weird. I’ve done so much climbing this year that I knew I was ready to tackle it and I had been very conservative the first 20 miles because I had no choice so my legs felt ready. It was actually pretty funny as we got closer to the 20 mile mark where it starts because the group of about five people who were around me completely changed the way they were riding. Everyone seemed to get out of aero position, suck down a bunch of nutrition and easy pedal for about a mile. In my mind I was all like “It’s less than a mile to the top of that thing – why do you need a Gu for a 5 minute climb?” But I digress. We turned the corner and were greeted with a “wall.” I wasn’t really geared well for it with a standard crank and a 12/27 but I wasn’t struggling. I just stuck it in the easiest gear and pedaled as easily as I could to get up it. I passed about 50 people riding and another 20ish walking. The grade are marked in chalk on the pavement as you ascend – first 9%, then 15%, then 21%, then 26%….I was fully expecting to get out of the saddle at the 26% grade part but I was surprised that I was able to stay seated and get up the thing. Before I knew it I was at the top, grabbing water from the fabulous volunteers (seriously, this race has THE BEST volunteers ever…they really made the race bearable), and starting the descent, which was treacherous, at best. Descending was so scary in this race. I would imagine on a normal day it isn’t easy but on a day like that day, when you weren’t sure if gravel or mud was going to pop up out of the blue, it was very difficult on the mind to stay in aero and trust that you weren’t going to die at some point. I tried but found myself getting out of aero often.
Around mile 35 I had a close encounter with a dog who ran out in the middle of the road right in front of me – I was very happy Scott had replaced my front brake the prior week because it came in handy! It did make me laugh a bit because after I avoided the silly little guy, who seemed to just be excited to have a bunch of triathletes to play with, he ran next to me like he was having the time of his life as I tried to get away from him. I couldn’t help but wonder what else was in store for me: gravel, feet of water, mud, “the beast” and dogs – this was HARDER than a cross race!
The race director was right – the race really does start after the Beast. I say that because it was very obvious that those who had cooked themselves leading up the thing were paying for it. I passed so many people the 30 miles, a lot of whom were sitting up, stretching their backs, etc. I, on the other hand, felt better than I ever have on a 70.3 bike course. There were a lot of rollers and a few larger climbs that I wasn’t expecting (big enough to have a gradient marked on it with chalk) and it was starting to get really hot at that point, heavy sun and a feels-like temp in the mid 90’s. Towards the last 5 miles I started feeling a bit “off” – my tummy was upset and I was feeling a bit whoozy. I attributed it to the heat and kept drinking water and taking salt pills like a fish. I also ate a bit more than usual because there were a few times I thought my blood sugar may have been low. Before I knew it I approached the end of the bike course and had my best dismount to date (thanks, again, cylocross). It was definitely my slowest bike split ever, 3:09 something, but it was also the 3rd fastest in my age group – sometimes you can’t judge your result by time!
T2 was horrible. It was a mudfest and I nearly slipped several times. Then I couldn’t find one of my socks – my shoes had been kicked all over the place and the sock had fallen out. Anyhow, it was mayhem abut again, I eventually found my sock, got out of there and started running.
It was apparent from the first step that this was going to be the hardest run of my life. I felt horrible. My quads started seizing up and I had flashbacks back to Redman when I had full body cramps and couldn’t run at all. With every step I was sure I was going to seize up and so at the first water stop, I took a ton of salt pills. I was also dousing myself with water, ice, you name it – to try and stay cool. It was so humid! There was no air at all and I just felt awful. But by mile 2 my legs loosened up and that crampy feeling stopped, only to be replaced with a “I have to puke” feeling. This was the most upset my stomach has ever felt racing and I had all I could do not to yack. Usually that means my blood sugar is low. Also, my legs just wouldn’t go – nothing I could do would make me run fast, so I, again, assumed my blood sugar was low and I kept eating at every water stop. But it didn’t get better – it got worse. A few people I had passed in the first few miles –re-passed me and I let them go. I just didn’t have it in me to respond. At some point I ducked in the woods to pee, too (no porta potties). I kind of wanted to stay there – hiding in the woods. I didn’t.
There is a cross country section that goes through what I consider “hell” at this point, that was just absolutely brutal – and you do it twice. It was all muddy and washed out from the storms and that entire section felt like a pressure cooker. There was no air at all and you could feel the heat coming up from the ground. Not only that, there were big ass hills that forced most, including me, to walk. I just could not get my legs to go up them and it was really hard on your brain going through it the first time knowing you were going to have to go through it again. It should be noted that this section is where our hotel is for the rest of the trip. I really hope I don’t have flashbacks!
The rest of the run was much of that — suffering. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I walked a lot. I did. I had no choice – it was either walk or throw up on myself. It took more mental energy then I’ve ever needed to actually finish. On the upside, I didn’t cramp and I was able to pick it up to a respectable pace the last mile and pass one girl in my age group, but that was, by far, the hardest run of my life. I have never been so happy to be done! My run time was something around 2:10:00 and my final time, a little over 6 hours – good for 7th in my age group. Race times all across the board were slow this year for obvious reasons.
I tested my blood sugar right away and my meter read “HI.” For those of you not in the know, that means that my sugar was so high that my meter couldn’t read it. I tested again and again it said “HI.” A third time finally gave me a reading of 475. And that explained why I felt like I did. I am amazed that I was able to finish that run without cramping with a blood sugar like that – it’s almost a miracle in all honesty. And while I’m happy to have a logical reason of why my run went so poorly, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m a bit pissed off about it. This is the only 70.3 I have had this problem – high blood sugar. Normally my blood sugar goes low for this distance. Who knows if it was the humidity/heat, the stress from the road situation or perhaps I had gone high over on the island when I wasn’t able to test? In either case, it’s frustrating because I feel like if this was my day. I was so ready and if only I could have done what I was capable of on the run, I could have proven it.
But life isn’t perfect and this is my first race of the year and so I’ll be happy with myself because I was able to finish and didn’t let myself quit. And the race season is just beginning…I’ll have a chance for revenge later! Now it’s time to relax for the next week. I’m pretty sure I earned it! Please forgive the typos because I’m not proofreading this – it’s time to hit the beach!