About a month before Ironman Texas (my first A race of the year) I found a relatively local half ironman out by Las Vegas. This race is not a WTF Ironman-branded race meaning that unless something crazy happened I would land in the top four or five competitors based on an examination of previous results. For some reason the race was called RAGE, so I was expecting a bunch of angry people there but in fact it seemed the naming was a misnomer (someone please enlighten me). Looking on the website in advance, it was evident the course would be challenging replete with lots of bike and run elevation, as well as heat. Given that the race began in the same spot as Silverman 70.3, which I struggled through in October, I knew this would be a very challenging race. WTF, can't I just do one easy half-ironman to post some sick-ass splits?!
This year, I've been trying to race less frequently not only to save money and reduce travel but mainly to dial in my training more specific to my longer-term objectives. However, for the past few years, I have done a half ironman about a month or so out from my target ironman as it is the closest simulation to race day experiences without taking you into the wells. This would be my second triathlon of the year, the first being the Desert Triathlon International distance out in Palm Springs in mid-March. For both races I tapered only a few days, as I did not want to spend a whole week tapering and lose fitness when my long-term goal is to perform well at Ironman Texas. All of this is to say my performance would not be peak performance, but instead the race would be viewed more as a hard training day. This is not to say that I will not go as hard as I can once the go bangs, but rather it is to tell it like it is -- you only have so many peaks in you in a given year.
On race morning I woke up around 4am before my alarm, and immediately chugged two Ensures, then slowly ate a banana. This probably put me in around 500 calories. This was my first try at a mostly liquid breakfast as I've often had indigestion during the first parts of my races and I'm tired of that shit. I then got my drinks ready -- a bottle of high calorie Hammer Perpetuem and another bottle of Hammer Heed (electrolyte). I stuck another few Hammer gels into my (aerodynamic) bento box. Everything else was good to go as I had readied everything the day before. One of the reasons it is good to do a half shortly before a full is, damn it, there is a lot of shit you have to do the day before a long-course triathlon. Just remembering all the stuff you will have to take care of is good practice. I even write lists now.
Around 5:10am or so I headed over to transition. As I checked in I chatted with a few people to make small-talk then realized the race started at 6:30am not 7:00am per usual. Before I realized it, it was 6:00am already so I then went for a 10 minute or so warm-up jog. Nothing major but just enough to get a little sweat going on and mentally prepare for the physical task ahead. My legs felt pretty good but not quite amazing. I then came back to transition and strapped on my wetsuit. We now had about 10 minutes to the start so I walked down to the water and took a quick dip so my body could adjust to the cold. The water was cold but nothing ridiculous. I also stretched out my shoulders. Then I went over to the start line and went basically right in front. I like doing this because I would rather other guys have to swim around me than vice-versa. I used to line up in the middle or off to the side but I'm tired of having to swim over people.
The gun banged and off I went. My heartrate jacked immediately as I battled with a few other gents for position. Usually the first 300-400 meters of a race are pretty helter-skeltar as you cannot really slow down because if you do you will be swallowed alive. So I held my position and tried to get into the draft zone (swimming right behind somebody). Rounding the first buoy was chaotic but after that -- as is often the case -- the crowd thinned out considerably and I found myself in a nice draft zone. The course was rectangular so I stayed in the draft the full 700 meters or so along the first long length of the rectangle. Picking my head up occasionally, I noticed we were siting well and indeed there were some people ahead of me but it was not ridiculous. I focused on trying to engage my core -- whatever the fuck that means -- and rotate my hips although the latter is hard with my highly buoyant wetsuit. As I rounded the buoy to make it back the last long length of the rectangle my guide was -- in my opinion -- too far out to the right so I decided to move out of his wake and align myself more properly with the buoys. This was probably a bad call as he ended up putting 30 seconds to a minute on me, as I swam the rest of the race with no assistance. Coming out of the water I didn't feel extremely optimistic with my time but my watch said 30:07 or something, so I was pretty happy with that. The official time was 31 something but that is because of the run-out, etc.
The transition up to the bikes was pretty shitty because the surface had gravel and little rocks everywhere. Moreover there were people getting ready for the Olympic and Sprint triathlons not even paying attention and sort of getting in our way. Rest assured I yelled at a few of them. I took my wetsuit off quickly and got all my gear on then (slowly because of the crappy flooring) ran my bike up to the mount line. All of that was a tad frustrating as I'm usually really quick on the run part of transition. Finally jumped on my bike and it took a few moments to get my straps on. I then passed all the guys going up the very steep first mile onto Lakeshore Drive. This is an amazing road to bike on -- constant rollers so you're also paying attention. With my new disc wheel on and the fact I had ridden this course a few times already I was ready to hit it. I should note that this course is fucking awesome.
This year I started racing with a power meter after wanting one for about two years. Nailing the bike (with still legs left to run) is very challenging and I've been hoping a power meter would help with my discipline and pacing. I have also enjoyed looking at the numbers and seeing my progression. Going into the race I had decided to try and average around 250-260 watts, given that my Functional Threshold Power (FTP -- aka, Lactate Threshold) is between 290-300 based off a 40K time trial I recently did where I averaged 295 watts in 57 minutes and change. These are fairly good numbers for an amateur but nothing amazing, as I know some amateurs who can hold 300+ watts for a half ironman (they're probably doping though). As you can see from my power profile above my normalized power for this race was 256 watts -- so almost right on the money and what someone with my FTP should be doing if they are in altogether excellent shape. I may have slightly overdone it with a 0.88 intensity factor, as I think I could have given a stronger run performance. More on that later. I will also say that my heart rate and power slowly and slightly declined over the course of the race -- which isn't all that surprising given my existing fatigue.
But getting back to the actual bike race, I think I came out of the water in 14th place or so and started checking fools off right away like usual. After about 8 miles of this I asked a guy what place he was in -- he told me fourth (he really should have said fifth). After another climb I saw two guys up ahead. The route goes out and back twice then a smaller out and back. This was done because of construction on the North Shore Road (former 70.3 World Championships route). In the end the course was 53 miles not 56, and it took me about 2:24 to complete -- a decent time considering I was unable to keep my heart rate very high throughout the course indicating existing fatigue. This put me right around 22 mph definitely faster than my performance at Silverman. I should note that I had to stop at one point for about 30 seconds because my extra tube and valves went flying off my bike when I hit a bump. Damn it I should have found a gorilla cage like Corey at Coates Cyclery told me to get. By the end of the first lap I had moved into second place but the first place guy -- on a pink bike no less -- remained elusive. In fact at the second turnaround point he had actually put a little time into me, which surprised me because he had looked like he was barely trying. On the last half lap I couldn't tell who had been making ground but I think I had put a little more time on him. Anyways, the course was fun because after the first loop we were just passing fools from the Olympic and Sprint left and right. Woosh woosh!
Coming into T-2 I had to yell at a few more people to get out of my way. There it was the pink bike and the dude was nowhere to be seen. The run is tough, as it was getting hot (mid 80s perhaps) and there was very little shade (only a few tunnels). The first 4 miles are straight uphill with only a few flat sections. In fact, there was more total climbing on this run than on either St. George or Silverman, so there! I did manage to keep my heart beat in the low 150s throughout the run, so that was good.
The course was a bit confusing at times and I even had to stop to look around. I had a loose idea as to where to go so finally made my way onto the railroad trail -- the flat section going along Lake Mead to Hoover Dam. Finally, mostly flat ground. Here I picked up the pace hoping that perhaps the leader might fall off and go too hard up that hill. Coming out of the last of five tunnels the leader passed me going the other way. I thought I was close to the turnaround but the drink volunteers indicated I had to follow along another path. That tagged on a few more minutes. As I finally hit the turn-around I was in doubt I would catch the leader as he was a pretty thin and young looking guy. It was probably another 5 minutes before I saw another competitor indicating I had a pretty large lead on the next few guys. Unless I had a heart attack I would take second. So I stuck to my pace and got some drinks in and a few anti-fatigue and endurance amino pills. I also popped a few Hammer gels along the path. In general my nutrition was solid and I had zero GI issues, no farts even (although Sarah told me I probably did just didn't remember. She made a good point). By about 12 miles we finally hit the last flat section and my legs were cooked. I had little sprint left in me so I began to recall that this is what the ironman run feels like for 10 miles. I finally came in at 4:27 -- a pretty decent result all things considered -- and I took second place. I had two chocolate milks, talked with some people, ate some food, then chilled out in Lake Mead for a bit. I then laid low the rest of the day. Overall it was a great and challenging race. I would recommend it if you are looking to get in a tough early-season triathlon in the desert!
By day I am a political scientist studying campaigns, public opinion, and race and ethnic politics. By early morning and/or night I am an endurance athlete.