The Silverman 70.3 was held October 5th just outside of Las Vegas, NV, the site of the former 70.3 World Championships. The course is renown for its difficulty due to several factors: elevation gain on the bike, wind, brutal heat, constant incline or decline on the run, and extreme sun exposure. Given these conditions, one may wonder why someone would be so stupid as to register for such a race. But endurance athletes always like a good challenge and more importantly like to go around bragging about how hard of a race they just completed. It's one of those things where you regret registering for a race two hours into the race, curse yourself for the next two hours, and then are elated once you are finished. Also, because I am at a point in my career where I'm entertaining the possibility of placing high in my age group at most of these events, that means I'm usually in contention for a podium finish and/or qualifying ticket to World's the following year. Furthermore, because bike climbing tends to play to my advantage, I probably have a stronger potential to do well at a Silverman compared to a flat bike course relative to the rest of the field. With rationale enumerated, off to the race.
I headed out to Vegas on Friday, October 3rd, and planned the drive well enough to avoid Friday gambling traffic. I headed straight to the expo at Henderson Pavilion in beautiful suburban Henderson, NV. There I had the great fortune to see some of my Triathlon Connection friends. This would be a group affair as there were about 10-12 people racing from the triathlon club with which I am affiliated. From Henderson, I drove directly to the Boulder Beach campground at Lake Mead and pitched a tent. It turns out I camped within a mile of the starting line. I ate a little food and before I knew it it was getting dark. I tried reading for a while but was exhausted from the travel, etc., and as soon as dark hit I fell asleep waking at 6am the next day. This gave me over 10 hours of sleep. Awesome!
I had about two hours of working out to do, so I went down to the swim start and got in a 30 minute swim. It's nice to be so close to the swim site, as I was one of the first athletes to get their swim in for the day. After the swim, I did an hour ride where I mixed in two to four four minute tempo pacing intervals in conjunction with several 10 second speed blasts. I do this just to get the legs race-ready and to gauge whether my power is in full throttle. Furthermore, I was riding the course, so I got a good flavor of the first nine miles. Indeed, this course would be punishing; but I find it to my benefit to ride as much of the course as I can prior to race day. I then hit a 30 minute easy run with a few strides towards the end, again to open up the muscles.
Upon completion of my workout, I met up with Coach Tony, Sinta, and Simon (fellow Triathlon Connection peoples) to drive the bike course and to also drop off our run gear at T-2. It was great to get this done earlier rather than later because in the past it's the last thing I do before it gets dark. Driving the course is like being on Mars. Brown, black, and red rock lining Lake Mead. It is beautiful, but the terrain simply is not hospitable to human survival, much less a triathlon. The only vegetation is shrub grass, and there is not one tree for at least 45 miles of the course. The terrain is up and down with only one short flat section probably around mile 40 or 45. Otherwise it's one long punishing climb followed by a long descent and then do it all over again. Then turn around and go back the way you came. I was thinking, well, instead of going that way I'll just skip that section and head to the finish. But a las I'd probably get DQ'd for that so figured I'd actually have to race the whole course. Anywho, we finished the drive and I think all of us in the car were thinking, yep, tomorrow is going to suck big time. I rarely feel that way after driving a course. We dropped our stuff off at T-2 and then headed back to the campsite/RV park for 4:00 potluck.
Race morning I was up by 4:45, powered down some food, packed all my gear into my car and then walked down to T-1, the race start. It is sweet to walk to the starting line. Upon entering the festivities someone announced that the race would be wetsuit legal. In other words, miraculously the water temperature had fallen over four degrees overnight and was below 76 degrees F. I'll take it. I did my thing in transition, all the while eyeing the folks around me wondering which ones were the ones who would beat me. I do this because it is pleasant for me to recognize someone on the course who I thought might give me a run for my money behind me. When one is battling up the hills on the bike or run, one must take all the victories one can get.
I was in Wave 8 or so, which meant I started about 25 minutes behind the professional men. There were about 180 registered athletes in my age group although I don't think that many finished (I read somewhere the DNF rate was around 12%, which is more than most ironmans) and there is always a handful of no-shows. I struck up a conversation with the gentleman standing next to me in the corral. It was his first half ironman (70.3), and he really did seem nervous. I gave him some advice, like, don't go too hard on the bike, you'll regret it, you should race with a heart-rate monitor, and things like that. I like making small talk before the race begins, as it helps me realize not to take it too seriously because in the end this is a choice and really doesn't mean that much. I lined up right in the front because it's fun for me to stay with the leaders for 50 meters.
The gun banged and once again I was swimming like mad. Quickly, I realized the Whole Foods version of Ensure was not sitting so well with my stomach but usually I can power through the swim and burp that out. The wetsuit was also tight and it was getting hot up in there. I drafted for as long as I could but given the relatively small field compared to World's I was quickly on my own. I drafted here and there but ended up swimming the majority of the leg on my own. This was, by far, the least battle intensive swim I've had in the past year of racing, which is too bad because I've started to enjoy that aspect of the sport a little bit. I had to swim over a few people and at one point some dude from a wave behind me plowed through me and another guy like we were standing still. I seriously did the duck and cover move for the first time in my career. But overall, the swim was about what I expected, 32 minutes and change. A similar time to my swim at Worlds where I had drafted nearly the entire time. I came out of the water in 18th place in my age group.
Coming into T-1 a few bozos were lollygaggig up the swim exit as if it was an ice-cream social. To be fair, the shift from parallel to vertical can be challenging but it always surprises me how so many people struggle with the transition. I think this is an often under-practiced aspect of peoples' training because I look at the average T-1/T-2 split times and often I'm two minutes faster than it -- and my transitions are nothing amazing. I ran around a few lollygaggers, down the row of bikes, a right at the first opening and a left at the fifth row to my slot labeled 630. Nice, not a lot of bikes gone yet. Putting on my sunglasses and helmet I hit start on my bike computer and ran my bike out to the mount line. There I jiggled around a bit to get on and finally began the bike portion.
The bike begins with a one mile-ish climb out of the Lake Mead Park onto Lakeshore Road/Parkway/Whatever. As soon as I started peddling I started passing fools. That's nice because usually there's some asshole(s) who gives you a run for your money before you have your bearings causing you to gas it too hard. As it was, my heart-rate was high (low to mid 160s) but my perceived exertion was about what it should be, an eight. I kept telling myself, don't gun this too hard, just peddle, get some nutrition in, and get settled into the ride. Out on the Parkway there's a brief descent before an uphill climb so I put a fair amount of power into this descent to gain as much "free" speed on the incline as I could. At the top of the incline I took in some more calories and drink. Taking in electrolytes at the right times is exceedingly important during hot races, and although it was not hot yet, it would be very hot in an hour.
At the same time at the crest of an incline you have to continue to power over the top and pick up speed as soon as possible. This is key for someone like me because I'm relatively light which means technically I should lose speed to bigger guys on the descent. However, if they bugger around for even five seconds at the crest of the climb (such as adjusting their seat or stretching) I will usually be able to beat them down the descent. I've gotten much better at riding hilly courses in the past year because I've learned to continue to push over the crest, put as much power into the descent the first 200 meters, continue peddling until about 36-38 mph, then get into the drops for the speed tuck. At the bottom if I'm coming up behind someone I get right behind them into their slip stream then catapult around them up the ascent to once again gain as much free incline as I can get. Obviously, it's easier said than done, and I'm still improving on this but it's amazing to me how even small revisions to one's riding can save quite a bit of time.
This style of riding continued basically for the first 30 miles of the bike with no major complications. I was throwing down some heavy numbers for me but was feeling good so continued to push the pace up and down the relentless hills. The heat was beginning to play a role, however, and one begins to think, hmmm, maybe there should be a few more aide stations because I'm starting to run a bit low on fluids. Nevertheless I continued my nutritional strategy with a salt pill every 30 minutes or so, a gel every 45 minutes or so, and consistent squirts of electrolyte drink as often as I could without losing too much speed due to reaching for the bottle. The turnaround on Northshore drive was at about 26 miles into the ride and I was happy to be done with that.
At the turnaround I was still feeling relatively strong, despite the fact I was having to pace mostly on perceived effort as opposed to heart rate because the wind was messing up my heart-rate readings (all I ever wanted for Christmas was a power meter). However, the physical deterioration of the body due to the high intensity exercise was beginning to reveal itself. I was, however, able to stave off the full-blown "there goes the power" moment until about mile 40. (After the race, this was seemingly the magic number for nearly everyone I spoke with). This feeling occurred about the same point during Mont Tremblant, so obviously I will have to work on my biking to push this point up to 50 miles or so. It is usually around this time that I get passed by a few people, and the psychological mind-fuck of an unraveling race begins. Luckily, only two guys passed me, but we were facing a headwind (not crazy but present) and then a final six miles of climbing. Instead of sticking with them I kept them in my sites but dropped the gearing for the final climbs of the day. I knew the run would be punishingly hot and also hilly, and it was not worth it to ride two minutes faster and run 15 minutes slower. This, I think, proved to be my best decision all day.
Back to the bike, despite getting passed, I was still picking off the occasional rider, meaning that I was still moving up in the field. But I was not feeling good and was having some mild stomach problems. Finally I got to T-2 in about 2:41. This is a very slow bike time for me, but considering the conditions, it was actually one of the faster on the day (the fastest bike split on the day was 2:25). I hopped off the bike, and the first thing I noticed was the inside of my thighs were exhibiting signs of cramping. That is always fantastic before the run even begins. The interesting thing is that has not even happened to me in an ironman. I cracked a salt pill immediately and took in some drink on my way out of transition to the three loop run course.
It was hot, with very little shade protection. And, frankly, after two minutes of running I realized I had to drop a dime. So that at least gave me a goal of something to think about for the first 5-6 minutes of the run. Unfortunately, the first bit of the run goes straight down a hill (which means more jiggling), hangs a right in a cul-de-sac, turns around, and then finally before the aide station there's some port-o-potties. Let's just say I didn't stick around to read the Sunday paper. I lost maybe 30 seconds, proving that men are in there hiding from their wives. Anyways, the run was about a mile in and it was not going well. I hit the aide station hard with everything they had, and popped some Tums to aide the stomach. This helped a lot as I began my ascent up the hill I had just run down. I caught the few people who had exited T-1 with me and kept plowing up the two mile climb to Horizon Avenue. I continued to monitor my stomach and kept my heart-rate in the mid-to-high 150s, which is what I've found I can handle in a half ironman. I would like to increase this number but was not going to risk this during a hot run.
There's an aide station about half way up the Green Valley Parkway stretch. It was glorious to reach that and I hit that hard once again. Finally, the turnaround at the top of Horizon and we now had about two miles of mostly downhill running. I picked up the pace here to the low 6:00s or so to make up lost time from the climb. Gradually, my stomach began to feel better. However, during this time, one of the guys who came out of transition with me passed me while I was pigging out at the aide-station. That pissed me off but I couldn't really do anything about it as I was still not feeling that great. With long course triathlon racing, at least for me, I've found that there are certain points during the race when I can go for it and other times when I cannot. Sometimes you just have to wait for it. Going back by the pavilion we made a left up a sidewalk trail around the pavilion wending our way down to T-2 merging in with others coming in off the bike. We then hit a 1/2 mile flat straight away. It quickly became apparent that this was the low point of the race as I started to really struggle.
I started to get dehydrated, and began feeling some minor spasming in my hamstrings. I started to feel sorry for myself. This doesn't even usually happen to me until mile 24 of an ironman. Damn it, I thought, this could be my race. I was getting thirsty, and all I could think about was making it to the turnaround at the bottom of the hill and hitting the aide station hard. I readied a salt pill and cracked a gel just before the aide station even though my stomach didn't feel like it. I went with the GU Roctane with 40 ml of caffeine for good measure. I consumed as much fluid as I could without stopping for a party and made my way up the two mile ascent. I shoved about three cups of ice down my race shirt and the familiar clank clank clank of ice could be heard to signify Loren was coming. You can see it in the picture above if you look closely enough (if you look really close you will see a dinosaur pop out at you). This is where the race was going to be made or broken and so I kept my pace steady. If I went too fast here my legs would seize up, if I went too slowly I would get passed. Finally, I reached the top of the climb and as I hit the turn-around I started to finally feel strong again. The calories and drink I had taken seemed to kick in and as I picked up the pace down the hill I started to feel joy in my heart again. I saw a few other Triathlon Connection athletes here and there and was often barely about to muster a reply, but it was awesome to hear a shout-out, "Go Loren," "Good stuff," and perhaps the occasional joke.
Coming down the hill I passed a few people and really began to pick up the pace on the flat straightaway that was nearly a death march the previous lap. I was back into the mid 6:00s or so. I was around mile 9 and this was the beginning of my final push. I caught the gentleman who had hosed me at the aide station the previous lap. He was surprised to see me, "you again?" When you catch someone who had passed you earlier in the race, you almost always gain their respect, even if they pass you again. We had a bit of a conversation and we kept pace with each other. Fortunately, for me, he had started in the All World Athlete wave 10 minutes before me, so when he ended up finishing a few seconds in front of me I was not too concerned about it. Nevertheless, we battled one another up and down the final three miles. It was great to have my fighting spirit back -- something that evaded me during the World's run -- and something that is often lost on hot days as it usually just becomes a matter of survival. I finished in 1:31, which was about 8-9 minutes shy of the top pro run split, so not bad. Evidently, everyone was struggling.
My final time was 4:49 (the clock below is based off the initial swim wave), again, a slow time for me compared to my normal half-ironman time but this was no ordinary race. Every single person I spoke with afterwards -- experienced or newbie -- said the same thing: this was the hardest half they had ever done. I concur. The nice thing was I podiumed -- albeit 5th in my age group -- but this was my first time podiuming at a M-Dot race, so that was exciting. I also punched my ticket once again for World's 2015, so I will make my way to Austria in August to once again get my ass handed to me. After the race I hung around a while to handle some administrative things then eventually made my way back to Riverside skipping once again the nasty Sunday Vegas to Los Angeles traffic.
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.