First Real Test – St. Croix 70.3 (Half Ironman)

First Real Test – St. Croix 70.3 (Half Ironman)

St. Croix 70.3 would be my first test of all the training I have been doing the last 10 months since I started getting coached by Cait at QT2. This new way of aerobic type training had me doubting myself at times. It is the type of training that starts off to easy and you think that you are going backwards (or getting slower). Then I learned that it starts off that way, but it get’s real hard as you go from base phase to build phase.

For the last few weeks my training has been so intense that I was worried about if I was going to be up for this race. After last weekends beating I had zero energy on Monday and Tuesday. To make matters worse, she has me doing a 2 hour semi hard bike ride followed by a 40 minute semi hard run on Wednesday. Somehow my legs were back and I was able to complete it and feel somewhat good (didn’t say I liked it).

Thursday was our travel day. We met Mark, Mikki, Doug, Mary, George & Jill at the airport. We flew to San Juan and then to St. Croix. We landed in St. Croix around noon and I thought I was in hell. Not because there was devil’s and pitch forks. IT WAS FREAKIN HOT!

The place we stayed at was on an island, just off the island of St. Croix. The only thing on this island is our hotel and the only way you get there is by water taxi. It is less than a tenth of a mile from mainland. The race starts on our Island also (Roll out of bed and crank out a half Ironman). Not quite like that, but it sure is convenient. The other awesome thing is that we have the Herricks and the Guertins as tour guides. they have done the race twice and know all the in’s and out’s about everything that we need to do.

On Saturday I have to do a 50 minute bike and a 15 minute run (all at a easy recovery pace). Mary comes with me and we head out on the first loop of the bike course. Wow, this small loop has some steep sections. It also has some turns on the descends that will run you off the road if you don’t brake before you attempt these sharp corners. I am glad I got to see the first loop and I will have it stored in my memory for Sunday. We then run out for 7 and a half minutes on the run course and head back. Now, Im getting worried about tomorrow. I averaged 14 miles per hour during the bike. The run was very difficult because of the heat and the constant up and downs of the terrain. Now Im thinking that I am going to have to play it smart ………. or this course will win the battle. The race day forecast is calling for record temps for race day. RECORD TEMPS? It can get hotter than this?

Saturday Night I log into my training plan and I read Cait’s notes. On the swim she wants me to go out hard and then settle in on somebody’s feet for the remainder of the swim. She also said that it is a slower swim and want’s me to shoot for a 38-40 minute’s (this is a no wetsuit ocean swim which makes the times slower than most other 1.2 mile swims). The bike instructions are to maintain 192 watts on the flats and not to exceed 242 watts on the climbs for a bike time of 3:09 to 3:20. The run numbers were to go out at 7 flat and hold it for as long as I could. Her predicted time for me was 5:26 – 5:35. I read this and it actually pissed me off. If I worked this hard for the last 10 months and all she thinks I will do is 3 to 3.5 hour bike ………. I would be very upset with myself. I know it is a challenging bike course, but I tend to ride those type of courses well. For the remainder of the night I just continued to get fired up ….. but, at the same time I knew I had to stick to the plan ………… And I had to prove her wrong (I hope).

Sunday AM Race day:  I got up 3 hours early to eat breakfast and to take a few moments to run the complete race through my head. I also know that it will be the most difficult run of my life because of the record heat and I need to be smart on the swim and bike just to complete this race. We all head over to the start to rack our bikes and set up transition (they don’t have enough security to set it up the night before). They even have an area for just the 45-49 males, so you can see how you are doing after the swim and after the bike.

Quick note: If you finish the swim and there are no bikes there, you are in last. If you finish the bike and there is only 1 space left for a bike, you are in last. Today’s goal: Mid pack swim and move up from there (and to finish the run).

This is my first non wetsuit swim, so I am trying out my new speedsuit and hoping that it lives up to the name. Doug, George and I do one final fist pump and line up at the edge of the beach for the 45-49 male wave to start (we start 15 minutes behind the pro’s). This is it, this is what I have been training for all Winter! My heart is in my neck ……… I am ready and I place my finger on my stopwatch and I am now in the zone (Im wearing a stopwatch because I need to time the swim to see if Im on track with Cait). The swim starts and I let loose for the first few buoys and then I settled in on someone’s heels. this went well for a while until we caught the wave ahead of use and I lost my guy in the traffic. Now Im on my own and it seems like nobody is around. This is the tough part about ocean swims, you can go slightly off course and you are in no mans land and you can’t see a sole because of the waves. I continue on to the furthest most point by the reef and make the corner and head back. WOW, I just found everyone. I find a new person and I followed them back to the final stretch. The final stretch is along the shore and every time you breath you get to see the spectators that are looking for there athletes. I know that I have only a few minutes left and I continue to remind myself to turn my Garmin on before I do anything else. Oh, and to put some sunscreen on so that my core doesn’t overheat on the bike from a sunburn. I round the final corner and jump up on the ramp they built for pulling people out of the ocean. I hit the lap button on the watch and it reads 34 minutes and change. Yes! great swim and my mood is getting better. There are a fair amount of bikes gone, but Im not the last bike. I start the Garmin, I open the sunscreen packet and wipe the cloth over my shoulders, arms and thighs. I finish up and head out on the bike. I crank through the first 8 mile loop like I have ridden it a hundred times. I then head back through town by Mark, Mikki and Kelly …….. I can hear them, but I cannot look and now Im off to the Beast.

The next 10 miles is a beautiful, scenic stretch along the ocean with a nice tail wind before you reach the beast at mile 20. I pass the mile 20 sign and bang a left and what do I see painted on the road? THE BEAST – nothing like rubbing it in! Not only does it go straight up ……….. they paint the road to let you know that the hurting is about to begin. It starts off fairly steep, so I gear down and just get into a rhythm. It starts off around 15% so I decide to stand and just keep my cadence at a nice steady pace. I pass a young lady and she makes a grunt! Not because I passed her, but because they have the 1 tenth of a mile painted on the road. She say’s to me “they just do that to rub it in don’t they”. I told her that the good news was “Only 6 more tenths to go” and I moved on. I look up and I see Doug just ahead of me. As I approach him I realize that you can’t sneak up on someone when your riding a disc wheel (and Im one of the only ones with one on this course). I continue on and picked a lot of people off on the toughest climb I have ever seen in a Triathlon (one section of the climb was 21% for a small stretch). I crest the top and I notice that Im still averaging 20mph after the Beast. Not that this means anything, because I still have 35 miles to go. The next few miles are fast and has some cool corners as you ride back down the mountain. At the bottom there are some hazards (one section of road had 12 speed bumps and the pavement was beat to crap). Once through the mine fields it was onto the highway. This is were I encountered my first pack of drafters. The group was made up of about 5 guys ranging in age from 25 to 40. None of them were in my group, but I wasn’t going to let them draft off me. I cruised by them on the first descend and they came roaring back by me on the next uphill. By the top of the hill I caught them and I rolled by again. this time they barley caught me by the top of the next hill. Now I knew they were trying to hard to ride my race and they were just smoking themselves on the climbs. I then poured it on at the top of the hill and never saw them again. At this point I didn’t see much of anyone for long stretches of time. Im now at around mile 40 and Im able to continue to crank out the watts that Cait wanted me to and Im “Feeling to Damn Good” Even though the headwinds are really strong along the ocean Im cranking along and feel like I got a lot of juice left. Now the hills start again and I am now passing people and they don’t even fight back (some actually looked like they were done). With about 10-12 miles to go you loop around the island and are shielded by the hills and the air is still. Picture yourself standing in front of the oven and it is set to 400. You open the door and just stick your head in. This is exactly how it felt. It was the hottest thing I have ever felt on a bike as Im doing 20-25 miles per hour along this beautiful road. It was so hot that I am now consuming my 6th bottle on the bike (6 bottles in 2.5 hours). I also haven’t p’eed yet and that is not a good sign. with about 4 miles to go I am back on the same loop that we started on and I know that there is only 1 steep climb left. I start the climb and I end up passing 4 guys who looked like they were all battling each other for the last 50 miles and they were hurting. Two of them were in my age group so I put the hammer down and rode by them as quickly as possible. One of them tried to speak to me in a foreign language about this being the last hill. I said “Yes” and then I said bye, bye under my breath. I still felt great and was pushing the same watts that I did the first time I climbed the hill today (good sign). I eased off for the last few miles because it was downhill and I made sure that I consumed some more fluids. I pulled into transition with a bike time of 2:46 and an average speed of 20mph (the race bike time includes both transitions). Now my mood is real good. I have out biked Cait’s predicted time by almost 30 minutes and I only was 12 watts over the average I was supposed to do.

Back to transition and fire up the other Garmin and change shoes, grab my run nutrition and put the visor on. Once the Garmin locked onto the satellites I strapped it to my wrist and headed out for the run. I have to go out at 7 minutes per mile and hold on for as long as possible. Because the course is fairly hilly and fiercely hot, I don’t think that I will be going sub 7 minute pace. I hit the first mile in 7:11 and I swear it felt like I was doing a 9 minute mile. Mile 2 was a 7:09 and that is when I reached the golf course. The golf course has some nasty hills and some stretches that are real hot from the lack of wind. As I was cruising down the golf cart path I could feel my skin tingling. This is the feeling you get when you do your first run of the year mid day when it is 90 degrees and humid. This is not a good sign at mile 3 but I am still cruising along at 7:30 pace and Im passing people. As the miles went on the pace got slower and I can no longer eat my Cliff Blocks. My stomach has shutdown from the heat and I am now praying that it doesn’t ruin my race. At about mile 7 one of my laces is untied, so I bend over and quickly double knot it (WOW, serious head rush). By mile 10 I know that I have a shot at running a sub 8 minute pace for the half, so I try to block out the heat and I continue to plug along. At the mile 12 sign my other shoe unties and this one was tough to tie. I only have a mile to go and I wasn’t going to let anything slow me down. I do the final loop through town and was able to crack a smile when I saw the finish chute. It was an amazing feeling to finish on that type of day. Kelly and I made a quick trip to the med tent for an IV (just to be safe). Having my teamates on the course helped a ton when the run got ugly. A simple high five is like magic.

Once the results were posted I found out that I got 4th in my Age Group ………. WOW, I came here to do well. But, I never thought that I would do that well. Today was a test of will when all my body wanted to do is walk (or jump in the ocean to cool down). I missed the podium by 1 place and missed going to Kona by 1 Place (that hurt a little). This was only the first test of the year and I think we can all agree that things are heading in the right direction.

Next test will be Moseman 70.3

JIM SULLIVAN  63rd overall  5:09:57  M45-49  4th in division