May 1st - Thursday
This race is termed “beauty and the BEAST” because the course is beautiful but it comes with every type of challenge on the bike. There is wind, rough roads, heat, humidity and a lot of climbing. The beast is a well-known section of this difficult 56-mile bike course for the half ironman and it is around ½ mile long and the incline ranges from 11-21%. After you tackle the beast, there is a windy stretch of road to descend down from the beast. However, what we found out during our 90 minutes ride on Thurs with our new triathlete friend and tour-guide, the entire course is difficult! There is hardly any stretch of road that isn’t without some challenge. The road conditions are bumpy with potholes and lots of bumps, there is non-stop climbing and descending so you must have great bike skills on this course (and electronic shifting on a tri bike comes in super handy since a lot of time while riding will be NOT on aero bars – although a tri bike still puts the hips in a good position to run off the bike) and we were really happy to ride some of the course to wake up the legs and to get comfortable on some of the sections that require shifting of gears at certain times. All that being said, this is exactly what we wanted in this course – we love beautiful, yet challenging courses and this race is going to give us our money’s worth!
After our bike ride, Karel and I went for a 2-mile run (drenched in sweat) and we both had our flasks with us of sport nutrition (which we do no matter what type of run off the bike) and I practiced holding back the first mile and then walking 10 sec and then trying to run per perceived effort the 2nd mile. With this type of race, there is no need to focus on any type of pace on the run or speed on the bike. This entire race requires pacing and GOOD fueling throughout to stay hydrated and to postpone fatigue. For those who are racing (me and Karel), I have a feeling the race will be determined in the last 4 miles of the run (or last 30 minutes). Those who overbike will suffer on the run and those who start out too fast on the run will fatigue quickly. This is a tough course so every athlete will have his/her own pacing strategy and fatiguing is a given but it will all be determined by who slows down the least. With the bike times for this 56-mile course typically being over 3 hours for females (about 30 minutes slower than most half IM courses) and 13.1 mile times over 1:45-2 hours, this race will last over 5 hours for the females and will be a true test of strength, patience, skills, nutrition and most of all, enjoyment for a challenging course.
After our workout we rehydrated with a Hammer FIZZ electrolyte tablet and recovery drink (milk/whey protein) and had a yummy breakfast of eggs, veggies, bread and fruit.
After cleaning up a little we gathered our swim gear and headed to the harbor (by car) for the organized group swim in the closed harbor at 11am. We had a little trouble finding parking but we allowed extra time. There was a small group for the swim and I have a feeling it will be much bigger on Fri and Sat (just like in Kona when athletes arrive closer to race day) .The race director gave us a chat about the swim start on race day – we jump off the ledge on the harbor into the ocean around 6am and then swim about 200 yards to Hotel by the Cay and that is where we start for the waved swim start (pros start at 6:30am). There were many orange buoys set out for our triangle swim so the goal today was smooth swimming for me and confidence building for Karel.
I didn’t wear my speedsuit (TYR Torque) for this swim (just a two piece swim suit) but Karel had his Zoot swim skin on. I wanted Karel to practice drafting off my feet and I also did the spotting for him so he didn’t have to spot and could just focus on his swimming.
We heard on Wed the swim was too choppy for triathletes to swim the entire course but luckily, on Thurs the water was just a little less choppy so we were able to swim the entire 1.2 mile course.
The waves were coming toward us on the way out so I made sure to not overdo it and to keep the same RPE throughout this course in all sections. I figured I wouldn’t gain much trying to fight the waves and it would only cost me on the last section of the swim. Karel stayed on my feet the entire time and I was so proud of him – he has worked really hard with his swim and although he gets frustrated sometimes that he can’t “feel” the water the same everyday, he never gives up on his quest to become a faster swimmer to be competitive with the triathletes who are either born swimmers or have been racing longer than Karel. Karel needs to be out of the water with the top guys in order to be able to bike/run near the front of the pack for he can’t risk overbiking just to “catch” up so he can still gain a lot in triathlons by being a faster swimmer with good efficiency so he is not expending more energy.
We finished the 1.3 miles (a bit extra – I think I swam a little off course in once section because of the waves) in around 34 minutes and I was super proud of Karel. This was not an easy swim and his first 1.2 miles in an ocean. The clear water made the swim enjoyable although, unlike Kona, no tropical fishies L
After the swim we purchased some needed bug spray and some postcards for Karel’s family in Czech (we do this at every trip we take for a race) and then headed back to our resort for some lunch.
The rest of the afternoon was relaxing while doing some computer work (no internet access in our cottage, only by the reception desk) and working on race plans for our 5 Ironman Texas athletes.
Around 3:30pm we headed out to drive the one section of the course we haven’t seen – the beast! We drove from the race start (still need to walk through the downtown area for there are a lot of sharp right/left turns on bumpy roads out of transition on our bikes) to the beast and the course is well marked on the ground but we also had our turn-by-turn maps from the athlete guide.
The one thing that is hard when driving a bike course is that the course ALWAYS feels harder in a car than on a bike. Not lying, the course is crazy difficult but in a car you don’t get the same feeling as when you are on a bike. Karel gave me some great pointers as to where to take the turns and the climbs for it is a lot of switch backs and steep climbs, one after another. The course did make me smile at times because there are paintings on the ground.
“Still only 14%”
“1/2 way there”
“27%” – Karel said DO NOT take this line when climbing, go to the outside!
As I mentioned before, the beast occurs around mile 26 of the course and is not the only climbing section of the course…the entire course is filled with climbs and there are plenty of 11-15% inclines throughout this course, no just in the beast section.
After we drove the course, we made a delicious dinner (pasta for Karel and rice for me) and veggies and tempeh and we enjoyed our dinner outside and then spent the evening relaxing. 9:30pm, lights out for another beautiful day in St. Croix.
Part of the bike course - riding around the island.
Check out the road conditions - when the roads are smooth, you can't help but smile.
Either you go up or down. That's how this course goes! for 56 miles!
Bikes are enjoying a little shade from all the heat and wind.
Hotel on the cay
Rooster and baby rooster
Walk on our private beach
Selfie with my travel buddy
Morning bike ride - hot, windy and hilly. So much fun!
Great swim this morning!
My bike is excited to race (so excited to have Di2!)
A yummy Trimarni creation
Veggies, brown rice and orzo and tempeh - delicious!
The same food that has fueled my half ironman training and that has protected my immune system is the same food that I am enjoying on race week. Although this time my plant strong plate is enjoyed with a great view.