5/10/14

St. Croix 70.3 RR - 56 mile bike


After exiting the water  and making it through T1, I got on my bike, clipped in my cycling shoes, started my Garmin 500 on my bike, hit lap on my Garmin 910XT and I was off to explore the island on my bike

My Garmin 500 file

Some would say this bike course is like a mini Kona (Ironman World Championship) because of the wind, the heat, the humidity, a beautiful ocean in the distance and the hills. However, after competing in Kona in 2007, 2011 and 2013, St. Croix provides a lot of stress on the body in a relatively short amount of time compared to Kona. Although the ocean swim in Kona is a bit more exhausting than in St. Croix, the Kona bike course offers 112 miles of challenges with the majority happening close to the climb to Hawi and then constant winds on the rolling terrain back to town. Although there are some fast section in St. Croix, unlike Kona, St. Croix packs them all into a 56-mile bike course. In my opinion, this was the most challenging bike course I have ever raced on (including Lake Placid, Branson, Wisconsin and Kona) but it was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the challenge. 

Map my ride

The St. Croix 70.3 bike course never gives you a break. There's a 1/2 mile climb in the first 8 miles of the bike course, the "Beast" gives you an average 14% grade and max 21.5% for 7/10 of a mile at mile 21 of the bike course and then the bike gets really tough. With rough roads (as you will see below - although some roads are paved in small sections just a few days before St. Croix race day), a lot of climbing, unrelenting winds on the "flatter" sections (and false flats) and technical descends, this bike course  requires you to race smart (fuel and pace well) like you would on any other bike course but with a lot of obstacles thrown in your way to manage at the same time. But, if there's one thing that will keep you smiling as your legs are burning from all the climbing, it's the beautiful scenery that you get to experience from all parts of the island. You can't help but ride this course and say out loud "wow - amazing!"


Because of the top competition at this race, I wanted to compete to the best of my ability but also to race smart, just like I did in Kona. Although some athletes feel the two can not go together (race your own race and race the competition), I believe that if you let others challenge your limits so that you minimize your risks but enhance your beliefs that you can hold that effort that you know you have trained to do, amazing things will happen. And most of all, triathlons are not a bike race. Having a super fast bike time is great if that was the only thing you were doing that day. Perhaps some athletes feel they have to make up/gain time on the bike but if you pace yourself on the bike, you will also find yourself having a great run and thus a great overall triathlon time. And since we race in a 3-sport event, it's true that triathlon racing will come down to the run for success lies in your ability to pace yourself throughout all three disciplines. And if you can stay on top of your fueling plan then the pacing strategy that you are capable of should be within your grasp and should allow you to compete with those who are of similar/faster ability. 

Miles 1-8
My goal in the first 21 miles (before the Beast) was to set myself on cruise control and to use this as a warm-up. I could only hurt myself later in the race by pushing hard here so I just enjoyed being on my bike and being able to push a little with my legs. 
My power goal was a bit higher than what I ride on flats for normalized power but I still wanted to keep my average power controlled. Knowing that I would be pushing 30-50+ watts more when climbing (especially since I stand when I climb thus more force on my pedals and the top of the stroke) I knew that if I tried to push too hard for too long my legs would fatigue too quickly...and on this bike course and in this tri, you do not want fatiguing legs if you can control them from fatiguing. 
From the transition area we ride east on hospital road and then this turns into East End Road (rt. 82). Karel and I were very familiar with the first 8 miles of this route because we had ridden it twice before race day on our warm-up rides. Our cottage at Chenay Bay Beach Resort was about 1 mile from the right turn we make on to Southgate road (from East End Road) so we would leave our place and then head straight on to Southgate to practice our loop prior to race day. Also, the end of the race goes by our cottage so it was the perfect location to stay and to train. The Buccaneer (most of run course and host hotel) was about 2 miles from our cottage (heading back to town) and about 2 miles from the transition area. 
It took a while to get comfortable riding (and driving) on the left hand side of the road but thankfully on race day the course was closed to all traffic (although they can not control everyone) and the volunteers/police were outstanding. Also, the signage on the ground was excellent - you always knew where to go and to slow. 
This first 8 mile section included several punchy climbs but thankfully Karel and I were very familiar with this course and how to use our gears (electronic shifting) properly for this section. I found myself passing a lot of athletes during this first section of the course despite not pushing very hard or getting myself out of a zone of feeling comfortable. 
We then reached Great Pond road (Rt 624) and then turned right until Lowery Hill Rd. 
Lower Hilly included a 1/2 mile climb which I enjoyed as another opportunity to stretch my legs. I did notice that coming down the climb, I was still a bit hesitant of my biking skills and the girls that I passed, quickly passed me on the downhill. Oh well, I didn't let it get to me for I can't expect my bike handling descending skills to change on race day especially if it requires me to take risks that scare me for then I stop having fun and risk serious injury. There will be another time to practice with Karel, I kept telling myself.
After descending down Lowry Hill (it wasn't steep just a few zig-zags) we made a hard left onto East End Road. We then headed back through Christianstead past the transition area and then turned left on King Street. 
My stats miles 1-8:
Speed: 19.3mph
Time: 25.00
Distance: 8.0 miles
Normalized power: 167
Average power: 144



It was nice to be back in town and to see the many spectators and volunteers supporting the athletes in the race. This section of the course is very tight so there was no "racing" going on here for me. My goal was to get through all the side streets and hot corner (seen above and turned to the left) all in one piece. I should note that there are very few paved or smooth sections of this course which make this race a bit challenging to feel comfortable on your bike. I made sure throughout the first 8 miles to stay on top of my hydration/fueling in my bottles so that I was sipping every 10 minutes or if less, as needed, and I started this early within the first 5 minutes of the bike. My goal was to finish 1 bottle before the Beast so I would have one less bottle to carry up the climb and to ensure I was meeting my energy/hydration/electrolyte needs with my INFINIT custom drink. 


Miles 9-21

After we left downtown with several right and left turns to keep us alert, we turned right on onto Rt 75 which then became Northside Road. We made a sharp, downhill right turn onto Northshore road (staying on the left) and then we followed it until we came to Rt 69/Parasol Hill....hello Beast!


This was my absolute favorite part of the course for the scenery. The views of the ocean were amazing and I was smiling the entire time. This part of the course is relatively easy compared to what comes in miles 21-56 so I made sure to not take any chances here. 





This is one thing that Karel and I both reflected on after the race in that neither one of us pushed during the race. We partly regret this for we both felt really good on the entire bike course and perhaps we could have both gone harder but with this being our first time on this course and knowing past results/times, the competition and feedback on this course, we didn't want to risk our luck of overcooking the bike, not being able to fuel properly and feeling fatigued on the run. 


I loved that in this section we had a mix of nature life with the trees that hung over us to give us a little shade and then combined that with the ocean views. The temperature went from 83-degrees (per my Garmin 500) when I started the bike to 86 degrees before I got to the Beast. However, both Karel and I felt comfortable in the first 21 miles before the beast. We both grabbed cold water at every aid station with the first one being mile 11 - I grabbed a bottle and poured/squeezed it on my back and in the vents in my Air-attack Giro helmet and then tossed the bottle for I was still working on my 1st of three sport drink bottles so I didn't have an extra cage on my bike for that water bottle. 



There was some nice tailwind in this section and a few flat sections and the roads were fairly good here. This made for a great mental state leading up to the beast. Karel said he forgot what mile the Beast was at and thought it was mile 25 so when it hit him in the face at mile 21, he laughed at himself "wait - I'm not ready yet!"
We did about 400 feet of climbing in this section of the course (about 800 feet total so far).



My biggest worry for the entire race was that unknown of the Beast so it was on my mind and I think I held back a bit too much. Although Karel and I drove this part of the course on Thurs, I just wasn't sure about making it up to the top without my body giving up. Mentally I was excited and emotionally I was concerned but physically I was ready to tackle the beast. 

My Stats miles 8-21:
Speed: 19.39 mph
Time: 37.08
Distance: 12 miles
Normalized power: 145
Average power: 120


Ok - here we go!!!

21 miles into the bike course we get to experience THE BEAST. 
A 600-foot climb in a stretch of highway 7/10 of a mile long with an average grade of 14% and a max grade of 21.5% (Although if you pick the wrong line in one section you could find yourself stuck on a 27% incline). Proper gearing is critical for this section of the course so if you plan to do this race, make sure your bike is race ready for this course. 



Did you really think we would get to ride up the Beast on smooth roads??? Wishful thinking....



We made a left hand turn up the beast and just like some other sections of this course, we were allowed to take the entire road. I found myself focusing on a smooth pedal stroke although most of the time I was out of the saddle and just focusing on keeping my legs pedaling. For if my legs stopped I was on the ground and would be forced to walk my bike up to the top. Although it may appear to be faster to walk your bike, there are two types of slow on this course - slow walking and slow riding and you would rather be slow riding (plus you get to brag afterward that you conquered the Beast on your bike). 



The signage on the road made this section possible. It was as if you had a coach there telling you "Ok - this is what you are doing right now and I know you can do this. It's only 14%!"



The road curved it's way up higher and higher with a few smooth patches of road that everyone was fighting for. Although there was some weaving back and forth on bikes, I found myself keeping to one side of the road except to pass the guys. I was not passed by any females here and passed a few at the beginning of the climb (who had passed me on the downhills in the past few miles). I just stayed focused on the road and just kept my mind in the moment and didn't think about what was coming next. 




The road bounced back and forth from 12 to 14% but neither felt harder/easier than the other. I had used all my gears up at the bottom of the climb although I was wishfully thinking that the bike gods would put another gear on my bike for my 53 cadence average felt fast at times and then felt super slow. But then again I was riding between 4.8-5.7 mph for this climb. 


After the beast, 12% doesn't look so intimidating any more. 


There were some hair pin/switch back turns throughout this course and Karel made sure to let me know exactly what line to ride. For these types of climbs (seen above) you want to be on the outside (not inside) for the inside will have the steeper grade. 


Here we go again...14% was kinda getting old by now....




Getting closer to the beast....


YIPPEE!! Mentally, I was excited that I had just completed half of this section and I told myself that I could make it to the top. 



The Beast was next and it was a very short section so the key was just to make it to the top, turn to the right and then "recover."


My stats for the Beast:


Karel's stats for the beast:

Karel beat me up the Beast by .8 mph!!! I'll get him next time :) 


After the Beast I felt relieved that I did it and the rest was a ride in the park.


Below is the turn after the Beast.


After riding 14-21.5% MPH for a few minutes, this felt like a flat road. This was the first and only time that I sat down on my saddle. I also picked up the speed to 7.2mph!



Oh, well that easy part was short-lived. 



Almost there....


We did it!!!!


(celebrating our accomplishment the day after the race at the bottom of the Beast)


The descend from the Beast was the scariest section for me because this was not something that I practice all the time. This was a twisty sections of road with a sharp left hand turn at the bottom. I was not comfortable on this section and was passed by a lot of people here. Oh well, I did the best I could and was still having fun and feeling good. This was also nice to "recover" after the downhill section.





We made a left turn at Midland Road and then a right turn on Rt. 669 and continued straight across Rt 70 intersection and then right at the end. 

This section was interesting because for a good stretch of road we go over a serious of speed bumps with no room to go on the outside. You had to slow down just enough to not risk getting a headache or your bottles falling off. The next aid station was mile 31 and I could tell that a lot of athletes had lost bottles on this course. Karel put on new cages for me and they were extra tight. On this course, you also have to consider flats and lost bottles as part of the challenge to make it through this bike course feeling like you had a great bike.
We made a left turn on to Rt 66 (Melvin Evans Hwy). Karel said his chain fell off (despite us both having chain catchers) here and it got stuck and he couldn't just pedal it back on. He said it took him a good minute to put back on. Karel is super experienced but these things happen and he made the mistake of crossing his gears for there is a steep climb to get on to the hwy and he was in the wrong gear when he changed gears. 

The Hwy is one tough stretch of road - super windy and bumps and even when you are going downhill the wind makes it incredibly hard to recover - you are still pushing down hill. The heat was a factor so I made sure to grab the next bottle of water at the aid station and keep on my bike for cooling. I finished my second bottle by 2 hours in the bike course. 

We continued on the Hwy past the Sunny Isle Shopping Center and it was great to see so many locals out on the course cheering us on. We followed Rt 70 until the intersection of Rt 62 and continued straight
After the Hwy, we road on a beautiful section of country-looking road and despite the side winds and temps on my Garmin showing 95-97 degrees in this section, I really loved this section. I found myself passing a lot of guys in this section and my legs felt really good. However, I was acknowledging that I was pacing myself well but also that I was purposely holding back because the run was no walk in the Caribbean park. 

We continued traveling eastbound on Rt 62 and then turned right on Rt 624. This section was familiar to me because this was the opposite direction of the section heading toward Lowry Hill. The last 18 miles of the course had some tough climbs (ranging from 11-15%) but Karel and I had done this loop (with our friend/veteran St. Croix athlete) David that we met at our Cottage before the race so we knew exactly what was coming which mentally was helpful. 

My stats from top of the Beast - Mile 38
Speed: 18.55 mph
Time: 50 minutes
Distance: 15.5 miles
Normalized power: 144
Average power: 122
In this section we did 500 feet of climbing. So far we have done ~1800 feet of climbing in 38 miles. 



The last part of this bike course had everything - heat, wind and lots of climbs and descends but you get to see another side of the island. We made a big loop until we turned left on Southgate Road (after passing our Cottages about 1 mile prior). 

Taken Thurs before the race.


I had my last bottle on my bike in the left rear cage and my rear right cage is my "primary" bottle that I will grab to sip as it is the easiest for me to reach (in addition to the cage on the frame of my bike). Somewhere around the country road section of the bike course my bottle popped out so I had to stop to get it. Thankfully the road was flat so it didn't roll anywhere. A marshall stopped to ask if I was ok and I thought that was nice. This was a necessary move of mine (even though I had a gel with me as backup - although I haven't taken a straight gel in well over a year as I prefer INFINIT sport drinks) and it didn't cost me anytime for I had caught back up to the guys around me that I had passed in the windy section. I moved my bottle to the frame to make sure I didn't lose it and kept my cold water bottle for cooling/sipping in my rear right cage.
Karel lost  one of his three bottles (his front aero bottle) on the course, so he grabbed a Power Bar Perform at the aid station. Racing is not about focusing on what you can control but knowing how to handle things out of your control. 


Near the end of our beautiful loop with bumpy roads, we had covered all the difficult climbs (including a few tough ones in the last 18-mile loop) and then just for fun, one more 1/2-mile climb up Lowry Hill until we descend down and make our way back into town. 

Throughout the end of the bike course (last 10 miles) I was passed a lot by girls but I knew I had ridden the race I wanted to ride, except for being a little more scared on the downhills than I wanted and holding back, perhaps a bit too much. Both Karel and I feel that we can ride this course a lot "faster" next time not because of better fitness (for we both felt great on this course) but knowing the course will be a big advantage next time around. 

My stats from mile 38-56
Speed: 18.4 mph
Time: 1:02
Distance: 15.5 miles
Normalized power: 152
Average power: 122
End temperature of the ride - 90 degrees.
We did around 1100 feet of climbing in this section for a total of ~3000 feet of climbing per my Garmin. 

In the last mile I was finishing off my last sport drink bottle + bottle of water (for 900 calories in 3 bottles + 2 bottles water only) and feeling great and excited to run. I watched the pros run by and found myself cruising to the transition area excited to be so close to finishing this race. I had counted about 6 or 8 girls ahead of me off the bike (either passing me on the run or I saw them on the run) so I was hoping I was right when I saw the bike rack in transition for I knew that to place well in my age group I would have a lot of catching up to do. But that's ok, I paced my race and I was super excited to run.

Only 13.1 miles to go......and to continue with the island theme, this would not be an easy 13.1 miles. 

Marni bike stats:
3:05 total time
18.09 mph average
Normalized power- 158
Average power - 149
Average cadence - 86
8th age group bike

Karel bike stats:
2:43 total time
20.6 mph average
16th age group