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



5/7/14

St. Croix 70.3 - bike tips



There’s no better feeling than finishing a race with a strong effort. Perhaps you invision leaving it all out on the course in the last mile or maybe you remember your last race, sprinting to the finish with your hands in the air. It’s not easy to finish a race strong, especially in an endurance race but with the right pacing strategy with a well-fueled and hydrated body, every athlete has it in him/her to experience how amazing it feels to give a full-throttle effort to the finish line.

But no athlete likes to remember the end of a race as being a horrible finish or perhaps, not having any gas left in the tank the last few miles. Feeling empty, depleted and dwelling on not being able to race strong to the finish line is not something you plan for and even with the best intentions to pace your own race, you never know what the body will do throughout an endurance race. 

It’s far too common that athletes will talk about the end of the race either with positive and motivating thoughts of being able to race smart and finishing strong or having nothing left to give and suffering well before the finish line chute. That  later memory often stays with the athlete for a while and particularly for goal-driven athletes, those athletes will likely relate that poor performance with the need to train more or harder (which is not always the immediate answer and may even do more harm than good). Sure, there are times when you are feeling horrible and giving your best effort and the outcome works out exactly as you wished, but the key to experiencing a successful race performance is an unique combination of taking a few risks but also pacing your own race.

There have been several group bikes rides that I have participated in in the past year or so that I had SO much fun in the ride - typically riding with the guys and a few super strong girls. I was pushing, my legs were burning and my heart was pumping and I was in total enjoyment with all of that suffering. But during and after these rides, I knew that this “workout” had nothing to do with my race day pacing or even my training plan in general. But sometimes you have to change up the routine to experience what works and doesn’t work to help you understand your race day efforts and group rides have little to do with how I can pace my own race on race day. But they sure are fun!

Imagine standing at the starting line at a running race and feeling trained and ready to go and then, when the gun goes off, you start out running with the lead group because you feel good at the moment and you want to be as "fast" as everyone else (and don't like being passed). Perhaps a pace that is 10 seconds, 30 seconds or even minutes faster than a pace that you trained yourself to do or even a pace that you could never even hold in training. It’s through common sense that a body that tries to push harder than it has trained to push (or to push for a specific amount of time without risking serious fatigue or bonking or injury) will not be able to finish strong, even with the strongest mind and sport nutrition/coke at aid stations.

Here lies the biggest problem with triathletes is not understanding how to pace the bike portion of a triathlon in order to set the body up for a strong run. Similar to a running race, most runners know exactly (or a range) of efforts that will allow for steady pacing and a strong finish or a slow gradually fatigue from starting out too fast or pushing too hard throughout the race. Through a smart training plan that allows for a lot of brick workouts as well as test sets to understand the best pacing on the bike to ensure a strong run off the bike (alongside proper fueling) a triathlete will be very prepared with a good range of “efforts” to race a smart in the bike portion of a race and to finish strong.

So, how do you know what this effort should be? Well, heart rate is not a very valuable tool on the bike and neither is speed. There are so many factors that can affect both and you may find yourself constantly struggling to be consistent with training and racing by using these two tools. You can still monitor the HR but the weather, sleep, stress, nutrition, effort, distance and fitness level can all affect the heart rate.
Perceived effort and watts on the bike (with a steady cadence which you can also monitor) are the two most valuable tools that I encourage athletes to use when riding on race day. A separate bike computer on your bike will also help you monitor these variables. Specific to long distance racing, the majority of athletes should not “hurt” on the bike. Certainly "hurt" is relative and can be defined differently from an experienced to inexperienced athlete. There should be a max sustainable effort that should allow you to race hard enough to put your training to the test but this effort should give you the least amount of stress possible so that you can still run strong off the bike. As for watts, this should be determined well before race day by reviewing power files (IF and TSS are two good numbers to review) and doing several “race prep” workouts (bricks) to perfect pacing and nutrition.

Before I get into the specifics of the St. Croix 70.3, 56-mile bike course in my next blog post, here are a few tips that I will share as to how I was able to race on the hardest course I have ever raced my bike on but also how you can prepare yourself for your next triathlon race.

-Cassette – I used a 11-28 cassette. Instead of a 10-speed I had an11-speed cassette. Thiis allowed for less jumps between gears compared to a 10-speed cassette. This also helped with smoother shifting. Be sure you have the right cassette for your race depending on the terrain, you can discuss this with an experienced bike mechanic or read forums from experienced athletes who have rode your course. This will be a game changer for you if you do/don’t have the right cassette. If you have ever climbed and wished you had just one more gear to shift too, that is what it is like to not have the right cassette (although when climbing the beast I would have loved a 14-speed cassette :) 

-Di2 – Electronic shifting was the best addition to my new bike (thanks Karel!) especially on a hilly course. I have shifters in my base bars in the brake levers and in the aero bars. Additionally, I can stand and shift at the same time and shift from big to small (vice versa as well) while standing. This played a huge impact on keeping a steady effort throughout the race in St. Croix and since changing gears is key to keeping a steady cadence, it is nice to be able to have electronic shifting so I can just hit a button and my gears change. Karel also put in a chain catcher on my bike so the risk of my chain falling off is less if I accidentally cross my gears when shifting. 

-Develop your own riding style – Every athlete will have his/her unique style of riding, especially on a tough course. This is specific as to how an athlete will climb. 90% of the time you will likely see me climbing out of my saddle for this is how I am able to get the smoothest pedal stroke and save my legs for the run. This does require a bit more energy from my upper body but I am much more comfortable standing than sitting. As I mentioned above, I can shift as I stand so that  is a big bonus for my riding style. Sitting in the saddle is another way to climb. Do not feel as if you have to stay aero for your entire bike ride, especially on climbing. Sit or stand and stretch those hips. If you do stand or sit a lot when you are racing, an aero helmet will not be to your advantage. 

-Bike tune up – Your bike should be tuned up and ridden before race day to test anything new or changed on your bike. Be sure your drive train is as smooth as possible and there is no friction. Karel does a complete overhaul on each of our bikes before a race (and throughout training too) which can take up to 2 hours to get our bikes race ready. He takes the bike completely apart and every part is removed and he makes sure that all the bearings and all moving parts are smooth and there is no friction. Many bike mechanics will not go to this great of detail for a bike tune-up and you may find your bike with a clean chain and a sparkling frame and that is it. Invest the money for a really good tune-up on your bike to ensure that you can take your engine on your bike and race the best race possible. A new chain and tires may be all you need depending on how regularly you take care of your bike. Karel has worked on some bikes that are rarely taken care of and although he tries to do his best replacing cables and bearing and other parts, some parts are not fixable and require new parts (more money for the athlete). Also, you want to be aware of any cracks in your frame which need to be taken care of ASAP with the manufacture of the bike. I should also mention here that a good bike fit should be an immediate decision after you purchase a bike OR if you have never had one before on the bike you are riding OR if you feel as if you are not fitted right (or sitting) right on your bike. Karel has helped so many triathletes, cyclists and MTBers in and around our area with his RETUL fit system and we consider it “free” speed for the investment of the fit. If you are put in the right position on your bike, not only will you be able to generate more power BUT you will reduce risk for injury and can train more efficiently. Fits are not just for the elite or experienced – every triathlete should invest in a bike fit from an experienced fitter especially if you are expecting your body to perform in training without injury and to improve. 

-Hydration set-up – I am a big fan of sport water bottles as the main hydration carrier on your bike, in cages that are reachable. It is important to be able to take a sip of your drink frequently to meet your fluid, electrolyte and carbohydrate needs each hour. Being able to shake up your bottle will allow for properly mixed contents (as oppose to sipping from a straw) and being able to toss a bottle at an aid station provides you with a free cage to store cold water for sipping/cooling. Don't use your favorite bottles for race day if you plan to toss a bottle. For a half IM distance, you should have no less than 3 bottles on your bike (or 1x 24-28 ounce per hoour) – allowing for 1 bottle PER hour. I encourage athletes to bring their own nutrition and think of the aid stations as a treat and not to rely 100% on the aid stations (although still use them as needed especially for water or if you loose some nutrition). It is encouraged to use your training nutrition for race day and this should be well practiced (in the same amounts) throughout your longer training sessions. Fuel as tolerated and use cold water to cool the body (heat, back, neck, etc.) as much as possible in hot races. By reducing the need to rely on solid food and prioritizing liquid nutrition it is much easier (and safer as you can keep your hands on your bars and watch the road - think of eating on the bike like texting and driving - you need to maneuver your machine as you ride and sipping a drink makes this a lot easier.) and more efficient to meet individual hydration, energy and electrolyte needs through a one-stop-shop in a bottle.
Karel and I both use Infinit nutrition for our fuel on the bike and I created a custom formula for each of us, which I do for other athletes as well. 

-Practice your skills – This is the area where athletes of all fitness levels can improve. To be a safe and strong rider you have to be comfortable riding on your respective course. The St. Croix 70.3 course never took me out of my comfort zones but I did not feel comfortable “racing” on some of the descends. In my mind I rode scared down many of the descends and twisty roads but I feel this was simply lack of experience on these types of roads. Although I do not climb in training, this is a strength of mine and I love to climb but I know I need to continue to work on my skills on the bike going downhill. I have improved my bike skills tremendously over the past few years with Karel’s help but without similar roads to practice on in training, I know that this was my biggest limiter in this race and where I lost the most time with my competitors. However, I felt like I raced my best race possible and paced my own race. I look forward to our upcoming move to SC for the opportunity to practice my skills going down hills for I know this will continue to limit me in these challenging courses (which I love). All triathletes should feel comfortable on their bike outside on the road (and around other athletes) and should have the skills for a safe and smart race (if you aren't comfortable changing gears or grabbing bottles, practice!). I can’t stress it enough but if you can, please drive or bike some of your course (ex. the start/finish or "difficult sections") ahead of time (before your race) so you are not only prepared for proper shifting, bumpy roads or potholes and tight/sharp turns but also to reduce anxiety before your race (the unknown is always stressful for athletes). 

-Wheels and tires – If you are thinking about race wheels, invest in name brand wheels which invest research and money into their wheels to ensure that you have fast AND safe wheels. Just because a wheel has a dish doesn't mean that the wheel is safe to use. Karel does a lot of research on bike gear and is always keeping up with what's new and effective (he's kinda like the Consumer Reports of biking). It’s important to consider your course and how the wheel will function on your course as well as your ability to ride with race wheels. There is a big difference between the dish size in race wheels as well as a disc wheel and this is important to consider when shopping for wheels. Karel went with no disc wheel because not only is a disc wheel heavy but it feels every hole because it is a solid wheel. A disc wheel doesn't absorb the shock of bumps that well so he went with a 90mm wheel in the rear and 70mm wheel in the front for better handling on this course. Because I am a lighter/smaller rider, I feel more wind with race wheels (and thus it is more effort to control the bike) so I have a 60mm wheel w/ tubular tires. For bad road conditions, clincher tires are at risk for pinch flats whereas tubulars are better because your flat will likely be just from a puncture which is out of your control (ex. a nail or glass compared to pinch flat which can occur from hitting a bottle or a big bump). You can also ride with a little less pressure in a tubular and there is no risk for a pinch flat. Karel gave me his race wheels for this race so he had clincher tires but he said if he does this race again he would definitely use tubulars.  If you do not have the money (or interest) in investing in race wheels (keep in mind that race wheels are more than just for show – you have to be very comfortable riding with race wheels and the faster the rider, the more benefit you have with the wheels) you can always rent wheels. But be sure you try them out (with good tires and tubes   - for rental wheels don’t always have the best tires/tubes on them so you may want to invest in new tires/tubes before the race) in your last few longer workouts to get comfortable with them (and to adjust any parts to make sure you can properly shift). 







5/5/14

St. Croix 70.3 RR - pre race + 1.2 mile swim




You never know what the body will do on race day. The body can play games on you – tummy upset, feeling aches/twinges  you have never felt before, nerves out the wazoo and legs that feel like jello one minute and lead the next, as if they wouldn’t respond to any type of movement (even walking to the transition area). But no matter how you feel on race day morning, you have to trust that your body will know exactly what to do when the race starts. Sometimes this is easier said than done.
Perhaps at some races you will feel amazing before the race and you will be itching to get your party with your body started but this doesn’t mean that you still do not have that unknown of what the body will do as you swim, bike and run for x-miles. Even if you are 100% prepared and ready to go, you may even find yourself completely stressed and overwhelmed by things that you cannot control which also adds to the emotions of racing.
Considering that age group triathletes balance a lot while training for races (work, family, et.c) and can still dedicate 8-20+ hours of training per week, there’s something special about tapering the body for a race and experiencing all the emotions that come with race day. I truly believe that if racing was easy and effortless and we didn’t have to battle the ever-changing emotions that we feel before a race begins, we wouldn’t be who we are as triathletes.
Racing is not supposed to be easy. We, as athletes, can learn so much about ourselves and what we are capable of (as well as capable of overcoming) through racing so I always encourage athletes to not be afraid of things out of (or at the top) of your comfort zone. Regardless if you are veteran athletes, have raced a course in the past or are racing a new distance/course for the very first time,  I promise, you just have to get started to realize how amazing your body can be when you ask it to perform. You just have to trust yourself, respect your racing distance and appreciate what your body is capable of by focusing only on one mile at a time.

PRE RACE
With multiple alarms set for race morning (on my phone), we were up at 3:30am and started the coffee maker. 
There wasn’t a lot of talking between Karel and myself on race day morning for we were both nervous for the day and just focused on ourselves, each getting ourselves ready for our race.

The afternoon before the race I had laid out all my race gear and then put my gear into 4 separate grocery bags (Pre race, swim,  bike and run) and filled my 3 bottles w/ my custom INFINIT nutrition drink  (280 calories) for the bike and two flasks for the run with NAPALM (each flask with 2 ounces – 100 calories  in each flask).  I put all my nutrition bottles/flasks in another grocery bag.
On race day morning, I first put on my race outfit and timing chip, 110% calf sleeves (not allowed on swim) and socks and extra run shoes for walking in transition area  and then as I sipped my coffee, I tried to keep my body moving instead of sitting back down to eat. After double checking my race gear bags and filling my bottles with cold water from water jugs, I was ready for my pre race meal. 

My tummy was fine while I was eating my normal pre training/racing snack of 2 WASA crackers + smear of nut butter + banana slices, granola and raisins (no maple syrup or honey this race because I didn’t bring/purchase any but that’s ok – I just had a bit more granola) and I had 1 bottle of water to sip on throughout the morning and 1 bottle w/ 1 OSMO packet (hydration for women) in a bottle of water to sip on in transition area. I didn’t finish both bottles before the race start but they were there for me to sip on.

Karel had 1 scoop MUD from INFINIT + 1 thick slice raisin walnut bread (local bread) + jam and 1 scoop OSMO pre-hydration formula in a glass of water.

As I packed up my Oakley Women bag (I didn’t bring my tri transition bag here) , Karel packed up our Ford Focus with our bikes (wheels removed so the bike frames could fit in the back seat). At St. Croix 70.3, there is no day before bike check and no body markings. Our plan was to leave our place at 4:30am to arrive close to the transition area to park before transition opened at 5am. The transition area was first come, first serve for racking bikes on the respected racks (I had 1 rack for the 30-34 women and Karel had two racks) and we weren’t sure about parking or traffic on the two lane road to the transition area so we wanted to arrive early to avoid any pre-race stress.

Our cottage is about 4 miles from the race start but we are also two miles (in route to transition area) from the Buccaneer (host hotel and where we run through on the run course) so we wanted to arrive early to bypass any of that traffic from that resort.

We parked in a side parking lot just a few minutes of walking from the transition area and after waiting in a short line before 5am, we both were able to rack our bikes in the front of our racks.
Karel and I both do our own things pre-race (although I like to be around Karel as much as possible but he likes to zone-out and just do his own thing which I respect) but then meet up before the race for a last minute hug and kiss and good luck wishes.


After quickly setting up my transition area and  several trips to the bathroom to relieve my nervous tummy (same for Karel) , we just waited around for a pump to pump our tires but saw only 2 pumps in the entire transition area. Luckily Karel had a hand pump which he used to top off my tubular tires (which need pumping daily) and his clincher tires. Because there was no bike check in the day before, this is likely why there were no pumps in our small transition area. As far as body marking, they say body marking is only for the mainland races J However, I did look up all the athletes in my age group for their bib numbers so that I could be aware of my competition without having race numbers on the body (although those usually get washed off anyways or smeared).

For my transition area: 
Swim: TYR pro speed suit, Speedo mirrored tint vanquisher goggles, spray body glide, race cap (pink – yay!), extra goggles in bag just in case, timing chip on strap, COOLA spray sunscreen, 910XT Garmin set on multi-sport function.


Bike: Oakley towel, 3 bottles of sport drink on bike (two rear cages which also hold two CO2s, CO2 adapter and quick flat sealant for tubular tires), Garmin 500 on bike, cycling shoes, 110% Flat out socks, GIRO helmet, Oakley Women commit sunglasses and two bottles – 1 with water and 1 with OSMO – from morning that I didn’t completely finish. I put a gu gel in my tri top pocket of my Trimarni kit before I put on my speed suit just in case I lost a bottle on the course (which is typical on this bumpy course) to ensure I wouldn’t be without fuel for any section of the course.


Run: 1 container of endurance aminos from Hammer (to take 4 before the run), race belt w/ number and safety pins securing the bib number, 110% visor, 2 flasks (standing up in my shoes so they wouldn’t fall over or drip), Brooks Pure Flow run shoes w/ locks for shoe laces.


Around 5:50am, Karel and I met up by the edge of the water and at 6am we jumped off the ledge into the water and we both swam together to the Hotel on the Cay, no more than 300 yard swim (I’m guessing). It felt SO good to jump into the water and get the body going. Once we arrived to the island we could swim a bit more if we wanted since there was plenty of room around the little island to the side of the beach start for the race. The race director had the pros stay on the shore and all the age groupers were on the sand on the island. There was water and sport drinks on the island which was nice. Karel and I found some fishies (finally!) to look at so that made us smile.

I kissed Karel good luck and then he made his way to his wave start (35-39) at 6:39am. My wave start was 6:50am. 

After watching Karel go off, I felt a bit more relaxed and was ready to get this party started.

There were 20 girls in my age group (131 women total in the half IM distance) so it was a small wave. We all lined up on the beach and I centered myself in the middle to outside of the buoys that we would make a left turn around. The buoys were more like lane lines so it was not an easy way to start the race but then it was nice to see two sets of large orange buoys to swim through as we made our way to the large yellow buoy to make our first of two right hand turns (buoys on our right).

Despite only 20 girls, I knew this competition was tough so therefore I had an idea of respectable and realistic times for this race course but absolutely no time goals for myself for any leg of the race or total time. I was simply racing my competition and racing smart.

It was a little chaotic at the swim start but my goal was to swim comfortable just like I did in our two prep swims on Thurs and Fri (on the same course although this was the true 1.2 miles). I managed to stay with a 2 other pink caps for the entire swim and I guessed that we were top 5 from our age group because I saw a few pink caps swim away at the beginning of the race. Because of the difficulty of this bike course, I didn’t want to waste any extra energy in the swim. Also knowing the swim course from the practice swims, I knew that there would be a section at the end where we would get a little push to make the effort much easier whereas it was a bit choppy heading out to the first turn buoy. I managed to sight well and stay with the other girls which made me happy. I tried to draft as much as possible but found myself having to swim through some of the other waves which caused me to lose the girls and then have to regroup again.

I absolutely loved this swim. For some reason, I find this ocean water so much smoother than Kona and if this makes sense, less salty too. There are no dolphins, sea turtles or colorful fishies like in Kona but the water is incredibly clear which is wonderful to swim in. I was able to look at my 910XT
After rounding the last buoy, I took another look at my watch (which I was looking at a few times just to see my pace/time) and noticed that this swim was a bit slower than my usual swims but I didn’t let it stress me out or make me frustrated. I just kept swimming smooth in the water as if this was my race warm-up for the bike/run race ahead.

Getting out of the water was a bit tricky – there was a floating (yet secured to the shore) ramp to get out of and there were two males pulling us on to the ramp. This was a bit weird for my legs to be pulled to this platform and then stand up but it all worked out ok.

I exited the water as 5th female out of the water (after looking at results) but I saw 3 or 4 other girls in transition area when I arrived. I took off my caps and goggles and I put on my 110% compression socks for this race instead of my normal calf sleeves since the calf sleeves sometimes give me blisters where the bottom of the sleeve rubs my shoe when I run. This didn’t take much time to put on in transition area but my main worry was forgetting my chip after I took it off to put on my socks. I kept reminding myself “chip, chip” – for the next race, I will just put the chip in my mouth so I don’t forget it. I then put on my cycling shoes (I never keep them on my bike – I find it unsafe and I don’t feel it saves significant time in endurance races – Karel believes the same), helmet and sunglasses, took a sip of my drink and then grabbed my bike, turned on my bike computer and then when I exited transition area I was ready to start my bike.
Oh my!! My speedsuit was still on!!

OK – this has NEVER happened before and I must say that I couldn’t help but laugh that my new TYR Torque Pro is SO comfortable that I didn’t even realize I still had it on! Not only is the suit super fast (really – it is incredibly fast) but it just feels so good (I had no chaffing too and even with body glide in past races I would still chaff with the speed suit). I leaned my bike against the fence and then ran back to the rack (just 4 racks from the start so not too far and took off my speedsuit over my cycling shoes and ran back to my bike. Transitions always seem sooooo long but this transition was just over 2 minutes so I didn’t lose that much time with my speedsuit issue and putting on socks.


I hit lap on my Garmin 910 and then hit start on my Garmin 500 bike computer when I got on my bike and I was feeling fresh and ready to go. All those nerves went away and my body was feeling good. Now it was time for my body to start riding the most challenging 56 mile bike course that my bike has ever taken me on. 

5/4/14

St. Croix 70.3 - FINISHERS!



In 2012, Karel and I searched for a challenging half ironman for us to share the experience together. We chose Branson 70.3.
You see, Karel made the jump into triathlons in 2012 and he wanted a course that challenged him for his first 70.3 distance. I was on board for this course because not only would we get to travel somewhere new (and if you know me well, you know I love to race to travel and travel to race) but this course had a lot of climbing and that was exactly what I love in a bike course. 

Perhaps this seems a bit crazy to choose a course that has been ranked as one of the hardest bike courses (although, after riding both Branson 70.3 and St Croix 70.3 I may need to disagree on this) for Karel’s first half IM but we enjoy a challenge when it comes to racing. We certainly do not take for granted that 70.3 or 140.6 miles is a long way for the human body to go but we thrive off challenges, especially when it comes to swimming, biking and then running on difficult courses. 


I heard of the St. Croix 70.3 several years ago when I started into endurance triathlons and it was always on my bucket list of races to do. Before I qualified for my first IM World Championship in Kona Hawaii, this race destination was so appealing because it was on an island and was known to be tough. 

From what I knew about the course it had everything that I love in a course and things that I know would challenge me and perhaps even take me out of my comfort zone.

When Karel and I were planning our 2014 race season, we talked about the possibility of doing this race, not to try to Kona qualify but just to conquer this course and everything that comes with it – heat, wind, hills, descends, humidity, ocean swim, the “Beast”, bumpy roads, trails and grass on the run course and a small race vibe feel.

We booked our travel early in the year and all of our prep was gearing up for this race. We came to St. Croix to race among some of the best athletes around the world who come to this race for Kona slots and to conquer this challenging, yet incredibly beautiful course. Plus you can't beat this location for a vacation so why not suffer for 70.3 miles in the middle of our travels to the Virgin Islands. 

Both Karel and myself were a bit nervous for this race course. Not because of the 70.3 distance (for this was Karel’s 7th half IM distance and this was my 9th half IM distance) but instead because of the unknown.

The biggest unknown when it comes to challenging courses is how the body will accept all of the race course stress. Even if you are ready for the perfect race, plan to pace your perfect race or push your limits, you never know how a course will affect your body and mind. With a challenging course, there is the unknown of what the body will do in the next mile (or not do) but also you are constantly using every skill/tool that you have as an athlete to prepare for the next mile. 
The most important parts of "surviving" tough courses are hydration, calories/sport nutrition, pacing, attitude, proper clothing and practical gear/equipment. But even if you try to control all of these variables that can positively affect your race, there is still that unknown of how your body will swim, bike and the run to the finish line.

Now that we have earned our St. Croix 70.3 finisher medals and can say “been there, done that!” it is time to celebrate, thank our bodies, reflect and continue to challenge ourselves as we dream big and work hard for our goals….and explore amazing parts of this world by swimming, biking and running on exciting race courses.
Thank you for your support and for following us along - we appreciated all the good luck vibes (no flats - although we both had our share of issues throughout the bike course which I will share in my race reports). We are both incredibly happy with our performances today on this island.

Race reports to come…….
But first, here's the stats from our race today.

RESULTS


Marni Sumbal
6th age group (30-34)
1.2 mile swim: 33:42
T1: 2:12
56 mile bike: 3:05:47 (18.09mph)
T2: 1:25
13.1 mile run: 1:41:28 (7:44 min/mile) 
Total time: 5:24:34
25th overall female
14th overall amateur
5th fastest amateur run split


Karel Sumbal
11th age group (35-39)
1.2 mile swim: 36:48
T1: 1:27
56 mile bike: 2:43 (20.6mph)
T2: 1:15
13.1 mile run: 1:34 (7:11 min/mile)
Total time: 4:56:53
45th overall male
73rd overall
32nd amateur male