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Ironman 70.3 St. George Race Recap - Karel

Race week was very tough for me mentally and emotionally. On Monday, we made the incredibly difficult decision to say goodbye to Smudla - my best furry friend for the past 16.5 years. Tues was even worse for me. I was able to do my workouts but I felt like I was just going through the motions as I was completely empty inside. My sleep was off and so was my appetite. It was a rough week. I didn't even get around to packing my bike until late Tuesday afternoon. It was probably good that I was able to get away as I was constantly seeing and thinking of Smudla all around the house - even though she was no longer there.

My flight left early Wed morning and I arrived in Vegas around lunchtime. Robb (our athlete and friend) picked me up at the airport and we arrived to St. George in the afternoon. After grocery shopping and then checking in to our rental house near Snow Canyon, I went for a short jog just to shake off the travel. It was a very long day of travel and my back was bothering me during the plane ride but it was nice to move some blood before dinner.

On Thursday I did my mini triathlon - swam in the lake, biked on some of the course and then ran. The water was cold (low 60's) but after my head unfroze, I was ok. I had my new Roka wetsuit which felt good in the water. After the bike and run, my legs felt much better than on Wednesday - much more springy.

Friday was the typical pre-race warm-up of a short spin followed by a short run. Since we stayed at the top of the hill on the bike course, I rode down to the expo to show off my freshly painted (by Kcycle) bike at the Ventum booth (I told Rachel I'd stop by). I then biked easy going back up the hill. My run off the bike was mostly flat around the subdivision. Overall I felt fine. Being around our athletes helped me clear my mind a bit but anytime I was alone and tried to visualize and focus on the race, I would think about Smudla and it would make me really sad.

Robb, Diane and I arrived to T1 right when it opened so that we could check in our bikes. New this year was having bags for the bike (with all gear including shoes in the bag). These bags hung on a rack instead of having us set up our own transition area.

Pre-race Meal:
The standard for me: Oatmeal and coffee. Then a half of the Skratch bar about an hour before the race and sipping on a NBS drink. SIS gel right before I lined up for the swim. I also had Osmo pre load the day before the race (morning and evening) and on race day morning.

Race morning procedure/warm-up: The usual jog warm up and bathroom stops at the race site. No swim warm-up allowed - which I feel is dangerous considering the water was only 62F. I also used the PR lotion which I feel really works. 

Bike nutrition: NBS carbo-hydration drink (hydration system and bottle) + 1 x SIS gel.

Run nutrition:1 flask with Precision hydration 1000 and one flask with Skratch. I also had one Enervitine cheerpack and a few licks of base salt too. I don't have just one fueling plan but instead I think about the course and the conditions and what I feel will work best for me on the day.

1.2 mile swim: 31:04
I was a little late to line up for the swim so I was a little more back of where I wanted to stand but still I was in the 30 to 34 min crowd (self-seed rolling start). They started 3 of us at a time, every 5 seconds. The water was cold (62F) and since I usually don’t do well in the cold water, I wore my Xterra neoprene booties (allowed in US races if the water temp is below 65F). My goal was to swim comfy to the first buoy to avoid any possible chest tightness due to the cold water and due to the lack of a swim warm-up. I felt fine and quickly find a good rhythm. Because of the cold, I didn't do my usual “take out speed” but just swam comfortably so that I wouldn't panic. The water was crisp and clean and it was easy to see the other swimmers and kicking legs. No kicks in my face for me this race :-)

Overall I felt good throughout the swim but I just couldn't get into that maximum sustainable effort. I was moving fine and passing some slower swimmers, but then at one point I noticed that a girl that I
passed was still on my side. I tired to swim away from her but she was still there. I backed off and swam on her hip for some time, thinking it is basically my speed. But looking back, I’m not sure if it was a good decision or if I should have just taken a breather and then kept on pushing. I stayed on her hip for the entire back stretch. Sighting was a bit difficult on the back long stretch due to chop and sun but I think I was able to stay pretty straight. Looking at my swim file after the race, the lines were not as straight as last year and my Garmin showed about 100 yards more in distance compared to previous year. The swim time at the end wasn’t what I was expecting but when I saw the slower time at the clock I didn't make any assumption because you never know what the other athletes did. I was in a good head-space as I exited the water and ran towards my bike bag.

I grabbed my bag quickly and dumped my helmet and bike shoes down on the ground. I quickly slipped off my wetsuit (I didn’t use the strippers) and bent over to grab my helmet and shoes. That made me dizzy and I wobbled a little and had to grab a chair. My head was spinning - probably from bending down right after the cold water. I kept on moving and the feeling passed as I made my way to my bike.  I had my bike shoes in my hands and put them on right in front of my bike. The transition was long and I didn’t want to run in my cycling shoes. The shoes were not allowed to be clipped to the pedals otherwise I would have had them clipped in to my bike. My bike was close to the bike exit
so it was a short run and a very quick hop on the bike at the mount line.

56 mile bike: 2:26.26
I really like the St. George bike. It has everything I like in a bike ride - lots of good climbing and also some nice long descends. It is also easy to break the course down into segments, which makes it go by quickly. It is a very honest course and you don’t really see any AG draft packs on the course.
There is a big hill around mile 2 of the bike and it's very easy to push too hard there and then pay for it later on as the HR and power goes skyrocket high. I made it up that hill pretty comfortably and used the following descend to collect my legs and to get ready for the actual bike ride.

With this being my third time racing here, I knew the course very well. I mentally broke it down into several segments and focused on the best execution possible on each segment. I made sure not to think too much in the future but just stay in the present moment.

The first segment was around the lake and then getting out to the main road ~30 min or so. Then it was the first big hill on the main road, followed by 2 other major hills with long and fast descents in between. Then it was the road to the Red Hills Parkway (also part of the run course) which then heads towards the Snow Canyon. The ride gets more and more beautiful as the race goes on. Then it
was the Snow Canyon section (about 4.5 miles) and then the final descend into St. George.

Nothing new, my back really bothered me very early on and it was very difficult to pedal. Normally my back starts to bother me mid ride and lasts until I get off the bike but this time, it actually got better as the ride went on - probably from being able to change my position on the climbs and do more out-of-the-saddle pedaling. I also did some out of the saddle stretches, together with my breathing exercises from Scott (my PT) which helped me manage my back pain. I was able to manage the 2nd half of the bike and felt much better with less back pain. It never really went away but it was tolerable. I'm use to this as I just can't seem to ride without some type of back pain. I got passed by 3, maybe 4 guys during the bike ride. I felt really strong in the Canyon and enjoyed the final descend into town.
Overall I'm really happy with this ride and how it went. I tried to push harder but I just don't have that power like I used to have in my old cycling days. I can’t live in the past and I need to work with what my abilities are these days. I passed a lot of guys going up the Snow Canyon and that felt good. There were no winds today so it helped with overall faster bike times compared to the previous 2 years. I was feeling good at the bike finish and I was excited to run. On the descend into town, I was rehearsing the T2 and the start of the run and I was ready to chase down some of the faster cyclists in my age group.

13.1 mile run - 1:23.22
I quickly racked my bike, ditched the helmet and put on my running socks and shoes. I don’t use socks on the bike so it takes me a few seconds longer to put them on in T2. I usually wear my Naked Running belt but in the week leading up to the race, I realized in a training run that I can easily put my 2 flasks into the rear pocket of my new Castelli San Remo (one piece) Tri suit and they stayed there secured without bouncing around. So I did just that and just had a race belt with the bib number to put on. I grabbed my running hat, glasses and flask and started moving out through T2 to the run exit. During that time I put the flasks in my pockets, hat on my head and sunglasses on. I kept my Enervitine cheer pack in my hand. Sometimes I like to hold on to something when I run and it felt good.

The run is very difficult and it can break some souls if you are not mentally prepared for it. It broke
me the first time around three years ago! Last year I was much better prepared mentally for it and managed to have a good run. I was hoping I could match my run from last year which was 1:25.

I mentally broke the run into several segments again just like the bike. First was the 3 mile hike up the hill. I didn’t want to look at my watch until this segment was done. I don’t run by paces or HR on my watch anytime when I race but since I have done this race twice before, I knew how long it should take me to get to the top of the hill around 3 miles and wanted to check in with myself around that time. I felt pretty good and just focused on from, breathing and tried to find some fluidity in my stride (if you can call that going uphill). I saw a friend at mile 1-ish aid station who cheered me on and said something like “go run them down”. It gave me a spark of energy. Thanks Lee!

I was moving well and kept on passing other athletes - some that I recognized from passing me on the
bike. That always feels good. I got to the top of that hill and finally glanced on my watch. I was pleased to see a faster time compared to last year and I was ready to tackle the next segment.

Next came the rolling hills (mostly downhill) to the first turnaround. It went by quickly and I found a really good rhythm. I was drinking from my flasks and took a sip of the cheer pack gel. My next segment was the middle part - 1st and 2nd turn around with more uphill running. I felt good running the hills and I kept telling myself that I am really looking forward to the monster hill that comes on the way back and peaks at around mile 9-ish. I remember the first year - that hill totally broke me and even last year it was very difficult to conquer. Not this time. I was ready for that beast. The run course has absolutely zero shade and if it is sunny, there is no escaping it. It was sunny but I could still feel a little bit of breeze and never felt too hot. Our new Castelli suit felt awesome - I even kept it zipped up all the way.

I got the the bottom of the monster and start climbing up. I kept a good pace and was knocking down the monster one step at the time. Just before the top, I saw our athlete Robb heading the opposite direction and he cheered on me. I wanted to cheer back but I was in the hurt box. I focused on the last few meters of the uphill and just nodded my head to him as I was cheering for him from the inside.

From the top of that beast, it was mostly downhill with just a little bit of rise up for next mile and then it was all downhill to the finish. In my head the run, I convinced myself that after the monster hill, the run was done. I still had about 3 miles to run but it was all downhill. I kept on pushing and was able to pass more people (several in my AG).

I went by my friend Lee who cheered me on again and I just keep on pushing towards the finish line. I glanced on my watch and new it would be a better time than last year. That felt good. I sprinted to the finish line even though there was nobody else on the red carpet - but you just never know with these rolling starts.

I missed out on 3rd place in IM 70.3 Florida a few weeks ago by 18 seconds and I wanted to make sure I gave it all I had all the way to the finish line.

I crossed the line with time of 4:26-ish and sub 1:24 run which was 2 min faster than last year. I was
super stoked with that but I still didn’t know where I finished. It took me some time to get my morning gear bag and powered up my phone….. and there it was (a text from Marni). I placed 2nd in my AG (40-44) in very competitive field that was way stronger than the previous year. I was super happy and I knew I gave it all I had. There was nothing left in the tank and nothing that I could have done better.

I really love St. George. It is a super hard race but it's a very honest course with beautiful scenery. If only the water was a bit warmer :-)

The town and community of St. George is great and they really welcomed and supported the athletes and the event.

I’m super stoked to see that the IM 70.3 World Championship will be in St. George in 2021 and hopefully I will be at the start line as well. I’m also pumped to hear the return of the full Ironman to St. George next year - although I still can’t even comprehend how the heck anybody can do a full on this brutally hard course......but there is a 99%  chance that Marni and I will be there in May next year to tackle the full. It is one of those bucket lists races that I need to do.

I like what Sebastian Kienle said "people want to sign up for an Ironman as big challenge but then they seek a flat, fast and ‘easy” course. It is like ordering a gallon of ice cream and wanting to have it without any calories." Bring on the calories St. George!

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