Las Vegas World Championship 70.3: Race Report

It’s been three days since the Las Vegas 70.3 world championship race. I’m sitting in Palm Springs with a glass of gin and tonic in 40 degree heat, beside the pool, and beneath the dappled shade of a couple of towering palms. I couldn’t be further away from the world of pain that occurred on Sunday.

For anyone who is only after the quick summary, here it is: 

1)   I had the toughest day of my life.

2)   I finished in 6.13.20

3)   Swim split: 00.52.54

4)   Bike split: 3.07.56

5)   Run split: 2.05.14

6) My previous two half-ironman times were pretty much the same as my bike and run combined from this race at Vegas…

Now I’m not one for too much time analysis, but those numbers reflect how challenging I found this race.

We were staying in Vegas on the Strip, and for the past few days, the temperature had been over 110 degrees farenheit (43 Degrees). Everyone was anticipating a brutally hot day, but when we got to the race start on Sunday morning, it was pouring down with rain and the temperature had dropped (which wasn’t a bad thing). I stood at the start chatting to Jarrod and Luke (another athlete from Melbourne), before they headed in for their wave start.

Then I was alone.

The Lake Las Vegas Swim: 0:52:54

I turned up for the practice swim the day before the race, and only a tiny fraction of the course was open. I jumped in and swam around. It was fine. For anyone who has raced in Australia, the water visibility was somewhere between Shepparton and Canberra. Not amazing, but not terrible. It was warm and calm. I swam a lap of the course, maintaining a high heart rate and faster stroke rate like I’d been practicing in training. It felt great. 

However, on race day, as I mentioned, the weather was cooler in the rain, and I had a black bin liner over me to stay warm. One girl in my age group even opted for a full wetsuit. I was jealous.

We jumped in and swam towards the starting buoy.

The starting gun went off, and I swam hard for about 200m. I felt like I was going well. Then I lost the feet I was on, and looked up to find out I had gone off course and was swimming towards the centre of the lake, away from the marker buoys. D’OH!

I lost the group, and got myself back on course alone. But then I did the same thing at the next buoy, and found myself zigzagging like print on MC Hammer’s trousers. 

I have no idea how far I swum. But it felt like I was swimming forever, and I was. My goggles fogged up, and I had no idea where I was going at the turnaround points. I swam the wrong way around the turnaround buoy 2, and a chap on a paddle board was yelling at me which direction I was supposed to be going in. Urgh!!! It was hell.

Towards the finish of the swim, I started getting a cramp in my calf, so eased off the kicking and tried to just glide along for a while. Then I got over taken by a group, and kicked in the eye causing my goggles to hold water like the Titanic.

It was a terrible swim. But it was the swim I deserved. Definitely my weakest of the disciplines, I ran into transition promising myself to start working really hard on my swim this season.

T1 Swim to Bike: 0.04.31

Exiting the swim, there was a really long run into T1. And the p*ssing down rain meant that it was muddy, sloppy and slippery. I found my bike, and grappled with the plastic bag that contained my things. Helmet on, shoes on, watch on, gels in pocket (I couldn’t tape them to my bike because of the torrential rain in the morning before the start – the electrical tape wouldn’t stick), and then run up the hill to the mount line. (I still haven’t practiced the barefoot mount with shoes in the pedals yet, and these weren’t the conditions to try it out in for the first time in a race…) 

Bike course to Lake Mead: 3.07.56

The rain was lashing down when I started on the bike. The course runs a loop through Lake Las Vegas Resort before heading out onto the Lake Mead Highway, and it’s a little bit tricky with a couple of steep(ish) climbs and fast, sweeping descents. When I approached the end of the first downhill, I gently feathered the brakes to take off some speed. Very little happened. The road was so wet that the wheels just kept spinning. Scary.

Once we turned onto the highway, I had anticipated that the course would flatten out and allow you to apply more consistent pressure. But I was really surprised by just how technical the hills were – make no mistake: this is a cyclist’s course. There are very few – if any – flat sections. It’s either uphill or downhill. On a good day, this would have been my dream bike course; I have trained well in the hills in the past, and I love them. But today I had nothing. No power whatsoever. I think I popped/bonked/ran-out-of-gas (whichever your preferred technical term) before I hit the 5km mark of the bike, presumably due to my extra 20 minutes in the swim. 

Realising that I was out if gas, I started trying to front-load my gels to get my energy up. I only had four on me, and I finished two within the first 35 minutes.

Then I made a stupid mistake: I have been training a lot on my road bike as opposed to my TT bike, and ran from a down hill straight into an uphill, and when I went to switch form my large chain ring to small chain ring, I was in the smallest gear on my cassette. I dropped my chain. And cursed out loud. How could I be so stupid!?!

I tried to flick it back on as I was pedaling, but because I was going up a steep hill, I lost momentum very quickly and had to unclip and dismount. Once I flicked my chain back on, I then had to clip in and complete a tricky hill-start manouvre. I was not happy with myself…

The bike course seemed to last forever. I pushed hard on the uphills and I pedaled hard on the downhills. But the whole time I had nothing left. It was a battle. I normally feel great on the bike, but today I had nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I ate the rest of my gels, and then took a couple extra from the aid station. I opened one, and it wasn’t one of my usual favourites. I had a tiny mouthful and almost threw up – it was like cement. I couldn’t eat it. I kept going with my one bottle of Gatorade. I drank a small amount of water.

And then the rain stopped, and the sun came out. I didn’t know how good I had had it until this point.

The ride became unbearably hot. I had no water. Fortunately, there was only about 30km to go – a quick sprint back from Mordy was how I imagined it. But a quick sprint it was not. The hills and false-flats kept coming. And then more hills.

There’s only been a couple of times that I have felt worse on my bike; one was a ride out to Kinglake last summer, when I got to the top and had nothing left, and collapsed on the floor outside the café, stuffing my face with a bacon cheese scroll and a can of Fat Coke and inwardly wept whilst I prayed to the cycling gods to help me ride the 60km home. This time was as bad as that, except, when I finally made it to the end of the ride, I would then have to run a half marathon in the unrelenting heat and sun of the desert. 

Bike to Run: 0:02:45

As I made it towards the end of the bike, I thought I’d get a bit snazzy and undo my shoes whilst they were still clipped in. I got one foot out, BAZINGA, then went to get the other one out, but I was at the dismount line!! That came around much faster than I had anticipated, so I just unclipped the other foot, handed my bike to the volunteer, then took my foot out of my shoe and handed that to hime too and said “please can you chuck this with my bike”. Wow, I really need to practice this kind of thing…

I was relieved to be off the bike, but as I ran through to T2, I felt sick. The volunteers called out my number down the line, and then I was handed my bag. I ran into the tent. I sat down on the white plastic patio chairs that make you feel like you’re at a garden party. And I cried. Wept real-life tears. I couldn’t go on. I had nothing left. Nothing.

I wept. 

I put my new fluro green socks onto my wet feet. I put my race belt on. I put my shoes on and laced them up. I put my witsup trucker cap on. I put my sunglasses on. And I prayed for a minor-earthquake that would immediately halt the race and allow me to curl up on the floor and hide from my pain. I couldn’t go on, I needed to stop.

The earthquake didn’t come. 

The Run: 2:05:14

I exited the tent, and started running.

Within the first 50m, I saw Melanie and Carly, and they yelled encouragement and rang their bell. If I hadn’t seen them there, I would have quit.

The run is three laps of an up and down course; you run all the way up, and then you run all the way down. There is no flat.

Just after I saw Carly and Mel, something dropped in my stomach. I thought I had lost control of my gut, and had wild hallucinations about me being ‘that guy’ that crossed the finish line with diarrhea all down his legs. I made it to a portaloo. Fortunately, I made it in time. And I wasn’t ‘that guy’. But it was a close call. *apologies if this is too much information for some of you. Anyone who knows me well will realise that I have been sparse with the details compared to my normal descriptions…

I kept running. Slowly.

Then I vomited a bit by the side of the road.

Jarrod caught me up and he was on his final lap of the run (I was on my first). I told him there was no way I could possibly keep going, that I was empty, that I had to stop. He assured me that it got better after the first lap. So I kept going.

I finished my first lap as he crossed the finish line, and I heard the race commentator call out “and here’s Jarrod Bosanko, from Melbourne, AUS-TRA-LIA’ in his familiar ironman accent. It gave me a boost, and I knew that Jarrod had done well, and that he would be there to pick me up if I could finish.

The second lap was similar to the first. I ate a gel, and then I started drinking Fat Coke (which, for anyone who doesn’t know already, is the secret weapon to get you through a race when you feel like you might collapse). There was nothing in me; no energy, no strength and no smile. I have never raced without a smile before, but it happened today. 

The heat took its toll. I stuffed ice into my cap and down my top. I walked through every aid station, and more. The heat hit me directly from the sun itself, and then it hit me again as it radiated off the black road and back into my feet and legs.

And then I found myself on the last lap. I had nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing. I love running, but today I despised it. I had visualized the run course as three ‘running club’ loops (as I do approx. 7km running club during lunchtime at work). But each of today’s running clubs were more torture than I have experienced before.

As I went up the final climb, it was the first time during the whole day that I knew I would make it to the finish. I couldn’t believe it – this was supposed to be easier than the ironman back in March. But this felt twice as hard as twice the distance felt back then.

I turned the last corner, and started running downhill. It wasn’t like a normal downhill, where you can turn it up a bit and let go – I still had nothing – but I ramped it up very slightly, and then as it flattened out I pretended I had just started running fresh, and I sprinted to the finish. Finish strong and forget about what a terrible day you’ve had.

To summarise the day

I had a terrible time out there. I’m new to triathlon and to racing. This was only my 3rd half-ironman, and still technically in my first season of racing (well, during the off-season really). But I have never NOT enjoyed something this much. There was not one second of this race when my smile came out from behind my cloud of pain. It was the biggest challenge I have faced as an athlete.

But that’s my lesson; I learned that it doesn’t matter how bad it gets – I CAN keep going, and I did. I have never wanted to quit before. I mean, my last three races (Melbourne, Geelong and Canberra) were hard, and I wanted to back off and relax, but I never once wanted to quit. But this race was different – I wanted to quit form the moment I got to turn 1 of the swim, all the way through to the finish.

But I didn’t.

I can’t describe what it was that kept me going. Mainly, I think it was because my sister and step dad, mum, dad and grand-parents were watching on-line, Meg and Luke were tracking us online over in Thailand, Jo, Maree, Carly and Mel were all at the race cheering us on, and Joe, Matt and our friends were following the race online back in Australia. Also, our good friend Evan was supposed to be out here on this trip with us, and I needed to finish the race for him and his family who have been through a very tough few weeks.

So there you have it. Vegas 70.3 pushed me to the edge. It was a humbling course, and I feel like I got the result I deserved based on the run-up I have had over the past few months. Since finishing ironman back at the end of March, I have had the hardest six moths of my life both professionally and personally. I have been pushing myself in my work more than I ever have before, and that has sometimes had to take precedent over my training. I’ve also had a much slower than expected recovery from my appendix op, and have never really got back into the swing of training.

On the upside: we are just going into spring in Australia, and I have raced a tough course in ugly conditions. I am ready to take on this season and finally start some real training.

I might start with a dip in the pool that I’m sitting beside right now. I will just finish my gin and tonic first…

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28 thoughts on “Las Vegas World Championship 70.3: Race Report

  1. […] thinking about racing in such intense temperatures has of course taken my mind back to that awesome day in Las Vegas  when I thought my body had turned into playdough. There’s a lot of lessons to take from that […]

  2. […] was anything but explicitly motivational. But it worked. I was due to race my first triathlon since that day of hell back in Vegas in September. Understandably, I was suffering some nerves. Mostly […]

  3. zoeforman says:

    There’s no easy 70.3 on earth !

    I did my first on Sunday it was tough but manageable and I loved my first long dist tri. Can’t wait for 2014 and ironman70.3 & the full ironmanUK

    It’s the tough races that make the others great races Enjoy Miami 🙂

  4. Joan Piper says:

    Oh,Sweetheart ,I,m crying while I read this to Grampa,I said all along you were not over your “OP” so would really be pushing it , but you never give up and that was marvellous .We are so proud of you .Have a wonderful birthday tomorrow hit the town let everyone know your around we shall be thinking of you .Our love N an & Gramp xxxxxxx

    • Ah thanks Nan – perhaps you’re right and maybe it was a bit too much of an ask to expect to be 100% fit after this past six months. But it was still a wonderful experience. And on the up-side – Jarrod and I learnt to shoot craps in Vegas and we won loads of money so that took the edge of the physical pain a bit haha!!! We are in San Diego at the moment, might go to Mexico tomorrow for my birthday, we’ll see how we feel. Love you both xxx

  5. El says:

    Love this report! Congratulations for pushing through, it’s inspiring to read. Enjoy your holiday!

  6. Jacq says:

    You are a legend Pipeface and damn amazing!! Enjoy your down time and have a wicked b’day tomorrow. Can’t wait to see you soon x

  7. ookgirl says:

    Piper, you make even the most hellish day enjoyable to read about. I know this probably won’t make you feel any better, but your worst time for a half is close to my best time. So, I say great job! Seriously, though, it’s tough after your recent surgery, plus you traveled from Oz to do the race. That has got to affect the body. Way to stick it out! I hope you enjoy the down time before going back Down Under.
    Cheers,
    Jenn Barnabee (ookgirl.com)

    • Thanks so much Jenn – you are such an inspiration to me and your story is one that continues to drive me to push through. Thankyou so much for taking the time to read my report. Now for the holiday!! 🙂

  8. Sounds tough, but congrats on pushing through the end!

  9. Dad says:

    Very proud of you Boo. Well done indeed. Both of you.
    Now enjoy some well earned rest, take some snaps on Fuji, and have a wonderful birthday.
    Love you very much XXX

  10. SO FREAKING PROUD! Loved sharing the Vegas journey with you. Also loved your use of the word ‘chap’ in this blog. Well done Pipe Down. Shackleton would be proud x

  11. allancallaby says:

    Wow Lucy. You did it (Las Vegas World Championship 70.3 CHAMPION), well done. You both look fantastic. Have a lovely birthday. Take good care.
    Love. XXX

  12. MichelleK says:

    Wow. That sounds like a tough, tough race. Congrats for pushing through.

    I hope you enjoyed part of your trip the the desert southwest. Vegas weather is very similar to what I, uh, enjoy in the summer.

    Have a great season back in your homeland 🙂

  13. Jen says:

    Holy Moley! That sounded intense… to say the least!
    Awesome work!
    Happy Bday for tomorrow!
    xo

  14. Ash says:

    So proud of you Pipey!!!! Looking forward to seeing you when you get back. If i don’t get a chance to speak to you tomorrow have an AMAZING AU Birthday and an even better USA birthday the next day 😉 haha xoxoxo

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