One of my goals for 2010 was to complete a Half Ironman Distance – 70.3 miles. Early in the year I targeted the Oct – Nov time frame so that I could complete a few Olympic distance events throughout the year and work my way up to the Half Iron distance. Initially I signed up for the Soma Triathlon in Tempe, AZ for Oct. 23, however a freak dam burst canceled that event and sent me to Silverman in Vegas - a race that advertises itself as North America’s Toughest Triathlon. I questioned myself many times whether I made the right decision, although I had pegged this race a long time ago when I first started triathlons, and now was the time.
Race weekend started with the drive to Vegas Friday morning before the Sunday race. The weather for the weekend was scheduled to be in the mid 70’s to low 80’s and lots of sunshine, absolutely perfect weather. The race is actually in Henderson, a suburb south east of Vegas near Lake Mead. I arrived at the Race Expo in the afternoon and checked in #703 – fitting number since this was my first 70.3 race!
I spent the rest of Friday relaxing and enjoying the nice weather. Saturday morning was scheduled for a pre-race meeting and gear check in. I had never raced a triathlon with different locations for T1 and T2, so the gear bag check was new for me. Making sure all the correct equipment was placed in the correct bag was a nerve racking task – I double and triple checked each bag to make sure everything was in its place. That afternoon I had planned on a short bike ride, but since I had to check my bike in at T1, there was no bike to ride. Instead I got some relaxing exercise through a round of golf! After the round of golf, I got a nice dinner and headed for bed. I was pretty tired, so I fell asleep quick, unfortunately I woke up at 1:00am and tossed and turned for the next 4 hours.
As I started to prepare for the race, I felt a nervous-excitement, not sure what to expect for my first 70.3, and North America’s Toughest Triathlon. I arrived at the swim start at 6:30am at Lake Las Vegas, a small manmade lake resort. The Full Ironman race was scheduled to start at 7:00am and the Half Ironman at 8:30am. The morning temp was cool, and water temp was a nice 68. The swim was a mass start of about 600 racers, and I lined up about mid pack towards the outside. Everyone was in a good mood, and there were a lot of jokes in the water before the start. It was nice to talk to a few other racers that were doing their first 70.3 as well. As the horn sounded I started slowly, looking for some open water and working to get a good rhythm. The mass of swimmers thinned out fast, and I was able to find some open water pretty quick. Overall I felt good, and had a decent swim of 50 minutes, about 5 minutes slower than my 45 minute goal, however I felt the energy conserved was worth the 5 minutes.
One thing about Silverman, even though it’s the Toughest triathlon, it is also the best supported triathlon! Exiting the water, I was greeted by a group of wetsuit strippers who helped me get my wetsuit of in about 5 sec! There was a short jog to the changing tent, and a small uphill climb before the bike mount, and after a 5 min T1 transition I was on my bike – 1.2 miles completed, 69.1 miles to go.
What I discovered was that for the next 69.1 miles, I would not ride or run on a flat piece of ground; the rest of the course was either up or down. The first 30 miles of the bike were spectacular, nice rolling hills in the desert around Lake Mead and fully supported aide stations every 10 miles with great volunteers! As I hit the turnaround point at mile 30, I was still feeling really good. What I didn’t know was that the next 39.1 miles (bike and run) would be the toughest thing I had every experienced in any triathlon. Mile 30 to mile 45 was a gradual climb of 15 miles – with 3 very short steep hills called the “3 sisters”. The sisters are back to back to back, with the last one having a crazy 17% grade. Once your legs are blown out by the sisters, you have the next 10 miles straight into a head wind on a lonely desert bike trail on the outskirts of Henderson. Those 10 miles hurt me not only physically but mentally - and took me an hour to get through! My goal was to finish the bike in 3.5 hours, and it took my 4.5 hours! As I finished the bike, I honestly didn’t think I could run 13.1 miles and finish the race.
When I rode into T2, a volunteer took my bike, and I grabbed my gear bag to change into my running shoes. I took a few minutes to regroup mentally, and headed out for the last 13.1 miles. The first mile felt good, and was slightly downhill. We then made a right turn and proceeded to run the next 3 miles uphill, 2 miles down, 3 miles up, 2 miles down, 1 mile up, and actually the last mile flat! I started to cramp a little on the up hills, fortunately the aide stations every mile were stocked with enough nutrition to replace electrolytes, carbs, and liquids to keep me going. My best 13.1 time is 2:10, I was shooting for 2:30, and finished in 2:45. Not bad considering all the hills, and the suffering that took place on the bike. Total 70.3 time, for my first 70.3, at North America’s Toughest Triathlon was a respectable and proud 8hr - 30min. Although an hour and a half longer than my goal, I was very proud.
I will be back next year to challenge Silverman, and I will race another 70.3 before Silverman. The journey during the race was incredible, and my mind and body went through an experience like no other. Triathlon is an amazing sport, one which I have learned so much and will continue to learn.