Well I have been looking forward to writing up this one for a while...about how I expressed my new level of fitness and focus and put everything together on one of the hardest race courses in the world, against some of the stiffest competition in the sport.
First off I want to thank everyone who has supported me and followed my ramblings over the past few months, as I've been a little more transparent with my training routine than usual. And I want to thank my wonderful homestays Morgan, Megan, Mathieu and Max (and Charco) who have put up with Amanda and me here in beautiful St. Croix all week. We have been totally spoiled with relaxing views and hospitality and they made our time on the island really memorable. Now for our trip!
Travel day arrived early...3:30am in Detroit to make our flight to Miami then STX. It's my first time travelling with Amanda farther than driving around Ontario, and she has really made my trip...all the way up to waiting around alone in the pouring rain, worrying for my wellbeing as most of my competition was crossing the finish line. Anyway I'll get to that part later :)
We arrived on the island to beautiful but slightly cooler weather than expected (only about 90 degrees plus humidity), and the adventure began soon after. As we were waiting for our luggage Amanda noticed a guy getting into a taxi with a bike bag that looked strikingly similar to mine. After a few seconds of contemplation she decided to ask the man to look at the name tag on the case...sure enough poor little P3 almost got a new owner, which would have royally screwed me for the race, and probably the rest of tri season as I don't have any fancy bike sponsorships to cover a "stolen" bike. Once that was sorted we were promplty taxi'd over to our homestay, except that our driver dropped us off on the wrong road and we ended up trekking about a mile with all our luggage until we found the biggest house on the farthest point out into the ocean. Sure enough that was our accommodation for the week. A short swim in the ocean and quick run then bed time.
Thursday was an early yummy breakfast in town - Christiansted has some amazing hidden cafes and smoothie bars, everything totally fresh and organic (Amanda and I were in our glory) - then swim familiarization where we met up with just about everyone we knew here, Lori and her husband from 6am Y swims, Dawn Van Vlack from LPC, and my "working class" pro buddy Erich Wegscheider who I had first met here a couple years ago. Besides Amanda being a little shocked at how salty salt water actually is, everything went well and things felt good. In the afternoon I put my bike together and went for a short spin over the 14k first loop of the bike course. To my surprise it felt much easier than the Computrainer version!
Friday was another short swim on course, and in the evening was the "pro reception" at the fancy resort hotel here. Amanda and I discovered that pro receptions are actually quite awkward and uninviting unless you are Lance Armstrong, but at least we all hung around and bugged him for a photo. He seemed pleasant enough! Then it was back into town for a street festival which gave us a really cool taste of Carribbean culture. You don't come to St Croix just for the race!
Saturday was low key and relatively uneventful, besides a stingray sighting in our morning swim and the mid-afternoon deluge of rain that lasted a couple hours and completely flooded out most of the roads on the island. At the pro pre-race meeting a few athletes expressed some minor concern to the race director about the condition of the roads, but the general undertone of his response was "tough shit". I looked at Terenzo behind me and we laughed a little at his response, but we found out the hard was it wasn't a joke.
Race morning rolled around and I was feeling pretty good. Managed to get more food down than usual and packed up the bikes to head into town. It had rained all night and a good amount of the bike course was under water, but I told myself to worry about the controllables and enjoy my crack at what I have trained so hard for over the last few months. Quick warmup, setup, squeeze around all the Lance gawkers and off we went to the swim start.
It was pretty cool to have all the attention on us in the first swim wave, with some stars of the sport lining up along side, and despite the rain I couldn't think of a more picturesque swim start in the world. But I kept focused, took my position on the start line beside Erich and fellow Ontario pro Tyler Lord, and off we went. I had no time or results goals for this race, my only focus was to build throughout the race and finish with a strong run...so I kept things a little conservative at the swim start. Things were a little rough around the first turn that's less than 100m into the course, but I settled into a good rhythm on Tyler's feet for the first 1000. At the far turn Tyler seemed to make a navigational error (which I had only noticed by doing the same thing through the week on the course) and tried to swim as straight as possible, but he and the small chase group I had been in corrected themselves quickly and I lost my draft for the last 800m. I focused on swimming smooth and relaxed and, without seeing any time splits (Amanda said I was just under 30 coming out of the water) I felt ok with my swim. It probably felt exactly how I should have expected...a little more fitness, but a little rusty with it being my first tri of the season.
I came through T1 and was NOT the last bike left on the rack (small victories), heard Amanda's cheers and hopped on for 90k in the pouring rain, over an already very technical and challenging course. Within the first 10k I saw two pros pull off with flats, and at about 12k I went through my first of many foot-deep rivers running across the road that almost took me down. I realize it's difficult to have a contingency plan for such weather when the bike course uses just about every road on the island, but it was by far the sketchiest course I have ever ridden with the standing water (and flowing), gravel, sand and branches all over the road. Nothing like last time I was here when it was 110 degrees without a cloud in the sky. Anyway, it was on to the task at hand...everyone is dealing with the same conditions.
I came through town after the first 14k loop and was feeling pretty decent. Maybe not quite as much spark as I would like given how well training has been going, but my plan was to be patient and build through the day. I was in about 15-18th place as I went back past my loyal spectator and onto the big loop. Through a few more puddles that almost stopped me dead and over the fun part of the course leading up to the beast. On one of the last little rollers before hitting the big climb I distinctly remember either my bike or my legs feeling really sluggish, and I barely made it up a small ~50m hill before settling back into the aerobars. But my average speed was starting to creep up so I tried to stay aero then maintain momentum over the hills.
By the time I made the turn on the beast (about 30k into the ride) my legs were already getting tired and my back was starting to tighten up. I barely got up that damn hill and was passed by a couple guys, and by the time I got up my back was in agony as I was burying myself trying to hold 5km/h. I know from racing here two years ago, and my multiple times over the course on the Computrainer that this was not normal. I was starting to wonder if my legs weren't cooperating.
The descent back down was really sketchy and at one of the first corners I saw that Erich had gone down with another rider, and he warned me to be careful down the rest of the hill. I tried to hold some speed but I just couldn't get going fast enough to worry about the corners anyway. But I just tried to stay focused, as it seemed that there was a ridiculous number of crashes and flats as I rode by, and I told myself that if I just survived the bike I would probably be in pretty good position for a top 15 finish.
The section of the course from 40-65k is a little more flat but usually a good headwind but we were lucky enough to have very little wind on the course so I was looking forward to putting my head down and start to make up some ground. But I just could not get my speed up and I watched riders go by as I got more and more frustrated, thinking that it was not my day and I would have to settle with just finishing. I threw out my plan of trying to build the day and started digging a little more on the bike to try to at least put in a respectably bike split, but something really wasn't feeling right. I wasn't quite sure if it was my body or my bike - although by 60k my legs were screaming and my back was extremely sore trying to fight out 40km/h...something I can generally coast at on my tri bike. I started wondering what it feels like to ride on a flat tubular.
At 65k I really started to question how I was going to run a half marathon after this, and as I tried to muscle over a short roller I felt my rim start to hit the pavement. I ignored it for a few more pedals strokes, got to the top of the hill, and pulled over to see my rear tire completely flat. And since I decided it probably wasn't worth strapping a spare tubular on my bike, since I've never flatted in a race before, I had no backup plan. I sat on the side of the road for about 15 minutes, contemplating a lot of things but mostly thinking about how completely quiet it was out there in the middle of nowhere on the course, when I should be hearing the wind through my helmet, the media motorcycles and all the locals cheering on the side of the road. I had two really nice marshals stop and try to help, told me they radio'd the support vehicle and said that I should pull my tubular off in case they had a spare. At this point I had been standing there for half an hour, and started thinking if Amanda was getting worried way back at transition, waiting for me in the rain.
After struggling with the tire for a while (I glued it well!) the very helpful but perhaps naive marshal decided to go at it with his leatherman, and before I had a chance to say anything he put a hole through my carbon rim. I politely mentioned to him that it was probably better for me to just get a ride back now rather than wait for a repair. Guess I'm riding my disc for the rest of the season.........
Another 30 minutes of waiting and the sag wagon finally arrived, and they didn't have any spare wheels or tires anyway. I hopped in and made my way back to finally let Amanda know that I was alive, as the leaders were crossing the finish line. I figured the slow leak started somewhere around 25k, just before hitting the beast, and continued to sap my legs until I finally realized what was going on about 40k later. I can't say for sure that it was all to blame on the flat, and that maybe it was a combination of that and not feeling great on the day. And who knows where I may have ended up if I got off my bike top 15 and ran through a few guys. But I'd rather leave those questions unanswered.
It turned out that 8 of the 24 pro men either flatted or crashed out, including 4 of the 5 Canadian men, and somewhere around 5-7 of the 11 pro women either flatted or simply chose to stop riding as the course was too treacherous. I attempted to explain my situation - the course conditions, the flat, the hour on the side of the road, the taco'd wheel - to the race director, but he had no sympathy. I understand that the weather was in no way forseeable, as this has never happened at this event before. But it reminded me what Ironman and WTC events are all about...take your money with no regard to customer service. It's a shame that such an attitude can pervade a race venue like St. Croix, but every last person I watched come off the bike or in off the support truck, pro or age grouper, was either crying or cursing. And I can bet how much reaction will come out of WTC for their lack of response to the course conditions, having a truly unsafe race go on with no regard for how many people were forced to DNF or ended up in the back of an ambulance. Anyway I don't want to seem as though the entire race was a negative experience or anyone can be blamed for getting a flat tire when I should be prepared, just next time I'll choose Rev3 instead :)
So I caught some bad luck and it happened to occur at a race I was really looking forward to. But it was a great experience to line up against some of the best athletes in the world, hit the water with them and be a part of the pro race...as abbreviated as it was. I was happy with how things were going and there are some good signs for the upcoming year. It has already motivated me to get the rest of my season going, and to work towards stepping it up to the level that these guys compete at. It has been a great trip with my travel buddy and despite the stress of not knowing my whereabouts for hours on end I think it has sparked Amanda's motivation to compete as well. Tomorrow we're finishing off our trip with some snorkelling and sailing before heading back Tuesday morning to London, which has seen better weather that we have this week. So much for all that heat acclimation!
Thanks again for all the support, pictures will come soon.