First of all, I want to make a disclaimer. This report is intended to share my experiences with my friends, fellow Tulsans, and the folks at Hammer Nutrition. It also intended to help me remember race details so I can go back and review them if I decide to return and do St. Croix again. Finally, it may help others develop their own race plan to tackle a long course event. It is by no means an ego trip for me. I publish it because I have read reports from other athletes which have helped me immensely in the past which I often review for reference.
My coach, Dave LaTourette, and I discussed potential races for me to qualify for Kona in 2007 back in August of 2006. We felt that the non wetsuit swim, brutal course, and heat and humidity of St. Croix suited my strengths. I entered St. Croix from my condo, online, while in Kona last year after I was certain that it was an IQ event. So I have been focusing on this race for quite some time.
On race morning, I awakened at 3:50 am before my alarm went off. My first order of business was to get in my 1000 calorie pre race meal. I like to eat light, nothing heavy or solid. I quickly made up a mix of 3 scoops of Perpetuem, 2 scoops of Heed, some Hammer gel, and a banana with 3 tbs of peanut butter. I wanted to get breakfast in my stomach 3 hrs prior to the race start to top off my glycogen stores and stabilize insulin levels.
I mixed up my race feeder bottle which I would carry on the bike: 5 scoops of Perpetueum, 3 scoops of Heed (900 calories) 7.5 scoops of Endurolyte powder, and 5 broken Anti- Fatigue caps. I finished packing my stuff, pumped up the bike tires to 125 psi, and checked the mechanics, making sure they were ready to go.
Dana and I then put on our backpacks and headlights and took the dark two mile ride from the Buccaneer resort to the transition area. It’s great to have a spouse who is into this sport. I am so lucky.
Body marking, bike racking, and transition set up was fast and efficient. The only thing that was lacking in the transition area was water to fill the bottles. After a through search of the transition area, I eventually had to go to a store by the King Christian Hotel to get some.
About an hour before the start, I popped a couple Hammer Anti- Fatigue and Race Caps Supreme. The announcer called for us to start getting into the water and begin our swim over to the beach to the Hotel on the Cay. I jumped in the water, loosened up, and took a few 30 second hard efforts to wake my body up. I felt pretty damn good. The 2XU Super Elite Trisuit that I recently ordered from Renee at Core Multisport felt comfortable and fast. I found it to be as fast as my Speedo Fast Skin,(5 seconds/100yrds faster than without one) but a lot more comfortable and easier to get out of.
There was plenty of water to drink over at the beach and Dana and I sat on some lawn chairs and chatted with some people from Texas. When it got closer to my wave start I got back in the water again and did a few more pickups. It was nice to have another warm up area on an adjacent beach. I stayed loose over there. It was kind of reminiscent of a swim meet. I put a couple Hammer Energy Surge caps under my tongue and let them soak in. I anticipated a 200 meter surge at the start.
It wasn’t long before my wave was ready to go. I lined up in the front row for the standing beach start. The horn sounded and there was a mad dash of 45-49 year old men flailing and splashing wildly. By the time we got to the first buoy we had already caught some of the 40-44 AG who left 2 minutes ahead. My race plan was to get to the first buoy and then make a surge to gap the group then continue to lengthen the lead. However, there was a guy with a Team USA kit on that was keeping a pretty good pace. I was comfortable hanging out right behind him, so I let him navigate and lead the way through the multitudes that were bobbing in front of us.
I later do some research on this guy and I find out it is Larry Black. He swam an 18:30 1500 at St. Anthony’s the week before, and is the reining World AG Aquathon Champion. He had the fastest AG swim split last year at worlds in Lausanne. I was in good company.
I don’t mind letting someone lead the way on the swim. I try to conserve energy anyway I can. He tried to make a few surges to drop me but I was able to answer easily. Whenever I draft someone, I always let them get out first. Hell, if I am going to suck feet, I might as well let them get the glory of getting the fastest swim split.
I felt great on the swim. I just hate when it ends. I feel so comfortable in the water. I wished it was another 1.2 miles. Larry hit the ramp before me and we had our bikes racked right across from each other. Larry swam 26:40 and I did a 26:45. We both had top 5 amateur swim splits. I was 17th overall including the pros. (Not bad for a couple of old guys)
He mentioned to me” Hey, nice swim” I acknowledged his swim too. Then we were off on the bike. I choose to put my cycling shoes on in the transition area and run in them because you had to run through sand and gravel to get to the road. I didn’t want to have sand and gravel stuck to my feet and in my shoes bugging me for the 56 mile ride. Larry had the ITU rubber band shoe hook up. It was faster but I avoided the issue I was trying to.
Once I hit the bike, the heart rate was 160 and I immediately attempted to curb my effort and get it down to settle in the upper 140‘s. I took it easy keeping the watts at 220 to 250. There were guys going by me like I was a New Jersey snowbird on the Florida turnpike, but I stayed with the race plan and let them go. I still kept Larry in sight up the road.
People tend to loose sight that 56 miles is a long way, get caught up in the moment, and they go at it like a sprint. Payment for that effort comes back to haunt you somewhere on the bike or on the run. My plan was to get the heart rate to settle and ride nice and easy until I had gotten to the other side of “The Beast“. Once I made it to the other side of the island I planned on working several west to east headwind sections and resting on other predetermined sections.
My race was going as planned, I was following watts and heart rate coach Dave and I had gone over before the race. When I made the turn off road 75 to 80, the SRM stopped working. The roads were horrible; potholes, sand, and patched areas were everywhere. I was glad I kept the tire pressure lower. I was sure that some connections had loosened somewhere and I jiggled the plug while rode but I was unable to return it to function.
Well, I reasoned, I still had my wrist heart rate monitor functioning and perceived exertion and I will just have to go with that. I train with watts so I know intuitively where I am and it wasn’t that big a deal. I was just disappointed not to have the data to look back at after the race.
Two guys from my age group went by me on North Shore Rd. (80) before “The Beast“. I marked them; Mr. Blue and Mr. Red, based on the color jerseys they were wearing. I let them go; their pace was too strong for my liking. That climb up the beast is heinous. I needed to keep some reserve energy to light that match. So Black, Blue, and Red were up the road ahead of me.
When I choose the kit I wanted to race in today, I made a conscious decision to try to be as inconspicuous as possible. When Dana races she has a hard time finding me because I am wearing “the uniform”. “The uniform” is what 80 to 90 percent of the male racers wear, a white top, black shorts, white visor, and sunglasses. Not only is it generic, the white top absorbs less heat from the tropical sun. It is confusing to my competitors because I look just like everyone else.
When I made the left turn off North Shore Rd and onto 69, “The Beast” hit me like a wall. It was an 18 percent grade right off the bat. I quickly caught and passed Mr. Black and rode up to Mr. Red. I passed quite a few folks. One guy was riding power cranks. I commented on what a stud he was and I received no response, not even a grunt. I suppose he was pondering his decision making on that one.
My heart rate reached 177 on that climb. I never see that in training. Not only did I light a match, I lit a fire. No worries, the descent and flat section down to Melvin Evans Hwy was going to be easy and I would regroup there. Mr. Red got ahead of me on the decent and on the speed bump section of the road, Mr. Blue was up the road, and Mr. Black was dropped back on “The Beast”
After “The Beast” it seemed quiet. No cyclists passed me and I was alone. I could see Mr. Red’s group up the road. “The Beast” broke the race apart.
Once on the Melvin Evans Hwy, I started to motor. This is a long section of pretty smooth highway that runs west to east and typically has a headwind and grades. I had chosen this section as one the sections of the course that I wanted to work. I could see that I was catching the group ahead of me and pulling away from the lone cyclist about 50 to 100 yards behind. I never saw him again.
Once I got to 62, a north to south section, (mostly downhill and flat) I rested and let the heart rate settle. At this point, I felt like I was alone on a training ride doing intervals. When 62 turned west to east, I started pushing again. I fiddled with the SRM one more time and got it back functioning for a few moments, watts were 220 to 250, heart rate was 150. This is just where I wanted them to be.
I rested again and soft peddled on 624 until I made the turn to the west to east section of South Shore road. I pushed this section which included some nice scenic climbs and vistas. The plan was to push all the way past the Divi until I got to the east to west tailwind section heading back to Christiansted.
It was screaming fast on the return tailwind section. Next, there is a last little loop that takes you up a climb called Lowery Hill. I passed a few more folks here including some pro women. Once over the top of Lowery hill I soft peddled back to the transition area. I finished the last portion of my Hammer bike concoction. When returned to T2 there were 2 bikes in the rack: Mr. Red’s and Mr. Blue’s. Bike time was 2:49, this included T1 and T2.
My transition was pretty slow. I had to get my socks on just right and my feet were wet. It seemed like it took forever. The plan Dave and I made for the run was to build it in sections. Miles 0-3 would be relatively easy with heart rate goal of 145 to 150, 3-6.5 build to 155, 6.5 to 10 155 to 160,and 10 to finish was supposed to be all guts. I felt that the weather (heat and humidity) elevated those rates so I started the run with heart rates in the 150’s. I felt great.
I carried Endurolytes and a flask of Hammer gel (450 calories) and started in on the nutrition right away. There were aid stations every kilometer, so there was no shortage of ice or water. At each station I would grab a cups of water to drink, pour another over my head, ice in the shorts and on my head and I would stuff cold sponges in the jersey. I attempted to do anything to keep the core temperature down.
I stopped and relived myself on a desolate section of the course in the golf course section loop. The pee looked clear, so I felt I was doing a good job of hydration. I ticked off a 7:08 even with the stop and felt great. The golf course section of this course is very humid and muggy. I like heat much better than cold so it was just to my liking.
At the four mile mark I passed Mr. Red. He was walking. I was tempted to say “nice ride” but I just kept my mouth shut and moved right along. I don’t think he noticed me anyway, I was stealth. The heart rates were around 160 now but I still felt good. I felt I was aerobic and I wasn’t breathing hard. I felt that the heat and humidity was driving the heart rate up, so again I ran on perceived exertion.
The aid station volunteers are staffed buy the locals. I went through my ritual of the ice bath and shower at one of the stations and a little island boy handed me a cup of ice then ran along beside me. “Aah, does it feel gooood mon?” ”You are runnin great mon” I loved it. He was so cute. It gave me a little lift.
I hit the turnaround for the second loop and there was Mr. Blue. I went by him fast so that he couldn’t see my number or age on the calf. I talked to him after the race. He had no clue where I passed him. It must have been the uniform. I kept the pressure on and continued to lift the heart rate as I progressed through the course. I didn’t want anyone coming up on me from behind.
When I hit the 10 mile mark, I felt pretty good. I started calculating when I thought I would finish. The watch said 4:31. Brian Keast’s best time in the age group a few years back was 4:51. If I could run a 20 minute 5k, I might be able to get close. It was time to spill the guts. I knew if I didn’t have a major meltdown and crash, the Kona slot and age group win would be mine. I finished my hammer gel and made the transition to coke here. I made sure to continue with the water because it seems, through past experience, I cramp after switching to coke. I have yet to discover a scientific reason for it, but I’m sure the good folks at Hammer will know.
I kept up a strong pace. I felt like I was in the zone. I saw Dana on my last mile push. She was having a great race and was psyched that she was in second place in her age group. I gave her a high five and moved on. I could hear the race announcer in the distance. I made the left turn uphill on Company Street to Prince, after that it was all downhill on King Street to the finish. I was able to lift the heart rate to 174 on this section and went after a younger guy who appeared to be struggling. I hit the finish line strong and raised the fists for my own private victory. The time was 4:53:41. I ran a 1:37.06(fastest split in the age group by 3 minutes) I had done what I had come here to do. I secured a slot to Kona, and won the age group. I won it buy over 7 minutes, Mr.Black rolled in at 5:00.50 for second.
Looking back at past results, my time was the same Kevin Moats had done in 2003 and close to Brian Keast’s 4:51 in 2005. These guys went on to do some great things in Kona. However, it’s difficult to compare past results because the conditions are always different. At any rate, my time compares with some good company.
Patrick High, a 44 year old, and also a Hammer Nutrition athlete, spanked me with a 4:42 and was 3rd in the 40-44 age group.I can’t get too excited about my performance; there is always someone, somewhere that can humble me even when I have had a great race. I will see a lot of those people in Kona in October. I’m just so happy that I get the opportunity to test myself against the world’s best over that epic course, and I intend to be ready for that challenge.