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Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3 Race Report

Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3I could actually taste dirt in my mouth.  And grass.  How odd, I thought.  Oh yeah, I’m lying face down on the side of the road.  With my mouth open.  Probably not the best idea.  I quickly realize that most of my body hurts.  That’s all thanks to the gentleman lying about 50 feet further down the road.  He clipped my front tire during a steep, banking descent.  I can guess why, but it doesn’t really matter.

Which brings me to Decision Time: do I quit?  Under the circumstances, I highly doubt anyone would have questioned my decision to stop racing.  I had lost a massive amount of skin, my right hand looks like I punched a wall (a few times), pretty sure I have a black or swollen or both left eye, and well, I can feel the coolness of the air, courtesy of my new road rashes.  I am not in good shape.  But, I have never DNF-ed a race.  Ever.  I will race until I either pass out or am pulled, against my will and wishes, from the course (making them catch me first).  F THAT, I decided.  I am NOT letting that blithering moron ruin my day.  I don’t care about the pain.  I don’t care if my time sucks.  I don’t care if I don’t get a Vegas spot.  I am RACING today.

Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3

Before we turn to the remainder of my day though, I want to recap Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3.  Prior to registering, I read a bunch of race reports about it and let’s just say it did not receive glowing reports.  The best word to describe most reviews is scathing.  I would give it a very mild thumbs-up.  VERY mild.

The race takes place in Lake Stevens, which is about thirty minutes via helicopter or giant eagle’s back from Seattle, which is about twenty minutes from SeaTac, the airport.  Of course, I was not traveling in the air sadly; I was in a rental car.  Seattle traffic sucks.  It sure seemed as if everyone gets to sixty and then maintained that pace; regardless of their lane of travel.  So, the description that Lake Stevens is a quick, thirty minute drive from Seattle (provided by the event organizers) is just a lie.  Plan on a hour or more.

Of course, you won’t be going straight to Lake Stevens.  You’ll want to go to your hotel first and since there are NONE in Lake Stevens, you’ll be staying at least twenty minutes away.  The closest lodging I could find was in Everett or as I am calling it “Seedy-ville”.  Three blocks from my palatial hotel (read: Best Western) was a jail.  Thankfully, a bail bonds was only one block away.  Everett basically left a lot to be desired.

Back to Lake Stevens…  The town is tiny and either gorgeous (by the water) or hickville (not by the water).  Speaking with local cyclists and telling them about my prep rides, two independently asked me if anyone threw beer bottles at me.  I said no, is that standard?  They both said, “Yes, but the locals are generally nicer on race day.”  Yikes.  The “main street” where transition is located has a Subway, a Grocer, a bank, and a few churches.  Again, pretty meager.  One quickly realizes why there are no hotels there.

Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3 - Swim

As far as the course, the lake is pretty sweet.  Yes, I saw a bottle or two and yes it is a lake but I felt the reviews of the water were overly harsh.  I found it very pleasant and enjoyable.  The bike wanders away, around, and back to Lake Stevens, through lush, green country side, almost always ascending or descending.  The hills are pretty minor, more like big rollers than true hills.  Except maybe some narrow roads and poor choices of turns, I liked the course.  A few places should have had warning signs but that’s my biggest complaint about it.  (Oh, and the locals were great on race day.  Many families BBQing and frolicking in their yards, cheering on the athletes.)  The run, though, is a night and day affair.  On the two loop run, each loop wanders through an industrial area before going out-and-back along the lake.  The industrial area is nasty and the lake is great.  Why the race organizers created this run is beyond me.  Here’s just a few pics of the Beauty and the Beast (just the Beast part):

Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3 - Run

Much like the overall area, the ancillary race stuff is pretty uninspiring.  The expo is one of the smallest and weakest I have seen at what is supposed to be a “big” event.  The finishing area is unimpressive.  And so on.  Basically, I would give the whole event a weak C-minus, with the beauty of the environment being the only big positive.  As far as recommending the race, I would not.  It is a pain to reach.  You can’t stay close.  The setting has a very “red neck” feel to it.  With all the natural splendor of the Seattle/Tacoma area, why Lake Stevens was granted a 70.3 event is very surprising and I fully expect this race to disappear without a whimper sooner rather than later.

Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3

These were in the SAME parking lot!

Returning to the race, I had goals as always.  Initially, I was trying to pursue a slot at the Half-Ironman World Championship in Las Vegas, but after analyzing the participant list, I know that was going to be extremely unlikely.  I won’t bore you with the details, but slots get allocated pro-rata amongst the age-groups and I was pretty sure my age group would only get three spots, meaning the changes were VERY unlikely I’d get one.  So, being somewhat freed from that worry, I decided to test myself and push the limits a little.  I wanted a sub-30 swim, as close to 2:30 on the bike, and a sub-1:30 run.  I believe that on a normal day and course, those are times I can hit, if I am willing to handle the associated discomfort (read: lots and lots of pain).  But, as has been the case all year for me, Lake Stevens 70.3 was anything but normal.

Pre-Race

Nothing of note here at all.  I awakened early enough to eat, get ready, and get out the door to arrive at transition between 5:00 and 5:30.  I knew transition stayed open until 6:30, race start, but my wave didn’t start until 7:02, so I was under no time pressure at all.  I actually got there early and was ready to go with much time to spare.

Swim

Ironman Lake Stevens Swim

Mere feet from swim exit and already removing my wetsuit!

I started on the front line and started fast.  At Lake Stevens, there are submerged rowing lines so you can, at times, just follow the white rope much like the pool’s endless black line.  I still spotted but not as much as normal.  Of course, this left me with a swollen and black left eye when I swam into a slow age grouper who kicked full-force on my face.  Totally was my fault, but still hurt and left a mark!  Nonetheless, I held my pace and finished 11th (out of 122) in my age group (62nd overall out of 1017) with a PR of 28:25 for a half-ironman distance.  I am extremely pleased with that.

Transition 1

Pretty unremarkable.  Wetsuit came off like it should.  Because it was raining, I put my sunglasses in the back of my race kit (HOW they did not get smashed is even more amazing than me not getting broken).  I donned my helmet, grabbed my bike, and was off for a flying mount.  T1 time was 1:28, a competitively fast time.

Bike

And so the fun begins.  As I mentioned above, I intended to ride with more effort than normal to push myself.  When the rain started (within the first ten minutes), I pulled back just a little to be safe.  When the temperature dropped and I, as usual, started shivering, I ignored my metrics (e.g., power, speed, HR, etc.) and just rode hard for warmth.  When I crashed, well, that just made me mad.

Back to the crash for a moment… after the crash and while remaining on the ground, I did an assessment and determined that nothing seemed broken.  I stood, VERY slowly and performed another assessment reaching the same conclusion.  I then realized my bike is a good 30 yards down the road and still in the road.  I quickly scrambled to reclaim it as cyclists went screaming past.  Quickly performing a review of my bike, I was stunned to find nothing seriously wrong with it.  I removed my helmet and, even more amazing, there’s nary a scratch on it.  Somehow, after being clipped while descending around 30-35 miles per hour, I have no serious physical issues and my bike is still totally functional.  I am Toby’s stunned face.

Ironman Lake StevensIt’s at this point that I realize my new friend is lying, like a crumpled piece of paper, down the road.  I walk my bike to him and ask how he is.  Before I can finish the sentence, I am pretty sure his clavicle is broken.  He said he thought his shoulder was dislocated.  In short, he looked terrible.  His day being over and my annoyance with him building, I decided to get back on my bike and leave him to his devices.  Continuing on the bike though, the slick roads, temperatures in the 50s, rain, a bloody shoulder and rump, and a constant spray of water in my face just made me want to get the hell off my bike.

From that point to the end, I rode with as much effort and I felt was (a) prudent to not deplete my legs, but still more than normal and (b) safe considering the conditions.  I did not get passed by many people after the crash and those that did catch all commented upon my back, butt, and rash.  It was kinda fun to have that pseudo-notoriety, but I could have done without it.  My final bike time was 2:52.  Nothing amazing, but given the conditions and events of the bike, I was pretty pleased.  (According to my Garmin, I spent at least five minutes before starting to ride again.  It sure seemed longer than that, but I suspect the stress affects one’s perception of time at the moment.)  I was 29th fastest in my age group and 134th overall, clearly sacrificing a ton of spots to fellow age-groupers.

Transition 2

Only noteworthy thing was how stunningly painful it was to run with numb-to-sensationless feet.  Each step was like running on nails, which somehow I could feel even though I could not feel my toes.  I definitely moved very gingerly and even putting on my shoes did not feel “good”.  My T2 time was 1:50; not bad given the conditions and logistics of T2.

Run

And now, the true fun begins.  My plan was to run the first loop smiling, get to about mile 10 (where there’s only one more uphill part) on the second loop, and go as fast as I could.  I knew immediately that holding a sub-7 minute-mile was not going to happen so I just did my best to stay steady and consistent.

Ironman Lake Stevens Run

The first loop passed with little difficultly but I could feel my legs tiring faster than normal.  Around mile 9, they started to hurt and when I asked them for more over the remainder of the run, they had nothing left to give.  I was hurting and wanting to walk more than anything, but was simply unwilling to cave to the pain.  I kept thinking of how pissed I was after Oceanside and Branson (in 2011) when I gave into the pain.  I focused on how a mere 2 minutes and 4 seconds bit of time cost me a spot at Vegas in Oceanside.  While I wasn’t going to go faster, I was NOT going to walk.

With everything I had to give, I pushed the pace as best I could for the last three miles, constantly checking my time.  I was going to either pass-out or get under 1:40 for the run.  While my mind kept issuing “Speed Up” orders to my legs, my pace never increased.  I would think I was speeding up and check my pace to meet disappointment as nothing would change.  But, I was very pleased to say I ran the entire 13.1 miles even though it hurt like hell!  My final run time was a 1:39, by FAR the most I have ever hurt to post a sub-1:40 half-marathon in my life!

My overall time was a 5:03.  I absolutely have higher expectations for myself, but that day was extremely challenging.  Had the wreck not occurred, I would still have been pushed by the cold.  Much like Oceanside and Boise this year, the chill on the bike punished me in a big way.  At many moments, my teeth were chattering so badly that my jaw cramped.  I would say that, while the air was warmer than Boise, I was equally as cold for the last 40+ miles of the bike ride.  The constant water, whether from rain, mist, or spray, kept me soaked and the wind chill was awful.  On any hills, I rode much harder than normal simply to try to generate some body heat, which was partially successful.

Ironman Lake Stevens

Yeah, NOT feeling good.

My biggest advice is to please be aware of your fellow athletes.  I am certain the guy that hit me didn’t start the day saying: I want to crash AND crash with someone.  That wasn’t his goal.  He appeared to be a middle of pack, middle-aged, age grouper.  While I was pissed, I also felt bad for him.  The broken bones surely ruined his day more than eating dirt ruined mine.

But, he should have been more careful.  If he didn’t review the bike course in his car, he should have.  If he didn’t know that drop and turn were coming, he should have slowed earlier.  We all make mistakes (like my crash in Boise in 2011; totally my fault) and that’s understandable.  But, be aware of your fellows athletes.  Don’t potentially ruin or, even worse, severely injure someone because of poor choices.  Be smart and safe under the circumstances.  Even the first place pro only takes home $6,000.  Taking dangerous risks is simply not worth it.

The one other comment I would make is to never give up.  Lying face-down on the side of the road, part of my mind was telling me to quit.  Just give up, it was saying, no one will fault you.  But, once I knew I could function, I had to continue.  On the second loop of my run, I caught a fellow racer, specifically a physically-challenged one, running on ONE leg and a prosthetic.  How bad was it really for me?  Sure, I was in pain and had a bunch of skin abrasions but he had ONE LEG.  I mean, come on, which of us had more to overcome that day???  Not me, by a long shot.  Nothing in life is unreachable if you want it bad enough.  We all, each one of us, has tough times.  They don’t mean anything.  For every terrible story out there, there’s a million others that are worse.  It is what you do when facing that Decision Time moment that matters.  I didn’t want to quit.  I didn’t want my kids to know Daddy quit because his butt got hurt.  That was simply not in my plan and I was NOT going to accept that outcome on my day.  No chance.

Ironman Lake Stevens Ali Vincent

So, when your stuff hits the proverbial fan, get up, clean the dirt out of your mouth and off your face, and GET MOVING!

Two last items: One, I want to thank my Aunt Shara and Cousin  Shana for coming up from south of Seattle to support me.  I am extremely lucky to receive the support and cheers from my family.  Having anyone there, but especially family, is amazing and always inspires me to give my best.  I cannot express how much it means to me.  Two, the uber-cool Ali Vincent, of Biggest Loser fame, was at Lake Stevens 70.3 doing her first half-ironman!  I was lucky to meet and chat with her at bike check and she is a super cool chick.  You can check out her site HERE.  A half-ironman is a no-joke-undetaking and she finished the race and did awesome. Way to go Ali!

Until next time, thanks for reading…  🙂

Ironman Lake Stevens 70.3 - Bloody Bike

Yes, that’s my blood on my bike.

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