St. Croix 70.3 was my second major race of the 09 racing season, but the most important one. My results here was going to determine the rest of my racing and training focus for this year. If all goes well, I would at least get one out two possible World Championships spots either to Kona or Clearwater. (NO PRESSURE!)
Krista (my wife), kids (Austin & Ainsley), and I departed DFW for St. Croix early Thursday (April 30th). To me this is the most stressful part racing at location that requires air travel, especially with 4 yr old twins. What also adds to the stress is there are no note worthy bikes shop is St. Croix, so if you have mechanical issue you need the means to fix it. So making sure you have every thing and most importantly you have minimal air pressure in those tubular tires. No better way to have a rupture tire than forgetting to do that, this comes from experience.
We finally arrived in St. Croix around 3:30pm, though we arrived my bike didn't along with 30 or so other athletes that were on our flight. Thus adding to the stress of race air travel. As matter of fact, I didn't receive my bike until early Saturday morning. American Airlines finally charter another plane to deliver the bikes from Miami (our stop between DFW & STC). FYI.. if St. Croix is a race you may target in the future plan on arriving Wednesday before the race to avoid bike arrival delays, according to numerous repeat racers this is annual occurrence for flights that arrive on Thursday and Friday.
Now for the race-
We were staying at The Buccaneer Resort, a little over two miles from the race start and part of the run course. So at 5:10am, I rode into town race morning as a warm-up. FYI... aero helmets and transition backpacks are a bad combination it's hard to ride and navigate simultaneously. As uncomfortable as it was, I found humor in it and laugh at how ridiculous I must have looked. This moment of self humor help me relax.
Upon arriving to the transition area, I learned there aren't assigned slots instead racks are labeled by age groups and an absolute free for all. I was able to find a spot though in a less an ideal location, but I was close to the end of rack. After setting up my transition space and lathering my self in sunscreen, I went through my pre-race routine of walking through my T1 and T2, and stretching.
The swim start is on a small island about 300m from the transition area/ harbor. At 6am everyone swims to the island in preparation to the start. I am guessing there was a urine slick between the harbor and the island, I know I did my part to contribute. I am glad I was one of the first to swim over.
The swim is a modified triangular course with a beach start, the pro men went off at 6:30am. My wave went off 9 minutes later. My swim was decent, we had 2 ft swells against us for the first half of the swim and at our back on the return. The swim has been notorious known for being long, but I was looking to do a 32 minute swim and finished in 34.
After a quick transition to the bike (that is for those who attended the transition clinic), I began working on my pre-race bike strategy. For insight, the bike course at St. Croix is very hilly with one BIG, STEEP Hill at mile 20 known as the Beast. Billy found and posted a YouTube video on this climb on the Tri-Prosoap site. To give you an idea of the difficulty of this .7 mile climb the avg. gradient is 14.5% with a section at 21%. My avg. speed up this climb was 4.2mph that is 39x27 gear at 40-50rpm and a lot of pain and many thoughts of getting off my bike to walk. Though this climb is very tough this only the start of a very difficult bike course. The remaining bike course can be best described as a roller coaster with multiple 5 min climbs varying from 10 to 15% gradient into a 20mph head wind. Knowing this beforehand, I rode the first 20 miles conservatively then was very calculated in my efforts over the last 36 miles. I was able to complete this plan fairly well and finished with a 2:32 bike split, giving me some confidence going into the run.
After a efficient T2, I began my run. Running off the confidence I built on the bike the first 400 m felt great, that is right 400m. Then I started feeling quad and calf twinges and had to back off the pace slightly, there goes my confidence; here goes damage control strategy. However, after about 2 miles I was able run twinge free for the next 8 miles. The only problem I had was keeping my body cool, the aid stations in St. Croix were every kilometer vs. every mile, and I was thankful for the metric system that day. Through each aid station I would grab the first two water cups presented to me and pour one on my face the other down my back, and then grab a Gatorade and water to drink. Despite my every kilometer effort to cool my body, I felt as if I was about blow a radiator hose like an overheated car. The run course was 2 loop course 6 miles each loop with town loop at the end. I will come back to the town loop in a minute. For those of you that have run around White Rock Lake on the trail (a little more rolling than the road) the run course is very similar with the exception there is no shade and the fact you run up a steep hill on a golf course, very similar to Loving Street Hill at White Rock, twice! Once at mile four and a second time at mile 10. The second time up this hill was a internal battle within myself, by this time I had caught some folks on their first loop who were walking up this steep hill. In seeing this, trigger my legs and body to tell my mind to WALK the hill! As I got closer to the hill the battle between my legs telling me to walk and my heart my ego telling to me run intensified. Then when I finially got to the hill I had a moment clarity and told myself "run this hill, yes it going to hurt, but finish this race with no regrets". So with those thoughts in mind I motored up the hill screaming the whole way up, not out load but in my head. In doing so, I was able to catch a fellow age grouper who later re pass me over the final three miles as I struggled home. My self motivation up that hill was encouraging, however my twinges in my quads, calf and now my hamstrings came on strong as I descended down that hill and I was again in damage control mode. I unfortunately stayed in that mode through the finish. Back to the loop in town to finish, after you finish your second main loop you run within 100 ft of the finish line then run another 1.1 miles into heart of town where there are no spectators, no wind, plenty of heat, but there was an aid station. For I guy who was doing his best to keep the wheels on his bus going round and round (that is for those parents out there, bad parent humor) to the finish this town loop sucked the last bit of life out of me. I am happy that no one passed me during this stretched, because I wasn't going to pass anyone that is for sure. I completed the run in a somewhat disappointing 1:40, 10 min slower than I anticipated; but satisfied because I didn't walk that hill and it was the best I could have run that day!
My finishing time was 4:49:??, good enough for 6th in my age group and 70.3 World Championship spot. My pre- race goal was 4:40 which based on past result history would have won my my age group, not this year. I will have to say after doing numerous 70.3 races, St. Croix is very challenging physically, mental and most important tactically than any other 70.3 race I have done. For the record, I still believe Buffalo Springs 70.3 is the toughest largely due to the heat!
"Never easier, just faster!"