Friday, October 15, 2010

Ironman St. George 2010 Race Report - Kevin Berg

      Below is a Race Report sent to me by my friend Tom, who will be joining me as I tackle IMFL in a few weeks.  He found Mr. Berg's RR in his club archives and forwarded it to me. Since I'm tackling IMSG in May 2011 with my Triabetes Team Captains, the added insight is helpful. We were there, as volunteers for an aid station, and witnessed the event in all of it's terrifying glory :)  I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling frightened about our journey May 7, 2011 ... however, like the scary journey with type 1 diabetes, we will simply prepare, mentally and physically, for the challenges ahead and keep doing the best we can, one moment at a time.  While at one time this would have terrified me, and it still does to some degree, I now feel ready to tackle this scary beast and arise victorious! I hope my comrades feel the same. WE CAN DO THIS!!!


Kevin Berg
Race:    IM St. George - My Take
Distance:    Ironman
Race Date:    05/01/10
Submit Date:    05/07/10
Ironman St. George 2010 Race Report – My take

Kevin Berg

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness;..… we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way." - Dickens.

I’ve been holding off on my little race report because not only because I needed to let this past weekend settle in my head a bit, but also holding off in an attempt to sort through all of the conflicting information and buzz I’ve read and heard.

Of course, I’m not one to judge, since this was my first full distance triathlon, but there seemed to be a very emotional component to this race. Perhaps the Dickens quote is a little overly dramatic, but his words of events in contradiction somehow seem appropriate. The race seemed full of contradictions.

The chatter around the water cooler at the finish was that this one was a bitch. A tougher course than most expected. The typical comment was, “I was 45 minutes to 1 hour over my PR - but I’m really happy with my time!” I heard two fast and experienced triathletes actually say that this race should require pre-qualification to enter. Time will tell if we will be honored with finishing The Toughest Ironman. I happened to notice that there is still entry available for 2011, as of the date of this posting.

But, the course also elicited comments of being one of the most beautiful and enjoyable.

2360 athletes were signed up as of April 14. WTC says they generally expect a 10% attrition rate by starting time. The official comment at the awards ceremony on Sunday was that there was a 15% DNF rate – 2nd highest of any race to-date. It appears that only 1634 people crossed the finish line in time. That means 726 people were MIA, the largest no-start and/or DNF of any race I can find statistics on.

Another interesting stat is that this race had approximately 760 First-timers. Maybe not too surprising since it was a new race that many could get into with having to pony-up $1550 for the Community Foundation entry fees due to sold-out races elsewhere. Also not too surprising, since WTC did not release any course information until 3 weeks after sign-up started, so many of us paid our fees only to find ourselves saying later, “what the heck have I gotten myself into!” Humm - I don’t think this was an oversight on WTC’s part. It was also within driving distance of many western metro areas, making it accessible to more people.

The winning Pro, Austrian Michael Weiss, crossed the line with an 8:40:08. A fairly middle-of-the-road wining time for Pros in other IM events. But, the average of the rest of the top 5 Male Pros was approximately 8:54:00 - much longer than the other tough IM courses, thus ranking it 4th behind Kona, Wisconsin and Lanzarote.

The weather forecast right up to race day was forbidding, but apparently typical for that time of year. Cold, rainy and lots of wind. Yet the weather on race day was near perfect. 51 degrees at 6:30 am, light wind, scattered clouds. The high of the day was 69-72, depending upon were you were on the course. The winds did kick up around 1:00pm, registering between 8 – 25 mph after 1:00pm, with gusts of up to 41 mph recorded in the back canyons. Riders on the second loop later in the day were brutalized by gusts.

One thing is certain. If the weather had been the seasonally expected standard, this race might have been a disaster. Any more wind, or even worse, heat would have decimated the athletes. As it was, WTC brass and all 2011 participants should be burning their tubulars, chanting, and sacrificing virgins while praying for similar conditions for next year.

The water, which Utah Parks had stated was 61 degrees one week earlier, was 54 degrees at the starting gun. At least 50 people had to be pulled from the water during the swim because of the cold. More dropped out in T1, unable to continue due to hypothermia or related maladies.

The bike course was a 22 mile roll into town from Sand Hollow State Park, and then two 44 miles loops. And it was gorgeous scenery. Decent roads, wide shoulders, mesas, a light breeze in the morning, a nice roll though the suburban areas with tons of spectators from mile 20-30, and then into the canyons from mile 30-68 including the fantastic final 9 mile 35-45 mph downhill back to town. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The thing that got to most people were the false flats. A subtle and sinister 1%-3% grade for the majority of the mileage ate riders up by the second lap, with most people seeing a 15-20 minute time loss from loop 1 to loop 2. There were 3 fairly short but strenuous climbs on the loops, culminating in a 1 mile 400’ switchback climb that started at 6%-8% and peaked at 12%. I saw a lot of people walking their bikes on these grades, even on the first loop. Our partial course pre-rides in October and March had us calculating about 5500’ of ascent. My Garmin data on race day for the full ride, adjusted for local elevation, showed 6,100’. It ain’t Silverman Full, but it’s more than enough. At T2, people got off their bikes anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour over their projected ride times. I did not hear as single person say that they nailed the bike at their goal time, or under it.

The run course, with 2400’ of total climb, was heartbreaking and breathtaking. At many times, it looked more like a community Walk-A-Thon than and Ironman Marathon. The 2.5 mile uphill straight out of T2 up Main and Diagonal, which ranged from 2% – 5%, made it difficult to get into stride. And the right turn on Red Hills Parkway was a ½ mile uphill of 8%-10% that really had you dreading another 23 miles. There is simply not a flat spot on this run. Two small 2/10th mile lollipop detours that were apparently needed to add some mileage were just plain irritating by the second loop. If I never have to climb the two 50-75 yard 12% grades – four times - to get to the St. George Elks Lodge again, it will be too soon.

At one point on the second run loop, about mile 20, I was staring up at the worst offending hill on Red Hills Parkway, a 1/3rd mile stretch topping at 11%-12%. There were probably 150 runners in sight, and for a brief period of about 30 seconds, not a single person was running - Uphill or Down! Red Hills Parkway is on the top of a plateau overlooking old town St. George, so running along this section is quite a sight. It is so high, that you can watch the aircraft at the nearby regional airport actually land below you.

The only positive to the run course besides the scenery is that it has an epic finish. The final 2 miles that was killing your stride twice on the way out, has now become a pretty nice downhill to the finish, assuming you have anything left in your legs.

As far as St. George itself was concerned, the town seemed to embrace the event with open arms (and open cash registers). Probably no surprise when a town of approximately 70,000 sees 10,000 visitors with higher-than-average disposable income drop in for 3-5 days. WTC certainly helped by locking up all the room-nights within 20 miles, and then essentially requiring a Wednesday night stay with their registration scheduling, adding a lot of revenue to the hotel take. The only thing that the townsfolk might complain about is the lack of liquor consumption by this crowd. Restaurant tabs were probably much lower than average, but hey, this is Utah. A place that allows you to have multiple wives, but no liquor stores? Go figure.

But people were very friendly, helpful, and generally interested and engaged. No irritated car honking, no complaints about the closed roads, lot’s of spectators that stayed throughout the day at places in town. Again, since I have no prior experience with other events, I can’t judge. But I’d be interested to see how this stacks up to, say Canada, which has a reputation of being a really tri-friendly town with huge local support.

Regarding logistics, the typical comments were that this was an extremely well run event, particularly for an inaugural race. Race Director Paul Huddle, of Roch/Huddle fame, who helped design the course and event for WTC, is to be congratulated on running a well-chain lubricated machine. Volunteers were fantastic and energetic, gears bags were where they should be, special needs bags were where they should be, and actually able to be recovered later.

And Huddle should in turn thank the tri-gods for the weather blessings, because if things had turned ugly during this first time event, we might have found his carbon-riddled body hanging from a yardarm in Town Square. Any point-to-point course race has all the ingredients for a real mess, but transportation, transitions, course and road markings, etc. were well executed.

There was the usual Thursday night athletes meeting, which I attended, and the Friday night dinner and Sunday closing, which I did not. So, no commentary on these.

The Expo was fairly simple, with about 40% of the floor space devoted to Ford, and the rest taken up by the usual supplement vendors and various and sundry gear manufactures. And of course, the Ironman branded mattress display. I think I heard the very energetic bed salesman make claims of dropping 40-50 seconds off your 10K times if you rested upon one of his magically restorative pillow tops with the M-Dot logos embroidered in.

Lots of Ironman apparel, of course, most of which you can get on the Ironman website (or new retail store!). But the local IMSG event-only branded stuff could only be purchased at the Expo and went quickly. I walked away about $300 lighter, so that all my tri-buddies, my car mechanic, my bike mechanic, my dry cleaner, and anyone else who sees me roll, walk or drive will know what I was doing on May 1, 2010.

Registration had long but fast lines, and apparently a new wrinkle in body marking. You received a little cloth cut-out with your race number in your package, which allowed to stand in another line to have your number air-brush painted on your arms, and then yet another opportunity to stand in yet another line to have your age air-brush painted on your calf. People seemed to think this was far superior to getting the magic marker or rubber stamp treatment at 4:30 am on Saturday morning. I was able to scrub off the race numbers, but I’m keeping the 53 on my calf for a while.

Athlete and spectator transportation had all the earmarks of a disaster-in-the-making, but all ran smoothly. The parking and all roads at Sand Hollow Reservoir were completely closed to spectator and athlete parking, even 3 miles away. Athlete buses ran from downtown to T1 from 4:30 – 5:30 am. Spectators were not allowed on athlete buses, and had to drive to the local fair grounds for bus transport to T1 from 5:30 – 6:30 am. This generally worked OK, but the bummer was that spectators were not allowed to leave until 9:30, and there was a lot of standing around after T1 cleared out.

Men’s T1. Ugly. Not enough space and chairs, dim lighting, well-intentioned but clueless volunteers. Wetsuit strippers seemed dazed, probably due to the fact that people coming out of the water were moving like Gumby and unable to function. After dragging myself out of mid-50 degree water, that last time I recall needing that much help undressing and dressing myself was after a particularly festive fraternity party at the U of M in 1978. When your hands are too numb to grasp and your brain in safe-reboot mode, you really need a little assistance. Some complained of being left to fend for themselves with no assistance. I was on my own for about 6 minutes, and felt like a stroke victim. My 12 minute T1 was testament. WTC needs to double the space and put volunteers with some race experience on the front lines.

Tip O’ The Day: You know those really stupid looking full-hood neoprene caps that divers use in cold water? The ones that cover your whole head and shoulders and tuck under your wetsuit and make you look like a Jacques Cousteau geek? Buy one. Now. Keep it handy. Trust me on this. I went into the water looking like an idiot, and came out toasty warm looking like a genius.

Porta Potties. Major issue. I don’t have to have 20 years of race experience to tell you that 32 stalls for 2000 hyper-hydrated athletes ain’t gonna do it. I can only assume that there was some sort of local Mormon city ordinance against more facilities, because any race director knows that 32 stalls is barely enough for a local sprint, much less an Ironman that is situated squarely in the middle of nowhere. I also hope that when the local park officials go to inspect the grounds afterwards to make their report to the city council, someone can convince them that all the droppings they find were from a roving herd of moose.

On a personal note, I’m overcoming mild first-timer depression, which is apparently a fairly common but rarely talked about post-race condition that has you sitting at home and asking your self – now what do I do? I’ve been in almost constant motion and mode for 6 months. And now - nothing. My friends say I need to rest and recover. Do nothing. Sleep. Drink. Work into my fat pants. I feel like I should maybe do a little swimming, running and biking. Just a little. I mean, 15 – 20 hours a week is not that much, if I take it real easy. Maybe tag along with Holgers group or something easy like that.

I’m also waiting for the emotional high. The part where I can’t get the fecal-eating grin off my face, but that never came for me like it does for some others. The life changing event that didn’t change my life. But that’s OK, because the quiet satisfaction is down in there. And I am starting to grin once in a while, now that I am less tired. I'll probably even order a photo or two (dozen).

I missed my 12:20 goal time by 40 minutes, with a 13:00:29 finish. I missed a sub-13 hour IM by 29 friggin’ seconds. 29 seconds to be able to say I did a 12 hour IM. Do you know how many places there are to pick up 29 seconds in a 13 hours race? I do. I know every damn spot. I’m sure it’s the same feeling for the person that did 9:00:29 or the one that did 16:00:29, but it sure is a pisser. But I did rank higher in my age group than I had hoped for, so that is some salvation.

There is also sadness, because I lost some close friends during the race. My toenails and I had become very attached over the years, but somewhere in the middle of it all, 3 of them decided that I was simply not being supportive enough and that they were in an abusive relationship, and they decided to leave. I blame myself, and I’ll miss them.

I think the depression is wearing off a bit. My wife is helping, because every time she picks up the phone, she is telling someone else, “Yeah, we were out of town last weekend. Kevin did an Ironman!”She then proceeds to rewind the entire event for the obviously very tolerant listener. I think she is more proud of it than I am, but her enthusiasm drags me into the good feelings with her, and I love her for it and for her support.

I caught myself glancing at next year’s IM schedule. I have NO interest in doing another one, mind you. But Canada is August 27, and if I happened to be sitting at my computer around midnight the day before registration opens, maybe...

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