According to the official Ironman website, “The IRONMAN 70.3 Silverman bike course is one of uniqueness, beauty, rolling hills and a few memorable climbs.” Key word: HILLS. Lots and lots of hills. The course features over 4,000 feet of climbing. In case you were wondering, that is a lot. Upon exiting T1, you immediately climb out of Boulder Beach and begin a long, hot (temperatures in the 90s), lonely ride through Lake Mead Recreation Center. A little after mile 40, you exit Lake Mead National Park and ride towards T2 in Henderson, Nevada. Did I mention that there is 4,000 feet of climbing…
My strategy for the bike was fairly simple — get through it before the cutoff time which was 5 hours and 30 minutes after the final wave start (in other words, I had to keep a pace of ~13 mph). I only started training on hills about 5 weeks prior to the race, since up until then, I thought I would be racing Miami 70.3 (which is a flat course). I really had no idea how my body would react to such an insane bike course.
I had already shifted onto the small chain ring before I racked my bike so I was ready for the initial ascent. I was so happy to be out of the water, I didn’t really mind the climb. A good amount of people started the bike when I did and that was reassuring. I began to feel cautiously confident in my ability to finish. (Note: VERY cautious)
During the first 30 minutes of the course, I tried to get into a rhythm. I had been advised not to eat or drink anything for the first 15 minutes to avoid any GI issues. Around 15 minutes, I was really thirsty, so I drank from the water bottle with Nuun, felt better, but decided to hold off on eating anything until thirty minutes in. I am also pretty sure that I had a huge grin on my face for AT LEAST the first hour of the bike.
I am doing it! I am doing a half ironman! I didn’t drown OR get rescued! I’m on the bike! Look at me! I’m riding a bike! HIIIII MOM!!!!!
The first 9 miles were through rolling hills. There was some climbing, but nothing too difficult. I picked up speed on the descents to help power myself up the hills. And I was thrilled (and also mildly terrified) when I realized that I was actually passing people. Am I pushing it too hard? Am I going to blow up and hit a wall?
I like to keep my resistance high and my cadence low on the bike. I struggle to maintain 90 rpm but when I lower my cadence and shift onto the big chain ring, I go faster. I knew I needed to do this in order to make the cutoff time. But I was worried that my legs wouldn’t be able to hold up since I had done the majority of my training on flat surfaces at 90 rpm. However, I decided if I was going down, I was going down hard.
Just before mile 10, you turn onto North Shore Road and continue to mile 25 where you make a u-turn. This is the only part of the bike course you cover twice. It was so fun to watch the speedy cyclists on the other side of the road on their way out of the park. Once you turn onto North Shore Road, you immediately descend down a steep hill and I remember thinking “THIS IS AMAZING I FEEL LIKE I’M FLYING.” And then the sudden, horrifying realization “OH DAMN I HAVE TO GO UP THIS AT MILE 40!”
The descents were really, REALLY enjoyable, though. I am not good technically on the bike. To be completely honest, going down hills scares the heck out of me. I usually ride the breaks, holding on for dear life until my hands cramp. But the downhills in this race were different. The road was super smooth (didn’t see one pothole the entire time) and even though the street was open to motorists, I never felt unsafe. I quickly realized I had to push it on the descents to make up time lost on the steep climbs. And that’s exactly what I did.
Thirty minutes in, I was hungry and thirsty. I ate half a Clif Bar at 30 minutes and the other half at 1 hour. And I finished drinking my entire first water bottle (with 2 Nuun tablets) shortly before mile 15. The course description said that the first aid station came around mile 15, and I was definitely ready for it. But then I passed mile 15 and I started to panic. The aid station wasn’t THERE.
What if they lied and there aren’t actually aid stations and I just drank my whole first water bottle and am going to die out here in the desert?! (My logic was clearly on point…)
And then a few minutes after passing the 15 mile mark (which felt like hours) I saw the aid station in the distance and thanked the triathlon gods. I cruised into aid station 1 and grabbed a water bottle while still riding, swerved, almost crashed, recovered, realized I didn’t have anywhere to put the bottle, and promptly pulled over to the side of the road to fill up my bottle with water (all within approximately 5 seconds). I had the Nuun tablets with me, but I decided to see how I felt just consuming water until the next aid station. I eventually ended up feeling okay, but not as strong as I did earlier with the extra boost of electrolytes and sodium.
After the first aid station, you begin a long climb until mile 22-ish. I had driven the course the day before and I knew that it was a steady, longggg climb but not steep. I lost some speed, but knew I would make it up on the way back. At an hour and a half, I ate half of a Honey Stinger Waffle (so tasty), and had the other half at 2 hours. I continued to cycle, hydrate, talk to myself, sing, smile like a huge dork and tried to process that I was gradually conquering a Half Ironman.
At the turn around (around mile 26, not 25 like the course map said), I was STOKED. I was finally on my way back! Unfortunately, now it was getting “desert hot,” around 90+ degrees. I wasn’t overheating but I could feel my skin burning even though I had doused myself in sunscreen. After the turnaround, there were a few steep climbs. I had seen them on my way in and was able to mentally prepare myself. But my legs were getting tired. I was only halfway through the 56 mile bike ride and I had to stay strong.
At mile 30, I pulled over to aid station 2 and filled up my water bottles (this time adding 2 Nuun tablets). The volunteers at the stations were amazing. They were so supportive and helpful. I would pull over and they’d yell, “What do you need?!” I’d respond with, “Water, please..” They’d run over with water, fill up my bottles, shout encouraging words, and I was off.
Miles 30-35 were my favorite—a godsend—ALL downhill. I tried to pick up as much speed as possible. I knew that the end of the course was all uphill and would slow me down considerably. At two and a half hours, I ate half a Clif bar and had the other half at 3 hours. At this point, it was difficult to get anything down. I didn’t feel nauseous; I just didn’t want to eat anything. My mouth was dry. I had to chew the Clif Bar forever and was constantly thirsty. But there was an encouraging sign: a decent number of people were still heading out on the bike course. Not a ton, but at least they were trailing me, and not visa versa.
At about mile 40, you begin a steep, overwhelming climb to exit Lake Mead National Park. This was the flip side of the descent that I flew down earlier on the course. Now I was going up, and I remembered the FAST racers struggling up this hill. I was about to appreciate their torment. I built up as much speed I could on the final descent before the hill and then started to power up. If I could use two words to describe this climb they would be long and painful. I tried to distract myself. I pretended I was being interviewed by a reporter. I focused on the other cyclists who were suffering as well (SOLIDARITY). I was hot and exhausted. I struggled to breathe. My legs felt weak. Sweat burned my eyes. And then… mercifully it was over. I was ELATED. When I reached the summit a kind police officer told me an aid station was minutes away. Thank God!!!
At the aid station, I filled up my bottle and a volunteer dumped water on my head. It may have been the most AMAZING sensation I have ever experienced. The hot, dry desert climate was definitely getting to me. And just like that I was off to complete the last 15 miles of the bike leg.
The last 15 miles of the bike were brutal—virtually all uphill. I was hot, my legs were tired, my ass hurt. And in the back of my head, a pesky thought: the half marathon that awaited me once I finished the bike. The course offered some nice views of the Las Vegas strip, but I couldn’t get my mind off my fatigue. I ate another Honey Stinger Waffle and a Peanut Butter Gu to fuel myself for the run.
At mile 50, the climb became steeper. I was prepared because of my course drive the day before, but it was still grueling. Two things got me through at this point: first, the realization that I was going to make the bike time cutoff (by a pretty decent margin) and second, the crowd support, especially the police officers. I also chatted up a few other cyclists, making jokes about how CRUEL it was to make us climb at this point in the race.
The end of the bike course runs parallel to part of the run course. I was overjoyed. I was almost off of the bike. And as I silently vowed to never cycle again, I looked to my left and saw a remarkably discouraging sight: struggling runners. When I say struggling, I mean REALLY struggling. Most were walking. And the ones who were “running” were really sort of just shuffling along, limping in pain. A few were doubled over. A few were trying to stretch out cramping limbs. No one looked like they were having fun.
As I neared the transition area, I saw my mom on the side of the road, pointing a camera straight at me. I started screaming, “MOM!!! MOM!!!! I DID IT! I DIDN’T CRASH! I MADE THE TIME CUTOFF!” She cheered. A few feet later, I cruised by my cheering dad and friend Remi. I unclipped, and jogged into T2.
I couldn’t believe I had done it. The bike leg was my biggest worry about the race and I had managed to keep a decent pace, fuel properly, stay hydrated, not crash, and avoid getting a flat! AND I wasn’t even that tired (thank you, adrenaline). Everything went perfectly!
Final Bike Results: 4:13:10 (13.27 mph)
9th Age Group / 370th Female / 1414 Overall
AND these are my Garmin splits…
As I entered T2, volunteers offered congratulations and encouragement. I smiled and thanked them. I found my bike rack and, once again, took my time transitioning. Helmet, headband, and shoes off. Switch socks. Shoes, race belt, visor, and sunglasses on. I popped two Advil (hoping to ward off knee pain), grabbed a water bottle and stuffed WAY too much fuel in the back of my kit. I wasn’t sure what I would feel like eating, so I figured I’d better be safe than sorry. I also grabbed Zofran (anti-nausea) in case something went terribly wrong. Overall, I think I triple checked to make sure I had all of my nutrition and gear. On my way out of transition, I saw a middle-aged man on his hands and knees, violently sick.
Well that is definitely NOT a good omen…
I took another port-o-potty break and jogged out of T2! Only 13.1 miles stood between me and that half ironman!