Rachel Rocks the Vegas 70.3 World Championships

9 CommentsWednesday, 11 September 2013  |  Admin

Ironman 70.3 World Championships - Las Vegas - September 8th 2013

4:47am - A gentle knock on the door informed me that my breakfast had arrived. I was already awake, listening to the rain falling outside the window. I ate a bowl of granola and bagel while watching Sportscenter on tv. Then I quickly got dressed and headed to the lobby. I had little to carry as my "bike" and "run" bags had been dutifully left in T1 and T2 the previous day, along with my bike. My mom drove me down to T1 at 5:15 and sat in the car while I readied my bike. I attached my shoes, secured my water bottles and pumped my tyres. It was very dark and wet out, with large pools of water gathering around the bikes. It was an impressive sight though, with around 2300 age-groupers nervously preparing for the long day ahead. Transition closed at 6, with the pros starting at 6:30. After getting body-marked with my race number (1994) and age (25), I headed back to the car and returned to the hotel. My wave didn't start until 7:44 so I wanted to relax as much as possible until then.

6:02am - I sprawled on my bed and watched Criminal Minds while sipping on a bottle of water. I don't think it would have been possible for me to drink more water last week. The bottle was always at my side.

6:58am - I returned to the lobby to meet my parents... and got some strange looks from people who obviously thought I had missed the start of the race. We walked to T1 (about 20 minutes away) because the pros were furiously biking past our hotel entrance at this stage. The rain was pouring down, giving the nearby desert an Irish feel. Transition was mobbed when we arrived, with spectators cheering as the numerous waves were set off by a booming cannon. I took off my layers and put them in my "morning" bag, then stood as my mom lathered P20 sun cream on me. Sun was forecast for later in the day... I then snapped on my yellow swim hat and tinted goggles before joining the rest of the 20-29 year old females behind the swim entry arch. I ate a gel just before entering the water.

7:38am - The PA announced that it was time for the "yellow" wave to enter the water. I walked down the ramp and dived in to the 27 degree lake. Obviously, wetsuits were prohibited. We swam towards the starting point and waited anxiously while the clock counted down.

7:44am - Ready, set, go!

Swim - 36:45 - It was a helter-skelter start, with legs flailing and elbows jabbing. I started front and centre and went off as fast as I could. The course was somewhat banana-shaped so I aimed to swim between the land and the buoys on the outward section, rather than hugging the buoys. The turn buoy was red so I kept my sights on that after I had been swimming for a while. As it was one big lap, everyone had spread out by the turnaround so it wasn't mayhem at the buoy. After a short swim to another red buoy, I turned right again and began the return section. I stayed as close as I could to the buoys this time, actually touching a few of them. I also managed to find someone to draft off. She seemed intent on hugging the buoys so I was happy to follow for a while. I drifted left when I saw the exit ramp and was pulled to my feet by a volunteer. Although my swim time wasn't particularly fast, I was very happy with it, given that it was non-wetsuit and in freshwater. I pushed hard throughout and did my best to sight regularly. Part one of my mission was now accomplished!

T1 - 3:38 - I quickly removed my swim hat and goggles once I caught my breath. The run to transition was long enough. It was mostly on grass and mud, which was made very slippery by the rain which continued to fall. I found my bike easily (which is a small victory in itself given how packed T1 was), threw my swim stuff in my "bike" bag and put on my helmet and sunglasses. With no wetsuit to remove (or skin-suit, which most people wore), I was on my way up the long and windy trail to the mount line in no time.

Unusual conditions for a desert.. wet and dark

Bike - 2:57:50 - I mounted my bike and used my hand to snap one of the rubber bands attached to my shoe, which stubbornly did not break with my first pedal stroke. I knew the course as well as any visitor could, having driven the whole thing and cycled a section earlier in the week. So off I went, fully aware that 91km of brutality lay ahead. Of the three disciplines, biking is my favourite (probably because it's my strongest)... so I quite enjoyed the challenge. The course started with a long climb out of Lake Las Vegas. After a short stint on the main road, I entered Lake Mead National Park. The heavy rain made for an unusual contrast with the barren landscape that stretched in all directions. I did one long out-and-back section, passing quite a few people as I powered down the descents and spun my legs up the ascents. I wanted to push downhill as hard as possible so that I would have extra momentum to carry into the climbs. I think I did that effectively, cruising past others who chose to freewheel. At about the 60km mark (which was near where I had entered the Park earlier), the rain eased off and the sun made an appearance. There was also a long, steady climb to the Park exit, which was tough going. The undulations didn't disappear once I got back onto the main road though. After a few twists and turns heading towards the city of Henderson (beside Las Vegas), there was a final ascent to T2. Overall, the bike course finished at a higher elevation than it started. I was very happy with my split. I basically just went as hard as I could without blowing up on the hills. I'd say my effort was consistent throughout but the last 25km were made more difficult by the rising heat. I took on four gels and a trough of water (with electrolyte tablets) while cycling, successfully grabbing fresh water bottles and dumping gel wrappers at each aid station. That was actually trickier than normal because I had to steer with my left hand while collecting/dumping things with my right, which is not the case on Irish roads. Part two of my mission was now accomplished!

T2 - 2:06 - A volunteer kindly took my bike after I dismounted. I then called out my race number as I approached the bag area. Another volunteer found it for me, allowing me to continue running as I plucked it from her hand. I entered the change tent and sat down, somewhat tempted to take my time because my legs were aching. Obviously that would have been a bad idea... so I swiftly removed my helmet, put on my socks and shoes and tucked three gels into my trisuit. And then I was off.

The sun came out and baked the run course

Run - 2:06:45 - Let the nightmare begin! I have never struggled so much during a sporting challenge in my life. The course could not have been more testing. The only flat section was the finish chute, which I had to pass three times (on each lap) before entering. It started with a long downhill, which ended with a turnaround. I'm sure you can guess that a long uphill followed... I was then back near T2. Next, there was a long uphill, capped off with a turnaround and a return journey downhill to transition. That was one lap... so I had the pleasure of doing that three times. My legs were wobbly on the first lap so I figured I would find my rhythm on lap two. When that didn't happen, I hoped I could pick it up on lap three because I would be extra motivated by the proximity of the finish line. That didn't happen either. I ate my gels and drank water at every aid station. I also poured ice-water on my head and ran through the "mist stations" when they appeared. People seemed to fly by me on all sides. With my pace plummeting in the rapidly-rising heat, I just focused on getting to the finish line. Although I am disappointed that I wasn't able to run to my potential, I was delighted I could tough it out. The hilliness of the course certainly played the most significant role in my struggle. I wasn't strong enough to push up the climbs or glide down the descents, particularly in the blazing sunshine and after such a testing bike leg. I also felt somewhat flat/empty leaving T2. In hindsight, maybe I should have had solid food on the bike to fill me up more. Or maybe I should have eaten more in the previous few days to overflow my fuel reserves. Anyway, I was one relieved and happy triathlete when I eventually crossed under the Ironman 70.3 World Championships finish arch in a time of 5:47:04.

Wow, what an experience. I did my best to take it all in... before, during and after the race. I bought lovely gear and souvenirs, met some familiar and new faces, took lots of photos. I have been proudly donning my "finisher" t-shirt as well. Overall, I am ecstatic with my race. I think I put myself under too much pressure to finish in a certain time, which was unrealistic given the scale of the event, course, weather and my inexperience. I appreciate that it was a victory to finish... And being 45th out of 74 in my age group isn't too bad. My swim and bike were solid. If I had run the half-marathon like I usually can, I could have finished even a little higher. So it's all smiles with me! I want to say an absolutely gigantic thank you to my parents and brother, who are my biggest supporters in everything that I do. My parents endured rain, stress, sunshine, panic and delight as they watched me out on the course. And my brother sent positive vibes from home. A special thank you goes out to my coach Mark, for helping me prepare for this event over the last twelve months. We'll start tackling winter training together in a few weeks. Thank you to Mark and Brian Doyle at SwimCycleRun.com, for their sponsorship and support this season. I really appreciate it. And a huge thank you to my friends and training buddies at home. Your messages over the last few days have been fantastic.

Until next season...

Sheila Clancy
Friday, 13 September 2013  |  4:54

An excellent and realistic report on race from start to finish. Very tough course but that's to be expected. Very well done...

Mary & Ken McCauley
Friday, 13 September 2013  |  20:47

Rachel, We are in total admiration of what you did. It was marvellous for a wee Irish lass to take on such a tough test of strength. You did it. Well done.

Mike and Michel
Saturday, 14 September 2013  |  0:53

This reminds us of the trip we had this summer at the Aran Islands with your folks, the long miles, extreme heat and the cold pints............... Does that count? Congratulations!!!

Pat and Ann Sweeney
Saturday, 14 September 2013  |  16:53

Congratulations Rachel and very well done. A fantastic achievement. We are proud of your performance. We hope Mayo have similar courage and perseverance in Croke Park for the final. Well done again.

Tim & Lelia Danagher
Sunday, 15 September 2013  |  22:35

Congratulations Rachel from all in Cratloe
A fantastic achievement and one to be very proud of
Well done

Georgina Hillary
Tuesday, 17 September 2013  |  15:54

From where I'm sitting - in my reclining armchair, I'm impressed and shocked at what you've just done Rachel!
No wonder you need your Rocky Road!
Well done!! X

Mary Flanagan
Tuesday, 24 September 2013  |  9:57


A wonderful achievment you should be so proud. Your summary of the event is so good I felt like I was there. Good luck in the future. Mary

Joan & Christopher Evans
Friday, 27 September 2013  |  12:28

You sure are one tough competitor Rachel, massive congratulations. I'm amazed at how you were able to recall so much of the detail and atmosphere of the event and capture it so well in your blog.

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