Holy hell Vegas, you did not disappoint!
Last year I watched the 70.3 World Championships at home on my computer. I’d opted for Ironman Louisville over the Championship Half Ironman’s first run in Sin City. But as I hit refresh on IronmanLive for the 1 millionth time, I was suffering from some serious race envy. Vegas looked other-worldly. Desert heat, hills, and crazy fast competition; I knew in 2012 I wanted to be on that start line.
The Swim that Almost Wasn’t
Fast forward 365 days and there I was! Treading water in Lake Las Vegas with one hundred of my closest 18-29 year old female friends. The gun went off and BOOM! WORST START EVER. It was like I’d never swum a stroke in my life. I was seriously floundering and getting totally run over by my entire age group. Sensing panic-mode, my brain took over:
Remember those four years you swam for the University of Georgia?
400 IM Group? Get out swims? 3000 meter backstrokes for time?
Remember your awesome Lane 8 teammates at Dynamo Masters?
Coach Maria yelling at your lazy right arm during hour straight swims?
Well now would be a great time to put your head down and
FREAKING DO YOURSELF AND YOUR TEAMS SOME JUSTICE!!!
Normally I try to keep the self-talk positive, but every now and then the only thing that works is a much deserved swift kick in the ass. And thankfully, on this occasion, my mind delivered.
A couple strong strokes later I was in clear water heaven. I enjoyed this for about 2.5 seconds before I caught the wave of men who had started five minutes before me. This presented another problem:
Orange caps + Orange buoys = Sighting DISASTER!
Far left, far right, smack dab on top of a man I mistook for a buoy (sorry!); I could barely tell which way was up. Happy thoughts and a couple laughs kept me going and before I knew it I was under the bridge with the RED swim exit buoy in sight!
Biking and Baking in the Desert Sun
The 56 mile bike course was absolutely GORGEOUS! The up and down barren desert landscape kind of reminded me of the lava fields of Hawaii. Except where the lava fields feel empty, I sensed the Lake Mead National Recreation Area was teeming with life. I knew if I stopped, I’d definitely be eaten alive by the rattlesnakes, gila monsters, and man-sized tarantulas living in the roadside brush. Lucikly, this kept me moving.
The climb from Lake Mead to T2 at Green Valley Ranch was brutal. Although it kept my hair frizz free, the dry desert air was sucking the life out of me. And even with four on-course aid stations, my water bottle always seemed to be dry. I knew the upcoming 13.1 mile run was going to take some major focus.
Just Keep Running
I love running loops and I was pretty psyched about Vegas’ three loop run course. I thought the set up was a brilliant way to ensure aid station and spectator support thorughout the run. But I was in for a surprise.
The first loop I felt like a spectator in Gladiator. I was still fairly fresh, but some of the people from the waves ahead of me had already been trudging up and down Green Valley Parkway for more than an hour. It was total carnage and unfortunately, a bit of a preview.
My second and third loops were a couple slices of humble pie. The fresh feeling of Loop 1 was gone and I kicked myself for ever thinking “this was only a half.” The heat, the hills, the competition – this race deserved some serious respect.
My saving grace, once again, was Chance Regina. Just like last year in Hawaii, the Blue Competition Cycles Man was there at my lowest points, telling me exactly what I needed to hear. Echoing Coach Diablo’s words and reminding me to keep fighting. I took a lot of strength from both Chance and some other unexpected on-course cheers. Just when I thought I was alone out there, someone would drag me from the depths with a quick “Go Haley.” And for that I say: Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU. That may have looked like a grimace on my face, but I heard you! And inside I was backflipping with joy!
Aftermath and Takeaways
I crossed the finish line four hours and 53 minutes after I started. Third in my age group, sixth amateur, and 23rd female overall. Not bad!!!
At the awards ceremony the presenter announced I’d posted the fastest overall female swim time, including the pros! He also joked “somewhere out there Matt Rose is happy,” refering to Coach Diablo. This made my day, because really, my success is a reflection of the hard work of my coaches, teammates, sponsors, friends and family, and they all deserved to be on that podium with me. Though I’m glad Diablo wasn’t actually up there because I kind of enjoyed being one of the tallest people on stage:
Vegas was a World Championship worthy course. It was not easy and I may have underestimated it a bit, but the experience was incredible. There are a couple things I might do different next time, like carry water on the run and maybe plan better for the point-to-point race logistics, but overall I couldn’t be happier with my performance. I had to work out there. I learned a lot and I will be back!