December 15, 2017

What happened at St. George?, Ron Saetermoe

This race report is long overdue. I’m going to try to get caught up on my race reports but you know how it goes . . .
I had no business racing Ironman St. George. This course goes totally against my strengths . . . again; maybe that’s why I did it.

My pal Larry (Lar Dog) Davidson coaxed a bunch of us into this race; a race he had a great shot at getting his Kona slot at. I enjoy the company of my mates so I signed up as well.

About a month prior to the race several of us drove up to St. George for a recon mission of the course. Since most of the guys had already been there a couple of times, including to race there in 2010, it was to be a great training weekend.

Among the crew were Larry Davidson, Gary Clendenin, Quinton Berry and Jeff Rhodes.

Last year Jeff crashed on a downhill turn during the race and broke his collarbone. Quinton, and another pal that didn’t make the trip, Scott Callender, walked the entire marathon with him. Quite an endorsement of the race, huh!

Anyway, the trip up there was fun and the training was great. We did two loops of the bike course and ran one loop of the run course the following day. The race would be challenging!

Our mates Scott and Jeff would not be making the trip with us, sadly. Jeff decided to do IM Brazil this year instead and Scott was still recovering from a nasty fall earlier in the year.

We got to St. George a couple days early to do all of the normal pre-Ironman activities. We were able to get in a swim at the Sand Hollow Reservoir which is where the swim takes place. The water was cold, but not too bad.
Dinner the night before was a group affair at a local eatery and the mood was positive. We were all going to race hard the next day, with the exception of Gary, as he already has his Kona slot (from IM California 70.3). Gary committed to doing the swim, bike and maybe some of the run. The rest of us were going for our Kona slots.

Race morning was clear and crisp with only a wisp of wind. It looked like the weather gods were with us so far.
As we entered the water at the start of the swim it felt colder than our previous swim. Maybe that’s just because of the nerves or the colder air temperature in the morning.

I swam out to the far left and took my usual place at the front of the pack. We treaded water for a few minutes and the cannon went off!

I started out slowly and planned on building my pace. That was my plan. What actually happened is that about 200 yards into the race I couldn’t breathe. I tried to keep going but was literally hyperventilating and couldn’t go on.

Just ahead was a float so I breast stroked to it and held on to it for dear life. What the heck! This felt like IM Arizona all over again but without the cramping.

I guess I was hanging there for about two minutes and thought about quitting but decided to take it REALLY slow and see what happens. I did, and the situation improved after a while.

It could have been the cold water. It could have been the adrenaline. But, a contributing factor was probably the altitude. At about 3,000 feet the air is a little thinner.

During our reconnaissance mission we also swam at the community pool and it was weird that I couldn’t catch my breath when we swam there either. 3,000 feet isn’t much, and I never felt it on the bike or the run but it was definitely impacting my swim.

As the swim progressed I was able to speed things up a little and finished with a respectable 1:07 – respectable, given the circumstances.

Transition was uneventful and I was off on the bike. The ride out of town includes a good climb just to get your blood pumping. My plan (there’s that word again) was to keep my heart rate around 150 for the bike portion of the race so I’d have something left for the run.

As usual, I was being passed by what seemed everybody in the race that wasn’t already ahead of me, but I was determined to take it easy. The scenery is just beautiful there so it’s a great race to do from that perspective. And, if you’re a good cyclist, and like the hills, it’s a great race for you.

At about mile 25 my pal Larry caught up to me. On a good day he wouldn’t have caught me so quickly but because of my poor swim he caught me quite early. The problem is that Larry choked on the swim as well. Tough day for both of us.

He looked really strong as he blew by me so it appeared his Kona dreams were still in tact . . . mine? Not so much!

The bike course is two loops with a couple of really good climbs. The most famous is called The Wall, but all things considered not that bad. I think the climb took about eight minutes. It seems like forever but it’s not.
The wind started to pick up a bit but based on stories, not too bad by St. George standards. The problem is that the wind can be in your face as you’re climbing The Wall which makes it just that much tougher.

I could tell it wasn’t going to be my day. I just couldn’t generate enough power on the bike to put in a competitive performance. Oh well, it would be a great training day, anyway.

My total time on the bike was 6:20. Totally pedestrian.

At this point I had given up on qualifying for Kona at this race but decided to see what I could do on one loop of the two loop run course.

T-2 went smoothly and I felt quite good. Ready to see what my running legs could do.

It started to heat up at this point. While the bike course is what I would call “challenging” the run course is “tough.” It is very hilly and the heat just made things worse.

There are a few out-and-back sections so if you have friends out there you can usually catch a glimpse of them at some point. I did see, and subsequently pass, Quinton, out by the golf course. A devious turn off the main road up a hill and back. I think they added this section just to piss me off.

Anyway, Quinton waved me by. This wouldn’t be his best Ironman effort either.

I felt good on the run although I wasn’t fast. I did see Larry out there a couple times with his head buried in his work. Very focused!

Since Gary didn’t do any of the run (wise man) he was waiting at the end of the first loop of the two-loop run course. He borrowed Larry’s iPad so he was keeping up on the race progress.

Halfway through the run I was in about seventh place. Gary and I talked about it for a few minutes and decided the best thing would be to stop and save my legs for my next Kona qualifying race, IM Hawaii 70.3. Since there would either be only two or three Kona slots there wasn’t any way I was going to qualify here anyway.

While it felt good to stop, I did feel quite strong, and never close to bonking. This has been my bane in all of my previous Ironman attempts. The dreaded “bonk.” I felt like I could have easily continued to finish the marathon. That would be the highlight of my day.

While you never know what’s going to happen during the course of an Ironman I think you can always learn from it. I have quite a few “take-aways” from this race.

Larry had a good day, but later said he just didn’t have it. He finished fifth. Another pal of ours Mark Stoner dropped out after the bike portion because he couldn’t keep any fluids down. Tough day all around.

Now it’s time to look forward to Ironman Hawaii 70.3 on June 4th.

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