I needed challenge and a change of Ironman race pace. Loyal readers might be saying, hey, didn’t you do that when you raced Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens in August? Yes. Consider Silverman and, in six weeks, Ironman Arizona, the icing on the I-need-a-challenge cake.
What does this Wisconsin girl know about racing in the desert? Not much. Why not practice, with Silverman, a half Ironman held in Henderson, Nevada?
I wanted to travel light, so I rented a racing bike. The bike shop workers were great, even if they didn’t deliver the size or kind of bike I ordered. Time to adjust and move on. I did, with several trips to the bike store. At best, I was skeptical about this rather large 54cm Trek Emonda.
Traveling to race and using a different bike takes some planning. How will you execute your race plan in a different venue with different challenges, and without your usual bike? I tried to plan for it all, but I forgot about how to store my food for the bike. Tired of spending money on travel, could I find a way to store my food without buying another piece of gear? Yes! Enter the teeny wristlet Joe bought for me on a killer clearance a few years ago. It was the right size, made of snappy, black leather, and had just enough room. Our hotel had electrical tape, so I could strap it on nice and aero-like.
Race day, I was in the dusty desert transition checking everything over. What about this bike? Are we going to be friends or just distant acquaintances? What if we can’t stand each other? It’s only 56 miles…
At 5:00 a.m. it was 75 degrees, and there was a breeze. It wasn’t a good thing that it was already windy at 5:00 a.m. Let it be windy. Let it get warm. Remember: this is Ironman Arizona training. Think abundantly; the stars were out and it was a beautiful morning on the shores of Lake Mead. The water was a balmy 78F, so no wetsuits were allowed, if you wanted to be counted for the competition. Of course I wanted this day to count. Make it count.
I was in one of the later swim waves, so by the time my group entered Lake Mead, the wind had whipped it up into a full-on chop that hit us from the side. Waves pushed over us often, giving me plenty of unexpected gulps of water. This is when it’s hard to be patient. You’re getting pushed around, you’re not feeling strong and smooth, but this is Lake Mead and this is Silverman! Stick with it.
After 1.2 miles of waves and more waves, patience won, and we were back at the rocky shore. Getting out of the lake took some careful footing; a nice neoprene mat underwater would really help.
The bike course begins uphill, and seems to remain there for, well, most of the 56 miles. Lake Mead Recreational area is beautiful, stark, and vast. The kind that can dull your focus if you’re not watching.
Then came the wind. Stick with it. Make it count. I dropped my half full water bottle. This had my never-fails Vitamin Water and X2 Performance combination. I could have turned around and got it, but there would be an aid station at mile 15 or 20, right?
I dropped a chain once in those early miles, part of getting to know the Emonda. But as the miles ticked by, we really hit it off. The more miserable the course conditions became with longer hills and soul bending wind, the better we worked together. Spinning up each hill into the wind, I passed athletes, many who had begun their swim long before mine began.
Mile 15 passed, and no aid station. Mile 20. Where is the aid station? Did it blow away? Now I think I need a different plan if I’m going to make it count. Finally! An aid station. New plan: stop and drink an entire bottle of cold water and one gel. Caffeinated gel, because I lost half of my liquid caffeine at mile 5. I poured another water bottle over me. It was hotter than it felt. Then, I stuffed two into my bottle cages on the Emonda.
The air is so very arid, along with the winds, I felt like I had been riding for hours with a blow dryer in my face. Somewhere after mile 25, we turn out of the headwind, and coast down a few of the hills. The respite is short, because the cross winds hit us. I wondered if taking two water bottles was too much, until the wind blew one of the bottles right out of the cage. Al-righty then.
I kept spinning easy, trying be patient. I’m not going as fast as I do at other races. Stop! Don’t compare this race to any other. It is most definitely a beast all its own. It felt weird. How could I be riding so slow and passing so many people? How could I feel so demolished and beat up, and yet confident that I was doing something right?
There was one last, big climb into the wind at mile 53. We were all suffering through it. A few were walking their bikes, the second time I’d seen that on the course. The hill wasn’t that steep; I believe people were blown to pieces from the wind and the heat.
After climbing that long hill, there was a brief downhill.
“One more climb!” A 50-something athlete said.
Wait. There was another hill in front of us. “This one is the last one?”
“Yep. We got this.”
What if he’s delirious from the conditions, and has no idea what’s going on? Either way, we have just over two miles to ride. I got this!
Getting out on the run, I only knew one thing: I was off the bike! The run begins on a downward slope, so I tried to take advantage of gravity. Two of my daughters were there for me, cheering me on from their perch on Paseo Verde Parkway.
Athletes were walking all around me. All I had to do was shuffle along up the hills, and use gravity on the downhills, and I was actually running. Seeing my daughters five times was a real lift To my dehydrated brain.
The wind never let us out if its grip. It stole nearly everything from us, sucking every last drop of moisture from our bodies. Cups were blown everywhere in the aid stations. When I threw a cup away, the wind would blow the water right out of it and back on me. Extra hydration!
By mile 10, I was holding back exhaustion with all I had. The effort to do that felt more like an Iornman-sized effort, not a half. This is Silverman, and this is great training for Ironman Arizona!
At the finish, that beautiful finish, I no longer had to hold back exhaustion, and as tears flowed, the wind stole them away. One thing the wind couldn’t take was my silly grin, or how I made it count.
- Freedom Friday!
- Francie Van Wirkus