Taste the Beast – Tackling the Ironman 70.3 St. Croix Triathlon, Part 1

May 9, 2017 Ian Murray 1 comment

Having had success in St. Croix and loving the course last year, I decided to take a run at it again this year. Only, this year was a little different. This year would be the last iteration of the race, the competition would be a little tougher as the 70.3 World Championships slots up for grabs were for Chattanooga, TN, rather than Australia, and I had a friend racing with me, too. The event did not let me down, delivering a brutal day and living up to the reputation of being one of the toughest races out there.

The Long Lonely Training Road

I decided to sign up for the race last December, knowing what I had ahead of me, and I convinced a friend to do the race as well. I wanted to share the experience of St. Croix with someone. Mostly, I didn’t want to suffer alone on race day. I do enough of that in training.

Once I had the target on paper, I laid out my plan to physically destroy myself for four months in preparation to go hard all day. Last year, I wasn’t prepared for the run, so I was damn sure going to have that bad boy licked before I got there. Let’s just say that Mother Nature gets a say on race day, so I wouldn’t say that I had the course licked….but we’ll get to that later.

I figured that I needed a little more strength and a little more endurance to better results from last year. So I laid out my plan. I would have a couple of really high volume run weeks during the build, a few weeks with high swim volume, and consistently high bike training stress score (some weeks high volume, some weeks higher intensity and fewer miles).  

Training went very well. I had a few weeks of swimming with about 15,000 meters of work, doing monster workouts with paddles and getting really strong. On the run, I had a number of 50+-mile weeks, including a 100-kilometer and 100-mile week. I felt great on both of those. On the bike, I spent a significant amount of time on Zwift, logging a bunch of races and workouts. Trust me, I burned through a ton of laundry detergent with all of the workout clothes I went through.

The training did take a toll on the social life. Even my wife, who is hugely supportive of my racing and someone I consider an equal part of the team, noticed that I was walking a fine line of overtraining. By April, my idea of a good time was lying on the couch and napping. Seriously, I was a zombie at times…..just completely shot.  

Finally, the last build cycle ended, and the last recovery week arrived. After that it was taper time and race-week prep before packing up my stuff for the race. I knew going into the race that I was well prepared. Besides the support from the wife, my TeamODZ teammates were hugely supportive and helpful, giving encouragement and some sage wisdom when I was flirting with training disaster.  

Pre-race in St. Croix – The Tapas Version of the Race

Our group arrived on Thursday before the race, which was set for Sunday. The first order of business was to unpack and assemble the kids. Trust me, I felt really bad about packing my two year-old in her case and putting her under the plane, but that’s the airlines for you. They just don’t understand that bikes are like children to some of us. Anyway, all the parts were there, unlike last year’s trip to Australia, and I put both bikes together in short order.

The next morning, we woke up to the amazing ocean sounds of the Caribbean Sea waves rolling onto the beach outside of our condo. Oh yeah, it’s as amazing as it sounds. I don’t want to go home.

The first order of business for the day was a visit to the Beast. The Beast is a .7-mile climb with grades up to 26 percent, and most of the climb at 14 percent. Yes, it is as bad as you imagine, but it’s only .7 miles. Thus, it’s rather small potatoes in the grand scheme of the race. However, the intimidation factor of the climb actually keeps people from signing up for the race. Seriously, some people are that scared of it.

So, we piled into the rental with the bikes and set out on the bike course to introduce Deirdre to the Beast. After driving up the climb and down the descent, we returned to the entrance, downloaded the bikes, and got down to business. 

 I hit the bottom of the climb and took the left turn up the wall. A leg-burning, lung-searing, heart-pounding 6 minutes and 30 seconds later, I was at the top. Deirdre followed shortly after, having walked up a portion of the hill.

Just to be clear, most people walk up some of the hill. The amount of power that I had to generate to keep going on the steepest sections was significant. There is absolutely no shame in pushing on that hill. Anyone who claims otherwise is ignorant or just a bit of an a-hole.  

Anyway, at the top, we practiced the three-mile descent, as it is a bit tricky, with a very sharp left turn at the bottom. There, we linked up with our support crew, the wife and Deirdre’s husband, loaded the bikes up, and returned to the start of the climb. I wanted one more crack at it, since I overpowered the first few hundred meters. I wanted a better, consistent effort, so I could replicate it during the race.  

Iteration two was much better. I shaved about 40 seconds off of my time, clocking 5 minutes 52 seconds, good enough for 6th all time on Strava. Not too shabby. At the top, Deirdre joined me for a second practice of the descent, this time being a bit more aggressive. Little did we know, but our practice runs would prove invaluable on race day due to Mother Nature’s little surprise.

After our climbing fun, we headed over to the practice swim and packet pick-up. The practice swim was a good open water practice but nothing special. Neither Deirdre nor I were very interested into putting any significant effort into the swim, so we just picked out our sighting targets and called it a day. We still swam about 1000 meters, so it wasn’t nothing.

We finished up packet pick-up quickly and swung by the shop to pick up CO2 cartridges for the race in case of a flat. With day one’s mission complete, we returned to the condo to rest up before dinner. The awesome terrace on the condo made for good naps. I did mention that I find napping pleasureable, right?

Final pre-race preparations

The day before the race, we slept in a little bit and loaded up the bikes and running shoes for our last recon of the course before the race. Because I knew of the deceptively hard hills on the first part of the course and the tendency to push them a little too hard (yeah, I learned that the hard way), I wanted Deirdre and two other South Florida friends to get some experience on the climbs and the technical descents.  We went up and down the rolling hills of the first eight miles of the course, identifying some dicey spots that require some careful riding.  I was pretty stoked that Deirdre got up and over Lowery Hill with relative ease, which gave us both a shot of confidence about her race.

Heading back over to the Buccaneer Hotel’s golf course, the site of the run course, we quickly swapped out shoes and put the bikes in the SUV. Unfortunately, we weren’t going to practice running up the mini-Beast due to the golf course being active..stupid golfers. The mini-Beast is a horribly steep hill located at just before the four-mile mark and the ten-mile mark. Yes, that’s right, we would have to do it twice. Yes, twice. Two times after 56 miles of challenging bike course…in the heat…with no shade…on smoked legs. Awesome. So, we settled on running the hill on the main road, as it had a similar pitch if not a little worse. Up and over we went, barreling down the backside, which is almost an identical descent as the mini-Beast. Oh yeah, the descent sucks, too. It’s a double digit percent decline, so that’s pretty awesome.

After finishing up our little jaunt, we headed over to the Mermaid restaurant on the Buccaneer complex and grabbed a beautiful lunch on the beach. We finished our small lunch and headed back to the condo to prep the nutrition and gear for the next day’s adventure. As we watched the sun set from the condo, I checked the tire pressures one last time, got my race bag ready, and chowed down on my chicken pizza. By eight o’clock, I was ready for bed. Game time was almost upon us.

Next up…Race Day

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