This year, my first tri was once again set to be in St. George, Utah. I love this race. I love the hills, the desert, swimming in Sand Hollow, the amazing pro field, and the huge crowd of local Utah athletes I’ve come to know.
Pool? Who needs a pool? (saw this here)
Despite my training being a little hit-or-miss this year, I was going into the race cautiously optimistic. I’d run my best-ever marathon in January, and twice-weekly computrainer sessions with the BAM Fam
since the beginning of the year had me feeling pretty good on the bike. My swim had been horribly neglected, I’d only swum 5 times since IronMan CDA last summer! Despite that, I’d been doing some body-weight core workouts, and felt like I was reasonably strong. A confirmation swim at the pool had me doing 1.2 miles only a couple minutes slower than last year.
Training prep, self-score: 7/10
Here’s where I may have made a mistake. I’d recently attended a talk given by Anthony Almada about Vitargo for use by endurance athletes. He made a lot of really good points about race day nutrition and how most endurance athletes go into a race with lower glycogen stores than they could. The one thing he said that really caught my eye was that instead of eating a little extra carbohydrate a couple days before the race, he recommended 5 to 5.5 grams per pound of body weight for three days before the race. For me, that means 2700 calories, just from carbs each day. I decided to try that.
I also picked up a container of Vitargo, and tried it out during a test ride. Apparently this stuff is basically a starch that is extracted from Barley (but could also be extracted from potatoes or other starchy vegetables or grains). It tastes like if you’d way-overboiled some pasta, to the point that the noodles were just goo and the water was about half gone, and then drank that. Not a lot of flavor. Goes down pretty easy, and they say you can absorb 1.7x more calories with this stuff than with a maltodextrine-based gel. So, the plan was, two bottles of this containing about 800 calories to be consumed on the bike.
Here’s where things went extra-wrong. While at a pro meet-and-greet at High Knees Cycling, I was talking with a friend who was also doing this Vitargo plan. He emphasized that I had to have some electrolyte in there! It was going to be very hot on race day. But guess what? I forgot my enduralyte capsules — I only had three in my bento box. So, this began the search for some kind of suitable electrolyte to add. Apparently this was on everyone else’s mind too, because we couldn’t find anything, and I ended up pulling the trigger on some PediaLite powder from Wallmart. You’re probably saying, “WAIT, ISN’T THAT THE FIRST RULE OF RACE DAY — DON’T DO ANYTHING NEW!”. Yeah, well, I wish you’d been there to say that in person.
Meanwhile, I’m basically stuffing myself on carbs for several days. The night before the race, I mixxed up my bottles of nutrition with the pedialyte and had them ready to go.
Here we’re going to enter a bit of “wah wah wah” from me. I’ll be as brief as possible. My problem is that I get migraine headaches. It happens maybe once or twice a month, and is usually triggered by fatigue, bad eating, irregular sleep, and stress. If you have migraines, you know what I’m talking about, but if you haven’t it is much worse than just “having a headache”. You can get sick to your stomach, your vision gets weird, eventually you’ll end up in a ball in a dark place somewhere. Fortunately, there are drugs called Sumatriptans that can make migraines go away. But, they can also make you feel a bit weird too.
The night before the race, I felt an overwhelming fatigue, which looking back on it was a warning that I was getting a migraine. But, I thought I was just wiped out. I should have taken something for it then, and this might have been a different story.
Then next morning, I woke up sweating and nauseous before the alarm. But, thought I’d maybe feel better once I got moving. I got my stuff on, grabbed my gear and headed over the busses (our hotel was only a block away). When we got to transition, I wrote a text to Michelle to grab an Imitrex (headache pill) before she left, but then thought “maybe I’ll feel better later, and I’m not sure I should take one of those and race”. So, I didn’t send it.
Also, my new “diet” seemed to result in me spending an inordinate amount of time in the bathrooms before the start (this is a tri blog, I know you want to know this), so the morning was really pretty enjoyable.
Soon, Michelle and her brothers arrived. We were able to see the first pros exit the water since my wave started so late. Then, it was time to get the wetsuit on and head down to the water.
As we came to the water’s edge I noticed almost everyone in my age group staying only ankle-deep. I think there was some apprehension about the temperature. But, from past cold races I know the best thing is to just get in and try to get your face in the water (see mammalian dive response). Soon enough, we were swimming out the start — none too soon either since as soon as we reached the start buoy the gun went off for our wave.
Swim – I started out with a steady turnover that I knew I’d be comfortable with, and maybe it was the cool water, but I actually did start to feel a bit better. The swim was fairly uneventful, I felt like I was moving along but it was really hard to tell. Before long I was rounding the last turn headed for the dock. I ran up the ramp, and picked the biggest guy in the wetsuit stripper lineup, grabbed my gear and went.
Bike – When I first hopped on my bike, I think the shot of adrenaline from all the action in transition had me feeling pretty good. I saw Michelle and the Bros on the way out, and took off out of Sand Hollow. But, when I turned up the first hill I got the feeling things weren’t quite right. I almost immediately felt fatigued.
Then, grabbing a bottle I took a gulp of… the most acrid, foul-tasting, over-flavored concoction I think I’ve ever tasted. I’d followed the directions on the pedialyte pack, but I don’t know if I was just more sensitive to flavor at that moment, or if they think it should be way-more flavored than I do, but it was so bad I felt like I could barely swallow it.
What followed is a long ride consisting of a head feeling increasingly worse, a stomach feeling ever more sour, and a body-engine feeling more-and-more underpowered. I stopped at and aid station, dumped out half of the bottles and refilled the rest with water, hoping that would dull the taste, but it was still just too much. Eventually, I just gave up on using any of it.
By the time we were on Snow Canyon Blvd I was being passed by a steady stream of riders. Another quick stop emptied what little I had in my stomach, and I concluded the main reason I wasn’t turning around here was a ride-of-shame backward along the course. Once I started up the canyon, I thought “maybe if I up the effort, and get my heart going I’ll actually feel better”. So, I got out of the saddle, and pushed it a bit. While mentally it felt better to be passing people again, it didn’t feel any better overall. I turned onto Highway 18 knowing I was done.
Long story short, I had the disappointment of telling Michelle and her brothers I was going to DNF at T2. There, I found a volunteer and turned in my number. The sad part is, that after making it back to the hotel, a couple of Imitrex and a two hour nap had me feeling 90% better.
What did I learn this time
Well, I think I have to learn the same things multiple times before they stick. But, here’s what I think are lessons from the race:
- Listen to your body. If I’d been paying attention, I could have recognized what was going on the night before the race.
- The obvious, don’t do anything new on race day. Adding an electrolyte I’d never used before was just a completely block-headed maneuver.
- Don’t completely up-end your routine. I can race well without totally changing my diet and eating habits right before a race. I’d have been better-off doing that and mildly upping my carb consumption.
I will say that I never felt like I was running low on energy nutrition-wise. I didn’t have energy, but it wasn’t the same as that running-on-empty feeling. That probably had a lot to do with the slow pace, but maybe in that respect the carbo loading was a benefit. The vitargo I would put as inconclusive. I’ll try it again in another race — with no flavors.
So, that’s it, my second DNF.
Congratulations to all the athletes from Salt Lake out there, many of whom had PRs. It was a beautiful day for a race. I’ll look forward to publishing a more successful report for my next one!