The Silverman full distance triathlon is thrown about as one of the toughest races in the world. This past Sunday, no less than Chris McCormack and Dave Scott agreed with that sentiment. The conditions turned an incredibly difficult course into an epic struggle just to finish.
We escaped from the cold front in Chicago on Friday and landed to sunny, 70* in Las Vegas. In fact, every day except Sunday was perfect. We knew starting about mid-week that race day was going to be challenging. They were calling for 10+ mph winds and cooler temperatures. Friday night at the pasta party Dave Scott warned us about the conditions and seemed pretty happy not to be toeing the line. When Sunday rolled around the morning temperatures were in the high 40s and the wind was starting to pick up.
My partner drove me down to T1 at Lake Mead Sunday around 4:30am. I’d set up my bike and turned in my gear bags the day before so I just checked things out, stretched and tried to relax. I was in the first row right in front of the Operation Rebound relayers. They weren’t there since they were starting a couple hours after us, but it was still inspirational to see their special bikes and handcycles there. I kept reminding myself to “suck it up buttercup…these guys are doing the race with one arm or one leg.” Helps to keep things in perspective sometimes.
I got to the swim start and things looked choppy but not too bad. They played the national anthem and I got all choked up. When the horn sounded about 200 of us started what was to become the most grueling swim I’ve ever done. 22 years of triathlon and I’ve swum in oceans, lakes, rivers, in TT starts, wave starts and 2400+ mass starts. I’ve never experienced anything like this. On the way out, the current was pretty much with us. I was blown off course a little but started sighting every few strokes and was able to stay with the buoys. When we made the turn against the current I started to get sick and stopped to throw up. I still felt pretty good so I kept going. At the final turn into shore, the wind was really picking up. The waves were white caps and I could hear people yelling and see kayaks all over the place trying to help people. A woman near me started waving her hand and I went over to her and had her hold on to me while I worked the cramp out of her foot. I kept trying to do freestyle but I drank so much water I had to stop to throw up again. Finally, I tried doing breaststroke and swimming under the waves. That seemed to help, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. I resumed freestyle and after a few more strokes my arms were really tired. I had this strange moment when I wondered if I would make it to shore. My arms felt like lead and I kicked and pulled as hard as I could to finish. Plenty of people were braving the wind to cheer us in as I dizzily made my way to transition. What I didn’t realize is that the wind picked up significantly about 50 minutes into the swim – kicked up a dust storm and blew over the timing clock. My partner was standing next to a group of Germans waiting to do the half which was postponed an hour because the kayakers couldn’t hold their positions. They kept looking out at the lake and muttering “scheisse.” I'd hoped to finish around 1:12, but ended up doing it in 1:37.
It took me a few minutes before I didn’t feel too dizzy in T1. I slowly got dressed, got on my bike and headed up the boat ramp for the bike course. Within a few miles the rain opened up and I started to get chilled. A few miles later as I made a turn my legs were stinging from the precipitation. It was hailing! Between that and the cross winds, I was white knuckling it on the bull horns and wishing I’d brought the road bike instead! I saw my partner and smiled that smile that says “this really sucks, isn’t it great?!” I had a note on my bike reminding me to go slow and stay within my heart rate. Despite the massive climbs, I managed to do that and was very proud of myself for being steady and not going like a bat out of hell. At mile 42, I got a flat in the front. I managed to change it pretty quickly, but was worried about getting another flat in the same spot because a small piece of glass had penetrated the tire. I decided to go ahead and stop at the special needs and grab my spare CO2s and tubes just in case. Things were more down than up on the way back, but the head wind picked up. I heard later that winds gusted up to 40mph and it certainly felt like it.
I’m an above average bicyclist so it never occurred to me to worry about the cutoff times, but when I saw my partner at mile 90 she said I only had a few minutes to make the first cutoff at the tunnel (mile 92). I started hammering and happily made it through the tunnel cutoff to the bike path into town. This is where the famous three sisters are: three 18% grade hills, short and vicious just when you are exhausted. I made it up each of them and was very happy to have a compact crank! As I went by the aid station at mile 100 I asked how long until the final bike cutoff – less than 45 minutes! Panicked, I started hammering as fast as I could. My lungs were bursting and I was gasping for breath as I did the TT of my life. Luckily it was mostly downhill for the last 12 miles and I made it with 7 minutes to spare. My friends from Chicago were volunteering at T2. They caught me and took my bike away (I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to bike again). Frank Lowery was there too and I thanked him for the last few downhills that allowed me to make the bike cutoff.
I changed into my run gear which took a while since the generator was out and the tents were dark by then. Finally, I got to the run and my partner joined me. I tried running but the last 12 miles of hammering on the bike were catching up to me and I felt sick. I took a couple tums and stretched and was able to continue. For the first loop, I mostly shuffled through (can’t really call it running) at 11-12 minute pace, stopping to drink Gatorade or broth every mile. It’s such a small race and I was so late that it was quite lonely out there. I really enjoyed the solitude at first. By the time I got to the finish to start the second loop I wasn’t digging the solitude so much. I got really depressed that I still had 13 miles to go, especially when people were saying “you’re almost there.” I ran into another girl starting her second loop and we stayed together for a while. I started feeling sick to my stomach and decided to slow to a brisk walk. My mom had told me that she wouldn’t give me my last needed donation to Operation Rebound if I finished and needed medical assistance. She would rather I DNF than hurt myself, she said. I took that to heart, and slowed until I didn’t feel like throwing up again. That basically meant walking the uphills and jogging the downhills. I kept hitting the lap key and recalculating what I needed to do to make the final cutoff. My friends drove up, finished with their bike catching volunteer duties for the day. They walked with me for a while and Gazelle helpfully re-checked my math so I knew I could basically walk all the way to the finish and still make the cutoff. I was glad for the company – it really is lonely out there! I started drinking coke about 9 miles from the finish, a few miles earlier than normal. I hoped it would help settle my stomach. It did and I was able to “run” a little more without feeling like throwing up. At the final turnaround I saw my friend I’d started the run with and we finished the race together. 16:55, 35 minutes before the cutoff. The race director actually stayed until the final finisher came in at 2am!
My partner was there at the finish and the race director even got me some chicken soup himself as I tried to get warm. I told him it was the best race I’d ever done – best volunteers, best organization, most beautiful…and clearly the toughest full distance race in the world.