Battle of the Saints

It has been an educational two weeks. I raced Saint Anthony’s Triathlon in Florida and the Captain Morgan Ironman 70.3 St Croix a week later in the US Virgin Islands. Both races ended poorly, despite a solid silver lining.

For both races the weekend started off well with wonderful homestays. I had all the advantages I needed from a comfort standpoint before the race, and I’m really thankful that there are so many wonderful people that open their homes to athletes like myself.

Saint Anthony’s performance was a series of mistake on my part. I ruined my own race with poor planning and an unfocused mind. I had all kinds of avoidable problems that were entirely my own fault, and at the end of the day I finished 20th – a position with very little correlation to my fitness or ability.

Prior to the Saint Croix 70.3 I tried to free my mind from stress and  did everything diligently. I followed the nutrition plan set up for me at the Olympic Training Center, I went through my bike with a magnifying glass to clean it and make sure everything was perfect for Sunday’s race. I bought the most expensive water bottle ever sold because I couldn’t figure out a more economical (and still aero) way of carrying that extra fluid. I was relaxed and I had a seemingly fool proof plan based on recommendations from the staff at the OTC, some new equipment, and lessons learned from San Juan.

Yet even the best laid plans can evaporate in the tropics, and while it happened differently, the result in Saint Croix was the same as San Juan.

The race started off great. The swim was easy and I paced the bike very conservatively. There was debris all over the road from a torrential downpour the night before, but I maneuvered through it pretty painlessly (The P5 did surprisingly well on technical sections). This time I stopped at all the aid stations and got extra bottles. My new Speedfil bottle made it easy to keep most of what I picked up, so I ended up drinking over 100 ounces of fluid (mostly Powerbar’s Ironman Perform) during the bike leg of the race. The bike course was really challenging, but I kept myself at a pace where I never felt taxed. I ate all my gels, and with the drink mix (plus some extra Base Salt that I started with) I got in all the salt from my plan. I finished the bike course in 2:14:50, which I’m told is the fastest it’s been done. Still – and contrary to the opinions of  many people who weren’t on my bike – I think I paced it well.

I started the run in a downpour and felt awesome. I told myself to take it easy because I had about nine minutes on Richie Cunningham. I started off running six minute pace with it feeling easy, but decided to back off and make sure I was being conservative.

At the beginning of the second lap the rain stopped and the sun came out in force. This was a replica of the conditions where I’ve had heat trouble in the past. I still had well over a mile lead on Richie, so in fear of what the humidity and heat would do to me I slowed way down. I started walking through aid stations and shoving ice down my suit. I took all the fluids I could get and used every available resource to stay cool. I even ran on the side of the road to take advantage of small pieces of shade. And still my core temp was rising.

By the time I hit mile 10 I was feeling dizzy. I couldn’t shed the heat. Around mile eleven I was having trouble holding a straight line, so tried to cool off under a tree in the grass. Yet I was still getting hotter.

The golf cart that had been following me picked me up and took me to an aid station where they dumped ice and water over me while we waited for an ambulance. They took me to the emergency room, pumped me full of fluids and ran a few tests to make sure my kidneys were okay. My homestay came to meet me there, and shared his story of getting three flats on the course and running out of spare tubes. It was a bad day for both of us.

Richie stayed steady and won the race, and my hat is off to him. He’s done this race more times than any of us and on a day that 8 of 18 pro men failed to finish, he stayed consistent, used his experience, and came through.

Even three days later I’m still reflecting, trying to figure out where I went wrong. I honestly don’t believe that riding slower would help me, and I drank as much fluid as I could have. The first lap of the run could have been slower, but even when I slowed down it didn’t mitigate the heat reaction that boiled my brain. My first thought is that I need physical acclimation to that climate coming from Chicago. With school that’s hard, but my options may be to go early or to not go at all. Others have suggested more calories.

Whatever the solution, I will figure this out.

What this means for the rest of my season is unclear. At this point I had hoped to be qualified for both Hy-Vee and Vegas, but I have zero points for Vegas 70.3 World Champs and Zero for Hy-Vee 5150 Champs. Whether I can still qualify for both without hurting my performance at the Lifetime series is uncertain, so I’ll have to go back to the drawing board and figure out a Plan B.

The silver lining in all this? I got to spend two weekend in beautiful places and meet great people. I may be learning this half ironman thing the hard way, but at least there’s some sunny beaches involved.

Once I figure out this heat prep, all the bike course records I’m breaking will start to count.

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

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  1. I enjoyed reading your blog. I noticed that you used Base Salts. Just wondering if you have ever tried Recovery e21. It is a great all natural electrolyte supplement. Check it out.

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