Sunday, September 18, 2011

What Happens in Las Vegas, Stays in Las Vegas – My Ironman 70.3 World Championship Race Report

This past week-end, Nannette and I flew out to Las Vegas to compete in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.  We came in a day early to have dinner with Mike Leven, a friend and long time mentor who left Atlanta a couple years ago to become President and Chief Operating Officer of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, operators of the Palazzo and Venetian Hotels. It was great reconnecting and hearing a little about the very different world of casino marketing.  It was also fun splurging and staying at such a beautiful hotel on the Strip. 
On Thursday, Nannette and I met my cousin, Larry Anspach who lives in Las Vegas and went for a bike ride through Red Rocks Canyon.   That night, we saw “O,” Cirque du Soleil’s show on water at the Bellagio.  It was an inspiring artistic performance of athletes - perfect pre-race entertainment.   Friday was registration day and the pre-race banquet…pasta loading two days out.  We had dinner with Scott (training buddy) and Joann Boylan and Fox (Ironman mentor) and Kelly Ferrel.
Mike, Scott and Fox Carbo-loading 
I went out for an early morning run on Friday and met John and Susanna in the lobby.  They were in Las Vegas for the Ironman 70.3 from Barcelona and were trying to figure out how they were going to get to the race site which they had just discovered was 30 miles away.  We had a big rental car and “adopted” them for the week-end. 
Saturday was a quiet day.  Scott and I went out for a 12 mile bike ride and swam 30 minute on the swim course.  We met the Fox for a big breakfast at Denny's.   In the afternoon, we checked-in our bike and equipment and had a quiet pasta dinner with the Boylans and Donna and Larry Anspach at Lake Las Vegas.  Later, I was told that Donna asked Larry, “Could you believe how much Mike Wien ate?”  The truth is that while I did eat two full plates, I actually held back as I did not want to stuff myself the night before the race!   I guess we are a really strange group to an outside observer.
Lake Las Vegas swim
The Ironman 70.3 World Championship was on Sunday.  We got to the start at 5:30 AM to check all the equipment.  As we waited for our swim wave, I had time to reflect and realized that the 31 competitors in my age group from all over the world all had one thing in common.  We had all won the age group in an Ironman 70.3 race earlier in the year as there was only one slot in each qualifying race.
The swim was a non-wet suit wave start.  The pros started first, followed by women 45 and over.  Men 50 and over were in wave three.  Other than being a little crowded for the first 10 minutes, the swim was uneventful.  I came out of the swim in 8th place. 
Lake Mead National Park
The bike course was primarily on a two lane road with rolling hills through the Lake Mead National Park. With over 4,500 feet of climbing I was riding between 8 miles an hour and 39 miles an hour depending on the terrain.  In this part of the world in September, nothing grows…not even cactus.  The landscape has its own distinctive beauty, even though it is just a bunch of rocks.  As I started climbing away from Lake Las Vegas, two guys riding in front of me bumped each other and crashed.  Fortunately, we were all climbing a hill at a slow speed so their injuries were minor and I was easily able to swerve and miss joining them on the ground.  As I approached the final water stop at mile 50, the guy in front of me missed a drink hand-off and crashed.  I barely missed him and unfortunately heard volunteers scream for a medic as I left the area.   It was one of many reminders of how fortunate I was to still be on my wheels. 
I am always happy to finish the bike and start the run and this time was no exception.  In the last two Ironman races, I might have burned myself out early on and did not take enough liquid or nutrition as I struggled over the last 10 miles.  In this race, I finally found the right balance and came into the transition feeling strong with an average speed of 19 miles per hour.  In the process however, I dropped from 8th to 10th place.
The run is my strongest leg.  It is my home court.  It represents my specific edge.  I was happy to be there and I was ready to do what I needed to do.  That included running fast, drinking as much water, Coke and Gatorade as I could grab, and eat as many power gels as I could stand.  In addition, after about 2 miles, I started sensing some early stages of cramping in my left leg.  Fortunately, I was carrying some salt pills and starting taking one every three miles.
As in previous races, Nannette (with Larry Anspach this time) were on the sidelines relaying me updates from Dick Jones in Atlanta who was tracking everyone in my age group on the computer.  The last thing I heard was that I was in 8th place and if I kept my pace, I would be on the podium (top 5 in the world.)  I held a 7:17 minute per mile pace and finished the run leg in 1:35:29, good enough for 4th and a climb to the podium.  It has been five long years and four failed attempts to be back on the podium on the world stage. (France, 2007;  Italy, 2008; Clearwater, 2009 and Kona, 2010).  I was thrilled to be back.
Mike with Steve Smith (Red Shirt) on Podium
Normally I conclude with some comments about why this is so special to me…and those of you who know me, know the answer.  Because I have such great support.  But the Ironman 70.3 World Championship was not the final chapter for 2011.  I still have one more race ahead of me so I will save those comments for later.  The Ironman World Championship (140.6 miles) in Kona, Hawaii in three weeks.   Steve Smith, last year’s US Champion in my age group will be there.  Steve beat me in June in Buffalo Springs by 6 minutes, 36 seconds.  On Sunday, Steve took third and beat me by 1 minute, 16 seconds.  We both look forward to competing with some outstanding European athletes that will also be in Kona.
And a final note for those who remember my qualifying race in Orlando in May.  I still heard the voice, “Go Mr. Wien” on Sunday.


Betty Sunsine said...

Awesome Mike. We are totally behind you.

David Glover said...

Top 4 in the world - WOW!!! Awesome performance plus you raced your own race leveraging your Specific Edge.