by Marla Briley
Sept 11, 2011 was the inaugural year for the 70.3 World Championships to be held right outside of Las Vegas, in Henderson, NV. In past years, this event took place in
Clearwater, Florida, where the course was known for being flat and fast. According to race organizers, 70.3 Worlds was moved to Henderson, "for it's beautiful weather (if you enjoy desert heat) and for its long-standing reputation as the best place to host a triathlon, as well as the top location for triathletes to compete on the most challenging race course in North America." This new venue offered multiple climbs that added up to over 9,700 feet, throughout Lake Mead National Recreation Area and a 13.1-mile run, which added an additional 2,000-foot elevation gain, through the streets of Henderson. Being my first time on this course and my first time to participate in 70.3 Worlds, I was planning for the worst (wind, hills, heat) but hoping for the best (finishing).
There are a few things you should know if you get the chance to participate in this event. I highly suggest you attend the Friday night "mandatory" pre-race meeting, to learn all the details of bag and bike drop-off. I didn't go and ended up feeling like the kid who neglected to study for the big test. I'm calling my friends asking "what do I do with my run bag and bike bag"? What I found out is that, there are two separate transition areas, post swim/pre-bike and post bike/pre-run. You are given a "bike bag" and a "run gear bag" just like you would at a full Ironman. You drop both bags off, along with your bike, the Saturday before the race at T1, which is located at Lake Las Vegas. They take your Run gear bag to T2, located in Henderson, where on race day it will be handed to you (God willing that it makes it) by a volunteer. Another important fact to know about this race is that the bike setup area is at the bottom of a hill. You will literally be running up a 200-meter switchback to reach the mount line. This may help you decide whether you put your shoes on the bike, climb barefooted and put shoes on at the top of the hill, or run up in your shoes. I don't recommend the last option. I saw a couple of people attempting it and it didn't look to be going well for them.
On race day, transition opens before the sun has even considered rising. We are pretty sure we saw some drunk drivers on our way to the Lake Las Vegas start (or maybe just sleepy triathletes who can't drive). We ended up being one of the first there and got a good parking spot. It helps that coming from Texas, their 4:30 am is our 6:30 am. On race day you are allowed into T1 so you can check your tires, mess with your nutrition, put your shoes on your bike...all the normal prep activities. I actually decided to rubber band my shoes to my bike and it ended up being a good decision.
Because the event took place on Sept 11th this year, we all paused for 60 secs at the exact moment when 10 years ago the first plane struck the World Trade Center. Everyone, including those from around the world, quietly shared in that moment of remembrance. It was very moving.
At 6:15 am the pros lined up while the rest of us stood on the bridge and hung out windows, trying to get a glimpse of the best in the world as they prepared to begin their day and our day of racing. After the cannon sounded and the pros were off, we all began to make our way to the swim start. We lined up by cap color in the order of our waves. The first of the pros were coming out as we waited. We got to watch as Andy Potts, first out of the water, raced the 300 meters around the end of the lake to the bike transition. He missed his row on the first try and we all went "ehhhhhh" and vowed not to make the same mistake. I noticed the pros were running with their helmets and putting them on as they ran. I figured I'd learn by example and give that a try.
We got into the water with 5 minutes to go. The water wasn't as warm as I feared, being around 82 degrees, but it was very cloudy. For those who live and train in Austin, think the Quarry Lake. We all lined up under the bridge, many moving to the ledge on the right so they could stand up while waiting. We heard "one minute" to go and we all moved out to find our position. Without a "10 seconds to go" warning, the horn sounded and we were off, trying to fight for our tiny bit of water real estate and hoping to catch some feet. The course is about 900 meters out, into the sun, then you turn to your left, another 40 meters and another turn to your left, then back under the bridge and across the lake from where you got in, to the exit.
From there you run the 300 meters to T1, grab your gear bag, into the changing tent, out to your bike, and up the 200-meter switchback to the mount line. After successfully managing the rubber-banded shoes and getting my feet strapped in, I am off!
The roads are really smooth, which is a nice change from the Texas chip seal we are accustomed to, but black as night. If it had been the week before, when the temps had soared to 107, we would have been frying like bacon in a nonstick pan. Luckily, a cold front had come through and we enjoyed a balmy 92 degrees, which felt almost cool after the Texas summer and our multiple days of 100+ temps.
Coming into T2, the volunteers were lined up, ready to grab our bikes. I handed off my bike and was directed towards the run gear bags. I was moving slowly enough that the volunteers had time to find my bag and hand it to me. Then, into the run tent where I eased on the running shoes and prepared myself for the last and most dreaded of the day's legs, the run.
On to the run (or for me the hobble). The run starts out going downhill (think Expedition heading towards Lake Austin Blvd). The street is shaded and the crowds are thicker here. You run along for about 1.5 miles, then you take a right, head about 200 meters uphill, turn around, and head back down. Then you are back on the street you started on. However, this time you are going uphill (think Expedition heading towards 35th). All my friends asked me why mile 2 looked like I decided to sit down and enjoy a beer. There is your answer.
So, you climb for a mile on this still nicely shaded street, you take a left and pass the finish chute and the majority of the family and friends out cheering for their athletes, take another left, and you are on the "highway to hell." It's not actually a highway, but you really do feel you are in hell. It's a blacktop road that goes uphill for close to 1.5 miles (think Expedition to 35th,again), and there is no shade so few people want to stand along it to cheer. After the climb I should have been grateful when I turned around to head back down the hill but all I could think of was that I had to do it two more times. The volunteers were great, though, and the aid stations well stocked. At every aid station you had sponges, Powerade, water, ice and cola (Unfortunately they didn't have any Tums, which I needed about halfway through the race).
The three loop out-and-back course allowed me to see my friends and fellow athletes and to cheer them on (and get cheered on by them) and to see my friends and family who came out to share in my 70.3 World experience.
The last 2 miles of the run are wonderful. They are downhill and deliver you straight into the finisher's chute, where you are welcomed by smiling volunteers, a cold towel, a cold bottle of water, and the inevitable but always welcome, "Marla Briley, You Are A Finisher." All in all, though I didn't have my best day, because of a well-organized race, a challenging course, and my friends and family, I had a great experience. I would recommend, if you get the chance, to head out to Henderson/Vegas and take on the course yourself.