Murder in the Tumbleweeds, the Showdown at Sundown Triathlon 2011
The California Penal Code section 187 defines the crime of Murder.
It is commonly used in the slang form as a 1-8-7, by gangs across the country as far away as Florida.
So when this athlete was handed a bib with the number 187 at the Showdown at Sundown 70.3 triathlon in Boulder City, NV, a certain degree of trepidation washed over me. Was this course going to murder me, or was I going to take a crowbar to the mofo? That remained to be seen.
Friday was a day filled with highs, lows, laughs, worries, good times, and frustrations, not unlike any pre race day. Beginning with an early drive to Vegas, we made the obvious stops for gas and food, and then one unexpected stop in Nipton, CA. A border town with Nevada, Nipton had become an outpost for Nevadians (is that right?) wishing to try their luck at the $312 million California mega millions jackpot. Tickets of our own were purchased with the agreement to share the loot upon our good fortune. The scene and the people were, shall we say, memorable. We are still not gazillionares...stupid lotto.
Upon arrival in the Vegas area we hit the Green Valley Ranch Resort and Casino for packet pickup and the athlete’s meeting. Initial warnings about the swim were first detailed here. We were told that due to extremely cold water there was a potential to shorten, or even cancel the swim. This is exactly what happened.
The Plan for the Race was simple. Race it like Ironman. In a nutshell... Keep heart rate down, keep pace down, keep devout attention to nutrition. Finish strong, finish positive, and finish happy.
Upon arrival at T2 in the morning (this was a split transition course) to drop off our run gear and pick up our timing chip, we were told that the swim had been canceled completely. The start was to be a time trial start on the bike from the area formerly known as T1. In bib number order, we set off every five seconds, until the entirety of the long course athletes were on the road. At the water’s edge, the day had grown warmer, and the winds calmer, but alas, as we climbed out of the lake basin, up to the Shoreline Dr, the winds were ever present again. A steady breeze of 10-15 knots blew to the southwest, with gusts of up to 25-30 mile an hour winds pushing at me from what seemed like all directions.
The initial part of the ride was familiar to me, having been on the course for a previous race. 10+ miles to the first turn with long rollers of varying difficulty plus brutally unrelenting wind. I paced myself well in the beginning, allowing more eager cyclists to pass and attack the headwinds. I was passed by a bunch and passed only a couple in this stretch...sticking to the plan. The first turn took us out toward the north shore of Lake mead, and me into new territory. Suddenly finding myself with an epic tailwind and a blazing downhill, the race instantly changed dramatically. The strong wind at my back allowed me to easily attack hills with little energy output. Momentum from downhills carried me, in many cases up and over the next hill. The rollers seemed small, the day became peaceful and quiet, the desert was stunning. But in the back of my mind, I knew that 12+ miles of thrilling tailwind meant only one thing when I reached the turnaround...12+ miles of direct headwind back to the turn. Cresting the top of one last hill before reaching the turnaround I started into a downhill that would find Bob Matthews breaking the sound barrier. (insert humorous anecdote here). The turnaround and bottle exchange reached, I headed into the blustery winds once more.
Much to my surprise, and despite the winds, my initial pacing had left me a significant amount of energy and positive attitude to hit this section of the course with exactly what was needed. Sure there was aches and pains in the hip flexors and adductors (my spots) but nothing I couldn’t handle with a few standing bike stretches. Doing my best to remain in aero, even in the uphills I was able to keep my speed averaged around 18 mph, despite the headwinds that persisted. I think I actually heard the wind howl 1-8-7 at me from time to time. As Lake Las Vegas and the final hill of this stretch came back into view, the mantra “I love hills, I love hills, I love hills....” began to run in my brain, and eventually make it to my tongue. Muttering “I love hills”, and trying to actually believe it, kept me going strong up the climb out of lake Las Vegas and back onto the initial stretch of road. This was around mile 40ish. I had the same hodge podge of rollers to contend with back to the road to the boat ramp and then the final climb up to T2.
This final climb deserves a paragraph of it’s own. At approximately 6 miles, this last climb takes the cyclist up, up, up for a single climb totalling over 1600 feet. For those of you familiar with riding in the Santa Monica Mountains....that’s a little over Rock Store and a half...at the END of the 56 mile ride. Capiche? Yeah...that’s what I said too. That said, I’ve made the climb before, so at least I knew what to expect. Coming out of the Lake Mead National Park, we are directed onto a dedicated bike path. Probably part of a rail to trail type project, the bike path starts out as a steady railroad grade climb. Making a long sweeping arc out into the desert, the path swings around and brings you up to a series of multipurpose paved washes. Continuing to climb up the wash we were back and forth from bike path to wash to bike path again, the last half mile a semi steep winding bike path that crested about 500 feet from the dismount. Finally after 3 hours, 42 minutes, 56 miles and over 6000 feet of climbing I had reached T2. Now I’ve gotta run 13.1. Sweet.
The run starts out easy enough. Continuing to follow the same bike path west out of Boulder City toward Henderson, the out and back course began with a one mile downhill, which translates to the last mile being entirely and unforgivingly uphill...not the most positive thoughts coming out of transition, but I digress. Plan still in effect here...keep the pace down, keep the heart rate down, have the energy to finish strong, feeling good, feeling happy. The next few miles took us through the mountain pass following the highway toward vegas over some fun but slightly painful rollers. At about mile 3.5 I passed my hotel.
Now, a number of things go through one’s head when passing by the Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino. The first of which may, in fact be, “If I had my commercial driver’s license, my rate here would only be 39 bucks a night. Add the 7.99 prime rib dinner and 2.99 breakfast special, and $1 beer and shrimp cocktail, and you can have a mighty nice time for less than 50 bucks. That’s assuming you don’t lose all your dough on the $3 black jack tables. However, what went through my mind were thoughts like, “Dumbass, why didn’t you bring your room key on the run? Could’ve stopped in for a power nap and a bout with that sexy video poker machine that was eyeballin’ you from the lobby.” Incidentally these thoughts replayed again in my head as I passed our cozy truck stop casino home for the second time on the way back.
Nothing about this run course was flat...ever. At about mile 5, however, things seemed to flatten out nicely all the way to the turn around. However, while a mild false-flat down doesn’t really look like a downhill, a mild false-flat up is a different story. I hadn’t actually realized I was running downhill until I had to turn around for the long run back up. Fortunately for me, I had Kyle. Kyle, a kind bloke of 34 (according to the smudge on his leg) father, husband, and Ironman St. George trainee, and I ran together for several miles, including the heretofore mentioned false-flat on the outer most portion of the run course. With bright conversation and camaraderie for a little bit, I was able to pace myself off someone else, enjoy a bit of company, and brave a tough part of the course with a compadre. For a moment this solo sport became teamwork...and that was ok by me. A faster runner than I, Kyle inevitably took off, somewhere around mile 9, leaving me to finish the race with the company of only my breath, my heartbeat, and the setting sun behind me.
The last four miles were as I expected, mentally and physically challenging. The countdown began in my head. With a little over 3 miles to go, I reached the Olympic course turnaround. Olympic distance competitors were rounding the cone and headed back to the finish. With a mile and a half to go, I passed the sprint turnaround. I asked myself if these athletes knew what I had been through, if they could understand how much work I had done to be only a mile and a half from the finish. And that’s when I realized the answer to that question could only be, yes...they probably do. Many of them were cruising along at the end of a single hour or so of racing, but others were working as hard as I, challenging themselves in a way that perhaps they had not envisioned in the past. And with the realization that triathlon of ANY distance and effort is a major accomplishment to those who dream, who compete, who challenge themselves to the discipline, I felt a sense of community with these other poor bastards around me, climbing this last one mile to the Bootleg Canyon finish.
As I made my way the last several hundred yards to the finish, I turned my focus to the western sky where the sun was setting over the bone dry, burnt mountains of the Nevada desert. With a burst of color in the sky, and the toasted hues of the late afternoon light casting long shadows across the finish line, I crossed and finished this epic race.
If you’ve never crossed a finish line in the fading light of a beautiful setting sun, it’s something I would highly recommend.
So there you have it. Haul me to court, Captain Veenstra. I just pulled a 1-8-7 on dat bitch. (pardon my french)
Swim : Canceled