This last weekend was the first of my two big triathlons for the year. It was a Half Ironman distance race in Portland, Oregon. I have only done one Half Ironman previously to this one, and it was the Boise 70.3 back in its inaugural year, 2008. This race was part of the REV3 series of races that has been an up-and-coming set of races over the last couple years. As of writing this report there are now 11 races on the REV3 calendar. I have never done any of their races but have done some Ironman branded and independent events. I looked forward to not only doing the race but also experiencing a REV3 race as I have heard good things.
REV3 Portland was in its second year but had a new course this year as last year’s race had to change venues at the last minute. I was planning on doing the HalfRev distance as they were having an Olympic Distance Race going on at the same time. The race is a half-ironman distance consisting of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run. Since my wife’s parents live just across the river, I know the area well and could get out for practice rides and runs during the spring. After these I knew this was going to be a fun but difficult course. The swim is in Blue Lake Park just off the Columbia River. The park is a popular place for families to gather and spend the day barbecuing and hanging out in the lake. After the swim, the bike course heads up the hill from the river and heads through Troutdale. The course meanders along the Historic Columbia River Highway for a couple of miles before climbing up the Sandy River Drainage. The course has several climbs of note making it one of the most difficult triathlon courses I have ridden, especially from mile 10 through 30. Several of the climbs have sections approaching or going over 10% gradient with some technical descents thrown in. Once through the climbs, the bike course returns much of the way it came and passes by transition to do an out and back along the Columbia River. While flat, this section is very exposed to the prevailing breezes. The run was also along this section of the river; it is not hilly but has virtually no shade. While this course did not look too difficult on paper, I expected it to be much harder than Boise was.
Melissa and I headed over to Vancouver, Washington on Friday night. We were staying at her parents’ house that is about 20 minutes from the race start. Joining us was going to be my mom, as she wanted a weekend away and to watch the race. These races are always more fun when there are family and friends around to support you. Saturday morning we headed to the transition to pick up my packet and drop my bike off in transition. I was hoping to be able to get in a swim as well, but the park rules do not allow a swimmer out into the lake except the small children’s swim area. Since swimming was not an option, we wandered around the expo for a little before heading out for lunch. We spend most of the evening in and around downtown Portland eating dinner and other delicious snacks. I must throw out props for Oba and Cupcake Jones in Portland, both were awesome. Saturday was beautiful out, in the upper 80s, and was supposed to be the start of a hot weekend. When we arrived home in the evening, I went about preparing for the race and taking it easy as I knew it was going to be a hard race.
Of course, I did not sleep very well the night before a race. I never seem to, but I did not wake up tired, which was good. The sun was already up, and it was getting warm out even though it was only six in the morning. Forecast was for temperatures to be near 90 and light winds from the west. Normally, this would not have been too big of a deal except this has been a cold spring and start to the summer, so I did not train in the heat yet. Even my warm-up race two weeks prior, the Pacific Crest Olympic Race, was in the 50s. We headed out to the race start, planning to arrive a little after 7 AM. We had to stop and get coffee for the spectators along the way, a small price to pay for having support. =) At the park everything was buzzing along smoothly with anticipation in the air. I find that I am not as much excited on race morning as I am nervous. I know I can do the distance and effort required, but wonder how any particular day will go. It did not take me long to get all my gear set up and ready to go. I had to be out of the transition area at 7:45 so I had plenty of time to chill before my wave start at around 8:20. The swim course was kind of difficult to see from the shore, so I was not entirely sure where I was going, but knew I would be just following anyway as I am not very fast. We watched several waves start before me, and I could get a description of the course which made me feel much better.
As my wave start approached I got my last “good lucks” from my family before taking my place at the back of the pack. The beginning of the swim was out to a buoy in the middle of the lake, and then we basically swam around the outside of the lake in a clockwise direction. At the first buoy, it was really crowded, enough so that I had people swimming over my legs and had my goggles knocked off one eye. I was able to readjust them and got to the task at hand as it opened up a bit. The first couple buoys were the most difficult to sight on the whole course as they were into the morning sun. Unlike the Pacific Crest swim, where it was very cold, Blue Lake was a balmy 72 degrees and almost felt too warm for a wetsuit. Fortunately I did not have any issues with my goggles fogging during the swim so sighting was much better. The swim felt like it took me a long time, they always do. Especially at the beginning I did not feel like I was swimming well, but I started establishing a groove and made up some time in the second half. I did not know my time as I finished the swim, but I felt slow. It turns out my swim was 44:44 which is, in fact, slow but people said the course seemed long. I hope so as I did not feel THAT slow.
The run from the swim exit to transition was fairly long, they even had an aid station in there. Once in transition I am always happy to be done with the swim. This time I felt a little quicker in transition and even with the long run in and out my time was about the same as the Pacific Crest. That was not a blitzing speed either but a 3:10 time was slightly faster than I expected. I had chosen to ride my 1998 Trek 5500 carbon road bike with SRAM Apex Gearing so I would have some easier gears on the hills (a 50-34 up front and 11-32 in the back). It was funny to be getting out on this bike when there were lots of really nice tri bikes going out. The weather was already warm and unlike two weeks prior I was not instantly cold. This also helped my legs as they did not take long to get going. Most of the first 40 miles of the bike course are in the shade which was well appreciated. I made up my mind to race this course a little harder, especially the hills and would see what I had left for the run. I felt really good at the start of the bike and was cruising along well. The course is a tough but fair course with some beautiful scenery. I was happy to see how fast my road bike was as on some of the descent I could coast as fast as others pedaled in the aero position.
The first 10 miles or so were a good warm up before I started the smaller climbs. These smaller climbs gave my legs a bit of a wake up, and a couple hurt a bit more than I hoped. I knew we had a screaming descent before the major climb on the route. A 4.9-mile climb with some sections at 10% grade. Overall, the climb averages 4% but feels much more difficult than that as the 10% sections are at the beginning. On these first two switchbacks, I had to nearly shift into my easiest gear even though I was standing. Even so, I averaged only seven mph over this first steep section, and I passed a lot of people. I imagine many people struggled on these climbs as I saw lots of cadences in the 40 to 50 range. Since the climb mellows out as it goes, it was not too difficult to get the heart rate back down as I went. At the top was a section of rollers before beginning the three descents followed by three short but steeper climbs. These three climbs ranged from 0.6 miles to 1.1 miles long and had gradients of 6-12%. Of course, the last one was the most difficult with more miles in the legs, and I actually rode it slower than I did in training. This was the only climb where this occurred. After the last climb at 30 miles, the remainder of the course is either flat or downhill. It was definitely a boost when I got over the climb knowing the hardest parts were behind me. I then pushed a little harder on the rest of the ride. Once out by the river the race entered the sun and wind, but I was happy to see it was only a breeze. It can blow pretty strong through the river gorge. I passed my family and decided to hammer on the out and back section and was really happy how well I did. I spent the out section into the wind in the drops and sat up a bit on the return with a slight helping wind. My bike split ended up being 3:09:33 for a 17.7 average, better than I had hoped for.
Into transition, I was able to make a quick change and was out on the run in 1:39. It did not take long running to figure out that it was going to be a survival run instead of being able to push it. Not only was the run in the sun, but I think I was a bit behind on my calories and electrolytes after the bike portion. This is partially due to my cold-weather training but also just poor management by me. I saw my family at about ½ a mile and let them know that my core was already hurting. This would end up being the theme of my run. The run started with me running between aid stations and walking through them and ended with me taking a walking break about every quarter mile. In between there my abs, chest, and lower back continued to cramp up worse and worse as I went so these walking breaks would correspond with when it got too painful to run. At each of the aid stations, I would take a water or two to dump on my head, a Gatorade to drink, and then another water to dump. This strategy worked well as I kept me from not overheating too much. It was still very hot out there. The middle section of the run was into the wind which might sound bad, but this wind helped keep you cooler. On the return, the wind was at my back, and it felt much warmer. It was difficult, but I am happy with how I pushed through it and finished the half marathon in 2:11:17 and the race in 6:10:23. I had secretly been hoping to go 5:55:00 but knew that over six hours was more likely. Considering the weather and my poor nutrition management, I am happy with my time.
Boy did I hurt though. It took about 25 minutes to get my body to cool down enough to want to walk around, and then I started to realize that I was pretty sunburn. Even with sun block in the morning, it was no match for the sun. We got all my stuff together and headed back to Melissa’s parents for a shower and fresh clothes before the three hour drive home. I was thankful that Melissa could drive most of it as I was and still am feeling the race.
As for the race, I was impressed with the REV3 experience. It was a smaller race with about 450 total athletes, so they obviously have a smaller budget to work with. I was impressed with the high-quality experience they were able to provide. The organization and attention to detail was top notch. They do an excellent job making it a personal experience for each racer with specially made rack markers and great race swag. The volunteers were excellent, and my favorite part of it all was the towels soaked in ice water at the finish. That felt so good! The REV3 Portland course is a great one with beautiful views and a tough but fair course. I was really happy with the experience and felt like it was equal to other independent races that get high marks like the Silverman in Las Vegas. The only downside of the race is that due to its smaller field, there is less fan support along the course; most of it is centered on the transition area which is understandable. At least, all the volunteers along the course were very encouraging. If you have never done a REV3 event, I would highly recommend giving them a chance. They run a good race and only are going to get better as they get a bigger, hopefully not too big though. One other cool thing that they do is a race recap video for both the pros and age groupers, I have included them below. Now I am going to take a week off to rest and start training for Leadman Bend, as always, your mileage may vary.
Gear Used (noteworthy)
- Camaro E-Pulsion Wetsuit – I like how stretchy this wetsuit is. Very comfortable suit. it was almost too warm for the swim this time.
- CEP Compression Trisuit – Like the suit but it did rub my left hip a little on the seam. Not sure how this happened. I did not have this issue at the Pacific Crest, but in this race it was almost always wet with water.
- Louis Garneau Tri-Lite Shoes – Appreciated the venting on these. Still wish the straps were a little shorter as they occasionally hit my crank arms.
- Rudy Project Hypermask Sunglasses – Still like the light weight of these sunglasses and great unobstructed vision.
- Pearl Izumi IsoTransition Shoes – Shoes are very comfortable but they did rub on one of my insteps once they were wet. I went sockless with them.