This past weekend, I traveled to St. George, Utah to race in the US Pro championships. Overall, it was a challenging, fun race.
After Oceanside, Mace and I discussed the pros and cons of racing Wildflower vs St. George. Both are tough courses. Ultimately, we decided to race St. George because the main goal of the season is to gain experience while racing against the best athletes. What better place to do this than at the “Pro Championships”. A large contingent of athletes from Fort Collins were also traveling to St. George which made simple travel logistics.
The week of the race was similar to a usual training week. I sent off a draft of my thesis in effort to keep the school pressure off of myself. After an early swim Thursday morning, we hit the road with Mace and Frosty. The 10 hour drive went by quickly.
|St. George is beautiful. The landscape is unique and inspiring.|
Next, we went to check out the swim course and drop off our bikes. The wind made it seem like a hurricane was brewing! When I was racking Bae, I was happy to not have a disc wheel. I saw someone’s disc-loaded bike actually fly away. The water was cold, but after a few minutes, it wasn’t too bad. I flailed my way back into the wind and eventually made my way back onto firm land.
Heading back to the boat landing, it felt like I was back playing in the wave pool as a kid, purposely jumping face first into the waves to practice my “body checking” for hockey.
That evening, we had a large group dinner at a local restaurant. It was awesome to see everyone from town and catch up with other MP athletes. Everyone was excited.
I slept well the night before the race and was up early for breakfast. While some people are meticulous about their pre-race meal, it’s common for me to change things up. For breakfast race morning, I had 2 rice cakes. One with sunflower butter, and topped with banana and raisins.
After breakfast, Elise and I dropped off our run gear and jumped on a bus to the swim start. I sipped some Red Bull on the way.
After loading my bike bottles and stuffing Shot Bloks into my food box, I realized that my bike was literally the closest to the mount line. Since I’ve had a few mishaps with shoe-on flying mounts, I left my shoes on the ground. I know, #notpro. I knew, I’d be able to mash as soon as I got on my bike instead of fumbling around.
|Half the time, one shoe comes out and ends up in my hand and I have to use my incredible (incredibly limited) flexibility to get my shoe actually onto my foot while riding.|
With the “Rocky” theme mentally playing, I got a run warmup in jogging circles around the parking lot. After going over my bike, I tugged on my Roka wetsuit and headed to the swim start while chatting with a few other pros. I was in the water for about 15 minutes before our start. With the cold water, I knew I’d need a good 10 minutes of swimming before I’d feel ready. Soon, the national anthem played and we were lined up for the in-water start. We inched forward, the canon boomed, and we were off.
|The swim course was a large triangle along a picturesque island in the middle of the Sand Hollow reservoir. The longest leg of the triangle is the second leg.|
Just before the start, a spot opened up on the line in front of me. I’m smart enough to know I should not be in the front only to get clobbered. I put my head down and swam hard. My clean water lasted about three seconds. After 20 strokes, it seemed like I was still part of the first group. “Duh Steve, is just 30 seconds.” The first turn was 400 meters out and I planned to give my best effort until then.
I felt fairly controlled as we reached the first turn and didn’t get smacked too bad. I noticed my swimming buddy from Oceanside, Kienle, on my right. After turning, I immediately put in a few hard strokes to stay on feet. Our group was swimming in two lines and I was on the left towards the front. I thought I recognized Cody Beals’s wetsuit and figured I’d be coming out with some strong bikers again. Staying focused on the present, I tried to swim efficiently in the group. After swallowing some water, I dropped back to burp. Turning for the last length of the triangle, I picked up my pace to work my way towards the front.
Knowing that strong riders were in our group, I kicked a bit more the last 30 seconds of the swim to shift from horizontal to vertical exercising, preparing for my heart to feel like it was exploding. We exited the water and I ran hard to Bae, looking for extra seconds. Mace yelled at me that we were about two minutes down from the leaders, but I was in good company.
Calming myself, I stomped into my shoes, and threw on the bat helmet. Before the race, I was scared of possible rain and cold but didn’t notice any cold. Mace and I had approached the bike with a strategy similar to Oceanside; be aggressive. I haven’t had time to install my Stages power meter on Bae. I like racing without holding myself to a power range, but it would be nice to have data to look back at.
|The bike course at St. George is notoriously tough with over 3,000' of climbing. There are several sustained climbs throughout the course with the iconic 6-7 mile long Snow Canyon climb starting around mile 40. Strava file here|
A short hill out of the reservoir and the pressure was on. Kienle was in front of me and both of us went full gas (at least I did), managing to catch on to the tail end of a group led by Ben Hoffman (best calves in the sport), Tyler Butterfield (former Olympian), and Trevor Wurtele (best post-race commentary videos). Cody Beals (aerodynamic expert) merged in front of me as we made our way up the first sustained climb, five miles into the ride. Even though my heart rate was still elevated from the effort of catching the group, the effort up the hill felt relatively easy. I spun out my legs and resisted the urge to go my own pace. I knew this bike course was tough and that this first hill was only the beginning.
As we neared the top of the climb, someone, probably Kienle, upped the pace. I sensed it coming when Trevor pulled out of line. I figured we’d all regroup on the descent. Like in Oceanside, they put the hammer down over the top, took off, and gapped us.
Taylor Reid and I traded a few hard efforts over the next few miles. Kienle, Butterfield, Hoffman, Wurtele, and Bowstead stayed within sight for the next 10 or so miles but gradually pulled away. On the flats and slight downhills, Justin Metzler and Cody Beals came by me. Both had disc wheels, setting sail on the flats.
Mile 17 was another sustained climb. I knew I wanted to be in Hoffman’s group right in front of us. Starting the climb, I was at the back of our group. As the pace dropped, I pulled out, stood on the pedals, and gave a solid effort. About halfway through the climb, I slotted in behind Hoffman, watching his calve muscles do work. I concentrated on riding smooth up the climb. Eventually, we opened up a gap on the group behind us. After a few minutes, I noticed the temperatures were pretty cool. I had been very focused on racing and was forgetting to eat at regular intervals. I got back on track and resumed focus.
Riding with these guys was awesome. We had motor bikes by us taking pictures and shooting video. A draft marshal was also within sight most of the ride. Butterfield and Hoffman kept looking back. I wasn’t quite sure why… Eventually they saw something and the pace dropped. A few seconds later, Lionel Sanders came by. I shook my head; of course. Well, at least we’d lasted this long. Butterfield made an effort to stick with Lionel for a few miles but eventually dropped off. There were a few more climbs through town around mile 30. Feeling good, I filled in a gap that opened up behind Trevor. We continued on to the “flat” out and back section.
Rain began to fall. Through the roundabouts on the out-and-back I was cautious. Soon, we saw Cameron Dye charging back to the Snow Canyon climb. Behind him was Lionel Sanders, gritting his teeth and mashing. Behind Sanders was Kienle, looking aero AF and riding hard. We caught a few riders that had popped off as we approached the climb.
Nearly to transition, I saw Sanders in first place a quarter mile into the run. I dismounted, put my socks and shoes on, clipped on my Stryd running power meter, and headed out. Uphill.
|The run course at St. George is nuts. The first 4 miles are uphill. On top of the bluff, there are two out and back sections, about 0.6 miles each way. Downhill out, uphill back. Stryd running with power file here|
|Starting the run|
I relaxed and focused on form. My running legs came around in a few minutes. I tried to be steady, knowing hills lay ahead. 1.5 miles in, I heard footsteps. Cody Beals went by me. Cody is a much faster runner than me. We acknowledged each other, and I aimed to keep him in sight.
|This picture is actually pretty cool. I had no idea I was being chased down by all these guys at this point. Ultimately, only Cody and Ben (2 of 4 in this picture) were able to catch me.|
|Heading to the out and back|
|13% = ouch|
|I knew it was a good thing I was at my limit|
The rest of the afternoon was spent frantically showering and checking out of the hotel, cheering on other athletes, writing postcards, and eating (duh). We stayed through the awards ceremony for Elise before getting some In-and-Out and heading back to Fort Collins.
I had a lot of fun. Only a few miles of the run sucked. Some people might say I biked too hard and paid for it. In my opinion, that’s how I want to race. I know it’s a swim-bike-run event, with one sport influencing the next. Maybe if I had ridden one minute slower, I could have run a few minutes faster. Maybe. But, I believe that on a hard course, we have to use our strengths! I lost track of nutrition the first part of the bike and could have used a bit more. Especially taking in less via drinks due to the colder weather. Ultimately, I know working through these races takes time. I believe in my coach, the people supporting me, and we’re enjoying this process. That’s what matters most!
Massive thank you to MP Coaches Mace and Frosty for making this trip possible. Thank you CSU Tri and NoCo Tri for being the best training partners. Thanks to my family and friends for supporting me in so many different ways. Thanks to Roka (wetsuit was amazing, again), Stryd (learning more about running power!), Stages (Bae can’t wait to have power), Clif Bar (margarita Shot Bloks on Cinco de Mayo), Base Performance (salting ALL my food), Rocky Mountain Multisport (bike is awesome), Windsor Eye Care and Vision Center (congrats on the race!), and NoCo Endurance Center (I like sweating indoors) for helping me enjoy and spread this amazing sport.
Once my legs recover from the self-induce shredding, we’ll resume training for Boulder 70.3. In other news, I’m done with school!! Kinda. Classes are done and we’re just working on finishing up the thesis.
I appreciate everyone following along. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about training or racing or how many rice cakes I eat per week.
You can find me on Facebook, Twitter : @steve_mantell, Instagram : @stevemantell37, Strava, Snapchat: stevemantell37
Thanks for reading and have a great day!