VEGAS BABY! A Race Experience through the Eyes of Charlie Johnson

I recently completed one of the toughest half Ironman races I've ever competed in.  It was a blast from start to finish.  And I'd do it again at the drop of a hat.

The Ironman 70.3 World Championships race is located in Henderson, Nevada, a suburb to the southeast of Las Vegas.  At almost all times, one has a view of the "Strip" in downtown Vegas from Henderson.

First off, I will say that I could not have had the race I had without the guidance and care taking of my fiancee Sandy Holt.  I will forever be in debt to her for what she does for me.  I could not be luckier to have a woman like her who takes care of me in all facets of life.

We flew in on Friday with the race being on Sunday.  In best circumstances, a Thursday arrival would have been preferable to settle in.  Check in went smoothly and on Saturday, we drove the bike course and the run course.  Early in the morning, I got to do a test swim in Lake Las Vegas, a glorified stormwater pond.  I had to bring my hand within 3-6" of my face to see it in the water.  It was muuuuuudddy!  Why?  It was raining in Vegas.  This happens maybe four times a year, and this weekend it decided to happen.  On the day we drove the bike course, we realized that it goes very close to the Hoover Dam, so we were able to hop down there and see it.  What a feat of man's ability to shape the earth!

The bike course is interesting in that it goes into the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.  It is very hilly and you are either going up or down the whole time.  Flat is not an option - at all.  The bike starts at Lake Las Vegas when you come out, but it ends in Henderson, which means T1 is about 15 miles away from T2.  All in all, the finishing elevation is quite higher than the starting elevation.  There is a total of around 2,500 feet of elevation gain in the bike.  They save the really fun part for the end where the final 3 to 5 miles seem to be nothing but uphill.  And you are going in the opposite direction of the Strip!

So in the days leading up to the race, I hydrated more than I've ever hydrated for a race.  I was drinking a bottle of water all the time.  Every bottle of water I opened, I dropped two Zip Fizz tabs into.  I had more water and electrolytes in me than I knew what to do with.  Dinner was at a nice local Italian restaurant that made their own pasta and had neat art: Pasta Shop Ristorante.  It was the perfect prerace meal.

The morning of race day arrived at 3:30 am when we woke.  We hit the road at 4:45, which turned out to be later than we should have left.  Traffic was so stacked up at the race site that I had to hop out of the car and run about 3/4 of a mile to transition so that I could set up before they closed.  But it all worked out.  The down side was that is was raining non-stop.  To use the port-a-potties in transition, everyone had to walk through a pool of water and mud.  Not fun.

The pros went off at 6:30.  My wave didn't go until 7:04, so we were able to watch the Pro men finish the swim and go out on the bike.  The water temp was warm enough to where we couldn't wear wetsuits, so I wore a speed suit for the first time.  It seemed to work pretty good.  My age group finally filtered down into the water and we swam under the bridge which is pretty much designed after the Ponte Vecchio, a famous bridge in Florence, Italy.  The race started and I was off.  I found a pretty decent line and avoided too much banging.  Within about 5 to 10 minutes, I was running into the older age groupers from waves ahead of me.  It got pretty congested on the second half and I had to barrel over some people.  Coming out of the water, I got shoved by an old guy who looked mad he was getting passed.  It actually made me laugh.  Swim was 31:22, slower than I'd hoped.

Transition was a long run to the bikes.  I had a pretty efficient transition, but then getting out of there was crazy.  It was up a hill that was probably 5-10% slope and only wide enough for one bike at a time.  So I ended up in a line where we were all walking up the hill.  And it was through mud, so our bikes were coated brown by the time we got to the mounting line.

I made a flying mount very smoothly.  Then I realized I had not put my bike computer on my bike that morning.  Doh!  The first mile or two are straight up hill followed by a very scary downhill which goes through a roundabout and then a big uphill.  You are then out on the highway.  For the rest of the ride, it follows the pattern of up, down, up, down.  No flats.  The ride quickly gets into the Lake Mead Recreational Area.  Once inside, there are few cars and no crowd support.  It is neat in a way that it is only athletes on the road and nothing else but mountains in the distance.

I got rolling down one hill really fast - like 40 to 50 mph fast - and hit the a bridge span where the road turned from asphalt to concrete.  Right then a crosswind hit me and my wheel started wobbling violently and I slightly hydroplaned.  Within a couple of seconds I hit the asphalt again and was right back on line and hammering (to my athletes - when I say "hammering", I mean that I am still staying in upper Zone 3.  I am not indicating Zone 4 or 5!)  This process became normal as the riders got further into the ride and by mile 30 it felt normal.  The trick was to push it faster and keep a straight line.  What made things more challenging was I'd packed sunglasses, but it was cloudy and raining.  So I took them off and had my eyes pelted by rain.

In the final 18 miles, I averaged something crazy like 26 or 27 mph on long downhills.  But it took a lot of really slow uphill riding to earn all that downhill.  One cool aspect of the downhill portion is that the route angles to where the Vegas skyline is directly in line at some points.  What doesn't show in that fast 18 miles is that the final 3 to 5 miles of it is a constant uphill.  That was a ridiculous end to the bike portion.  Many riders got broken on that span.  Bike was a 2:35:10.

I finally rolled into T2 after a long ascent.  T2 is about 15 miles away from T1, so the fans have to do some driving to get there.  By the time the bike was finished, it had stopped raining, but was still overcast.  The weather seemed more like Augusta 70.3 than what I would think Vegas 70.3 would offer.

The run is a three loop course.  It has no true flats either.  Runners start going downhill and quickly turn to going uphill and then finish each loop heading downhill.  It was pretty cool, because I got out on the course as many of the pros were starting or finishing their final third lap.  I saw Crowie Alexander, hands down my favorite triathlete of all time, go by.  I actually caught Leanda Cave on one loop.  She got "duded" by me.  Or is that even a term?  But it was very fun being out there with all those great athletes - age group and pro.  In the following video, you can't hear me, but what I am saying is that the Triattic athletes should take full advantage of ice sponges.  Remember this at Augusta!

For the first two miles, I could feel my quads wanting to lock up from the big hills on the ride.  That worked itself out, though, and then I got in a rhythm.  Half way through the run, the sun came out in all its glory and the true sweatfest was on.  I felt like it played to my advantage as it felt like another day in the South.  The last lap was quite painful and was basically 4 miles of suffering to the limits I could withstand and still not pass out.  Ice and sponges were all over me.  I was dumping water on me and trying to cool off in any way I could.  Run was a 1:26:44.

Finally coming to the finish line was quite inspiring.  There were flags flying for all of the countries competing, which is more than I can count.  It was a great way to end the season and was a fun race.  I ended up with a total time of 4:38:54, which got me 33rd place in my age group and 174th OA.  I was happy with this as I put it all out there.

After the race, we got back to the hotel, cleaned up and headed down to the pool.  The pool at the Green Valley Resort is very nice.  We even ran into Craig Alexander who was at the pool relaxing, too.  He asked how my race went to which I replied, "It's always good when it ends in Vegas."

Looking back on this race and season, it gets me that much more excited about what future seasons hold.  I look forward to the chance to compete in the same races which our Triattic athletes will be competing.  Thanks to all of my friends and family who have supported me through the years in triathlon and sports in general.  Mostly, thanks go to Sandy, who supports me in so many ways.  It gets funner every day.

Triattic - Florida 140.6 Training Camp

                                                    Florida 140.6 Training Camp
• 2 Days of Training (Saturday and Sunday) in Panama City Beach, FL
• Training sessions on actual race course
• Complete ride and run sag support
• Complete ride and run nutrition support (Event Sponsorship provided by Hammer Nutrition)

• Training presentation from USAT Coaches

Sandy Holt
  • 10 time Ironman Finisher
  • 3 time Ironman FL Finisher (11:03 PR, 2012)
  • 9 time Ironman 70.3 Finisher (5:03 PR, 2012)
  • 2 time Ironman 70.3 World Championship Finisher
  • USAT Level 1 Coach
  • Head Coach - Triattic

Charlie Johnson
  • 5 time Ironman Finisher
  • 2 time Ironman FL Finisher (9:25 PR, 2012)
  • 4 time Ironman 70.3 Finisher (4:07 PR, 2012)
  • 2 time Ironman 70.3 World Championships Qualifier
  • USAT All-American: 2010-2012
  • USAT Level 1 Coach
  • Coach - Triattic 
Training Camp Schedule and Times
Dates: October 12 – October 13, 2013
*Note all times listed are Central Standard Time (CST)
Saturday, October 12
6:30am: Bike Course Briefing
7:30am: Bike approximately 100 miles on course
1:30pm: Transition run 2-3 miles immediately after bike
4:00pm: Presentation and discussion
Sunday, October 13
6:30am: Run Course Briefing
7:30am: Run approximately 12 miles on course
11:00am: Weekend wrap-up and final questions
*Length of individual training times above are only estimates for scheduling purposes. This camp is open to all abilities and paces.
Sunset Inn, Panama City Beach
Address: 8109 Surf Dr, Panama City, FL 32408
Phone: (850) 234-7370
$100.00, the price does not include accommodations.
If you are interested in participating in this training camp or have any questions please email Coach Sandy at