Well, OK - I didn't exactly conquer the world, or the race - but I did conquer some of previously encountered challenges. My last Ironman (Patriot's Half) was a most unpleasant experience. I finished - in better time than I did IM 70.3 Cali. But the Patriot's Half was at the end of the season when I felt strong and the course was fairly flat throughout. This race was an absolute blast! Whereas the first half IM was very painful, I'm wondering if this one wasn't painful enough. IM 70.3 Cali is in March after the most brutal winter I've seen in Maryland (of course, I didn't anticipate this when I signed up last April). My son and his wife live in California near Oceanside so I thought it would be a great way to combine a family visit with an event that would keep me motivated over the winter. Although it is primarily a flat course, there is a 15 mile stretch through the mountains that was very challenging.
This was my first Ironman-sponsored event and I have to say - these people ran the event like a Swiss watch. Everything went off without a hitch. No waiting for anything (except the start) - plenty of SAG support on the bike, and get this - on the most hairy downhill spiral, they actually had mattresses lining the guard rail! This may not be news to you Ironman veterans - but it totally took me by surprise. They had volunteers on bullhorns telling everyone to slow down, no passing and they even claimed in the pre-race video that they used radar and anyone exceeding 25 mph would be disqualified. Maybe they do this at all events - but I was really impressed. Everything was first-rate and I absolutely loved this event. The weather was picture perfect - beautiful blue skies, plenty of sunshine, ocean breeze, and high in the low 70s. A few weeks before the event, I was anxious and swore I would never sign up for a March half IM again. Now I'm not so sure...
My coach and many others suggested to me that this isn't my A race (Lake Placid is), that I treat this as a training race, and that I just go out and have a great time. Mission accomplished!
There was no parking at the race venue - we had to park a mile or two away and then ride our bikes to the start. But street traffic was closed off so it was an easy pleasant ride of 5 minutes or so. The air temp in the upper 40s and COLD.
SWIM: My swim time 53:18 - over 11 minute improvement over my last half IM. The lesson I learned after my last half IM was I needed to improve my swim endurance. I just learned how to swim less than 2 years ago and I'm still very slow. But this time, I was able to relax, go slow, smooth and steady without panic, oxygen debt, or anxiety. I didn't have to stop to tread water to rest and I was able to swim almost without stopping. I say 'almost' because there was a section where the sun was in my eyes and I had trouble seeing the buoy. And I veered off-course. LESSONS LEARNED: need to continue to improve swim endurance and need to be able to sight better. oh yeah - just because I have Body Glide in my bag - doesn't mean I can use it. The thing was almost empty. Doh! Chafing around my neck was pretty painful.
The swim took place in picturesque Oceanside harbor. All boat traffic was closed off for the race. The harbor is well protected and the water was as calm as a lake. It goes out in to the Pacific at the turnaround but even there, the water was very calm. The water was cold - 59 - 61 degrees depending on who you talk to. It was a shock first getting in. But I swear by the neoprene cap that was kindly lent to me. I was very comfortable after a minute or two.
BIKE: I had a good bike time in my last half Ironman - but I had put the pedal to the metal and burned myself out for the run and I had forgotten to inflate my tires! This time, I took it nice and easy and I even inflated my tires. Even though I tried to take it slower, my heart rate skyrocketed to over 160 in the first 5 or 10 minutes. The first few miles were fraught with obstacles. Potholes, speed bumps, turns, etc. But then I settled into a good pace - not too hard. Comfortable and probably erring on the side of caution too much. I totally changed my nutrition strategy this time. I had no solid food except for a package of sport beans. All other nutrition came in the form of Accelerade and Accel Gel. I drank more water than Accelerade. I think I also took one Power Gel at one of the aid stations. I also tried something else new. Instead of stopping my bike and getting a water bottle at the aid station, I slowed and reached out my hand to grab a bottle. It worked all 3 times!!! The first 30 miles were a slam dunk. Relatively flat. Short gentle hills. At about mile 30, we turned inland and that's where the fun began. There were some rollers and the wind picked up. And then I saw it. The first significant climb. Wow - I couldn't believe that monster. It was long and my wild-ass guess is that is was about 8% grade. I wish I could have taken a picture of it - it was very intimidating. I took it slow and steady and didn't have to walk. Did I mention that it was long? Finally got to the top and then the wind really started to pick up. The downhills were hairy and speed limits and no passing were shouted out by bullhorned volunteers. I took no chances and took it slow. A couple more significant climbs as the wind picked up more and more. The gusts were so strong I felt my bike being pushed around. I was not aero at all this 15 miles. Up and down, up and down and fighting wind the whole way. Finally, at around the 45 mile mark, we turned back to the coast and then it was fly-time. No wind. Flat. And I was able to really pick up my speed. Comfortably. Thank God Linda got me out on those crazy hill rides because I really needed them to go through those mountains.
Again, the scenery was incredible. Most of the bike course is in USMC Camp Pendleton. How scenic can a Marine Corps base be? Well, unbelievably so. In most parts, I didn't even know I was on a military base (except for the occasional 'Live Fire' sign). And the traffic guys were all in cammies. And the most heart-wrenching - the sign that said 'Welcome home, daddy - I can't wait to meet you'. It was very humbling to think about the sacrifices some people make. There was a part of the ride that hugged the coastline and the Pacific was beautiful. The mountains on base were absolutely gorgeous and would have been even more beautiful if I wasn't huffing and puffing my way up them or white knuckling it down them. The beginning and end weren't so scenic as we went behind the commisary and some of the main road. But most of it was awesome. LESSONS LEARNED: even with a list I checked twice, I forgot my aero bottle! Duh! also had a problem with the bike seat that I didn't get looked at until two days before the race because I ass-u-me it was something I was doing wrong. They were able rig it up at the expo but I do need to get that fixed.
RUN: time was 2:32:54 - over 4 minute improvement over my last half. And this run had some hills! This was going to be the true test for me. The last half IM I did I suffered severe stomach distress and it was the most miserable run of my life. This time, I felt so much better. The 'no solid food on the bike' approach may not be the best advice for most people but it worked for me. I could run comfortably. Maybe not so fast - but I kept those feet turning, walking only through the rest stops and a smidge on the last few hills. I thought I took it easy on the first half of the run - but not easy enough as my pace slowed. Still, I was able to continue running to the very end. About a mile into the run I saw my son and his wife. I didn't think they would be able to come until the finish but there they were. It really lifted me up. I saw them two more times and then when I saw them at the finish, I sprinted to the end and felt awesome. I may have had a little left in the tank - but otherwise, felt like I had paced myself much much better than last time. My son and his wife had some of their Marine friends there to cheer me on along with their 3 little boys and it was pure joy to see them at the end. Overall time: 7:16:24. A full 10 minutes slower than my last half Ironman - but much more pleasant. All of it lost on the bike. And I'm OK with that. LESSONS LEARNED: improve speed and endurance. continue minimal solid food during the bike to avoid stomach problems on the run.
The run went along the promenade along the ocean for the first mile or so, then on to the next street over. There were some hills there, some steep. Along the ocean, there was a perfect breeze and lots of people cheering us on. The volunteers were incredible. As one of the many stragglers, I got a lot of attention at the end. The volunteers really heaped the encouragement on us slow folks at the end, high fiving us and even running a few yards with us.
This was an incredible experience for me. It kept me motivated to train over the winter - even during those blizzards. My training surely took a hit - but I was able to complete the half. I had a much more positive attitude this time and with so many people in the race, I was never alone (as I was in the much smaller first half IM I did). THe Challenged Athletes Foundation had a good showing there and I was humbled by the spirit of the many athletes in the race who had far greater obstacles to overcome than I. I feel very blessed to be able to complete such a race in such an picturesque venue and positive energy.
I missed racing with any of my MMTC buddies - but the number of Emails and text messages I got overwhelmed me and I could feel the positive energy all the way across the country. Hey, maybe that's what all those winds were! So... who's doing it with me next year? :)