My apologies for the length of this. I have not written a race report in quite a while and this one felt good, so I decided to write something about it.
My brother, Jon, is stationed in San Diego and we wanted to do a race together. Last summer, we were looking at several races on the west coast and decided upon Ironman 70.3 California in Oceanside. Oceanside had several advantages - it was only about 30-40 minutes from where he lives; it was a half, which if I was going to come all the way out here, anything less would kind of be a waste; and it was during spring break, so I could bring the entire family and enjoy San Diego before and after race day. I had done Eagleman twice so I had at least completed a couple half-distance races.
On Thanksgiving, I began a running streak and kept it up through the winter months (all outdoors), and thought about dropping it before the race, but I am WAY too OCD to stop for such a minor issue as 70.3 miles. In each of my two earlier 70.3s, I died on the run. There were a number of reasons for this (not paying enough attention to running while training, not properly hydrating or eating while on the bike, and oh yeah – it is kind of hot there). The running streak has been fun and been something to keep me working out everyday, even when I did not want it. I think an unintended consequence of the streak is that I did not do enough prep on the bike, so I had not great expectations of the race due to that.
I had read a coach’s race strategy for Oceanside online and thought it made sense, so my plan was to try to follow it. The first half of the bike is pretty flat, but the second half has 3 relatively difficult climbs, so the plan was to hold back in the first half and conserve energy for the second half. The other difficulty with the second half was the wind can be a bear, so again, conserving energy would be important. My run strategy was to stay around 10:00-10:30 for the first few miles and then have more energy for the second half. I was not worried about time, just being steady and finishing strong.
I flew out to California on Wednesday afternoon went to dinner with my brother. Had an easy 5-mile run and walked around Corondao on Thursday before putting my bike back together. My wife, Hope, and two daughters flew in on Thursday evening and we settled in nicely. Easy 3-mile run Friday morning and test ride on the bike to make sure it felt right. I had inadvertently loosened the handlebars, so I had to make sure the angle was right before going 56 miles on it. Got it to where it felt comfortable, then tightened them (or so I thought…)
The other change I planned to make was with regard to nutrition. I have had cotton mouth issues, which had my mouth getting excessively dry when exercising. To combat this, I always chewed gum when running or cycling, and I think that made me not drink enough because I did not realize I was dehydrated. So my plan was to race without so that I would constantly be drinking. I also planned to have a GU every 7-8 miles. Seemed like a lot, but I was very worried, after not spending enough time preparing for the bike, that I would hit a wall without enough nutrition.
Friday afternoon, Jon and I drove up to Oceanside to pick up our race packets and get a quick lay of the land before Saturday’s race. Packet pick up was more complicated than it needed to be. Go to this table. Sign this form and take it to that table. Then go to this table for another form, which then gets taken to yet another table…ad nauseum. It could have been so much easier by reducing the steps, but it is not my race.
We went home, got our bikes and gear ready. Ordered sushi for dinner (new pre-race meal for me, but he swears by it, so I figured why not? Did not come back and haunt me). We went to bed early and were going to leave the house around 4:30 so that we could be in transition by 5:30 (even though our wave did not hit the water until 7:42 – we were wave 21 of 23).
Got up before my alarm at about 4:00. Felt good, a little nervous, but ready to go. We left the house and about halfway there realized we had forgotten to grab food for breakfast. We wound up splitting a Stinger Waffle and we each had Gatorade. Turned out ok. Oceanside has two separate transition areas, which I had never experienced before. It made pre-planning essential, since I had to make sure I did not have something in the wrong area. We set up our run bags in T2 and walked our bikes over to T1 and got a view of the swim course.
A few more trips to the bathroom, body marking, then to the medical tent, because our only sunscreen was in T2. I cannot say enough about how awesome all of the volunteers at this race were. There were so many and they were helpful and cheery the entire time. We watched the pros go off and the coolest thing was watching a seal swimming alongside them for a little bit of the time. We had a little more standing around (45 minutes), and decided to put our wetsuits all the way on to stay warm. We watched the pros come out of the water and some of the challenged athletes come out as well (very humbling and inspiring). Then we walked over toward the water and got ready to race.
SWIM – 32:43
We stepped into the water and OH MY GOD! was it cold. When my face hit the water, it was brutally cold. I think they said the temperature was 58, but I am not completely sure about that. Swam out to the start and decided to stay back a little in the crowd (HUGE mistake). When the horn went off, I had trouble getting my watch started, so I just abandoned it and went without it. The people in the back were SLOW, which is usually me. It took some maneuvering to get around them, but once I did, I got into a nice rhythm and the practice on bilateral breathing has been very helpful and I think allowed me to go faster. My fastest time at Eagleman was 35+ minutes. When I got out, I had not idea about my time. The volunteers were great. As I stepped out of the water, one of them grabbed the zipper on the wetsuit and pulled it down for me. There was a huge crowd of them cheering everyone out of the water.
T1 – 5:45
It was a long run from the water. I also planned to wear sock and arm warmers, because it was still chilly. As I got to the transition, I saw Jon as he was heading out for his ride (surprised my swim was anywhere near his) and we wished each other good luck. I was struggling putting on my arm warmers and one of the volunteers came along and helped me get it over my wet skin. She then said she would pack up my wetsuit, goggles, and swim cap in my transition bag so I could get on the road faster. Like I said, really nice people helping out there. I did not clean my feet enough before putting on socks, and I was worried that there might be sand in there which would rub during the run, but I was not able to worry about that right then.
Bike – 3:09:18
The bike ride begins along the coast and then through Camp Pendleton. Right out of Oceanside. There are a few hills, so I took it easy as I worked to get in to a rhythm. There were also a few bumps (the roads need some work). At this point, I realized that I had not tightened my aero bars enough because they were falling forward. I was able to pull them back and debated whether to stop and tighten them or just deal with it. It only happened on extended bumps, so I made the decision that if they did not get worse, I would just make adjustments as needed and move on. I had to remind myself to constantly hold back on the front half, having not really seen the course other than the profile online. There was some wind and a few rolling hills, but a beautiful day. I stuck with my nutrition plan, eating my Gus and drinking from my aero bottle. I added in banana halves at the aid stations.
Around the halfway point of the bike, I saw the first climb. From the distance, it looked daunting - long and steep. I would have rather turned a corner and it was there than to see it and know it was coming. Oh well. It was a long one and I took my time getting up. The descent on the other side made it worthwhile. There were two more significant climbs on the bike; the second one stretched from about miles 32-36. After that one was the descent that permitted no passing and a “speed limit” of 25 mph. The final climb was difficult but a shorter one and a nice rewarding descent followed. From there, it was about 12 miles back to Oceanside, through the wind (Hello, Eagleman). As I got back to Oceanside, I rode by some of the runners on the course, and pulled in to transition.
T2 – 3:02
The best part about transition was seeing my family standing on the side cheering me. They were wearing the shirts I had gotten them saying “70.3 miles until I get me Daddy back” (Husband for Hope). They told me they loved me as I switched shoes, put on my hat, sunglasses and sunscreen on my neck, arms, and shoulders (learned that the hard way from experience). And off I ran.
Run – 2:03:28
The plan was to stick to 10:00 – 10:30 for the first half and NOT bonk. The initial part of the course goes from the road down two steep ramps to the “boardwalk.” The paved boardwalk was very narrow with little room for passing. As I looked at my watch at the conclusion of mile 1, two thoughts went through my mind – the first was that Day 129 of the streak in the books; the second was that I was very concerned (ok, freaked out) that it read “9:31”. WAY too fast for me. At the same time, I felt like I was barely moving and not exerting any energy. Mile 2 made more sense at 10:09, so I settled in to what felt like a good pace. I got something to drink and some water to splash on my body at every aid station at each mile. The volunteers would call us out by name (our names were on our bibs) and cheered us on. Houses were playing music throughout the neighborhoods. I saw Jon three times throughout the run and we exchanged pleasantries. I felt good the entire race and decided to keep the pace as long as I felt good. After that first mile, I was never above 9:55 the rest of the way, including some miles in the low 9s and one in the high 8s. My fastest two miles were miles 10 (which caused me to slow down out of concern that I would not be able to finish strong) and 13. I crossed the finish line in a small group of people with my family cheering me on through it. I thought I might be under 6:00, but not 100% sure. When I saw that it was, I was pleasantly surprised and thrilled that I was able to execute my race plan the way I wanted.
I mentioned how good the support was, but every volunteer knew what was going on. They had the answers to the questions people asked. They really managed such a large group of people in small spaces well. It was a very well organized race. If you have the opportunity, I strongly recommend this race.
Final – 5:54:16
Got up on Sunday morning for a nice easy 3.5 mile run. Looking forward to Eagleman (well, not the heat) and keeping my running streak alive, provided it continues to feel good.