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Ironman California 2013 Race Report

Ironman CaliforniaDuring my 56 mile bike ride, I had a fair amount of time.  Well, two hours and forty-six minutes to be exact.  During that time, my mind unsurprisingly wandered but also began to write what I thought would be this race report.  I was having visions of where my race would go, what would happen, and the story I would tell.  Comically, that story did not, in fact, unfold as planned.  My “the worst that happened to me today” moment was going to be about my sunglasses snapping in two during T1.  More on this later, but I was fully prepared to deliver this Shakespearean-esque story about my day revolving around broken sunglasses and success.  Yeah, that story would have been epic had it actually happened.  But, it didn’t.Broken Glasses

What did happen was dramatically different.  From success and feeling pleased to disappointment and feeling sad and embarrassed, my day was much different than the story I was crafting.  Having replayed my day many, many times since race-end, I have no “AH-HA” moment to share.  There isn’t some apple-falling moment I can give you.  My best advice is to have your plan and execute it to the best of your abilities.  When my sunglasses broke, I was certainly disappointed.  Both because they were my favorite racing and training glasses and due to the effect it would have on my day.  But, I only wasted a few seconds before moving to acceptance and then getting on my bike.  I had no other pairs, wasn’t going to find some (well, without stealing them from another athlete), and couldn’t fix them.  My only course of action was to roll with it and that’s precisely what I did.  Have your plan and, when the unexpected occurs, deal as best as you know how.  Now, onto the race…

Pre-Race

Having done this race the year before (you can read that HERE), I was and felt significantly more prepared.  The year before, the race-day weather deviated substantially from the forecast (being rainy, windy, and freezing rather than pleasantly cool and clear, blue skies).  This time around, I was prepared for nearly every situation from supremely cold-weather to extremely warm-weather and all points in between.  Thankfully, on the race day, conditions were pretty close to ideal.

Race-day morning was about as boring and simple as one could get.  I awakened slightly later than normal as I was staying close to T1 and my swim wave started a full hour after the actual race, leaving me with ample time to get prepared.  Since Ironman California is a point-to-point race, most athletes, including me, prepare their T2 gear (running gear) the day before race-day.  This further reduces the “stuff-to-do” of race day morning.  All of that taken together made the morning of pretty darn simple.

Swim

Blue SeventyAfter what seemed like a nearly eternity of waiting, it was time for my wave to enter the water.  Having done a prep swim in La Jolla cove two days earlier in my sleeveless blueseventy Reaction (Love that wetsuit!) and because the water temp was 61.8 degrees, I opted to use the sleeveless again.  Yes, the quick shock of cold was a sharp and biting feeling, but it lasted less than a few minutes and I never regretted my decision to go sleeveless.  Shortly after entering and swimming the short distance to the starting line, the gun sounded and we were off!

Having spent many, many laps in the pool over the past few months working on my technique, I had a plan for this swim: I was going to completely ignore my fellow age-groupers and do my swim regardless of what others were doing around me.  Unsurprisingly, some fluorescent green-cap (my wave’s color) shot out like cannons.  Part of me wanted to match them but I stuck with my plan.
Nothing really excited to report.  There were no monsters from the deep that surprised me.  I didn’t get kicked or do any kicking.  Being the third to the last wave of the day, I did swim around hundreds of other athletes but even that was pretty minor.  All in all, I felt sleek, fast, and quick in the water and was prepared to declare my swim a success when I exited even though I had no clue of my time.

Oceanside Pier

After the race, I learned that my swim time was a 28:43.  That represents my third fastest half-ironman swim ever.  I was and am extremely happy with this result, especially given the effort I put in to achieve it. I had my plan and I stuck to it, which played a big role is getting a great result.  As a sign of pure comedy and the speed of some athletes, that 28:43 put me a ridiculous 38th place in my age-group!  Reviewing the results, I could not believe such a time would be so average in comparison.

Transition 1

While a four-plus minute transition time seems massive, at Ironman California it really is just a little long.  Upon exiting the water, athletes are met with a long run down a narrow chute to the far end of the transition area.  Running this shoot at full-speed would probably take over two minutes and running it after a 1.2 mile ocean swim is easily a two to three minute jog.  Plus, I struggled getting out of my wetsuit and the broke my glasses.  So, my 4:44 isn’t overly terrible but slower than I would have preferred.  Regardless, I reached my bike, made the changes, and executed a great flying mount and was on my way.

Bike

Unlike last year, I had some course knowledge.  As an added bonus, along with that knowledge, I wasn’t shivering and riding in the rain like last year.  Those factors almost ensured a superior ride this time around!  Of course, I also made the colossal blunder of leaving my PowerBar Ironman Perform at home.  Yikes, not a good move on my part.  Thankfully, I had brought enough gels with me that I planned to rely on those and just grab Perform from the aid stations.PowerBar

My plan for the bike was simply to ride within my zones and ignore everyone else.  Should a speedster fly by me, so be it.  I had my goals and they were tied solely to my performance against the clock; not my performance against my fellow athletes.  The timing of my wave start, third from the last, also meant a packed bike course.

Now, I could easily have been annoyed by having most of the field on the bike course in front of me.  But, wanting to focus solely on positive things, I instead planned on using the slipstream of every rider I could.  I knew I would be passing hundreds of people in both water and the bike.  Drafting in the water is tough under any circumstances, but drafting on the bike for 15-20 seconds is easy.  Simply cruise up behind someone, maintain your speed, and pass them on the left, letting them know you are there.  I literally rode from person to person for miles and miles.  I would estimate that I legally drafted until the hills started around Mile 26.  At that point, I just focused on climbing as there’s not much drafting to be done when you are in your easiest gear, climbing a 13% grade at 6 mph!

Once the hill section was complete, I knew I had but 10 or so miles back to T2.  I kept my head down, stayed as aero as possible, and watched the miles tick by.  Unlike last year when I had a tailwind for these miles, this year I faced a slight headwind.  Nothing massive, but a difference of 4-6 mph for about 10 miles just adds extra time.  Doing the math, I quickly guessed I would finish around a 2:45 on the bike and my final time was a 2:46.  Not the time I wanted, but I didn’t override at all.  More importantly, given how I felt, I believe I had set the stage to run as I should be able to run and get the sub-5 hour finishing time that was my big goal.

ISM Adamo(One side note, Oceanside 70.3 was the first time I would be wearing my new Wattie Ink racing kit.  The kits are made by Squadra and are extremely cool but I will admit to being very nervous about wearing a new kit during a half-Ironman.  While I did a short test ride in the new kit on Friday, 56 miles is a long way to ride if something becomes uncomfortable.  Thankfully, the kit (especially the chamois) rocked and my ISM Adamo kept me unchaffed, comfy, and happy the entire bike ride!  For those that haven’t tried an ISM saddle yet, get on one now.  This is my fourth saddle in five years of racing and they are by far the most comfortable saddles I have ever used.  Nuff said…)Wattie Ink

Transition 2

Pulling into T2, I felt great and ready.  I executed a flying dismount, sprinted to my bike, and did a quick change into new K-Swiss Kwicky Blades.  This would be the first race for them and, after a few training runs, I was excited to see how they felt.  I even had the frame of mind to grab the two gel packs stashed in my T2 bag for the run.  I was out of T2 in 1:43 and on my way!K-Swiss

Run

13.1 miles.  About one hour and forty minutes.  I can do this.  I had been nailing my training and felt like the stage was set not only to meet my big goal (the sub-5 hour time) but maybe even a little more.

I started running at what I felt was a very holdable pace, around a 7:45 min/mile.  The course at Ironman California is a two-loop course with one short and one long out-and-back on each loop, with the short happening first.  I finished the first out-and-back part with no difficulty whatsoever.  My pace felt great.  I felt great.  Everything seemed in order and I was excited.

Like many good things though, it didn’t last.  Somewhere around forty minutes of running, I began to tire far more than normal.  I get that after nearly four hours of straight exercise, covering about 63 miles, “tiring” is normal but this was more than normal.  I had to really focus to maintain my pace.  Avoiding the urge to walk for a bit became more and more difficult.  I was, in short, quickly running out of sugar.  Not a good thing to have happen with seven to eight miles of running remaining in my day.

Oceanside 70.3Given that I knew what the issue was, I attempted to stave off the impending collapse.  I ate another gel pack.  I drank more sugar-laced liquid, rather than water.  I slowed my run to a quick jog, holding around an 8:30 min/mile.  These band-aids worked for the next four to five miles.  Ultimately, I even switched to Cola at the aid stations, hoping the quick jolt of sugar and caffeine would kickstart my system for the few miles remaining in my race.

Sadly, I just couldn’t keep it together to the end.  Try as I might, I just didn’t have the ability to run like I know I can.  My last two full miles were right around a 10:30 min/mile pace.  I had long since realized that my sub-5 goal was gone and I just wanted to minimize the damage.  Mercifully, I finally reached the last turn and knew I had but a mile to the end.  I gave my legs everything I had left to give (yeah, this did not take very long) and ran as best as I could under the circumstances to the finish line.

Since I started 62 minutes after official race start, I did some quick math crossing the finish line and realized I had just completed one of my worst half-ironman races to date.  My run time was a 1:52, easily the worst performance in years.  At Wildflower Long Course, one of the most difficult half-Ironman races in the world, I ran a 1:46 in 2011.  To say I am disappointed fails to get even remotely close to how I feel about Ironman Oceanside.  As I preach to my clients, friends, and anyone who asks my opinion about racing, it is ALL about the run.  Did I have a great swim?  Yes!  Was the bike successful?  Darn near ideal for me.  How was your day overall then?  Dreadful.  Terrible.  Wasted.  Ruined.  My meltdown during the run just ruined my entire race.  My final time was a 5:12.

Hey, I get that a 5:12 is a good time for some people.  I regularly preach that just finishing equals success but I had my sights set on bigger goals.  I know my day wasn’t really ruined, but the end of that race simply sucked ass.  I had been nailing training and felt like I was on target for an epic day.  Instead, I melted down and finished with a time that brings me mostly disappointment.  I will admit that I take some happiness from a great swim, a solid bike, and executing my plan as best as I could until circumstances dictated otherwise but my greatest memory of Ironman California 2013 will be very, very bittersweet.

Ok, one final thought (made after meeting with my Coach, the amazing Bill Wilson of Camelback Coaching), have multiple goals for every event.  In addition to simply running out of sugar, I am now convinced that focusing SO much on a sub-5 hour goal left me empty once it became apparent that the sub-5 goal was unreachable.  The “all or nothing” mindset is problematic as, should “all” not happen, especially through no fault of your own, you are then left with nothing.  Motivation and a willingness to suffer are extremely tough to find when facing the “nothing”.  So, always have three goals: (1) the big goal, (2) the reachable goal, and (3) the “I can do this no matter what” goal.  Those stepping-stone objectives will enable you to shift your focus when necessary to maintain your interest and drive!

Thankfully though, there’s always another race on the horizon.  In five weeks, I will be racing at Wildflower Long Course, one of the greatest races every single year.  So, until then, I’m off to train and get better.  Thanks for reading!

Wattie Ink

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