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Ironman Oceanside 70.3 Race Report

Ironman California - Logo

I have said before, each race presents something new and a chance to learn.  Sometimes, the lessons are fun and enjoyable, such as, “If I run really fast, I win”.  Others, well, not so much.  The Ironman California 70.3 in Oceanside, CA, was much more the latter than the former for me.

Ironman California or Oceanside 70.3 is a spectacular event.  The City of Oceanside embraces the race with fantastic support.  The setting is great with the swim in Oceanside harbor (so, generally protected), the bike meanders up the coast before looping inland and back through the Pendleton Marine Base (mostly unspoiled countryside), and the run is a two-loop along the water and adjacent streets.  With the run happening right along the shore, the crowd support is fantastic and, well, you just can’t beat running by the beach!  Being in late March, the weather can be a bit unpredictable.  Generally, it is very mild and cool but can also be overcast, misty, rainy, or worse.

As pleasant as the weather generally is, the course is equally enjoyable.  With a salt water swim, there’s extra buoyancy.  Plus, the harbor provides a fair amount of the protection of the open ocean.  The bike, with a mere 1,608 ft of climbing, is very forgiving.  The first 25ish miles are relatively flat but generally have a tail wind.  Miles 25 to 45 are the “hilly” section.  The last 10 or so miles are again, relatively flat, but generally have a head wind.  The run is extremely flat with a few, very short but very steep, sections heading either up or down (a) from the pier to beach level or (b) from one street to the next.  Other than those (which are minuscule), the run is very flat, fast, and fun.  The only negative is the run surface is, at times, brutally solid and the feet and legs truly take a beating.  Aside from that, I would highly recommend Ironman California to anyone looking to do a half ironman triathlon.  From the sun, beach, and crowd-support to the course itself, Oceanside 70.3 is a great race.  So, onto the report…

Pre-Race

I want to start a bit earlier than normal here to set a bit of the stage.  The days leading up to the race, I checked the forecast everyday.  Each time, it was the same: low in the mid 40s, high in the mid 60s, slightly overcast and sunny.  The two days before the race, the weather was spectacular, especially for racing: cool in the morning, with cloud cover, and the sun breaking through just before noon.  I could not have hoped for better race conditions and, having lived in Southern California, I was optimistic for race day.

Skipping to the actual race morning and, well, the conditions were not good.  The morning was a mixture of frigid cold, mist and rain, a little wind, and absolutely no sun.  In essence, a potential recipe for disaster.  Given the weather and forecasts, I had never imagined I would want any cold-weather gear and hand’t brought any.  I would be racing in my standard race kit and knew I would be cold.  But, given there was nothing I could do about it on race morning, I simply focused on getting ready.

Being a point-to-point event (meaning, two different transition areas), set-up was rather easy.  I put my shoes on my bike for a flying mount.  I did not wear my watch during the swim so I had my watch and glasses in my helmet.  I rolled my socks for easy donning and was ready.  So, I headed to the water’s edge to watch the pros start and get in the chute.

Swim

While I heard dozens upon dozens of people complaining about the swim, I loved it.  I could feel the extra support of the salt water and found the calmness of the water fantastic.  Entering the water and before the start of my wave, I studied the sight lines and was very pleased as I knew sighting would be easy.  I positioned myself at the front and waited for the gun.

Ironman California - Swim

When blasted sounded, I surged forward but allowed those who wished to start aggressively to pass me.  Since my wave had navy blue caps, while the two previous waves had neon dreadfulness, I was able to spot other age groupers.  My plan was to swim easy for the first half.  Adhering to my plan, I stayed calm and cool.  I knew I was moving well though, as I immediately began passing the slower swimmers from earlier waves.  I could also see blue caps around me, but not leaving me.

At the turn-around, things became condensed and thus congested.  That was fine, I just upped my effort a bit and navigated through the morass.  Upon making the last turn, I latched onto the feet of a speedy blue-capped fellow and drafted off him.  We passed swimmer after swimmer, to the point that I could no longer see any blue caps in front of us.  With a few hundred yards remaining, I surged around him and sped to the end.

While my goal was a sub-30 minute swim, I am decently pleased with my 31:11, good enough for 28th in my age group (out of 487) and 198th overall (out of 2,903).  I had swam very conservatively, yet had a decent time that would keep me within reach of my goal, qualifying for the Half-Ironman World Championship.

Transition 1

Exiting the water, I sprinted up the ramp, down the chute, and towards transition to my bike while stripping down my wet suit to my waist.  The run from the water to the transition area was pretty lengthy (about 200-300yards) and many people decided to walk, which was annoying.  Thankfully, another racer, like myself, wanted to run and we both yelled “On your left” while moving past dozens of people.  Reaching my bike, I quickly put on my socks, watch, glasses, and helmet.  Grabbing my bike, I headed for the exit, executed a flying mount, and I was gone.  Time in T1 was a seemingly unspectacular 3:55 but, compared to other athletes, I stole some time.

Bike

Ironman California - Bike StartAlmost immediately, the cold unleashed its fury as I started shivering.  I knew I would be cold, but greatly under-appreciated the depth of the chill.  Very quickly, my hands and feet became numb, my teeth began to chatter, and, because of my body, my bike also began to shake.  All of this ranged from unpleasant to extremely problematic.

Based upon prior experience, I knew the chill would drain my sugar faster than normal.  I tried to compensate by eating a little more than I had otherwise planned.  Of course, this proved challenging since my hands had transformed into useless clumps of matter.  The velcro on my Bento Box proved more complicated than all of Houdini’s locks and shackles combined.  Combining that with my fear of taking one of my hands of the “wheel” and, well, getting nutrition was tough.  I still managed to eat two or three gel packs and one Stinger waffle while drinking about two-thirds of my water bottle.

Along with the awesome freeze and being unable to eat enough, the course and I were both soaked.  For the course, this probably was standard.  For me, it was awful.  The shivers made holding a good line impossible.  I saw three cyclists lose their edges and go down.  In short, along with being freezing cold, I was more nervous than I’d ever been while riding, especially on any turn, curve, or descent.

Ironman California - BikeAside from all that though, the course is great.  Easy, rolling hills and green countryside made for some easy distractions.  I tried to focus on anything I could besides the chill and keep my effort consistent.  Amazingly, given the circumstances, the ride passed very quickly and somewhat pleasantly.  I worked as best as I could and finished strong.  My final time was 2:46, an average of 20.21 mph.  Not bad, def not great but, on that day, I was pleased.

Transition 2

Being a split transition, I flew into T2, grabbed my bag, and made a quick change, spending a mere 2:07 in T2.

Run

Here’s where the race truly begins.  For me on this day, the whole race came down to one question: Which would I meet first, the end of my energy or the end of the race?  After Branson 70.3 last year, I knew I had burnt through more glucose than normal on the bike.  But, I also was a better athlete and more mentally prepared than I was at Branson.  So, I was ready to test myself and roll the dice.

Ironman California - RunI started running and gave myself half a mile to adapt.  Once that was done, I dropped my pace to a 7 min/mile and did my best to hold that.  My success would depend entirely on whether I could maintain or better that speed.  Before the day started, my plan was to run the first 9-10 miles at that pace and then try to speed to the finish at the best pace I could set.

The first loop passed uneventfully.  I stayed consistent with my effort and did what I could.  I actually enjoyed it a bunch.  My feet, being unable to process any sensations, did not (and still hurt as I write this, six days later).

The second loop started smoothly.  I cruised through the Oceanside Pier area (about 2+ miles of each loop) and headed down the strand for the last 6 or so miles.  Pretty quickly, the mild discomfort of racing became much more than mild.  Not really sure how to best describe it, but everything hurts and I wanted to lie down more than anything.  Having felt (and dealt) with that before, I kept on running.  As each mile slowly ticked past, the effort required to maintain my pace increased.  I found myself staring as far as my eyes could see down the run course, hoping the next turn was soon.  Any little false-flat incline seemed like Everest.  I was tiring and fading fast.  Between mile 10 and 11, my effort quickly waned as my pace dropped from 7 to 8 and finally settled in the mid to high nines; a rate I normally can run under any circumstances.

Ironman California - Run FinishI struggled to the end, even having a friend catch me and try to cajole me into running with him (which I failed to do).  After all my effort for nearly five hours, everything came crashing down and I slowly and weakly reached the finish line.  My final run time was a 1:42, painful enough for an overall time of 5:06, 54th in my age group and 311th overall.  Not necessarily a terrible time, but not even close to what I know I can do.

While I struggle to find positives from the day, I am mindful of the lessons.  Take it for what you can, but the biggest lesson is to always be prepared.  Having lived in Southern California for years, I should never have trusted the forecast.  I should have brought arm warmers and gloves with me, just in case.  They would have potentially changed my entire day, I think for the better.

Aside from being prepared, always remember as well that no matter how bad the day, there’s always positives to take.  For me, as profoundly disappointed as I was with my swim, run, and overall times, comparing them to prior races showed progress.  A 31-minute swim seems slow to me, but when compared to what others did, I can’t be upset with that.  The run is even more suggestive of improvement.  At a half ironman triathlon in 2011, I had an great run under epic conditions yet “only” beat my Ironman Oceanside time by one minute (a 1:41 vs. a 1:42).  To bonk like I did, survive the arctic bike, and still turn in a run time merely one minute slower made me happy.  Lastly, while I was and am profoundly disappointed with a 5:06, I still believe it shows my improvement.  Just like the run, to turn in that time, under the conditions of the day, makes me feel like I am improving as a triathlete.

So, learn from my mistakes and always find the positives in any situation!  Until next time, thanks for reading!Ironman California - Finish Line

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