Ironman California 70.3 Race Report

This was an interesting race for me for a few reasons:

  1. My first WTC (Owners of the Ironman Brand) organized race
  2. My Second 1/2 Ironman ever while on my road to a full Ironman in Coeur d'Arlene this year
  3. The is race was based on 8 weeks of training after 8 weeks of recovery due to a my broken collar bone on December 8th
  4. My first race with two different transition zones
  5. My first race in the deepest field in triathlon - Men 40-44

Pre-Game

I got to Oceanside at about 11:00 AM on Friday and was really excited to get on site and check everything out.  At my last 70.3 event, I got to transition late and it just seemed to throw off my entire morning.  This time, I was committed to being ahead of the game and getting everything done early.  "Hurry up and wait" was going to be the order of the day.

I wasn't totally sure where I was going as I headed South on Interstate 5, but Oceanside was a small town and how hard could it be to find registration for Ironman?  As soon as I got off the freeway at Oceanside Harbor, it was obvious I was in the right place.  The area was teeming with Tri Geeks resplendent in race kits of every variety, aero helmets zooming around in close proximity in the aero bars.  There were a lot of tail feathers on display!

Within a few minutes I was able to drive upstream of the flow of athletes and find registration.  Here is where the WTC starts to shine.  Registration is a well oiled machine.  Paperwork flows readily, people are quickly moved from station to station and information is smoothly dispensed.  Within 15 minutes, I am registered, oriented and have screened a video about the day.  Super efficient!

In about the same amount of time, I am able to breeze the expo pavilion and realize I have seen it all.  A couple bucks invested in a bit "M-Dot" swag and I am on to the T2 area to set up and organize my run gear to avoid the need to stop there in the AM.  It is does open at 4:30 AM conveniently enough, however.

Setting up my run gear the night before was kind of weird.  They basically gave me a plastic shopping bag labeled "run gear" that I was supposed to leave in my numbered spot in T2.  So, into the the bag went my running shoes, my visor, a ziplock with a couple gels, a stinger waffle and a pair of emergency socks.  That was it.  Was that enough?  It just seemed light.  It seemed like I generally have more "stuff" at my finger tips.  After all, I normally roll with a pretty big backpack.  The only other stuff I could think of, I would have on me coming in the from the bike course - sunglasses and race number/ belt.  Slightly worried, I called T2 set up and headed for the hotel....

The hotel was awesome, I was three miles down the beach in Carlsbad, but it seemed a world away from the "Ironman Bubble" in Oceanside.  My room had a view of the ocean and I had plenty of space to lay everything out and set about sticking and organizing for the race.

You gotta love the branding!

The bike looks pretty clean.  I wish I had time for a little test ride after setting up the disk cover and changing the tube.

The whole shopping bag thing was really messing with my mind!  What I supposed to do with these bags?  Why couldn't I just use my super fancy Gyst bag?  I had two bags to work with - "Morning Clothes" and "Bike Gear".  Morning clothes made sense.  That was where I would put the dry clothes I wore to transition in the morning. The rationale being I would swim, then ride out of T1 and ALL my stuff would be miracled to the finish of the race.  "Bike Gear" made less sense.  I would be riding with my bike gear.  What on earth went there?

With the help of a friend (Ben Vanmarcke), I pieced things together.  The bags would have been more appropriately been label "wet stuff" and "dry stuff".  Meaning, once I would get get into T1, I would take off my dry clothes and put them in the dry bag with my car keys, cell phone, etc.  Bike transition would be laid out leaving the "bike gear" bag empty and ready to except my wet suit and other swim items after the swim.  Armed with these new insights, I was ready to organize and pack everything.  Which, took quite a bit time actually.  Then I took a shower and completely repacked my car.  The only things left in the room when I turned the lights out were my morning clothes, my bike and a toothbrush.  

The alarm went off at 4:10 AM.  I need to be out of the T1 area ready to swim at 6:30 and wanted to have plenty of time.  So, I jumped out of bed, ran a toothbrush through my mouth, jumped into my morning clothes (Tri Kit with sweats and sandals), had my first meal (protein bar) and head to the car.

First order was to find parking.  Here, the early bird most certainly gets the worm.  I found a great spot right next to T2 and was all settled in by 4:30.  It was now T-minus 2 hours to the close of T1 and 3 hours and 45 minutes to my wave start at 7:48 AM.  Did I mention I was in the last wave?  That's right.  Wave 23 out of 23 waves.

Because I had soooo much time, I needed a different pre-race nutrition plan.  I don't like to swim on an empty stomach, but I also don't like being too full.  So, at 5:00 AM I had a bagel with peanut butter and jelly and a scoop of egg protein with water in the front seat of my car.  

At 5:10 AM, I am on my bike riding the 1 mile distance to Oceanside Harbor and T1.  Here again, I am missing my nice Gyst bag.  I am on my TT bike, with aero helmet with two shopping bags full of gear hanging from a knot tied at the back of my neck.  I am an accident waiting to happen.  Did I mention it was also pitch black out?

I am not riding very long before I realize I have a problem.  There is a steady "bump-bump-bump" to my bicycle as I ride.  I hope it is the pavement, but it is soon clear that it is not.  I get to T1, find my rack and then inspect the situation.  As I feared, my rear wheel is jacked up.  I spin the tire and soon find a bulge in it.  It looks like a black snake that just ate a mouse.  This is where being early rocks!  It's only 5:25 AM.  I still have over an hour to trouble shoot this and get ready to go.  I look at the little hand pump I brought and know that need help.  Luckily, the Shimano mechanics tent is in site.  I pull the wheel off and head that way.

The tech on site awesome.  The dude is smiling from ear to ear and happily squaring away Tri Geeks of all makes and models.  The guy fixes me up in under 5 minutes and my little race day glitch is in the rear view mirror!

Great service in the Shimano service tent!

Wheel is fixed and it's Game On at 5:30 AM in T1

The Swim

I jump into my new wet suit, and pack up and drop off my morning bag and get everything done by the 6:30 AM cut off.  Everyone starts walking out of transition and I have about 1 hour and 45 minutes to think things through.  The Pros start at 6:35 AM and then it is just wave after wave as I cool my heals.  About 7:15 AM it's time for my third meal - another protein bar and I begin sipping a bottle of water.

At 7:40 we are finally on deck, Men 40-44 with last names N-Z.  The start is an in-water start, which is another first for me.  When the wave ahead goes out we have three minutes to enter the water and swim about 25 meters to the in-water start line.  I am low in the water so I can't see that far head, but what I do see is a crowd.  As far I can see there are swimmer with a small but expanding little gap between our starting line and herds for wave starts ahead of us.

The gun goes off with very little fan fare.  After all, this is the 23rd and final gun of the morning. The start is really easy.  I have a nice spot front and center and I hammer it for maybe two minutes.  Not that hard, because I am already thinking about a long day, but just hard enough to keep ahead of the trouble.  I am pulling water well and seem to have a pretty clear path with just a few bumps and brushes here and there.  The water feels nice and I am thankful for all the eating I have done in the morning.  My stomach feels just satisfied.

Within a few minutes of warming up and settling in, it happens.  I am now running into the stragglers of the groups ahead.  First I see a lot of pink caps, then blue ones start showing up, then yellow starts to appear.  Then a couple of green ones, a few people back stoking??  Wild!

I am on the final stretch to the boat ramp, maybe 8-10 minutes left when I feel like something is hitting me in the mouth.  Like a piece of rubber band.  I realize my google strap has come undone from the buckle and the loose end is now hitting me in the mouth EVERY time I try and breath.  The strap in my mouth is just annoying, but it scares the heck out of me.  What if my googles loose the seal on my eyes and fall off with 500 meters to go?  No time to stop and fix it.  I decide to just keep calm, relax my face muscles, move had as little as possible and get this swim over with!

By some miracle, I get to the swim exit with googles still in tact and rip them them off my face as soon as I can.  I then jog up the ramp, over the timing mat and start the long run through transition.

This was a personal best swim for me.  Here are the swim stat's:

Swim Course

30:52 swim put me near the top 20% of swimmers on the day

Transition 1

This transition is just long.  You need to jog probably 2/10th of a mile from the swim start/finish at the South end of T1 back to the "Swim In" at the North end.  From there, you flip it and run back to the South end to ride out.  The whole thing feels just shy of maybe 1/3 of a mile, at least a 1/4.  I lost a lot of time here.  I was just slow for some reason as I thought about the potential for cold on the bike leg.  I struggled to put wet arms into arm warmers I would ultimately not need and lost time.  Total for T1 was a BRUTAL 7:40.  It should have been closer to 5:00 or less.  Next time....  :)

Transitions all day were slow for me....

The Bike

I roll out of T1, finally, and I am instantly struggling.  My stupid cleat, which I replaced the night before the race and did not test, was really hard to clip in on the right side.  The old cleat was working fine, but it was a bit worn and dirty so I thought, "why not change it".  Seems silly now, but such is the way things seem to go for me.  I finally get clipped in, but it seems a little stiff.  I don't seem to have all the float I am used to.

Otherwise, the first few miles are sort of uneventful.  I spend a little time sitting up, getting comfortable and relaxing for what I think will be a 3 hour-ish bike ride.  I am using my Garmin 910xt on my wrist to track splits and overall race time.  For the bike ride, I am focusing on my Garmin 510 at the end of the aero bars for power numbers and other metrics I want to track for laps and the total ride.  I like this set up because the 510 has more data fields and is easier to see and work with.  Also, by keeping the 910xt on my wrist, I don't need to move it back and forth from wrist to bike and back.  The 910xt also serves as a back up in case of 510 failure or battery issue.

My goal for the ride is to put out 195 watts Normal Power on the bike course.  This seems a little too easy based on my Functional Threshold Power (FTP) of 266 watts, but I am worried about the run and I think 195 will set me up well to run strong.  I didn't quite pull this number out of thin air.  Two weeks prior during my race rehearsal, I rode with a target of 210 watts normal power and found that my run was terrible.  So, 195 was the goal.

To track my progress, I planned to hit the "lap" button on the Garmin 510 every 15 minutes.  This would give me small bits of time, about 5 miles, to work with to hit my goal of 195 watts.  The job was made really easy because 15 minutes was also the alarm I had set up for nutrition/hydration alerts.  So, when the little timer went off every 15 minutes, I would hit the lap button, take a big swig of water and a smaller sip for my feed bottle.  This way, I would monitor Lap Normal Power giving me a small target to work with versus trying to keep 195 dialed in over a potential 3 hour ride.

Here is the Oceanside bike course with my "lap" markers included.  This map has a little marker for a few of the times I hit the button at 15 minute intervals.

Only a few if the laps are marked, but "5" mark means 1:15 into the ride (15 minutes x 5)

The bike course is really very pretty.  Once you leave the harbor, you basically enter Camp Pendleton Marine Base and pretty much stay there for the whole race.  This is really cool event, because the base is CLOSED to the public with the exception of a couple races a year.  It makes training on the course impossible, which sort of gives an advantage to those who have raced here before.

This was my first year at Oceanside and was really surprised by how hilly the course was.  I was expecting a flatter more "beachy" race and it was was for the first 25 miles up to San Clemente, but once you go in land you get smacked in the face with a couple legit climbs.  The first is VERY steep, short, but very steep.  My Garmin was reporting 12-13% grades.  People were walking.  Even though I had studied the profile, I was still surprised.  I was grateful for my 11-28 cassette  and took advantage of every cog while on the up and down sections of the course.

Bike Course had a couple Heartbreakers on it in addition to a ton of up and down

Not long into the bike course, say 5 miles or so.  I had my first and only little minor disaster.  Coming down a little hill that turned right, I see they have pretty clearly labeled a nice seam in the road that creates a pretty good bump.  I stand on the pedals to take the impact and as soon as I hit, the bottle between my arms is gonzo.  It just bounced right out of the X-Labs bottle holder velcro-ed between on the aero bars.  The set up looked like the picture below.

Ignore the jacked up aero bar.  This is an old picture just to demonstrate the set-up

And, yes.  The bottle in the holder at the time was an expensive Speedfil torpedo bottle.  When the thing bounced out, my first thought was to go get it, but my second and third thoughts won out.  The course was way to busy for me to turn around at the bottom of a downhill turn and finally, I hate that bottle.  The suction needed to get drink is so great that it leaves me gassed every time.  I am glad that bottle is gone!

The good news is that the bottle in question only had water.  I knew an aid station was coming and decided I would just start racking bottles from the aid station.  In hind sight this worked great.  I would much rather sit up and get a good drink every 15 minutes versus trying to suck on that straw.  I am now officially over straws!

My goal for the ride was 195 watts Normal Power.  The strategy of using 15 minute time blocks worked like a charm.  See the screen grab from TrainingPeaks.com below.  Pnorm was 196 and VI was 1.10.  VI was perhaps a little high, but for such a hilly little course, I will take it.  

IM Cal TP Ride Stats.jpg

On reflection, I think I could have ridden harder. An IF of 0.736 I think is too low for a HIM for me.  Another note that I found interesting was the metal focus to race all the way to T2.  When you come off the base, and enter town, there is feeling that you are back.  I found myself sitting up and trying to relax a bit before changing to the run.  This is probably a little OK because the course gets congested and has a bunch of little turns, so you need to be careful, but you gotta remember you are racing.

My bike split was 2:52:26 for an average pace 19.49 miles per hour.  That was strong enough for 126 out of almost 400 in the age group and 620 overall out of almost 2400 athletes.

Strava called the "Extreme", but I thought it was just pretty OK.  :)

Strava.com suffer score has me primarily in "Tempo" HR Zone

Strava.com suffer score has me primarily in "Tempo" HR Zone

T2 is pretty generic.  There was a lot of congestion at the "bike in" lane.  People were walking with bikes and clogging the isle.  Probably part of starting in the last wave is that I was sort of behind slower people all day.  I actually asked out loud to no one in particular "Are we still racing?".  That seemed to snap people out of it and the running started again.

My T2 set up from the night before was perfect.  The only issue was that everything was in the shopping bag tied to the transition rack.  I had to work the knot, dump the contents and get going.  It was easy, but a little slow.  Helmet and shoes off, visor and running shoes on.  I kept on my socks from cycling.  I grabbed a stinger waffle and headed for the exit.  

I ate the waffle on my way to "run out".  At that point in the race, I had eaten two Hammer Nutrition gels and a 400 calorie "feed bottle" made of 4 scoops of Hammer Susgained Energy.  That gave me about 600 calories for an almost 3 hour ride.  That's about 200 calories per hour.

Here is what to T2 looked like.  I think I could have found a minute here had I concentrated more...

3:53 in T2 is probably at least minute too long

The Run

Right out of T2 I hit the port-a-potty.  30 second later, I am all fresh and ready to go.  The run at Oceanside is a long out and back with T2 sort of North of the middle.  You need to run two laps before you go down the finishers path or you can get screwed up.  Also, you need to make a quick "U-turn" on your way out of T2 to get into the flow of North bound traffic or can screw yourself up.

The great thing about this set up is that you can see your friends many times, but it is also hard to tell who is on their first lap and who is finishing.  I saw just about everyone I knew racing at least once.  I saw Ben Vanmarcke and we ran together for a bit.  I was also able to shout out to Sebastian, Lisa Lange, Lisa Acosta, Catherine Gallagher, Chris Keubert, Anson Lam and George Yessaian at the finish.

Here is a look at the run course.  Sort of confusing because it doubles back so many times.

Lot of North and South on this course.

Lot of North and South on this course.

The first mile of the run my goal to settle in and get moving smoothly.  I tend to come out to quick and need to hold back.  I kept telling self its a long race.  Right out of T2 my back felt stiff and tight.  No worries here.  This is sort of usual for me and know it will go away in a few hundred meters.  The new pain was my abs.

Thursday before race day, I had a cold sculpting done.  This is supposed to reduce your tummy fat by 25-30% be freezing it between two frosty paddles. The treatment left my stomach with a bit of freezer burn.  As I ran, I could feel my stomach against my kit and my abs were sore as I bounced.  My first thought was "this is going to get annoying".  Thankfully it only lasted the first mile.

The first 6 miles were actually pretty straight forward.  Then my knees, particularly my right started to really scream.  I just hurt with every foot fall, especially on the little downhill kickers back to the sand level from the street level.  I really think this was caused by my cleat change.  I think the float was a little "sticky" and it caused me to toe-in a bit on the right foot.  I noticed it many times on the ride and i think it did in my knee.

At this point, I had to walk those little sections both up and down to try and quiet my knee.  I also started to employ the "walk the aid stations" strategy.  The day was not particularly hot, but I was steaming in the sun.  I would walk each aid station, just the length of the aid station and take two cups of water.  One cup poured over my head and another down my throat.  Then, back to running.

The final out and back to the South is tough.  You have already been here and you know how hard and far you gotta go.  This is both mentally comforting and a little distressing.  I looked at my watch, which is set to buzz every mile, and it tells me I am at mile 9.  Because the course is looped out and backs, there were no mile markers.  Too confusing I guess.  So, you need to rely on your watch.  

When I see the mile 9 alarm, my only thought is "just get to mile 10.  It's only a 5k run from there".  I am chugging along, trying to keep my head up and keep my form going.  I am also trying to keep my cadence up and stop the pain in my knees.  Since I switched to Hoka One One Bondi S2's it seems my cadence has slipped a little and this race seems to be further dragging it down.  While I am running or perhaps going through an aid station I some how lost track of time I guess, because here is where the miracle happened.

My watch finally buzzed and I look down to see the best site of the day.  "Mile 11"!  So stoked!  I must have missed the mile 10 alarm and was all of a sudden 1 mile closer than I thought!  With that happy reality, I try to forego the last aid station as walk up what I know is the last little grade.  It sucks to be walking, but considering my knee pain and hard two months of training post my collar bone injury, I will take it.

Here is what the mile splits look liked.

Had I been a bit stronger at miles 8 and 11 I coulda, woulda, shoulda broken 2 hours.

Had I been a bit stronger at miles 8 and 11 I coulda, woulda, shoulda broken 2 hours.

My last HIM run split was at Wildflower.  I posted a 2:21.  So, I will take the 19 minute PR and hope to be stronger next time  Strava called this split "Epic"

Most of the heart rate data was Tempo or Threshold.  I can be happy with that...

Most of the heart rate data was Tempo or Threshold.  I can be happy with that...

Here is how the run stacked up for me.

I lost a little ground versus the bike split, which lost a little ground after the swim split.

I lost a little ground versus the bike split, which lost a little ground after the swim split.

Overall

All in, I am pretty pleased with my execution of this race.  There are always key learnings and things I want to do better next time, but given the training I put in after two months of healing, I am really proud of this finish.  At the same time, I think I can find 10 minutes next year if I play my cards right.

Here are my key takeaways, as I see them in no particular order:

  • Always test out the bike the day before.  Even if it just a short ride
  • If you change something, you never should, make sure you test it.  Like my cleats
  • I am done with fancy aero straw bottles.  Personally, I will start the race with a throw away bottle between my arms and then just grab fresh ones at the aid stations.
  • My feed bottle worked great, but I didn't need to fret about adding any additional nutrition.  There was sooo much on the course.  I do pretty well with gels of all sorts.  From now on, my plan is to "live off the land".  I did this on the run course and it worked great.  I sipped a little Perform a few times, I had a gel and a some coke on the course with no problems
  • Using 15 minute laps worked perfectly.  I was within 1 watt of my pre-race goal.
  • Push harder on the run where you can and walk when you need to through the aid stations.  I stayed hydrated and was able to break the course into smaller bites.

Here are the overall results:

IM Cal WTC Total Recap.jpg
IM Cal Sport Stat Results.jpg

Again, this was a good result for me.  5:38 at Oceanside after a 6:11 at Wildflower last year feels pretty good.  Granted, they are different run courses, but I think the Oceanside harbor swim is more challenging then the lake at Wildflower.  I would give the Wildflower bike course a slight edge, but they are both fairly challenging.  But, Wildflower takes the cake on the run.  That course is more trail then road race and it is hot and hilly.  All that said, 33 minutes is a lot of time.

The other really satisfying element of this race was the build up to it.  I broke my collar bone in a bike crash on December 8th.  That basically sidelined me from all but the most mellow of trainer rides for 8 weeks.  Building to the race meant I was starting in the basement.  Check out the Performance Management Chart from TrainingPeaks.com

The pink line shows the build up of acute training.  The blue line shows chronic training load coming up slower. Yellow shows my freshness declining and then returning.  The race is where the lines become dotted.

The pink line shows the build up of acute training.  The blue line shows chronic training load coming up slower. Yellow shows my freshness declining and then returning.  The race is where the lines become dotted.

Sorry for the REALLY long race report.  If you hung in there this long, I thank you!