Ironman California 2014

It that time of the year again.  The last weekend in March.  Early season racing in Southern California.  I decided to open the season like last year with Ironman California 70.3 in Oceanside - a little beach town snuggled up next to a massive Marine base in North county San Diego.  It seemed like a good idea last Summer when I registered....  Then, winter comes, and you realize that early season racing, even when you live in So Cal is hard to rally for.

The days are short, training needs to happen early in the AM, after dark and/ or in the cold(ish) weather.

I had a good winter.  Other than a couple colds, (thanks kids!) I was able to stay healthy.  I was able to avoid injury most importantly.  If you remember last year, I was racing Oceanside 3 1/2 months after breaking my collar bone in a self inflected bicycle crash.

I spent the winter doing quite a bit of riding, and as a result, I felt like I may have sacrificed my long run.  I was getting in run frequency and intensity with intervals, but the volume was lacking. It seemed to get worse as the race got closer and I started to have the "fear and loathing".  Fear that I would not perform to my expectations on race day and loathing of the sweet suffering that only Ironman (or 70.3) can provide.

So, I got to race day having almost talked myself out of it.  I felt like I had stronger bike fitness than the year before, but my swimming was not as good.  My race rehearsal swims had proved that I waited just a bit too long to get into the pool after a winter hiatus.  And, my long run was a wild card.  I had not run more than 9 miles at one time since Ironman Tahoe in Septmber.  I had set an all time best 10k in February, but the distance had me really worried.  

On top of it all, I hadn't spent enough time on my P5.  As a result, the fit was right, but I had muscle fatigue after every ride because I was spending to much time on my road bike and mountain bike climbing during the winter rather than hammering in the aero bars.

With all this in mind, I tapered for the race, packed up the car and headed south for Oceanside on Friday morning.  Through it all, I had this sense that my head just wasn't in the game right.  The year before, I had few expectations for myself and I showed up shot out of a cannon ready to explode on the course.  This year, I had the weight of expectations on my shoulders and the feeling that I would just try and survive.  I still have Ironman Chattanooga on the calendar, after all.

Expo

Expo was great.  It generally is for a WTC event.  There is quite a few vendors and a lot of Pros. King of Wildflower, Jesse Thomas, for example....

Super nice guy!  Great PickyBars too, by the way

Or, perhaps run into Jeff Block and score a pair of super nice Louis G. helmets....

I love expo

After a quick lap around the expo, registration was a breeze.  The WTC really has this whole thing down.  15 minutes later I had my swag bag, wristband, gear bags and was out the door.  I really wanted to drop my run gear bag in T2, but I was early and it was closed.  Oh well, one more thing for the morning....  I got back in the car headed for the hotel.  No need to linger around with 2,500 other type A athletes and stress about how "lean" everyone looked....

Race Morning

Race morning was a snap.  A really good system of check lists made getting my three bags -  morning clothes, bike gear and run gear - packed really easy.  I staged everything by the door the night before, so getting out of the room in the morning was 15 minute project - brush teeth, apply sun block, pre-lube chamois pad, put on tri-kit, casual clothes, then warm-up suit.  Bags and bike in hand, I was out the door at 4:05 AM right after calling valet to bring the car around.  Execution: Flawless.  :)

Pro Tip - When packing with little helpers, pack, label and then put up high!  There is no telling what they will add or subtract when your back is turned.

I had the best parking spot in the joint right across the street from T2 by 4:30.  Breakfast was then a protein bar and 32oz sports drink.  I dropped my run gear in T2 and then eased my bike into the athlete traffic headed North about a mile to the harbor for T1 and the start of the swim.

This year was going to be a little different.  I was starting in wave 6 out of 23 waves.  Last year I was in wave 23 out of 23.  After doing both, I prefer to start early, but it means less time in the AM.  Last year I was starting close to 8:00 AM.  This year, in wave 6, I started at 6:56 AM.  Good news was less time standing around.  Bad news was less time standing around.

Set up was easy and fast.  1 trip to the potty (32oz sports drink for breakfast), 1 trip for an air fill and that was about it.

Pro Tip - Bring "disposable" flip flops.  The ground is cold and I was really happy that I learned my lesson and brought sandals I could toss at the swim start.

The Swim

86 out of 459....  Not too shabby, but 0:03:30 slower than last year....  I probably gotta start swimming earlier in the winter.

With the "Fear and Loathing" riding on my shoulders, I headed for the wave start.  I generally have pre-race gitters, but they usually disappear with the sound of the gun.  But, this morning I had basically convinced myself that my swim was late to the party, the long run was missing in action and my best hope was to just try and arrive smiling at the finish.

I waded into the water and then treaded over to the floating starting line.  When the gun went off, I just settled down and swam.  There was no real urgency or frantic energy.  I just put my head down, sighted the best I could and counted down the floating triangles as they went by.  I seemed to sight reasonably well as evidence by the not-too-crazy Garmin file below.

It was a really beautiful swim at dawn.....

As I chugged along in cruise mode, I started to pass swimmers from waves ahead of me.  That felt pretty good and I surged a bit toward the end.

1:29/100 yards...  :)

Transition #1

This where I really dropped the ball in hindsight.  The transition is really long.  When you get out of the water, you run all the way back to the North and then go south, grabbing your bike on the way out.  I jogged to my bike actually feeling really good!  I was not winded and didn't feel labored or anything.  I had a really nice, easy little swim.  Then for some reason, purely a mental mistake, I seemed to continue floating along through T1.  I lost focus and really had no sense of urgency.  I think I was also consciously aware of how painful a cold ride can be.  I FROZE at IM Lake Tahoe in September and it was miserable.  The weather at IMCal was gonna be great, but getting out of the water it was 48 degrees and I was wet.  

So, I stripped, dried off, wrestled on some arm warmers, wool sooks and gloves over wet skin, put on vest and casually trotted over to the potty (32oz sports drink for breakfast).  After my "quick stop", I was ready to ride.....  0:10:23 later!!!!  That's gonna hurt.....

As I head South toward the red pin, the first little detour is to my bike.  The second is my potty stop near the little building.  You gotta love GPS....  :)

The Bike

 0:02:47 is good enough for the top quartile in the division, but only 5 minutes faster than last year

0:02:47 is good enough for the top quartile in the division, but only 5 minutes faster than last year

The bike was pretty business like and very straight forward.  This is where doing the race before really helps because a huge portion of the bike course is on the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton.  You can't preview it and you certainly can't train on it.  As a result, the advantage goes to people who have done it before.  It just really helps to know what is coming.

Other than about 70% of the coastal stuff, you are on the Marine Corps. base the entire ride.

The first 15 minutes I rode really easy.  Too easy.  After a 10 MINUTE T1, I had pretty much totally controlled my heart rate and breathing before the bike even started.  I cruised through the early twists and turns and didn't do much until we go onto the road after the section behind the strip mall.  I saw a few earlier crashes, so I focused on playing it safe.  A reminder that the best way to have a fast spilt is to keep the bike on its wheels.

Starting in wave 6 this year versus wave 23 last year meant a fairly open bike course.  The year before there was athletes from every wave out in front of me.  This year the course seemed rather sparsely populated.

I kept my head down along the coast and then tried to get myself excited as the course turned Eastward for the heart of Camp Pendleton.  Here the course get's fairly technical and is either up, down or false flat with three kind of steep, short climbs.

The first jagged climb at about mile 28 sorta hits you in the face.  You see it coming from along way out.  The year before, it had people walking.  This year, it was sort of empty.

I felt good breathing and heart rate-wise, but my legs felt heavy.  I struggled to keep my watts up.  My goal was 225 watts for the whole ride, but I just seemed off that pace whenever I looked down at the screen on my Garmin 510.  It's a rather difficult course to ride steady, at least for me, with all the up and down and I just seemed seemed to always be chasing it to hit my 225 NP for the 15 minute increments I was creating.  For people without power, I am sure this is very boring...  The short answer is I road "easier" then planned.  The frustrating part was that not even my best 20 minute power was at my goal.

I was 5 minutes faster than the year before and had a final normal power that was 12 watts higher than 2013, but I was 17 watts off my goal.  Sort of sucks, but I think this is another example of just not being "fired up".

I wish I had more power....  Race rehearsals were better.....

But, on the bright side, I was faster than the year before. And, faster is better right?  At least when it comes to racing....  :)

Strava comparing 2013 to 2014.  I love Strava.com.  I got 31 cups because I beat every segment from the year prior....  :) If I would have produced those extra 17 watts, it could have shaved another 5 minutes off my lap of the base.

The real heart breaker in hindsight is that it got warmer!  I was actually hot and sweaty and the end after taking 10 MINUTES to get dressed up in T1.

And not a cloud in the shy that I can remember....

The last 10 miles or so I started to hustle.  I was aware of my time and finally started thinking that I might just amp up and try and PR the run.  That would be a win for me.  So with the clock in mind, I tried to finish fast, but it's hard at Oceanside.  The last couple miles have some twists and turns and the thing slows way down.  There is even has a no passing zone along the beach.

T2

Just a little trip through the T2 Parking Lot....

T2 was better than T1, but it still sucked.....

0:04:50 was actually 1 minute slower than last year....  :(

I need fewer moving parts.  My cycling stuff came off and then just tossed on a visor and glasses.  I was already wearing my race belt with bib number, per the rules.  The armed Marines want to see a bid before they let a bunch of spandex clad fruits on their turf.  Who can blame them?  

I sat down and changed socks and put my shoes on.  I made a conscious decision to change socks because fresh ones really helped at IM Coeur d'Arlene and IM Tahoe.  But, in hindsight, I think for a half, it was over kill.

The Run

Surprise, surprise, surprise (best "Gomer Pile" voice).  My fastest 70.3 run split ever!

I got onto the course and I felt ok.  I had the usual little tingles and twinges, but I usually shake that within the first mile or so as I settle in.  I focused on just running easy and keeping the pace DOWN.  My hope was to run 3 easy miles and then slowly pick it up.

During the first mile, I started to have this strange feeling in my feet.  All of a sudden it felt like I was standing on a pile of dimes under the balls of both my feet.  I even stopped running and sat on the curb to check my shoes.  I pulled them both off, but couldn't find anything in the shoe or in the sock.  Cramps maybe?  I have had this happen before in one foot and it turned out to be relayed to really tight hamstrings....

I put my shoes back on and tried to just put it out of my mind.  Perhaps it would just go away?  Lucky for me, after the second mile, it did just go away.  I think it must have been some kind of muscle or nerve thing that sorted itself out.  Either that, or it was just in my head?

I would not call the purse "hilly" but it definitely comes in two flavors...

It's basically two laps on a 6 mile out and and back

The stuff right on the water is flat.  That is about half the course and just features a few little "kicker" type hills and the ramps up and down the pier.

The neighborhood stuff is not really long or steep, but it is all either up or down.  There is no flat stuff.  Here is the profile:

I would describe this course as just plain "lumpy"

After my foot thing went away, I was just really focused on running less than 2 hours.  To date, my best 70.3 run split has been 02:02:xx.  Which, was at Oceanside in 2013.  I have run significantly faster in stand alone 1/2 marathons, but the 70.3 run split has been a puzzle in my previous three attempts (Oceanside x 1 and Wildflower x 2).  I thought that if I could PR the run I could find the day to be a success.

I looked at my watch pretty regularly and I knew that if I could keep it around 8:30/mile pace with NO walking, I would be able to go sub-2 hours on the run.  It was not until much later that I connected the dots with the time of day and understood that I might PR the race.

I had not done a 1/2 Ironman since Wildflower in May 2013.  Since that race, I had done two full distance event - Ironman Coeur d'Arlene in June and Ironman Lake Tahoe in September.  Since doing two fulls, the run for the half distance felt pretty good.  Mentally it seemed easier even though it hurt physically.  It's a nice feeling to get to mile 4 and realize you only have 9 left.... not 22.  With that thinking the miles just seem to click away.

The other goal was that I wanted to avoid all walking.  I had been able to run non-stop in Coeur d'Arlene and Tahoe (except aid stations), but to date my three 1/2 Ironman event featured some walking.  I am stoked that I was able to run the whole thing with the exception of a few steps at 5 aid stations.  This was only a couple steps and was more to ensure I got a full drink then to get any sort of rest. It is interesting that you can see where I walked by looking at the cadence graph below.

The first really big dip down to zero is where I stopped to check my shoes for rocks....  :(  Otherwise, it is 5 aid stations and then walking the finish before I hit stop on my watch.

Run pacing was pretty smooth and I am happy that I was able to gut out my best mile at the end.

At one point I looked at my watch and I noticed 01:30:00 as the current split time and I was at mile 10-ish.  That is where I new I could go sub-2hrs if I pushed it and didn't walk.  Then a guy slides up next to me and he wants to talk.  He asks me my goal and I told him I wanted to beat to "5:35:00".  He asked me what time I started and I told him 6:56 AM.  He was a cool guy and was suffer, but he did the quick math for me and said you can hit 5:30:00 if you get in by 12:26 PM.  That news came somewhere around mile 11 and  it really helped me try and finish strong.  

The good news about Oceanside is that you can see the pier from a long way off and the finish is just before the pier, so you just tell yourself....  "Keep going!  There is the pier.  I can almost touch it and the finish is before it!"

Strava thought it was a reasonable effort....

With that thought pinging around in my head, I shot down the the path to the finish while watching others make that terrible "lap 2" turn.  Haha!  I hit the carpet!  Mike Reilly called my name and I was done.  05:30:20!  An 8 minute PR.  My best 1/2 Iron run split and I felt really good!

Final thoughts...

In total it was a really great day, but it underlined for me how important execution is versus pure fitness.  Yes, I was able to PR the race and yes, I am really, really pleased, but I gave away so much by simply floating through the first couple hours wasting so much time in transition.  In hindsight, had I not PR'ed and missed it due to transitions, I would have been really pissed.

At the end of the day, this race did a lot for my confidence going into to 2014.  Without to much effort or suffering, I was able to vastly improve my bike, even thought I didn't meet my own expectations, and I was able to over exceed on a run that had me very nervous.

After the race I felt really good.  I was able to eat, I was able to relax, I was able to use the bathroom.  I probably left some time on the table, but for an early season race, I will take it.  These results really have me fired up for next year and to do even better at Vineman this Summer.  I think with similar fitness and better execution on this course a 05:15:00 is not out of reach for me....

Thanks for reading!