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Monday, April 6, 2015

Ironman 70.3 California 2015 Race Report -



One of the defining images of California iconography, aside from the beaches and surfers, is certainly the insane amounts of traffic flowing into and out of our overcrowded cities. It's an accurate portrayal of most of the populated areas of California, from San Diego through Los Angeles if you ask me, and if anyone wishes to experience a simulation of the overcrowded state of California in race form, then Ironman California 70.3 is your venue.

My hometown race was the most crowded race I have yet experienced. I mean scary crowded. From the start of the swim to the finish line, piles upon piles of racers. This had a lot to do with the fact that there were upwards of 3,000 registrants. It also had to do with where I started in the race. I was in the very last wave.

Fortunately, I have a Supersonic Speed Cycle.

My first race with the Dimond and it performed beautifully, navigating the technical course and dodging throngs of other racers. It was in it's element, and appeared willing and happy to find its path through the masses. But more on that later.

As much as I hate crowds, I have to say that I love this venue. I get to sleep in my own bed, it's only a 30 minute drive down the coast from my house, half of the course is along the bike route I typically ride for training rides, and we get to see a part of California that not a lot of civilians get to see - the backside of Camp Pendleton. Plus, you just can't beat the weather, which this year was absolutely perfect for racing.

This would be my first race of the season, which is loosely packed with two half Ironmans and two fulls. In the offseason, I worked on my swim... a lot. I also worked on my bike... a lot. I suppose I worked on everything a lot because in the weeks leading up to the race I was logging 50+ mile running weeks as well. In the pool I was doing a lot of short intervals with short rest to try to increase my speed. I had a lot of success in increasing my paces in the pool, but I wasn't sure how it would translate in open water.

My goals in this race were to a) swim close to a 1:30/100 yd pace for the 1.2 mile swim (about a 31-32 min swim), and b) hammer the hell out of the bike to see how fast I could go. In other words I wanted to try to blow myself up on the run to see what it would take. If I could blast out on the bike and still have a respectable run time, I would therefore increase my tolerance on the bike. I had hoped this would translate into about a 2:25 bike split. A large part of me just wanted to see what this bike could do though.
Dimond Racked and Race Ready
For the run I didn't have many expectations, except that I hoped to do a 1:35 or under. I have a lot of trouble running "fast" and was hoping for a bit of a breakthrough. In 2 of my previous 3 70.3's I had done a 1:40 half marathon. I had hoped to beat that to give me a bit more confidence that I could run a 3:30 or faster IM marathon come May.

From a nutrition standpoint I wanted to go a bit minimal. I packed a concentrated bottle of 700 calories of glucose formula with about 1400 mg sodium (planned for 2.5 hours) along with a 7 oz bottle of Red Bull for the bike. On the run I would live off the Gatorade and Red Bull on course. 

Swim: 34:01

The pre race routine was uneventful. A little fog, a little breeze, a lot crowded, but nothing special. As I mentioned, I was in the last wave, which started about an hour after the race start so I had a lot of time to just hang around and watch the pros start. Being last does have its perks, though. Porta potty lines were empty for the first time in my triathlon history (if not "slightly" used).

I had a lot of nerves about the swim, but not because I feared the swim necessarily, but more so because I really wanted my improvement to translate in the open water. Nothing would have disheartened me more than to look at the clock after the swim and see 38:XX again showing no improvement. 

The waves of racers slowly made their way onto the course, until the 35-39 year old male age group started to wade knee deep in the water at the swim start. As we got ready to start, the fog lifted, which was a nice sign of things to come.

Weather before our wave start...

Weather during our wave start!
I positioned myself at the front of the line on the far right side, wanting to avoid being caught behind people as much as possible and avoiding the notion that I was going to draft some people. I recognize now, after a number of races, that the draft effect in swimming is really only effective if you can go out hard and stay with the fast swimmers. I'm not a sprinter, so I couldn't possibly hang with the fast guys, even at the beginning. So the best thing that drafting would do for me is get me behind someone is is about as fast (slow) as me, but possibly keep me with a much slower pack. I decided to just do my own race.

When we went out I went out hard (for me) and still recognized that the lead pack of people was moving away quickly. But I wasn't getting passed, which led me to believe that I positioned myself well. I stayed on the right hand side of the group, following the hypotenuse to the first turn buoy. I had no contact all the way out to that first buoy and then made the turn toward the breakwater.

It was at this point that it started getting crowded. Unfortunately, I had just found my rhythm when I started running into a wall of people in the form of the previous waves mixed with faster people from our wave. I began to get kicked and punched a bit, and even had somebody grab my ankle (I STILL don't understand the reasoning behind people doing this. It is simply a jerk move shielded by the anonymity of the crowded swim). 

A few times at this point I had to stop and regroup to find an open space. I figured it would only waste more energy fighting under the water for position when I could more quickly find a better line. As we left the relative protection of the harbor and entered into the channel, it started to get a bit bumpier, which caused a number or people to get panicky. I ran into a few people stopped in the middle of the swim, floating on their backs, or swimming sideways to get to a paddle boarder. Once to the turnaround buoy's, I took the outermost line against the jetty to get some protection from the chop, get away from people, and find the shortest line. Fortunately at this point I was alone and it felt faster on the way back in. 

I focused on my turnover rate, making sure that I was between 60-70 strokes/min, vs. 40-50 in previous races. As I approached the swim exit, I saw a wall of racers just standing and blocking the exit. I believe they were waiting for the "unzippers" to unzip their wetsuits. As I maneuvered my way through the people, I felt my wetsuit get unzipped. Whoever did that had an amazing grab! As I looked at the clock I saw 37:xx and got a little discouraged. As I ran through the chute, I realized that the clock started 1 hour and 4 minutes before my wave start. So the real swim time was around 33:xx (officially 34:01). Considering the traffic on the swim, I'm happy with the progress. A 4 minute PR!

I ran hard into T1 and felt surprisingly fresh. Nothing significant here, just that it was a really long run. Then off on the bike.

Bike: 2:24 - 23.33 Mph

The plan was to bike hard and see what I could do, but I would have to wait before I could hammer down. It would be at least a few miles before I would have room enough to make any sort of move. Most of the beginning of the course is pretty technical, curving around greater than 90 degree turns to get onto Camp Pendleton. With the heavy traffic it would have made things extremely dangerous for everyone if I went into hero mode this early. Instead I sat back and let my legs get used to spinning.

Once onto the base I could finally start making passes, but the crowds didn't really ever let up on the bike. Fortunately, this was my home course, and I was riding a Dimond. This bike handles so amazingly well I can't even describe it. It just made putting a little extra power in that much easier. With control being much simpler, I could focus more on keeping the tempo high and maintaining a solid pace.

I didn't know what to expect on the second half of the course, since it went through a restricted area of the base, but I knew the first half very well, which was advantageous, since I could anticipate the false flats, the punchy climbs, the faster areas, and even the potholes. This led to a pretty fast bike split through this area. Going through San Onofre was a blast as it was fast and flat, with plenty of room to flex some bike muscles. I knew that I could put down some high power here because the return on the effort is huge on these flat sections. I made a lot of passes here.

One of the many no passing zones came at the end of the San Onofre section before we turned onto Christianitos. As I settled in behind a rider, who was going pretty slow, we were passed by two other racers. The first time I was passed in the race and it was illegally. Once past this short no passing zone I was able to open it back up get back into my pacing. God I love this bike. Did I mention I love this bike?


Above photos by David Petty Photography - www.davidpettyphotography.com
Here's where the course became unknown to me. I was racing literally in my backyard, but I could have been racing in Nashville. Everything from here on out would be new to me. It started out rolling as we went through Christianitos, and then made a sharp right to start climbing up Basilone. This was an amazing scenery, and for those moments on the course I wished I could be among the pros so that I could enjoy this course without the crowds. The untouched foothills of California are absolutely gorgeous, and it makes me sad to think of how much this has been destroyed over the rest of the state to add more condos, office buildings, outlet malls (I'm talking to you, San Clemente!), and freeways. Alright, off my soap box.

The hills were killer, and I wasn't prepared for the two massive climbs we would have to take on. Regardless, I mashed through them and made it to the downhill sections where I could make up some of that lost speed.

After the second big climb, there was a no passing zone where a 25 mph speed limit was enforced through radar and timing mats. Everyone was well aware of this zone, as someone was killed here in 2001. Despite this, I was passed yet again by two racers (only the second time I was passed, and again illegally and dangerously). Once through this zone, it was essentially downhill for the remainder of the race with a bit of a headwind. But I put my head down and hammered through to the end.

For the last few miles, we faced the same meandering course that we did at the beginning, so I settled my heart rate a bit and was able to recover for a little while before getting to T2. Since we entered transition in a no passing zone, it was a perfect opportunity to bring the heart rate down and get fresh for the run.

Transition 2 was uneventful as well, and I was able to quickly get onto the run course.

 Run: 1:40, 7:38 min/mile

I had left T1 in 53rd place in my age group and entered T2 in 8th. As I ran out of T2 I noticed how great I felt and looked at my pace. It showed about a 6:50 min/mile. I reassessed how I felt and realized that this pace felt really good, but decided to settle into a 7-7:15 pace instead so I didn't burn my matches too early. I had a really good shot at a top 10 performance in a really competitive race, and I didn't want to squander that by being too aggressive. In retrospect, I probably should have maintained the momentum and kept the pace strong. After all, the aggressive bike seemed to work this time, and I felt good on the run.

At mile 1 I grabbed some Gatorade and continued to dig, over and above the pier and on through miles 2 and 3. At mile 3 I decided to grab some Red Bull and immediately cramped up in my side. I tried to run through it, but it was one of those stabbing pains which I couldn't tolerate. I had to walk, which was demoralizing since I was only at mile 3. I thought of solutions as I was being passed by concerned athletes asking if I was ok. I decided to take a salt pill. Unfortunately, I wouldn't know if this was going to work for a while since it had to work its way through my system.

I'm still not sure what happened, but I have a feeling that I took in too much nutrition too early. I grabbed Gatorade at miles one and two, and I think I overdid it. Less is more, and I need to follow that mantra more often. Taking in too much in these races can often do more harm than good.

After about a half mile I was able to run again, but my pace never really recovered to my original awesome pace. I had to fight through the rest of the half marathon to maintain about a 7:30 pace. Doing the math, it wasn't likely that I was going to hit m goal for a 1:35. I was constantly self-assessing, making sure that I was not dehydrated, calorie deficient, or about to cramp. As I ran through the last two miles I was able to steadily increase my pace until the final few hundred yards, where I saw two other racers ahead of me. The first one I knew was in my age group. The other I wasn't so sure, but I decided that I wanted to make it a sprint finish and try to pass them both.

I succeeded in passing the guy who was in my age group and then increased my pace even more. I was able to pass the next guy just before the finish. Even though I didn't meet my time goal on the run, the fact that I was able to sprint out the finish and pass two other people was very redeeming.

I ended up running a 1:40 half marathon, which is the very same time that I ran on 2 of my previous 3 half Ironmans. While I didn't necessarily improve on my run, I was proud of this finish considering my strong bike leg.



More photos by David Petty Photography (www.davidpettyphotography.com)
My total race time was 4:44, good enough for 12th place out of 300+ athletes in my age group, and 107th overall out of about 3000 athletes overall. My best finish for a 70.3 to date, and a PR by 13 minutes. I really enjoy this distance, and want to commit myself to doing a lot more of these races next year while trying to get faster.

I have a lot of thanks to go out, especially to my wife and family for always supporting me. I want to thank Smart Triathlon Training for their guidance and effective training programs (my improvements would not be possible without them!). Thanks to Dimond Bikes for making the longest middle portion of this race so dang enjoyable. Their service and support is as amazing as their bike.

 And a big thanks to David Petty Photography for taking some awesome pictures along the course. He took some great shots of a lot of athletes, and if you're looking for shots of you, you may find them at his website. In my opinion, these are much better than the FinisherPix shots.

Next on the schedule will be Ironman Texas on May 16. I'm jumping right into my first full of the season, and it should be a hot and humid one. Hopefully by then I will have my nutrition dialed in! Until next time.