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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ironman 70.3 Oceanside 2016 Race Report

The 2016 race season has officially kicked off for me. It has been a long offseason, since I haven't raced since August at Ironman Boulder. I had planned to take an extended break to work on my run, since it was what I struggled with in my races last year.

Unfortunately, I didn't quite get the consistency of running down due to illnesses. I was hit pretty hard early in the year with sickness. First a respiratory cold, then a stomach bug, then the respiratory cold again, then the stomach bug again. This took me out for much of January and early February. Any run gains I had made seemed to have been lost when I started to train consistently again.

I had to expedite my training leading up to Oceanside due to the weeks of illness, so I accepted the base of fitness I had and focused on long endurance at the high aerobic levels. Then I would go into a short two week taper leading to Oceanside. Not ideal, but at least it would kick start my season.

I had a lot of emotions coming into this race. It takes place in my backyard where I do all my training. It would be the first time I would repeat a 70.3, and last year's performance was by far a personal best for me, finishing in 4:44 and 12th in my age group. While I tried to tell myself not to focus on the results, just to have fun and make it a training day (after all, with all of the sickness I didn't have the fitness I had last year), it's hard to not want to compete against your previous results!

Since this was the first race in a long time, and because of the reasons above, I was more nervous for this race than many of my previous races. But when I got nervous, I was able to calm myself by reinforcing that the goal of this race was to focus on strategy and pacing. My tendency last year was to overbike and then blow up on the run. I wanted to see how it felt to UNDER bike and feel good on the run.

The goal was to swim out hard and try to stay with a lead group at least for a while. Then I would cycle at about Ironman pace or a little higher and set up a strong run, which I would feel out as I went.

This year I was really looking forward to starting in one of the earliest waves. In 2015, I started in the last wave, which led to a lot of congestion on the swim, a lot of passing on the bike (which caused a lot of energy to be wasted). Starting in an earlier wave meant a cleaner swim, and a lonely bike (just the way I like it).

Here's how it went:

Swim - 33:51 - New PR

By the time I got to the water's edge, my nerves were calmed. This was pretty typical for me, since most of my nerves are centered around just wanting to start. Now that time was coming. The water was cold, but I had prepared for that, so it wasn't shockingly so. As we sat by the buoy line waiting to start, there was a relatively strong current that seemed to be pulling us out a bit. We had to work a little to stay behind the start line.

It's always an interesting dynamic at the start of these races. Our heads above water, we are all very encouraging of one another, shouting to each other to have a great race, or laughing with each other. But the second that blow horn goes off, it's every man for himself with lots of contact and fighting for space.

I lined up to the far right of the buoy expecting to swim a little wide to avoid the contact, and settle into the buoy line once it thinned out. Once the horn sounded, I gave a quick sprint to stay with the feet of the first row of swimmers. I happened to end up right between a large gentleman on my left, and a very thin gentleman on my right. The man on my right had me a bit worried, as his stroke was very aggressive and wide. More of a scrappy swinging motion. One of those swinging arms to the face would likely break my nose! Since I breathed to the right, I was able to keep an eye on this guy as his sledgehammer hands splashed within inches of my face.

The gap began to narrow and I felt now would be the time to try to serge to the front of this group. Having this instinct makes me happy, since it shows that my confidence is building with regard to my swim. Previously, I would have resigned my position and stopped for a second to find another path behind them.

The surge worked, and I was now in open water as we approached the first turn buoy. The current assist seemed to be significant, since we got to that first turn buoy in no time at all.

Heading into the open water of the channel, we began to feel the swells of the large waves entering the harbor. It made swimming smooth a little more difficult, so that was a cue to increase the turnover and get more strokes in. I was starting to get into the mix with previous waves at this point, and I didn't see many people with light blue caps anymore (my wave). As we rounded the final turn buoy, the fastest guys in the next wave started to catch me. I tried to stick with their pace. No dice.

As we hit the boat launch area for the swim exit, I stood up very easily and was able to find my legs with no problem. I had a solid pace running through transition passing a lot of the people in front of me. I still felt energized, which was a new feeling for me after the swim. This was by far the most comfortable swim I have had in a race to date. Maybe I'm turning over a new leaf.

Bike: 2:29:17 - 4th fastest bike split in Age Group. Moved up to 5th place in 35-39, the highest place I have been in to date

An uneventful transition had led to the start of the bike. I had thought it would be cold for the first part, but it turned out to be rather comfortable. I took the pace really easy getting out to Pendleton, with all of the twists and turns and uneven surfaces. Again, I was really stoked to be in an early wave. Instead of hundreds of people in front of me which I had a chance of passing, I only had about 40-50 (obviously not counting pros!). This made for a very clean and uneventful ride.

Through the campground, I was caught by a couple of guys "working together". Once they passed, I was able to stay at legal distance from them while watching them drafting for most of that section. I noticed that my heart rate was on the very low side, so I was faced with the choice of staying there and giving up speed, or making a huge surge, enough to drop them (I didn't want them to start drafting off of me). I decided to surge, which I did for about 5-10 minutes or so until I was clear again.

Much of the rest of the first half of the ride was paced very conservatively. When I reached the gate at Christianitos, I did a self check. I was feeling great, and decided to be a bit more aggressive on the backside where the hills were located. The climb up the first large hill on was much easier than last year, again attributed to the lack of congestion. Being somewhat alone, I could pace myself up the hill and not have to surge around other people.

The downhills were fun and fast, aside from the 25 mph zone, where I rode the brakes to about 22 mph, just to be safe. Around this time, I started to catch some of the female pros. Another cool side effect of starting in an earlier wave!

Riding down Vandegrift back toward Oceanside, I backed off the power once again to recover a bit from the hills. I was caught by a couple of other people, including a fellow Dimond owner, who shouted "nice bike" as he flew by me. Into transition with a time about 5 minutes slower than last year. However, this seemed to be consistent with the other bike times in my age group. Both years, I had the 4th fastest bike split, but this year was a bit slower. The conditions didn't seem too much different, but I have a theory that perhaps it has something to do with the congestion on the course. Since our age group spent more effort surging to make passes last year, perhaps that is the reason we were faster. Who knows!

Run: 1:36:44 - Run PR

Transition was once again a breeze, aside from shoving Vaseline down my pants in front of a large crowd of people. But I've experienced the alternative and it isn't pretty. It's been my experience that if you're standing around the area of transition, you're bound to see something pretty gross. As a spectator, that's to be expected!

Running out of transition I felt in control of my run. A dialed back pace from what I felt I could run. Visions of mile 3 last year rushed through my head. It was at that time that I experienced painful side stitches that reduced me to walking for a few minutes. I had attributed that to too much nutrition in the early part of the race combined with too fast a pace. I didn't want to repeat that experience.

Again, I was all alone, which was an interesting experience on the run. The only people that were with me were the pros that zoomed by me every once and a while, which was really cool. It's a strange feeling running without seeing anyone in front of you. I had a constant feeling like I had to ask someone if I was going the right direction.

Through the first aid station, I grabbed only water and kept going. Still felt good an in control. I was trying to maintain a 7:15 pace, not too fast and pretty easy to sustain. Sure enough, as I approached mile 3-4, I started getting the stitches again. I backed off the pace a bit and was able to keep moving, but it was still frustrating knowing that I could run faster if it weren't for the side pains. They stuck with me even after the turnaround, and intensified as I passed through mile 5. I had to walk down the hill to get my heart rate down and get them to go away. Finally, they subsided, only sticking around intensely enough to remind me that they would destroy me if I attempted to pick up the pace.

At the halfway point, I started to feel much better, so the goal was going to become "don't slow down". In fact, just as an experiment, I wanted to see if I could push the pace a bit more and then walk the aid stations. The goal was to still average the 7:15-7:30 pace overall, but through a combination of 7 minute miles and walking through aid stations. This worked really well as I continued to feel totally in control.

Much of the rest of the run was uneventful, just trying to keep a controlled run without it getting ugly. Sure enough, I went through the finish line with a 3:30 PR over last year's half marathon, fully 10 minutes faster than the half marathon at Boulder 70.3, and even a few seconds faster than my half marathon PR (which was run while I was sick with one of those stomach bugs). Overall time was 4:47:23, which I was very pleased with, considering the tough start to the training year. It was good enough for 8th place in my age group, which was shocking to me. This was my first time in an Ironman branded race breaking the top 10. Especially at a race that boasts itself as one of the more competitive races, I am tremendously grateful.

From what I understand, even though I didn't stick around for the World Championship roll down ceremony (I can't really afford the trip to Australia in September), I heard that the slots rolled down well past my placing, which means if I were to have chosen to, I could have raced in the 70.3 World Championship this year. That's pretty awesome!

Now as I spend a week off before starting my build toward Ironman Vineman, I have a renewed drive to train well this season and to train smart, with goals to challenge myself and simply give the best of myself. I'm looking forward to what the rest of the year holds.

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