Thursday, April 2, 2015

Ironman 70.3 California Race Report

The race that kicks off the North American Ironman season (and attracts literally everyone on the west coast) has come and gone and, for me, it was interesting to say the least.  Before I get into the whats and whys of everything - I want to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the race.  It was my first time racing Oceanside (under the Ironman banner - I've done Lifetime's Olympic course on - roughly - the same venue) and it was a heck of an experience.  To anyone who has ever been on the fence as to whether or not it's worth it - it absolutely is.

As to the race itself for me - the short story is that my day didn't go as planned and I didn't perform nearly as well as I wanted to.  That, in turn, falls squarely on my own shoulders for a myriad of reasons that I'll touch on as this blog progresses.  With that said, I took away some good stuff from the race that I think will make me better down the road.  Also, this wasn't an "A Race" or anything for me and it accomplished it's job of giving me an indication of where I'm at, what I need to work on, and how much work I have to put in to reach where I want to be.  So I'm happy overall with how things went, all things considered, even though I was way over where I wanted to be results wise.  So, while this whole post may sound bitter and whiny, keep in mind I'm still stoked that I was able to get out there and have fun - regardless of whatever the result was.

Everything all packed up and ready for the drive down to North County.  Bike - check, transition bag that holds everything and then some - check, stroller - check!  We're good to go!

Was really pleased with the bike set up heading into the race - even though it looks a bit overloaded for a half.

Pre-race layout shot with my semi-matching team gear.

As for the race itself:

Transition set up was a breeze.  It was a single transition race and all you needed was a bag to set up all your stuff on.  Security was easy to get in and out - but strict enough that you didn't have people in the area who weren't supposed to be there.  Great all around experience.
The weather wasn't too bad either.  It wasn't ridiculously cold that morning, and the ride to transition from where I was staying was about as easy as it could be (my wife and I were at a condo about a 5 minute walk from the finish line) - so getting there in the morning was perfect.  Set up went smooth and I was pretty quickly ready to race.

Getting going in transition was easy - and the Orange Mud towel that I use works like a breeze for changing.

Short story on the swim:  It sucked for me and I had one of the worst swims I've had in a triathlon here.
Long story:  Towards the end of last year the fruits of the labor I put in to improve my swim were beginning to show.  I was having great times for me in my workouts and had some races where I was able to put together times that were acceptable and not a gigantic hindrance for me reaching my goals.  Then, suddenly, it all stopped.  Why did it stop?  The answer is simple:  Because *I* stopped. I stopped putting in the effort on the swim, and - in fact - stopped swimming altogether.  It's like my wife said after the race when I told her how bad my swim was - she said "Well of course it was going to be bad.  What did you expect?  You haven't been swimming!"  And, while that's brutally simple, it makes perfect sense.  No one to blame here but myself and this is the obvious area where I need to make some vast improvements.

In any case, the swim is an open water start (swim to the start buoy and start racing with your wave when you hear the horn) and was pretty straight forward.  It was basically an out and back that wasn't overly complicated.

In terms of how I performed, nothing really held me back here other than how slow I was swimming. At the turn-around buoy it goes diagonal towards the route you swim back on - and I did follow someone who made a 90 degree angle thinking the next buoy was over there.  So, while I lost some time following him, it wasn't anything significant and my main problem is simply that I wasn't trained for the swim and hadn't put in the work to put together a good swim here.
My swim ended up 48:07 - which is pathetic and agonizingly slow, even for me.

Hopping out of the swim and getting into transition.

One of my favorite things about the Zone 3 wetsuit is how easily it comes off.  I've had problems with this on some of the suits I've used in the past and it isn't a problem here.

Out of the water I started the long march/run to transition to get on the bike.  My T1 time was 5:43 and that was due to a combination of things that delayed me.  I wasn't too tired from the swim (to the contrary - I actually felt quite fresh).  However - the (slightly) overzealous transition staff were doing waaaaaaaaay too good of a job keeping things clean.  My bike top (which I laid out on top of my transition bag next to my bike shoes) was put away into my bag by one of the volunteers attempting to keep the transition area clean, and I looked through other people's transition areas before figuring that out. Once I got that done, I strapped everything on, put my jacket on (which was a lot tougher to get on wet than I thought), and took off on the bike.

Coming out of transition to start the bike.

Making sure everything is sorted and my shoes are all the way on before dropping into aero and taking off.

The bike was going pretty well.  I felt really good with my position and was feeling equally as good with my conditioning.  I was passing all of the people who swam a lot faster than me and felt really good about making up a lot of that lost time on the bike.

Going pretty good somewhere on the course.

For all the stuff on the bike, it appeared to be nice and tidy aerowise - although I was up a bit on my position (not sure why at this particular point).  Possible this was later in the race because the front tire appears to have lost a bit of air.

Until mile 10.

At mile 10 - there is this huge bump/divet/road split type thing and I wasn't paying attention and just rode right into it.  As soon as I did - everything on my bike launched off and my front tire made a hissing noise similar to how I imagine the Michelin man would make if you stabbed it with a sword. No bueno. I pulled over  and went back to get my bottles and tool kit that had launched off of my bike (one of the bottles was actually my spare tubular tire holder).  Like Hercules using all his strength to hold up the pillars of the temple (or was that Samson?  I have no idea) - I grabbed the tubular and tugged with all my might. Pulling, prodding, tearing, doing everything I could until it was finally off.  My replacement tire went on like a breeze and after a couple of minutes of careful riding to make sure it was seated and in place - I was good to go and not worrying about it anymore. Total time lost:  15 minutes or so.  And, like an idiot, I felt I could I could make that time up by laying the hammer down.  So I did.  I cranked down hard and went as hard I could go hoping to catch up to the people that passed me (although I had no idea who those people were, as I didn't pay attention - I was just trying to get back to a reasonable time).
I paid for that.  By the time the hills came (around mile 30ish or so), I had pretty much already cooked my legs and it became a ton of work just for me to get up the hills.  It was right about at this point that I knew the day was more or less going to be a wash and that any hope I had of overcoming my horrific swim was pretty much done.
This was all but confirmed after the "speed trap" hill.  There is a hill you go down where they limit the speed to 25 miles per hour and do not allow any passing (and they determine this via using timing wires at the beginning and the end of the speed zone and retroactively disqualify people who go over the time or pass).  On this hill, the guy in front of us (obviously terrified of getting disqualified), braked down to about 18 miles per hour going down this hill and created a long line of people behind him coasting down waiting for the speed zone to end so they could pass.  A bit frustrating, but at least no one in our group got DQed.  However, as soon as I passed him (after the "speed trap" ended), my tire "bumped" and - yet again - I got a flat.  A small shard of glass was stuck in there.  Except this time I did not have a spare tubular (I used the one on my previous flat).  I was so frustrated I wanted to throw my bike over the hill and just walk home.  However, some kind, kind, kind soul on a newer Trek Speed Concept (I didn't catch your race number - but if you're reading this - CONTACT ME and I'll hook you up with some goodies from my sponsors!) slowed down and asked if I needed help.  I told him I was on tubular and he yelled "Try this!" and tossed me one of those mini flat patch kits.  I used the cement in the kit and put the patch over where the glass had embedded itself in the tire (I actually put some cement in the hole as well) and pumped it up and it held!  Well, it didn't really hold - but the air it leaked was slow enough that it allowed me to finish the bike leg without having to stop and repump it or anything.

Again - not sure where this was on the course but thinking this is at the top of one of the hills.

Coming into the transition area, fully upright and out of aero.  At this point I just wanted to be off the bike.

I thought the bike course, other than my mishaps and mismanagement on it, was awesome.  The course has a perfect array of hills and flat sections, and didn't rely on loops or anything.  With that said, there's a couple things I'd want to change about it.  First, I'd get rid of the rule requiring a race number to be worn during the bike leg.  Part of me thinks that this is just something that's being carried over after the USAT rule change and they (the WTC or Camp Pendleton) just don't want to change with it.  Secondly, while I fully realize the reasoning and purpose of the "speed zone" on the course - I don't necessarily agree with it.  I don't think the hill is that technical, steep, or otherwise hard to navigate to the point where it warrants putting a speed limit on it.  Lots of people were inadvertently DQed on that hill because they couldn't control their speed (i.e. they clocked in at 27 mph or whatnot).  Rules are rules, and they knew it in advance - but I just think it's taking things slightly to the extreme.  Last, and certainly not least, is the ride to transition.  When you get to transition - they keep you on your bike as you ride through a path going through transition, dismounting at the other end.  When I came through - there were ~6 other bikes with me and it became a mess of people riding at 10 mph not sure where they were going or what was happening.  I just see a huge potential for disaster there, although I didn't hear of any incidents at this race.

My total bike time was 2:58:33 - which is MASSIVELY disappointing to me on its face - but a lot less disappointing when you consider I had to deal with two stops and basically cruised
the last 1/4 of the bike leg or so.  So while pretty much everything that slowed me down was MY FAULT (i.e. mismanagement of race strategy, not paying attention to the circumstances which put me in the situation to get flats, lack of training leaving me tired out after going to hard, etc) - they all seem fairly easily correctable and I came away somewhat happy with my performance here.  My equipment set up was pretty good in my mind, my bike rode beautifully, position felt great - it was just one of those bike legs where things just didn't piece together for me.  Which is fine, it happens sometimes.

On a side note - I wanted to give a quick note about my hydration set up.  The Torhans Aero 30 was perfect for a race like this and I was really happy to have switched over to it.  I hadn't used it before the race (except on the trainer), so I was a bit worried about splashing (having read reviews from other people that there was a lot of splash back) - but I didn't have any issues whatsoever with it.  Personally, I couldn't be more happy with it.  It may not be for everyone - but it's worth looking into as an option if you're toying around with front end hydration setups.

Rolling into T2 (via the awkward "ride through transition" that they had us do), I was ready to put the bad bike leg and horrific swim behind me.  My initial thought was "Ok - if you throw down a great half marathon split - you're good to go with a semi-decent time.  Let's do this."

Well, that was delayed a hair during transition.  Upon arriving back to transition, I found my run stuff gone (shoes, hat, glasses, etc).  My wetsuit was also gone.  "WTF?  Where is all my stuff?"  Well, it's in my bag, of course.  The overzealous transition cleaning crew struck again - and not only did they put stuff in my bag - but they put stuff in all the individual pockets (i.e. my transition bag has areas for my wetsuit, goggles, glasses, shoes, etc - and they put everything back into it's proper place).  While I appreciate the tidiness, I do have a few problems with that (namely - please don't go through all my stuff while I'm away racing - but also the fact that now I have to dig everything out before continuing).  Anyway, I got suited up and ready to run but couldn't find my run number.  After freaking out for about 15 seconds or so - I realized I was wearing it (because of the requirement to have it on during the bike).  I laughed at myself and started running out of transition and onto the run course.

My plan for the run is how I approach any run off the bike in a triathlon.  Take the first half mile 30 seconds slower than what you want your race pace to be and then slowly build to race pace over the next half mile and hold it till you finish.  Sometimes this doesn't always work for me - but I usually fine that it allows me to shake out my legs pretty good without falling apart early.

Run started off fairly well...

Then got worse and eventually just became a jog.

Didn't work this time.  Not because of the pace or anything, but mainly because this is where carrying the extra 15 pounds or so REALLY has an impact.   My running had been pretty good in the lead up to this event, but I hadn't done a competitive half marathon (mostly shorter stuff at race pace).  Everything added up on the run - my weight, the fact that my heart wasn't really in it despite me wanting it to be, the bad race up until that point, the heat, the skipped training days, etc etc - I could go on and on.  Regardless, by the second mile I was just in cruise mode and aiming just to finish.

Which I did.  And, while it definitely wasn't what I wanted and while I'm pretty disappointed at how everything transpired for me in this race, I'm still stoked to cross the finish line and happy to finish.  Run time ended up being 1:44:35 - which is the slowest half marathon I've ever run (not counting my half split from Vineman last year where I walked the whole race).

When the tri suit unzips and #burtreynolds comes out - you know it's a hot day.

The course, however, was beautiful.

Not a lot to smile about on the run - especially with my gut hanging over my race belt - but my BSR teammates on the course racing and those cheering and spectating brought a huge smile to my face.

A couple of great things from the run:
-The on course support was awesome and the volunteers were top notch.  There were more aid stations than you could shake a stick at - so no one would ever be in a position of not being able to get through the run course due to nutrition.
-The crowd was awesome.  Nothing like an Ironman where complete strangers are rooting you on and pushing you to finish.

On the last 2 miles or so, I picked up the pace a bit and just pushed in for a finish.  Which meant zipping up and putting the #burtreynolds away.

Coming down the finish chute to the finish line.

So I finished in 5:41:28 - which, all things considered, isn't THAT bad even though it's way more time than I wanted to be on the course.  I knew I wouldn't PR this race (I wasn't in the shape to do it and this wasn't the course to do it on), but I was hoping to break 5 hours.  I feel if I tackled this course again with a bit better preparation (i.e. actually swimming, not carrying all of this extra weight with me, not having mishaps on the bike) - I could probably do that.  So I'll hang my hat on that, smile about the race, and live to fight another day.

Looking extra triumphant here - although the time on the clock is about an hour higher than I'd like.

Disappointing race for me - but still had fun, enjoyed it, and learned a lot.

A special thank you to everyone that's supported me - the Big Sexy Racing triathlon team, all of my sponsors/supporters (see the banner on the right with links to everyone - check them out!  They're all great companies and helped get me to where I am in endurance sports), my coach Lori Abbey (who put together a great plan to get me ready for this race that I just didn't live up to), and last - but certainly not least - my wife and family and friends who put up with my training BS day in and day out and still supported me through the race regardless of the disappointing outcome.

So, things I took away from this race (in a summary nutshell):
- I'm at the age where I can no longer out-train a bad diet.  Eating tons of crap day in and day out isn't going to work anymore no matter how hard I train - so I have to clean things up a bit.
- I have to buckle down and be more consistent with my training.  The missed session here, the missed session there, combined with the sessions that I HAVE to miss (due to family stuff, emergencies, etc) all add up.  I just have to buckle down and get it all in without making excuses.
- It's time to put in a serious effort into my swimming.  I've nearly completely regressed from the training that led to a 1:10:xx (by my watch, the chip time was 1:14:xx) split at Vineman.  Hell, I almost equaled that at that race going half the distance!  So more pool time and more beach time is needed for sure.
- Regardless of the bike split result - I'm actually pretty pleased with the bike time and it shows that I'm making strides finally with my cycling leg.  Still a lot of room for improvement but, all things considered, I'm pretty happy with the upward trend.

Medals don't mean a lot to a lot of people - but I love them, and this one from Ashworth Awards is outstanding.  Really love their work.