Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ironman 70.3 California: The Race

Part I: The Race Itself

At some point in every race, there comes a time when you regret ever getting involved with endurance sports. That's part of the race, and you suck it up and plow through it. Very few of those Moments of Misery make it into the Hall of fame however. Those are the times when you no longer care about your finishing time, or even finishing the race at all, or even life itself. You just want it to be over. In my Misery Hall of Fame I have Mile 19 of the L.A. Marathon, and Mile 6 of the Wildflower run. And after this weekend, I have a third inductee. More on that later.

I had some drama right from the very start. The age-groupers were lining up by swim cap color, and I wasn't sure what time my wave started. There was some confusion because I think I raced in the 35-39 group, but was given a swim cap for the 40-44 group. So I was looking for other purple caps like mine when one of the volunteers grabbed me and started pulling me along the chute. "Cross the mat! Cross the mat!" I wasn't sure why he was so excited to have me step over the timing mat but I did. He then started yelling "they're in the water! They're in the water!" I looked out and saw a sea of purple swim caps at the starting line, about 75-100 yards off shore. Well of course I freaked. Normally you get a little bit of time to stretch out a bit in the water, fix your goggles, etc. I had no time for any of that and raced out to the rest of the group. I got to the back of the pack about 5 seconds before they started.

I heard plenty of horror stories about how cold and rough the Oceanside swim could be, but I have to admit the temperature was pretty much perfect. It was a complete non-issue. The surface was a bit rough as we got out into deeper water and it was a little disorienting (especially for someone who can't swim a straight line in calm water) but I managed. I will say that this was one of the more polite groups of swimmers I've been with. I was only kicked in the jaw once, and that was more of a toe-tap than anything. And when I was grabbed, they didn't try to pull me under and swim over me. I'm not sure how many waves caught up with me, but I know I finished with at least several other purple caps. My plan was to take 1 hour for the swim and transitions; I finished the swim in 44 minutes and took 10 minutes in T1. (I'm a slow transitioner.) Right on schedule.

We might have had a small tailwind, but I felt the first half of the bike course was very fast. The course elevation chart was a little deceptive however:

With 800 feet of climbing, the course isn't flat but it isn't the Himalayas either. At first glance, it looks like the big hill at mile 35 is the challenging one. Turns out, it's that shorter nasty climb at mile 31 that is the killer. It's VERY steep and we were all huffing and puffing pretty hard. But truth be told, I've done a fair amount of hill training and I think I was pretty well-prepared for both hills. My knee had a little bit of pain but nothing serious and I don't think it was a factor during the race.

Here's where it gets strange (sorry for all the math). I was shooting for a 3.5 hour bike, which averages 16 miles per hour. At mile 37-38, at the TOP of the hill, I was averaging a little under 18 miles per hour for the ride, and everything was downhill from there. I should have easily finished around 3 hours. But then around mile 45 I hit the headwinds. Oh My God it was awful. I don't know if the winds were really that strong or if the hills took out more from me than I realized, but they absolutely killed me. I'm always doing the math in my head, and I'm only rounding the numbers slightly here: I was doing 18 mph when I had 9 miles to go, which meant I would finish in 30 minutes. When I was 8 miles away, I was doing 16 mph, which meant I would finish in 30 minutes. When I was 7 miles away... yup, down to 14 mph and 30 minutes away. I felt like I wasn't making any progress at all. I was completely miserable. Still, my plan was to do the bike in 3.5 hours and I built up enough of a buffer during the first half and finished in 3:14.

It was then off to the run, or as I like to call it "the 13.1 Mile Desert Buffet". All of the support tables and cookies and pretzels and cola and I was LOVING it. I know you have to be careful about eating solids while running and I held back a little bit at first. But once I only had 4 or 5 miles to go I figured that if I was going to get sick, by the time it kicked in I'd be pretty close to the finish line anyway. So I took extra snacks when they came along.

After the difficult bike finish I was very worried about the run, but I was surprised how strong I felt. I didn't start walking until 8.5 miles in. Because of the natural cycle of my training schedule and then my knee injury I have done very low running mileage over the past 4 months. Running 8.5 miles straight at the end of a half-ironman while being undertained? I was thrilled. The last 4 miles or so were a combination of run a little, walk a little and I am perfectly OK with that. I wanted to finish in 2.5 hours and did the run in 2:34. I certainly can't complain about that.

One thing I CAN complain about: They had an Ironman 70.3 finishing ribbon that everyone could run through. I didn't see it until too late, and the guy in front of me ran through it and so the volunteers didn't have to reset it for me. Had I realized it was there, I would have waited until it was ready.

I was shooting for 7 hours, and my finishing time was 6:54:09. Going by the numbers, it sounds like a great race. I nailed all of my goals and it should be a perfect training race for Coeur d'Alene. But since I love snatching defeat from the hands of victory, there is more to the story than just my finishing time.

The entire day, I was thinking "what if this was the full Ironman?" If I stepped out of the water and someone told me "um, there's a problem with your timing chip, you need to do the swim again" I honestly think I could have done it. I'm a slow swimmer, but I reach a sort of steady-state and just keep on going. I'm not worried about the swim. I'm not sure I could have done a full marathon, but that was a known situation: I'm just starting to ramp up my running miles in my training, and as is I did 8 miles just fine. So that's OK. The problem was the bike. The last 10 miles killed me. And it's hard to describe because it wasn't really an issue of being in pain or even that my legs were tired. It was just emotionally draining. It was so frustrating riding against that headwind. If I had to do a 2nd loop, I think I would have broken down and started sobbing. I'm putting Mile 45 of Oceanside into my Misery Hall of Fame.

Yes, I had a good finishing time. But at a price. During the bike I was thinking "dear God, there is NO WAY I can do twice this distance in 3 months." Scared the crap out of me. I'll get over it.


Blogger monica said...

you looked great out there!!! really, with all your struggles and doubt going into the race AND that wind AND finishing under what you expected, well that all adds up to only one thing = SUCCESS!!!

3 months is A LONG TIME. so just take one lego block at a time and you'll be right as rain. plus, i don't think IM CDA is known to be particularly windy as say IM AZ can be.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Fe-lady said...

Loved the swim....and was actually looking forward to the hills after the first climb, as it put me back in the game with the "BGWGDF"s (Big Guys Who Go Downhill Fast)....some of them were walking the hills!
Congrats on a solid race and times.
I am glad I guess you "felt" the headwind...I thought I was being a wimp about it!
Not far behind you at 7:07...
My misery was the "run"....!
Take care!

1:37 PM  
Blogger SWTrigal said...

What a great job! You WILL be able to do twice the distance in 3's just a different pace and thinking..

2:07 PM  
Blogger Brent Buckner said...

Good work!

Yes, different event pacing and thinking for IM bike... three months from now you'll be locked & loaded.

2:25 PM  
Blogger JillyG said...

Congrats! You're going to do great in the CDA :)

4:33 PM  
Blogger Iradoman said...

Dude you had an awesome swim, at 37:01 one minute behind Gerald, and WAY ahead of Jon 41:55... I'm proud of you!!!! You are almost a member of the axis of evil... keep on trucking and you should be inedited into the Axis of Evil hall of fame in no time , Ironman will be a piece of cake, sub 13 baby!!!

4:45 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

Great job!

Don't get too disappointed in the details. Analyze (but don't over-analyze) them, learn and move on.

You'll do just fine in three months time.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Mister P. said...

Somebody in the Axis of Evil isn't getting enough sleep. Look again, it was a 44 minute swim. (And even THAT might not be accurate; more on that to come...)

6:52 PM  
Blogger Steve Stenzel said...

Wow! Nice job! Too bad you didn't get to break the ribbon though...

Those thoughts about "can I do this x2" never really go away. You WILL be trained enough to do it. You WILL have extra strength on the bike that comes from lord knows where. You WILL do fine at Ironman! Trust me. Follow the training, and do what your knee will allow. I've been there. Done that. 13:53 Ironman.

7:00 PM  
Blogger rocketpants said...

Great job on the race! Bummer you didn't get to break the ribbon. The headwinds can be a killer out there. Way to looked good out there.

9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome race Mr P! You stormed it! And to think I knew you way back when! :-) Well, you're pretty much on your way to admittance into the Axis of Evil and then I get to call you one of the crazy Ironman guys :-)

12:32 AM  
Blogger Iradoman said...

Mr P haver you check the Race official website?

Swim Time: 37:01
Bike Time: 3:19:42
Run Time: 2:41:24

And yes you are correct I'm not getting enough sleep!!!

10:19 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Hey, Just saw your race report from Rocketpants' blog.

Nice work out there and honestly...we were ALL feeling that bike. Don't be down on yourself about it. That bike SUCKED. After the climbing and then having to face those winds...I think that was my lowest point EVER in a race.

It's all about what you take away from it - and you know you've got it in you to do it. I would've downright refused if somebody told me I had to do the bike loop twice. :)

11:08 AM  
Blogger Diana said...

Congrats, Mike! That's a really huge accomplishment!!!


11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great job! I'm sure you'll do well racing x2 in 3 months, but don't think your near ironmanliness will intimidate me. Oh no! I still plan to beat your ass once again in Malibu this Sept. Congratulations! -Jon Cryer

2:39 PM  
Blogger Gregory said...

Way to go, Wedgie.

4:28 AM  

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