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.