Since I’m on my high after completing IM 70.3 Oceanside, I decided to write a race report for those curious about the race. I loved cheering our members on last year during their 70.3s and Fulls. Racing a 70.3 was entirely different experience than I expected! I came out of it with much more respect for those of you who have done Full IMs. You’re badasses. I hope you know that.
We received our Athlete Guides about 3 weeks before the race. Four things stood out to me after reading the entire thing. First, you cannot preview the bike course due to the heightened security at Camp Pendleton. Second, you must wear your race bib on the bike and make sure it’s clearly visible at all times. Third, there are three “no pass” zones. Anyone caught passing another cyclist is penalized. Finally, there is a strict 25 mph zone around mile 39. You’re disqualified if you average over 25 mph.
Packet pickup was simple. We signed our waivers while in line, checked in, and made our rounds through each station to collect our wristbands, packets, shirts, parking passes, and timing chips. After we finished shopping at the village, we rode over to transition and dropped off our bikes. Transition was in a parking lot sandwiched between the beach and the harbor. I made sure to make note of my spot relative to the Swim In, Bike Out, Bike In, and Run Out.
Crystal, Mollie, Cathy, and I stayed at an AirBnB about 20 minutes away from the venue. While not ideal, it gave us a more comfortable place to rest and a kitchen to cook our own meals. Crystal and I ate baked salmon, roasted brussel sprouts and broccoli, white rice, a mixed greens salad, and slices of bread with butter. My favorite pre-race dinner! Shortly after dinner, we were in bed with our alarms set to 3:30 am.
Race morning was a blur. I woke up nervous, anxious, excited, and nauseous. It was happening! After preparing all my things, I drank a cup of coffee and ate oatmeal with a banana and peanut butter. I carried one water bottle with electrolytes (Lime Skratch Labs) to sip on before the start.
We arrived around 4:45 am in order to find our parking garage, catch the shuttle to transition, and use the porta-potties before waiting in a huge line. I set up my spot and made my way to the porta-potties. Fun fact: I actually heard someone throw up in a porta-potty while waiting in line. Not the best thing to hear before a race. I then changed into my wetsuit and lined up for the swim!
Swim (1.2 Miles)
Large, 4-foot swells near shore caused the open water swim to change to a protected 1.2-mile loop within the harbor last minute. The water was about 58 degrees and calm. Ideal conditions! I seeded myself between the 35-40 minute group for the rolling start. The first pro was out before I started! Dang! I didn’t warm up for the swim but I did jump into the water briefly to acclimate. Volunteers herded us to the front of the line. Before I knew it, I was in the water, surrounded, and fighting the pack! It was like a roaring, white water river. I had to use my forearm to block several kicks and elbows throughout the entire swim.
The first half was straightforward. I sighted all the yellow buoys and swam past people from the start. There was a slight counter-current at the turnaround point, which slowed me down a bit. The sun, already up, blinded me. I could hardly see any buoys even with my tinted Roka goggles. I used the dock on my right side as a guide to the swim finish. At one point, I thought I saw the Ironman flags at a distance so I picked up my pace and passed more people. When I looked up to sight, I realized those were flags on a sailboat! I still had about 500 yards or so to go. Once I got sight of the exit, I was determined to finish and run to my bike. I was ecstatic after crossing the swim finish mat, as evidenced by the big smile in my race pictures.
T1 was quick! I ran through the swim entrance chute and got my wetsuit taken off by a volunteer! Best experience ever! Once I found my big backpack beside my bike, I put on my helmet, race belt, sunglasses, socks, and cycling shoes. I hesitated about putting on my cycling gloves and said, “Screw it”. I grabbed by bike and ran to the mount line. No regrets. However, in retrospect, I wish I wouldn’t have wasted time “thinking” about the gloves…
Bike (56 Miles)
I absolutely loved the bike course! Marines gave directions and cheered for all the athletes during the race. There were three aid stations on the course at miles 18.5, 32, and 46. I only stopped at the second aid station to refill my water bottle.
The first third was on a relatively flat bike path along the coast. It’s fast! I was averaging about 18-19 mph in aero and I was cruising it! I could have gone faster but I chose to conserve my energy for the climbs and half marathon ahead.
The second third features the big climbs in Camp Pendleton. The landscape was breathtaking. Mostly green pastures and blue skies surrounded me. I saw the first climb from a mile away. All the cyclists looked like ants chugging along this 10% grade hill. “Welcome to Hell Hill” an Ironman sign said. The sun was on our backs, it was about 75 degrees out, and there were people struggling around me. One guy walked his bike up the hill. Another said he was from Texas and not trained for the hills. Another man yelled said, “What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger!” I yelled, “That’s right” and cruised along, one pedal at a time. That hill was a punk. The second climb was gradual and stretched out over 3-4 miles. The next Ironman sign said “Welcome to Hell Hill Jr.”. It reminded me of my 3-mile commute to campus. A never-ending uphill climb with a few short flat/downhill segments, gaining more elevation along the way. Coach Martin had me do a similar climb a couple of weeks before the race. Thanks Coach! I approached the “25 mph speed limit zone” with caution. I read signs labeled “no aero”, “speed limit start”, “speed limit end”. This section was clearly marked so there is no way one could miss it. I was not going to get DQd after all the work I did so I maintained 18 mph at that zone. They call this “Dead Man’s Curve”. You gain a lot of momentum and speed in a steep downhill. It’s easy to go over the speed limit if you’re not paying attention.
The last third was exiting the Camp. It featured some flats and rolling hills. I was mostly cruising it in aero. This is where I passed Mollie on the course. I told myself “if I get a flat, I’m going to lose my s**t. I’m so close!” At this point, I was starting to feel chafed from the saddle and achy on my lower back. My goal was to get back to transition as soon as possible. There was a nasty headwind the last 10 miles. As much as I didn’t want to be aero, it was the only way to get through the headwind faster. I told myself it was like riding to Davenport. Easy. Once the harbor was in sight, I “rode like I stole it”. I couldn’t have been more relieved!
Most of us newbies went into the bike course blindly. I think not being able to preview the course beforehand put all of us on an even playing field and made it a memorable experience. I want to do it again!
We had to ride into the same “swim start” chute to enter transition. The con about this style is that all bikes are single file line and not every athlete has the same urgency to enter transition. I almost made the worst mistake in T2 - taking off my helmet before racking my bike. For the newbies, don’t do this! I was trying to save as much time as possible but I wasted time by thinking too quickly. I had to stop and regroup myself before reaching my spot. After racking my bike, I put on my hat, took off my cycling shoes, put on my running shoes, and then sprayed myself with sunscreen. In retrospect, I would have focused on my running shoes and put on the hat during the run. Volunteers handed out sunscreen before the run start so I could have avoided spraying myself altogether...
Transitioning from a 56-mile bike ride to a 13.1 mile was a complete shock to my system. My lower back was stiff from being in aero position for over 3 hours and my legs weren’t ready to run. I saw Mollie entering transition when I started my run. I had a little friendly competition going on in my head. I stopped after a mile to adjust my left shoelaces and to stretch my back. At the second mile, I reached the first hill. “Don’t be the hero”, I said to myself. Good thing because there were more punk hills to come; and we had to do TWO loops of the same course!
Luckily, the weather cooled down. There were spectators everywhere! I passed big groups cheering, playing music, and spraying water. I didn’t know which lap anyone was on so I focused on myself and took it two miles at a time, walking at every aid station for Gatorade and water. I skipped the pretzels, bananas, Red Bull, and Coke. Those were the last things I wanted. My left foot went numb at mile 4... I walked it off for about a minute and felt immediate relief. It was going to be a long run if that problem persisted. By mile 7, I was at a comfortable pace and chugging along the course. I knew I wasn’t going to magically PR my half marathon so my goal was to make it to the finish line uninjured. The downhills scared me. I felt like I was going to snap my ankles or trip at any time. My arms chafed from rubbing against my wet tri top but I had to keep moving forward. I reached my moment of peace at mile 11. I tuned out the crowd and stopped looking at my watch. I suddenly gained the strength I needed to run at a faster pace. My aching ankles and stiff back were nonexistent. Once I saw the red and black Ironman carpet, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I raised my arms up with my hands in a fist after crossing, proud of all the work I put into training and in the race itself. Proud to wear my SCTA colors. Proud to experience such a great race with wonderful people.
Breakfast: Oatmeal w/ banana and peanut butter, cup of coffee
Before the race: 1 Gu and 8oz of water with one Lime Skratch Labs packet
After mounting my bike: Tri Berry Gu
1st hour of the bike: Strawberry Pop Tart, 2 Black Cherry Shot Bloks, 24 oz of water w/ two Lime Skratch Labs packets
2nd hour of the bike: Strawberry Pop Tart, 2 Black Cherry Shot Bloks, 24 oz of water w/ two Lime Skratch Labs packets
3rd hour of the bike: SIS Cherry Gel, 24 oz of water w/ one Lime Skratch Labs packet
Run: sipped Gatorade Endurance and water at every aid station, no Red Bull, Coke, gels or solid food