This weekend I participated in Ironman 70.3 Oceanside, which consisted of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile cycle, and 13.1 mile run [total of 70.3 miles]. Although this is technically my second long-distance triathlon, this is my first Ironman-branded race. This made it a highly interesting experience: there were more than 2500 competitors on race-day [3000 registered], and the entire city of Oceanside made accommodations for the race. Although I paid a lot of money for this event and it is without a doubt the most competitive race I’ve entered, I tried not to make a big deal about it. I looked at the race as an opportunity to enjoy myself and attempt to execute a “perfect” race plan. I did all the math beforehand to ensure my diabetes would not be an issue on race-day, assuming my race went according to plan.
I had to stop by Oceanside on Friday, the day before the race, in order to verify my registration and pickup my race-day supplies, including my race numbers, race bib, swim cap, etc. I was overwhelmed and slightly intimidated by the amount of athletes I saw at the expo. Fortunately, the staff were highly professional and I made quick work of the registration. Once I got back home, I did some last minute work on my bike and got all my equipment ready for race-day.
I had the following pre-race plan, with the following goals:
- Swim: Above all, relax and be comfortable. I had a loose goal of 45 minutes.
- Cycle: Put out a relatively constant effort on the flats, hammer on the uphills, and relax on the downhills. I had a goal of 2:48:00 [20.0mph] based on my current fitness and the course profile.
- Run: I planned to run 6:40/mile for as long as I could, while walking the aid stations to ensure I get proper nutrition. I used this to project a goal time of 1:31:42 [7:00/mile].
- Goal race time: 5:05:00 without transitions
I woke up at 3:45am, eating a breakfast of two peanut-butter sandwiches, a banana, and 700mL of water with two scoops of Cytomax [1100 calories total]: this provided my body with electrolytes in addition to a solid a solid amount of protein and complex carbs to fuel my body for the next 8-10 hours. We took a quick drive to Oceanside, where I dropped off my gear in Transition 2 before being dropped off at Transition 1. I racked my bike, and was still in awe of the size of the transition area: there were enough bike racks for 3000 bikes.
I quickly changed into my wetsuit before walking down to the swim start and slipping into the back of my swim wave. I was fortunate enough to be in Wave 7 of 23, which meant that I was starting earlier than most of the age groupers. My wave consisted of Males 18-24 and 55-59, with a start time of 6:59. At 6:56 we were signalled to swim to the start line where we would wait for an open-water start. Those three minutes were very nerve-wrecking, and felt like forever. They finally shot the gun, and I was off!
The swim course was a 1.2-mile counter-clockwise loop that went to the edge of the Oceanside harbor before returning back to the swim start/exit. I made sure to stay to the back of my wave in an effort to avoid unnecessary chaos. I quickly found some feet that were going just a little quicker than mine, so I put in the extra effort to get the benefit of drafting and so I wouldn’t have to sight as often. A couple of minutes later, I realized I couldn’t hold the pace so I decided to drop off a bit.
By this point, a few more waves had gone off behind us, and some of the faster swimmers were passing us. Unfortunately, it was sometimes difficult for them to go around us, so they would just literally swim over other athletes. I only had a problem with this once, though it really messed up my rhythm. The next couple of minutes were very uncomfortable, and I found myself having difficulty with sighting and keeking good form. I made a decision to relax a bit and try to get comfortable again.
As I began to approach the halfway point, I found myself getting back into a rhythm. I just put my head down and did the work, sighting every couple of strokes as the turn buoy got closer and closer. I finally made the turn, and began the second-half of the swim. Everything was going well, though it felt like I was out there forever: I simply could not get my mind to relax. This actually got me worried that my swim time would be significantly slower than 45 minutes. Nonetheless, I tried to stay comfortable and keep my head down. As I got closer to the swim exit, my upper body (and especially my shoulders) began to get sore. When I saw the exit, I put in a last little burst before coming out of the water and seeing 8:46:00 on the clock.
Swim time: 47:27
There was a long run from the swim exit to the transition area. I guess the surface of the ground was very rough, so they kindly put out a long carpet for us to run on. Unfortunately, it was only wide enough for one person. This meant that I was constantly jumping onto the hard ground to pass others who decided to stroll into transition. When I got to the racks, I quickly found my bike. I ripped off my wetsuit, threw on my watch, sunglasses, and helmet, and darted out of transition.
Transition time: 4:09
The bike leg consisted of a 56-mile ride through Camp Pendleton. Fortunately, the first half of the course was a route that I had done countless times. It was relatively flat with a few rolling hills, but nothing substantial. The second half of the course consisted of a few significant climbs, and unfortunately, I was unable to pre-ride this part of the course because it was a closed section of the marine base.
I quickly made my way out of the harbor and found myself entering the marine base. I was flying by everyone and felt extremely comfortable. I saw a lot of people losing water bottles because they rode over potholes in the road. I had the advantage of knowing every single pothole on this half of the course, and thus found it very easy to get comfortable. Unfortunately, I may have been too comfortable, because I had a terrible experience just 10 miles into the ride: As I was passing an athlete to the left, I ran over a massive rock [I saw it just as it hit my rear wheel]. I certainly felt it, and it gave me a big scare. However, everything felt okay, so I kept going. Just over a mile later, I heard a depressing noise coming from my rear wheel, and when I stopped to check it out it was dead flat.
I told myself it was no big deal: “I’ll just change the flat and lose no more than five minutes”. I went to grap my flat kit from under my Saddle, and my spare tube was gone. I couldn’t believe it. I guess when I ran over the rock it applied enough force to actually rip the spare tube off my frame [it was taped very well]. This is when I started to panic. I signalled a race official a couple minutes later, and I assumed they called a support vehicle. I had to wait more than twenty minutes before a tech crew came, and they provided me with a 650 tube. A couple minutes later and I was back on the road, frustrated with myself and the situation. I had lost just under 30 minutes.
Within ten minutes of the incidence, I went over a slight bump in the road. Even though I was prepared for it, my entire handlebar system rotated downward. I use a stem that has an adjustable angle, so I’m assuming my crash with the rock caused my upper body to apply enough pressure on my set-up to loosen the screw on the stem. This wasn’t a HUGE problem, until I realized that it also forced me into my small chain ring. When I tried to shift back up, my front derailleur was unresponsive. I quickly came to a stop to take a look. My shifters are attached to the end of my aerobars, so when they got rotated forward it extended the housing until it ripped the cable off my front derailleur. Unfortunately, I needed a hex key to reinstall the cable. There were no officials in sight, so I began asking every single rider that passed me if they had a hex key that I could use. About ten minutes later, a kind woman stopped and let me use her tool. I quickly readjusted my stem and then reinstalled the cable, and everything was set. I thanked her and was on my way. I lost about 15 minutes from this incident.
By this point, I knew my shot at a good overall place/time would not be possible. But I didn’t get upset, and told myself that I could still meet my time goals and get a decent “projected” overall place/time. I began to make my way through the field, passing most of my competition. For the first hour, I averaged 22.0mph [moving time], which was actually a little faster than I expected for the flat section of the course. As we came up on mile 28, we hit the first significant climb on the course: more than 300ft of ascent in less than one mile. Unfortunately, the elevation profile provided is not very accurate. I LOVED this climb because I blew by everyone! It felt great to pass a bunch of guys on set-ups significantly more expensive than mine. What surprised me were the amount of walkers on this initial climb. I understand that it was steep, and it certainly wasn’t short in distance, but it surprised me to see so many athletes walking. I guess I’m lucky to live in an area that contains so many hills.
After we made it up the climb, we got a nice little downhill before starting the next section of the course. Miles 32-37 consisted of rolling hills and false flats [with a net ascent of a couple hundred feet], all of which were into a headwind. This part of the course was certainly the most mentally tough. I paced off a guy [without drafting] through most of this section, and we stayed together until we came up to the second significant climb. Again, I found myself quickly moving through the field as I was perplexed at the amount of walkers. As we came up to the crest of the hill, we got a steep downhill before coming up to the third and final climb. I made quick work of the hill, and was very happy that they were done. It would be relatively flat/downhill for the rest of the course. I came through the second hour averaging 18.0mph, giving me an overall average of 20mph [I was stoked about this, because I knew I would average more than 20mph for the rest of the course].
The last 16 miles were quite nice. Although they were into a headwind, the downhills and flats made it quite easy to stay mentally fresh, and my bike position was comfortable enough such that I could stay in an aero position. I noticed that a lot of athletes began to slow down as we approached Oceanside. I, on the otherhand, kept on pushing. The last section of the course played out a lot like the first hour: I spent most of the time passing others, with the occasional athlete blowing by me every twenty minutes or so. We finally hit oceanside, and as we rolled up to the dismount line, my watch read exactly 2:44:00 [20.5mph]: 4 minutes faster than my goal time. This means I averaged 22.0mph for the final 44 minutes.
Official cycle time: 3:27:06 [16.2mph]
“Projected” [neglecting mechanical issues] cycle time: 2:44:00 [20.5mph]
I was so confused entering the transition area. One volunteer would direct me in one direction, but then another volunteer would correct me and point me in a different direction. Nonetheless, I got to my spot pretty quickly and racked my bike. I felt like I made quick work of my running shoes, though my transition time certainly disagrees with that.
Transition time: 2:57
The run course consisted of two loops through the coastal stretch of Oceanside. It seemed like we were always on some kind of an incline: there were a few short and steep hills, and there were also some long segments with a slight incline. I decided to find a pace that felt comfortable BEFORE looking at my watch. A couple minutes into the run, I looked down and was pleased to see 6:30/mile. I felt incredible, but decided not to speed up in an effort to avoid blowing up. I hit 6:30 for the first three miles, and, with a quick bathroom stop, came through mile four in 6:55.
By this point, it was getting hot out, and I began to overheat. At every single aid station I dumped at least two cups of my water on myself. I didn’t take the time to slow down at aid stations, so I just took whatever I could get. I was very pleased if I would end up with a sponge to shove down my shirt or ice to shove in my shorts. In terms of fluids, I got some coke at the first and second aid stations. Unfortunately, it wasn’t flat, so I assumed the coke at the other aid stations was also carbonated [this REALLY upset my stomach]. Thus, I made the decision to drink electrolyte mix as opposed to coke. However, my stomach was already upset, so I avoided drinking a whole lot of fluid on this first loop. I came through miles five and six in 6:40/mile, completing the first loop with an average of 6:40/mile.
As I started my second loop, I began to feel dehydrated. I regret not taking in more fluid during the first loop. At this point, my watch also stopped working. However, I think this was a blessing in disguise because my pace certainly started to drop, and it would’ve been frustrating to objectively see that. At every aid station, I continued to dump everything I could on myself. I was getting myself as drenched as possible to deal with the heat. In addition, I began to take in two cups of electrolyte mix [Ironman perform or gatorade, whichever was available] at every aid station.
By mile 8, I began to walk through the aid stations [this took ~15 seconds] to ensure I got proper hydration and cooling. Nonetheless, my pace still felt fairly decent. I was honestly surprised that I was running this well. My 5K/10K times suggest an open half-marathon of 1:20 [6:06/mile], so I was stoked to be running sub-7 minute miles in the heat after a 1.2 mile swim and 56 mile cycle. I skipped the last aid station as I made my way to the finish. As I entered the finishing chute, I made sure to position myself such that I wouldn’t ruin anyone’s finisher photo. I came through the finish completely exhausted, and I knew that I had left everything out on the course.
Run time: 1:31:26 (6:58/mile)
I was completely stoked with my performance! I swam a little slower [2:27] than my goal time, but I shattered my goal bike time by four minutes and hit my goal run time almost perfectly. This gave me an “adjusted” race time of 5:02:53 without transitions: more than two minutes faster than I thought I could do.
Although I’m not claiming to have done a 5:02:53, I feel I would have been able to perform a time very close to that if I did not have technical difficulties with my bike. In fact, if I got to Transition #2 45 minutes earlier, it would’ve been cooler out and thus I likely would have ran faster. I am mostly proud about how well I was able to stick to my plan and maximize the performance on my current fitness. I didn’t have a single issue with my diabetes the whole day. I think this is evidence of how much I’ve learned about my own physiology. In such a long race, diabetes can lead to a number of complications, especially when nutrition is such an important component of the race. I feel that I’ve developed the skills to race such that my diabetes doesn’t slow me down very much, if at all.
Official time: 5:53:03
Official place: 1031/2474 overall, 14/28 M18-24
“Projected” [neglecting mechanical issues] time: 5:09:59
“Projected” [neglecting mechanical issues] place: 358/2474 overall, 7/28 M18-24