It’s the big day. The “A” race. What all this training has been leading up to!! My last long distance race was my first wack at a full Ironman so I raced it to be comfortable and finish. This time I was pushing for a pretty awesome PR (personal record). I wanted to get at least a 30-40 min course and 70.3 PR which is 7 hours. I did it! I finished in 6:38. WAY under 7 hours! But, we had a few curve balls. Let’s back up to the beginning of the weekend.
Getting out of town is always the tough; I learned early on it mitigates a LOT of stress to just arrive a day early and not cram everything into the day before a big race. So, we packed up the car and left town on Friday for the Sunday race. While in the car my leg started itching but I just ignored it. By the time we arrived and checked into the hotel it had swollen 1-2 inches. Eek! But I just ignored it, hoping the bug bite would go away by the end of tomorrow. For any races in Santa Cruz we stay at Bay Front Inn. All of the staff has been really good to us over the years and it has been consistently a very quite accommodation. The big bonus to Bay Front Inn is it’s across the street from transition and walking distance to the pier with a variety of restaurant choices. We walked down to the pier for dinner Friday night and enjoyed the sunset. While walking back to our room I noticed my leg was getting worse. It had grown another inch and was hurting pretty bad. My husband was kind enough to run to the store to get some cream for it and oatmeal (I always forget it). Friday afternoon we heard news via Facebook that there was concern about red algae growth and the swim course would potentially be modified (hopefully not canceled).
By the next morning the cream didn’t seam to have helped but at least I wasn’t scratching it. It was still warm to the touch and I still have no idea what bit me. I was concerned my shake out ride and increased heart rate would spread it more but had to soldier on. Originally I had a mini swim/bike/run brick on schedule but dropped the swim because of the red algae levels. This cut my shake out to a 20 min bike then 10 min run. I did a full bike check, pumped tires, and put my two hydration systems on my bike (speed fill frame mount and xlab torpedo mini mount). I started from my hotel did 10 mins of the course before turning around. Then transitioned in the room before running down to the swim exit to run the transition route. It was short and sweet before heading to the 10 am athlete meeting.
The important new information they gave us at the athlete briefing was the swim modification. The swim shape changed from a rectangle to starting about 100 meters further over. I didn’t really understand how this really impacted the red algae levels. One athlete said it’s warmer and more concentrated under the pier and they were trying to keep us further away. At least there would still be a swim and the change really wasn’t that big of a difference. I spent the rest of the day prepping my bike, repacking my transition bag, and meeting up with team mates. It was a busy day and finally got a few hours to put my feet up before dinner. My family (husband and parents) had dinner at ideal bar & grill at 6pm. I get their pesto chicken penne every time I race here and know it sits well with my stomach. My mom told me to ice the bite tonight. In just 30 minutes it was all but gone! Mom to the rescue! Now time for bed. 4:30 am wake up meant in bed by 8:30pm.
I love when I wake up before my alarm goes off. It sets everything up to flow for the rest of the day. I woke up at 4:23 and started getting myself together. Cooked some oatmeal, put on tri slide, suit, heart rate monitor, time chip, tri tats, and sunscreen. Last was to braid my hair. Some days my hair just works and is perfect. Other days, like today, are a hot mess. I tried three times and just got frustrated. I text and asked my mom if she could braid my hair when we met on my way to the swim start. She graciously agreed and had one less thing to do. I headed off to walk to transition at 5:10. I got into transition by about 5:20. I set up my nutrition first: 3 packs of shot blocks, one bottle of Gatorade in speed fill, a bottle of water in between the aero bars, and a ziplock bag of gus for the run. On the ground I place a folded towel with enough room to stand and wipe my feet then two rows: left row of cycling from tow to head, right row of running toe to head finishing with a race belt to grab while running. Next I pumped my tires before dropping my pump at my room and using my own bathroom one last time. I returned to transition to put on my wetsuit up to my hips, grabbed my goggles, swim cap, booties, bottle of water, and honey stinger chews and headed off to meet my parents at 6:40. My mom braid my hair as we watched all the athletes streaming by. After she braided my hair I slipped on my booties and made my way towards the swim start as I munched on honey stingers.
Shortly after getting there they announced the water was 68 degrees this morning and anyone found wearing booties would be DQed. In years past I placed shoes at the swim exit for the 1/3 mile transition run on rough asphalt. I thought to myself “Oh well, just roll with it. At least I left a bottle of water in transition just in case.” About 10 minutes, at about 7am they announced the swim start would be delayed due to fog. This fog was bad! We couldn’t see the first buoy just 100 yards out. They needed to get the swim started by 7:20 or the swim couldn’t start from this location. At 7:16 they announced the swim would be shortened and be on the other side of the pier at 8:00 am. Everyone shuffled to the new starting place, full of anxious energy, read to get started. Most of the athletes already took their pre-race nutrition and were already thrown off their nutrition plan for the day. I found a team mate as we shuffled towards the new start and finish line.
We took a few pictures to pass the time and then made a dash to the ocean to pee….yeah…we’ve been in these wetsuits for two hours!
I thought we were still doing corral starts and getting into our projected finish times (for a 1.2 mile swim course) but it ended up just being a cluster mashing 2,000 athletes into the chute. Your urgency to get to the swim corrals determined your starting order. The beauty of corral rolling wave starts is everyone is drafting and pulling everyone faster. Today it ended up being no one in front of me and a stead stream of people going around or over. At least it was on 900 yards to fight through and amazing visibility. I made it out of the water in a blazing 2:02/100 yard pace at 20 mins. During the swim I knew I was doing amazing and wished these perfect water conditions would have been a full 1.2 mile course, but there was no time to put energy into thinking about the swim course until after the race. Now, in this moment there was a race to be had and a bike and run leg to PR.
I always take my wetsuit off in the water. It slips off like butter with water as the lubricant. I’ve times myself and it only takes 15-20 seconds to remove. I pealed it off and started jogging the .29 miles up to T1. Unfortunately the swim was so I couldn’t pee during the swim so I had to make a stop in a port-a-potty (my husband discovered in transition while picking up my gear there is quite a bit of pee talk in the tri world!!). The were all full but thankfully someone left just as I walked up. After that it was smooth sailing to rinse my feet, wipe them, apply run guard, put on my socks, shoes, helmet and go! Or at lest I thought so…I jogged to the bike exit and we were shoulder to shoulder from the fence all the way to the mount line. I shortly figured out why: everyone was stopping AT the mount line to mount! I kept jogging and pulled over to the side to hop on my bike.
Off we went. “This is great. On my bike. Wait, this isn’t a sprint, don’t go out too fast!” This short swim really threw me off. I was anticipating it to be pretty crowded for the first three miles in town but hoped it would clear up after hitting highway 1. Boy was I wrong. As soon as we turned onto the high way you saw a ton of cyclists lining the side of the road many places two deep, some places three deep! Ugh. There just wasn’t room for everyone since we didn’t spread out enough during the swim. Most people did their best out of the situation but then you rolled up on some people that were blocking and hanging out just left of the white line. It was frustrating having to make the decision to pass on the right which is not safe and a violation (in case you happen to get caught) or risk you life by going even further into traffic. One specific girl on a road bike leap frog-ed me a handful of times because of the rolling hills and blocked the entire time. There was nothing I could do about other people on the course but yelled “left” or “on your left” as much as I could. After about 15 miles it was easier to get in my groove but I could feel my hip flexors or something was tight and uncomfortable. I’ve never had this problem cycling before and tried to just stretch it out every change I got. Along the way I found a handful of riders I enjoyed leap frogging and made friendly exchanged of “catch me on the next uphill!” One of my goals of this half was to be more diligent about my nutrition. I set an alert to eat a shot block every 15 mins. Then drank Gatorade endurance formula in between as much as possible. I just had water for when I really needed it instead of Gatorade or to rinse something off. My hope for the day was over 16.5 average mph and to get as close to 3 hours as possible. Near the turn around I checked my average speed and time. I was delighted to be at 17.5 mph and 1:36 but as soon as I cleared the turn around I could feel the head wind I had taken for granted. I kept seeing my average speed slip away but hoped to keep it at least 17 mph. I tried to remember what my coach said and keep evaluating if I’m giving my best in this moment. It was a hard balance pushing a little bit more but trying not to burn out my legs because there was a half marathon still to come.
I nailed it at 17.1 mph with a head wind on the second half. I was pretty happy with my time coming off the bike.
When I got back to my bike my neighbor had put her bike on top of my number and stuff. I’m very against touching other people’s bikes or equipment but in this case I needed to get to my shoes. I slid her bike over to rack mine and it threw a wrench in my flow. In my haste while whipping my shoes off I took my socks off for some reason too. It’s not like me to do any extra movements in transition but I took the opportunity to put some more run guard on. (Toe blisters is the biggest problem for my 70.3 halves and slowing down on the run). Next I put socks, shoes, visor, and sunglasses on. Stuffed Gus in my pocket. Grabbed my race belt and dashed for the door. I was on my way for the hardest part of a 70.3. The run.
Pretty much everything in life boils down to perspective. You either find a way to spin it positive or you wallow in the negative. The only thing I thought about at first was to run 1 mile. Just run to the first aid station. I THINK they are supposed to be every mile, I certainly hope so because I don’t have a hand held. Made it to mile one! I took a gulp of Gatorade, dumped ice in my sports bra, then chased with water. That was going to be my aid station routine. Gatorade, ice, water. Repeat!
It was a good 10 degrees hotter today than usual with a high of 80 degrees. I was very impressed that every single aid station had ice and were prepared for the hot conditions. At mile 2 there was no aid station in sight so I walked for maybe 10 steps. Then started running again. I had an internal celebration that we were 1/3 of the way “there”. Right now “there” was the half way point. I can handle 6.55 miles. That’s a piece of cake. We would knock out mile by mile to get to the turn around then do a mental check in. I made a run buddy at this point and we chatted a bit. At the mile 3 aid station I shared my celebration that we were 1/2 way “there”. She liked the idea of being half way to the turn around! Right after leaving the mile three aid station I realized I forgot to take my first Gu. I would just wait until the next aid station since I was feeling pretty good. I added the first Gu into the next aid station routine. The ice felt so nice at each station and helping keep my body temp much lower. I passed and lost my run buddy at mile 7. At least we were in the home stretch of going back! Only two 5ks left. That is totally doable! I chit chatted with a few people along the way but no one stuck. At mile 10 I ran into a base athlete and he had extra base salt tubes! It was exactly what I needed in that moment! Thanks Base salt dude. About a half a mile later I found my last running buddy. He was bummed he hadn’t found a running buddy on this race yet either. We started running together and both remarked 11:30-45 was a solid pace for us at the moment so we cruised together. Walked the next aid station. Chatted and kept each other going. We did the math and thought it might be possible for me to get a run PR (I couldn’t remember if my PR was 2:40s or 2:50). I was doubting he could get his sub 3 but would try. At the last stretch he said to keep going but he was over heating. Go get my PR. I zoomed down the hill and through the shoot! Still unsure what my previous 70.3 run PR was but I got under 2:50 today which great for a hot day. My running buddy finished right behind me and got his sub 3 hour run! So proud of him and grateful for the extra push!
We got finish swag and pictures taken then…nothing. There wasn’t anything on the beach. I was confused where the food was. I wanted real solid food. My husband was at the finish line waiting with a smile. He said he spotted a team mate but didn’t know where she went. We scooped out Ideal bar & Grill hoping to run into a few. I found 3 team mates at the bar about to head up to the award ceremony. They let me know the post race food was next to transition. I checked on the team mate I knew was still on the course and thought we could grab my gear, food, and be back in time for Gabby to finish. We gathered my stuff + food and dropped it off at our room. I rushed down to the beach but missed Gabby finishing by 4 minutes. Encouraging athletes to leave the finish line is the biggest logistic disappointment for this course change. I wish we were encouraged to stay and cheer for other finishers.
In the end I had a fantastic race. My nutrition was consistent and on point. I had my fastest swim pace ever during a race. My cycling was strong but still allowed for a run PR. I know I need to work on my run speed but this wasn’t the season for that. I think it was possible for me to get the 7 hour finish I was looking for but I’ll never know. A full swim could have changed a lot, but maybe it would have loosened up my legs and made for a faster transition. There’s a lot of variables to wonder about. I wallowed in the missed opportunity for a half Ironman PR for a while after the race but appreciate the race director making a safety call for us. I’ll take the victories and know where to improve for next time.
Swim: 20:46 (2:02/100 yard)
Bike: 3:16:45 (27 min PR)
Run: 2:49:33 (3 min PR)
Special thanks to my bike sponsor Rubber Soul for always keeping my ride in tip top shape, Coola for keeping my skin protected with top quality sunscreen, Betty Designs for keeping me decked out in the best apparel, and Tri Tats for helping me look like a pro for this race!