Editor' s Note:Our associate gear review editor Tawnee Prazak just completed her first 70.3 race and filed this report from California.
Not to brag or anything, but I swam a similar pace to Andy Potts in the swim, set a course record by averaging 26 mph on the bike and even ran with Mirinda Carfrae for a number of miles, but I decided to let her win it in the end. What a day. I’m beat.
Ha. In my dreams, right?
My real race was nothing close to that, but for my first-ever half-Ironman it was a great learning experience: I learned a) it hurts b) I’m no where close to where I want to be in triathlon and c) at 24, I at least have a number of years before I “peak.”
Here’s how it went down on April 4: It was freezing and already breezy when I arrived in Oceanside at 4:45 a.m. Well, freezing in Southern California terms—maybe low- to mid-40s. The weather had been all over the map the last few days, so I didn’t know how race day would pan out. Wind I expected. Sun is what I prayed for. We got both.
Pre-race Riding my bike from the pier parking area to transition was surreal. Everyone headed in that direction was very quiet, the noise of clicking bikes was the only thing filling the air. My thoughts: “What the hell is going to happen today? I’ve been training hard, but can I put it together for a decent race? Can I really change a tubular?” At transition, the silence ended and the party began—it was like being at a summertime barbecue with all the energy (except for the cold; a nagging reminder of reality). In typical fashion, I got there super early so I had lots of time to kill before my wave went off at 7:21 a.m., mostly time spent trying to stay warm and making sure the bathroom situation was well taken care of. Truth be told, I was very nervous about getting in the water. I didn’t want to start a cold swim already being so cold. Then the announcement was made that booties were allowed during the swim. Great, I thought, if that’s the case, it must be freezing.
Swim The swim start is crazy: No warming up allowed, you’re just corralled into a line with your wave as you wait to walk down a ramp into the O-side Harbor. As I lined up, out came swimmer extraordinaire and defending champ Andy Potts and the rest of the men following. (Eventually, Matt Reed would out run Potts for the win.) I was in awe watching them, but quickly snapped back to my reality. I have “cold-feet-syndrome” (is that real? I don’t know) so I wore socks until the second before entering the water. I almost tripped ripping them off while trying to walk. As soon as I got into the water, I was pleasantly surprised. It was warm—relative to the outside at least. We had to swim about 50 yards to the start line, enough to get the blood flowing. Then in a matter of seconds, go time!
My goals for the swim: Don’t swim off course like I always do (so in this case, swim curved—tricky), try and draft when possible and not get all panicky when getting hit, trampled over, kicked, etc. I achieved all those things, and boy did I get beat on quite a bit. It helped that the swim was marked about every 100-200 meters, and I was able to get a decent rhythm going. But then unfortunately I got two cramps—one for each leg—after the halfway point. I’m known to get bad leg and feet cramps, so this was one of my biggest fears. I stopped using my legs for the most part so the cramps would subside, and I tried to not make any sudden jerk movements that would aggravate the knotting. That surely slowed down my swim, but that’s life; I made it out of the water in under 40 minutes still feeling fresh.
T1 I’ve been practicing transitions in my front yard lately (my neighbors probably think I’m psycho), but that awkwardness pays off on race day. I quickly got on all the essentials, and decided against arm warmers—it was super sunny at this point and I was warm. A good decision, I never got cold on the bike. However, I did put on bike gloves, and that killed my T1 time. Oh well, a small price to pay for having a comfortable ride.
Bike The first thing I hear about Oceanside 70.3: Dude, watch out for that hill at mile 30, it’s insane! Thankfully, I was well aware of the course going into the bike. The first half: generally flat; the second half: hilly. So I decided to not go out too hard at first and save it for the hills and whatever headwind we’d get. I sucked down a gel and got going. I averaged in the low 20s for about the first 25 miles according to my Cateye, and I felt good. That average would later drop, but not too drastically. All the while I never saw anyone in my age group, so I figured I was somewhere in the middle and dust in the wind relative to the leaders. I was more focused on the impending ascents anyways.
I was having a blast heading north and through San Onofre, and I thought I was on track for a solid bike. Then we crossed over the 5 at Cristianitos in San Clemente, and as we headed east into Pendleton, I finally saw it. The Hill. The people riding up looked motionless, the climb looked never-ending. I was praying my hill training would pay off now more than ever. Once riding up, The Hill was gnarly but it was over faster than I expected. And the good thing about hills: haul ass down the other side. There were about four more decent climbs, none as steep and long as the first, but each hill took that much more gas from the tank—on that note, I did well with my nutrition, constantly sipping my ultra-strong Cytomax mix.
As for the wind factor, they weren’t terribly bad overall, nothing like the Santa Anas. Still, we did hit some headwinds, and that was like fighting against an invisible wall. A couple side-wind gusts had me holding on for dear life too. The last quarter or so of the bike felt like forever. I wasn’t hurting that bad despite the tiring combo of hills and wind, but by the last 10 miles I was so ready to be done. One reason: Well, all I’ll say is I’m looking into buying a more comfortable bike seat, if you catch my drift. Ouch! The aero position was getting to me too.
I was shooting to average 20 mph for the bike but did it in just under 19 mph instead, oh well. Overall, great course; I loved doing one big loop instead of shorter repeating loops (like the run, ugh). The ocean, getting deep into the green mountains of Camp Pendleton with no commercial development—all beautiful! I even got a taste of military life too—with Marines shouting at the riders, some blurting out vulgar remarks. Quite comical.
T2 As soon as I heard the crowd was roaring transition, I was stoked. I was thinking so much about finishing the bike that I almost forgot I still had 13.1 miles to run. Oh crap. Going through the transition maze to dismount felt like a century, but I was finally off my bike and pulled of a rather fast T2—so fast (for me) that I was certain I forgot something. I ran out, where I caught a glimpse of the first, second and third-place women approaching the finish line, amazing! Mirinda Carfrae grabbed first in a classic win-it-in-the run situation. I was jealous that the pro women were finishing just as started my run. Then I saw some friends of mine as I ran out so I waved, which is when I realized I had my bike gloves on still. Crap. Ditched those and was on my way. Run From the beginning, I knew this was going to be the roughest part of the day. My legs killed from the second I got cranking in the Newtons, and I felt slow. As a side note, I lost about a month and a half of run training recently due to an ankle sprain I suffered in January (and a minor re-sprain in early March), so my running wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted it to be going into this race. I was lucky to even be racing at all; I just wrapped up physical therapy a couple of weeks ago.
Anyways, I digress. The run was purely mental; my body wanted me to stop. I couldn’t stomach anymore calories—I was Cytomaxed-out and on the verge of having GI issues, so I stuck to water. In the first mile, I passed my mom with video camera in hand, so half-heartedly I smiled, waved, then returned to my world of pain and trucked along. Soon into the run you hit about a ¼-mile sand portion, which is repeated four times. Talk about killer, and the unstable surface totally aggravated my ankle. But I ran through the pain. At least the rest was all pavement and street with a good amount of aid station and crowd support. I didn’t dare walk. Though, I honestly felt anger toward some spectators who were leisurely lounging in the sun watching us suffer. One bikini-clad girl was laying out in the grass right along the course—was she doing it to spite us? You tend to feel like you’re in a freak show as you run along with others just staring in awe. And although I was almost jealous of them, the people kept my mind occupied; like the guy dressed up as Jack of Jack-in-the-Box. The things people do.
Surprisingly, the first turn around came fairly fast. But it felt like a lifetime getting to the second turn around, I thought I missed it to be honest. When heading back out for lap two, I passed my support crew and they told me I was fourth in my age group. What?! No kidding? I thought I had been smoked. Fourth, not too bad! That motivated me like none other, and although I didn’t miraculously start busting out 7-minute miles, I still mustered up the strength to push through the run in 1:54; those last couple miles really required me to dig deep. A crappy time compared to my potential, but hey, how often do I run that far after a 1.2-mile swim and 56-mile bike? Uh, never. Ever.
When I crossed the finish line it was pretty matter of fact. I was drained and just wanted to sit down and eat. So I grabbed lots of pizza and water, got the hell out of the hot sweaty food tent and did just that. My legs were burning with pain and I didn’t know if I wanted to move them or hold still—both hurt. I slowly ate and waited for the ache to subside. Eventually it did, my parents found me and I started feeling OK. Then I started thinking about how I could have done better, and how I will train to do better in the future. Typical me.
The End So, I finished in 5:40:13. I wouldn’t say that’s a great time, but it’s OK for my first attempt at this. After all, I’ve really only been training for a matter of months, and going into this I banked on finishing between five and six hours.
As luck would have it, my time got me fourth place in my division (missed third by less than a minute), and because awards go five deep, I got an M-Dot plaque during the awards ceremony. Pretty cool! (Shhh, it doesn’t matter that I’d be like 30th or lower in most other divisions.) So now I’m ready to start training for my next A race—Vineman 70.3 on July 19. Goal: Get a better time. And you can bet I’ll be back at Oceanside in 2010!
Final note: As I write this report, it’s the day after the race, and I’m sore like I’ve never been before. Guess I’m not exactly in the kind of shape I thought I was; there’s no way I’d be hurting this bad if my body was truly prepared for a 70.3 race.