I did it! I finished my first Half Ironman! Does that make me half an Ironman now? I don’t know, but I do feel really accomplished and had an amazing day. Who knew that racing 70.3 miles could be so much fun? Read on for my Ironman California (aka Oceanside 70.3) race report. It’s going to be very detailed so I can reflect on this as I prepare for my full Ironman.
Expo: The Day Before the Race
At 1:30pm, Nicole and I went for an easy 20 minute bike ride and 10 minute run. (Thursday was our full rest day.) I tried out my race day outfit – a new Tri Club of San Diego 2012 tri kit with black arm warmers. My bike was running smoothly after its quick checkup at Trek, and my quick laces functioned properly during my run. I did notice that they were tighter than how I usually do my laces, but I figured they would loosen up. (I probably should have adjusted them.) Late Friday afternoon, after Jeremy got a new chain on his bike, we went to the expo.
I have never been to a more organized event. Athlete check-in was limited to triathletes only, and there were about 6 different tables to go to, each with a different purpose (waivers, wristband, timing chip, etc). Athlete check-in ran Thursday/Friday 9am-6pm which helped the flow of traffic. We got there Friday around 4:30pm and didn’t have to wait in line for anything…I don’t want to be that last minute at my next race, though. It added unnecessary stress to my day, and I felt rushed thinking about getting my parents’ car, making dinner, packing our race bags, and getting a last minute lesson in tire changing. (I’m a high stress person who has trouble shutting her brain off!)
Also, a lot of t-shirt sizes and trinkets from the IM store were gone! I still managed to spend $140 there on 2 tops for me, 1 for my mom that says IronMom, 1 hat, 1 water bottle, 1 coffee mug, and 1 sticker. I also recently ordered a zip-up hoodie and my finisher medal name/time on an engraved piece – a new feature this year! (P.S They give you a hat at the finish line so save your $26 and wait for it! Now I have 2 hats.)
After the expo, we picked up my parents’ SUV for race day and came home to make our pre-race pasta meal which included:
– regular fusilli pasta (One of the rare occasions I don’t make whole wheat bc you don’t want anything hard to digest a couple days before the race.)
– homemade “sauce” of olive oil, red bell pepper, and onion (We stay away from red sauce and veggies like brocoli which upset our tummies.)
– chicken for our protein (Real for Jeremy; and fake for me – Quorn product is the best non-soy vegetarian option!)
After dinner, Jeremy and I went to Mike and Nicole’s place (GO TEAM WODS!) for a quick pre-race check-in. I wanted to learn how to change a tire. (Last minute, I know.) I learned once and have never been able to put it to practice because I’ve only had 1 flat tire to date, and Nicole put her newly acquired skills to use that day. Let’s just say that I got a good overview last night, but I was unsuccessful at getting the tire off the rim or vice versa. I left knowing that I probably couldn’t change my own tire on the race course if something happened, and that freaked me out! My fault for leaving it so last minute, but it’s hard to make yourself practice changing a flat tire when you rarely get them. There were 5 tech support vehicles on the race course, so I figured worst case I would sit and wait for help if I needed it…Luckily I didn’t need it!
We laid out all of our gear into 3 piles which correspond to our 3 race day bags: Morning Clothes bag (aka dry gear), Bike Gear, and Run Gear.
After we laid out all of our gear and checked it thrice, we finally called it a night. In bed around 10pm, alarms set for 3am, and I couldn’t sleep a wink. I probably dozed in and out of some sleep, but I couldn’t stop checking the clock and thinking about what was to come.
RACE DAY! Saturday March 31, 2012
Note: My age group is Female 25-29
We woke-up a little after 3am and left the house at 4:15. This was the perfect time to leave because we got an amazing parking spot right next to T2!
The first thing we did was set up our T2 area (bike to run transition). The Oceanside course was changed this year so there were 2 transition areas. This was my first race with 2 transitions, and I didn’t mind it. It might have even made it more efficient. After the race, the volunteers did a great job of transporting everything for us from T1 back to T2 area (not actually in T2 but next to it).
Here’s what I had at T2:
– 1 frozen water bottle with nuun
– 3 packets GU
– extra bib with my number on it (they give you 2)
– Just in case items: towel and running skirt if I was chaffed and needed to change, running socks, salt tabs, hair ties
There were free shuttles running from T2 to T1, so Jeremy’s mom took the shuttle to the race start (T1), and we biked with our bags to the same spot about 1 mile away. We started off walking our bikes because our bags were so heavy, but we were wasting time, so Jeremy managed to bike with all 4 of our bags! I probably would have lost balance and crashed. He has more skill than me. The first time I even sat on a road bike was less than one year ago.
Everything started really sinking in as we entered T1. I saw signs for Swim Start and Bike Out and knew that I would be under those banners in a couple of hours. Team WODS got to rack up next to each other because we signed up for a special TCSD rack. This made the pre-race experience more enjoyable since I got to be with Jeremy the entire time. We setup our transition area, went to the bathroom (twice), got our body marking done, and double checked out transition area again. Nicole and I realized we both forgot to leave something at T1 instead of checking it with our dry gear bags, so we rushed back to set it down. That’s when we saw all the light blue swim caps lined up close to the front of the race! So we ran back, had a peanut butter GU, kissed our boys goodbye, and ran to meet up with our group. We were probably standing there for less than 5 minutes before it was time to get into the water. Time flies by!
Here’s what I had laid out in T1:
– 2 towels (1 for feet, 1 for face/body)
– wetsuit, earplugs, goggles, silicone swim cap (I double capped to stay warm), swim socks
– bike, bike shoes, socks
– helmet and sunglasses
– heart rate monitor and jersey top (I decided to swim in sports bra only so I would be warmer on the bike)
– arm warmers and jacket (jacket was just in case)
– Timex watch (hooked on my bike)
– “just in case bag” of hair ties (I used one!), bobby pins, contacts, and contact solution
– hand warmers in my bike shoes (not sure if they did anything)
– body Glide and sunscreen (both applied pre-swim only)
The Swim: 1.2 miles in Oceanside Harbor
45:55 (46 out of 52 in my age group, 1635/2235 overall)
After posing for a quick picture, Nicole and I went to the front of the pack and got in the water as soon as we were allowed to. I wanted as much time as possible to acclimate to the cold and get to the start (which is a short swim out from the dock). I stuck my face in the 58 degree water and blew bubbles. Then I let water into my wetsuit. Then it was time to swim to the start line. We tread water for less than 1 minute before the gun went off and it was time to go! I lost Nicole at the start of the swim, but saw another training buddy, Pattie, to wish good luck to. There were 3 age groups in my wave start. Apparently there aren’t a lot of women ages 25-29 that like to do this sort of thing! I noticed that there were only 4 women ages 18-24 that did it!
I started the swim out wide and towards the middle of the pack. I’m slow, so I didn’t want to get trampled in the front or be in too close to the buoys because that’s where it’s the most crowded. I was swimming into people, and people were swimming into me, but nothing earth shattering happened that I wasn’t expecting. I found myself sighting quite a bit in the beginning because I wasn’t 100% sure which way I was supposed to go (there were a few turns in the beginning – it never felt straight) but once I realized how many people were around me and in front of me, I tried to sight less and follow the pack more. I focused on keeping my elbows high and pulling in the water. I tried to let my head relax but I think I was pretty tense from the cold water and all the anticipation. I actually had a confidence boost when I started passing 2 different colored swim caps (both women). I think they were struggling because I’m not fast, but I guess I’m not the slowest of the slows either!
After passing a few people, I remember looking ahead and seeing a lot of buoys in the distance with no end in sight. That’s when I though, oh crap. This is a long swim! Nothing eventful happened until about 1/3 of the way into the swim once we hit the boat basin. BIG swells were coming in, and I was not expecting anything that big. I figured the water would be a little choppy, but I wasn’t expecting to rise and fall with the waves like that. This added a new element to the swim, and I tried not to swallow water and had to focus pulling at the right time. A little while after that, I saw the red buoy which meant make a u-turn. I thought to myself, I love that red buoy! I love it so much! I wasn’t tired, but I was happy to see that I had made it halfway. It was all easy breezy from this point on, I told myself…but then I suddenly had to stop swimming because I couldn’t breathe due to some unexpected phlegm in my throat (gross)! I also choked on water from a swell and gagged. Finally I started swimming again, but every once in a while I had to cough while swimming so that ruined my breathing for a little bit. I saw a woman doing the back stroke ahead of me which was kind of annoying because I had to go around her. I would have felt bad if I swam on top of her like that!
Once that eventful part of the swim passed, I could tell I was nearing the finish. I started feeling men from different swim waves swimming past me (and hitting me on the way), so coming into the finish was crowded and worse than the swim start for me. I also noticed that my legs were starting to cramp from the cold water, and every time a swimmer hit my leg, I would cramp up. That was annoying, but I just pulled with my arms only until I could begin to move my feet and legs again. I guess I should have had pickle juice before the swim start!! (I tried it before a master’s swim class once and never cramped!)
It took me a while to find the ground to stand on, and there were volunteers helping us out of the water and unzipping some wetsuits. I immediately unzipped mine and started the undressing process, and then I heard my family yelling “Asia! Asia”! I turned to my right to see my mom, dad, and Terri (Jeremy’s mom) all cheering me on! They looked so excited which made me really excited! I kept going forward but then felt dizzy and started to lose my balance. I started going down so I instinctively placed my hand on the guy in front of me, knocking him over, consequently knocking over 2 guys in front of him. Sorry you guys!! I managed to stay upright after placing my weight on the guy in front of me. Thank you, stranger, for breaking my fall, and I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you. (To be fair, the mat was also rolled up which made it easy to trip.) After this episode, still on the ramp, my dad ran up next to me and said “Go Asia!” and gave me a high-five. That felt good!
T1: TCSD Bike Rack
There was a long run from the swim finish through the transition area and back to my bike. During that time I took off my swim cap and goggles and took my hair tie out, accidentally losing it on the mat. I looked back to try and find it, but quickly gave up. I think I overhead some girl offering me her hair-tie, but I knew I had a spare one waiting for me in my transition area. Good thing I went back to place my bag there! When I got back to my bike, I saw that Nicole was already gone as I expected. (Her swim time was roughly 7 minutes faster than mine.) The boys’ bikes were still racked so I knew they didn’t pass me on the swim which meant I was doing OK. (They started 15-20 minutes after me and both swam 34-36 minutes.)
The first thing I did was turn on my Timex watch so it had time to connect to GPS. Once I stopped I realized I REALLY had to pee. (Not unusual for my teeny tiny bladder.) After I went pee and got out of my wetsuit, I fumbled around trying to get my heart rate monitor strap on me. Luckily I saw one of the TCSD volunteers at the next rack and I called her over. Karen was so helpful! She fastened my strap, helped me get my top on, and even packed up my T1 bag for me after I left. She offered to put my arm warmers on but I decided to struggle through those myself. Btw, I put my helmet on before my shirt and then had to take my helmet off. I was doing everything in a really weird order. Guess I need more transition practice. During this time Mike joined me at T1 after his swim and I had the chance to say hi before he was gone…Clearly he is better at getting through transitions!
Finally, I looked at Karen and asked if I looked ready. She said yes, so I started running and realized that my feet felt really funny. I had to stop, take off my shoes, and dump out the hand warmers that I accidentally left in my shoes to try and heat them up for me! I guess it really is true when they say to do nothing new on race day. Everything else was kind of a cluster, and it took me 9 minutes to complete the transition. (That is a really long time!) That being said, I’m glad I took the time to pee and get everything on right because I would have been miserable for 3:30 hours on the bike without arm warmers on a full bladder!
The Bike: 56 miles through Camp Pendleton
3:35:02 (38/52 age group, 1833 overall)
After my awkward T1, I was ready to go for a ride. The course profile is as follows: miles 1-23 mostly flat, miles 24-42 very hilly with 1 exceptionally long/steep hill, final 14 fairly flat again but with a strong headwind. There were volunteers with cups of water immediately exiting T1, so I took a cup and was on my way. That was the only aid I picked up the entire bike ride; the rest I carried on my bike with me. I had 1 bottle of water, carbo pro and vitalyte (480 cals) and 3 packs of Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (480 calories.) I also packed 2 extra GUs just in case.
Before the swim, Mike Reilly announced that the marine layer was very low and heavy and to be careful for wet, slick roads on the bike. This made me extra cautious because I have never ridden in the rain or on wet roads. Less than 5 miles into the ride, I saw a lonely bike getting walked away from a crash scene while his owner was sitting in the back of an ambulance bandaged up. That made me even more cautious. I paid extra attention to the road and when passing others. I’m not sure how much this affected my speed. I tried to watch it and keep it above 18 mph, and I tried to stay in my drops (I have a road bike right now) for most of the first half of the race since it’s a flat part of the course. I still got passed by a lot of people. The men 30-34 age group started after me, so there’s no telling how many people passed me. At least I passed some people too! Jeremy caught up to me at mile 20, and we exchanged a few words before he charged ahead. I was happy to see him! That was a perk of him starting after me, even though I’m sure he wasn’t happy to start in the very last wave.
The second half of the course had a couple of very steep challenging hills and several rolling hills, and I welcomed the challenge because hills meant change. I was getting a little bored out there. No spectators were allowed on the bike course! We road on the Camp Pendleton Navy base which was a very cool experience, but I wish there were more people along the course. It got lonely out there, and I only was on the bike for 3:35…It’s hard to image what the bike ride will be like when I do the full, but at least there will be more spectators for that. I had another concern on my mind – What if I got a flat tire!? I saw a lot of people tending to their flats on the side of the road, and I was praying that it didn’t happen to me because I wasn’t confident that I could change a flat on my own. Luckily, I didn’t get a flat, but going forward, I really need to learn how to work on my bike so this isn’t a worry for my 112 mile challenge. I think I wasted some energy stressing about a flat tire and also worrying about the bike penalties since there were a lot of rules (stay at least 4 bike lengths away from the person in front of you, complete your pass within 20 seconds, etc.)
The “big scary hill” that everyone talks about for this half Ironman was pretty long and steep, and it comes about halfway through the bike course. If you don’t have climbing experience, you will struggle. If you’ve been practicing hills, you will make it up with a lot of effort, but just fine. That’s not to say that it isn’t tough. I was going 5 mph at some points! I saw several people walking their bikes up the hill, but you shouldn’t have to do that. There were two “tough love cheerleaders” at the top of the hill. The guy yelled “No sympathy here!” while the woman yelled things like “Tough love!” They weren’t very nice, but I welcomed any human contact at that point, and it gave me something else to focus on. I was happy when the marine told me that I had reached the top. I actually yelled, “Thank God!” in response. Another woman beside me joyfully exclaimed that we were halfway through the bike course.
Sometime around mile 30, I noticed I had to pee. Again. (My bladder is TINY.) There weren’t many port-a-potties on the course. They were at the 3 aid stations (about 12 miles apart), and then there were a few others placed throughout. I decided I’d hold it until T2 because getting off the bike seemed like a waste of time and effort. (No, I didn’t consider peeing on my bike, but it probably would have been OK since I didn’t have any underwear on…)
The other significant hill that everyone talks about is a somewhat steep, long, windy downhill with a 25 mph speed limit since someone lost control, crashed, and died there one year. I will put your fears to ease because the hill is not as steep, windy, or scary as I thought it would be, especially with the speed limit in place. It has a no passing zone and you have to stay below 25 mph so you won’t get a yellow card. They have one of those flashing signs like for cars that shows your speed limit. I think the guy behind me got a penalty for being so close to me because he yelled “Aw come on!” at one point. Who knows. I was just obeying the speed limit!
Around mile 40 I noticed that I was making pretty good time on the bike. I was doing much better than I anticipated! I projected it could take me up to 4 hours to finish the bike course, so I was pleasantly surprised when I realized I could make it in about 3:30 vs. the 4 hours I had estimated. I don’t really know my full potential on the bike yet.
I exhaled a huge sigh of relief when I noticed familiar territory again and had less than 5 miles to go. The very last part of the bike is a no passing zone because we ride on the beach strand right next to the runners. (I think there were 3 of these zones total). As I approached the boardwalk, I got choked up and teary eyed. I felt a huge sense of accomplishment and relief making it through the bike, and I was excited to do what I do best. RUN.
This transition went fairly smoothly compared to the first one. What slowed me down was 1 port-a-potty stop and an inquiry at the penalty tent. I also stopped by the tent to ask them if I had a penalty. Yes, you heard me. I was confused about the penalty process and was actually worried that I had one, so I decided to ask them. Obviously I didn’t have one because one of the motorcycle refs would have approached me. It made me feel better to ask, though, because I seriously thought I might have gotten a drafting penalty at one point! Lesson learned. If a ref doesn’t TELL you that you have a penalty, you don’t. Those motorcycles made me nervous! I put my shoes on, grabbed my thawed water bottle with nuun, and was on my way (after I went pee!)
The Run: 13.1 miles on the coast
1:55:48 (23/52 age group, 884 overall)
The run was my favorite part of the race. I just love to run. I felt really fresh coming off the bike and entering the home stretch of the course. I remember thinking that this distance wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. I was having too much fun to notice if I was hurt or tired! I did notice, however, that I was running kind of fast, so I kept checking my Timex watch to make sure I wasn’t going out too hard (anything sub 8 min/miles). I tried to keep my pace between 8:30-8:45 the entire time but I definitely slowed up the steep hills on the pier. I felt fantastic the first 10k and probably had a faster split that for my second 10k because that is when I started to feel it in my hip flexors, knees, and feet. Suddenly I was in some pain and took back my earlier comment of it not being that hard. 🙂 I was finally pushing it.
The run course was new this year. It was 2 1/2 loops on the boardwalk and the 101 and perfect for spectators. It had some rolling hills and a couple of short, steep climbs on the pier too. I guess the run course used to be completely flat, so a lot of people were struggling with this change. I didn’t mind the small hills, though, because I usually run on the 101 and am used to hills. I was just so happy to be running on the coast with a view of the ocean and feeling that lovely coastal breeze.
I am so glad I wore my TCSD tri kit because I have never had more cheers for me in my life. Every 3 minutes someone shouted “Go tri club!” and depending on how tired I was, I would smile, wave, or hoot in reply. In addition to tri club supporters, I had friends, family, and even a coworker on the course shouting for me. It felt incredible. I was so happy to be out there running with all that support. I also got to see all of Team WODS in action! Nicole, Mike, and Jeremy were looking good out there, and I was so happy to see them again. There were also two beach houses that played great tunes including Chariot of Fire and the Rocky theme song. I even did some fist pumps with people in the crowd. Music can pump me up at any time. Earphones aren’t allowed on USAT race courses, so since I couldn’t run with my own music, hearing other people’s music was the next best thing. I even remember hearing Barbie Girl at one point.
My nutrition was sub-par on the run. I never felt hungry, and I was sick of force feeding myself. I took 1 GU around mile 3 or 4 because I felt like I probably needed the calories. I took 1 more about 45 minutes later, and then threw it up in my mouth and decided I was cut off from GU that day. I switched to water and orange slices from the aid stations and was able to push through the run on those calories alone. I need a new fuel strategy for my full Ironman because I got sick of not having any “real food” really fast. (Peanut butter sandwiches anyone?) See more on my nutrition at the very end of this post.
I saw Nicole sometime after mile 12 for her, heading for the finish line, when I was approaching mile 9, and I knew I had to give it everything I had to maintain my pace and finish strong. I was the last one of Team WODS on the course, like I expected, and I wanted to have a good finish. I silently repeated my running mantra for the last 3.1 miles “Pain is temporary, Pride is forever” and I ran as fast as my little legs would carry me across the finish line. I remember I had a huge smile one my face as I stepped on the Ironman red carpet. I got choked up again and nearly cried with joy and relief and accomplishment when I crossed the finish line. I will never forget that moment. Words can’t describe how good it felt.
6:30:41 (37/52, 1487/2235)
2,235 people started the race that day…2,138 finished. I guess finishing in itself is an accomplishment!
Right when I crossed the finish line, I was given my medal, my timing chip was stripped off, and I entered the food garden. I went straight for a recovery drink and salty Lay’s potato chips. I literally ate a paper plate full of potato chips. I also had a piece of veggie pizza. The cookies weren’t very good. Salt, salt, salt is all I wanted. After my food fest, I was reunited with my family. Jeremy found me first and gave me a big hug. I was so happy to be with him again! I was so proud of us! My mom, dad, sister, niece, Jeremy’s friends and mom were all there to congratulate me and give me high-fives. They were surprised at how well I was functioning and said I looked great crossing the finish line.
I felt great. This was truly one of the most memorable moments of my life.
BIKE: 60 grams/carbs per hour = 240 calories/hour
RUN: 1 GU/40 minutes (how I fuel on my open half and full marathons)
Breakfast: 2 waffles with peanut butter and agave nectar
T1 Setup: 1 banana
Pre Swim: 1 GU
I packed 3 packs Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews (160 calories/pack and 10 chews/pack) and 1 bottle filled with 4 scoops carbopro (400 calories) and 2 scoops vitalyte (80 calories). I drank 95% of the bottle, and I left 14 chews which means I actually took in about 720 calories or 205 calories/hour. It worked out OK because my bike took me 3:35 hours instead of 4:00 hours. Had I been on the bike longer, I definitely would have needed to keep eating. I was sick of eating, though.
I need to adjust my nutrition for the full Ironman. I started getting sick of all the sweet calories on the bike, and I was definitely sick of the GU on the run. I needed/wanted real food. I heard that peanut butter sandwiches are a good way to go on the bike. I’m also considering a Luna bar.
Run actual: I grabbed my water bottle with Nun from T1 and ran with it for the first few miles. Then I took 1 GU around mile 3-4 and 1 more about 45 minutes after that. After feeling sick from GU, I had 2 orange slices from the aid stations and water. I don’t think I had enough calories on the run, but I’m happy I got through it OK. I need to adjust my nutrition strategy for the full Ironman because I obviously can’t only take 2 GUs for the entire 26.2 mile run.