March 30, 2013 marked another milestone for me. My “A” race for 2013 came early in the year. I toed the line at Ironman 70.3 California, my first Half Ironman distance triathlon. It was a long road to get to that point. I started to focus on the training just after the Marine Corps Marathon in November, 2012.
Nerves started to fire up the week of March 18, when I turned the bike into TriBike Transport, a company that handles getting your bike to and from big events. I recommend TBT HIGHLY! It actually works out to be cheaper than renting a box, breaking the bike down, paying to check it on the plane, which is about $150 each way, unboxing it, putting it back together and doing that all over again when you fly home. Nerves subsided a bit, that week, but fired back up the Monday before the race when I started the race week meal plan. They didn’t really subside from there.
I did the race with my great friend Josh Pittman, of the infamous Pittman clan. As you might recall from my story, my journey really got kicked into gear when Josh and I went to be the pit crew for Josh’s older brother Matt when he went to Florida to compete in Ironman Florida in 2010.
We got to California on Thursday, March 28 with a few things to do, which included a swim in the ocean in the wetsuits to acclimate our bodies to what we heard would be very cold water. It turns out that the water was actually warmer than the lake that Josh and I swam in earlier in the week here in north Texas. Surf was up that day in Dana Point, where we stayed on the trip, so we cut our swim short. Safety first!
Friday morning we got up and went for a spin. We needed to get the legs moving. We spun about 20 miles along the coast, which was great. California may be a mess in a bunch of ways, but they have a huge respect for fitness. There are great bike lanes all over and bike routes that are marked well with signs. We followed the lanes along the route, which took us south toward Carlsbad. We got a pretty decent dose of the hills there, although these hills paled in comparison to what we saw on the race course. More on that later. After the ride and a stop at Bike Religion for a few last-minute bike needs, we headed back to the condo to grab our wetsuits for another swim, this time at Baby Beach in Dana Point, which is a small harbor in Dana Point. This swim ended up being perfect for us because the conditions were very similar to what the course would be like for us in Oceanside. We swam about 500m that day. It was enjoyable and put me at ease in the water. Friday we had dinner in the condo, finished packing the gear bags and headed to bed early.
Ironman 70.3 California Race Day
Saturday morning started with alarms at 4am. I actually slept really well the night before, which surprised me. We got up and had our planned breakfast. We double checked the bikes and gear bags loaded up the car and made the 30 minute drive to Oceanside. We got to T1 which was in Oceanside Harbor. The pros went with the gun sounding at 6:20am. It’s amazing to me how fast the pros are every time I get to see them. Josh went at 6:53 with his wave and my wave would follow at 7:45. The 30 minutes in transition between Josh’s wave and mine was the longest wait of my life. I was very nervous about the swim because my last swim in open water was at the US Open, where I did not finish (DNF) the swim due to issues in the water. In Oceanside, I just wanted in that water to get things going.
Swim – Make it out of that water!
The gun fired and we were off. I hit go on the Garmin and started to swim MY RACE. My race plan was to swim confidently, but not too aggressively. To maintain my pace and to protect myself. Some of these races can be a dog fight in the water with people swimming over you or kicking you. I was only kicked once, for the record. I hit the turn buoy and felt great. It was at this point, probably about 40% into the swim, that I knew that I would get out of the water successfully. I did just that, completing the swim in 44:51. That was over three minutes faster than my goal of 48 minutes. Trilife was good!
I felt great out of the water. I planned on being a bit dizzy, but I wasn’t. I made the trot the length of the transition area then back to my spot where I got ready to hit the road. My official transition time was terrible. I planned on seven to eight minutes, but according to the official time, I did 10:51 from swim to bike. This is an area that I must improve. I knew I’d be a bit long because this race has two different transition areas and you have to put all your swim gear into a plastic bag, where they then transport it over to T2 for you. I didn’t think I went eleven minutes, but I guess I did.
Bike – How the HILL are you!
I got out on the bike and wanted to get the legs going so I spun hard in a high gear out of transition. That was a good plan since there is a short but steep hill about a half a mile into the bike. Once up that hill you head North into Camp Pendleton.
You aren’t allowed to ride the course at all prior to the race, so my entire plan was based on what research I could gather about the course and from word of mouth. The book on the bike course is that there is one long challenging hill on the course. From what I could gather from reading and talking to people it’s at around mile 40 and it goes for about 3/4 of a mile at around 11% grade. This was confirmed on the video that we watched when we checked in for the race. As you might imagine, I was surprised at around mile 25, when I was talking to another competitor and he told me to look up. What he was pointing out was the hill that we were approaching. He told me that he’s done the race 6 times and he enjoys that point of the race because he knows that it when his work in training will be tested. As you might imagine, I was surprised when I saw it. I was even more surprised when I got to it. There were about a half of a dozen people off of their bikes walking up the hill. At one point, I looked down and the grade on the Garmin read well over 13%. STEEP! I peddled up the hill trying to keep my workload in check so that I can maintain energy for the rest of the race. I made it to the top and kept going. There were actually three significant hills on the course from approximately mile 26 through mile 41. I was challenged to say the least, but I never left my bike and made it up each one. I wasn’t fast up them, but I worked my way up and over each one, keeping to my race day nutrition plan along the way to keep my energy up. The bike course flattens out back into Oceanside after those hills. I was pretty happy on the bike. I felt strong and I passed more than I was passed. Not a really official barometer for success, but that worked for me mentally. The bike ends with a short cruise along the Strand at Oceanside and into T2, which is just across from the pier. My target for the bike was three and a half hours. I finished the bike in 3:31:27, which was pretty much on target for me.
I got into T2, racked the bike, grabbed the supplements from my bike’s bento box, a water bottle from the back cage of my bike, threw some Nuun in it, put on the shoes and the cap and headed out for the run. My T2 target was 7-8 minutes and I clocked in at 8:20. Close enough, but not fast.
Run – Just do it!
My run target was two and a half hours which would require a pace of 11:26 a mile. That’s a challenging target after a 56 mile bike and 1.2 mile swim, but it is doable for me if my foot was feeling good off of the bike. As many know, I lost a toe and half of my big toe on my left foot as a child in an accident. This causes me some toe pain that goes from tolerable to very painful. It also causes some pain in my upper arch over long distances.
The foot was feeling OK off of the bike. Just OK. I was still going to shoot for the 2:30 and started with my plan. Get the legs going, and keep a good cadence. I was able to do so for about a mile, but the pain started to spike from there. I usually wear two pairs of socks on my left foot for added cushioning. That combined with applying Aquaphor liberally usually helps me manage things through any race. It worked during the Marine Corps Marathon. I wasn’t working for me here. I ended up removing a sock at mile six or so and it helped moderately. At this point, I knew that 2:30 wasn’t happening, having averaged around twelve-minute miles. I was still running, so I was happy. “Finishing is winning”, I kept telling myself. I trotted through the two loop run course and made my way onto the Strand at around mile twelve. Once I got a look at the finish and the green of the finishing clock, I kicked up my pace and ran confidently toward it. I stopped looking at the Garmin long before that on the run and didn’t even care about that. I just wanted to finish. To validate myself as a triathlete. I did just that. I finished the run in 2:53:40, well over my target, but I did it. I FINISHED!
Up until this point, I would never call myself a triathlete. I was someone “doing triathlons”. I now feel like a triathlete. Many will consider that as a bit negative. It isn’t intended to be. I need to drive myself that way. I am now a triathlete. I’ve completed something that two years ago I thought wasn’t possible.
Some think this is crazy, but I can’t wait to do it again. I can’t wait to apply the lessons that I learned to improve. I’m headed to Boston next for the Boston marathon. I am looking forward to continuing this dream year. I am looking forward to that challenge and the ones to come.
First, I want to thank Josh. Thanks for the motivation. You push me and I couldn’t have done this without you. I appreciate it very much.
Huge thank you to Tammy for being a part of the best support crew we can get. I have told you many times and I will tell you many more, I needed that support and appreciate you and all that you did for me. For Josh and I both. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for helping to make this experience more special than I thought it could be. You were there at the end, waiting for me. It meant a lot.
Another big thank you to Josh’s parent, Steve and Ruann Pittman. They made the trip too. They were with Josh and I at Matt’s Ironman so we were in a support crew together, which was fun. It was great to have you all there, helping us get through it.
I have to thank the folks at TriShop in Plano, TX. I’ve mentioned these guys before, and I will continue to. These are great people. Experienced triathletes passionate about what they do. I got so much from my time spent at TriShop. All the coaching, formal and informal was invaluable. Trent, I repeated to myself so many times during the race what you told me the first day we met…. “You swim to the bike, you bike to the run, you race on the run.” I didn’t do much racing on the run, but I finished. That’s what this race was about for me. If you are reading this and are around North Texas and want to get into Triathlon, go visit the TriShop. They are quite simply, the best in the business. People to look for at TriShop:
- Trent – Co-Owner and helps run the place. Multiple Ironman Finisher.
- Raul – Co-Owner and helps run the place. Multiple Ironman Finisher.
- Stearns – Bike Guru and pretty damned good nutrition tip guy. Single speed mountain bike racer and general bad ass.
- Arvam – Did all my pre-race testing so I can get my fuel (food) dialed in. USAT Certified Coach.
- Lisa – Nutritionist that made sure I had what I needed to not bonk out. I didn’t bonk out and it because I spent time with Lisa to get my fuel (food) very specifically dialed.
- The rest of the team… you guys kick ass!
Last round of thanks go to all the people who I have met to date. You provide support and motivation from near and far. To all my triathlon friends, Thank you! You all know who you are. Thanks to the Macca X12 VIP Team for the kind words of encouragement before the race. Thanks to the FURTHERFASTERFOREVER Team for your words of encouragement and congrats after the race. Congrats to all the team members that raced the race.0