||Half - Ironman
This is the race report I wrote for my marathoning friends about the Ford Ironman 70.3 Oceanside, a half-iron distance triathlon.
Short version: I bettered last year's time by 43 minutes! I had a great time, despite leaking goggles during the harbor swim and a difficult patch on the hilly bike ride. I'll definitely do this race again next year.
2008 time: 7:12:42
2007 time: 7:55:45
2008 swim split for 1.2 miles: 49:04
2007 swim split: for 1.2 miles 53:07
2008 bike split for 56 miles: 3:47:16
2007 bike split for 56 miles: 4:11:20
2008 half-marathon run: 2:21:00
2007 half-marathon run: 2:32:36
Long version -- Yes, I had a very fun time. I had been doing some very aggressive training with the TriCHICKS for the half-iron distance because I'm doing a full Ironman in June (IM CDA) and it paid off in faster times in all three disciplines.
If you're interested in doing triathlons, I think you will find that the half-ironman takes longer, but it takes less out of you than a hard marathon.
It's do-able with about five to six months of bike and swim training if you're working from a marathon background, if you're not already cycling or swimming. (At the end of this report, I'll tell you my nefarious plan for us to do next year's race together and maybe tackle the same Ironman together in 2009.)
I got into Oceanside Friday afternoon. At the registration they check your ID, they make you sign away your right to sue Ironman, the Marine Corps or the city of Oceanside should anything go wrong. Then they weigh you, put a non-removable ID bracelet on you, and issue chip, latex swim cap, and Ironman poster. The expo wasn't anything as extensive as a marathon expo. But if you felt like dropping a few thousand bucks you could buy an Endless Pool, or expensive Ironman-branded gear, or a $5,000 bicycle. The big new item this year was knee-length compression socks from about six different makers. I actually saw some athletes racing in them.
Friday night, I joined about 30 other members of the L.A. Tri Club (including a few others who are also Leggers including Kurt from the ten30pace group) at dinner. Of course, by 6 p.m., it's too late for me to eat before a race, so I just had soup. I'd done my usual dinner of tuna-mayo-bagel and an apple about 90 minutes before that. Still it was a fun group, many of them doing their first half-iron distance race.
Back at the hotel, I laid out my gear, took two Tylenol PM, painted my fingernails black (for fierceness) and read the opening of a book by triathlon legend Steve Tinley called "Racing the Sunset" about his struggle to regain his identity after leaving his career as a pro triathlete.
Saturday morning, I was up at 4:30 a.m., downed my breakfast smoothie (yogurt/milk/banana/frozen strawberries, 210 calories of maltodextrin powder and a packet of Emergen-C) and a half bagel. I figure that breakfast at about 600 calories.
Out the door to the race at 5:10 a.m. At this race, you put all your swim and run gear into a backpack and ride your bike to the transition zone. Once inside (and only the athletes with the wristband are allowed in) you find your place on the numbered bike racks, rack your bike, go to body marking (race number on your left arm, age on your left calf) and then lay out your race gear.
By this time, it's about 6 a.m. and my start is at 7:21 a.m. I spend the next hour waiting in porta-potty lines and warming up with a shuffling jog along the waterfront, looking at the swim course laid out in the harbor and thinking it looks a lot longer than a mile out and back.
The pros started at 6:45 a.m., then the waves of age-groupers follow in 4-minute intervals. I was nearly late for my swim wave last year because I had difficulty suiting up, so I made sure I had a few extra minutes this year. I felt like an idiot when I realized I had put both legs into the wetsuit without taking off my warm-up shorts and had to re-do one leg. Still, I got there on time.
For the swim, everybody in that wave (mine was about 100 women over 45 years old) gets herded down a green-carpeted boat launch ramp into the sheltered water of Oceanside Harbor. The water was about 59 degrees, but did not feel uncomfortably cold. The swimmers gather in a line, there's a countdown and then an air horn blast and we're swimming.
The legendarily violent washing-machine Ironman swim starts where people get kicked in the head (a friend got a concussion at the Florida Ironman last year) don't really happen much when the other swimmers are 45-and-older women. It's all polite back where I was. I had difficulty getting a good rhythm going, partly because the right side of my goggles were leaking seawater into my eye. I kept stopping to drain the goggle, and found it hard to get going well until about one-third of the way into the swim. Coming back, I was swimming into the sun, but there's a big building in the distance to sight on, so it wasn't hard to find the way back to the boat ramp after 49 minutes of swimming.
This year, they had about ten volunteers in wetsuits lined up in two columns on the underwater ramp helping people out of the water, and I was markedly less woozy than I was last year, when I had to lean on the boat launch ramp wall before going on through transition. I credit a lot more swimming hours and longer workouts this year.
In the transition zone, a nice young woman from the Navy helped strip off my wetsuit. Underneath I was wearing triathlon shorts (bike shorts with a thinner, quick-drying pad than traditional bike shorts) and a one-piece racing top with built-in bra. I put on my Tri Club bike jersey (yes, when I do triathlon I wear our sister club's uniform) and bike shoes. Helmet, jacket, fingerless bike gloves, sunglasses and I was good to go.
The 56-mile bike leg is fairly flat for about the first half, then there is a monstrously long and steep hill at about mile 27. Last year, I walked most of it in my stocking feet, my bike shoes velcroed together and slung over the handlebars. This year, encountering the same hill, I made it up about a quarter of the way, then stopped to get my heart rate down, then continued on and rode the rest of it, passing a number of people who were on fancier bikes than mine. Thanks for the hill workouts, TriCHICKS!
There were three hill sections, and I got quite tired around the second series of hills, but I remembered to keep downing the sports drink and gel, keep my heart rate low and pedal cadence high and I perked up by the third set. The last 15 miles are pretty flat, but face a headwind that was greater than last year, but it wasn't too bad. I ended up doing the bike leg about 24 minutes faster than last year's bike.
The run was pretty easy. I've been doing long easy-pace trail runs with friends on Sundays after the long bike rides on Saturdays, and so the run portion felt about the same. Still I managed to do the run 11 minutes faster than last year.
Overall this was a great day in my triathlon career. To train hard for a race, and for the resulting race day to become a celebration of the training, to me, that's what it's all about.
The most interesting thing I learned at this race was how to get into a sold-out Ironman race. After you're done racing Oceanside, good and tired, you go to the awards at 4 p.m.. This race is unusual in that they give out 50 slots for each of the sold-out Ironman races going on later that year. You can choose from among Ironman Canada (a really, really tough bike course), Wisconsin (rolling hills), Lake Placid (also tough as nails), Arizona or Florida (both flat). I'd probably choose Wisconsin, Arizona or Florida.
If you had a great day racing and want to do an Ironman in 2009 without making the commitment a full year in advance, you stay for the awards and choose your race (of course you also put down the money at that time, too.) Nobody was turned away from registering from any of the sold-out Ironman events on Saturday, even the high-demand Ironman Canada race.
If you had a very challenging day and can't imagine doing a full Ironman that year, no problem. You came, you participated, you conquered, and can come back the next year.
Anyway, I hope I've planted the temptation to go tri a long distance race.
Thanks for reading,