Thursday, April 14, 2016

Ironman 70.3 California Race Report

California is big. It outdoes itself in scenery, population, traffic and beaches. It’s desert, mountains, ocean. It’s extreme, and the land goes on forever. I always felt lucky to live a day’s drive away.

But the drive was a pain in the ass, especially if I was doing all the driving. The barren stretches of the Mohave desert made me want to scream with the monotony. The windmills outside of Palm Springs and absurd skeletal stumps of dead palm trees in Desert Center were scant relief from the boredom. The gas prices made me cringe. Seven hours later, the torture was over.

I have done Ironman 70.3 California in Oceanside twice. The ocean swim is in a relatively calm harbor and the bike route goes past the coastal shore into Camp Pendleton. The military base has a lot of undeveloped land so they are free to shoot and blow things up. It is always sporting green hills with wildflowers. It’s a kick ass bike ride with hefty hills.

The race is well organized, the people are friendly and best of all, the run isn’t in ninety degree heat. I was tired of racing with heat exhaustion.

For some reason, I had a difficult time upon arrival discerning which way was north or south and when I missed the hotel entrance, I drove aimlessly around until I finally found it. I could have looked it up on my phone, but it was too much bother. I had stumbled into the fourth leg of triathlon–getting around a strange town. In some ways, it was the most difficult and stressful.

My navigation skills were put to the test the next day, when I had to pick up my packet and drop my bike off. I blundered around until I found parking. In beach towns, parking can be problematic, because in addition to all the athletes and their families, the rest of California also descends like vultures to take up space. The town became of mixture of confused drivers, dudes with surf boards, families carrying beach crap and dragging small children, and bike riders. My plan was to pick up my packet, maybe attend an athlete meeting and go back for my bike later. This was a bad move.

This might have been a hint of things to come the day before.
Ideally, the day before a difficult, long race should be restful, but race organizers deviously make you stand in line to register, make you walk around to get your race goodies and then walk a long way to drop off your bike. The nervous energy of all the type A athletes was draining. I had to beg a volunteer for a parking pass for race morning because my hotel was more than 1.5 miles from transition. Seriously, she wanted me to walk 3.2 miles to race 70.3 miles? Then I had to go back to my hotel to get my bike, find another parking spot and drop my bike off at transition. The walk back was twenty-three minutes. The whole thing was exhausting and I hadn’t even raced yet.

Old people were WAY in back.

Race morning, I got up at a horrible, dark hour and went to my car. It was covered with dew. This was baffling. Living in a desert, I don’t get dew on the car and didn’t know what to do. Turn on the A.C.? The heat? That button with the weird squiggly graphic? It would have been nice to be able to see, but the windows kept fogging up again. I desperately wiped them with my hand.

I got to town and found out I didn’t know where my parking lot was. The streets were one way going against where I wanted to go. Finally I got to it. I caught a shuttle bus, then walked.

The air was chilly. I got my wetsuit on, then put a jacket over it. The goal was to stay warm as long as possible. The water temperature was sixty-two degrees, which was bearable with a full wetsuit, booties, two caps and a hood and ear plugs. After standing in line for twenty minutes, I got to jump in. The cold shocked me, but at least my face wasn’t numb. I started swimming, but didn’t get to the start line marked by buoys before the gun went off.

The cold water sapped my energy. I swam some, then rested, then swam. I tried to stay out of the way of the water churning faster swimmers. As I approached the mouth of the harbor, the water got choppier. My repeated mantra to myself was that I was going to be okay. The salt water slapped my face and dried my throat. I didn’t want to panic, because that would be ugly. The swells obscured the buoys at times. The water would be rough until I turned around and got further back into the harbor. I cussed a lot. Usually this section was calmer and the swells barely noticeable. Yesterday, the beach was closed due to riptides and high surf. The sea was still writhing. This swim really sucked.

I reached calmer water, but then the next ordeal awaited. All the incoming swimmers are funneled into a narrow area. In past years, they ran into me and I shrugged it off. This year, they were obnoxious, pushing on my feet, banging into my sides. More cussing. I finally got into a rhythm, but time stretched out. The sun was in my eyes, so I couldn’t see the end. It should have been close, but it wasn’t. After I long time, I staggered out of the water. Sixty-four minutes. It was the worse swim ever at this race.

I struggled out of my wetsuit and got my bike gear on. I was cold, so I put on a vest and arm warmers. I had a long run to get to the start because they had put the old people far away from the entrance. Running in bike shoes was awkward. I had to pee, but I didn’t want to stop.

Almost all of the bike route was on Camp Pentleton. Riding on a military base was novel. Right away, I rode past soldiers with an armored humvee with a mounted machine gun. The first part of the bike was fairly flat with rollers. I felt happy to be on the bike. I glimpsed views of the blue ocean. Poppies, sea thrift and ganzanias grew on the grassy hillsides. I looked at pretty birds. It was distracting. I didn’t seem to be going as fast as usual on the “easy” part and that worried me.

The first hill was a monster and the steepness was humbling. People got off and walked and I was tempted to do as well, but I didn’t have the time. They must have had a low pain tolerance. Wussies. It was a short hill anyway. The second hill wasn’t bad and seemed like the hills that I had trained on.

I made an effort to keep taking salt tablets, water and nutrition. I still felt thirsty. The air was cool on the descents, but hot on the climbs. The dry air sucked the water out of me.

A speed/no pass zone at mile forty-two actually had timing mats on it, unlike past years, so I tried not to go too fast. The section had a speed limit because someone had crashed and died on it and spoiled it for everybody. Some idiot passed me. I wished him bad karma. He was probably disqualified.

I passed hidden soldiers shooting things. I heard a loud boom and saw billowing black smoke off in the hills. They weren’t worried about setting the grass on fire. I stopped to remove my vest and arm warmers, because climbing the hills made me hot. I was constantly worried about the tight time cut off. The stupid swim screwed everything up.

The areas with building always had soldiers watching us. I guess they wanted to keep the spandex clad bike riders from committing nefarious acts on their base. I passed a sign that said “artillery firing overhead at any time.” Hopefully, not today.

After grinding through the hills to the flat part at mile forty-four, the wind picked up. I couldn’t go more than twelve miles an hour. My anxiety increased. I hoped turning south would help and it did. I was in full “beat the cut off” mode, which meant going as hard as possible, despite the possibility of trashing the run.

I exited the base, going past a soldier with a huge machine gun. This seemed like it would not be a fun way to pass the time--guarding the base from triathlete trouble-makers.

I got to transition with a few minutes to spare on the five and a half hour cut off. I was crusty with salt and dehydrated. I really wasn’t sure why the bike was so much slower than previous years. I hadn’t peed in hours and had no need to do so now.

On the run, the first miles, the aid stations didn’t have coke, so I resorted to Red Bull. Coke would bring me back to life, but I didn’t know if Red Bull would. I was leery of using it,  but I was desperately tired. I didn’t know how healthy it was, but I didn’t care. I had read stories about bad effects like stomach upset, anxiety and constipation. It wasn’t bad cold, but warm it tasted like cough syrup. I felt good for five minutes, then reverted to my funk.

Part of the run course done 3x's. Ugh!

The run went south along the beach, went up and down the pier; then into the neighborhood and turned around back to the pier. The ocean provided a cool breeze, but the residential area was closed in and hot. A few kind residents were hosing the runners. Someone had music going and another group had an impromptu aid station. The miles went by slowly and I felt dead and was depressed about the mediocre time. I still wanted to have an official finish under eight and a half hours. I thought I would have enough time, but I wasn’t sure.

After drinking coke and Red Bull at various aid stations, I revived about mile five. I still couldn’t go fast, but at least the movement felt more like actual running than plodding.

My mood lifted and I ran a little faster. I was getting excited about finishing. I had finally found my joy. The last two miles were the fastest. A quarter mile from the finish, I noticed someone in my age group ahead of me. I didn’t think I could catch her, but she slowed down to walk and I passed her. At least I wouldn’t be last in my age group. I ran the second half of the run faster than the first by eight minutes. The overall time sucked, but it was still an official finish.

California can do what it will to me, but with garbage drinks, I will prevail.