It took me about a week before I cut off the participants' blue wristband from my right wrist. I don't have a set amount of time I wait before doing something like that -- usually it depends on the race and my feelings about the experience. For IM California 70.3, I really basked in the achievement. Who knows how many races I have left? Why not soak it all in a bit longer before setting ahead on the next big challenge?
Here's my recap of the actual event, now that I've had PLENTY of time to absorb it
The water temperature was a chilly 58 degrees – though my Ironman Coeur d’Alene swim was colder by 4 degrees and felt much worse by comparison. Still I broke out the neoprene cap for my first open-water swim of the year. I was nervous getting into the harbor because of that fact – how much would the current and chop force me out of my rhythm? I was slower than my goal of between 34-36 minutes (36:12, 1:54 pace) but I’m not sure if my lack of open-water swimming was the culprit. Most likely it was a combination of usual poor sighting and a lack of swimmers I could manage to draft off. It seemed once again that I’m faster than the middle-of-the pack swimmers but not as fast as the elites, so there I swam alone in no-man’s land, err water. Once I exited the water, I realized my watch hadn’t started so I had no idea what my pace was. Coach Gerardo saw me in the T1 chute though and told me I swam fast and great job, so it fueled me. I wonder how my race would have been affected if I had known I was slower than I expected. Before moving to the bike, I’d like to share a tip Rusty offered me before the swim started: Vaseline on the underarms. It helped him retain body heat as he used a sleeveless wetsuit and I adopted it to stay warm during the bike since I was wearing a sleeveless tri suit. Despite rain, wind and low 50s temperatures, I never felt cold throughout the day.
My T1 goal was to remain under four minutes, which I managed to do thanks to not wearing socks on the bike (3:41). See, I can never feel my feet after a swim so it makes putting those socks on even harder. Why bother? I decided to wait to put on socks for the run in T2.
Once on the bike, I quickly found Rusty, which was a surprise as he was in the M35-39 wave prior to mine. But a pleasant surprise indeed as we shared some laughs and essentially rode together for the first 25 miles. We were moving well, averaging between 20 and 22 mph just as my coach predicted. My heart rate was steady and despite the poor conditions I felt extremely comfortable. Rusty told me I was on pace for a 5:15 race and I put it out of my head. That’s how I’ve gotten into trouble in the past, shooting for the finish too early. The key is pacing, which is ironic given my most recent Lava Magazine column.
I remained focused, took it easy on the two big climbs inside Camp Pendleton and didn’t panic even when I realized that I had lost one of my two water bottles somewhere on the course. I was going to be without liquids for 10 miles, the toughest part of the course no less. Instead of freaking out, I simply checked my options and decided that an extra Gu Roctane would suffice and that if I started to feel poorly I’d ask fellow competitors if I could grab a swig. I didn’t think it would come to that and fortunately it didn’t.
Plus, I had something else occupying my mind. I had to pee. Real bad. Since I was feeling so good I didn’t want to get off the bike. I was on track for a personal best performance if I could stay on the bike and avoid a restroom. Which leads us to my “proudest” moment yet as a triathlete.
I peed while cycling. That’s right, I said it. I stood out of the bike saddle on a long downhill and let loose. Twice. I made sure of course that there weren’t racers immediately behind me but, when ya gotta go ya gotta go.
Pause. Yes, this sport is crazy. Yes, I’m probably crazy too.
Peeing on the bike made me briefly think I was a Cirque du Soliel artist. Which way do you lean? (Left, to avoid getting anything in your bike chain) How do you avoid getting “runoff” in your shoes? (You don’t.) How do you balance yourself so the bike doesn’t wobble all over the place? (I have no idea.) I have a lot to learn in this area but for now, I’m just glad I didn’t waste time in a port-o-potty.
I cruised into T2 at 2:49:20, 40 seconds faster than my anticipated best-case scenario time. I wanted to average 20 mph on the bike, but 19.87 mph is a close consolation on a hilly, rainy, windy course!
T2 went fast as planned. Putting on my socks was MUCH easier when I was able to feel my toes. Though I didn’t really want to touch them given what I did while on the bike. In and out in 2:12.
The run is always the biggest question mark for me. Coach Gerardo told me to stick with 8-minute miles until I felt comfortable turning up the speed. I started with a 7:46 mile and quickly pulled back. I was worried about starting too fast and bonking later on the course. In addition, I’ve been having a lot of problems with my orthotics and shoes in general. My right foot is racked with blisters in the arch and running has become fairly painful. I didn’t want to pound too hard, too quickly. There are also some short, steep climbs on the course in the form of the ramps that take participants from the beachfront strand to the streets nearby. I didn’t want to cramp up on the second loop. This led to a conservative plan where I stuck with 8-minute miles through the eighth mile of the course (once all the hills were completed). Even though I thought I’d ignore my heart-rate as I had at the Bandit Trail Race, I paid much more attention to it than I expected. I was holding steady in a low-zone 3 heart rate, which meant I had a LOT more left in the tank. Yet I was enjoying myself in the race and strangely OK with not going faster. After all, I knew that Ironman St. George was the bigger fish here and only five weeks away.
That changed around mile 9, where I knew it was time to let it all out. My feet were in pain and my adductors were getting a bit tighter. It was now or never time to achieve my personal-best sub-1:44 half-marathon goal. I dropped my miles gradually down to 7:30s in the final mile. But this time, instead of a sprint finish in the finisher’s chute, I decided to savor the moment.
We work so hard training for these huge events. Yet all we want to do at the end is get it over with. It’s so weird! Then, we spend the next few days and weeks trying to remember that “high” that comes with accomplishing our goals. I wanted to line up the memory with the real-time experience – even if it meant a slower finish. That realization led to some strutting, hand waving to rile up the crowd, and a skip-kick at the finish line for good measure. The only thing missing was a moonwalk.
Even with my dorky finish dance, I crossed the line at 5:15:01. And I PR’d my half-marathon by nearly a full minute (1:43:10). I ranked 68 out of 299 in my age group who started the race (top 22%). I also got faster as the day went on in my age group, ranking 92 out of the swim, 78 off the bike and passed another 10 of my age-groupers on the run. I’m very proud of that.
When I saw my time, I couldn’t believe it. The crazy part is that I think I could have gone faster. I wasn’t fatigued as much as my feet were in pain.
So, what did I learn from all this?
This whole pacing thing seems to actually work! I will continue to stick with a plan while being flexible enough to know when to modify it. I will trust in myself (and my coach!) that just because everyone else seems to look faster or have better equipment, I’m not so bad myself. I’ve been doing this a while now. And after what must be around 15 triathlons, I think I’m finally starting to get it. My body knows how to move. My brain knows what to think. My heart knows how not to panic. And now my bladder knows how to unlearn 35 years of potty training.
Look out. Up next, breaking 5 hours in a 70.3 race. It can be done.