Ironman Cozumel Race and Travel Report

Pre-Race

I’ve wanted to race Cozumel for the past few years because I felt it would be a great destination race and a venue the whole family could enjoy. I had always been a bit hesitant to pull the trigger because of the wind and heat associated with the race. However, for 2019, the timing worked out well because I was looking for a late-season race and also a way to take the kids out of the country since we hadn’t yet traveled abroad with the kids for the year. 

Four weeks before the race I had sprained my ankle racing in SwimRun NC, so I stopped all running for over 2 weeks. I then eased back into a 5 and 10 minute run the 2 weeks before IM Cozumel, and then finally worked up to a 45-minute run before leaving on the trip. So, for 4 weeks, I basically did little to no running compared to where I should have been going in to the race. The last week before the race, I was mostly walking and running pain free, but I could still feel tightness and pain if I twisted my ankle in a more extreme or abnormal angle. So needless to say, I was somewhat worried about what could happen going into the marathon portion of the race. It was either going to be fine, or a major issue. 

Our flight from SFO to Cozumel, via Houston, left at 5am on Wednesday morning. Even with a hotel near the airport on Tuesday night, it was still a very early-morning start for everyone. We planned on traveling light, with only carry-on luggage for the whole family. My bike was shipped out 2 weeks prior to the race, and was hopefully waiting for me, once I got to the island.

After a long day and a car, bus, plane, plane and a rental car-ride, we finally made it to our all-inclusive resort in Cozumel. We didn’t make it to our room till after 4pm, and the rest of the day was spent at the beach and a casual dinner at one of the resort restaurants. 

Thursday, was another low-key day without much on the agenda. Before the kids woke, I went out on a quick 30-minute run from the hotel, just to open up my legs. Even in the morning, I could feel the humidity and was drenched in sweat by the time I finished. After breakfast, I was able to go to athlete check-in and we all walked the expo. I also got my bike, and after fixing a flat, was able to ride it back to the hotel for safe-keeping until the race. The rest of the day was spent at the hotel pool and beach with the kids. Dinner was a short drive away at Buccanos, which ended up being a great meal with an outdoor patio and excellent wine (if you don’t count the numerous mosquito bites I endured during the course of the meal). 

Friday morning, I again woke up before the kids, and after my routine Americano from the hotel coffee & ice cream shop, I got on my bike for an hour ride along the main road, headed south on the Ironman bike course. As expected, it was another humid workout with more mosquitos than I have ever seen on me at one time. I must have received a good 30+ bites on that ride alone. I was getting used to the large welts all over my body and having an annoying tingly feeling all over my arms and legs from all the bites.

After my ride, the family had a food tour scheduled where we were driven around to different local restaurants for some amazing food (and desserts) to better experience Cozumel through the local cuisine. In the late afternoon, I went to the athlete briefing and then out to dinner at El Palomar for a chef-tasting menu, which lasted into the late night (for me). With all this food and my ability to stuff my face every meal, I was glad the race course had no hills to climb. 

Saturday morning, after coffee, I drove to Chankanaab Park, where there was a practice swim at the race swim-finish. Getting in, the water was exactly the same as my over-heated local pool, a steamy, 82 degrees.

Visibility was 100%, so it was amazing being able to swim and see the bottom, the coral and all the fish below. I did a short, 20-ish minute swim. 15 minutes was swimming north and against a decent current, and then just 6 minutes to turn around and make it back, going with the current. If the current stayed like that, it would make for a fast time, the next morning, during the race. After swimming and breakfast, I tried to spend some time in the hotel room relaxing and enjoying the air conditioning in our room. Later in the afternoon, I had to do the typical administrative tasks of taking a bus with my bike to T1 and checking it in to transition. Then I had to take another bus all the way back to T2 and the finish area to check in my run gear.

Running around in the heat was exhausting. We decided to just eat a simple dinner at the Italian restaurant at our hotel that evening to keep things low-key the night before my race. 

My mom was nice enough to take the kids in her room for the night, so I could get a bit more rest and not have to worry about waking them in the morning before my race. Unfortunately, Camille got hit with Mexican food poisoning that night. So she was up all night dealing with that. I too, was up most the night, trying to be compassionate for her discomfort, and also stressed, not only that I wasn’t going to get any sleep before my race, but that I too might start feeling the effects of the food poisoning, considering we all ate exactly the same thing the last couple days. So no alarm was needed for me to get up race morning, as I was already waiting and staring at the clock just before 5am when the alarms where supposed to be going off.

Race Morning

Right away, as I got ready in the morning, my stomach felt a bit off. I wasn’t sure if it was stress from the night before and knowing I could get the bug any moment, or if it was nothing of consequence. After getting on my race kit, I ate breakfast in our room of granola and bananas and almond butter with coffee. I ended up not eating as much as I wanted. Again, I could have just been still full from dinner, or something was off in my stomach. 

I said goodbye to Camille and told her not to stress about making it to the race at any time if she still was feeling awful. I walked to the front of the hotel, where they had buses lined up to take athletes to the swim finish and T1. Even at 5:30 am, I only had to wear shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops since it was about 76 degrees out. I was starting to get worried about the day ahead and the heat, which I knew I would have issues with. The last thing I wanted was a second DNF for the season. 

When I got to T1, I spent only a few minutes making sure my bike tires were still full and adding my water bottles to my bike. I synced up my Garmin bike computer and then walked back to the buses to take us the 2.4 miles north to the swim start. I ended up getting to swim start around 6:15, so I had over an hour to kill before it was go time. The mosquitos were out in full force under the lights, so I sprayed myself with repellent and found a place to sit and relax for a while. At 7am, I got the rest of my tri-kit on with my swim skin on top and handed off my morning clothes bag in order to make it to the swim start to see the professional men’s race start. 

Again, I was still feeling very nervous about my long day ahead. I normally get a little pre-race jitters, but this time, it was a bit more. This was my 10th Ironman, so it was important to me to finish and complete #10 as I considered that to be a substantial achievement. I was also nervous about the heat and humidity. With my high sweat rate, I would really have to be on the ball and just nail my hydration strategy in order to not come to a grinding halt during the race. I had hoped I was properly pre-hydrated as well. I had really dropped the ball on my hydration during the race prior, which partially led to my DNF. Leading up to IM Cozumel, I had added extra salt and extra fluid to my diet. I carried around a vial of salt everywhere and salted every water cup as I drank throughout the day. My goal was to hyper-hydrate by up to 1 Liter of water prior to the race. Meaning I was carrying around an extra couple pounds of water, held in from the additional sodium in my blood. 

Swim

I corralled myself with the sub-1-hour swimmers, which was the first group. The swim was a rolling start, so it technically didn’t matter too much when I started. I just like to get on my bike before too many people are on the road. After the race start, it took another 2 minutes of baby-stepping my way forward before I reached the dock. I did a quick jog down the dock and to the timing mat. I somewhat confused myself as to whether I wanted to dive in or jump in, so I ended up with an awkward belly flop into the water before resurfacing and starting my swim. 

It was great not getting shocked with cold water, which probably slowed me down a little since I didn’t need to push in order to warm up. I took it very easy for the first part of the swim, to warm up my muscles and otherwise enjoy the blue clear water. 

The swim course is as simple as it can be. Just a straight line down the coast for 2.4 miles. Only 1 turn in the entire course, and that was to finish and get out of the water. Because of this, the swimmers spread out fairly wide and there was almost no contact between swimmers the entire swim. I decided to keep the pace very mild the entire swim, which made for a relaxing and somewhat enjoyable experience. The only concern I had about a third in to the swim was whether I was supposed to be to the right or left of the buoys, which were placed every 100 meters. In the athlete guide and in the pre-race briefing, we were told to keep the buoys on our left the entire time. So I lined up my swim with the buoys and keeping them on my left. But I was the only swimmer I could see swimming so far right. I could see the rest of the swim packs swimming left of the buoys. I spent most of the swim wondering if they were wrong or if I was wrong. Either everyone was cutting the course and I was the only person doing the correct course or I misunderstood the course and was making it longer and harder on myself. Even as a write this, I still don’t know the answer. 

About 30 minutes into the swim there was a bit of chop which bounced me around a bit. After that I felt a sting on my forearm. It felt like a needle prick or a paper-cut. I looked at my arm and didn’t see anything. Then I looked around in the water and could see these little 2- or 3-inch clear jellyfish swimming by. I knew there were jellyfish in the water but I was hoping to avoid them all swim. The stings didn’t seem to last long and didn’t otherwise affect my swim. I tried to keep my face pointed more downward than usual, just to not get a sting on my face. In all, I only got a handful of stings during the swim, which seemed better than other years of this race, which I had previously heard about. 

After about 45 minutes of swimming, I could finally see Chankanaab Park and the red turn buoy in the distance. After rounding the one and only turn and swimming another 100 yards, I was finally to the exit stairs and out of the water.

I’m not sure why everyone sprints from the water to the changing tent. I did a casual jog. I can’t seem to sprint barefoot and I see no point in sprinting during a 10-hour race. But I did get passed by at least 3 people between exiting the water and getting into the changing tent. After getting on my helmet and socks and grabbing my shoes, I had another casual jog to my bike and then to the mount line.

Swim Time: 53:50

Bike

The bike course is 3-loops around Cozumel island. Very flat and normally windy, hot and humid. I started the bike by settling into a nice cadence and reminded myself to start drinking fluid. I had a bottle of Skratch Hyper Hydration mix in my first bottle which gives me a nice dose of sodium, as a good start to the race. My goal was to drink a full bike-bottle of water every 30 minutes. This is about all my stomach can take without sloshing. So I began to sip and tried to get comfortable in aero as I made my way south on the highway.

There weren’t too many riders on the course yet, which was nice, and we had the entire lane, which made for easy riding. After about 30 minutes of riding, I could tell my power was a bit lower for the perceived effort compared to where I wanted to be. I could feel the humidity and my face was just dripping sweat. Not a good sign so early in the race. I decided to not care about hitting my power number, but to ride based on feel alone. I knew this was the only sustainable strategy for me in this type of weather. My sweat rate increases exponentially with effort, so even trying to push a little more would really make me sweat and could be disastrous for the run. 

My nutrition plan was for 300 calories an hour. Most of this was from a thick sludge of Hammer Perpetuem I had in 1 bottle on my down tube. I also carried a number of gels just to mix things up when I got tired of hot, chalky sludge. For sodium, I aimed to do 2 salt pills every 30 minutes in addition to the Hyper Hydration I took in the first 30 minutes for a total of about 6.2 grams for the 5-hour bike (this is over 15 grams of salt… enough to make any salt-naysayer have extreme hypertension just thinking about it).

During the first lap on the bike, I was doing good with my lower power and feeling like I was at a sustainable pace given the heat. I enjoyed the scenery as we were riding along the coast with plenty of views of sandy beaches and blue water. Headed back into town, the police support was great, as they had someone directing traffic at every intersection. It was an interesting perspective riding through the outskirts of town, which is very humble-living. I definitely felt like a fish out of water in my tri-kit and funny-looking bike. 

As I made the turns through the city and T2, I waved to the family as I passed and headed out for my second lap. I started to get a bit sore in the lower back and tired of being in aero. Every 30 minutes I had to coast a bit and stretch out my legs and back, before getting back into aero. Lap 2 was more about business and just focusing on consistency in movement. The sun was starting to get intense and there virtually no shade on the course. It was starting to get warm in my non-vented aero helmet and all-black kit. Luckily, there were aid stations every 10k, so I was able to refill on water often and also dump water on my neck, back and chest. Usually, just as I was getting uncomfortably hot, I was able to grab a cold bottle of water and dump it on me to cool down and reduce my sweat rate.

Lap 3 was starting to get very uncomfortable and monotonous. I was anxious to get off the bike and try a new movement. My feet were beginning to hurt a lot, swelling in the heat and with all the sodium. I began having to stretch often and looked for any excuse to get out of the aero position. After mile 100, I just counted down the final miles to get back in to the city and to the bike finish. Luckily, with the flat course and high speed, it came relatively quickly. At mile 112, I still had a couple more city blocks to go…. great the course was long. The extra mile seemed to take forever and I did it riding out of aero, trying to stretch out my back for the run. 

At the dismount line, I couldn’t even get my feet out of my shoes on time. So I just unclipped and kept my shoes on. After a volunteer grabbed my bike, I took off my shoes and held them as I jogged into the changing tent. 

Bike Time: 5:04:48

Run

After putting on my running shoes, neck cooler, hat, glasses and race-belt, I was jogging out of the changing tent and on to the run course. I stopped briefly to say hi to the family. While I was happy to be done with the bike and on to the last leg of the race, I was worried about the 26 miles ahead and running in the heat of the day. I took the same perspective as the bike, where I gave up on a goal pace and just ran based on feel. This ended up being a slower pace than I really wanted, but in the heat, there is nothing I can really do but to slow down. 

Similar to the bike course, the run is 3 loops of out-and-back. I actually enjoyed this layout as it breaks the course into just over 4-mile segments. Thinking in 4-mile chunks is very doable. Outside of being hot and bloated, I actually felt like I had good energy as I was running the first segment. Oftentimes, in an Ironman, I feel destroyed right away on the run. But this time I felt good and strong, even though I was running a bit slow. I was also very conscience about where I was stepping as I didn’t want to put any odd torque on my ankle. I was afraid to injure it again, but it was feeling good for the time being and I didn’t feel any effects of the previous injury. 

Luckily for me, there was an aid station every 1 kilometer! That’s very often. I started the run with a bottle of Skratch in my hands. When that was too warm to stomach anymore, I switched to on-course Pepsi. I also planned for another 2 salt pills every 30 minutes. This would give me another 4.5 grams of sodium over the run. Every aid station, I would take in some water, some Pepsi and then pour as much water as I could on my body. If I had time, I’d also take ice and shove it down my jersey. Water was in plastic pouches instead of cups, which I needed to open by tearing a corner with my teeth. 

The first lap went by fairly fast, as I was focused on just staying cool at each aid station. I was even able to run through all aid stations without walking. I said hi to the family again at the end of the lap and started on lap 2. At about mile 11, my stomach finally had enough, and revolted. I immediately was worried I finally caught the same bug that affected my whole family the night before. I had to make a quick emergency stop at the next aid station, which set me back a handful of minutes. After that, I went back to actually feeling good again, which shocked me. 

At the end of lap 2, I was beginning to get tired and run-down. I know the wheels usually start coming off around mile 16, but I wasn’t quite that bad yet. I was happy that I had only a single lap left (even though this is still over an hour of running). The afternoon sun was just zapping me and I was starting to zone-out as I ran. I knew if I made it to the final turn-around point, I’d only have about 4 miles left, which I could easily wrap my head around. 

On the third lap, the course was getting very busy with athletes and the aid stations started getting backed up handing out water and Pepsi. I had to walk a number of aid stations in order to find water and Pepsi. I was lucky I was able to get back to running between aid stations.

The last miles really went by slow. By then, I knew I was close to finishing, which put my mind at ease. After so much worrying about the day and about finishing, I knew I was close. I finally made it back into town, where the crowds of spectators had grown and their support helped fuel my energy to keep going. Nothing is more enjoyable than taking the “finish” path instead of the “lap 2 & 3” path at the final corner. I ran down the finish shoot and across the line to hear, for the 10th time, those words…. “Mark, you are an Ironman”.

Run Time: 3:41:46

Race Time: 9:50:26

Post-Race

After crossing the finish line, I quickly deteriorated. It was tough to walk straight and my mind was foggy and not clear. Luckily, every athlete that crosses the line gets a dedicated volunteer to help them and walk them to each post-race station: fluid, timing table, medal area, pictures, food, etc. I was very thankful to have someone with me making sure I was okay and walking with me for all the admin tasks. 

I skipped the food and walked over to the VIP area, where I knew my family was. All I could do was sit with my head in my hands. I didn’t even really want to talk. It’s amazing that I was able to do all this swimming, biking and running, but once my body knows I’m done, it just shuts down. It took a good 30 minutes of just sitting down before I was able to collect my body and mind enough to get up to go collect my equipment. All I wanted to do was clean off and lay in bed. After getting all my equipment and collecting my bike from transition and then dropping it off to ship it home, we all walked to the car and back to the hotel. I began feeling a bit better at the hotel and was even able to go down for dinner with the family. 

Overall, I was very happy with my performance and the race overall. I went from being very worried about my ankle and the heat, to being very relieved about finishing. I felt that I did amazing considering the conditions. I still was able to get a sub-10-hour Ironman and 10th place in my age group, both of which, I consider achievements. Even after 10 Ironman races, this event still intrigues and scares me. I really enjoy the challenge and the effort needed to prepare for this type of race as well as all the other amazing athletes and stories I hear along the way and on race day. 

The Rest

We still had 3 more days in Cozumel after the race. Aside from walking a bit slow and stiff, I got to enjoy more vacation time with the family. Monday was swimming with the Dolphins where we got to get in the water with the dolphins for some great fun and photos. We also spent some time on the beach and even crocodile viewing.

One of my favorite dinners was actually at an Italian restaurant on Monday night, where I got to over-indulge, as usual, and great food and wine. 

Tuesday, we took a cooking class from a lady in her home, where she showed us how to make tortillas by hand, and slow-cooked pork. She took us to the market to pick out ingredients and showed us each step of how she prepares the food before we got to partake in a great and authentic meal. 

Wednesday, was travel day. Our flight didn’t leave till 4pm, so we had the day to relax at the hotel with the kids before packing our bags and heading out for one last lunch in Cozumel. After an exceptionally long day of travel, we finally made it home at 1:30am on Thanksgiving. In time for some sleep before more food, wine, family, and turkey!

SwimRun NC Race Report

A couple months ago I did a sales training where I was taught to not save the best for last in a sales presentation, but to lead with the ending. With that knowledge, let me spoil the ending and say, I DNFed this race. It was my first DNF ever. 

Pre-Race

I’m not sure if I was super-excited to go to North Carolina. I had gone once when I was in 4th grade and don’t remember much of the trip. But, the imagery from the previous SwimRun NC was amazing, and it was another state the kids hadn’t yet visited. So, we were excited to put another pin on the kid’s travel map. 

We flew from Monterey to Raleigh, with a connection in Denver, where we met up with our friends, Chuck and Annie and little Henry. The flight from Denver was more enjoyable with us all together, as the girls got to talk and the guys got to… well, do nothing really, except nap. After a bit of a baggage fiasco, where we left a suitcase at Hertz and I had to spend an extra hour in the car to go back and retrieve it, we all got to enjoy a nice meal and some good wine at a Durham restaurant. We spent the first night in Durham before the drive to Danbury. Friday morning, Chuck had us up at 6am (that’s 3am PST) for a masters swim session in Durham. This was only my second masters swim, and it was fun to actually do drill work and even do some sprints off the block. I think the last time I dove from the blocks was in high school. 

After some french toast and a peanut-butter-mocha-latte (that’s right, and it was as good as it sounds… if you’re in to that sort of thing) breakfast, we started on the car trip to Danbury and Hanging Rock State Park. Annie found a BBQ lunch spot, which supposedly had the best BBQ in North Carolina for us. After the slight (“slightly inconvenient”) detour, we were off again towards our cabin.

We rented a 7-bedroom cabin on 1000 acres very close to the race start in Hanging Rock State park. It was a bit rustic, but had a full commercial kitchen and occasionally even had hot water for a shower. We had stopped by Whole Foods on the way to the cabin and spent entirely too much money on food for the weekend. We spent the first evening, enjoying cheese, wine, salad and pasta while in rocking chairs on the porch overlooking Hanging Rock. 

Saturday morning, Chuck and I got up early for a quick 30 minute run. Actually, I got up early and Chuck slept in. So, we ran when he finally got out of bed. Which gave me time to enjoy the sunrise with my own pot of coffee. After relaxing a bit in the morning and having a refreshing cold shower, we went for a hike with the kids in the park to a waterfall.

We then all went to the Green Heron Ale House, close to our cabin, where Chuck and I checked in the for the race and listened to the mandatory race briefing. We hung out a bit for some beers and let the kids play by the river. The vibe of the race was very similar to ultra-marathons, which was very casual and laid back with the taste and smell of local beer. That evening, we hung out at the cabin again, joined by another couple: friends of Chuck and Annie who were local to North Carolina. 

Race Day

Sunday morning, I was up at 6am for my coffee, granola and peanut butter. The race start was at 8am, so Chuck and I had plenty of time to get our equipment together before getting in the car for the quick drive to the start. It was raining all morning, and was muggy and humid. But the rain was supposed to stop mid-morning. At the race start, we found out that they were delaying the start of the race by 30 minutes to let the thunderstorms move on. We had some extra time to kill and huddled under an awning to stay dry before finally getting into our wetsuits and get the rest of our gear on. The idea was to start off with the wetsuit top down since the first run segment was 4.5 miles before reaching the first lake swim. 

When the race finally started, it was a spirited jog along a fire-road before the single track began. Once on the single track, it was single file and challenging to make any passes. It was actually a lot of stop-and-go as the long progression of athletes made their way over bridges and small stream crossings. Funny how everyone was initially timid to get their feet wet in the stream crossings and everyone took their time to hop rock-by-rock across. That quickly came to a stop and everyone just started walking through the streams, once we realized keeping our feet dry during a swimrun was pointless. 

The trail eventually took a turn upward and the climbing began. Nothing too crazy. Right away, on the uphill, I was noticing I was having a hard time keeping up with Chuck. He’s basically a mountain goat on the climbs and I had to push pretty hard to keep up. With the humidity, I could tell right away it was going to be a long day. We finally made it to the first aid station where I was excited to get some fluid in me. The problem was, the stations were cup-less and we were all supposed to use a collapsible cup we needed to carry. Of course, I couldn’t find mine, and Chuck was already waiting for me, so I had to skip the fluid. I did manage to put a handful of rock-hard gummy bears in my mouth and attempt to chew. During this time, I was also trying to get my wetsuit top on for the first lake swim. I’m obviously not good at transitions, so poor Chuck had to stand there waiting for me like an impatient husband waits for his wife to try on a shirt in the dressing room. I finally got in the water and began swimming the 500 meters across the lake. I still hadn’t been able to swallow a single gummy bear, so I spit out my mouthful in the lake (you’re welcome fish). 

After the first lake swim, we had another quick run around the lake with a quick 25-meter swim, then back to the same spot for a second 500-meter swim. We basically had to do 2 loops across the lake and with a run back to the starting point before moving on.  We were finally on to the last climb up Moore’s Wall, which is a 2-mile climb, mostly up trail “stairs”. This is really where the wheels started coming off for me. I was really getting killed trying to keep up with Chuck and had to start walking some of the sections. Eventually, I just stopped running and was struggling just to power-walk the steps to the top. By the time I finished the 2-mile climb, I knew I was toast and had executed something wrong. I could also feel my hamstrings starting to cramp. The only silver-lining at this point was I knew it was all downhill home and I could give my hamstrings some rest and work on destroying my quads and knees. When I reached the summit, Chuck had already been there for a bit and was probably ready to head back down. We took the obligatory picture and I had to stop to get a few cups of water down, as I knew I was dehydrated.

On the way down, Chuck took off and I was left trying to focus on the trail and keep a resemblance of a running pace. But the wheels just kept coming off. I was losing focus and was in a bad mental state in addition to a physical state. That’s when I stepping funny and rolled my left ankle on something in the trail. Ouch!! I had to stop for a second a regroup before trying to continue to hobble-run a bit more. At that point, it wasn’t even the rolled ankle which was slowing me down, but just mentally and physically I was out of it. That’s when I began to know this was bad enough where I might not be able to finish. 

By the time I got back to the lake, 2 miles later, I told Chuck I didn’t think I was going to be able to continue. It was a really hard decision for me, but I knew something had happened and I was in a bad enough state where I shouldn’t keep going. And this is coming from someone who has walked an entire marathon to finish an Ironman race that wasn’t going well. Giving up is not something I have ever done before. Obviously, Chuck tried encouraging me to keep going and to stick it out…. There was only 2 swims and 6 miles of downhill left in the race. I think we both waited at the edge of the lake for a good 10 minutes waiting for me to snap out of it. Even the announcer who was there was joking about our indecisiveness. Definitely a low point for me and very embarrassing. 

I finally agreed to try a swim in the lake to see if I could keep going. The cold water didn’t help the cramps that kept coming on. I was, at one point, really worried about cramping horribly during the swim and getting stuck out in the middle of the lake. By the time I got to the far shore, my cramps had gone body-wide. I think every muscle in my body just seized up: my legs, arms, fingers, abs, neck… everything. I could barely get out of the water. And then I couldn’t stand, sit, lay without major cramping and excruciating pain. I have never even been close to that bad of cramps in my life. No matter what I did, I just cramped more. A volunteer gave me some of her water and another racer gave me some salt, but I knew it would take too long and too much more to be helpful. 

After another 15 or so minutes of writhing in the mud, I finally was able to hobble on to make it back to the aid station. It definitely took a long time and a lot of stopping. I felt really bad for letting Chuck down and hurting our race. Once I made it back to the aid station, I told Chuck there was no way I was going to make it back down the mountain. He went on to finish the race on his own and I stayed at the aid station, drinking broth and eating bananas, doing everything I could to get hydrated and stop the cramping.

Eventually the cramping stopped, but my rolled ankle started hurting. I waited there for maybe another hour until some volunteers were done with their shift and offered to drive me back to the start/finish line. I got in their van and made the depressing trek back. At the finish line, Camille was surprised to see me, and I had to explain why I couldn’t finish the race. I was able to get some food in me and continue to get in more fluid. We waited a bit longer for Chuck to finish before both families relaxed in the Ale House for a while and then headed back to the house.

Post-Race

While I’m obviously very unhappy with my performance, I’m not taking it too hard. It’s just another challenge to figure out what happened and an opportunity to learn a little more about my unique body and it’s needs. However, since swimrun is a team sport, I feel horrible to let down my teammate. That is by far the worse part. I’m used to being a team-of-one. Hopefully I can figure out what happened before my next swimrun event.

The rest of the weekend was still enjoyable and relaxing. We spent Sunday evening back at the cabin eating and drinking (and icing my ankle). Monday, we headed out on another quick hike to a cave for some family photos. I, of course, hobbled along on my bum ankle. We then headed back on the 2-hour drive to the airport, stopping for a southern lunch before getting back into Raleigh. Two more flights and we were back in Monterey and ready for bed and work the next day. Overall, the kids did really well, with limited breakdowns considering how tiring travel can be. Only 2 more weeks of some more training before taper time for our next adventure… in Mexico. 

In conclusion, I DNFed this race. It was my first DNF ever. 

Santa Barbara Tri Race Report

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a race report since it’s been a long time since I’ve done a race. This year has had its challenges as we have been finishing the build on our house and had the opportunity to sell our previous house earlier than expected, displacing us, and putting us in a state of residential-limbo for a number of months. I was able to channel some of that stress into some long training weeks and was enjoying some of the fitness potential (at least according to Training Peaks CTL). However, I seemed to lose most of that fitness potential the two weeks prior to SB Tri, moving boxes and furniture in my spare time.

I had signed up for SB Tri on fairly short notice as it would give me the opportunity to race with little pressure on myself as well as the opportunity to visit family and spend some time in one of my favorite places. It was going to be a boys trip down, as Camille and Iyla had commitments at home, so it would just be me and Caden driving down for a long weekend in SB.

Race morning, I was up at 4:45 for coffee. My goal was to eat at 5am, which would be 2 hours prior to race start. After a couple cups of coffee and a couple bowls of granola, I was out the door in the car at 5:30. Transition, was still fairly empty so I had an easy time setting up my bike, pumping up tires and otherwise killing time before the start. Luckily, I was able to run into a number of old friends in transition, which made for a pleasant and social morning. 

I still have never warmed up prior to a race, so no reason to start now. I made my way to the beach and lined up behind the elite racers as my age-group was wave #2 behind the elites. The first wave surprisingly went off right on time at 7am, with my wave to go off at 7:04. I didn’t even pay attention where to position myself my the group and figured it would all get sorted out in the water. 

Beach starts are always a blast. Something about running into the surf and diving in is exhilarating and a great way to begin the day. I put in a good effort to the first turn buoy, which was only a short sprint from the beach edge. After the right turn to parallel the coast, I settled into a modest effort and tried to find some feet to follow. I kept finding myself pulling left, as every time I went to sight, I was pointed left of where I wanted to go. Not having a black line to mindlessly follow was really messing me up. I also forgot that following people isn’t always the best plan. The feet I was on were drifting way right, and even went on the wrong side of the first buoy. So I choose to go off on my own, and pretty much swam alone the rest of the swim. I’m always in that odd spot in all triathlons, where I’m not fast enough to be in the lead group, but faster than the middle group. I’m always that one swimmer by myself behind all the fast guys. 

The water temp was much warmer than I remember the ocean being… in the low 60’s. Way better than Monterey Bay. After, what seemed like a very long swim, I got to the turnaround buoys and headed back south right into the rising sun. Sighting the buoys became an issue and I just swam blindly until I was close enough to the next buoy to begin to see it’s outline against the giant yellow sun.

One last left turn and I was back swimming towards the shore. After a quick run in the sand, I made my way back into transition. I paused for a moment to look for a place to wash the sand off my feet but quickly saw there was no such luxury here.

Swim Time: 25:20

I quickly found my bike and began the long and painfully slow process of transition (my weakness). After spending some time wiping my feet, putting on socks and shoes, and getting my helmet on, I was finally off and running with my bike towards the mount line. Of course, this was after being passed by at least 3 people who had reasonable transition times. 

On the bike, I started to push it a bit as I made my way south along the freshly paved Cabrillo Blvd. I forgot how hard it is to push power with no warm up. My legs felt heavy and I could feel the strain in all my muscles. I tried to settle into a natural pace. I didn’t have a specific power goal in mind going into the race. The distance of 34 miles is a bit odd, so I didn’t have any previous races to compare against. The night before I looked at some past races and figured I should probably be in the 240-250 power range for this distance. I also wasn’t wearing a heart rate monitor, so I didn’t have that to pace off either. 

I enjoyed the first handful of miles because there were a number of hills which got me out of the saddle and able to stretch my legs a bit. Once I got a little farther out on the course, every other racer around me seemed to disappear. I couldn’t see anyone in front of me and, when I looked behind me, there was no one I could see either. It was like this the first half of the race. Since the course was open to car traffic, it really felt more like a sweet- spot training day and not like a race at all. 

Towards the half-way point, a couple riders caught up to me and passed me like they weren’t even trying. They appeared to be in my age group, which was somewhat discouraging. As I tried to keep up with them, I went through the first (and only aid station) and forgot to grab water. I had 2 bottles on my bike, which, in theory, could hold me over. But the day felt a bit humid and I could tell I was sweating heavy in my unvented aero helmet. I got very worried that I may have messed up my race with that mistake. I know with my sweat rate, I can dig myself into an unrecoverable hole with one small bad decision. I decided to ration my water for the ride and take some salt pills to try to hold on to the water I did have. 

On the second half of the ride, I was able to see a lot more riders as they were making their way to the turnaround loop. Still not many people on my side of the road, but at least I was more confident I was on the correct route. After another long climb, I was finally getting a bit more tired. Plus, the roads were in horrible shape. I was getting hammered with all the cracks, potholes and bumps on the road. Plus, because the road was open to traffic, there were a couple intersections which I got stuck behind cars which were being held up by the race. At least it made the race a bit more exciting to have to deal with the traffic. Again, very much aligned with a normal training ride. And way easier than the normal car and tourist dodging in Pacific Grove on weekends. 

Getting back on to Cabrillo for the last mile of riding, I was able to pass one other person in my age group who had previously passed me. Progress! The dismount line came up quickly and I had to race to get my feet out of my shoes before getting to the line. I ran back into transition and into my run gear: shoes, glasses, and race belt. 

Bike Time: 1:37:13, 20.9 mph avg

That’s, right… running off the bike is hard. I tried to not look at my pace and just find a rhythm I thought I could keep up for the next hour. It ended up being about a 7 min pace, which isn’t super-fast, but I was happy with it. The first couple miles were a lot of fun, as we ran along the bike path towards the harbor. I knew there was a long climb coming, going up to the Mesa. I’ve done that climb more times than I could ever count. I wanted to make sure I had enough in the tank to get me up the hill and then back again. 

Right away I was passed my someone else in my age group who looked like they were running a 6 min pace. No way was that going to happen for me. Oh well. The long climb up to the Mesa didn’t feel that bad. My back did start aching a bit, which is on-par for me running off the bike. I was hoping my feet wouldn’t fall asleep either, but they did half-way up the hill. Fun times. Still can’t figure that issue out.

Right before the turn around I saw my friend Steve coming at me, maybe a few minutes ahead. I had a new goal going back down the hill, which was to catch up to him before the finish. After the turn, I knew I had a couple miles of downhill and then a couple miles of flat…easy. Like so many of my triathlon runs, I was starting to feel better and find my stride. It always takes me 6 or so miles to start feeling my legs and have my back loosen up. Overall, I was happy my pace was picking up and everything was feeling good. 

I flew down the hill and finally made it to the last couple flat miles. I was able to pick up the pace a bit and was feeling extra strong. Maybe I should have pushed a bit earlier in the race. I came up on Steve, and got some extra motivation to make the pass and make sure I could keep in front of him. The last 2 miles, ticked away very fast. I actually thought the finish line was another half mile away, so I had paced myself to do a last all-out sprint that last half mile. Just as I was really picking up the pace I crossed the line without even knowing it and almost ran into the timing booth table. Clearly, I was not paying attention. 

Run Time: 1:07:36, 6:55/mile

In the end, I was happy with my 4thplace finish, but disappointed I missed the podium by 1 place and 1 minute. Post-race, I felt great and reflected that next time I should push a bit harder on both the bike and run. No need to have all this extra energy after the race. 

I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of training and the next adventure in North Carolina. 

Otillo Cannes Race and Travel Report

Background

I wanted to do a final race of the year, focusing on having fun and possibly traveling somewhere with the family. I was looking at some 70.3-distance triathlons as an option, but also wanted to try something a bit different and more adventurous. Otillo had just recently announced the addition of a Solo category to their Sprint-distance races, which really appealed to me. I honestly wanted to do the longer version of their races, but finding a partner can be challenging for destination races. The Otillo Solo Sprint seemed like a great end-of-season option because it was in a unique location, was relatively short, and something different from triathlon.

Getting Camille on-board worked out well too. Since Otillo Cannes was a swimrun race, I didn’t have to travel with my bike. So, I proposed a “lightweight” trip, where we could travel only with backpacks, no bike, and no stroller (I even offered to do all the heavy lifting of kids who refused to walk). Flights were relatively inexpensive into Nice, France, which helped seal the deal as a family trip. We decided to make it a fun and casual family trip, not over-planning the details. We were to fly into Nice for one night, then travel by train to Cannes for 3 nights, where I would race, and then travel into Monte-Carlo, Monaco for the last night before flying out again in the evening. It was also a great opportunity to expose the kids to two more countries this year. Camille and I had also been to Paris together and I had already been to the entire French Mediterranean in 2004. But I thought it would be great to revisit the area with a little more opportunity (money), compared to my broke college euro trip 14 years ago.

Getting There

We left Wednesday evening and drove to SFO. We stopped by our favorite Indian food restaurant, Rasa, which was an added bonus. Our flight left at 8pm, which meant we’d all be tired on the first 10+ hour flight to Zurich. We actually tried to stay up and sleep as little as possible on the flight as we would get into Nice around dinner time and then off to bed. Swiss Air was a nice change from some of the domestic airlines. The kids ended up falling asleep after a few hours, only to occasionally wake when meals or snacks were served. Luckily it was an uneventful flight. As an added plus, Swiss Air continuously passed out little swiss chocolate bars during the flight and they came by and gave the kids extra chocolate frequently. So, by the end of our journey, we had a nice chocolate bar collection going in our backpacks.

After a quick one-hour stop in Zurich (which is a very clean and pleasant airport) and going through immigration (with no line at all!), we were off for another 1.5 hours before landing in Nice, France. Having no checked bags, made the airport exit extra speedy. We caught our Uber Berline to our hotel. Uber Berline in France is amazing… only black Mercedes where the drivers all wear black suites and make you feel like a celebrity. In Nice, we stayed at the Hyatt, which is right on the Promenade des Anglais, which is the main beach strip. So, it was a perfect location for walking to the beach and to most of the restaurants in the area.

Nice

In hindsight, Nice was a quick blur. After getting to the hotel, we were able to get the concierge to get us a reservation at a recommended restaurant that was within walking distance. We dropped off our bags in the room, got dressed and headed out for our first French dinner, then gelato, and a walk around the area.

In the morning, I went for a short run at sunrise, while the kids slept in. We then went out for breakfast and coffee. My only grip about Europe in general, is how small their coffee portions are. I suppose they are meant to be sipped and savored. But no matter what I ordered, the portion was usually something I could drink in about 10 seconds and came in a thimble-sized cup I could barely hold with my thumb and index finger.

After breakfast, we went for a stroll along the beach and did a quick carousel ride with the kids along the main Promenade. We then decided to go to the train station and get into Cannes before lunch. As with most of our vacations, timing of activities is usually around our next meal opportunity.

Cannes

After a quick 25-minute train ride from Nice, we made it to Cannes and Ubered to our hotel, the JW, which again, was right on the main street, right on the beach. We were lucky that our room was available to us even though it was only around noon. After dropping our bags, we headed out for lunch at a nice restaurant, right on the sand near our hotel. We spent the rest of the day being tourists: walking around, going on a petite-train tour of the city and eating gelato.

 

 

 

 

 

In the early evening, I went to a presentation on the history of Otillo put on by one of the founders. It was interesting to hear the passion he had for the sport and how he was optimistic of its growth over the coming years. I have followed swimrun, as a sport, over the last year or so and like the idea of the event. Swimming and running are both somewhat low-equipment sports, unlike biking. This makes the event appealing, especially when traveling. Biking is also the most time-consuming aspect of triathlon training, so swimrun is also appealing as potentially needing less time commitment compared to long-distance triathlon. Otillo, as a brand, is leading the swimrun movement. However, they are based in Europe only, so there are little (but growing) opportunities in the US for this event. Also, traditionally, swimrun is a partner event, where teams of two compete the course together. The reason for this is safety in the many open-water swims throughout an event. In triathlon, there is a single swim course, which can be more closely monitored for safety. A partner also adds a very interesting element to the race, where you need someone who is similarly matched in ability, but usually one is a stronger swimmer or runner, so you need to work together on each individuals’ strengths and weaknesses. All that being said, Otillo Cannes, was the first time Otillo offered a solo category for their shorter Sprint course. This solo category really made the event appealing to me.

After learning all about Otillo history and vision, I met up with Camille and the kids who were playing at the park. We went out to a dinner at a recommended restaurant. I originally thought we would be eating, what I envisioned as traditional French food. However, it seemed there is a lot of Italian influence, so most of the restaurants had pizza and pasta options. This made the kids happy of course. They basically lived off bread the entire trip.

Saturday was race day. My race started at 12:30, which was amazing. So, we had all morning to do what we wanted. We went out to breakfast for a micro-coffee and bread with jam. We then headed over to the start/finish area to sign in and get my gear. While swimrun has less “gear” than triathlon, it’s still a very funny looking sport. I wear shoes, a wetsuit, swimcap and goggles, a swim-buoy and swim-paddles. I get to swim and run with all that gear. So, swimming is odd with all that gear and shoes on, and running is equally odd, if not odder because I wear a swimcap and goggles with a buoy strapped to my leg and swim paddles on my hands. I seem to be attracted to sports where I just cannot look “cool”.

What made this event worse is they required all solo competitors to carry a swim safety buoy the whole race. I’ve never used one of these before. It’s a large inflatable buoy on a rope which is attached to your waist. You pull it along as you swim and it floats behind you to provide visibility to others, showing where you are. The issue comes in on the run. Imagine being handed a large mylar birthday balloon and having to run holding it at the same time you need to hold your hand paddles, and manage your goggles, etc. It was fairly awkward and ridiculous looking.

After check-in, we had a couple hours to kill, so we hung out on the beach, playing with the kids in and out of the water. The beach was small and well protected, and got fairly crowded with beachgoers and topless natives. The water was in the low-70’s, and had no surf at all, so was perfect for the kids to run in and out of. I was also able to swim around a bit and test out my safety buoy and my new goggles I had to buy because I forgot mine in the hotel room.

The Race

At 12:30, it was finally time for the start of the Solo Sprint racers. There weren’t many of us, maybe 25, so I tried to line up near the front, where the fast-looking guys were. By this time, it was already in the mid-70’s out and I was already getting a bit hot and sweaty in my wetsuit and swim cap while standing out in the sun.

When the race started, I knew it was going to be a fast start, so I picked up the pace right away. The first run was 800 meters in total to the first swim entry. There was a group of 5 of us running hard. I started to feel the burn right away and noticed I we were running at a 6 min/mile pace. The first thing I thought was, “I’m not going to be able to keep this up long”. I hadn’t run that fast in a long time. Luckily, the swim section came up fast and I had a moment to catch my breath while putting on my paddles and goggles before wading into the water, adjusting my pull buoy and falling in. The swim was 700 meters from the Cannes boat harbor, along the beaches and the main boulevard, back towards our hotel.

Right away, there were about 3 guys who just took off in the water, with no way for me to keep up. I was surprised how hard it was to swim with all my gear on. Not very hydrodynamic with all the do-hickeys hanging off me. I ended up swimming next to one other guy, and we made it to the beach together. Then there was a tough beach run. Running on sand in your shoes gets hard quick. I got to a flag and a guy who told me something in French. I couldn’t really tell which way to go, so I stopped for a second and waited for the guy to point. We had to run up the beach to the main street. It still wasn’t very clear to me, so I paused for a while until the guy behind me caught up and I was able to follow him. These were my first couple lessons in swimrun: I need to go fast, and the course is confusing, so I need to pay attention.

Together, we ran along the boulevard, dodging tourists, strollers, and dogs. It definitely kept me on my toes. Then, we both almost got hit by a truck turning across the walkway in front of us. The guy I was with darted in front of the truck, while I came to a dead stop and waited for it. Better safe than sorry.

We had a long run of about 2km to the next harbor and then to another beach where we jumped in the water again for a 600-meter swim. I was still on the feet of the other guy, when we both seemed to lose sight of where we were going at the same time. We both stopped and he asked me if I knew where the swim exit was. I said no and that I was just following him, hoping he knew. We paused for a moment and then both saw the exit flag in the distance at about the same time. Swimrun really requires a good sense of navigation and sighting. Sometimes I couldn’t see the swim exit from the swim entry, so I had to figure it out while I swam. Since the race wasn’t very crowded, I couldn’t even rely on others.

After we exited the swim, back on the beach, we had an 800-meter run along the sand back where we came from. The sand, this time, was really soft. I tried running close to the water, and farther up the beach, but it was all deep sand, which made me smile a bit as I stumbled awkwardly and as my shoes filled with sand.

I followed the same person back to the harbor, where we had to scramble on some harbor rocks and back into the water for a short swim across a small harbor bay and back to the beach and onto the main boulevard. I ran side by side with the other guy and we briefly chatted as we continued to dodge tourists.  We got to an aid station, where they only had large bottles to pour into a collapsible cup they had given out pre-race. Since mine was tucked deep in my wetsuit pocket, I had to pass and start the long run inland and uphill with no water.

This run section was the longest, at about 6k in total. We got away from the beach and headed up towards Californie. The streets weren’t bad at first, but then we hit a series of stairs, which started taking its toll. The guy I was running with started getting farther ahead. We were then taken off road, onto a steep uphill trail. It followed what looked like an old rail car path. It was way too steep for me to run so I had to walk it. By then, I had to take off my goggles and cap and shove them in my wetsuit, which I unzipped to cool down.

This long uphill section seemed to last forever. I wasn’t even sure where this hill came from. From the beach, it didn’t look like there was anything steep anywhere around. I even had to walk backwards a few times to give my lower back a rest. I guess this wasn’t going to be as fast a race as I thought.

 

Finally, the uphill was done and there was some flat road to run on. By then, I was getting pretty warm in my wetsuit. We were eventually taken back onto another trail. I then came across an arrow which pointed down the hill, and off the trail. I stopped because I couldn’t really tell where to go. Where the arrow pointed was down, what looked like, a goat trail, sharply down the hill. I laughed to myself and scrambled down the side of the hill. The steep animal trail took me to a creek, where we had to then scramble down the creek. I call it scrambling, because it was no longer running and I had to use all my limbs. Over and under logs, through some drainage tunnel, pools of water and deep mud. This was definitely my favorite part. It was so different from anything I had raced because, it made it fun (and slightly dangerous).

I finally made it down the creek and back to the road, for another short downhill run before another tunnel which took us to a small beach, by a group of naked beachgoers, and back into the water. The swim section was long at 1k, but the water was bright blue and I could see the bottom easily and lots of fish. It made the swim very enjoyable.

I started to pass some of the teams who had started racing a bit before the solo start. At least that helped with sighting. When I exited the water, I had to scramble across a section of large sea-wall boulders for a couple hundred yards. I never had felt comfortable going fast on these. It’s very dangerous and can easily lead to a broken ankle. I got caught by a team behind me. I laughed and joked with them that I would never see this is a US race.

After another short 800-meter run, with my heart in my mouth, I was back onto the beach and into the water for the second to last swim of 600 meters. I was beginning to get a bit tired at this point, but was still having a ton of fun. As soon as I started heating up, I was able to get in the water to cool down. It was a nice balance. After another 600-meter swim and 600-meter run I could see the finish beach a couple hundred meters away. I knew no one was in front or behind me, so I tried to enjoy the last short 200 meter swim to the beach where I knew the kids and Camille were playing. The beach was fairly crowded with people by this time, both on the sand and in the water. I had to swim around a number of people as I made my way to the beach. I got could see the kids and Camille at the shore. As I ran out, I high-fived the kids and up the stairs to the finish.

Race Thoughts

Overall, I had a really fun time. With the steep uphill and the scramble down the creek, there were some challenging and fun moments. I could see how I would need to really improve on my swimrun skills. It’s not just a matter of being a good running and swimmer. Knowing the equipment, the transitions, and the course is key. Overall, it was a great experience in an exceptional location.

Finishing Cannes

After the race, we hung out at the finish for a while, before getting an Uber back to the hotel. We had lunch at the patio restaurant of the hotel, before getting cleaned up. We relaxed in the room for a bit before heading out to another dinner and dessert.

The next day, after my traditional micro-coffee, we took a 20-minute ferry from Cannes to Sainte Marguerite Island. We brought a picnic lunch from the farmers market and spent most of the day, exploring the trails and beaches of the island.

 

 

 

 

We had our picnic lunch, explored the old Fort on the island before taking a boat back to Cannes. The rest of the day was spent on the beach in front of our hotel with the kids. We finished the day, with our last dinner in Cannes.

Monaco

On Monday morning, we got up and caught the train from Cannes to Monte Carlo, Monaco. It was just over an hour-long train ride with some great views of the French Riviera. From the Monte Carlo train station, we were able to walk to our hotel (this was actually fairly challenging as Caden had to be carried).

We stayed at Hotel Hermitage, which is a great 5-star right near the casino area. We were lucky, as we had been with all our hotels, that our room was ready in the early afternoon. So we were able to drop off our bags and get cleaned up for lunch. We walked down the road to a great restaurant, which had an outdoor patio overlooking the harbor. Camille and I had a nice coursed lunch and wine, while the kids chowed down on bread (I think that’s all they ate most of the trip).

We spent the afternoon walking around Monte-Carlo, seeing the shops and casino. We also took a mini-train tour of the city to make sure we saw everything there was to see. In the late afternoon, we ended up going back to the hotel to check out their pool.

The pool ended up being quite the experience. The hotel had a beautiful indoor salt-water pool. But before you could get in, the staff had us change into hotel robes and slippers, which seemed to be required for entry to the pool. They had high end locker rooms, where they gave you a tour and handed you your robes, your personal electronic locker and your pool slippers. After we all changed, we first went to the outdoor hot tub. They had a beautiful outdoor area, overlooking the Monte Carlo harbor and a (not so hot) hot tub. Camille and I ordered wine while we had the hot tub all to ourselves. We then went back indoors and played with the kids in the pool.

The concierge had made a reservation at a restaurant in the Hotel de Paris, right next door. We had told him we didn’t have “fancy” clothes with us, but he said they would let me borrow a jacket at the restaurant and we would be fine. When we all showed up at the restaurant for dinner, the hostess politely said that we didn’t meet their dress code, but she would check if it was okay. She came back with her manager, who didn’t say anything, but looked us both up and down before saying we couldn’t eat there because of their strict dress code. For the record, I was wearing a tucked in collared button-down shirt. We did both have jeans on, but they were “fancy” jeans and probably more expensive than any of my dress slacks. Camille did have “fancy” flip flops on which seemed to be the deal breaker for them. So that was pretty sad. We both felt like low class people at that point.

We walked back to our hotel to get “mad’ at our concierge. He ended up calling a few others places, all of which were full. So, he gave us the option of Italian food or eating at the hotel restaurant there. We were somewhat tired of pizza and pasta, so we decided to eat at their restaurant. This started out being a letdown. We didn’t really just want to eat at our hotel. But then we found out it was a Michelin star restaurant and actually more fancy looking than the restaurant that turned us down.

The dinner ended up being one of the best of the trip. Overall, the food was amazing and the service was great. Camille and I did one of their tastings and also added some additional items. They even made a butter pasta just for the kids, which was one of the best pastas I’ve had in a while. Then we all split a chocolate soufflé. On top of that, they brought out petit fours for us and gave us some breakfast bread (cake) to take with us. It ended up being a great way to finish off the trip.

 

 

On Tuesday morning we woke up and started packing our bags after I went on a brief run. The hotel had an included breakfast buffet. After a very long trek across the hotel to find the breakfast room, we sat down for an over-the-top buffet and (finally) some great coffee. After breakfast, the hotel gave us a ride to the train station to catch our train back to Nice. It was going to be a long day of travel.

When we got back to Nice, we still had some time to kill before our flight at 3pm. Near the train station is a park/zoo. We took the kids there for a while, where we walked the ground and were able to see lots of animals. We then walked to the airport, a half mile away (glad we all only had backpacks).

After a short 1.5-hour flight to Frankfurt, we barely made our connection and got to our next flight just in time. Only a 12-hour flight back to San Francisco. Luckily, the food was half decent on the flight and the kids slept a good portion. Immigration was a nightmare in SFO and we had to wait in line while holding our sleeping kids for over an hour. Then another shuttle and a 1.5 hour drive home. A long day, which is the price you pay for an amazing family adventure.

2018 Ironman Mont Tremblant Race Report

PreRace

Going in to Mont Tremblant, I didn’t have the focus on the race that I usually do. Mental energy on training and racing had taken a backseat to everything else going on in life. I was still looking forward to the family vacation aspect of the race. The only issue with the “family” part of traveling, is all the “family stuff” we needed to take with us. In addition to my bike, we had 2 car seats for the kids, a 2-child stroller, and all our bags. It was a struggle just to fit everything in our car and haul it on the shuttle, through the airports and fit into our rental car in Montreal. For some reason, both our kids don’t seem to like walking on their own in public. So not only did Camille and I need to juggle all the bags, we also needed to somehow carry Caden while trying to convince Iyla to walk on her own, despite her severe “leg pain”.

We arrived to Mont Tremblant after a 2-hour car ride from Montreal on Thursday evening before the race. After getting situated in our rooms, we grabbed a nice Italian dinner and were able to walk around the village. Everything in the village is no more than a 5 minute walk, which is perfect (again, because our children don’t seem to like walking on their own). We grabbed an ice cream before heading back to the room for the night.

Friday was spent with family activities, which are plentiful in Mont Tremblant. We started off with the Ironkids fun run in the pouring rain. Iyla was a trooper and did the 1k run in a downpour. We then rode the luge, which both kids loved. We also took the gondola up to the peak and then hiked over to the observation deck for some pictures. I went for a short run, while the kids relaxed at the hotel in the afternoon and then we went to the Ironman welcome banquet in the evening. While not all races have a welcome banquet, I’m glad that Mont Tremblant had one. The food isn’t the best, but the overall energy of the event is great. It’s amazing to hear all the stories of other athletes and see everyone in one place before the race. After the banquet, we headed over to the VIP reception area for drinks and a great view of the fireworks show Ironman puts on. Overall, the welcome ceremonies were the best of any race I have done.

 

Saturday was more of an administrative day. I went to the lake for a quick swim in the morning. There was a coffee boat you could swim out to and get a cup of coffee while you held on to the side of the boat. The water was very choppy in the morning. The whole swim was fighting through chop and waves. The rest of the day, I was a bit nauseous and sea-sick from the rough swim. I guess I wasn’t used to open-water-swimming because this was my first since my last race. I took my bike down to the Dimond booth for a quick once-over and then brought it to transition to rack my bike and drop off my bike and run bags in the transition tent. I got a little bit of time, resting in the hotel as the kids played in the room and before dinner. We had dinner reservations at a nice restaurant at the Fairmont, and we ended up being very lucky that the kids behaved so well during dinner. I’m always nervous in restaurants with the kids, expecting a break down at any moment. We’ve been very fortunate though that the kids are usually so well behaved.

My goal was to be in bed, asleep, by 9pm. But since Caden wasn’t in his routine and crib and was sharing a bed with Iyla in the living room area of our hotel room, he was up chatting and talking for a while each night and didn’t want to fall asleep. Plus, 9pm is only 6pm at home, so it was challenging to get myself to sleep on time.

Race Morning

My alarm went off at 4:30am on Sunday. Race start was 6:45am, so I wanted to be eating breakfast at 4:45, two hours in advance. I was lucky we had a hotel suite because I could get ready in the bedroom and bathroom without waking up the kids. I got dressed in my tri suit and clothes and headed down to eat in the hotel breakfast area. The hotel was very accommodating and started serving breakfast early for all the athletes. After some eggs, bacon, banana, a couple pancakes, and lots of (crappy) coffee, I was off on my quick 5-minute walk to the transition area.

I first found my bike in transition and dropped off my 2 bike water bottles and Garmin. I then dropped off another water bottle in my run bag before walking to the swim start by the lake-front. I got to the swim start much earlier than I expected, so I took a seat and sipped on my salted water (I add salt to all the water I drink 3 days before the race) and played on my phone for a while. I got a text from Camille saying she was at the start as well with the kids, so I met up with her to say hi and take pictures. Around 6:15, Camille and the kids made their way to the VIP swim viewing area on the dock and I started to head into the start corral, where I got changed into my wetsuit.

Unfortunately, while standing in the start area, Mike Reilly announced that the race start was going to be delayed 1 hour because of the thick fog over the lake.

After another 45 minutes of waiting around in my wetsuit, the professional men and women started their race, which was fun to watch. After another 15 minutes, the rolling start for the age-groupers finally began. I had seeded myself in the fasted swim group (1 hour), so I was up to the start line within a couple minutes of the start. Ironman had a green-red stoplight setup, where 6 athletes lined up and were released with the green light every few seconds… similar to the meters getting on a busy freeway.

Swim

At my green light, I ran from the beach into the water. The water was shallow for a while, so I could run out pretty far before having to dive in. The water was nice and warm at 75 degrees, so no cold-water shock. I began swimming fairly strong from the start. I was lucky that most of the people around me were swimming at about the same pace, so there wasn’t much contact initially.

The swim is on large rectangular loop of 2.4 miles. There was still some thick fog on the water on the swim out to the turn around. Every time I passed a buoy marker, I wasn’t able to see the next marker in the distance because of the fog. I just followed the people around me, hoping they were pointed in the right direction, until I could spot the next marker. This continued for 12 markers until the first turn buoy. Overall, the way out was very uneventful. I tried to catch some feet and draft as much I could. There were the occasional swimmers who just could not swim straight and were all over the place. I think for the most part, I chose a good line and didn’t veer off course too much.

At the halfway point, I looked at my watch and saw I was right on track for a 1-hour swim. I tried to just hold a strong and smooth pace without pushing too hard. On the way back, I would tell some people were getting a bit more antsy and aggressive and there was the occasional contact with others trying to fight for position. During the last few hundred yards, I began to start feeling like I had been swimming for a while, so I was ready to be done with the swim.

The swim finish was at a bird watch area, and I began to be able to tell as the water got thick and smelly. All I could think about, what “please don’t swallow any of the water”. I was ready to get out of the bird-waste filled water ASAP. I finally got to the exit stairs where a couple volunteers grabbed my hands and pulled me out of the water. I got up the stairs and managed to get the top off my wetsuit surprisingly fast. I ran to the wetsuit strippers and jumped on the ground, as they pulled the suit off my legs and pulled me back to my feet. There was a long, quarter-mile run from the swim exit to the changing tent. At least it was carpeted, and lined with people cheering.

Swim Time: 1:00:47

Bike

After putting on my helmet and bike shoes, I was running off to find my bike. I hopped on at the mount line and was off and pedaling. The first thing I noticed, because it’s the first thing I look at, is my power wasn’t showing up. For some reason my power meter wasn’t recognized. After disabling/enabling it in my Garmin, it still wasn’t working. Great. I’m a very numbers-driven person and do all my bike riding paced off of my power data. Power is really the only thing I look at my entire bike ride, on every ride I do. After a few minutes of panic, I soon realized that this may be a great opportunity to actually try to ride by feel. I could shed all the pressure of being held to a number and instead, just focus on riding. It was like being thrown into the stone-age and forced to survive. So, like my ancestors, I was out riding without power and forced to listen to my body for pacing queues.

The first part of the ride is rolling hills and then a bit of a downhill towards the highway. Initially, I was just focused on getting my legs warmed up and getting some fluid in me. I was lucky that I started the swim a bit early because the bike course wasn’t very busy yet and there wasn’t too much passing going on.

The bike course is 2-loops with a long out-and-back section on the highway, followed by a handful of miles of mountain road climbing. The air was still cool, so the blacktop of the highway didn’t feel as bad on the first loop. I didn’t look at the course map in detail before the race, but I knew the general layout, so in my head as I got on the highway, I calculated I probably had about 20 miles of highway riding before the turnaround point. The highway road surface was in perfect condition. Very different from the California roads I’m used to. They seemed almost freshly paved. The highway was mostly some very long rollers. So, it felt like either slightly uphill or slightly downhill most of the time. There were a few sections where I had to get out of aero and stand up to climb and a few faster downhills, where I just tucked into aero and stopped pedaling. My general rule of thumb is to tuck into aero and coast when I get over 35 mph.

What was new for Ironman Mont Tremblant was there were a number of course referees riding bikes on the course. I had heard about it, but it was really amazing when I actually saw it. On the highway, I came across a referee riding a road bike. This guy clearly was a very fit road cyclist because he was really hauling. I had just been passed by a few people who were clearly drafting off each other and I could still see them in the distance. This referee saw them as well and made a huge effort to catch them and give a rider a drafting violation. When I eventually passed the ref, all I could mutter to him was “that was awesome, you’re amazing”. I could never imagine being on a road bike and powering up to a triathlete in full aero gear. He must have been a super-biker. Pretty cool! Overall, I saw a number of drafting violations being handed out, which I was happy about. It makes me feel good to know the rules are being enforced.

On the way back on the highway, I could tell I was sweating a bit more than normal for a morning bike ride. The high humidity was getting to me and I had a constant flow of sweat coming off my face and onto my bike. Eventually, I made it back to the village around mile 40. Then there was the Duplessis section of the ride, which everyone had talked about before the race. This was a long 5-mile section of the course, which had a lot of steep punchy climbs. Overall, I didn’t think it was as bad as everyone made it out to be, but there were some definite steep climbs where I was standing in my lowest gear. I could also feel the humidity a lot in this section. The air felt thick and wet. I could see all the salt stains on my black kit. People riding around me even commented on my salt stains. I looked at my shoulders and it looked like some high school crystal-growing experiment with all the salt buildup on my sleeves.

My nutrition plan was for 300 calories an hour on the bike. I had about 1650 calories with me on the bike from Hammer Perpetuem in one of my bottles (so thick, it was like paste), plus a bar and a gel. For sodium, my plan was for 6760mg of sodium on the bike from Skratch Hyper Hydration and salt pills. This was the hungriest I have ever been in an Ironman bike. Usually, I’m forcing myself to eat by the end, but during this ride, I went through all my calories and was still hungry. So, in the end, I started grabbing Gatorade at aid stations instead of water, so I probably took in an extra 200 or so calories above my plan.

The second loop on the bike was much less exciting. I knew what was ahead, so it was more about focusing on pedaling and not dropping effort too much. On the way back on the highway, my back and feet started getting sore, so I spent more time coasting on the downhills, trying to stretch out my back. I started counting down the miles at mile 90. This is the point in an Ironman where I start getting antsy and uncomfortable.

The second time on Duplessis was slow. I took it pretty easy on the hills because I knew I had a long run coming up. The sweat was really coming down now and I was looking forward to the turnaround and the downhill into transition. Turning back into transition, I tried to tuck on the downhills and get in some “rest”. I was really looking forward to getting off my bike and being upright again.

Headed into transition, I reached down to take off my shoes, as I coasted in on my bike. I immediately cramped in my abs and couldn’t reach down to get my other foot out of my shoe. So I had to really slow down and reach my hands into the air to stretch out my abs. I finally got both feet out of my shoes and soft-pedaled the last hundred meters to the dismount line.

A volunteer grabbed my bike and I ran down the transition area towards the changing tent. I saw Camille and the kids in the stand right above transition, so I was able to wave and say hi as I ran by. They were having a great time, enjoying cotton candy and plush seating.

 

Bike Time: 5:13:21

Run

After getting on my shoes, visor, glasses and race belt, and a quick potty break, I was off and running. I actually felt better this time running compared to a lot of other races I have done. My pacing goal was a bit slower than other races because I knew how easy it is to slow down at the end, so I decided to start off a bit slower and see what happened.

Right away on the run course there is a steep, punchy climb which crippled me to a crawl. So much for watching my pace. At least the crowd support was great at the beginning. The first 3 miles was a lot of short ups and down, which actually take a lot out of me. We then got on a rec trail, which is a long out and back to the turnaround point at 10k. Of course, the first 10 miles or so, my lower back was throbbing and both of my feet were dead asleep. This is something I now have gotten used to as it happens every race, but it’s horribly uncomfortable and makes it hard to get in a good pace.

On the way out to the first 10k turnaround I could feel some cramping in my body. First, my forearms started twitching, which is a sign the rest of my body will begin cramping soon. Right after that, I got a huge cramp in my hamstring which brought me to an abrupt halt in the path. I stepped to the side and tried to stretch it out. I also had a few mustard packets in my pouch for just the occasion, so I opened up one and took it. That seemed to help as the cramps went away and I was able to start running again. By this time, my pace was way worse than I wanted. This actually took some pressure off to do “well”. I realized my run was going to be slower than I wanted, so I decided to accept it and just enjoy the experience. I ended up cramping a bunch more this lap and had to walk often. I then switched to walking through aid stations and stretching if needed, but tried to run from station to station.

I finally made it back to the village. Running down the hill through the center of village to the halfway point was fun and painful. The crowds were huge, but the downhill just killed my quads. I saw Camille and the kids and briefly stopped for high-fives for the kids. Surprisingly, I felt pretty good for the 13-miles I had already ran. I had been going slow, but I still felt like I had it together.

That “togetherness” quickly changed and the wheels started coming off as I went through those punchy hills again the first few miles of the second loop. At least I was at mile 16. Only 10 more miles. 10 miles feels like a long ways when the wheels are coming off already. As I cramped on the side of the trail again, I could really feel the energy draining quickly. It’s amazing how quickly I can go from feeling “okay” to feeling like death.

I could tell other people were feeling the pain as well. I saw a few people collapsed on the side of the trail, with medics attending to them. Just looking at the faces of other people I pass is a very eye-opening experience. I could see the pain and suffering of everyone. It’s a very hard day. For me, the hardest part of an Ironman run is from mile 16 to mile 20. This is the section where I feel horrible and everything is telling me to stop and I still have over an hour of running left (at least at this pace). After mile 20, things seem to look up. This is where I tell myself I only have a 10k left and I start counting down the miles. A 10k doesn’t seem like that far considering what I have done in training.

For nutrition on the run, I was grabbing a coke and maybe a water at every aid station. I also had a gel at the start of the run and a banana piece somewhere in the middle. But most of my calories were from coke. I would also do ice down my shirt and water on my head every aid station as well, in order to slow down my sweat rate. I also aimed for about 3800mg of sodium during the run, or about 3 salt pills per hour after an initial hit of sodium from Skratch Hyperhydration when I started running.

The last few miles of the run were painful. This is where I know I’m going to finish soon, but it still hurts a lot to get each foot moving. I finally made it back to the village and to the short downhill through the center of town. It feels so good to turn left at the sign which points straight for the second loop and left for the finish shoot. I was giving every little kid that put his hand out a high-five down the shoot, even if this caused my sides and arms to cramp.

As I went up the finish line ramp and across the finish I looked up to the balcony and waved to the kids and Camille. Ironman number 9 was done!

Run Time: 4:17:19

Post Race

The absolute best thing about Ironman branded races is the volunteers. All of them are just amazing. Especially at the finish line where 2 volunteers help every athlete that finishes, by holding then upright and asking questions (I assume to assess their cognitive state) and walking them to wherever they need to be: either food, a seat, or the medical tent.

I took a seat in the food area and just zoned out, looking at the ground for a while. Some athletes were piling plates with food and really chowing down. I wish I could do this. There has never been an Ironman where I finished and wanted anything else in my body. The last thing on my mind was eating. My only thought was, what is the fastest way to get back to the hotel bed and curl into a ball.

I ended up finally getting up and exiting the athlete area. I found Camille in the VIP area which overlooked the finish line. They were serving dinner to all the VIP spectators. I thought about eating, but then quickly had to excuse myself to go back to the hotel to lay in bed. I stayed in bed for a few hours while I had Camille go get my bike and gear. Eventually, I came around and had an insane appetite. Camille went out and got me take-out, which I devoured before a restless night of sleep.

Ironman continues to be a learning experience. It is a ridiculously hard event. Not only is training very challenging, but the race itself really pushes me to my limits. This is the reason I have been drawn to this event over the years. I think it teaches me a lot about myself, my limits, and my motivations. Ironman is about understanding your internal motivations. Being closer to understand what makes me tick helps in all aspects of my life and across all domains I tackle.

However, I continuously think that maybe this event is not for me. I have a crazy high sweat rate, and so I cannot overcome falling behind on hydration in an event this long. When I hit 4-ish percent dehydration, it’s game over and I’m walking with my head down. Maybe I’d be better off at a 70.3 distance where there is more nutrition and hydration flexibility. I have 2 weeks of no exercise after Mont Tremblant to think about this and what adventures are next. Most likely I’ll be back soon for Ironman #10.

2018 Wildflower Experience Weekend Report

PreRace

It has been 10 years since I raced Wildflower as my first long distance triathlon, so I jumped at the opportunity to race again now that they brought the race back after a year off and there was enough water to actually swim. 10 years ago, I raced Wildflower Long Course and then got married the next weekend. This year, I signed up to race the Long Course as well as the Olympic race on Sunday before going on vacation for our 10-year anniversary. Wildflower would also be our first real camping experience with the kids. We bought a giant 10-person tent which was almost the size of our living room. We decided to be fairly minimal on the camping food. We didn’t bring a stove, only snacks and some breakfast items. The festival area was supposed to have a number of food vendors, so we figured we could just buy food we needed when we were there and not worry about packing the camp-kitchen.

The great thing about Lake San Antonio, is it’s only an hour and a half drive from home. Even so, the kids started complaining about the long car ride after about 15 minutes on the road. I think it took more time to pack up the truck than to actually drive to the campsite. The Triathlon Club of Monterey had a few sites and had saved us a nice large spot, where we setup camp. Holy moly was it hot though. I was dripping wet setting up the tent as it was in the upper 80’s when we arrived in the late afternoon on Friday. I knew I was in for a tough race in the heat.

The rest of Friday was spent doing athlete check-in and then walking the festival. I’d say, the biggest downside to Wildflower is the mile walk from the camping area to the festival area. A mile doesn’t sound like much, but it’s on a dirt trail, down a huge hill. Pushing a stroller with 2 kids makes for an epic journey each time. At least they had a nice kids playground in the middle of the venue which the kids loved. Even the food selection was pretty good for such a remote race. They had beer, wine, a variety of food vendors, with some healthy options, and even coffee and ice cream vendors. Plus there was a constant rotation of bands on stage during the whole weekend for a fun soundtrack for the day.

After a couple meltdowns, a couple liters of sweat and some cursing, we finally pushed the stroller full of kids up the sandy hill and back to camp for the evening. The rest of the night was spent relaxing and making some s’mores by the campfire.

Long Course Morning

I’m not sure if it was good or bad, but the race didn’t start till 8am, and my wave didn’t go off till 8:25am. This was a very late race start compared to what I am used to. The downside was, it would be a hot day, with the run ending right in the middle of the day. But at least I got to sleep in, which was needed after not the best night sleeping on the ground with the kids. I snuck out of the tent and ate some granola, banana and nut butter for breakfast at 6:30. The whole campground was coming alive with athletes getting ready and heading down to the start. I took my time getting ready and helped wake up the kids, who didn’t want to seem to get out of bed. For some reason the kids hate getting into bed, but never want to get out of bed in the morning.

I grabbed my backpack full of gear and rode my bike down the huge hill to transition. It was actually pretty fun to ride down that hill at 35mph in flip flops and a t-shirt. Poor Camille was stuck making the trek with the kids alone with the stroller. Transition was pretty well organized and everything went fairly smoothly. I setup my transition space, got body marked, and spent the last hour just hanging out watching the swim start area. I finally got my wetsuit on, grabbed my goggles and cap and started walking down the boat ramp to find my wave start group. 5 minutes before our wave start time, they let us all in the water to do a quick swim warm up. I don’t think I’ve ever warm up for a race, so I just waded in the water and splashed it on my face to help with the shock of water. The day was already heating up and I was beginning to sweat in my wetsuit standing in the sun.

Swim

When the cannon went off, I ran the 10 feet into the water and dove in. There was a 20 meter swim out the boat launch and then a left turn to the first buoy. I tried swimming pretty hard the first couple hundred meters and then slowed down to a more manageable pace. It seemed like our age group spread out pretty fast, with a group of fast swimmers going out in front of me, that I wasn’t able to keep up with. The first quarter of the swim was fairly uneventful. I tried to swim pretty hard, but also wanted to slow down and save something for that tough bike and run coming up. As I got closer to the turnaround buoys, we started running into the back of the women’s age group that went off ahead of us. This took a lot more energy because I needed to sight every few strokes to make sure I wasn’t going to hit anyone. Then, I had to plan my path around groups of swimmers I was going to pass. After the turnaround, I was still feeling good and trying to stay on a strong pace. I picked a line closer to the buoys for the way back because there seemed to be fewer swimmers there. As I got closer to the last turn buoy, I started to get into the back of the next group of swimmers from a couple waves ahead. This got a bit dicey and there were people doing backstroke, breaststroke, sidestroke, and anything else you could imagine. One day, I’m not going to be shocked to see someone doing butterfly the wrong way on the course.

I guess I should have looked at a map of the swim course because I didn’t realize I had to go around the right side of the final buoy, even though we had to stay to the left of all the other buoys up to the end. So I had to make a major adjustment to go around the last buoy on the correct side before lining up for the exit ramp. After one last push for another hundred yards, I finally hit my hand of the boat ramp as my queue to push my body upright and start running out of the water. The “run” up the long boat ramp was tough. It felt slower than a walk and I was getting passed by people just hauling up the incline. I tried my best to keep my heart rate low, but it was pretty discouraging to get passed by so many people. I finally made it back to transition and got my wetsuit off. In bending over to put on my socks, my stomach started cramping and I just laid down on the asphalt for a few seconds to stretch out and try to get my socks on again. So much for a quick transition. At least no one expects me to be fast. I wish someone got a picture of me just laying out in the middle of transition with my hands above my head and one sock halfway on.

Swim Time: 30:31

Bike

After fumbling to get my feet in my shoes, I was finally on my bike. The first couple miles are just beat up asphalt around the lake, but it was an opportunity to rest a bit and try to get my heart rate down. Then came the nice climb up from the lake in my “granny” gear getting passed my tons of people. After the climb, I was finally able to get into my aero bars and try to get into a mental cadence as we made our way out of the park and to the main road.

Out of the main road, there were still a number of punch climbs and quick, fast descents. It certainly kept life interesting because it was a mix of “granny” gear climbing, out of the saddle and then fast, aero downhills at 40+ mph. This type of riding seemed to just repeat the first quarter of the 56 mile loop. There were still a number of people on the course, so it varied the efforts a bit.

After about mile 25 the road flattened out and there was just a long stretch of road, as far as I could see. I tried to get mentally focused on my power goal, but the roads started getting pretty rough. I was getting bounced around a lot and spending a lot of effort just making sure I wasn’t going to hit any potholes. Luckily, my Dimond bike is pretty good at absorbing some of the little jolts, but it was still hard to just ride and zone out.

My only complaint about the bike course, besides the rough roads was the amount of water handed out at the aid stations. At each aid station, I refill my front BTA with water. Most aid stations were hand filling bike bottles from larger water bottles or a water truck. The problem for me was that most people were only filling the bottles a quarter way up. I assume this made sense to them because most people grab one bottle, take a few sips, and then toss the bottle before the end of the aid station. So it seemed smart to not fill them up all the way and waste all that precious water. But for me, I needed all that water. So each aid station, I had to slow way down in order to grab 2-3 bottles. Every now and then I was lucky and someone had a full bottle, but for the most part, it was tough to take on the water I needed between aid stations.

My goal was to do 2 water bottles an hour since it was such a warm day. I also did 300 calories an hour from a nutrition bottle I had on my down tube. As the ride went on and I began to feel the heat, I also had to use some water to spray on my neck and back to stay cool and slow my sweat rate down.

Finally, I made it to the bottom of Nasty Grade. Just one long long climb up the mountain and 15 more miles and I can get off this bike. Nasty Grade is pretty self-explanatory… it’s long and slow. I tried to take it easy and not raise my power too much, which is hard when you’re grinding in your smallest gear. By about half way, my head was just baking in my aero helmet. Not air flow combined with no vents in a helmet is no fun. I think the name Nasty Grade may come from that plateau at the top of the climb where you think you’re done and then you make a right turn just to see another giant climb ahead. Nothing like a false-summit to put a smile on your face. A smile that says “this is a silly sport”.

After Nasty Grade there is a long and very fast decent back towards the lake. I started to get a bit uncomfortable at over 45 mph with a disc wheel, not knowing if there will be a gust of wind around the corner. After a few more admin miles, I finally made it back to the park and towards the lake. Another couple rollers and I would be off the bike. My power was dropping a bit, but overall, I was at about my goal of 240 watts normalized power, which was conservative enough to leave some in the tank for the run.

After a nice rest down the hill to the lake, I was into transition and putting on my run shoes, hat, glasses and number belt.

Bike Time: 2:47:29, 223 AP, 237 NP

Run

Right away on the run, there is a fun staircase to run up. Well, I kind of walked up, because I was tired already. I ran by a lady who seemed to be overly enthusiastic about cheering me on… maybe because of my cool neon socks. I smiled nicely and continued to run by before I realized that nice lady was Camille and the kids. So I had to run back to kiss and high-five them all. Nothing like running backwards in a race.

Most of the run is on dirt trails around the lake. Right away, I had to walk all the punchy little hills. I just didn’t have it in me to run up these short steep dirt hills. At least there were a lot of other people walking them too. My lower back was also throbbing. Usually, I have time off the bike to stretch out my back a bit. The run course here didn’t allow me to do that. Some hills during the first 4 miles, I even walked backwards just to give my lower back a rest.

Walking the hills was discouraging, but most people were doing it, so it actually allowed time for a bit of talking and joking around with some of the other racers. The course was very packed. There was a 10-mile trail run going on at the same time on the same course, so there were a lot people to go around during most of the race.

At this time, the sun was directly overhead, and there was very limited shade and it was in the upper 80’s. It was getting tough. Each aid station, I had to dump 2-3 water cups over my head and back to stay cool. My shoes were squishy with water.

After about mile 9, I actually started to feel much better than the first 4-5 miles of the run. I was able to find a bit of rhythm and my back had loosened up, so I couldn’t feel it anymore. I think that made all the difference in the world. Without back pain, I was able to slowly run up the hills. My pace was still slow, but I knew it was a slow course overall.

I finally made it back to the paved road section of the course and then hit the long downhill to the pit. I had totally forgotten about this section from the 10-years prior, when I very distinctly remember walking the uphill out of the pit feeling miserable. At the turnaround, there was the final 1.5 mile climb out of the pit. At least I would be close to the finish once up this hill. Luckily I was still feeling good and was able to slowly run up the whole hill and keep going at a good pace. After the final run through the campground there was a long .75-mile section of super steep, quad pounding downhill to the finish. I tried to keep the downhill run under control. It actually felt great to stretch my legs out, even though I was nervous my quads would just cramp any second. After the downhill, there was just the finisher’s shoot left. I pushed hard for the last minute of running before crossing the line.

Run Time: 1:50:03

Post-Race

I forgot how tough the Wildflower Long Course is. Definitely the hardest course of this distance I have done. That run is just brutal. I’ve never seen so many people walking in a race. I was happy to finish 7thin my age group at a race which is just hot and hard and draws a talented group of athletes.

The rest of the day was spent hanging out at the festival, eating food and watching the kids climb on the pay structure.

The hard part about Wildflower camping are the logistics of getting your bike out of transition and back up that hill to the campgrounds. That’s a whole effort on its own and really finished me off for the day. We spent the rest of the evening hanging out with the triathlon club group. They even brought in a pizza oven on a trailer, which was a huge highlight for everyone, especially the kids.

I had to spend some time cleaning and drying my gear off and getting ready for the race on Sunday. While the rest of Wildflower was out partying, dancing, and listening to the DJ, I was in bed early at 9pm with my earplugs like an old man.

Olympic Morning

No alarm clock for Sunday. A 9:25am race start gave me lots of down time in the morning. I purposefully tried to move as slow as I could. I was still fairly stiff and tight from racing the day before, so I wasn’t optimistic about a good race. My goal was just to go out and cruise. It was going to be another warm day, and 2 days of going hard in the heat didn’t sound very exciting.

I finally road my bike down to transition and set everything up the same as the day before. Except today, I had another hour and a half before the race start. So I just found a place to watch the sprint race which was going on before the Olympic start. I also ran into an old friend who I used to swim with maybe 20 years ago who was also racing in my age group. That added a bit of pressure to swim a bit faster.

Swim

After a long and slow morning, I was anxious to get started. For some reason, even though I thought I would just go easy all race, I lined up in the front line at the swim start. So when the cannon went off I was forced to run in hard start swimming hard. Right away, I saw my friend Steven take off like a bullet to lead the group. I tried to follow behind him, but wasn’t able to hold on. I fell off the back of his feet and tried to find a more reasonable tempo for the rest of the swim.

There seemed to be a lot less people in the water than the day before. But the swimming abilities of the athletes seemed to be a bit more varied. So almost immediately, I ran into the back of the next age groups and tried to get around the varying strokes and techniques of the swimmers.

The swim went by slower than I originally thought. A 20-minute swim seems fast, until you have raced the day before and spent all weekend in the sun. I felt somewhat motivated to go hard because I could tell I was 2ndor 3rd. Back at the boat ramp, I got out of the water and tackled the long climb up to the transition area.

Swim Time: 23:18

Bike

They didn’t joke around on this bike course. Right out of transition there was a huge “granny” gear climb away from the lake. Nice and slow. On the ride out of the park and onto the main road, I again tried to find my cadence. My bento box had been making a ton of rattling noises this whole time, and all of a sudden a screw came loose and the bento started flapping around and hitting me in the legs. I had to slow down and slowly unscrew the last screw with my fingers. I finally was able to get the bento off my bike and a threw it into the bushes. Finally, I was able to settle down and try to sort out my power, $50 dollars lighter from my tossed bento (which I was able to find in the bushes as we were driving home).

I didn’t really have any pacing goal for this race. I knew I should be able to hit a higher power goal than the day before because of the much shorter course, but the power really wasn’t there. I ended up finding a rhythm at about the same power as the day before. Today’s crowd was definitely a lot younger. It seemed to be mostly college kids out on the road. Again, I felt like an old man. Other riders were a lot more aggressive on some of the climbs too. People would fly by me on the climbs only for me to pass them later on the descents.

I had the expectation of a very short ride, which made it seem to last longer than I expected. The turn-around at mile 12 did come fairly fast, even with all the hills on the course. I didn’t feel like I spent much time on the aero bars because I was either climbing or tucked into aero on a downhill. I just tried to drink water when I could. I didn’t really plan out my nutrition because the course is so short. I just took 150 calories of sports drink on my bike and did the rest water.

I was starting to get a bit stiff on the way back, but I was having a good time. Short course racing could be a lot of fun. Just go out and push. Before I knew it, I was back at the lake and flying down the hill towards transition.

Bike Time: 1:15:24, 233 AP, 245 NP

Run

I think I actually had a fast transition. I didn’t even notice putting on sopping wet shoes from the day before. Back to the same few miles of running as the day before, but without back pain. I still had to walk some of those first couple hills though. I also think I walked every aid station. I thought it was odd that I was walking so much on a 10k run. For a 10k, I should be pretty much running as hard as I could, but there I was walking parts of the course. Just shows you how challenging this race was. Even the college kids were walking, which made me feel a lot better.

At mile 4 there is the same long, mile-or-so climb, which I had to grind out again. At least I was able to run up. I was tired, but still feeling good. Mostly I was motivated because I knew I was in the top handful in my age-group. I didn’t see many people pass me on the bike and I had passed some back on the run.

On the last long downhill I tried to go as fast as I could just in case someone was sneaking up behind me. I sprinted all out down the finishers shoot, hoping not to pull a hamstring.

Run Time: 46:41

Post-Races

I was pretty happy with 3rdplace in my age-group in a race I didn’t really plan on racing. It’s been a long time since I’ve done an Olympic race, and I can see how hard they can be if you really want to go fast.

One thing that was unfortunate is that my timing chip didn’t work at all, so I didn’t know my time or place until days later. I had an idea, based off my gps times, but nothing official until mid-week.

Wildflower lived up to the expectation of a very challenging and hot race. It was a great atmosphere and lots to do and see for the whole family. The race organizers did a great job making the event feel like a festival, and not just a triathlon. Plus, it’s so close to home, it works out well logistically. Wildflower will be a top contender as a go-to race every year if I feel the need to continue the suffering.

2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championship Race Report

Pre-Race

I was very excited to have qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships this year from my race in China last year. It worked out well that the race was going to be held in Chattanooga, TN as the race is not always held in the US (the previous year it was in Australia and next year will be in South Africa). I felt there was also no pressure to go and “race” and I could just go and enjoy the event. This race was to be a gathering of the world’s top athletes at this distance.

To put it lightly, I was also struggling a lot holding on to my fitness coming off Ironman Santa Rosa. Even with some major rest and recovery, I was having major issues battling fatigue. So the training I did leading up to Chattanooga was minimal at best. The best I could wish for was showing up and being able to complete the race without too many issues. On paper, I was at the lowest level of fitness I have been in over the last 3+ years. On top off that, I had gotten a cold the week before the race. I knew it was coming when Caden, who was sick, sneezed into my mouth while I was holding him the weekend before the race.

We flew direct to Nashville on Thursday before the race and got in town in time to check in to our Nashville hotel and catch our dinner reservations by 6:30. Friday morning we met up with our friends Chuck and Annie for a biscuit breakfast southern-style before the 2 hour drive to Chattanooga. The rest of Friday was spent at athlete check-in, walking the expo, quick run, dinner and a sunset riverboat cruise.

Chattanooga is a great location for a race. Our hotel was only a block from expo and the river. Ironman really took over the entire town. Since it was the world championships, and like racing in Kona, everyone was lean and looked fast.

 

Saturday morning was more biscuits at breakfast before watching some of the women’s race (all women raced on Saturday and all men raced on Sunday). After that, Chuck and I went on a short bike ride up and down the downtown area to do a final bike check. Then we went down to transition to drop off our bikes and gear. I got to spend some time just resting in the hotel while the kids napped before we all went out for dinner. After dinner I laid out all my race morning clothes and gear and was in bed around 9.

Race Morning

This race had the best starting time of any race so far. The men 35-39 group was in the 4th wave with a start time of 8am. That means I got to sleep in (relatively speaking). Alarm went off at 5:45. I could have slept in even longer, but I like to eat breakfast at least 2 hours before a race. I quietly got dressed, trying not to wake the kids who were both sleeping in the living room area of our hotel room. I kissed Camille goodbye and headed to the hotel lobby for coffee and breakfast.

Breakfast was hotel coffee (not great), oatmeal, a banana and hazelnut spread. After eating, I had another 30 minutes to kill before meeting Chuck around 6:45 for the walk to transition. In transition, I added my water bottles and Garmin to my bike and pumped up my tires. After some more waiting around, I finally changed into my wetsuit and headed to the swim start corrals.

I hung out with Chuck for a bit in the swim start area with the others in our age-group. Our age group looked like of the largest that was there. After watching the professional men start, we slowly inched our way to the starting line. As usual, our wave start was pretty anti-climactic. I was pretty far back in my age-group so it took a while before I got to the dock and prepared to jump in the water. They were only letting 6-8 athletes at a time in the water every 15 seconds or so. After it was my turn, I took a couple running steps to the end of the dock, and made an awkward leap, feet first, into the water.

Swim

It felt like I was jumping into a bathtub. The water was warm and I couldn’t believe they were having us wear wetsuits. My goal on the swim was the same as the goal for the race: just take it easy. I knew I didn’t have the fitness to go hard during any part of the race, so I just wanted to go easy and see how things went.

Right away on the swim, I was catching some of the swimmers ahead of me, which was shocking considering this was a world championship. The first turn came up pretty fast, and after going around the buoy we were headed directly into the sun. I didn’t bring tinted goggles, so sighting was pretty difficult. There were plenty of people around me, so I just followed everyone else.

I knew the first half of the swim was going to be slower than normal, considering we were swimming up river against a current. I continued to swim pretty easy and just tried to avoid the swimmers around me. After we made it upstream and around the turn, I knew it was going to be a fast swim back towards transition. I tried to pick a line closer to the center of the river, hoping for more current there. Time just flew by on the way back, and before I knew it I was able to see the swim exit.

I made my way to the exit stairs, where a nice volunteer grabbed for my hand to pull me out of the water. I walked up the stairs and tried to strip off the top half of my wetsuit before making it to the wetsuit strippers.

Swim Time: 32:39

Bike

After my predictably slow transition time, I was finally off on my bike. The first few miles were on city streets, making our way out of downtown Chattanooga. I took this time to get some sips of water and try to get my heart down from running through transition. Getting my heart rate down didn’t seem to work too well because after a few miles on the bike, we made a right turn onto a small residential street, and immediately began the long and steep decent up the first climb.

I knew there was going to be a long climb right away, but I don’t think I realized how steep it was. I definitely needed a smaller gear, or stronger legs, because I sure did struggle going up. I was also getting passed by pretty much everyone. I think I got passed every few seconds by someone during the first 20 minutes of the climb. I just kept reminding myself that I needed to ride my own race and focus on my own effort.

It also felt very humid to me. I was pouring sweat up the climb and my visor was fogged up to where I was not able to see very well. I noticed not many others were sweating as they passed me. I tried to drink water as to not dehydrate for later in the race. I really just focused on taking it easy. Every time I wanted to start pushing a bit harder, I just reminded myself my goal was just to ride and not to hit any specific power target.

The last part of the climb up Lookout Mountain was very pretty. The views were great. There was also lots of thick, green foliage. It felt like I was in a thick forest or jungle. The crowd support at the top was also great. It was surprising to see so many spectators that far out on the bike course.

The top of the climb wasn’t really the top of the climb. It was just a bit flatter, but still a climb, for another 40 minutes. Again, I just focused on trying to stay hydrated and getting in some calories. By the top of this section, I was really looking forward to the long decent.

On the long decent from mile 23 to 27, I got a nice long rest. I don’t think I pedaled much the whole downhill. It was a long fast decent, which was, unfortunately, also open to car traffic. I got stuck behind a big truck going down the hill, who was stuck behind a slow cyclist. I wasn’t going to risk crossing over the double yellow lines into oncoming traffic to pass the truck. I assumed that wasn’t allowed in the race as it certainly wasn’t legal. But it was crazy how many people did. I got passed by lots of other riders who had no issues crossing to the other side of the road to pass, even when there was oncoming traffic. Lots of cyclists even squeezed between the truck going their direction and oncoming traffic. It was probably the most dangerous riding I’ve ever seen. Maybe that is standard in Europe, but there is no way I was going to risk my life for a few minutes of time in a race. So I was happy to just sit back and coast for the 10 minutes down the mountain.

The last hour or so of the bike was relatively flat, with some rolling hills. The course got much less congested at points, which was nice. During the last 10 miles I did see some large packs of riders pass me like I was standing still. One time, I was passed by 4 riders who were riding wheel to wheel before I looked back to see a large pack of at least 20 riders. There wasn’t much I could do but sit up and just let them all pass. Because I wasn’t worried about my time, it was better to just use the opportunity to relax and take a break instead of trying to fight for position.

I finally made it back into town and down to transition.

Bike Time: 2:44:22, 223NP 207AP

Run

Coming off the bike, I was still feeling pretty strong. Coming into the race, I was a bit worried if I’d last the 5+ hours of the race, considering I had hadn’t really done much training in a month. So overall, I was happy I was still going. Pretty much right out of transition, there is a nice climb to get things going. I could feel how slow I was going on that short climb. After that, we headed out on the highway towards the first turn around. The first turn around came up much faster than I was expecting, at mile 2.5. That gave me a nice boost of confidence. It reminded me how nice the 70.3 distance is.

I headed back toward transition along the Riverwalk and then finally made the turn to run over the bridge to the other side of the river. I knew the hills were on the other side, which I wasn’t looking forward to. I had run these hills in Ironman Chattanooga a few years ago, but must have forgotten how tough they can be. Even running over the bridge felt like a pain, with the long grind up the bridge and then back down.

Once on the north side of the river, we headed up the long Barton Ave climb. The climb really isn’t that bad, but when you’re already a bit tired from the day, it really starts to hurt. My weakness seems to be hills nowadays because I really feel myself slowing a lot more than others up each hill. At least, after the Barton climb there is a nice downhill to really pound on your quads. After the downhill, there was a right turn, and then right back up climbing back to the top of another hill. After the 2 climbs on the north shore, I finally made it to the pedestrian bridge to cross back over the river.

The crowds at the far end of the bridge were great. Tons of people lining the course cheering us all on. One lap down, one to go. I headed back out for a second time after saying hi to Camille and the kids who were waiting at the start of each lap.

The second lap is where I really started to slow down. I was starting to get tired, and my lack of overall fitness was starting to show itself. My pace really slowed down dramatically. Even though I wasn’t too concerned with a slow pace, I just wanted to keep going without stopping. I continued to do Coke and water at each aid station. I even walked 1 or 2 aid stations on the second lap just to refocus and put some ice down my jersey.

Finally made it over the bridge again. Just 2 more hills and I was done. I think doing so many full Ironman races really helps with perspective on the 70.3 runs. In a 70.3 I really look forward to hitting mile 10, where I know I only have 3 more miles left. Compare that to an Ironman, where I look forward to mile 18, where I only have 8 more miles left. So, during the whole run, the distance goals that I kept setting for myself throughout the race really seemed doable. It’s pretty easy to make it another 2-3 miles to the turnaround, when you’re used to marathon running distances.

The last 2 hills really hurt though. Even on the last hill, my right hamstring cramped up and I had to stop for a minute to stretch it out. I knew I was going to start cramping from dehydration, so I wanted to get to the finish before I started falling apart. After the last hill, I only had the bridge to run back over to the south shore before the finish. Even the bridge slowed me down and felt like a huge hill. At least, after the final bridge there was a long downhill to the finisher shoot and across the finish.

Run Time: 1:48:55

Total Race Time: 5:14:27

Thoughts

This was definitely a hard course. Even though I took it somewhat easy, I was exhausted at the end. It was worthy of a world championship race. With a swim, mostly up-river, a bike with a huge climb, and a hilly run it was a pretty epic course. At least we had almost ideal weather conditions for the day. It was great to be part of such a special race and be among all the best triathletes from around the world.

I’m also very happy to be finished with triathlon season for the year to focus back on getting healthy and fit again for next year.

2017 Ironman Santa Rosa Race Report

Pre-Race

Ironman Santa Rosa was just on the heels of Ironman Boulder, so I didn’t have a lot of time to train between the two races. I was hopeful that I would be able to carry over most of my fitness from my Boulder training into Santa Rosa. While Boulder had the elevation, Santa Rosa had the potential to be a very hot race. So starting 2.5 weeks out from Santa Rosa, I began sauna sessions as often as I could in the mornings or after workouts. For me, the challenge with sauna sessions, is it leaves me somewhat dehydrated all the time. Even taking in extra water and salt throughout the day, I was still short on overall water (based on weight), which I was trying not to have affect my workouts.

Two weeks out from Santa Rosa I had my normal race rehearsal which is a 1.5 hour swim, 5 hour bike and 2 hour run, with a few hours between each session to eat a meal and relax. I had a great swim and bike, but came back from the bike a few pound underweight, which put me in a bad spot for the run. I ended up only running about an hour and giving up on the rest of the run because I was too dehydrated to continue. Not a good thing, but at least a reminder of what happens when you run low on water in the body. So I didn’t have that extra confidence going into Santa Rosa, especially when the weather was calling for 90’s temps.

Since race day was Saturday, I only had Friday for athlete check-in and bike and gear check-in. Saturday morning, I got out on a quick 20 minute run in the morning. It was still a bit warm for my liking and I came back drenched in sweat, like I had jumped in a pool. At least the forecast was now calling for only low 80’s on race-day, which is much more manageable than 90’s. We went down to the expo for check-in and the athlete briefing. In the meeting, they said that the water temp was measured at 76.4 degrees, which meant, most likely no wetsuits for the swim. Good thing I had brought my swimskin just in case. Hopefully it still fit.

While the expo and T2 was downtown Santa Rosa, the swim and T1 was almost an hour drive away. No way did I want to spend another 2 hours in the car just to drop off my bike in T1 on Friday before the race. TriBike Transport offered their bike shuttle service for only $40, where they would take your bike to T1 and rack it for you. Best deal ever!

The rest of Friday was spent relaxing at the hotel pool with the family. Instead of going out to dinner, we decided to just order in to the hotel room and let the kids run around a bit. I’m always happy to stay in and relax, especially the day before a race.

Race Morning

It seems races are starting earlier and earlier. Ironman Santa Rosa had a 6:10am race start. There was no professional field this race, so age-groupers would be the first in the water. So my alarm went off at 3am! My earliest race morning to date. Since I didn’t want to wake the kids, I snuck into the bathroom to get dressed. I grabbed all my bags, which were already laid out and headed to the hotel lobby for coffee and breakfast.

Breakfast was the usual granola and a banana with chocolate hazelnut spread. I wasn’t super hungry since it was so early, but I tried to force it down. I met up with my friends, Chuck and Rob, who were also staying in the same hotel at 3:45am for the 15 minute walk to the busses. After dropping off my bike special needs bag (extra tube and CO2), we got on the bus for the hour ride to the lake.

It was still dark when we got off the busses and into transition. Even though I thought we were one of the first busses to get there, it was still pretty crowded with people who had driven themselves. I found my bike and was happy to see it made it to the rack without me. I added my nutrition and water and synced up my Garmin bike computer. I also dropped off my bike gear bag with my helmet, shoes and socks inside.

Mike Riley came on the loudspeaker and announced the morning water temperature was exactly 76.1 degrees, so it would be a wetsuit legal race. I couldn’t believe it. No way did the lake water temperature drop to exactly the cut-off temperature in 1 day. Leave it to Ironman to find the one spot in the lake which was probably 76.1 to make most of the athletes happy to use wetsuits. So much for my edge in the swim. And good thing I brought my wetsuit just in case.

After putting on my wetsuit, I dropped off my morning clothes bag and walked with Chuck down the boat ramp to the swim start. We found a spot in line right before the 1:10 swim time marker, which was a bit farther back than I wanted, but seemed like a good spot to be.

Swim

Since we were a few minutes back in line, it was a slow start after the cannon went off. I slowly inched my way with the masses of people down the rest of the boat ramp. I finally got to the edge of the water and kind of stood there looking for the timing mat, so I could know when I could start my watch and begin my long day of effort. I looked back and saw I had already crossed the timing mat. Shoot, why was I just standing here then. I tried my best to rush a bit fast into the water and then just did an awkward flop into the water as if I was trying to keep my hair dry.

Right away, it was hard to see the buoys with all the people, so I tried to do my best to just keep moving forward. I was a bit faster than most of the people I started with, so I just tried to make it around other swimmers as I made my way to the first turn buoy, which was only a couple hundred yards from the boat ramp. After the first turn, we had a long straight away. I ended up a bit farther out from the buoy line, just to avoid running in to people. That first section was still crowded and it took some extra effort and extra sighting to stay straight. I made to around another couple buoys and then headed back to the boat ramp. The sun was just coming up over the dam and right in my eyes, and it was hard to see the buoys at all. I just found a spot on the bridge to sight with. I was still passing people every now and then, and it seemed like it took some extra effort to get around people and fight for my spot.

I finally made it back to the dock, ran out of the water and then back in to the water for my second lap. That’s when things just got nuts. Right away on the second lap, I was running into swimmers that just had gotten into the water on their first lap. It was a nightmare. It felt like a washing machine of people I just couldn’t get around. There were people doing all kinds of things: backstroke, breaststroke, just sitting there treading water. I’ve never seen such a large group of people, not really swimming. I don’t mind slow swimmers, because usually they are predictable in their stroke, so I can make it around reasonably easily. But when swimmers just decide to stop swimming and rest, or to start a breast-stroking with a wide kick, then they are not predictable and it gets really dangerous.

The whole second loop was like this. Outside of Kona, this was my hardest swim because of all the contact. I had to sight almost every other stroke to avoid running into people who were just stopping all the time. I got kicked in the ribs a couple times by some breast-stokers. It was a real mess to try to swim though the back-of-the-pack swim group.

I finally made it back to the start/finish and out of the water. I quickly pulled the top of my wetsuit down as I ran to the wetsuit strippers. After I got my wetsuit stripped, I started the long and slow jog up the quarter-mile long boat ramp and into T1.

Swim Time: 1:02:39

Bike

After my predictably slow transition time, I made it to my bike and then ran to the mount line. The bike started with a short little climb before a long 2-mile decent away from the lake. The first downhill was a nice way to settle into a lower heart rate after such a long run through transition. I was able to tuck into an aero position and pass a handful of people right away.

The first sections of the bike course were great, there were some rolling hills through the wine country-side. I prefer rolling hills to just flat roads, as the variability feels nice and I have a couple opportunities to stand out of the saddle to stretch a bit. The temperature was still pretty cool, so I took the opportunity to stay up on my fluid and take in some of the nice views of wine country. The course also got pretty empty. There were times I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me and I got a bit worried I was still on the course. Every now and then I got a glimpse of an aero helmet way in the distance, so I knew I was still on the right road.

My power was also doing really well during the first half of the course. I was well above my power goal and was feeling pretty strong. I also tried to stay up on my calorie intake. My goal was to try for 300 calories per hour, but I would be okay with reducing that towards the end of the bike if it warmed up too much or if I wasn’t feeling it. I also was doing 3 salt pills per hour (2 at the top of the hour and 1 at the bottom) to keep up on my sodium intake while taking in straight water from aid stations.

We finally got to an out-and-back section of the course and I could see a large group of fast riders where a few minutes in front of me. And then behind me by another couple minutes were just a ton of riders. So I was pretty happy with my position since I didn’t have to worry about anyone around me. If I could just keep on my power, I could really ride my own race.

After about 40 miles, most of the nice scenery was gone and I was beginning to feel a bit bored and tired. I was looking forward to mile 66 when I knew I’d go through transition and see the family and maybe get a little more energized. After about 60 miles, I finally made it back into Santa Rosa and on to city streets. The course still seemed empty, but I liked the change of scenery. There was quite a bit of turns and corners as we moved through the city streets. Mile 66 finally came and I rode through the transition area and waved to Camille and the kids as I started the looped section of the course.

After mile 66 the rest of the course was 2 loops around Santa Rosa city streets. The first part of the loop was actually on a nice road with a bit of rollers. But then we were turned off the nicely paved road and onto some horrible side streets with just nasty roads. There was one road which was just littered with potholes and ruts. The road was also open to car traffic, so not only did we have to avoid all the huge potholes, but also do that while watching for car traffic. There were times I thought for sure I was going to snap something on my bike, I was being rattled so much.

After what seemed like a long and tiring loop, I made it back to the transition area to wave again to Camille and the kids and begin my second and final loop. This time, it was starting to warm up a bit, so I tried to spray water on my neck and back whenever I could. The course was also pretty crowded the second time around with riders on their first lap. It took more energy to watch out for other riders, but at least I was able to slingshot around riders one at a time and make some good forward gains.

At this point, I was really ready to get off the bike as I was getting more and more uncomfortable. The second round of pothole roads really took its toll on me. I didn’t even try to stay aero, I just sat up and tried to protect myself from the jolting as much as possible.

I finally made it back towards transition and was able to hobble off the bike and into the change tent.

Bike Time: 4:56:53, 221 Normalized/216 Average Power

Run

Camille had told me that I was 3rd off the bike, but I had assumed I lost a couple places with my long transition time. Also, right away on the run, I could tell I was a bit low on energy. I wasn’t feeling bad, but I didn’t have a lot of extra energy to get moving fast. So I settled into what felt like a good pace, but was actually much slower than I wanted. Even at the first aid station, only a couple hundred yards into the run, I had to walk to get ice and water. This was my first race using a handkerchief around my neck to keep cool. It had a pouch sewn into it to hold ice, but it took some extra time at the aid stations to fill it with ice before tying it around my neck.

The run course is 3 loops along a recreation trail. The way out has a slight downhill on hard dirt path and the way back is a slight uphill on concrete. I actually liked the layout because 3 loops is pretty easy for me mentally to handle. There was also some shade from the trees, which kept some of the sun off, which made a huge difference. I started the run around 12:30, so the sun was directly overhead most of the run, so I still got hit with a good amount of heat and sun exposure, which I think slowed me down.

After a couple miles, I got passed by my friend Adam, who I knew had come off the bike right behind me. He looked really strong and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep pace with him. All I could do was settle into what seemed like a manageable pace and hope I could keep it going.

The first loop came and went pretty fast. I made it back to transition, where I said hi to Camille and the kids. I was somewhat frustrated at my slow pace, but at this point in the race I just wanted to keep going and get to the finish no matter how that happened. I was walking every aid station to get in enough water and ice. Even though I didn’t like the idea of walking, it seemed to help mentally, so I kept it up.

The second loop, was pretty tough for me. At mile 13, I was pretty happy I was halfway done. I wasn’t feeling that bad, but I was pretty low on energy. I felt drained. I was taking coke at every aid station along with water. I also did 1-2 waters on my head and ice down my front or in my neck scarf. For salt, I was taking 2 pills every 30 minutes.

At the far end of the second lap, I took a HotShot, which I’ve used before. I just have never in the middle of the run. It’s a spicy-sweet mix of sugar and capsaicin spice. Bad idea. About 5 minutes later I felt nauseous and had to walk for a few minutes. I was finally able to muster he energy to keep running even though my stomach wasn’t too happy.

After passing Camille and the kids again a little after 16 miles, I started to get a little motivation back. The nausea had finally gone away and I was happy to only have 8-ish more miles. My pace was still around 8:30 when I was running and with the walking at the aid stations, was hovering at an 8:40 average… one of my slowest Ironman runs. But I was actually pretty happy I was holding this pace the entire run. So I wasn’t slowing down too much, I just wasn’t able to go fast.

I finally made it to the turn around on my third and final lap. Only 5 more miles and I was done. I could run 5 miles no matter how horrible I felt. I was counting down the miles from then on. It’s a great feeling to see mile markers above 20.

The last mile seemed to go on forever. There were a number of twists and corners around the downtown area that just kept coming and coming. I could hear the finish line, but it took forever to get to the finish shoot. It’s always a great feeling and emotional to run down the carpet of the finishers shoot. It was great to hear Mike Riley say “…and from Monterey, father of 2 and full-time engineer, Mark Reith. You are an Ironman Mark!” He sure is good at making everyone feel special.

Run Time: 3:44:09

Race Time: 9:56:56, 7th Place Male 35-39

Thoughts:

Even though I didn’t have the run I wanted, I was still very pleased I got 7th in my age group (and missed Kona by 1 spot). I’m very happy I have the ability to keep moving even when not feeling the best. I did have a good swim considering the conditions and a very solid bike time. I seem to be turning into a good cyclist (maybe at the expense of my run). I’m also happy I was able to improve on my Boulder performance and get a bit of redemption.

I’m happy this is my last full Ironman of the year (as I’m pretty beat). Only 70.3 World Championships next.

On to Napa and spending time with family and friends with good food and good wine.

2017 Ironman Boulder Race Report

Pre-Race

I knew Ironman Boulder would be a bit of an experiment due to the altitude. I signed up anyway because I really like Boulder and it seemed like a good race destination for the family. I figured I might not be super-competitive racing there, but at least it would be a good family trip which was relatively a short flight away and with good restaurant options (we seem to plan most of our trips around food). I also knew the weather might be hit or miss in June, but no weather seems to be as good as the Central Coast in CA.

Leading up to the race, I started to become a bit more concerned with the weather over altitude. The forecast was calling for some hot weather, in the 90’s. I really didn’t want to race in the heat, so I became obsessed with checking the weather every 30 minutes the days leading up to the race. It looked like at best it would be in the mid-80’s and at worse, in the mid-90’s. I was hoping for the former.

We flew from San Jose to Boulder on Friday before the race. Friday was the last day of athlete checkin, so I needed to make it down to registration pretty much as soon as possible when we got into town. Just walking around outside and I was dripping sweat down my head and back from the heat. It was over 90 degrees, and I was melting when in the sun. Not very encouraging.

Registration was quick as the expo area was almost empty. Usually the couple days before the race the expo area is busy and there is definitely a triathlon buzz in the air. I didn’t get that feeling here. There didn’t seem to be many athletes around town, or in the hotel. Even walking the Pearl Street Mall, we didn’t see many other athletes so it didn’t have that normal Ironman vibe. I guess that can actually be a good thing, because it’s easier to focus on vacation instead of the race.

On Saturday, we ended up sleeping in to get the kids some extra rest and then rushing to the Ironkids race at 9am. We barely made it in time for Iyla to race her 2 laps around the track with Grandma. After the kids race, we walked the huge farmers market and grabbed some early lunch from some of the vendors. I then got back to the hotel to get my gear bags and bike ready for the mandatory bike and gear check. Since transition 1 was at the Boulder Reservoir, which was about 6 miles from town, I had to ride my bike over to transition in order to get it racked and get my bike gear bag checked in.

I got back to the hotel around the kids nap time, so I stayed in the hotel room and watched some tv while Caden took a nap and Camille went shopping with her mom and Iyla. After nap-time, we got ready to meet our friends Chad and Lexi for an early dinner (and dessert).

My goal was to be in bed Saturday night, by 8:30 and to be asleep by 9. Camille took the kids to the grandparents neighboring room while I was able to get ready for bed. The grandparents took Caden for the night, so I wouldn’t wake him in the morning, which helped take some of the stress off me for the night.

Race Morning

Ironman Boulder started at 6:20am, which is about an hour earlier than usual, which meant I needed to get out of bed extra early. My alarm was supposed to go off at 3:45, but I was awake already around 3:30. I quietly got out of bed and went into the bathroom, where I had all my clothes laid out already. I got dressed into my tri kit, put on sunscreen, grabbed my bags and some food and headed down to the hotel lobby. In the hotel lobby, they had coffee and some food already out for athletes. Breakfast for me was a couple bowls of granola with berries and a banana with chocolate nut-butter and coffee. I was still pretty full from dinner the night before, so I tried not to go overboard on breakfast.

To save my feet from the 20 minute walk to T2, where I needed to catch a bus to T1, I got an Uber from the hotel. I got dropped off at Boulder High School, where I double-checked my run bag and added drink bottle, dropped off my run special needs bag (extra socks and athletic tape), and got on a school bus to T1. The bus ride was a short 10 minutes and when I got to the reservoir I made my way to my bike. I added my water bottles, Garmin and clipped my shoes on the pedals. I borrowed a pump to pump up my tires and then made my way out of transition to find a place to relax for the next hour.

I ended up meeting Camille and Iyla who had taken the shuttle to watch the race start. We were able to talk a bit while I changed into my wetsuit and ate a quick Clif bar 30 minutes before the race start. I handed over my morning clothes bag to the volunteers and made my way to the swim start.

My plan was to take the swim easier than normal. I figured the altitude would affect me the most on the swim, so I lined up at the back of the 1 hour group and in front of the 1:15 swim group.

Swim

When the cannon went off, I baby-stepped with the masses of others towards the start line. Rolling starts are always so anti-climactic. All this energy, waiting for the cannon, and then just baby-stepping with the crowd to the start line. We walked down the boat ramp and then 2-by-2 were able to finally cross the timing mat and take a running dive into the water.

The first thing I noticed was the water temperature. It was nice and warm. So no cold shock jumping in. I settled into a very relaxed pace and tried to just focus on long strokes. After the first few hundred yards, I was getting a little out of breath and had to breathe every 2 strokes to get in some more air. But overall I wasn’t as out of breath as I thought. Eventually, I was able to settle into my normal breathing of every 3 strokes with maybe an extra breath here or there.

The swim is a single triangular-shaped lap. The first leg was pretty uneventful. I think I started far enough back in the group to not get caught up with all the fast swimmers. So most of the people around me were going to same speed and I was able to relax and just try to swim in a straight line. Luckily we had some cloud cover blocking the rising sun, or else it would be right in our eyes and hard to sight the buoys.

After the first turn, I was still feeling good. I knew it wouldn’t be my fastest swim, but I was okay with staying relaxed and saving my energy for later. We started to get some chop in the water on the second leg, which made things a bit more interesting, but overall is was a very easy course.

It still amazes me how some people cannot swim in a straight line. I always see people zig-zagging across the course, so every now and then I had to put in some extra effort to get around those people. Because of that, I usually don’t worry about drafting and just swim my own line, unless I find someone I can follow that I can trust.

On the third leg, I started feeling like I wanted to move on from the swim. 2.4 miles is a long swim and gets boring and tiring at the end. I was ready to get out of the water and get on the bike. After what seemed like an extra-long time, I finally made it to the boat ramp and out of the water. I slow-jogged up the ramp while trying to wrestle off the top half of my wetsuit. I made it to the wetsuit strippers and got on my butt as they pulled my suit off and helped me off the ground and running towards my bike gear bag. A volunteer handed me my bike gear bag as I ran through to the change tent. All that was in my bag, were socks and a helmet. I sat in the change tent and put on my socks (which is very challenging with wet and grassy feet) and helmet as a volunteer picked up all my swim gear and shoved it all in my bag. Then I was off and jogging towards my bike.

Swim Time: 1:02:34

Bike

I grabbed my bike and ran with it up the hill to the mount line. Once on my bike, it took a while to get my shoes on, but I finally was able to settle in, rub in the sunscreen the volunteers had slathered on me, wave to Camille as I passed, and then settle into the aero position as I made my way out of the reservoir.

The bike course is 3 loops north of the reservoir, and then a few more miles back into town and to T2. Each loop had 2 climbs and 2 descents, so it was pretty easy to break up the race into chunks. Right away on the first loop, I focused on drinking some fluid and just getting a sense of how I felt. As far as I could tell, I was feeling pretty good. Nothing was too stiff and I didn’t seem to have any big negative effects of the altitude, so I was pretty happy with how things were going.

I knew it was going to be a warm day, so I tried to start drinking right away. However, I could see there was some cloud cover, which would help keep me cooler. My goal was to drink almost two bottles of water per hour along with about 300 calories of food and some added salt pills. Here was the specific plan I had laid out ahead of time:

Nutrition: 300 cal/hr = 1500 cal
3 gels = 270 ca
1230 cal from Perpetuem = 9 scoops

Hydration: 6150mg sodium total on the bike (7.5L or 10.5 bottles of water)
1700mg from Skratch in first bottle
945mg from Perpetuem
Need 14 pills total: 3 per hour

After the first lap, I was a bit ahead of goal power, which was nice. And I was feeling pretty good. My goal was about 215 watts and I was at 217 watts on the first lap.

The bike course was actually very pretty. There were some climbs and then some fast downhills with some rolling hills mixed it. I was a good mix of terrain to help pass the time. It was nice to look around and catch some views. Overall, I was happy with the course layout. The only downside was that it was all open to car traffic, which seemed a bit dangerous at times. There were a couple short sections where we were on a highway and getting passed by cars so I had to keep looking back and watching for cars every time I had to pass other riders. It felt like a normal training ride with the cars, but not ideal for racing.

On the second lap, I was still feeling pretty good. I tried to keep eating and drinking along with plan, but my stomach was feeling a bit more full and heavy. There were more riders on the course by then, so I had to pay a bit more attention with all the passing. My power dropped a bit on the second lap, but only by a few watts, so I wasn’t too concerned. It was fairly hard to keep power up on the long downhills and I was losing motivation to hold higher power on the climbs.

112 miles is a long bike ride. Especially without the music or podcasts I’m used to in training. That really starts to hit you around mile 70 or 80, when you’ve been on the bike a long time and start to get achy, but realize you still have a ways to go.

The last loop, I started to get somewhat uncomfortable. My bladder was always pretty full from all the fluid. My stomach was starting to get a bit off from all the starch in my nutrition and my body was getting a bit sore. This is all pretty normal, but uncomfortable nonetheless. I really was looking forward to the last long downhill to the reservoir on the last lap. I ended up really letting my power slip on that last section.

After the third lap to the reservoir, I was finally able to make the turn towards the finish line which was another 6 miles or so. That section was pretty empty and I only saw a few more riders during that time. Both my energy and power were pretty low during that section and I ended up getting passed by a couple riders in my age group. There were a lot of twists and turns on the course as I made my way back into downtown Boulder and to the high school for T2. By the time I got off my bike, I was starting to feel pretty beat up and ready to get off the saddle.

I was finally off the bike, running to get my run bag, and then slowly jogging in to the change tent to put on my running shoes, visor, glasses and race belt. I also grabbed another bottle of fluid from my bike for the first part of the run.

Bike Time: 5:05:30, 208NP/201AP

Run

Right away on the run, I wasn’t feeling the best. I was feeling a bit tired and out of breath. For me, it’s pretty usual in an Ironman run to feel horrible after getting off the bike. I think it’s just shifting the body from being in one position for 5 hours to another position and all the jostling involved with running when your stomach is already a bit off. Usually, I can start feeling better after the first 30 minutes or so.

I took a few sips of my bottle as I ran away from transition. In the first mile, I was feeling really fatigued in my lungs though. I came up to where Camille and the family were and I gave her a quick kiss and told her I wasn’t feeling well and something was off. I kept running, but had to stop at the next aid station and take a breather. I used the restroom at the aid station which ended up making my stomach feel better without the pressure of a large bladder. I also ditched my bottle of fluid and drank some coke instead, hoping it would help with my energy.

I started running again, but right away I was still feeling my lungs were really fatigued. I looked at my heart rate, and it was lower than expected, so I didn’t see anything wrong like dehydration or altitude issues. Usually, in an Ironman run, my body is telling me to walk, almost all the time. The trick is to ignore that feeling and push through no matter what. But this time, I could tell something was different, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. So I decided to walk a bit and see if that would “reset” anything. I walked for about a minute and I could feel my energy coming back a little. So I decided to run again. But after a few hundred yards, I was having breathing issues again where it felt like I couldn’t take in deep enough breaths to support my running. Almost like I was breathing through a straw. I checked my heart rate again, and all looked good. I had to stop running and walk again in order to catch my breath.

As I walked I tried to describe for myself what I was feeling, so I could sort it out. I felt like I had the energy to run, and I even wanted to run, because walking was frustrating. But I felt a tightness or fatigue/inflammation in my lungs where I could not get a full breath. If I tried to inhale a full breath, it felt constricted at the end of the breath and made me cough and tighten up in the throat.

From then on, I tried to do a run/walk cycle. I knew any good run time was lost, but I could still finish slower, doing a run/walk combination. But over the next 30 minutes, my runs became short and my walks longer. By then, I was getting my energy back and I felt like there was nothing holding me back from running other than this lung issue. Every time I tried to run, I would have to stop immediately because it felt like I was trying to run breathing through a straw. It felt like I could not get enough air to support the higher heart rate of a slow run. But the lack of air didn’t seem to come from less oxygen at altitude, but from my inability to take deep breaths, maybe from lung inflammation or from diaphragm fatigue. I was only able to take in about 30% the volume of air I would normally take in per breath.

It just got worse from there. I was limited to only walking and I was only a couple miles in to my marathon. I was getting passed by everybody and, at that point, was the only one walking. I certainly had the energy to run and really wanted to. Every time I tried, I could feel that breath restriction in my lungs and throat.

At that point, I stopped taking in any calories at aid stations and moved only to water. I figured, I probably was in fat burning mode at this pace, and wasn’t burning any sugar, so no point in taking in additional calories. I still felt like I had good energy. I was able to talk and joke with volunteers and spectators. Even walking, I still couldn’t take full breaths. It also helped to only breathe through my nose and keep my mouth closed.

All I kept thinking about was how my poor family would be stuck waiting for me, expecting me to run by at a certain time. I felt really horrible they were going to have to wait so long before they saw me again. So mostly I was feeling embarrassed that I would let them down. Also embarrassed walking passed the tons of spectators on the course. This race had some of the best crowd support and turnout I have seen at any Ironman. And here I was, walking by, early in the run course.

And that’s pretty much how the rest of the run went… I walked. I had a lot of time to think. I felt fine, and was in good spirits the whole time. I really really wanted to start running, or even do a run-walk. I kept trying, but as time went on, it was harder and harder to breathe through my mouth. So while walking, I had to take short breaths through my nose. Even drinking water became harder and I had to take baby sips.

So now I know what it feels like to walk an entire 26.2 miles. It takes a really really long time. Over 6 hours of walking. And 6 hours of not eating food and only drinking water. But I had good energy the whole time and only started getting fatigued towards the end. I think 6 hours of walking would make anyone tired.

I spent most of the 6 hours feeling sorry for my family and friends who had to wait it out. The rest of the time I thought about how I was going to tell this story or come up with a cool title for my Strava “walk” activity. I wondered if I could change the activity type on my Garmin from “run” to “walk”. I thought about a lot of odd things that I can’t even recall now. Either way, I made myself laugh a lot and spent a lot of time creating my own race narrative and storyline of what was going on. I definitely had to swallow my pride walking by all the volunteers and spectators. But overall, it was actually enjoyable. Instead of the pain of running, I actually had a pleasant time walking. I got to think, talk to people, stop and talk to family, and really pay attention to the experiences and faces of the other athletes.

But finally after over 6 hours of walking, I finally made it to the finish. I actually jogged down the finish shoot, cause there was no way I was going to walk across the finish. My legs were achy, but I had more energy at the finish than any other Ironman race.

Run Time: 6:14:46, 14:18/mile

Overall Race Time: 12:33:47

Thoughts

This was not the race I wanted. By far my worse time, by a couple hours. But it was actually a good experience and offered a nice perspective on racing. Now I know, worse case, I can always walk…. And walk for a long time. I also know I have good endurance. I can walk over 6 hours with no food without feeling the need for food, even after an hour swim and 5 hour bike ride. It was also a very humbling experience. Probably more so than anything I’ve done. A good lesson in humility overall.

I’m still not quite sure what happened on the run. It didn’t seem like a direct relation to altitude. Maybe somehow indirectly related. I’m still trying to figure that out. But I don’t plan on racing at altitude anytime in the near future until I do get a handle on how to prevent this in the future.

I am happy I stuck it out and crossed the line to get that 7th Ironman finisher medal. Overall, it was a great family trip and a good race experience.

2017 Big Sur Marathon Race Report

This was my 5th Big Sur Marathon. Last year, I had a really solid race and finished still feeling strong and that I could have given a bit more. So this year, I wanted to push a bit harder to see what would happen. However, I had given Big Sur my lowest priority of all my races this year and really wanted to treat it as a big running day and not a major race. So my taper was closer to half a week, which still should have been enough to feel good on race morning. It had actually been a long time since I had done a long or hard run outside, as a lot of my training was on the treadmill this year and I wasn’t really confident that my treadmill workouts directly translated to real world running results.

Race Morning

Oh the fun of waking up early for Big Sur. This race has the earliest morning of any race I have done, due to the hour long bus ride to the start (after the 30 minute drive from my house to the bus). So my alarm went off at 3:10am. I usually like round numbers when waking up, but I really wanted the extra 10 minutes of sleep. I quietly got on my run clothes, and then another layer of thick pants and a down jacket for the cold morning wait at the start line. I love how simple running is. No gear to worry about. Just shorts, shirt and shoes. Not like triathlon, where there is just a lot of “stuff” and logistical overhead.

Coffee was already waiting for me downstairs and I packed 2 thermoses. One for the drive to the bus and a second for the ride on the bus. I also made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as breakfast later in the morning. I drove to Carmel and parked on Ocean Ave, hoping to not get a parking ticket later in the day. The bus ride to the start was long and uneventful. It was still too dark to take in the views, so I just listened to a podcast the whole ride.

This year, due to the Big Sur bridge damage, the buses dropped us off about half a mile before the start line, so we had to walk on the shoulder the rest of the way to the start. I took the opportunity to eat my sandwich and drink more coffee as I walked. When we got to the start at the ranger station, it was still somewhat empty, so I found a good spot to sit and “camp out” for another hour and a half before the race start. I ended up just listening to podcasts and people watching most of the time. Sadly, I’m not used to sitting on the ground, so when I did finally stand up, both of my legs were dead asleep and locked up.

I tried to wait till the last minute before taking off my jacket and pants and heading to the start line. I made it to the start just 5 minutes before the start time.

The Race

When the race gun went off, I slowly followed the masses of people who took the entire width of the road. There wasn’t much room for going faster or slower than the people around me, so I just shortened my stride and tried not to trip on anyone. The first section of the race is a nice downhill through the redwoods. It’s a great opportunity to ease into the race while still holding good speed.

The first 3 miles went by really fast. It was just an opportunity to enjoy the race, feel the excitement of all the runners and find your mental cadence. After 3-4 miles, I started looking at my watch to see where I was pace wise. I was hoping for about a 7:15 pace, but I was doing better than that, at around 7:00 pace and still feeling strong. For me, mile 6 is a nice reality check. It’s just a long enough distance to start feeling it, but reminds you how long the race is. Just 20 more miles! Actually, 20.2. Crazy.

Luckily miles 6-9 went by fairly quick. The course has some nice long rollers, but you have great views of the ocean and the lighthouse in the distance. This is a nice time to enjoy the sun and start to mentally prepare for hurricane point coming up. The nice part of this year was the wind wasn’t too strong, there was maybe a light headwind, and the sun was out and visibility was great.

Mile 9 is probably one of my favorite parts of the course. You crest this little hill and turn downhill to the right. And then you just see the huge climb ahead up to hurricane point. You also start feeling that strong headwind. I always just smile to myself at this point cause I know that climb is going to be a beast. It’s a great feeling. By the base of hurricane point, I was ahead of my goal pace. I was at an average of 7:03 pace for the course so far. I was really curious what was going to happen to that pace after the long climb.

During the long slog up to hurricane point, I just tried to run behind people who were going about the same pace as me. The wind wasn’t too horrible, but it was strong enough where I could feel it slowing me down, so I did what I could to shield myself from it. I kept reminding myself of the false summit on this climb, but when I got to where I thought the top was, I turned the corner to see how much farther the real summit was. This climb is just cruel in such a long event.

I finally made it to hurricane point, where the wind was starting to get bad. I looked at my watch to see my average pace had dropped to 7:17. Crazy. I tried to speed up on the long downhill to Bixby Bridge and to mile 13. Bixby Bridge is a lot of fun, because so many people stop to take pictures. I love how you can hear the piano music all the way from hurricane point, all the way down to the bridge. Crossing the bridge, my average pace was back down to where I wanted at 7:15. So I hit my lap button and hoped I could do another 7:15 the final 13 miles.

I don’t remember much of mile 13-16. I just remember trying to get to mile 18. Mile 18 is usually where things start to get a bit messy, so I was hoping to get there in good shape. But at mile 16, I was starting to get pretty worn out. My pace was slowing and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to hold on to 7:15 pace much longer. Mile 16 is also hard, because you realize you still have 10 more miles about the same time you realize you’re feeling a bit beat up. But I finally made it to mile 18, where I set my new mental goal of mile 20, which would be only 10k from the finish.

Things started to go south at mile 18 though. I started slowing a bit more and I felt my heart rate rising, which isn’t a good sign. I knew it was going to be tough, but I started really falling apart quickly. My forearms also started cramping up, which is usually what happens to me right before everything else starts cramping. I knew this was the first signs of dehydration and probably too late for me to do anything about it.

By mile 20, I knew I was going to be a lot slower than last year. My pace had dropped to around 7:30 and I was really starting to struggle holding it. I was also starting to cramp in my inner thighs, which I thought was an odd place to cramp. I was now more focused on just getting to the finish without walking and not worried anymore about improving my time.

The last 5 miles of the Big Sur marathon are pretty challenging. There still are a couple longer climbs, which are hard to tackle, when you’re pretty fatigued. Those climbs really took a toll on me. It turned in to more of an Ironman shuffle than a slow run. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten that bad, even in an Ironman. I was really falling apart and doing everything I could to not stop and walk. There were 2 climbs near the finish where I did have start walking for 10-15 seconds because I was cramping so bad. At least I was able to get going on my shuffle again. Even a shuffle is much faster than a slow walk.

I was just counting down the last 3 miles to the finish. I obviously had executed something wrong to feel this bad during a marathon. I didn’t know what I had done wrong, but I just wanted to get over that finish line. I finally made it to the last mile, but my pace was over 8 minutes, and sometimes even slower going uphill. My average pace for the second half of the race was closer to 7:45, so I knew I’d be at around 7:30 for the full distance. While this is still a decent pace, it’s much slower than what I know I’m capable of, which was frustrating.

I finally made it to the finish line and was able to stop and rest. I talked to Camille and the kids a bit before walking through the food tent, grabbing a couple things, then meeting Camille to sit in the grass.

What’s with the hair

Race Time: 3:18:28, 7:34 min/mile

Post Race

When I sat down after the race, I immediately started cramping…everywhere. I was cramping in places, I didn’t know had muscles. My abs cramped up, my toes, fingers, the back of my neck and throat. It was not a fun experience at all. I could barely talk to Camille as every time I moved, something else would cramp. I was in worse shape than any race I have done. It took a long time before I could gather enough energy to get up and walk back to the car. Even at home, I didn’t eat or drink anything as my body just couldn’t take it. Not until a nap that afternoon, did I start feeling better and was able to get in some food and fluid.

I went into Big Sur thinking it was going to be a challenging race and training day, but I really got a giant slap in the face. More like a punch in the face. I didn’t think it was possible to execute this poorly on a relatively short race day (compared to Ironman). Live and learn I guess. I’ll have to come back soon and see if I can finally beat Big Sur Marathon and not have it beat me.

Thoughts

Being an analytical person, I really like to figure out what I did wrong. Race morning I weighed 172.9 when I woke up. After the race I weighed 164.2. So I lost 8.7 pounds during the race, or 3.95 Liters of water. That’s crazy, considering it was in the low 50’s for the race… so not very hot. There were 11 aid stations, and I took in a cup of Gatorade at 10 of those. Each cup was probably 6-8oz of fluid. So, say I took in 60-80oz of fluid or 18-24 oz per hour. That seems somewhat normal. But if I ended the race in deficit of 3.95 Liters, that means I should have taken in an additional 10oz per aid station. So basically, I should have grabbed a second cup at each aid station. I guess that’s only a sweat rate of 1.8L/hr, which is pretty low for me (I go over 3L/hr in the heat). Also, looking back at my heart rate for the race, I can see it decoupling from my pace later in the race. So my heart was really struggling with the lack of water in my body. So bottom line, I need to drink a lot more, even when it’s cool out. I wish there was a device that could tell me this on the fly. So that explains why I fell apart so horribly. Live and learn.