April 4, 2012

Oceanside 70.3 (Race Report)

As I mentioned before, this race sort of sprang up on me! Back when I registered for it I figured I'd have a few months of training under my belt and it would be a good way to assess my progress and practice my race strategies. It ended up being exactly that, and while it was certainly challenging, I improved in all three disciplines from my first 70.3 last summer and, most importantly, figured out what I need to focus on in the next few months leading up to Ironman Cd'A. Oceanside is a wonderful little surf town and was a great location for a triathlon. I managed to have some fun out there and came away ready to tackle the big months of training ahead of me!

My mom and I made the long drive down to San Diego Thursday and stayed with my aunt & uncle about an hour south of Oceanside. I slept in Friday and thenwe gathered our stuff and headed up to Oceanside for athlete check-in. We checked into our hotel, which fortunately was super close to the race activities, and dropped off my bike before heading toward the pier. It was well past lunchtime so we stopped to get a bite to eat before finding our way to the expo and check-in. Everywhere I looked were athletes rocking M-dots - triathletes always have to show off when they get together! The expo was down on the Strand near the pier and you couldn't help but notice a great energy and excitement in the air. We hit up the official merchandise tent first, and I couldn't resist getting a bike jersey, and finisher's shirt, and a visor.
welcome to Oceanside!

We meandered through the other vendors until we got to athlete check-in. One thing I will say for Ironman races is they have the organization thing down to a T. I moved from station to station getting everything I needed and listening to instructions from the awesome volunteers. When I finished checking in we headed to T2 which they'd open the day before for gear drop off. Since this year the race had two different transitions you had to separate your run gear from your bike gear to leave in T2. To save myself the time and extra hassle the next morning I dropped off my little pile of run gear and scoped out the area and the bike in/run out.
my little pile of run gear
On our way back to the hotel we stopped by the grocery store to pick up my breakfast for the next morning then headed back to relax. We decided to order takeout from a local Italian restaurant, and I have to say, I think this is the way to go! No long wait at restaurants and getting to relax in your pjs while you eat is a win for me. I put together my thoughts and goals, got my gear ready to go, then spent some quality time with my trigger point kit and roller before hitting the sack with a very early alarm set.

My alarm went off around 4:45am and after hitting snooze I rolled out of my comfy bed and got going. Most of my stuff was packed up the night before so I got dressed, slathered on some sunscreen, made breakfast, and then we loaded up the car and headed to the harbor. Since I'd set up my gear in T2 the day before we went straight to the swim start/T1 at Oceanside Harbor (about 1.25 miles from T2). We found parking easily and walked to the start, stopping at a line-less bathroom (score!) on the way. It was still dark out and drizzling, but it wasn't too cold thankfully.

I made it to T1 with about 20 minutes to spare before it closed and got to setting up my gear. My rack was nice and close to the bike out (although that would mean a long run from the swim) and I snagged a great spot with plenty of space. Compared to other triathlons I've done, the racks were not very crowded at all. While I was laying all my stuff out the gun went off and the male pros began their swim. As I started to put my wetsuit on I realized I hadn't been bodymarked. But then I looked around and noticed that not only did there not seem to be anyone doing it, but most of the other athletes were not marked. I was about to go find an answer when a nearby woman held out a sharpie she'd brought and offered to mark me herself. Still not sure if they had people doing it officially!
early morning at T1
bike gear
all suited up!
final check!

Soon enough it was time to head over toward the start and line up with my wave. I handed some stuff off to my mom, double checked my gear and then made my way through transition. The lead men had just finished their swim and were running into transition which was exciting to watch! I calculated that their time was around 20 minutes...half as long as I hoped to swim! As I waited in my corral I suddenly got overwhelmingly nervous. I told myself to relax and breathe, and I calmed down a bit as we got closer to our turn.

I was in wave 16 with women 25-29, 50-54, & 60+, all decked out in our light blue caps. The waves were 3 minutes apart so we waited on the boat ramp until the wave ahead of us took off and then we had a few minutes to get in and swim out to the start. I was expecting the water to be freezing (it was 58 degrees), but surprisingly it felt fairly comfortable. What I wasn't expecting was how salty the water would be! I really had to pee, and I figured I could just go in the water, but I didn't have time between getting in and starting the swim (this was come back to haunt me). I positioned myself in the middle toward the back and then before I knew it we were off!
 swim start
that's me in the back looking toward the right
(thanks to Nicole for the pic!)

It was pretty hectic and crowded as everyone fought for space, but after a couple 100m it spread out and I found a rhythm. The course is a little unique in that it's an out-and-back loop swam in a counterclockwise direction through the harbor. It begins by paralleling the west side dock, angles left toward the mouth of the harbor, and turns around where it meets the Boat Basin entrance. I had to sight often as the slight curve of the course made it easy to swim off track. About halfway to the turnaround we lost the protection of the harbor walls and things suddenly got super choppy. Breathing became difficult as I'd turn my head and get a mouthful of saltwater instead. The up and down of the waves also made for a disorienting effect and made sighting much more difficult. I remember thinking everytime I looked up that I must be close to the turnaround, only to see several more buoys still ahead in the distance.
 my wave start next to the red buoy
there we go!

I tried to stay calm despite the conditions, and soon enough I reached the red turnaround buoy. I rounded one more and then I was on my way back! By this point the waves had mixed a bit and when I'd look up I saw several different colored caps. A couple times I felt people grabbing at my feet but I found if I kicked hard they backed off. I had no idea how I was doing or where I was at, I just wanted to be out of the water! I'd swallowed so much water and felt a bit off from the waves. Finally I was back within the protection of the harbor walls and was able to settle into a decent rhythm. I tried to focus on form and pulling strong. People were lined up on the harbor walls cheering, so it was nice to see that every time I breathed on my right.

Then finally I looked up to sight and there was the finish! I swam a bit harder until I was on the boat ramp and could stand up. As with most longer triathlon swims, the change from horizontal to vertical always makes me feel a little disoriented, but I stayed composed and had a helping hand from a volunteer to pull me out of the water. I glanced at my watch and was happy to see I'd beaten my previous time by a minute! I started to jog along the walkway back to transition, peeling my wetsuit off as I went. One leg down, two to go!

swim time (1.2 mi): 41:47

I had a pretty long run to my spot which accounts for a decent part of my time. Otherwise, I think I did pretty well and was quick and efficient. I thought about peeing, and probably should have, but I didn't want to lose anymore time. I pealed off my wetsuit, put on my socks and shoes, pulled on my tank, and put on my helmet and sunglasses. I stuffed all my swim stuff in my gear bag to be transported to T2, grabbed my bike, and jogged to the bike out!

T1 time: 6:03

This was easily the leg I was most nervous about. I'd heard that the first 24ish miles were fairly flat and fast but then you hit the hills, so I had a certain amount of dread as I started out. The first few miles parallel the coast and then meander through San Clemente State Park. The first 20 miles are somewhat of a blur; I was able to get into aero early on and began fueling within the first 5 miles. Per my goals for this race, one big thing I wanted to work on was nutrition. I'd packed a couple Honey Stinger waffles that I'd broken apart, a few Gu, a double serving of Gu Roctane drink, and water. I ate the first waffle early on and another around mile 30ish and tried to sip on the Roctance drink throughout. I didn't end up drinking any water (other than what was in the Roctane mix), mainly because it was in the bottle attached to my saddle and I'm just not comfortable reaching back there yet (something to work on!). I was maintaining a decent average speed, but knowing what was coming I tried not to push it and kept the gears easy enough so my legs could spin.
something to look forward to!

Since I decided not to pee in T1, I thought maybe I'd be able to just pee on the bike like so many triathletes claim to do. I tried several times, while coasting, while going downhill, but I just couldn't relax! I thought maybe the exertion on one of the hills would make it happen, but no dice. I almost stopped at an aid station, but figured that would make it tough to start again. So my bladder remained quite full and uncomfortable for the remainder of the ride : /

There was one steep downhill in particular with a tight turn at the bottom where they had a speed limit and a no pass zone. There would be a couple other no pass zones later on, and I appreciated the extra caution. I managed to stay in aero for nearly all of the first half and most of the second when we weren't climbing. It's amazing how much more comfortable a position it is! The majority of the bike course is through the military base of Camp Pendleton which means it was off limits to spectators, but there were quite a few soldiers out volunteering and cheering which was cool. The scenery was pretty spectacular, too, with rolling green hills everywhere you looked, shrouded in an ocean mist.

Things were going pretty well, but I was getting anxious about those hills. And then I rounded a turn and bam! You could see it off in the distance and it seemed to go straight up. I'm pretty sure I said "oh shit" out loud to myself and commiserated with others around me. When I got to the base I shifted into an easier gear only to downshift to my easiest gear combo a minute later. People were literally crawling up the hill, and some had even got off their bikes and were walking up! I looked down at one point and saw my heart rate in zone 5.5 (yikes!) and I was moving at 5 mph. I was determined to make it to the top (one of my biggest fears is that I'll be climbing a hill and suddenly not be able to continue and fall over) so I just kept spinning and breathing. There were two people at the top yelling at us to push harder and work for it, and finally I crested that son of a b*tch : ) We had a nice long downhill after to rest our legs, but I couldn't help but think that that was only the start!

If you look at the elevation profile for the bike course there is one major climb between miles 30-36. I was dreading this immensely because I imagined a hard climb that last for 6 miles nonstop. In reality it was more of a gradual climb. In fact, looking back I think that first climb was the most challenging! We continued though Camp Pendleton and hit a couple more hard climbs, but once again I just threw it into the granny gears and took it slow. The hills really took a hit on my average speed and I was pretty bummed to see it drop to lower than in my previous 70.3. I was able to make up some speed on the downhills, but riding at <10 mph on the hills took it's toll. Speaking of the downhills, there were a couple really long steep ones where I opted to stay in aero - it was both terrifying and exhilarating! That's been a fear of mine for a while so this was a good step in eventually conquering it.

Around mile 20 I'd noticed that my Garmin was almost a couple miles behind in distance. I figured it was a fluke since I'd followed the course exactly, and thought maybe the course markings were just off a bit. But this disparity continued and got worse as the race went on. I figured I'd just have to trust the course and not worry about what my watch said. The last 10 miles are notorious for having a nasty headwind, but I didn't really notice one. Speaking of wind, I got a second one when the hills were behind me and suddenly saw my speed hovering between 18-22 mph. Strangely though my average speed wasn't changing, despite the fact that I was riding faster. My distance continued to be way off, too. When I came upon the mile 50 sign, my Garmin only had 45. It was a little frustrating, but also exciting to know that my finish time was going to much faster than I'd thought when I'd been doing calculations based off my Garmin.

The last 6 miles seemed to take forever. We retraced a few parts from the beginning of the course and wound through the harbor neighborhoods before finally coming down the final stretch. I was so ready to get off my bike. My tush in particular was happy to be done, and I was quite pleased with 10 minutes shaved off my previous time!

bike time (56 mi): 3:15:09

First off, I was so glad to be off my bike! And second, the volunteers were amazing! I vaguely remembered where my rack and spot were in T2 but as soon as I got there I had volunteers direct me right to my spot. A lovely woman accompanied me, too, and helped me take things off/put things on and then packed all my bike gear in my bag. I made a beeline to the porta potties which, after 4 hours of having to go, was one of the best feelings ever. And then I was off and running!

T2 time: 4:27

Since I tend to run faster off the bike, at least initially, I wanted to focus more on perceived effort than the numbers on my Garmin. Plus, I still thought it was on the fritz and would be off. The run course is fantastic for spectators and crowd support as it consists of two out-and-backs. After a quick bit out on the pier I headed down the ramp and started the first stretch along the Strand (aka the bike path that parallels the ocean). There were lots of people cheering and a great energy in the air. I saw my mom and my aunt & uncle which was a nice boost. After about a mile we made the turnaround and headed back toward the pier. Then it was back up via another steep ramp before starting out on the next out-and-back through some cute coastal neighborhoods. The aid stations were almost every mile and had plenty of fluids and fuel and even cold sponges! While it wasn't that warm out it was nice to wipe off some of the grime off my face from the swim and bike.
I look lost : /
the ramp leading down to the Strand
oh hey!

I felt pretty good for the first 5k or so. I spent a good deal of the beginning of the run trying to figure out what my time would be. I hoped to run a 2 hour half, and knew that if I did, I'd have a pretty big PR coming my way. My stomach was grumbling early on so I took a Gu around mile 2. I also made sure to grab a cup of water at each aid station. I also ended up taking a couple salt caps over the course of the run since I'd sweat so much and I didn't want to cramp. I was passing quite a few people and was still feeling decent. I didn't really look at my Garmin so I didn't know exactly what pace I was running but the effort still felt consistent. I made it to the second turnaround and then headed back for round 2.
adjusting my damn race belt, which I did the whole run - gotta fix this!

My only real complaint about the run course is that it was mentally challenging to have the two out-and-backs. Partly because you had to run along the same stretches which got a little dull, but also because you had to run past the finish line a couple different times before you could actually cross it. It's pretty flat with the exception of a few short but steep hills and a gradual uphill through the neighborhoods. I took my second Gu around mile 5 but then slowed a bit in the second half so I took another Gu around mile 9. I knew I was going to be close to 2 hours, but I just tried to keep it steady. I walked the last steep little hill and then I was back on the Strand with the finish ahead of me. It was a wonderful feeling to follow the signs toward the finish instead of heading out for another loop, and as soon as I saw the finish line I gave it everything I had for a final kick. I was so glad to be done, and a 21 minute PR was the icing on the cake!
final stretch - look at that awesome heel strike!
checking my time!

run time (13.1 mi): 2:02:40

After crossing the finish line I managed to find my mom and aunt & uncle before crashing on the bleachers. This was a big win for this race - one of my pet peeves is after races when they make you walk super far to the finish area only to have no places to sit down. I drank a chocolate milk and put my legs up, then decided we'd better get going before I stiffened up too much and couldn't move! We took some photos on the beach and then headed up to T2 to pick up my stuff. Everything was packed up neatly in my two gear bags (three cheers for organization!). I happened to run into a friend from my training group and stopped to chat for a bit and discuss the race. While we were talking I also happened to run into Nicole, a fellow blogger who raced Oceanside and is also training for Cd'A. We'd only "met" online that previous week so it was cool to get to meet her in person. Great job on your first 70.3, Nicole!
 my aunt & uncle - so glad you guys made it out!

total time: 6:10:06

We had a long drive back to my aunt & uncle's in Chula Vista so I munched on a protein bar to tide me over til our celebratory meal. When we got back we unloaded everything and my mom and uncle kindly wiped down my bike and rinsed off my wetsuit while I showered. For once in a race, I didn't chafe or get sunburned! Score. I did, however, get a couple blisters on my feet but I can deal with that. I felt a million times better after showering and donned my new finisher's shirt to head out for lunch/dinner. I stuffed my face per usual and treated myself to a celebratory margarita : )
21 minute PR!

I plan on putting together a post with some post-race thoughts later this week, but I will say that I'm pretty pleased with how I did. There are some areas I want to improve and things I want to practice, but I think this was a great race to kick off the season!


  1. Great race report and pics...I used to live in San Diego and the palm trees still look nice, especially when there's snow here. The water in CDA Lake will be a little cooler :)

  2. Way to go. What an awesome way to start the season - with a new PR. Well done overcoming those challenging swim conditions.

  3. Congratulations! Sounds like a strong race with great execution. Definitely a good way to start your season.

  4. So. Freaking. Awesome. Congrats again on a great race & PR! This was a great prep for your IM coming up.

  5. You did GREAT! It's bizarre how similar our race reports are! I totally forgot to mention anything about how beautiful the bike course was though!

    Again - great meeting you and GREAT JOB!!!

  6. You are so awesome, Rachel! You've had HUGE PRs this year and it's only going to continue!!!

  7. Great work out there! I can't imagine swimming with that many people around me. I'd be worried about getting kicked in the face and passing out! Congrats!

  8. OMG - I LOVE THIS. You did such a fantastic job and it's such a great confidence builder for IM. Congratulation on your PR and all around bad-assness.

  9. I think its a very interesting race, You did Well ! It's bizarre how similar our race reports are! I am very for you to wining the race. You are Rock, I like you very much.

  10. Good thing.Great race report and pics...I used to live in San Diego and the palm trees still look nice.Great job and i think this is very interesting.Thanks for sharing this information.

  11. I think this is good approach for every one in chula vista.Holiday Inn Express San Diego Chula Vista is one of the best hotel in Chula Vista Marina Area offering many fine features and amenities, including Free deluxe breakfast Free wired and wireless high-speed Internet access.Thanks for sharing this information.