Ironman 70.3 Oceanside – 30 October 2021
A week after Ironman California, Oceanside 70.3 was on my calendar. I anticipated it to be a “participation” race as opposed to a “race”. When IM Calif. in Sacramento was cancelled, this was an opportunity to use my fitness I’d built over the year. It was mentally hard to shift focus but I thought I was fortunate to have the race just one week later. Linda and I didn’t figure out right away that we were also going to be in LA for Halloween weekend with our twin granddaughters. We agreed that she should go to LA and I would race without her. We jokingly said, “It’s only a half (Ironman)!”
My first 70.3 was in Oceanside 2009. I have nearly never not had a 70.3 or full Ironman on the calendar since then. Because of the pandemic, the past year and a half have been my worst long distance training in a long time. As it is with many people, I had to adapt to the options available: more trainer bike rides indoors, strength training with home equipment, and moving all my pool swims to “dryland swims” and year ‘round open water bay swims. Trainer rides are great but it’s not the same as riding outside. Running took a hit from a combination of wavering motivation, a hernia, and the subsequent surgery. My running and riding have not come close to returning to previous levels.
Mom/Jayne and I arrived before 5am and walked at least a ½ mile to transition. I got set up and then met Mom and Phil and waited on the beach to line up for the rolling start. I had my wetsuit on part way to stay warm and wore an old throwaway sweatshirt. I also decided to wear my neoprene booties when I saw there was no carpet down the middle of the rough asphalt of transition/parking lot. I did a warmup using my resistance tubing, made a last minute decision not to wear a neoprene hood (announced water temp of 65°), and then lined up with the athletes who’s predicted times were :30 to :32. Once the fasted people started, time went quickly and I was in the water within 2 or 3 minutes. I got past the waves, seeming to swim straight towards the big buoy while others seemed to be swimming a bit crooked. After a right turn I encountered a few large clumps of kelp but just swam straight through it. We swam pretty much straight towards the harbor entrance, me staying a little wide of most people, and then swam into the calm harbor to the boat ramp. I mostly walked to, and into transition, along the carpeted edge. Swim split 33m23s.
Transition 1 took longer than expected. I quickly got the wetsuit off and put my aero helmet on first. Phil and Mom watched from beyond the fence and yelled at me that the helmet was on backwards! I didn’t move very quickly getting things done. I took time to put on my cheap “arm warmer” sleeves (tube socks without toes). I put shoes on as usual without socks and then walked out of transition pushing the bike to the mount line while trying not to fall. T1 split 10m03s.
At the mount line I took my time getting on the bike to avoid a fall. Confidence in doing the usual “flying mount” has waned – so have most of my bike handling skills. I was thankfully in my small chain ring for the 1st small hill leaving the harbor. As it was, I still swerved, nearly hitting a traffic cone. Within a few minutes I had dropped my chain and had to stop to put it back on. It took a couple of minutes because it really got wedged in. The 2nd half of the ride has climbs, small hills, and plenty of undulation. I’d only remembered the climbs so the ride was no joke. I really needed an easier gear to shift into. I stayed in aero when appropriate, which was a small victory since all my training on the trainer did not include riding in that position. I was also not in shape for climbs since summer training was all about prepping for Sacramento, a very flat course. Bike split 3h21m18s.
I walked my bike awkwardly through transition to my spot, got rid of my bike gear, and put on my run gear. Why this took so long I don’t know. The portapotty only accounted for 2 minutes at most of the slow T2 split 10m00s.
On the run I ran and took walk breaks all along as I had planned. The course itself is pretty flat except for some short, steep uphills and downhills. Since I alternate running with short walk breaks I walked these sections. When I was younger I’d more or less run the downhills but not this time. All I could visualize was me doing a face first splat… so I walked down the steep hills. The course has 2 out and backs. My quads gradually hurt more and more. During the first half of the 13.1 miles I would look at my watch and see what my mile pace was. It reflected exactly how I’d trained – slow for me. I didn’t continue checking because I knew that wasn’t going to help motivate me to go faster. I was doing what I could. I saw Mom cheering me twice on the run. I was surprised to see Bev, Pia, Tristan, and Jen out there spectating. The last few miles were difficult in spite of knowing I was nearly done. I even decided that a portapotty stop with just 2 miles left was necessary for my old man bladder. As I ran down the finish chute, I saw Kat to my left cheering for me. Seeing her brought me to tears which I tried to quickly stuff so I could get to the finish line. I usually cry upon seeing Linda after a full Ironman but not at the end of a 70.3. This time the 70.3 just felt so hard despite my slow time (for me). Run split 2h40mi 18s.
6:55:00 Finish Time, 15th of 24 in my age group.
After thinking about this performance and this finish for a few days, I have made peace with it. It reflects my fitness level very well. The swim was pretty decent considering I have really only swum in open water for the past 18 months, not returning to the pool. Because of my long-time swimming background, I am gradually getting slower as I age. The most I can hope for is that I limit the slowing. This doesn’t apply to my bike and run because my athletic age in those sports is younger.
My training for the run has been less than great. I often ran 2+ minutes per mile slower than I did just a few short years ago. That may reflect my very inconsistent training in 2020 when I had 3 training interruptions due to an abdominal hernia and surgery. I have yet to find my old self. A lack of motivation due in part to the pandemic also was a factor. Also, when I consider how sore my quads ended up being the days after the race, tells me I probably did almost all I could on race day. Soreness ranked up there with how I feel after doing a full Ironman. Finally, I also began getting infusions for my “colonless colitis”. How that affected things, positively or negatively, I can’t say for sure. I think it made things better but my reduced level of energy - causes unknown - are also part of this confusing mix.
Finally, bike training has been less than stellar too. I spent more than a year only riding on the trainer and this affected my bike handling skills and comfort. In some ways I got very fit but when it came to endurance, that was certainly diminished. I put in an adequate number of 95 to 115 mile training rides but they were slow for me. They did help me gain some lost endurance but in the end it wasn’t enough for Oceanside. It also didn’t help that my bike, well ME actually, weighs nearly 20 lbs. more than my usual race weight.
All these thoughts on my performance give me perspective and food for thought. I find it difficult not to compare previous performances with this one even though it’s not always fair to do that. And besides, there are other goals besides time or pace. Processes, execution of a plan, experiences, etc. also are important. Performance is only one component but that tends to guide and drive my training. Since training is a process regardless of the race, I have reasons to train anyway but with this year’s 70.3 Oceanside being a full 1 hour 30+ minutes slower than my best time and with me signing up for the 2022 Oceanside race, I have plenty of reasons to refocus, work consistently, and do more to have a better race in 5 months. Even at 65 years old there are things to work on and things to improve on. They aren’t all race specific but for me, a race on the calendar helps me focus.
In the end I am grateful that I’m still able to physically do this. I’m grateful and thankful for the love and support I get from family as well as my great friends near and far.