I competed in my first half Ironman last weekend – 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of biking, and 13.1 of running. I signed up for it because
- Stephen wanted to do it
- Some good friends, and my parents, live down there; one of these friends, Wayne, wanted to do the race, so this complied with my new “only sign up for races that friends are doing” rule
- I am rehabbing plantar (again) and switching up to biking/swimming seemed like a good idea
Overall, this race was really fun. Initially, I was worried about three things:
- Getting hypothermia in the water. The water ended up being very warm in comparison to what I am used to in SF (although other athletes might disagree – more below on that)
- Making the bike cutoff. I’m a pretty weak cyclist and the Ironman bike distance of 112 miles is … a lot of time on a bike, but it turns out that 56 miles is a fun amount of biking, and the hills weren’t too bad in comparison to my training hills
- Forgetting a piece of gear. The only thing I forgot was Gu, which my fabulous hosts provided, and my credit card, which I left in my gear gear bag, which I then handed over to Tri Bike Transport, who sent it to SF (I picked it the bag up, with the card still in it, with no problems)
All in, this felt more like a game than a race – lots of strategizing, lots of switching of disciplines, and each leg was short enough to be able to just enjoy, or at least gut through it without getting into a terrible mental headspace. The bike leg especially was a pleasant surprise and really fun to ride.
Stephen and I stayed with our friends, Cherie and Wayne, and their daughter, Lilikoi, who live in Oceanside. Cherie organizes the 50k in the desert. It was so fun to get to hang out with them, catch up, and explore their neck of the woods. I also read an astounding number of children’s books to Lilikoi, who is 4. Her interests and mine overlap quite a bit, and include unicorns, rainbows, cats, stickers, etc.
I’ll skip all the nonsense logistics (sending the bike up, picking the bike up when there, checking in, staging the bike in the transition area, etc. It’s mostly about the bikes.). On the day of, Cherie dropped Wayne, Stephen, and I at the transition area, where I briefly said hi to my dad and then set my gear up.
The organizers assigned race numbers based on what time you checked in the previous day, so Stephen, Wayne, and I were all in the same general area of the transition zone. This was pretty neat, because we could check in on each others’ status during our own transitions – specifically, whether or not the bike was already on the rack would indicate if they had started the next leg.
The swim course changed a bit from what was advertised – usually, the course starts on the beach, heads north, then turns east into the harbor. Swimmers then head south and exit the water into the transition area. However, the organizers were a bit worried about the water temperature outside of the harbor, so they switched it to an out-and-back inside the harbor.
As a result of this, the start was significantly delayed, as only five people at a time could enter the water. Elite athletes started around 6:40am, and the rest of us plebs were supposed to start between 6:50 and 7:20. However, due to the change in course, I didn’t enter the water until 7:30, and there were still loads of people behind me. I’m not sure what the latest start was, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was close to 7:45-7:50. The downside of this delayed was that it was incredibly cold that morning, and I was absolutely freezing waiting to get started. However, the upsides of waiting were that I could spend some time with my dad, who was hanging out on the beach just outside of the transition area where they were staging us, and we also got to see some of the elite athletes finish their swim – the fastest guy out of the water was about 22 minutes. So we got to see quite a few fast athletes get out of the water and head out on the bike, which was neat.
When I got in the water, I was happily surprised by how warm it actually was. The water temperature was 57*F, which felt fantastic in comparison to the 51-53*F temperatures in the San Francisco Bay.
In terms of time, the swim itself was right on target for me – I thought I would do 43-46 minutes, and I finished in 44:50. I felt pretty confident in the water, and it was easy to follow the person in front of me to the next buoys. I’ve also had significant practice swimming with lots of people in the water since my first triathlon, so the occasional kick to the face was not hard to manage.
The transition took about 11 minutes, but this was due to:
- Probably three minutes running from the water to the transition area (not sure if this was included in the transition time or the swim time – I think the transition time)
- Two minutes trying to get my wetsuit off. I forgot I had the timing chip on my ankle and tried to pull the wetsuit off on top of it, which didn’t work, so that took some time
- My not realizing we had to wear our bibs on our shirts for the bike, so that was probably another two minutes spent running back to my bag and getting my bib
For context, the winning woman did her transition in about two and a half minutes, so there’s probably some upside here.
Once I was on the bike course, I had a great time.
- Terrain: The first half of the course was mostly flat as we went along the water, which meant I could keep a pretty brisk pace. The big hills, of which there were 3-5, weren’t that bad in comparison to what I had been training on.
- Pace: Everyone was really polite about passing and being passed for the most part. I wasn’t like, speeding past people, but my bike leg was my strongest relative to peers, which was surprising!
- Scenery: The views were amazing – beautiful flower blooms, the Pacific Ocean, and rolling hills. The bike course actually went close to my old running trails in San Clemente, which was fun, and a lot of it was on Camp Pendleton too.
- Closed course: no fear of getting T-boned by cars
There were a number of “no passing zones” on the course, where it narrowed a bit or had some turns, so that meant you might get stuck behind someone for a couple of minutes, but it wasn’t a massive game changer. There was also a downhill stretch with a speed limit of 25 mph, but it was quite short – maybe 25-50 yards – so it didn’t impact the overall leg.
Wayne blitzed past me at some point early in this leg – he is a speed demon on the bike. I caught up to Stephen at some point but didn’t notice (in my defense, he was wearing black spandex … like all other athletes, and I wasn’t looking for him!). He and I played leapfrog a bit before he ultimately passed me with a mile to go while I was in the penalty box – see below.
Not so good part: I got a five minute penalty for drafting another rider, which is … frustrating, but hilarious on a number of levels. First, drafting terrifies me because you have to be really close to the rider in front of you to effectively draft, and if they crash, then you’re toast. So I never do it. Second … look at my bike, it’s terrible, I’m not going to win anything. Lastly, the exact situation that I got the penalty for was annoying – I passed a guy, and he didn’t like that, so he passed me back, got in front of me, and slowed down, which is when the motorcycle course marshal showed up and carded me. I disagreed with the card, but I served the time in the penalty box anyway. However, it gets even more annoying – the organizers didn’t accurately record that I spent time in the box, so I showed up as “Disqualified” on the official results for over a week, and they didn’t respond to my several emails asking about this. I sent them proof that I spent time in the box (thank you Garmin for the “time elapsed” vs “time in motion” clock, and the HR monitoring), and they eventually reinstated my times and un-DQd me. But I have to say, that whole situation was pretty frustrating. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this over the last week and a half, because it feels like a personal sleight, even though it wasn’t – it was likely just an honest mistake, as they were recording everything by hand / with pencil and paper. However, I was a first-time competitor for this distance (only 56 out of over 2,500 competitors were doing their first 70.3 at this race), and also am a woman (only 20% of the field was), and this experience and the way they handled it made me … significantly less excited to do another race like this. Regardless of whether or not I deserved the penalty, I served it, and they messed up anyway. Put a real damper on the post-race experience.
Anyway, overall the bike part was fun, and I did a lot better than I thought I would!
My run transition was much faster – only five minutes – which was great (winning woman was like a minute and a half, so … still some upside).
Stephen had finished the bike leg a minute or two before me, so he was still in the transition area. We left the transition area together, and ultimately ended up running the whole 13.1 together, which was awesome. We caught Wayne on the 2nd of three laps on the run course. Our cheer squad was out in full force – my parents were there, Cherie and Lilikoi also, and a couple of Stephen’s friends as well.
The run course itself was okay – three out-and-back legs – but it was along the water, so that was nice. It was also pretty warm, so I was drinking a lot.
I was slowest relative to peers on the run leg, which is a bit ego-bruising, since running is my sport. However, it makes sense, given that 13.1 is the longest run I had done in about 4 months due to rehabbing the plantar.
Post-race + reflections
Stephen and I met up with my parents after finishing, then waited for Wayne to finish before heading back to the transition area to sort out the bikes and the gear. I got home and saw my results listed as “DQ,” which was really frustrating, and I thought about going back down to the finish line to figure it out, but couldn’t get an Uber that would get me there in time. (This was the thing that was fixed over a week later)
All of us, including the cheer squad, got dinner at a Mexican place, which was delicious.
Overall, this was a really fun day of sports. I enjoyed each leg of the race, and I enjoyed the transitions. The activity itself is enjoyable. However, the logistics for triathlons are just consistently awful – I don’t think there’s a way to make them better, unfortunately. It’s just a lot of overhead and shuffling gear around. And I’m still a bit neutral-to-negative about the whole DQ thing – even if it was a mistake, it wasn’t a great feeling to have followed the rules and then get a DQ with no explanation and no communications, even if it was eventually fixed.
So, I might do it again, but given that my plantar is on its way to healing, I am looking forward to switching back to running for the summer/fall!