March 31, 2014

Ironman 70.3 California Oceanside Race Recap

Well, I did it! Despite the numerous hurdles life has given me and my family over the last year and a half, this past weekend I crossed the finish line of my second-ever half-Ironman, the Ironman 70.3 California Oceanside.  The first 70.3 distance I did was exactly a year and a half ago (September 30, 2012) and was not Ironman-branded (SuperFrog was the original half-Ironman distance race, and is an awfully tough course put on by the Navy SEALS).  The experience of doing both races was very different---different courses, different weather, and different atmosphere.  Ironman can be likened to the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon races----very well known, a smooth-running machine.  SuperFrog was bare bones in comparison. But the end result was that for each I had to swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and then run 13.1 miles.  For that is what the 70.3 distance is all about.

There is so much to write about, so like last time I will make this post into sections.  This promises to be a very long post, as I like to write all my thoughts down so I can reference it later. Apologies in advance for superfluous details. :)


As race day approached, I felt very calm.  Yes, I had some nerves about it, but overall I felt good. As I wrote before, with my friend Steve coaching and training me this time around, I was very prepared, more prepared than I had been last time.  The week's workouts were spent in extreme taper. The weekend before I did one last open-water swim practice with Steve and Andrea, and over the week just did one more short swim, a few short runs, and one very short bike ride.

I wanted my family and best friend to have "team" shirts on for me to easily spot them so I had these custom made. Although I was very happy with them, it turned out that the Ironman volunteers were also wearing bright orange!  Regardless, it was nice to have shirts for everyone.

front of shirt

back of shirt
Friday I went to the expo in Oceanside to get my packet and, of course, go shopping in the Ironman tent.  When I got to the venue, this was my first sight of Ironman Village (note: this was only HALF of it; the other half was to my right, not pictured).
lots of vendors and opportunities to spend money

I immediately got in line to get my packet, as that's what was most important.  The Ironman people have this down to a science.  First, I had to check in at the front and give them a signed waiver from the City of Oceanside.  Then I had to to to another table where I got two more pieces of paper to sign: an Ironman waiver and my emergency contact page.  After this was signed, I went to another table where I was given my wristband, swim cap (silver, for women 40-44), my bib(s) and my number stickers.  Next was a table where I got my official shirt (the men's were grey, while the women's were the brightest fluorescent yellow I have ever seen!) Then was a table where I was given a pass for an assigned parking lot to park in the morning (I lucked out with lot #23, which was RIGHT next to T2).  And then, I received my timing chip (and I must say, it looked like the straps were all brand new!  Way to go, Ironman! I'm used to old straps that have been through many triathlons).  Finally, I was shuttled into a side room where I was told to watch a video made by the race directors, giving the ins and outs of the course, etc.

Before entering the madness
wristband in order to gain entry to transitions

bright shirt!
Whew!  As I said, check-in was down to a science!

After I was set, I hooked up with my friend Andrea to go to the Ironman store.  We first walked through all the vendors, but as I wasn't spending money elsewhere, or trying new foods, I didn't stop anyplace. But if you're in the mood for triathlon shopping, an Ironman expo is for you!  Everything swim, bike and run is at your fingertips.

Finally we got to the official Ironman merchandise store. Each athlete was given a cool bag.  Then it was time to shop! My initial goal was to get a jacket, but they didn't have any, only a pull-over, which didn't appeal to me.  But that didn't stop me from spending money. I got three more shirts:  an official finisher's shirt, and two shirts with everyone's name in the M-Dot (I got both the short-sleeved and long-sleeved versions as I couldn't decide).  So now, including the shirt I got at check-in, I have four shirts from the race.  I also bought a cycling jersey as well.  The shirts and jersey are my birthday present from my daddy and step-mother. I am so excited about them! And I couldn't forget about the kids! I got my son a shirt that says "Future Ironman" (he's doing his first kid-sized triathlon in May) and my daughter a shirt with some swim/bike/run stuff on it.  A headband, water bottle,  sticker and cheering cowbells rounded out my purchase.

bags given to each athlete

In short, I bought out the store. But, I didn't know if I'd ever do another Ironman event, and I was here to celebrate my training.  As soon as I got home I hid the bag, as I didn't want to jinx myself (technically it's bad luck, at least to me, to buy the finisher's shirt before doing the actual event, but I didn't know if the Ironman store would be open by the time I finished the race and I certainly didn't want to miss out).

In the meantime, I had packing to do.  Packing for any triathlon is huge---packing for a 70.3 (or 140.6, I'd imagine) is even harder. For example, if I forgot my nutrition or hydration on a sprint, I could get through just fine.  Forgetting something like that on a long race could potentially ruin your race. I had gotten everything into piles on Thursday and put into garbage bags (labled morning clothes, swim, bike, run and post-race).  When I returned from the expo with my official gear bags, I transferred it all.  My bike, which I had gotten tuned up two weeks before, was ready. My bags were packed. 
most of this had to fit in the bags they gave me!

official gear bags

After packing, I had to go to temple that evening for a Shabbat dinner with my daughter's first grade class.  Then home, triple checked my bags, loaded the car with all my bags and bike (the only thing still in the house was my Garmin, which I wanted to keep charging overnight) and off to bed by 8:15.  Of course, I couldn't sleep. Between an earthquake, the phone ringing, and the dog barking, I tossed and turned. I finally fell asleep by 11:30, was up again briefly at 1:00, and up for good at 2:50 (I beat my alarm clock which was set for 3:00).

This may be TMI, but I woke up with my period.  Gah! Of all days to get get it!  But I was prepared for that possibility, and had even consulted some friends on Twitter and dailymile about what to do if that happened. I had packed some necessities in with all my gear.


As I said, I was awake by 2:50 on very little sleep. As I'd set my alarm for 3:00 anyway, I got out of bed and went downstairs. I got dressed in my tri shorts, running bra, and a sweatshirt/running pants over it, brushed my teeth, braided my hair in pigtails, and wasted time on Facebook before leaving the house shortly before 4:00.  I easily got to Oceanside with no traffic and pulled into my assigned lot by 4:20.  On the way I ate  Luna Bar and started eating a second, but started to feel nauseous so I didn't finish.  Soon my friend Andrea pulled in (she was in the same lot as me).  

Now, this race used to have transition all in one spot, but in recent years they made a separate T1 (transition swim to bike) and T2 (transition bike to run). I have never had separate transitions before and didn't know how that would work.  We were told to unpack T2 first, then ride/walk our bikes over to T1, about a mile away.  Andrea and I walked the two blocks over to T2 with our run bags and each found our assigned spots (this made it easy; each athlete had a sticker with their race number on it indicated where to set up).  I got my stuff set up pretty quickly (transition towel, running shoes, fresh socks rolled open, a tank top to change into, my fuel belt, a headband and a hat).  The announcer there said the water was 58 degrees. What? Just last weekend it had been 62. The thought of water that cold was demoralizing, but beyond my control.

T2, I'll see you in about 6 hours!

We then went back to our cars, topped off our tires with air, grabbed our bikes, bike bags and morning gear bags, and walked the mile+ over to T1.  Lots of people were riding their bikes, but honestly, with how heavy our bags were, and the darkness, we just felt more comfortable walking.  We finally got to T1.  Here we didn't have assigned spots, only assigned racks by waves.  I found spot at the end, got body marked (I also used the Sharpie to write "mom" on my arm for inspiration during the hard times), hit the bathroom, and finished getting my bike stuff set up. I also found my friend Marsha, who was doing her first 70.3. The National Anthem was sung, and soon it was time to get in my wetsuit.

Once I got in my wetsuit, I put all my outer clothes into my green morning gear bag and dropped it off in the designated area.  This bag, as well as the blue bike bag, would later be delivered to us in T2.  I dropped the bag off, and found Andrea so she could help zip me up (only she and a few other friends know exactly how I like to be zipped in) and it was time to head down to the swim queue.  Oh, my ear plugs! I had to run back up to get them. I also sucked down a Gu for extra calories.  I found my fellow silver-capped women (we were in wave 13, out of 23) and watched as the pros went off with a cannon start.  Soon the pros were out of the water and running by us; I saw Andy Potts and Matty Reed (who I met last week at a kids' triathlon seminar; he's very nice) and Meredith Kessler, as well as other pros I didn't recognize. It was like watching a ballet---they were all so graceful running into transition, jumping and their bikes and riding off with a flying mount (shoes already clipped into pedals before they get on).  As we inched forward, wave by wave, I saw my friend Irina, who was there to cheer on me and Marsha. It was awesome to see her!

A sign posted near the boat ramp (which was the entrance to the water) said the water was 60.4 degrees. That definitely seemed better than 58.  As we waited on the rough concrete, I was glad I was wearing my neoprene booties to protect my feet. A few other people had throw-away flip-flops or socks, but most people were barefoot--and they were complaining! If you, my dear reader, ever do this race, I suggest something for your feet for the wait. And tinted goggles (which I'll talk about later).

Waiting was actually fun. I looked behind me and saw thousands of athletes down the queue, like a rainbow as the caps changed from wave to wave.  Unlike SuperFrog, where I thought I was going to pass out because I was so nervous before the swim, this time I was calm. I had done my training, and whatever happened, happened.  I was nervous, of course, but more excited and eager than anything.

I felt no fear.

in queue

right before going down the boat ramp into the water


From the Ironman website:  This race offers the only chance athletes have to swim in the calm, protected Oceanside Harbor, where water temperatures in early spring are usually in the low to mid 60's.

swim course

I am what a fellow swimmer at my gym calls a "death by incher". At the pool, I never just jump in; I sit on the edge of the pool, dangling my feet, before I decide to inch my way in.  When I do open water swim practices, I'm even worse. First I get in and cuss out loud at my feet being cold. Then I slowly work up the nerve to duck down and get icy water in my wetsuit. Only minutes later do I dare to actually put my face in the water.

Not on race day.

Once the wave in front of us went off, we had exactly 3 minutes to go down the boat ramp and swim to the first buoy to line up. I had to use every one of those 3 minutes to not only get over to the start, but to acclimate to the water.  As soon as we were allowed in, I charged into the water and started swimming. I opened my wetsuit in the front a bit so water could get down there and start warming up. I put my face in the water and started to blow bubbles out of both my mouth and my nose.  The water didn't feel cold to me. I'm not sure if the temperature was right---it felt warmer than 60.4--or if my adrenaline was warming me up.  I was wearing a full wetsuit, neoprene booties, ear plugs and a silicone cap under my Ironman-issued latex one (I actually also have a neoprene cap with a chin strap, but in every open water and pool practice with it I never got my goggles to seal properly with it on, so I didn't wear it.)  I felt fortunate---in past years, the Oceanside race has had temperatures in the low 50's.  Brrrr!  I acclimated the best I could, headed over the to right, waited for the horn to blow (no cannons for us age-groupers, only the pros) and suddenly was swimming!

Immediately I had clean water and space. It felt luxurious!  I got into a good rhythm and swam and swam and swam, bilaterally breathing.  Like every darned open water swim I do, it seemed like the next buoy, or the next, would never come, and then suddenly it would be behind me.  About halfway to the turn-around at the red buoy (which is at the mouth of the harbor, next to the ocean), suddenly it was like a washing machine. I had caught up to some of the slower men from the previous wave, and was now getting run over by the fast women from the wave behind me.  I stopped momentarily here and there to reposition myself, but was able to keep going.  Although I thought the red buoy would never come, suddenly I was there and making a U-turn to come back.  This way was familiar territory to me, as I had just swam from the ocean through the harbor to the boat ramp exactly six months prior, when I did the 2.4 mile Tiki Swim.

Once I hit the U-turn, though, I got into trouble. The sun was right in our eyes, on the left.  I tried to only breathe to the right (usually I breathe bilaterally) but with all the chop in the water from the thousands of swimmers I started to feel a bit seasick that way. So I had to suck it up and look into the sun on the left breathing.  I really, really wished I had worn tinted goggles instead of my clear ones.  To make things worse, although my goggles were not leaking, I had a few drops of water on the inside, not only making it hard to see out of, but reflecting the sun as well. I desperately wanted to stop and clean out my goggles, but I know from my open water swim practices that if I do that, my goggles won't seal correctly again. I chose to have a hard time seeing vs. constant leaking.

Most people around me were having similar issues.  I commented to a few people here and there about being blinded by the sun, and they agreed.  I had a hard time seeing the buoys, and in fact almost swam head-first into another buoy (not a Ironman inflatable buoy but a hard metal one in the harbor).  I thought the swim would never end. I stopped many times on the way back to orient myself, knowing that my minutes were adding up, but unable to do much about it.  Finally, mercifully, the end was in sight and I made the right turn to go up the boat ramp.  As soon as I was able to stand I did (I don't remember if a volunteer helped me up or not!) and I went up the ramp.  A volunteer ran after me to help me unzip in the back but I kept walking; I am capable of unzipping myself.  I started jogging on the carpet back to transition. Irina was there again, and got this great picture.

so happy to be out of the water!

Back to transition.  I ran and ran----and passed my rack! I wasn't even paying attention.  I had to turn around and backtrack to find it.  There were only a few bikes left on the rack.  Wetsuit off, booties off, cap and goggles off.  Bike jersey, arm warmers, and windbreaker on.  Socks, bike shoes, race belt, helmet, sunglasses......So much stuff.  And traditionally I ALWAYS have issues in T1.  For some reason I can never figure things out.  My time is always minutes later than my competitors.  My mind gets disoriented coming out of the swim and it's hard to think. Here in T1 my fingers were numb and I was fumbling. I used a HotSnapZ hand warmer that Andrea had given me but I still couldn't get my fingers to work, especially my thumb. My left thumb would NOT cooperate.  At the end, I had to ask a volunteer to zip my windbreaker up for me.  I fumbled more and finally got my Garmin strapped to my wrist.  Looking back, I should have foregone the arm warmers and windbreaker because I didn't need them later in the bike, but at the time I was cold and was grateful for the warmth.  I also needed to bag everything up, as volunteers would take the bag back to T2.  So I had to stuff my wetsuit, towels, goggles, EVERYTHING into my blue bike bag, adding on extra time. At last, I was prepared to bike. I trotted out of T1, past the mount line, and got on. I was ready to ride 56 miles.

off to bike!


From the Ironman website: The bike course takes cyclists along the California coastline to San Clemente, before dipping into the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton. Here, challenging hills confront athletes before they are taken back to the Oceanside Pier—one of the longest fishing piers in California.  

bike course

I am lucky to live in San Diego, and therefore was able to train on much of this course.  Most of the first 26 miles I had done before, even on base at Camp Pendleton (all I have to do is show my driver's license to get on base to bike).  However, the notoriously hilly section is in the in miles 28-45 or so, and civilians are not allowed on this part of the base except on race day.  I had heard about the awful hills, and done my best in training to get a lot of hill work in. For those of you who know San Diego, I did several trips biking up Scripps Poway Parkway, as well as a few rides each on Torrey Pines, and Calle Cristobol. I also did San Elijo as part of the Senorita Century Ride, and of course many other hills around San Diego, including the Three Witches.  Still, I didn't know what to expect, especially as everyone talks about one very steep hill, San Mateo.

bike course elevation. yowzers!
I did find this YouTube video of the back part of the course; you can see the hills (in a car, not from a biker's view).  The worst hill is at about 30 second in the video.  It does not do it justice, speeding up in a car. 

The first part of the ride I was trying to get my breathing down, as I was hyperventilating a bit from all the excitement, cold and adrenaline.  A quick steep uphill to get out of the harbor and then soon I was on base on Camp Pendleton through the Del Mar Gate.  At first I the route was unknown to me, behind some storefronts that I had never seen before.  Soon, though, we turned left onto Stuart Mesa, which was very familiar territory to me. I had biked this road many, many times over the past several months.  There are a few hills, nothing major (although truthfully when I first started biking here, these little hills were hard for me!)  I got up them with ease, and settled in.  I tried to eat and drink, knowing I had to re-fuel from the swim and pre-fuel for the run.  Like in SuperFrog, though, I was having a hard time eating.  I wasn't as nauseous as I was on that bike ride, but I still I was feeling a bit queasy and it was hard to eat and drink.  On  a turn-around, I saw my friend Andrea not too far behind me; so awesome to see a friend out there!

At mile 7 I realized I still had my ear plugs from the swim in my ears.  

I also had to go to the bathroom. Not badly, but enough that it was on my mind. I didn't see any port-o-potties, but I knew from experience that there is one for the soldiers right next to the entrance/exit at the Las Pulgas Gate. So, when we got up to the gate to leave the base, I made a quick left off the course to use the facilities. I also took that opportunity to take off my windbreaker and arm warmers, as I was getting hot.  Back on my bike, I exited through the Las Pulgas Gate, through the parking lot where I always park to ride on base, and onto the Old Pacific Coast Highway, which is now just a biking and running trail, and past aid station #1. Here I stopped one more time, just briefly, because I was getting a headache and I had to choose the right pill out of my pill container.  Back on the bike.  Through the San Onofre campgrounds, out of the campgrounds, past the San Onofre Nuclear Generators, up to the Trestles bike path and then right on Christianitos. I have done this ride more times than I could count in training. This time, though, it was with a few thousand people.  As I grinded up the very short up steep hill from Trestles to Christianitos, one of the volunteers said "you look like you've been training on hills!".  I shouted back, "I trained on THIS hill!".

Soon I was entering Camp Pendleton again through the Christianitos Gate. I have never done this before.  As I passed aid station #2 I almost got hit by the sag wagon, who I guess was coming in with downed bikers. Literally, I was biking and the van swerved left and crossed my path. If I hadn't braked hard and swerved myself, I would have hit it head-on. That definitely wasn't cool.   As I left the area, a volunteer told me that the big hill was coming up in two miles.


Two miles later I got my first glimpse of San Mateo, the worst hill.  I had heard it was only half a mile long but very steep, likely steeper than any hill I'd climbed yet.  I was also warned that lots of bikers would be walking up.  It looked as steep as a wall in front of me, with a kind of corkscrew twist.

The reality was that when I was on the hill, EVERY biker around me was walking up.  There were probably 15-20 athletes going up that hill when I did it, and every single one of them was walking up.  I did see one woman ahead of me riding, but halfway up she too got off. I was determined not to walk.  I didn't need to; I had trained for this and could get up.  I got in my granny gear and started spinning up the hill.  Because my name was on my bib and my bib was turned to the back, as instructed, everyone I passed started yelling out my name and encouraging me.  That was fun.  I know every single one of those triathletes beat me on the bike, but I beat them on the hills, and that was an amazing feeling.  All of these people were super-fit, most with tri bikes and even disc wheels.  I don't know why they couldn't bike up, but I was proud I did.  And even though it was hard, I wasn't about to burst a lung after and my legs weren't jelly.  I guess I've become a climber.

Some downhills, some rollers, and a second big climb, not nearly as steep as San Mateo, but steep enough and longer.  Again, most of the bikers were walking (although not all this time, like San Mateo) and I got encouragement up the hill.  I met a guy, David, who was walking both hills and I ended up talking to him here and there throughout the next few miles, which was fun.  There was one scary downhill that was super steep and made a sharp left turn. Here there was a no-passing zone and a 25 mph speed limit. I tried to hit my brakes as much as possible and my brakes were screaming so loud, a sound I've never heard before. As much as I like descents, this one frightened me and I was glad to be done.  

There was one more big hill here (which I again rode up) then about 10 miles of flat.  Traditionally I hear there are big headwinds here.  There WERE headwinds, to be sure, but it wasn't too bad; I've biked in worse.  I passed the third and final aid station.  Soon a motorcycle drove up next to me. My first thought was that it was a race official and I had done some offense like littering, but I knew I hadn't.  Turns out it was the medical motorcycle.  Then I thought to myself, "geez, does it look like I need medical?!?"  The guy asked me how I was doing, and we chatted for a bit. I guess he was just assessing the back-of-packers to make sure we were ok.

Finally, FINALLY I was off the base again and heading back to the harbor. I passed the harbor and a few miles later was at T2. I saw my family, my best friend and Steve standing there. They got to see me bike in and dismount.  Boy, seeing their faces really brightened my mood!

Heading to my rack in T2, I was lost. I was so tired and disoriented.  Luckily a kind volunteer helped me find my rack. When we got there, my stuff was there but there was literally no room above it for my bike. He told me to get my running gear on and that he would take care of the bike. So I gave him my bike and helmet, changed socks (unnecessary but felt oh-so-good after that 56 mile bike!), put on my running shoes, changed from my bike jersey to a tank top, grabbed my fuel belt, hit the port-o-potty, and ran out of transition.


From the Ironman website:  The run portion takes athletes on a winding journey along the pier (one of the longest fishing piers in the state), and then out to Oceanside's flat beachfront path, "The Strand," where miles of sandy beaches provide a distracting vista. Runners then head into a residential area, and loop back out to finish not far from the ocean's edge, in a chute that's always lined with energetic spectators.

run course

run elevation profile

Once out of transition, I saw my family and friends again. I can't stress enough how amazing it was to see them!  I started immediately on my run/walk ratio of 1:30/00:30, which has gotten me through all my long runs with minimal pain. I was fine at first, sticking to my ratio, only walking extra when it came to going up or down the ramps, which were actually very steep (see profile above).  The crowds, spectators and volunteers were absolutely amazing.  This is what was missing from SuperFrog:  spectator support.  That run was done far away from the finish line. This course was two loops along the beachfront.  There were spectators all over the place, and as my name was on my bib I got lots of shoutouts of "you're doing great!", "you're amazing!", "way to go, girl!".  Residents were out in front of their homes, blasting music, offering otter pops, cookies, even beer. It was really like one big party.

Within a few miles, I started to get very tired. Miles ticked down slowly. Actually, I was counting down tenths of miles. Each mile seemed to take forever.  I saw one of my dailymile friends, who was unable to race due to injury. She had come down to cheer, and it was fun to see her. I also saw another acquaintance of mine out there.  Everytime I saw someone I knew it gave me new energy.  And I needed energy.  Not only was I exhausted, but I was so hot!  The cloud cover had burned off and the sun was out in full force. I don't know the temperature, but I know it seemed higher than the predicted 74 degrees.  I started grabbing water at every station and dumping it on my head.  Several aid stations had ice,  and I would grab a cup (sometimes two, double fisting!) and chew on the ice as I walked or ran, and stuffed ice chips down my running bra. I was grateful for the cold sponges that were offered. I finally circled back to the ocean (the course had veered into some residential) and the ocean breeze felt so good.  I also started to get some pain. Some of my usual sciatic, but that wasn't too bad. I was more worried about new pains: one in my left calf and one in my right Achilles. My socks were soaked from pouring water on myself and running through people's hoses, and my feet were squishing in them.

At the turn around, which was the halfway point, I again saw my family. I told them that I didn't think I could do another loop. Of course, I knew I could and I would, but mentally I was done. I couldn't imagine doing another 6 miles! They all shouted encouragement at me, and Steve shouted some things that can't be repeated here. :) Off I went on lap two.

it's hard to feel bad with running views like this
This time there were not too many runners left.  Most of the athletes had already finished the race. Still, people were out there cheering.  I talked to as many people as I could as I passed them, including police officers, security guards, and other runners.  Anything to keep my mind off the pain and the mental chore of just getting done. Everyone was in a good mood. I saw a runner dressed like Superman. Another was running in full fireman gear.

I walked way more than I wanted to, but truly ran the best I could. I was hoping to run the half marathon in roughly 2:50, and I was about 15 minutes over that, but given the previous swim, hilly run, heat and pain I was dong my best. Looking back, I know for a fact I did the best I could do. I took only 2 Gus during the run; usually in a half marathon I take 3 and maybe some Gu Chomps, but I couldn't choke another one down. Besides, I also took some food at the aid stations: pretzels, chips and oranges.  

Finally I hit mile 13 and I knew I was almost done. The finish line was in sight. I passed my family, best friend and Steve again, who were now joined by some dear family friends and their daughter. I quit walking and just ran to the finish.

approaching the finish

I don't remember much of the chute, just that I threw my arms in the air in victory and I believe they called someone else's name.  The announcer certainly didn't call my name, and while he said a girl's name, there was no girl behind me. Oh well, that didn't matter. Once I crossed, a volunteer immediately took my timing chip, another gave me my medal, and a third gave me a finisher's hat.  After that I was left alone. I wasn't directed anywhere. I did see table with some snacks, so I grabbed a bottle of water, a cookie and banana...but I didn't see a place for finisher's pictures, I didn't see medical, and I didn't see the promised taco stand.

Regardless, I didn't need any of that stuff---medical, official photos or food.  All I wanted was my family and friends. I found them, and they led me to a bench where I finally got to sit and relax. Someone found me a piece of pizza.  Eventually, we headed up the stairs to T2, where I got my bike, my morning gear bag and my bike bag.  After posing for pictures by the car, I headed home.

with the official finisher's hat


First of all, I am so proud of myself for finishing this race.  I knew that regardless of how I finished, I would be proud, as I trained very hard and in the midst of some extraordinarily hard life circumstances. I met my time goal.  Even though I technically had 9 hours to complete it, as the time officially started when the last wave hit the water, giving me an extra 30 minute cushion, I am happy I beat the official 70.3 cutoff of 8:30. Not by much, but I beat it.

I was pleased that my gear worked. I was worried about leaky goggles or a flat tire; neither came to pass.  My only wish was that I had worn tinted goggles during the swim.

I need to work on streamlining my T1, and have better nutrition on long bike rides. While I nail nutrition on my training rides, on both half-Ironman bike rides I was nauseous from the water and unable to eat or drink as much as I should have. I need to figure this out too.

On the run, I decided I didn't want to to any more 70.3 distances.  While I love training for the long distances (and in fact still have a century ride [100 mile bike ride], half marathons and another 2.4 mile swim on my race calendar) I don't love doing it all back-to-back-to-back. I decided to stick to individual swim, bike or run events. And stick to sprint distance triathlons, or even an Olympic distance.  The half-Iron distance is a lot for me in one day. And having done two, and saying at the end of each "never again", is telling.  Now, two days later, I am second guessing myself...but I do know this: if I ever do another 70.3, it won't be for a few years.

Finally, I did this race with a grateful heart. I talked to my mother the entire time, on the bike and run. It was her first triathlon, and I'm sure her spirit didn't know what to make of it!  She got me through the tough spots. I know she did.  When I asked her for help, I felt her spirit move through me.  She helped me up those hills and making my way through the course.  When I got tired and demoralized, I remembered how lucky I am to be able to swim, bike and run....and gratitude poured out of me. I smiled most of the way, and was thankful for almost eight and a half hours.  The race truly was not only a celebration of my training, but of my life.

I would be remiss not to publicly thank Steve again. Without his training and coaching, I would have finished. With his training and coaching, I finished strong and happy.  Please check out his recap of spectating the race (he was supposed to race it too, but broke his foot a few weeks ago, ironically while running with me).  And a huge thanks to my husband J, and my kids, D and A, who not only cheered me on this weekend, but encourage me to get out there every day to swim, bike and run and allow me to do what I love to do.

This race was amazing. The volunteers were spectacular.  Apparently, of the 2000 volunteers, half were military from Camp Pendleton.  Humbling and wonderful. I highly, highly recommend this race to anyone looking to do a 70.3  Just be sure to be ready for those hills!

March 27, 2014

Almost Showtime

In just two days I will be racing in my second-ever half-Ironman, the Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. I have done this once before, SuperFrog in 2012, and when I crossed that finish line I told my husband and best friend that I would never do it again.  Like childbirth, the pain of that day ebbed from my memory, and last year I was waffling on signing up for Oceanside. For some reason, I felt like I had one more 70.3 in me. The facts that it was local and Ironman-branded (which I hadn't done before) also added to the appeal.  The end result was that on July 7, 2013 I hit the register button when there were only a few spots left available.

Of course, back on July 7, 2013, I had no clue what life had in store for me.  As I blithely began training (and when I say training, I mean easing back into things, as I had taken off most of May and June from biking and running to try to heal a herniated disc) life was about to smack me in the face. 

For starters, my mother had just been diagnosed in June with ovarian cancer.  With only a month into her diagnosis, I was very optimistic about her prognosis, but as the year progressed she got sicker and sicker. I gladly skipped some crucial weekends of training in order to be with her in Houston; once over Labor Day, when I went out by myself to spend time with her, and again in January when I brought my whole family for what turned out to be our last visit. Finally, my beloved mother succumbed to cancer only a month ago, on February 24th.  I went out yet again for the funeral.

Not only had I been dealing with the impending loss of my mother and subsequent grief when she finally died, but other life circumstances happened as well.

My husband, J, had a stroke in August.  He had gone in for Deep Brain Stimulation, a kind of brain surgery, in order to help treat his Young Onset Parkinson's Disease. Although he made a miraculous and full recovery, there were a few weeks there that I couldn't train the way I would have, as I was either in the hospital or rehab with him, or caring for the children.

In January, when we were visiting my mother in Houston, my 7 year old daughter, A, broke her ankle. In two places.  We are STILL dealing with this, over two months later; as I type this, she is still in a boot. I lost a lot of training time as she was home for many days before the school could figure out how to deal with her (ie getting approval for an aide for her wheelchair, etc).

In February, on Super Bowl Sunday, my husband had a heart attack.  I haven't written yet about this (I will soon, though) so I have nothing to link to, but suffice it to say it was a very scary time. Again he made a miraculous recovery, but I didn't do many workouts at that time because of dealing with him.

And of course there were the usual random days of migraines and sick kids.

I hope it doesn't sound like I'm complaining. I'm not. I will gladly miss any workout in order to be with my family. My family and its health comes first.  I'm just relaying that between the stroke, heart attack, broken ankle and my mother's cancer and death a lot of life crap got in the way.

And not just other people's stuff got in the way, but my own did, too.  I have been having sciatic nerve pain for over two years, and finally last year had an MRI where it showed a herniated disc at L4/L5.  I am much better now; still in some pain but MUCH more minimal than before, thanks to many physical therapy sessions, spinal decompression and a few spinal epidural steroids.  I am back to running, but much slower, slower than I ever was before, and using the Galloway run/walk method (I use 1:30 minutes running to 00:30 seconds walking).  At least I'm running. And I injured my rhomboid muscle in September, causing me to miss a full two months worth of swimming. I only re-started swimming again at the end of December.

But I am choosing to overlook all the the negative forces that impacted my training and focus on the positives.  For one, my friend Steve, who is now an Ironman, offered to coach me, which I gladly accepted.  I trained myself for SuperFrog, and was fine, but having Steve coach me has been amazing.  Every week he'd send me my workouts for the week. There was no thinking or planning involved, only doing  My workouts were specialized and specific:  intervals, speedwork, fartleks, hill climbing.  Every workout had a purpose. I put my bike on a trainer for the first time, and spent time in my living room biking to nowhere. My swims, which used to be swum straight-out, suddenly had purpose and drills and sets.

Speaking of swims, I did the Tiki Swim, a 2.4 mile swim ending in Oceanside Harbor, the same venue as the half-Ironman.  This was before my forced swim break, but I was able to swim 2.4 miles.  I also biked a metric century, the Senorita Century, which was full of hilly climbs and in the rain to boot.  I ran and ran, building up to an 11 mile run 3 weeks ago and then a 12 mile run two weeks ago.

In short, since signing up on July 7, 2013, I have:
  • swam 50 miles
  • biked 1578 miles
  • ran 330 miles
Not necessarily the best distances for half-Ironman training, but the best I could do given my life circumstances.

And training got me through it all.  Here is an excerpt from an email I sent to Steve just last week, which I think summarizes how I feel about all of this:

I just checked the date that I registered. July 7. I think about all that has gone into this.  All the swims, bikes and runs.  All the time off for injury. All the unplanned things that happened.  The day I registered was just a few weeks, not even a month, after my mom got her diagnosis.  So much has happened since then.  The brain surgery. The stroke. The recovery. The fear. The broken ankle. The visits to Houston. The heart attack. The funeral.  Sick kids.  Migraines.

All those bike rides.  Pushing through. The long one in December when I did all those hills, including Torrey Pines, and I had the flu and didn't know it.  The triumphant ones---getting up Scripps Poway Parkway for the first time without stopping.  Calle Cristobol and getting up one pedal at a time.  Black Mountain, and wondering where the awful part was going to be and suddenly I was up at the bike path and there was no awful part.  The windy rides.  Rainy rides.  Senorita in the rain, that fucking San Elijo hill I got up without stopping but wanting to.  El Camino Real, my most hated hill in San Diego, that I DID walk up in that ride.

Worrying about my shoulder. Doing Tiki and thinking the next time I get in this harbor will be during the 70.3.  Boring swims.  Swims with my music.  Freezing swims in the bay.

Running. More than I ever did for any half I did. I have done 20 stand-alone half marathons, and only ever do two 3-mile runs in the week and my longest runs are two 10 milers.  Not with you. Running 5 miles on a Wednesday. Running 11 last week, then 12 this week.  WTF?  Getting through slowly, more slowly than I want, with Galloway, and praying my herinated disc doesn't slip more and make even more pain.

All those boring trainer rides. 

I missed a lot of key workouts, but all were due to life.  My life came first.  But I got soooo many in, actually most of them.  Not as fast as you wanted me to, but I got through them at my snail pace.

We all know a race isn't about the race. It's about the training.  It's a celebration of the training.  Regardless of how the race goes---even if I come in last, even if I finish but don't qualify for a medal because I was too slow, even if I DNF for some unknown reason---I trained my ass off and it was healing for me and it got me through some really dark times.  Even the hard, dark rides got me through.

And I don't know what I would have done without you. I can't thank you enough for what you've done for me.

I am very proud of myself. I have biked up some hills that just a year ago would have made me stop. In fact, I DID stop on some of these hills a year ago. I'm a huge fan of my new granny gear, and I just spin up the tough ones.  I have biked and ran in the rain, the heat, the hills. I have swam lap after lap, in the heated pool and in the icy bay.

As I wrote in my letter above, regardless of what happens race day, I did my best. I truly do not care about my time. My time for SuperFrog was a little over 8 hours. This may take me less. It more likely will take me the full allotted 8.5 hours (actually, given my wave, I have some leeway and technically about 9 hours to complete the course).  All I care about it finishing, and if I don't finish for some reason if I gave it my all then that will be good enough for me.

And now I just finish packing and rest and wait.  48 hours from now it will be long over.

March 24, 2014

Senorita Metric Century Bike Ride Recap

Several months ago, I signed up for the Senorita Metric Century Bike Ride. As a metric century is 62 miles, I thought it would be good training for my upcoming half-Ironman.  Once I signed up, I realized the course was even longer---69 miles, and hilly miles at that.  Still, I was looking forward to the challenge (up until that point the longest I had ever biked was 60 miles--and that was once, a few years ago for SuperFrog half-Ironman training).

The trouble was, it was right after my mother died. She died on February 24, the funeral was February 26, and I flew back to San Diego March 1. I wasn't sure if I should do the ride, training or not.  But the more I thought about it, the more I was convinced I should. First, my mother would have wanted me to do it. She told me before she died that she didn't want me to stop any of my activities, races, etc because of her.  Also, I needed the stress release. After a very stressful month (my daughter broke her ankle in two places, my husband had a heart attack, and my mother died all in a one month period of time) I needed to get my stress out, and do something that was just for me.

As it turns out, it was a great decision.

I arrived at the starting point, a local high school, early to pick up my number (since I was flying the day before I was not able to attend the pre-packet pick.  It was drizzling.  I met up with my friend Andrea, and basically hung out huddled under an awning trying to keep dry until it was time to get going.  A quick run into the school to use their bathroom, and then it was time to go. I had promised my husband that if I felt unsafe I wouldn't start the ride...or even finish it. I knew that if conditions were too unsafe I could either call the SAG wagon to get me, or even just call my husband.  When the ride started, it had started to rain a bit harder. Not pour, but a definite sprinkle. I decided to HTFU and at least start.  I got in the line of riders (mostly women, as it was a women's ride, but there a few men along riding as "Rico Suaves", helping when help was needed). I crossed the red carpet they had set up and I was off and riding!

starting on the red carpet. in the rain.
There was an initial big hill going up Del Mar Heights Road,, which was interesting in the rain.  Soon the course leveled out and it was flat or small rollers.  The rain let up soon too.  Eventually we reached the Pacific Coast Highway and went north.  At Carlsbad was rest stop #1. My ride plan didn't include actually stopping at the rest stops; I wanted to ride the 69 miles as if I were on my own, so I was self-supported. However, Andrea and I did stop briefly here to look at the course map. Our maps, which were turn-by-turn, were wet from the rain!  We decided to just follow the riders to the next stop in La Costa.  We went back south on Pacific Coast Highway, then headed east onto La Costa Avenue.

Selfie, in the rain, at rest stop #1

The next stop, which was not an official rest stop but a stop for a "spa goodie" was at La Costa Resort and Spa.  Right when I turned into the resort, I got a flat tire. Ugh!  I do know how to change them, but luckily of of the male "Rico Suave" riders changed it for me---by that point it was drizzling again and I was happy to let him.  Our "gift" was a coupon to use for future spa services, which I doubt I'll ever use.

After leaving La Costa, we had to go through some rollers until we hit rest stop #2.  Here, we stopped and ate. I went off my ride plan---the food looked so good and I was starving!  It was catered, and while a lot of it was not vegetarian, I did get some good food to eat.  Here they had fresh, dry maps, which I pocketed.  Andrea and I then left and hit the biggest hill, San Elijo, of the ride. It was long, straight uphill, and steep.  I got in granny and spun up---it was hard, but I did it!  All the hill training I've been doing has been paying off.

Around this time, Andrea began to have trouble. She was very tired and slowing down.  I wouldn't have minded waiting for her---in fact, I did--but I was running out of time, as I was hosting a shiva at my house that evening to honor and mourn my mother. I had to get home.  So after much hesitation I ended up leaving her (she soon called the SAG wagon and got a ride back to the finish).  I rode alone for quite a while until I hit the third and final rest stop, #3.  Again, I loaded up on food (yum!) and tried to get out of there as soon as possible.

The rest of the ride I was alone. I rode Del Dios Highway, which was gorgeous. The rain was gone, and the views were spectacular. But then I got lost. I remembered at the third rest stop I saw on the map I was supposed to turn on Via de la Valle.  So when I saw a turn for Via de la Valle, I stopped to look at my map--which was missing.  Great. Here I was alone with no map. Luckily I knew where I was, so I just turned on the street and rode.  Eventually I saw cyclists going the OTHER way--I guess I should have kept going for a while. The end result was that I rode 67, not the full 69 miles. Oh well.

Toward the end was one last big climb, up El Camino Real.  This hill ALWAYS gives me trouble; in fact, it's my most hated hill to do in San Diego. Halfway up my legs just gave out, so I got off and walked about 1/4 mile up.  I was a bit disappointed in myself, but at that point I'd had enough.  Soon I turned back on Del Mar Heights Road, and ended up back at the high school. I crossed the red carpet to lots of cheers, found Andrea, and got my medal.

I would do this ride again.  There is also a 44 mile option, but the 69 miler was great. Challenging and beautiful. The course was well marked (it was my fault I got lost, I turned too soon) and the rest stops were well stocked.  And for me to do my longest ride EVER, which was very hilly, and in the RAIN for most of it, was huge for me.

a medal hard-earned

March 20, 2014

Coronado Valentine's Day 10k Race Recap


This race was done a month ago, and I still haven't written about it.  So much has happened in the last few months----my husband's heart attack, my mother's death---that I have not been in the mood to update my blog.  But, I really write for myself, and one thing I like is a race recap for every race for posterity.  So, here goes.

My BFF, D, put on his bucket list over a year ago that he wanted to be able to run a 5k. Well, he did that, and then upped his goal to be able to run a 10k. As he was not a runner previously, I was thrilled, to say the least. Unfortunately, there are not too many 10k races in San Diego.  There are half marathons and 5ks all the time----but a good 10k is hard to come by.  So I was happy when I found the Coronado Valentine's Day 10k. I've had friends who've run it in the past and it always sounded like fun. I registered him and myself back in August for this race.  He would run it all-out; I would run it at a slow pace as training for my upcoming half-Ironman.

The day before the race was NOT a good one for me. That was the day my mother, who had been fighting ovarian cancer since last June, decided she was done fighting. While she hadn't entered hospice at that point yet, to say that I was ambivalent about running this race would be a huge understatement.   But I knew she would have wanted me to run it, and I wanted craved needed a stress release.  So run I did. Luckily D was able to pick up my packet for me----I was so busy the day before the race, what with going on a long bike ride in the morning and selling Girl Scout cookies at a booth with my daughter's troop in the afternoon. And emotionally I was wrecked.

The race started at 8:00 in Coronado, in Tidelands Park, and if memory serves me right I left my house a little before 6. It's only about 1/2 hour away, but I didn't want to be stressed with potential traffic. Plus, the website warned that parking was very limited, so I wanted to snag a good spot. And I did. I arrived in the parking lot with plenty of spots left to take.  My BFF and his friend came not too long after I did and already they had to find street parking.

The morning was cold, and I had only worn a running skirt and pink shirt.  But as we waited at the start line, the sun started to break through the crowds and it began to warm up.  Once the race began I had to do a lot of weaving in and out---so many walkers--and it took me a good mile before the crowd thinned out.  The first mile or so is done on pretty narrow walkway, so there's not a lot of room for the runners.

before the race

The course was simple---and out-and-back.  We ran past the Hotel del Coronado (always a favorite place of mine, as that is where I got engaged) and made the turn around at the Coronado Community Center, where we ran by the water for a while.  For the most part my friend D was ahead of me--I was taking walk breaks when needed--but at one point we ran together as he'd had a bathroom stop and I caught up to him.

As we neared the finish line there were lots of heart-shaped signs on the grass (yes, the end was run on grass) with love sayings. I wish I'd had a camera with me.  Very appropriate for the theme of the race.  Finally I crossed the finish line---not a 10k PR for me, but a race nicely executed for my long-term half-Ironman goal. The best part was that D not only got to cross running a 10k off his bucket list, but he wants to do another one!  This was a fun race to do, and I am considering talking my son into training to do it with me next year.

After, I was glad I'd run. It definitely released a lot of my stress and I got to have some fun to boot.

March 10, 2014

Radio Silence

I haven't updated my blog in quite a while.  This is not because I have nothing to say, but rather too much to say and no words, strength, or desire to do so.

At the beginning of February, my husband suffered a heart attack.  Thank God he is ok and we caught it in time, but I was dealing with that for a while.

In the middle of February, I lost my mother to ovarian cancer.

Needless to say, I've been reeling.  How do I express what I've been going through in words?  I haven't been able to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) quite yet.

In the meantime, I do have some race recaps I want to share, and hope to get those up soon.  I will write about the heart attack and my mother's death when I am ready to write it all down.