September 13, 2017

Chula Vista Challenge Half Ironman Race Recap

A month ago I completed my fourth half-Iron event, the Chula Vista Challenge (since it's not an Ironman-branded event they call it a half-Iron or a 70.3).  Branded or not, the distance is the same:  a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run.  This race is relatively new, or at least newly owned.  A new company, Koz, bought it last year and added the half-Iron distance (I believe that before that it may just have been an international and sprint distance).  Now they have three distances on race day (sprint, international and half-Iron) as well as aqua-bikes for all three distances, a duathlon, a relay, and a few kids' distance races.  A lot goig on in one morning!

From the website:  Bayside park in Chula Vista California, just 10 miles south of the heart of downtown San Diego will host all events with a spectator friendly layout with a beautiful view of the Coronado Bay Bridge and the San Diego Skyline. Triathletes will enjoy a Calm Bay Swim with a in-the-water start along the beach to the pier. The bike leg features a closed multi lap course, 4 laps for the Half Distance equaling 56 miles, 2 laps for the International Distance equaling 28 miles, and a single lap Sprint distance of 14 miles. The fast flat run for all events will be along the bay shoreline walking and bike paths. Athletes will run past the J Street Marina boat docks and around the boat launch park for a 5K loop. Half Distance racers will have an extended triple loop Half Marathon distance along the Bay Shores Bikeway. The run course loops back into the Bayside Park forming our hot lap corner for a great place for family and friends to cheer you on.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had originally signed up for the aqua-bike, which would have "just" been the swim and bike. I had not run for 6 months, as I was taking time off to heal from injury (bilateral Achilles tendinopathy).  I signed up for the aqua-bike because when it comes to swimming and biking I need a goal in front of me to train properly. However, as I began running again (still not healed, but with the consent of two doctors) I got it in my head that I could do the whole triathlon, that I could add in the run.  My runs slowly and safely increased in distance, until I did a 10 mile run a few weeks before.  With the blessing of my husband and my coach I paid the fee to upgrade to the whole enchilada.  Suddenly I was training for a 70.3, which both excited and scared me. I trained HARD.  In the two and a half months leading up to it, I hit every single workout. I did at least two swims a week, two short bike rides, one long bike ride (topping out at 60 miles), two short runs, and one long run (topping out at 10 miles).   I also did bricks (a short run after my long bike rides).  I hadn't trained that hard, especially on the bike, in a long time. I knew that, come what may on race day, I had put in my training and could not have tried any harder.  Getting up at 5:00 in the morning to swim, getting my short bike rides in the evening when my husband got home from work----training in the summer, with the kids home from school, took extra finesse.

Packet pick up was the day before.  There was no pre-race bike check in, so it was simply driving down to Chula Vista, where I got my wrist band, timing chip, swim cap and tech shirt.  There was no other swag to buy, which was good for my wallet, but I was sad, because I definitely would have bought a jersey or special finisher's shirt. Afterwards, I drove most of the bike course, and was encouraged by how flat it seemed.   I came home and packed my stuff, triple checking everything in my usual fashion. That night my family went out to dinner with my friend Leo and his family (Leo was doing the international distance, and his two kids were doing the sprint). I tried to get a good night sleep, and was up at 4:00 in the morning. I left the house by 4:30, and found parking (on a side street) by 5:00.

packet pickup


With my bike and my overstuffed tri bag, I followed the crowd in the dark to transition. There was a line to get in, but it moved pretty quickly. I found my rack (wave 3, which included my group of women age 40+) and began to set up. It'd been so long since I actually did a triathlon---over a year!--that it took me a while to place everything where I wanted it. Other women started to set up and I remember feeling intimidated by their fit bodies, their sleek bikes, and their chatter. I had to remind myself I belonged there too!  I got body marked  and went to the bathroom.  While they did have a few port-o-potties set up, there was a "real" bathroom by the water, with real toilets. However, it was one of those situations where there were no doors on the stalls. Ugh! I hate that. Regardless, I used the facilities, but on the way back to transition I started to get very nervous, and started to feel nauseous. I ended up sitting on the sand by the water, and actually threw up.  I felt better after that, but was unhappy with my body's response to stress (I threw up right before my last half-Iron as well).  I made my way back to transition, put my wetsuit on, grabbed my goggles and cap, checked my bike and set-up one last time, and headed out to the water.

The Swim

the swim course---my course was in red

 I walked into the water before the race started and was surprised at how warm it was. It was WARM, almost like bathwater.  And it was so shallow----I walked all the way out near where the in-water start would be and was still standing.  I got acclimated to the water quickly, and decided to just stay in the water until my wave started. I was wave 3 (waves 1-4 were half-Iron competitors; the following waves would be for the international and sprint competitors).  We listened to the National Anthem, and I tried to calm my nerves.  A woman in front me said she was so nervous she was about to throw up . I told her I already did, which made us both laugh. I also met an older woman next to me with the best attitude---she said she's usually last to come in, but who cares?  She's happy to be out there.  Hearing that made me feel better.

The horn blew and we were off! I had an issue immediately. I hit the "off" button on my Garmin, rather than my "start"!  Ugh!  I stopped for a few seconds to restart it. I would rather be a few seconds behind at the start and have my correct time!  Finally I got my watch situated and was on my way.  The swim itself was pretty uneventful.  The half-Iron people had to swim north to a buoy, and then turn around in a a rectangular shape.  I didn't get hit by anybody, nor did I accidentally hit someone else.  The water was warm and calm.  The only time it got a little choppy for me was when the next wave's fast competitors overtook me.  But other than that it was fine. I actually passed a men from wave 2, which made me feel good.  I sang in my head the whole time, mostly Beatles songs, mostly "I've Just Seen A Face".  Don't know why that song was stuck in my head, but it made for a good rhythm for my arms.  Finally, the end was in sight. I turned the final buoy and made my way up the ramp  and ran into transition.

Transition one (T1) was very quick, at least by my standards. I was pleased to see that, while there were tons of bikes gone in my rack, there were also tons of bikes still there.  I am not a fast swimmer, by any means, but I've discovered that in races I tend to be back-of-the-middle-of-the-pack.  Wetsuit off, a quick patdown with a towel,  jersey on, socks on, bike shoes on, helmet on, sunglasses on, grab my bike, and GO!

The Bike

I got on at the mount line, and settled in for 4 laps.  It was still cloudy and overcast, which was awesome!  The route took us down some side streets in Chula Vista (which I had ridden in previous rides) and then into Chula Vista proper. The half-Iron people had to do four laps; the international people had to do two laps; and the sprint people had to do only one.

The first lap was good, as everything was new.  There was an aid station by the start, which I bypassed.  Heading deep into the course there was lots to look at.  A tamale shop.  A church.  A community center (oh look, they're offering pilates classes and showing Moana next week).  Each way was roughly 7 miles; heading back makes 14, and 4 loops equals 56 miles.  Toward the end of the "out" potion you have to make a u-turn and go downhill on the other side of the street, down about a mile, then another u-turn (an aid station here with water), then back uphill to the first u-turn part, where you turn again then head back to the start.  It's hard to explain, and it's not even on the picture I posted from the original website, but in essence there are two u-turns when you get to the end of the "out" portion.  All was good, I was holding my own, I was surrounded by tons of people, and I was feeling fine. The only issue was that I needed to use the bathroom, and for the life of me I couldn't find a port-o-potty. I finally spotted one---a lone one--near the second u-turn area. I kept that in mind in case I couldn't find another one. 

The second lap was more of the same, except that this time I saw my friend Leo out there. He was heading uphill toward the first u-turn, while I was parallel to him, also going uphill to the same uphill (my second time).  He yelled out that if you looked up "badass" in the dictionary you'd see a picture of me.  That gave me a much need smile and boost---it's always good to see friends on the course!  The other notable thing about lap two was that I DID stop to use that lone port-o-potty at the second u-turn. I'm not even convinced that it was part of the race's, but I didn't care---it was literally the only bathroom I saw on the entire course, and I needed to use it!

The third lap was not noteworthy, except that I stopped at the aid station by transition for a quick cold drink and orange.

The fourth lap was demoralizing.  By this point, the course was virtually empty.  The spring international competitors, who were doing the course once and twice respectively, had already finished.  And  most of the half-Iron people were done too.  The sun was now out, and while it wasn't horribly hot, it wasn't cool either. I was upset, because I had put so much work into the bike all summer, and here was I at the back of the pack again.  It wasn't as flat I had thought---my Garmin showed about 2000 feet of gain, but it was flat enough that I was constantly pedaling with little reprieve.  At the u-turn I was able to see people behind me, and I counted maybe 25 people.  Ugh.  Plus, not only was I hot and alone, I was bored with the course. It's hard to do the same route 4 times in a row.  Look---a tamale shop!  And the community center is offering pilates classes and showing Moana! Finally I made my way back to transition.  By the way, the course was long---I logged 57 miles.  Not thrilled with an extra mile on an already-long race!

Got back to transition. Racked the bike, jersey off, cute tank top on, swapped bike shoes for running shoes, visor, fuel belt, and out the run exit.

The Run

I had preset my Garmin for 60 second run/30 seconds walk ratio (in training I had been doing 90:30, but thought it would be wise to be even more conservative on the race).  Once I got on the course, I was already exhausted. Of course, this was to be expected, as I had just swam 1.2 mile and biked 56 57 miles!  The sun was out in full force. I kept it nice and easy, trying to stick to my pre-planned ratio, but walking more when I needed it.

The course was 3 laps (for half-Iron only; the international and sprint runners had a somewhat different course and I don't know where they went).  Each lap was a little more than 4 miles.  The first lap was hard.  Most of the course was somewhat pretty, going by the water and a park, but there was an out-and-back portion on a bike path that was just HOT and hard.  There were two aid stations on the course, and one had ice. This was amazing...I grabbed a cup and just sucked on ice .

Lap two I was really starting to struggle. At mile 5 my Achilles was really acting up.  I stopped at a bench and put ankle braces on each foot (I had put them in my fuel belt, just in case).  However, after about a mile the braces were bothering me so I stopped again to take them off.  I needed to use the bathroom again....I had seen ONE port-o-potty, which I'm positive wasn't part of the race, but was able to use a bathroom in a park (again, one with no doors on the stalls).  At about mile 7, when I was on the out-and-back on the bike path, I saw a guy in front of me, also walking. I recognized him as someone who had been behind me on the bike. I ran up to him and asked him if he wanted to run some intervals with him. He said yes, and we ended up doing the rest of the race together.  We pretty  much stuck to the 60:30 ratio, with a few extra walk breaks. It was a godsend to run with him---he kept my mind off the pain and the monotony, and since I had just met him we had lots of stories to share. It was his first 70.3   Obviously, I could have gotten through the race without him, but having him there for the last half of the run was AMAZING and I was grateful for the company.  By the third lap, the aid stations were out of ice, and having company made this misery that much more bearable.  It was hot---not awfully hot, and I've run in hotter--but it was definitely hot and humid and I was ready to be done.

Finally we completed the third lap. We were cutting it close---the course was supposed to close at 3:00, and I think it was 2:50.  My new friend wanted to sprint to the finish and I told him to go ahead, I didn't have it in me.  I saw my son, D, up in the distance, wearing his bright orange cheer shirt. He ran up to me and high-fived me, running a bit with me.  I saw my daughter, A, who was on the sideline (truthfully, there were hardly any spectators at this point) who also gave me a high-five. I crossed the finish, got my medal and a bottle of water. I was DONE!


Final Thoughts

Despite the fact that I was nowhere near as fast as I wanted to be (this was my 3rd slowest 70.3 time, out of four completed) I am proud of myself.  I had trained very hard all summer for this race, and I finished.  While my bike was about 15-20 minutes slower than I'd hoped, I guess it would have been even slower if I hadn't put so much work in.  That alone is cause to be proud. 
I"m also proud that I did the whole thing, not just the swim and bike. I think I would have felt incomplete had I done just the aqua-bike.  I'm happy that, while my run pace is so much slower than it used to be, I was still able to complete 13.1 miles, something I hadn't been able to do in a year.

I think I may do this race next year.  For a local race, it's nice.  My only real complaint is the lack of bathrooms, especially on the bike course.  I also would have liked more ice on the course. Other than that, for a non-branded race, this holds it's own. It's  a cheaper cost than Ironman, and being local means no travel costs or hotel.  Definitely something to consider.

Next half Iron:  Ironman Oceanside 70.3 next April!

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