The Ironman Superfrog 70.3 on Sunday September 25th was my first long course triathlon in over 10 years. This race was started by Navy Seals in 1979 as a way to prepare them for the Ironman World Championship in Kona. It is the original and longest running 70.3 triathlon and recently became an Ironman branded race. This year the race venue was at Imperial Beach.
My focus over the last few months has been improving my health and all my training was done at or below my Maximum Aerobic Function heart rate (180 minus my age). Going into the race I had no agenda other than to have fun and get the feel for long course again.
The Week Leading Up to the Race:
Since it takes somewhere in the realm of 10-14 days for a workout to develop into fitness, I reduced my workout volume to prioritize recovery and sleep two weeks before the race. During this time period I also paid extra attention to my diet, avoided alcohol and dramatically reduced caffeine intake to minimize all unnecessary stress on my body. I usually don’t sleep well the night before a race so I tried to get the best and most amount of sleep two nights before. The most important meal before a race is breakfast/lunch the day before…not dinner as most people think. It takes time for food to be converted into energy and a giant dinner is more likely to cause digestive distress than provide fuel. Therefore, my breakfast and lunch on Saturday included extra carbs from good sources like sweet potatoes and butternut squash. I also stayed well hydrated on Saturday because race day was going to be hot.
I brought my bike in for a tune-up, read the Athlete Guide closely, and cleaned/checked all my gear to avoid surprises and fire drills (i.e., extra stress) before the race. I made sure to pack my gear and race nutrition well in advance to minimize race morning tasks.
I was up and wide awake at 4am. The transition area opened at 5am and the venue was about a 25 minute drive from our house. Bike check-in was on Saturday but I still wanted to get there early to unhurriedly check my bike, pump up my bike tires, and do a little warm-up before the 7am start. I had a quick breakfast that consisted of a handful of macadamia nuts, a Primal Kitchen dark chocolate almond collagen bar, and some butternut squash with coconut oil (all of which I have found to be easily digestible for me). I also made a giant 20oz mug of coffee to sip on before the race. As I noted in a previous post, taking 3-6mg of caffeine per kg of body weight about an hour before an event has been shown to provide a performance benefits.
I arrived at the venue at 5:15am and it was already a flurry of activity. I had forgotten how much energy is in the air before an event like this! I set up my transition area, chatted with some athletes, and did a short jog to get the blood flowing before putting on my wetsuit. I drank my first packet of VESPA as I headed down to the beach for the swim start…
This was a picture I had seen from last year’s swim on Instagram. Oddly…it made me more excited. I’m not afraid of the ocean but I also respect it. Swimming in big surf isn’t something to take lightly.
Upon scoping out the swim start…the surf was big…bigger than anything I’ve swam in before. Even still, the novelty of swimming in the ocean hasn’t worn off for this native midwesterner so I was still excited for the challenge. The swim course was two laps with a short beach run between laps. This meant we had to swim through the surf twice.
The swim start was a time-trial format vs. a mass start. We were corralled by swim time (similar to the start of a marathon). One-by-one athletes would run across the timing mat to start their day. As I ran down to the water to start my swim my strategy was to “dolphin” swim (push off the ground and dive forward) to the point that I couldn’t touch anymore. This is usually the fastest way to get to deep water to start swimming. However…I wasn’t making much progress against the surf but I was expending a lot of energy. I quickly realized why most people were walking…the current was strong!
My new strategy became diving under the waves, standing up and trying and not to lose ground, swimming with the current as the water went out, and repeating as many times as necessary. There became a point where I couldn’t touch but still wasn’t past the break…and this is where it got a little scary. I was starting to get tired from swimming under a wave and fighting the current only to have another 6’ wave about to break on top of me. It was crazy!
Once I finally made it through the surf break I was able to relax and find my swim rhythm. At the first buoy the slight south-to-north current became a benefit. As I swam back into shore I was able to catch a wave for a nice little ride back to the beach. The current pushed me farther north than I wanted so my beach run was a little longer than it should have been. Then it was back in the water for loop 2…
Getting through the surf the first time was hard…and doing it again with a little fatigue made it even harder. I used the same strategy but wasn’t as effective at holding my ground against the current after each wave. As a giant wave broke right on top of me at the point where I couldn’t touch but still was inside the break, I was exhausted and started thinking I wasn’t going to have the energy to fight through more waves like that. Thankfully…I had just gotten past the break after that wave and was able to uneventfully finish the last loop of the swim. When I got back to shore I was pleasantly surprised with my swim time given the conditions.
Note: I found out later that the lifeguards made numerous rescues and aver 25% of the field had either DNF or DNS likely due to the swim. There are always some DNF and DNS in an Ironman but that percentage was significant.
I was relieved to be in T1 and I took some extra time to get myself put together for the bike. The course was four loops on the Silver Strand highway, which is essentially flat. There was a slight headwind going out which became a tailwind coming back. I was conservative on the bike and took extra care not to go too hard in the beginning because I had burned a few matches to make it through the swim.
I used other competitors as pace setters being careful to avoid drafting penalties. Nearing the end of the 2nd loop I could start to feel the heat of the day (it was expected to get into the 90s). My nutrition plan was working well and I rode through the aid station that was at the end of each bike loop. The aid station was on a slight downhill so I could pick up the pace and ride past everyone slowing down to grab food and water bottles. I took in all my nutrition on the bike:
- 2nd loop I ate a Phive Bar and took down a water bottle
- 3rd loop I drank my chia seed slurry, honey and coconut water slurry
- 4th loop I ate a 2nd Phive bar and took down my last water bottle
One competitor alerted me as he rode past that I had salt stains on my bike shorts so I should make sure to take in extra sodium. I love the camaraderie of triathlon! Since I knew it was going to be hot and I’m a salty sweater, I added a few pinches of Himalayan sea salt to all my water bottles.
Making the turn to go back out on the last loop was somewhat disheartening. My legs were starting to feel tired and the faster bikers were riding into T2 while I had to make another U-turn to go back out one more time.
In T2 I made a decision to forgo socks on the run. I’m glad I did because the start of the run course went immediately to the beach….in soft sand (in honor of the Navy Seals and a race tradition). The run course was four loops that went along the Imperial Beach board walk and then back on the beach in the sand. Most of the beach running was in compact sand by the water’s edge but each loop had two soft sand sections for a total of about a half mile of soft sand on each loop.
To be frank…running in loose sand sucks…it saps your energy and is demanding on the ankles and calves. I tried walking in the soft sand to conserve energy but it wasn’t any easier and I was more apt to kick sand into my shoe. My soft sand strategy became maintaining my run pace through the sand and then walking a little to get my heart rate to drop back down.
Ironman branded races have well supported run courses with aid stations approximately every mile. Because of the heat, my aid station strategy was walking through each, immediately grabbing two cups of cold water, drinking one and dumping the other on my head. Occasionally I would also grab some Gatorade for some calories and electrolytes. I felt borderline too full from what I took in on the bike during the early part of the run. Fortunately, that quickly passed without any sort of gut-ache or side-stitch.
As I was starting my third loop and finishing up a soft sand section I got the perfect surprise and a much needed boost: “GO HUSBAND!!!” I didn’t think she was going to be able to make it to the race so I was super surprised and so happy to see her! I just wish it wasn’t when I was walking after a soft sand section…
Instead of counting down the miles. I was counting down the soft sand sections. On the last loop I was hot, my feet were starting to hurt, and the sand in my shoes felt like sandpaper socks so I was getting antsy to finish. Halfway through my last loop I did a time check and realized that I could potentially set a 70.3 PR! I was not expecting that at all. At that point I turned me mind off and just ran…no more walking through aid stations.
The last quarter mile through the finish chute lined with spectators felt amazing and seeing my wife waiting for me at the end was my favorite part of the whole day!
For an added bonus…I set a new 70.3 PR by 1m:34s! Health before fitness WORKS!!!
30-34 Division Place: 40 / 120
Overall Place: 218 / 878