Spoiler alert - this is one incredible race. My favorite of all time - so far. Last year I was late registering so didn't get in. I signed up early this year and boy was I glad. Great location, great support, great course. You really couldn't ask for more.
I left on Wednesday prior to the race. The race is a Saturday race, which I LOVE, but I needed to visit a client in San Diego so I tacked on time to get there early. The trip from Phoenix to Oceanside is really easy - 6.5 hours door to door if you don't have any traffic. It is all desert, though. It brought back memories of growing up and driving to the coast to get out of the heat. I really love the drive. It also gave me some time to think about things - my recent heart test, etc. sort of hung over my head. I needed to make peace with things and I did during the drive.
I stayed at the Residence Inn Oceanside. Very nice place to stay about 15 minutes from the race starting line on "the strand."
This is a quick snapshot of the room and the proverbial 'setup before the race.' This was my 6th half Ironman and 11th triathlon. It is still exciting but it has become a familiar excitement - I found myself very calm before this race. I was a little concerned about what to wear for the swim as it would be salt water and colder than usual. The weather kept changing for race day but it looked like it would be a perfect day as we got closer. I got a great nights sleep the night before race day, which is always my goal. I was ready!
Got up early and ate 400 calories of warm OatFit oatmeal. It was what I used for the Phx Marathon about a month ago and it really worked. I decided to try it again for this race. I loaded everything into my car and was on my way. This is a two transition race - point to point - the kind I like. You bring your bike the morning of the race which is also something I like. You arrive and part at T2 which is near the finish line, drop your T2 stuff off and then ride your bike to the swim and T1. This was wonderful as it got your blood moving and warmed you up a bit for the swim.
Did I mention there were 2700 participants! This is the largest 70.3 in the States and despite being on the coast, and everyone being a bit casual (California style), it all went off without a hitch. Well organized parking, transitions, etc. I was impressed.
There were 25 waves of participants. I was wave 22 so I got to start a full hour after the initial starting time. Water temp was 58 degrees and so I opted to wear a silicone cap with the latex cap over top of it. I was pretty calm as we worked out way up to the starting line but I was a little worried about the taste of salt water combined with the cool water temps - I hoped I was prepared for the cold water shock. You queue up at the edge of the water and then you swim out about 150 yards to the actual starting line. It is an in water start. As we entered the water, I took my $50 Sable goggles and swished them in the water to get them ready and then placed them on my head. As I did so they snapped! The rubber cord snapped! I sat there looking at my goggles as the rest of my group started to get into the water and swim to the starting buoys. My heart rate accelerated. A quick volunteer said, "I have a spare pair right over there..." I went over to the side and grabbed them - they were horrible plastic cheap goggles and they didn't fit my head. I scrambled to adjust them - meanwhile my group is forming around the starting line. I finally get them to fit my head. I jump in and start swimming to the starting line. Trying to keep calm, I find I can't see in these goggles! They are fogged up and cloudy and the wrong color. As I swim to the starting line, I pull them off my head, spit in them and swish them around to hopefully make it better. To no avail. Just then the cannon goes off. I am at least 50 yards behind my group and I can't see! It's funny how the cold water and other distractions go away when something like this happens.... I swim and swim and decide to just plug away. I could see shadows of the buoys and could vaguely tell their color (red meant turn) but it was a nightmare... On top of all this, the swim was very crowded - unlike any other I had attended. No way to break free from the pack - a lot of kicking and hitting. As I finished the swim and exited the water I looked at my watch and it said 38 minutes! My fastest swim ever by a full 4 minutes! How could this be! It set the stage for a great race.
As i jumped on my bike, I wasn't sure how cold it was gong to be. I had put some arm warmers on the front handle bars in case it got cold - I ended up not needing them at all. As we exited the T1 about a mile in, there is a steep but short uphill that is pretty crowed. Unfortunately a woman was not in the right gear and fell in front of several of us. I narrowly missed her but had to evade the crash. That meant I had to jump off my bike and walk up the small hill. Another challenge.... About 7 miles or so into the race a squirrel ran out in front of several of us and almost caused another crash! Other than that, this is a great bike course. Fairly fast the first 3rd, hilly the second third (with a very big and imposing hill) and back into headwinds for the last third. I kept a great pace and kept thinking I need to dial it back - I was going to pay for a fast bike ride, I thought. But I felt so good and kept my fuel and salt tablets flowing. As I got off the bike at 3:08 (very solid for me on this course), I wondered how it was going to affect me in the run.
I exited T2 and quickly had to go the bathroom, cutting some time. Then I started running - I was at a 5:30/KM pace (my watch is still in Canada mode - it makes me feel psychologically faster!) and I felt very good. Adding much more nutrition than normal, which really made a huge difference coming off the bike and during the run. The course is WONDERFUL. All along the beach and packed but full of spectators and people. In the neighborhoods you go through people are playing music, spraying you with a hose and cheering you on. Wonderful participation and support. The aid stations were perfectly placed and well stocked. Two loops on the course and a bunch of steps and a ramp - twice. Still, I just ran and ran and ran. I didn't stop and I felt great! It got hot but the cool ocean breeze cooled me down perfectly. I smoked the run! 2:01 total! My best 1/2 time ever and I did it after the swim and the bike!