December 15, 2017

California Ironman 70.3

California ironman 70.3Last June I took my wife and twin 15 year-old boys to Grand Cayman for our annual family vacation. While we were there we participated in the Cayman Island Mile swim. It is a yearly race on the island that brings competitors from as far as Australia.

In addition to my family, some friends who also go to Cayman each year also participated. Since I was the ‘veteran’ triathlete with about ten sprint and Olympic distance races under my belt, my family and friends expected me to have the best time in our group. I know I swim like a brick with arms but I had been training for several years and the others were only recreational swimmers.

At the end of the event, the only person who I beat was my son Jeremy who went kicking and screaming to the starting line. He was on vacation and didn’t feel like swimming in a race. Needless to say, I was embarrassed and decided right then and there that as soon as I got home I was going to hire a swim coach.

We flew home a few days later. When I walked in the door there was a stack of mail that had piled over the days we were gone. I went through the mail and found a tri-fold brochure for a place called Triathica. “Train like a triathlete” was written on the front fold. I located Triathica and met Ron Saetermoe.

Forward almost one year later. I utilized Ron’s coaching program for swimming. After completing my lessons I had become a much better swimmer and wasn’t wasting so much energy during the swim portion of the races. Since I wanted to move to the bigger events, I hired Ron to create a training program for my Oceanside 70.3. The program was tough but I felt myself getting stronger. I knew I was ready to try to “race.”

I slept poorly the night prior to the race. I knew I was fit but I still had some nervousness mostly due to the fact this race was much longer than anything I had completed. I know I was not going to be a contender for anything other than a good race. But still, those competitive butterflies were running wild. Stu, a friend of mine from work was also doing Oceanside. It is his fourth time doing the race. I just wanted to finish in front of him. I hoped to finish just under 6 hours but truly expected 6:15.

I ended up falling asleep watching an old episode of Miami Vice on television. In its day that was the coolest show on Friday night. I woke up with plenty of time to get to meet Stu at Denny’s in San Juan Capistrano but still left my house 10 minutes later than I planned. I met up with Stu and had a stack of pancakes and a few egg whites. We finished breakfast and headed down to Oceanside.

My wave was scheduled to go at 7:00 which would make it easy to keep track of my pace. Stu is in my age group and the same wave so we got things set up in the transition area and slid into our wetsuits. I was surprisingly mellow as we got into the herd to get set up for the swim. At this point there is nothing else I can do but just go and do it. We got into the water and I was pleased to discover it was warmer than I anticipated. That was good because I had not done any open water swims except for the Toyota Desert Tri. All my training was in an 80 degree pool at my gym.

When the horn sounded, I found myself in the middle of the crowd being slapped around. How did I do this? I got into my rhythm thinking about Ron’s advice to me. “Push yourself in the swim”. Too many people don’t go hard enough during the swim.” So I stepped my pace up a notch from what I usually do. As I made the turnaround and headed back to the boat ramp, the glare filled my goggles. I was warned about the glare but opted to stick with what I trained with. I just used the bodies around me as a guide. I started to increase my pace being that I felt really relaxed and was probably holding back a bit. I finished the swim in 37:25. That was 5 minutes faster than my mile time in Cayman and at that time, when I finished I was exhausted.

I came up the boat ramp feeling really good. I ran to the transition area and had what I thought was a good time. I got out of my suit and into my shoes. I put on my race belt with my bib facing rearward just like the rules require. I ran out and hopped on my bike. Since there were people lined up at the transition exit I was tempted to race down the road as if I was actually a contender for a podium spot. I chose to take Ron’s advice again and just be cautious for the first half of the bike portion and see how my legs would hold up. So, I kind of went for a bike ride for the first 25 miles. I let people pass me and that was okay. It was my first 70.3 and I did not want to blow my wad on the bike. Also, my legs would not warm up. The air had a chill and my tri suit wasn’t drying. I held a decent pace until just before the first climb. My heart rate did not get above 130 bpm.

I needed to use the porta-potty so I decided to stop to relieve myself. I also had a PB and J sandwich that I had brought along. I re-mounted my bike with a sandwich in my mouth and I got the strangest looks from people as they rode by. I made my way to the first climb and saw a big ball of riders slowly going up the hill. I tried to settle in with the crowd but quite honestly, they were too slow. So I stood up and went up the hill. It was not as bad as anything I have trained on, so up I went. I passed the big ball of riders and once I got over the top I figured it was time to push it harder.

I pushed myself harder for the second half of the bike. I got my heart rate up to 150 and I knew I could hold it there with minimal difficulty. The rest of the ride was uneventful aside from the wind. That sucked.

The last long straight heading back to Oceanside was great. I got into my best TT position and just hammered. I looked at my speedo from time to time and it was always 26 or above. I figured I was making up some time and I passed some of the guys that had passed me at the beginning. When I got back into Oceanside and into the transition area, I felt really good. My heart rate was at 155. My legs felt good and I was glad I had Ron create that program for me. I did the bike in 3:00:06. I am sure I could have knocked at least 10 minutes off if I pushed a bit harder at the beginning and didn’t take a potty break.

I have only run four half marathons before and only once did I do it in less than 2 hours and that was 1:59:58. I looked at my watch and saw that I had 2 hours and 20 minutes to finish the run and I would make my 6 hour goal. I got off my bike and put on my running shoes. The rules state that during the run the bib must face forward, so I grabbed mine and went to move it to the front. As I pulled on it my bib ripped. Uh oh. I was concerned that I would be DQ’d if I ran without a bib so I stopped and asked a volunteer for help. It took an extra 30 seconds or so but we got my bib reattached and I was off and running. I could hear the announcer saying Michael Realert was the race winner. Damn those guys are fast.
I held a pace that I thought was doable for 13 miles. The sun was out and the day was warming up. I prefer the warm over cold. My heart rate was at 160 and I know I am good holding it at 170. I saw some of the leading pro females finishing their last loop as I was in the beginning stages of mine. Also saw my coach Ron and I shouted out encouragement to him. He looked too busy working on a podium finish to bother with a “middle of the packer.”

At the first turnaround I saw my heart rate was still just 160. I decided to try to pick up the pace but my legs wouldn’t go any faster. As I was coming to the end of the first loop, I began to get a cramp in my calf so I stopped to stretch it out. I looked at my watch and figured I might break 5:45 if I hold this pace. I decided to run through the cramp and hope for the best. At the 2nd turnaround I was able to push it a tiny bit more but still couldn’t increase my pace by much. My heart rate was still under 170.

At mile 12 I started to realize that I was going to be under 5:45. That was much better than I thought I was capable of doing. I made the final turn and headed to the finish. I had hoped to just finish the race and had a much better time than I anticipated. Although this was not Kona, I still filled up with a great sense of accomplishment. The picture my wife took of me as I approached the finish line, I think says it all.

I ended up with a run time of 1:57:39. It was my fastest half marathon yet. My overall time was 5:42:13. I placed in the middle of my age group but I am still dammed proud of my time. However, I wanna go faster.
Thanks Ron. Your program was a huge part of my “success.”

Oh yeah, and my buddy Stu did 6:15:22. Way to go Stu!

Mark Chavira

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