PR's, cold water, and lots of fun!
I think I was probably one of the first people to sign up for the IM 70.3 Santa Cruz! I like to plan ahead of time when it comes to my racing schedule, and paying the entrance fee in advance is just one more way to feel committed for the training ahead. This year has been all about learning from my experiences and pushing beyond my comfort zone. Building up to the race, I competed in several Olympic distance races and IM 70.3 Saint George. Also, I was lucky to have met Nodair Razi, an ultra cyclist, and amazing person who really pushed my cycling skills to a new level.
The day started at 5am. The hotel bed was amazing! I just wanted to keep on sleeping, but I knew it was time to get ready for the day ahead. This has been the closest I have ever been to the transition area, and I have to say, it felt like such a luxury! Reducing unnecessary stress before the race really pays off as there is less to worry about in terms of logistics. My race set up was ready, and after dressing up and double checking all my gear, I was off. Because my wave started at 7:54, breakfast and potty breaks were not a matter of great concern. I ate my usual peanut butter toast, coffee, and sipped Hammer Heed before the start.
The transition was huge! With over 2,000 participants I must admit I was a bit overwhelmed. Lucky enough, my bicycle was in premium location close to the bike exit making it really fast to find. My nutrition strategy was dialed in for the day. For the bike portion, I got all my calories from Hammer Perpetuem and hydrated with Hammer Fizz. I also took some salt pills to prevent potential cramps. For the run, I mixed two Hammer gels (vanilla and banana) inside a small flask. I like the mild flavors these gels provide, and digestion becomes easier when diluted in water. With the bike and run setup ready, I was off to the beach!
The day started a bit cold and cloudy, but conditions were good. I must admit, I was very nervous. I knew I was prepared, but my pre-race demons always appear in the worst of moments. I love open water swimming, but it also freaks me out! More than once have I panicked, and I really didn't want that to happen today. After hugging my wife (for a long while), I was off to the start line.
I was pleasantly surprised about the swim start. Because of the wave start and ocean swim, the group was taking things easy, and there was time to accommodate. I felt I left all my demons at the shore, and I was able to swim at a constant pace. Water was great, but somewhat murky and I inevitably started bumping into the previous waves. After a 29.13 minute swim I was off to the first transition. This was was the longest transition ever! It took over 4 minutes to get to my bike and start pedaling.
The bike portion of the race was by far the most stressful part of all the race. The good thing about wave starts is that they provide a more safe environment at the beginning, but you pay for it with a lot of traffic on the bike! My objective was simple; push 220-230W (Z3). Working with power has allowed me to be consistent, and avoid unnecessary surges. My position was dialed in, and my legs were fresh. Because traffic was open, however, passing other athletes, and avoid getting hit by cars made it difficult to get into cruising speed. The course was fast with rolling hills and one short uphill halfway through the bike ride. Despite traffic, and a fallen water bottle (I stopped to pick it up!), I was able to finish in 2:28 hours.
Transition bike to run was faster, but I still had to dodge some athletes as I got ready for the run. My strategy was similar to the one I had in the Olympic triathlon I competed a few weeks ago: stay consistent during the first half, and push through the last 5 miles. I usually have one or two gels during the run portion, but I found that the thick consistency doesn't sit well. That is why, for the first time ever, I tried using a flask and water down both gels. I know better never to try anything new come race day, but it was a risk that I was willing to take. To my surprise, nutrition worked perfectly! I have never felt so good. I kept my heart rate at an aerobic effort, and was grateful to have met a great athlete called Susan who helped me push during the run.
The final two miles became a small battle between Jimmy Sopko and I. As he got closer, I picked up the pace in order to gain some advantage, but a mile before the finish line fatigue started to settle, and I could no longer keep up with his pace. Ultimately, Jimmy passed me! I gave it my all, and was glad to have had the opportunity to battle with such a great athlete. With a 1:29 hour run, I reached the finish line in 4:33, a PR that I will never forget.
This past year I have been able to train consistently despite a crazy schedule, grad school, being in a new country, and training on my own. The journey to this race really taught me about patience, and embracing the moment. For the first time ever, I was able to enjoy a race without the stress of trying to prove "something" to the world, and just be myself. Stepping out of your comfort zone teaches you to be humble, have a growth mindset, and to never give up.
In terms of the race venue, the Santa Cruz 70.3 Ironman is awesome! The whole atmosphere is relaxed. Being a beach start makes the swim easy, as there is plenty of space. The bike portion could have been better though. Road conditions were average, with potholes that made riding a pain, and an extremely narrow space to pass other athletes. Finally, the run was amazing. Flat course with some trail running and amazing ocean views.
I want to thank wife Ximena, for always supporting me along the way, Nodair for all the "easy" rides, and my coach Daniel de Montreuil, for guiding me through this journey. Until next time!