Last Saturday I had the privilege of joining several other members of the San Diego Tri Club for a course overview and practice triathlon for the upcoming Oceanside 70.3. The event was put on by Karen at First Step Athletics, a local personal trainer and triathlon/running coach and was very impressive! When we arrived at the parking lot near the Oceanside Pier at 6:30 AM we were greeted by Karen and her volunteers with bagels, coffee, printed out color copies of the Athlete Guide, as well as a special guest – Gina Davis, the Oceanside 70.3 Race Director.
Our parking spots served as T2 and we all set out our running gear. Karen had volunteers there to watch our stuff during the event. After set-up and a quick overview of the practice triathlon’s events from Karen we got our things together and got on our bikes and road to T1, which is about 1/2 mile away at the Oceanside Harbor. On the way, we stopped so Gina could explain T2 and the run course to us, providing some great insight on what we could expect on race day.
Once we arrived at T1, we set our things out and got into our wet suits (which we were thankful for since it was very cold during the T2/run talk). Then we headed over to the harbor where Gina explained the swim and T1. T1 will be special for us on race day because there is a special transition area set up for members of the San Diego Tri Club. So Team WODS (Mike, Asia, Jeremy and I) will rack our bikes together! However, it doesn’t matter where you bike is racked on race day because when you come out of the swim you have to run all the way to the other end of the transition area and make your way back in and head out near the swim exit. This way, everyone will run an equal distance. I’ve heard that T1 at Oceanside is pretty slow due to the amount of running you have to do.
The Practice “Race”
At 8:30 a.m., about 2 hours after we arrived, we finally got in the water. Since the swim course is in the protected harbor, we swam in the ocean instead. We walked down the beach about a 1/4 mile and then got in the water (no announcement of when to start or blow horn – totally informal) and started swimming. I would guess we only swam about 400 meters total before getting out of the water and running up the beach. Luckily the waves were very small. Surprisingly, the water didn’t seem as cold as it has in prior weeks during our Del Mar open water swims. When I exited the water, I wasn’t shivering like I expected – despite the short swim, my body was warm and ready to go!
Since I wore booties, I didn’t need Karen and the other volunteers to hose off my feet. I made my way to my transition area and stripped off my wet suit and then practiced my transition. Since I knew that I would be cold during the race, I only wore my Zoot sports bra and my Zoot tri shorts. I decided I would put on my tri top in transition. However, with the salt water, it was quite difficult to get my tight top on! I’m thinking that it might not be a good idea to do this in the race since I will be even more flustered and my hands will likely be cold and shaking. I put on my socks, cycling shoes, jacket, heart rate strap, garmin, and sunglasses, and gloves. I also learned that I will NOT want to wear gloves on race day – they were very hard to get on and I later learned that it’s also impossible to open plastic baggies with one gloved hand.
Once I was on the course, I felt good. I was surprised that I wasn’t freezing despite my wet tri shorts. Luckily, we just rode this portion of the course last week, otherwise I’d be completely lost! We didn’t get much instruction on where to go once we left T1 but I felt comfortable on my own since I was familiar with the course. As soon as I got out of most of the traffic, through the gates of Camp Pendleton and on to the open road, I felt great. Apparently there was a strong tailwind. I was seeing numbers over 20 mph on my bike computer. Although the first half of the race is described as “flat” there are about three fairly significant hills that require the small ring and quite a bit of huffing if you aren’t careful. I found that my heart rate was elevated from the swim and I had a hard time keeping it in Zone 2 for these small climbs. Another lesson learned – let my heart rate settle at the beginning of the bike because the swim will definitely elevate it.
Before I knew it, I was at the 14 mile turn around. The way back was harder due to a headwind, but I kept in aero for most of it and still felt pretty good coming back. Unfortunately, at about mile 18 I tried to open my plastic baggie with a crunched up Stinger Waffle and there was no way that was going to happen with my full fingered gloves on. I struggled with it a few times before giving up, thinking I’d open it at a stop light. However, I never hit a stop light until near the end of the course and then I just gave up on it completely, thinking I’d have a Gu in transition.
After I left Camp Pendelton, I approached a stop light that had 2 right hand turn lanes. Apparently I didn’t realize this and/or the car that was on my left (I was between the two right hand turn lanes) didn’t have their blinker on, because as soon as I started to take off from the stop light, the car on my left starting turning right and came within literally 2 inches of hitting me. I screamed and unclipped my right foot and luckily the drive saw me in time. I’ve never had such a close call and it was definitely a wake-up call. I need to do a better job of reading the signs at stop lights and never assume that there is only one right hand turn lane!!! Even if the driver’s blinker wasn’t on, I still shouldn’t have assume they were going straight.
After my shake-up due to the near collision, I slowly made my way back to T2. I quickly changed into my running shoes and grabbed the water bottle that I had mixed with 1 Nuun tablet and frozen overnight. Luckily it was nearly defrosted and icy cold! I stuffed two Gus in my pockets as well. We never really went over the run course for the day (we went over the run course for the race in detail however) so I kind of just started running. I forgot to head North on the boardwalk and instead went south, so I knew I had to make up some time. I ended up adding on at the end of the first loop and then heading back. Just as I was at about 6 miles or so, I saw Asia and we ran together for the rest. I ended up adding on about a mile extra, finishing about 7.5 miles in total. I had one Gu when I first started to run but never had another one. I finished the practice tri – 400 yards of swimming, 28.5 miles of biking and 7.5 miles of running with only 500 calories in total (including the Gu I had before the swim)! Definitely under-caloried on this one.
Despite a fueling fail, a sunburn, and a near death experience, I had a good practice “race.” My average MPH on the bike was 17.5 (which includes slowing for stop lights, stop signs and border crossings) and my average pace on the run was 8:50 min/mile.
I learned some valuable lessons at this practice triathlon, specific both to this course and to triathlon racing in general:
- Taking a Gu 15 minutes before the swim start does not upset my stomach – definitely will be doing this at the race!
- Do not try to put on a very tight tri-top over a wet sports bra with shaky, wet hands in T1.
- Don’t wear a jacket on the bike if it’s over 60 degrees. I plan to use arm-warmers (if I can get them on with shaky hands!)
- Putting on my heart rate monitor and watch in T1 takes a few extra seconds but it’s worth it
- Taking time to put on sunscreen in both transition areas would have been useful. I wore a jacket on the bike but wore a tank top on the run and ended up with a very pretty sunburn.
- If you do wear a watch, don’t wear it over your jacket so that in T2 you have to remove your watch to take off your jacket.
- Don’t wear gloves on race day. They are too hard to get on and if they are full-fingered, impossible to open fuel with them.
- Open plastic baggies with your fuel before the race starts so you don’t have to while racing.
- It’s definitely a good idea NOT to put anything but water in your aero-bar water bottle (this was my first time using one and I LOVED it) since it splashed on you when you go over bumps. Luckily I heard this in advance and only put water in it, but it was a good first hand lesson.
- If you can’t open your fuel, stop on the side of the road and open it. The couple of second of lost time on the side of the road are worth avoiding bonking later (luckily I didn’t bonk on this race but it was half the distance of the 70.3).
- Using a bottle of concentrated Nuun/Carbopro doesn’t upset my stomach. I will be using a full water bottle of Carbopro with 700 calories and 2 Nuun tablets during the race. For the practice race I used a half bottle concentrated with 300 calories of Carbopro and one Nuun to see how my stomach liked this mix. Every time I took a sip of the super concentrated bottle, I took a big swig of water from my aero water bottle.
- DON’T EVER assume that a car is going straight if they are in a lane that allows them to turn OR go straight, no matter what their blinker is doing.
I am so thankful to have participated in this practice race! Not only did I learn a lot about the course and transition areas from Gina and Karen, I also learned valuable race lessons. My triathlon experience is limited to one sprint distance, one Olympic distance and two practice sprint triathlons, so I can use any experience racing that I can get, practice or not!
Thanks again to Karen, Gina, and all the amazing volunteers that watched our things during the practice race!
Have you ever simulated a race? What did you learn?