This is part two of my race report from my first Half Ironman, Ironman California (or Oceanside 70.3). To read part one, including all the fabulous pre-race details and my adventures during the swim, click here.
As soon as I got on my bike and made my way out of the harbor, I knew that the first few miles of this bike ride were going to be cold. Although I did put on arm warmers, I was essentially wearing a tank top (I wore my sports bra into the water and then put a tank top over it to avoid riding the bike with a wet top). My feet were almost completely numb and my body was covered in goosebumps. The first few miles I focused on just trying to make my way through the course, which was pretty windy and had quite a few bumps and turns. The ground was also wet from the early morning light showers, so I was cautious not to go too quickly.
Once I got settled into a rhythm, I started to focus on keeping a good pace but also on holding back. I started to drink my super concentrated water bottle a little at a time and I checked my watch periodically to make sure I wasn’t going out of Zone 2 (150-170 bpm for me based on my V02Max test). As I mentioned in my race strategy post, the first half of the bike course is pretty flat and then miles 24-42 are very hilly and then the last 14 miles are fairly flat but typically have a strong headwind. I knew that I needed to conserve energy for not only the more difficult miles, but also for the half marathon I’d be running afterward. I knew that I had a lot of friends and family coming out to cheer me on for the run, and I didn’t want to lose all my steam and walk the half marathon.
The weather was very cloudy and cold. My entire feet were numb for at least the first 20 miles and they slowly defrosted as the ride went on but were numb pretty much the entire time. On the bike we passed a bank that announced that the outside temperature was 50 degrees. Yikes – the 58 degree ocean had been warmer than the air!
Pretty early into the ride I noticed that my bike was making a weird noise – it sounded like something was rubbing. The sound was on and off and was worse at times. I knew that something was wrong but I had no idea how to fix it. Soon after I purchased my bike, I had a similar problem where the brake was rubbing against my wheel during a long ride. Halfway into the ride it started screeching so loudly that it was very embarrassing as I passed walkers and other cyclists. Luckily Mike had a tool with him on the ride and he was able to fix it at the time. However, now all I could think about was the noise coming back and interrupting my race. We had been told that there were only three bike technician cars on the course and if you broke down and couldn’t fix it yourself, it could be up to 30-40 minutes until a car arrived to help you. I just kept riding, hoping that it would go away (Mike confirmed after the race that my brake was rubbing my wheel, slowing me down!).
The first half of the bike was VERY crowded. It was somewhat frustrating because some of the roads were also fairly narrow (there is a bike path for several miles of the course). I wanted to pass the slower riders on my right but I would have to wait for the much faster rides to pass me first. Sometimes I’d get stuck behind slow riders and I was fearful that I’d accidentally receive a penalty for drafting. During the first half of the bike, I probably got passed by about 75% of the riders, and I passed about 25%. All of the men in the 30-35 waves started behind us every one of them passed me at some point I’m sure. I also noticed that a lot of women in their 50s were passing me! However, I was still passing some people and I felt good, so I didn’t let it get to me. I’m a VERY new rider (rode a road bike for the first time in June 2011) so I knew that the bike would be my weakest sport, and I just told myself to concentrate on my own race, not anyone else’s.
Speaking of people passing me, my very own boyfriend passed me in the campground section of the course without even acknowledging me! I was trying to pass a slower rider and I heard “On your left!” loudly and just as I looked over my shoulder, there went Mike whizzing past me. I yelled “Hey!” at him, but he didn’t even look. I was hoping to ask him about the noise that my bike was making when I saw him. Oh well. I later told him this and he said he spent the entire bike thinking I was ahead of him and crushing it! Little did he know, he passed me around mile 20.
I passed right through the first aid station since I had water in my aero bar and in my concentrated CarboPro/Nuun bottle. I noticed that the aid station had a bathroom. At this point I did have to go just a little bit, but I wanted to hold it longer.At the second aid station I did grab a bottle of water and refill my front aero water bottle and take a sip before throwing it away. I was proud of myself for successfully executing the bottle grab for my first time! However, I had hoped to see some bathrooms at this aid station and I did not see any. I told myself just to keep holding it. Also at this aid station they were yelling that there was a big hill coming. After the aid station we hit a few rollers and I was wondering what hill they were referring to. It wasn’t too long before I saw it – an absolutely gigantic, steep hill with a sea of riders that looked like ants marching up it.
Also at this point I saw the first girl from my age group that I had seen all day. I told myself that I would try to stay with her for a while. However, as soon as I got to the hill I switched my front gear to the small chain and immediately felt the feeling of my legs spinning with absolutely no pressure. I knew I had dropped my chain. I quickly looked back and saw a big group of cyclists coming at me, but there was nothing I could do. So I yelled “stopping!” and unclipped and made my way to the side of the road. The guy at the front of the pack looked annoyed but there wasn’t really anything I could do! As I put my chain back on, a crowd of at least 20 cyclists charged past me up the hill, including the girl in my age group that I had wanted to follow.
Luckily I didn’t drop my chain at the steepest part of the climb, because there is no way I would have been able to muster the momentum to clip in at that point on the hill. My speed dropped to 5-6 mph and I had to get out of my saddle for over half of the climb. I actually passed a few people up the hill, but the majority of us were all just slowly making our way up the hill together. People were laughing and talking to each other since we were all riding so closely together. There were two spectators about 75% of the way up that were heckling us – saying things like “go faster! It’s not that hard!” It didn’t bother me but I know some people told them to shut up! At one point up the hill I said to someone next to me “I love how they say we should ‘spin easy’ up the hills. It’s impossible!” I don’t think I saw a single person “spinning” up that hill – you literally couldn’t. Several people got off their bikes and were walking them up the hill! I tried to not use all my energy, yet my heart rate still got into Zone 3 – I think it got to about 175.
The best part of that hill was going down. It was a super fast, steep descent that was actually really fun. At the bottom I refueled on some of my Stinger Waffle (I remembered to leave the baggy open this time!) and got ready for more hills to come. There were a couple more rollers and then another quite steep hill, then more rollers. Then we hit the dreaded descent that has a “No Passing Zone” and a max speed of 25 mph, due to the fact that a rider took it too fast once and died. I got stuck behind a couple of rides that slowed all the way down to 20 mph but it was probably a good thing. I was expecting the hill to be much more treacherous than it was, but I do think that if you didn’t brake you could have easily gotten up to 40 mph.
At this point I was actually starting to pass people more. On the second half I think I was passing people more like 70% of the time and being passed 30%. I was feeling really good and based on my watch, I was really hoping that I could get a bike time under 3:15. I think that all my training on hills was beneficial because by the time the “hilly” section was over, I was wondering why they said it was so bad! It was certainly not flat but it wasn’t as crazy as everyone made it out to be.
Once we hit mile 42, I knew that I was out of the hills and into the home stretch. I was feeling really good, so I picked up the pace. I was expecting a big headwind but was pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t hitting it. I was averaging 18-19 mph on the flats easily and passing a lot of people. At one point, I did doubt myself a little bit, thinking that if I went too hard now I wouldn’t be able to run well. However, I told myself I didn’t come out to this race to hold back the whole way, so I went for it. Toward the end my upper back was starting to hurt when I was in aero but since there was a slight headwind, I knew I would conserve more energy if I stayed low.
As I reached the final stretch and was exiting the harbor and heading into the neighborhood to go to the pier, my training buddy (and member of Team WODS) Jeremy passed me. He had started in the very last wave of the day which was 21 minutes behind me. I had thought he might have passed me on the steep hill when I dropped my chain but there he was! He told me that I was killing it as he passed. We had to slow down for the final couple miles so I rode pretty much right behind him. A not so pleasant surprise was that the bike course dropped down to the boardwalk (next to the runners) for about 400 yards and then we had to climb a pretty steep hill (similar to the ones we would later be running up several times during the run) before turning down the final chute to transition. The volunteers kept telling us to slow down, but I really didn’t want to since I knew I was very close to achieving my goal of a sub 3:15 bike (I did slow down of course). My last thoughts coming to T2 were that two of my toes were still numb from the swim. When I reached the finish line for the bike, I was relieved to be getting off the bike and also very excited to start the run. I knew that I had achieved my goal and I was really excited to see all of my friends and family on the run course.
Bike Time: 3:13:55 – 17.3 mph – 31/52 in age group, 1404/2,235 overall
I ran my bike into T2 and followed the volunteers instructions on which row my stuff was in. I had decided to bring a pair of running pants to change into in T2 to avoid chaffing (which I got during the practice tri in my wet tri shorts). I immediately decided I would change and began to towel change. It definitely took longer than I would have liked, but I knew it would be worth it. I also decided to follow my race plan and spray sunscreen on me, although it was still gloomy. I stuffed 4 Gus into the pocket in my pants, put on my shoes and hat, grabbed my now mostly defrosted frozen water bottle with Nuun and ran straight to the porto-potty to relieve my very full bladder! I figured my T2 was really slow but I didn’t care. My Dad, Step-Mom and Mom were all standing at the Run Out area of T2 and were able to catch pictures of me in transition!
T2 Time: 4:32
As soon as I left transition, I saw my family cheering for me. This immediately made me super pumped to go out and crush the run. The run course changed this year due to the new placement of transition 2. There were lots of turns and lots of small, very steep hills, which several people complained about but I just thought it made it interesting. After the course turned onto the Strand, which is the main street that runs parallel to the beach, I immediately saw a group of Mike’s friends who had come to cheer us on. I got even more encouraged seeing them. Immediately after that, there is a U-turn out to direct runners North which only people who had just left transition were to make. We would pass this area two more times during the other loops and it was important only to make the turn once. I heard some people didn’t make the turn and had to go back!
At this point I took my first Gu, not really because I felt like I needed it, but mostly because I had 4 Gus stuffed in the back of my running pants and they did NOT fit in there well, creating a huge lump on my butt that was pulling my pants down. I took the Gu and washed it down with the Nuun filled water bottle I was carrying. Once I turned I was heading North on Pacific Street for a short while and then we ran onto the sidewalk and down the beginning of the pier to a very steep concrete ramp. At the bottom of the ramp we turned left to head North on The Strand, which is essentially the boardwalk that lines the sand. This area was definitely the most packed with spectators. I saw another friend on my way down to the Strand as well as other people I recognized from the Tri Club. The energy was high and I was really excited. I finally looked down at my pace was hovering around 8:15 and I knew I had to take it down a notch.
I felt amazing as I ran up the Strand. I was feeling good and my legs were not heavy at all. I was passing people left and right and just feeling at the top of the world. I knew I needed to pull it back though and took my pace down and just relaxed and enjoyed the ride. Soon I saw Jeremy who had apparently had a much faster transition and was now a few minutes ahead of me. After I made the turnaround at the northern-most point of the strand, I hit the 1 mile mark and my watch officially told me it no longer had room to store my laps.
At this point I knew that I needed to change my Garmin to the setting that didn’t record lap times and also delete some history so there was room for my run data. I decided since I was already running too fast anyway, I’d just do all of this while I ran. So for the majority of the time between mile 1 and the steep climb up the ramp at the pier again, I was messing with my watch. I really wanted to know my average pace so I knew when to hold back and when to push it. As I made my way up the ramp, I saw the triathlon coach that did my swim analysis, Jim Vance. He said something like “Way to go Nicole!” and it boosted my spirits even more. After the steep ramp I turned back onto Pacific and saw all the same friends that had already cheered me on as well as my family who had moved spots so they could see me again. I was getting encouragement and support from friends and family every 400 meters it seemed and I was loving it!
After we passed the U-turn again, we ran a little farther before heading down yet another steep hill. We’d go up and down a total of three very steep, short hills during the course in order to get down to the Strand and back up to Pacific. I headed down to the Strand again, this time heading South. This area of the Strand was even more vibrant, as it is also part of the final mile before the finish line. The aid station on this section had loud music and balloons and everyone seemed to be having a great time. After I made my way through here, I headed back up a steep hill and onto Pacific again for the longest stretch of the course. This portion of the course was on the residential street that parallels the ocean. There were spectators everywhere, some coming from their homes and others from TCSD or families and friends of racers, although there were less of them than on the Strand. Little kids were cheering out and saying things like “How’s your race going!?”
I was still feeling great at this point and a tall blonde woman on the side of the course wearing an Ironman visor noticed. She said “Nice work number 1903! You got this!” I told her thank you and smiled and kept running. At this point I hadn’t hit any of the aid stations since I had my water bottle and my legs were feeling surprisingly fresh. In addition to the blonde woman, I had several other spectators tell me I was looking really good. At the end of the street we made a left and then another sharp left onto the street just East of Pacific. I soon saw the 4 mile marker and was able to figure out that my Garmin was about 1.5 miles behind the course markers. As I was making my way up the street I saw Jeremy again and we cheered each other on.
Then I made the U-turn, took a Gu and took a sip of water from the aid station and kept going. I was still feeling good and was in a great mood as I made my way back down Pacific. I was passing far more people than were passing me. A woman was holding up a sign that said “Smile if you aren’t wearing underwear” and I cheered and smiled at her (who wears underwear when they swim?). She and her friends cheered back. Then I saw the blonde woman with the Ironman visor again and she said “Go 1903! You are looking strong! You are almost to the finish!” I yelled back at her “I still have another loop!” I was feeling so good at this point that I didn’t even care that I had another loop! Around this time, I saw Mike’s good friend Stephen on the other side of the course and then about 10 minutes later I saw Mike. Just as I was about to turn back down the steep hill onto the Strand, I saw Asia! I was so glad to see my training buddy!
It seemed like the mood on the Strand was even more electric than before. As I ran through the aid station they were playing “YMCA” and the young girls who were volunteering were singing and dancing along. I decided to join them and starting do the moves to YMCA with my arms. They loved it and screamed and cheered for me. I was also taking advantage of all the kids who were putting their hands out for high fives and slapping their hands as I ran by. Soon I was going back up a super steep hill and passing my Mom, Step Mom and Dad and then heading back up Pacific back to the boardwalk to go down the hill again for the second loop. It felt great to pass the halfway point and I was still feeling good. I remember thinking around this point that I was officially in love with triathlon and that I loved this distance. I knew that I would be doing many more races of this length. I was officially having an amazing time running this race.
At the U-turn at the northern most point of the Strand I saw Jeremy again, but this time I was a little closer to him. He shouted “You’re going to catch me!” and laughed. I definitely wasn’t expecting to be able to keep up with him on the run (Jeremy was injured and hasn’t been running with us much since we did our the Rock n Roll San Diego marathon back in June). Around this point I took my 3rd Gu and walked through the aid station to drink water to get it down.
After climbing the hill to the pier again and heading back down to the Strand again, I saw my family for the last time. After heading back up the hill onto Pacific again, I started telling myself that I didn’t have many hills left to go. In addition to the short steep hills, the long strip down Pacific also had several rolling hills. As soon as I hit mile 9 I started to feel fatigued. My Garmin was telling me my average overall pace was still around 8:45 min/miles and I didn’t wan to let it go any lower. I reminded myself that I was feeling great overall and that I didn’t have much left to go. I told myself that as soon as I got to the U-turn at the end of this section I would pick up the pace and head for the finish. On my way down Pacific I found myself looking forward to seeing the woman with the Ironman visor again. Before I saw her, I saw Mike who was on his way to the finish line. I was so proud of him! He was about 35 minutes ahead of me and his wave started about 15 minutes after me so I knew he was close to his goal of sub 5 hours.
Soon after Mike I saw Stephen, then at the turn-around I saw Jeremy again and I cheered him on, saying “We’re almost done!” I took my final Gu, which I really didn’t feel like taking, and walked the aid station, telling myself that now was the time to pick up the pace. However, my body wasn’t feeling it and I decided to just coast it out at my current pace instead. It was already hard to maintain the 8:45 I had been doing, so I figured better just to hang on than to push it. On my final stretch I wasn’t as excited to smile at the woman with the no underwear sign – instead I was focused on the finish line. I was tired from a long day but overall really happy that the exhaustion hadn’t hit me until so late in the race. I saw Asia just before I turned onto the Strand and I waved to her and made a face like I was tired. I definitely was ready to stop running!
Running down that final ramp to the Strand felt amazing! I knew I was in the home stretch. I had no idea what my overall time was but I knew I felt great and that it was better than my expectation. I wasn’t sure if I would beat my semi-secret goal of sub 6 hours (in my pre-race strategy blog I said I expected to finish between 6-6:30 mostly because I had no idea what to expect!). At this point, I thought I would do it. Then this overweight downer of a guy ran next to me and said “this course is really long” and I said “yeah it’s really hilly” and he said, “No, I mean my Garmin says we’re been running 13.6 miles already!” Since my Garmin wasn’t accurate due to having to restart it, I got discouraged when he said this. What if I’m running a 8:45 pace but it doesn’t matter since I’m actually running an extra half mile!? Then I thought to myself, you know what, screw this guy!!! I’m having a great day and he can’t ruin my day with his Debbie Downer comment.
So, I picked up the pace and passed him. I passed the final aid station and blew right through the turn for those that needed to complete another loop. I was in the home stretch. I could see the finish line. I wasn’t sprinting, more like cruising, but feeling good. The finish line chute was amazing – the crowd was going wild for the finishers. I had a huge smile on my face as I ran down it. Remembering things I had read about trying to cross the finish line on your own for photo purposes, I was purposely trying to find a hole in the group for me to finish by myself. Then, a guy sprinted past me and a bystander said, “don’t let him beat you! You can catch him!!” and that was it – the competitive “Beast” in me came out and I just sprinted as hard as I could to the finish line, finishing with two other people instead of on my own. I didn’t even care – it felt amazing. I heard Mike Reilly announce the other two finishers first then I heard my name come over the speaker. All I could think was that I can’t wait for him to say “Nicole Woyski, You Are an Ironman” on June 24.
Run Time: 1:54: 16 – 8:44 min/miles – 21/52 in age group, 825/2,235 overall
I’ve never been so proud to finish as a race as I was this one. To non triathletes or runners, it might sound weird to say this, but the Oceanside 70.3 was one of the most fun days of my life. It was my favorite race I’ve ever completed and I loved every moment. I loved adrenaline of the swim start, I loved the way my lungs burned and my legs screamed as I huffed up the huge hill on the course side by side with my fellow athletes, I loved running along the beach, dancing to the YMCA, and being cheered on by my friends and family.Best. Day. Ever.
And, for an added bonus, I did achieve my goal of a sub 6 hour race. Although compared to the superstars in my age group, it barely put me in the top 50%, but I was damn proud of that time! I accomplished something that I never even imagined was possible for myself and I felt amazing the entire time.
Official Time: 5:57:56 – 26/52 in age group, 1069/2,235 overall
What is your favorite race you’ve ever completed? What made it so special?