Ironman Santa Rosa 2018 recap

I signed up for IMSR 2018 after receiving an assurance from the wife that she'd be able to go there with me. Of course, then the circumstances changed and it became a solo trip. I had a place to stay in Santa Rosa with my friends Cynthia and Shawn, so I was all set.

The training spanned January through early May with a break for Oceanside 70.3 and a business trip that followed it. I changed up a couple of things this time around. I put a heavy emphasis on structured training 2x a week via Zwift's 12 week FTP builder program. I also bought a Vasa ERG system on the cheap over the winter break and started utilizing it for 3 sessions a week + 1 longer session in the pool. I really felt strong in the pool towards the beginning on May - I was able to do 10x100 yards at 1:30 and so on. The bike did not progress as well as hoped - I felt that I just did not push it hard enough. Still with a few peak weeks at 15 hours plus I was hopeful that this might get me closer to KQ.


I had to travel for work right after Oceanside, and so I trained very little that week. I got back into town, put a few 15 hour weeks, and after predictably got a head cold. I could not shake it off, so the week before the race was my downtime, save for a few minor workouts. As of Wednesday, my snottiness started to go away, but I still felt that my airwaves were not 100% clear even the morning of the race.

Got into town on Thursday afternoon. Stopped by the race venue, got my athlete bag and headed over to my friend's house. Got some "athlete's" food en-route - bread, peanut butter, bananas, cheese, turkey, mini-starbucks espresso cans, Gatorade, etc. Got my race bags sorted out, hung out with the hosts, went to bed early, slept some solid 9 hours...

Woke up and did my usual pre-check routine. Went for a short ride around Fulton Rd... not without some wild stuff happening. I picked Wood Rd as a rougher part of the course, and coming out of it - hit a gravel patch and almost skidded into the busy traffic on Fulton. Got home safe, but the wind and the roughness of the road was no joke. Made me worried enough about Saturday. The run was fine although it was getting pretty warm by the time I got back.

The nutrition plan for the bike was 2x bottles each with 3x servings of Infinit custom mix with 276 kcals per servings, 4x Clif shot gels on the frame, water at the aid stations, and a frozen mini-Coke can in the special needs bag. The run as always was going to Cola + water taken as needed. The rest of the day was spent shuttling the bike, dropping the run gear, hydrating, sweating the windy sunset... went to bed at 9:30pm, slept again like a baby.

Race day

Got up at 2:45am, had 2 slices of bread with peanut butter and syrup, a banana and a real cup of Cuban coffee (major crack if you ask me!). Grabbed my frozen drinks and headed out. Parked by 4am at the Macy's parking lot, and was on the shuttle by 4:10am.

I was at the T1 by 5am. It was still dark, but there was plenty of lights. Set up my bottles and my gels on the bike frame, proceeded to pump the tires... the rear tube exploded when I pushed the pump head down on it too hard. Replaced it with a spare latex tube I had with me, and was all set.

Headed down to the swim start at 6:15am and was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to make my way to the right self seeding corral - unlike the last year's 70.3 where I was stuck with no hope of moving up. I lined up in the middle of the 1:10 swim group and waited for the start. Had another Clif shot gel with caffeine, sipped some Gatorade, onward into the battle!  The volunteers were letting 5 folks into the water at a time, so it took about 12 mins for me to start swimming.


The course consisted of 2 laps, with an exit and re-entry at the end of the 1st lap. Seemed like each lap was exactly the same as the the lap of the 70.3 last year. The water was quite warm this time around - to the point where I thought that I could have swam in a sleeveless suit.The first lap was totally unremarkable, although with lots of contact for some reason around the turn markers - the sighting was easy with the exception of the first few hundred yards that were directly into the sun. I was riding the feet the entire way so the effort was pretty minimal. We got back into the water and I continued to draft about half way into the 2nd lap until someone whacked me on the left foot and somehow dislodged the timing chip. I could feel the velcro strap dangling, so I had to stop, roll up the ankle sleeve, close the velcro the best I could in the water (it is awkward!) and continue the swim. It was a bit harder without anyone to draft off of and I had to do my own sighting. Came out of the water a bit winded probably due to the water being warm - swim time 01:20:02. GPX here.


The organizers have laid a long rubberized carpet up the ramp this time around, so I ran up the hill with no problem - although it was as steep as it was last year. Took the wetsuit down to the waist and had the strippers pull it off under the bridge. The velcro strap was loose still, so I retightened it and proceeded to the changing tent. A quick change - helmet on, throwaway socks on, shoes on, wetsuit and goggles into the bag... I had a disposable riding vest I brought with me just in case it was going to be cold - I put it on initially but dropped it before the exit from T1 - it was already WARM. T1 time was 07:19


The course started with a fairly long descent into the Dry Creek area and generally followed the 70.3 course from last year for a while. Then it switched to the old Vineman course which took us to the Chalk Hill area. The road quality was ranging from ok to poor. The 128 stretch was very jarring, and the supposedly resurfaced Chalk Hill part had some truly dangerous potholes in the shaded areas. The first climb went ok, although the road was partially blocked by a truck that somehow got stuck there at the most inopportune time. I had to descend carefully with all the holes in the road surface. It just got worse after we passed Shiloh Road - the Mark West Station area was unbelievably bad and there I had the bottle holding my spare kit pop out. Luckily the rubber band area held up and only had to fish it out from the ditch. Later I have discovered that the plastic part of the bottle cage that holds the bottle secure came loose and got lost somewhere along the way. About 5 miles down the road on Eastside or Wohler I ran across the section that had a huge lip in it - which forced me into the opposite lane... had to do some Sagan level shit to avoid getting hit by an oncoming car.

Then it got hot and dry all a sudden and it was 10 miles to go to the next aid station... and I was running out of water. The stretch of Westside road had all the rollers in the world and I was just getting hotter and hotter... and so I think that that's where I cracked. Really made me regret using Giro Aerohead on that day - it is a hot helmet in conditions like this. I made it to the aid station on Kinley but I think that the race was over by then. It was the mile 56 or so and all I wanted and I dreamt of was the frozen Coke in my special needs bag. I made it there after climbing what would have been normally a piss ant sized hill... took in half of he can contents and suddenly my nose and my throat and my eyes were on fire and just blowing snot. Crazy stuff. The 2nd pass over the 128 was painful and I stopped looking at the power readings - in my mind I was no longer racing, I just wanted to get home. I made it over Chalk Hill again, it was a relief to climb out of the saddle for a bit, I knew it was going to make my run slower, but I could not care less at that point. I passed the lap marker on Shiloh and we turned towards Santa Rosa... and the wind suddenly picked up. I was getting blown all over the road, Laughlin Road which I have ridden a bunch in the past was suddenly this obstacle course of the blown up riders, Woolsey Road was even worse - I saw riders swerving all over the road... and the road quality was just abysmal in some spots.

Eventually I made it back into town, with the last 10 miles being a total blur. I was focused enough to get my feet out of the shoes before the finish line and do a decent sprint along the bike racks. Bike time was 6:01:08. GPX here.


I got to the changing tent, all I had to do was get the helmet off, drop the bike socks and put the running socks/shoes on.  For a minute, I sat there thinking - what's the point? I am not racing anymore, why suffer? Then I talked myself into running 1 lap, to see how it feels... maybe the inspiration will come. I put on my running belt and a hat and headed out.  The T2 time was 04:50


Basically - jogged the whole thing. Stopped by the porta potties twice. Walked most of the water stations after mile 14. Had Cola and water judiciously, even sampled the red Bull (yikes) every  now and then. My friend Cynthia saw me at mile 17, I hugged her and her kid, she told me to to push through this, that gave me a good moral boost, so I snapped out of it and did not just walk the last 5 miles.Ran the final 2 miles fairly hard to wrap this up - run time 3:52:23, for the total time of 11:25:42.  As an aside, the course looked a little short, perhaps about 0.5 miles off.  GPX here.

Post race

Got my medal, my hat, a space blanket... tried eating some grub but had no appetite whatsoever. Not
even for free beer or spicy Spanish food. Just nothing, total self negation, everything running on empty,
maybe that's just the way it was meant to be - the cleansing of the soul, of the mind.

Collected my gear, walked to the car, loaded everything in, the brain was not working, to the point of
not knowing how to pay for parking. Drove back to my hosts' place, showered, was treated to sushi,
beer and a fantastic conversation on the future of the human race... somewhere along the way I crashed
and did not wake up til the mid morning the next day. Still, dreams crushed once again. Til the
next time - of course.

Oceanside 70.3 2018 recap

I started structured training again during the first week of January of 2018. For this year, I wanted to focus on improving my swim as much as possible and raising my bike FTP to be as close to 4w/kg as possible. For the swim portion, I found a used Vasa ERG on Craigslist and bought it for cheap, despite the grumbling of my dear wife. For the bike, I have decided to commit to Zwift’s 12 week FTP booster program and do at least 3 exercises weekly, coupled with a long ride at the end of the week. Running was to be capped at no more than 35 miles per week to make room for Vasa training and more stationary trainer work.

The Vasa stuff was a real struggle in the beginning. I simply did not have the right muscles to pull off 30-35 min intervals workouts when I started. It was genuinely hard. But once I got going, I started to appreciate the focus that it gives you and the incredible time savings that it provides. The Zwift training was much easier to get going with but eventually it got hard enough that I could do maybe 2 hard workouts per week – which meant that I had to supplement it with maybe 1 easy 1-hour spin and a long ride over the weekend.

In any case, once I started my fitness testing in the pool, I really liked the results. The improvement in swim times was noticeable. On the Zwift front, I also bested every single PR from the last 2 years, not by much – but by 3-4% easily across the board. The FTP test done in the beginning of the month did not show the improvement I was hoping for but I did hit 274w which was still a reasonable progress.

So with that in mind my goals for the race were to swim a 35-36 min pace, ride in 2:40 or so and then hold on for the dear life on the run, hoping for a sub 1:30 showing. That’d give me a sub 5 hour result that I was after, assuming that I’d not commit a horrible blunder in transitions. One thing that worried me greatly was the lack of familiarity with the bike course – the map showed a very varied rolling terrain with a couple of massive hills, and some exposure to head winds in the last 10-12 miles.  I spent a bit of time wondering if I should bring a cassette with a less tight of a range than my usual 11-25. At the end I decided to stick with what I knew.

I drove to Oceanside from Los Angeles on Friday morning. Got there at around 1pm, found a good parking spot near the beach and went to pick up my registration packet. After some confusion, got my parking permit for the race day, grabbed my swag and went back to the car. Put the stickers on the bike and the helmet, and pedaled about 0.8 miles to the transition area. Everything seemed to be working good. Checked the bike in with the handlebars covered by a plastic bag in case it rained… and walked to the water. The water was definitely a bit on the colder side, but like daggers cold.  The little kids on the beach were swimming in the surf, so it was probably not bad at all. I really regretted not brining the wetsuit to the beach with me – a short swim past the breakers would have been awesome. Oh well. Walked back to the car, and headed to the hotel in Carlsbad.

The traffic was just terrible! This was as vicious as any day time 5pm traffic on the 405. Took me 47 minutes to go 11 miles… craziness. Checked in the Hamptons, had to change rooms after realizing that the hotel staff put me into the room next to the ice machine and with a pool facing side wall. Prepped the clothes for the morning, watched TV, ate my rice and tuna dinner

and attempted sleeping at 9pm. Had trouble falling asleep, but eventually I dozed off only to be rudely awakened by the alarm clock at 3:30am. Ate a Clif bar, a banana, about 2 handfuls of mixed raw cashews and almonds and a small can of Starbucks double espresso shot. That felt good, although I was not 100% awake. Hit the can, lubed up, put on my bike clothes and headed out.

I debated back and forth the time I needed to be parked by… but having been unfamiliar with the parking situation I opted for caution and got there by 5am. Got on the shuttle almost immediately although I could have just walked that 0.6 miles. Was at the T1 by 5:15am. It was dark but fairly warm. The transition was starting to fill up slowly… that pre-race nervous energy was very evident. That’s the time to feel alive! Pumped the tires to about 90 psi, had another Clif bar, more lube and sunscreen, put on my wetsuit, dropped off the morning clothes bag, went for a warm up jog… by the time I got done it was 6:20pm and I had to push my way to the 35 min swim group.  It was packed!  By the time I got there the pros had already gone off and the age groupers in the faster groups have started swimming as well.

Had a final caffeine packed GU gel and was in the water by 7:10am. The swim was a little congested in the beginning, lots of contact, but it was pretty orderly all thing considered. I got out of the harbor quite fast and the sun was just blasting me into my eyes…. There were so many people swimming in that confined space that I had no use for sighting at all – the feet to follow were everywhere. I got to the turn around and felt so fresh that I actually did not start kicking until around the 0.6 mile marker. The swim was basically into the sun, so breathing was to the right only which was fine – once inside the harbor I wanted to swim as far to the right as the life guards would allow me. It was actually great – zero contact, and super easy to sight off of. Soon enough the finish chute appeared, and I swam up to the timing mat! The watch was showing about 36:30 which was ok by me. I got out of the water and started running into T1. The heart rate was totally manageable.

I pulled my wetsuit down to my waist, but then I saw the strippers! Boom – my wetsuit got pulled off and I was on my way to my bike! Fantastic! Everything was going awesome – found my bike, put on my helmet, socks and shoes and started running towards the starting line. Then I have heard the announcer stating that the bib number has to be on to ride through Camp Pendleton as I was half way out…. I had to leave my bike with a volunteer in the transition, run back to my spot… for some reason finding my way back was very confusing – it took me at least a minute to find my spot, get my racing belt… another 30 seconds to put it on, make sure it is not twisted, find my bike… 2 minutes lost there. I was kicking myself for not paying attention to the athlete guide. Dumb move, Shterenberg!

Started riding and was feeling good again. The nutrition consisted primarily of 3 servings of Infinit custom mix, and I had 2 Clif shot gels taped to the frame just to break things up a bit. I’d take a big swig from the bottle every 15 minutes and chase it with water 2x in between intakes of Infinit. The riding space was tight, people were forced to ride 3-4 wide, saw a crash maybe a mile or so out with a girl on the ground. The road surface quality was rough. I thought that maybe the right pressure should have been 85 psi or so. In any case, the first 20 miles or so were pretty great – riding along the coast, seeing the nuclear power plant up close, cool breezes making the riding so effortless. Once we turned east towards the inland portion of Camp Pendleton, the weather started to change. It was a lot more arid, the wind got warm, the desert scenery had a lot less green to it. And then I saw the infamous San Mateo hill.

It was a really imposing climb as the grade was steep - I had to mash most of the way up. Saw some dude walk his bike up that hill. It was thankfully pretty short but it definitely took a good size bite out of me. The ride down was pretty short, and soon enough we started to climb what looked like a long false flat with periodic rollers.  I was not having a great ride by that time – I was climbing out of the saddle on the short rollers, had a close call with some guy trying to pass me on the right… we climbed the second big hill, which was actually not big at all and then the descent started in earnest. We went through the speed control section which was not well marked at all – I was lucky that the girl in front of me was riding her brakes pretty hard and just followed her lead. We climbed one more hill which was a bit longer but not as steep as the second hill, and then with about 14 miles to go it was time to ride the flats.

I really had trouble putting out much power until we got out of the open space and got to something that looked like civilian housing. The rest of the ride was pretty unremarkable, but generally I felt kind of blown up. I was still racing, but it was clear to me that the sub 5 hour goal was no longer possible. I finished the ride as quickly as I could – perhaps lost 10-15 seconds once we got to the beach when I was riding with my feet on top of my shoes – I did not realize that the single file section at the end was THAT long. Got off the bike, dropped my socks somewhere while I was running back to my spot, changed into the clean socks, my Claytons and my hat and was off to the run course.

The running pace was pretty good out of the gate and I was passing people left and right. The course had some steep on and off ramps right around the pier area, and some rollers off the strand. The pier inclines were almost too steep to run so I half walked them. I was maintaining a very good 6:40-ish pace through mile 5 when we turned around and the wheels started to come off a bit. I was still running pretty good, all the way to the 2nd turnaround. I’d take a Coke and some water every station and dump some water on my head as it was getting a little hot. I was feeling a little bloated but not too bad.. once I started the 2nd lap I knew that I am going to run strong the rest of the way, but I was feeling a bit more worked than I had hoped. Started sampling Red Bull at around mile 11, it was pretty tasty but was really jacking me up in a bad way. Many thanks to the dude who was blasting AC/DC from a loud speaker on the way back – it was like an anthem… pushed me through the last mile or so. I kicked a bit harder in the last 0.5 miles on the Strand, brought it home but was feeling flat. I was just spent.

Had a one and half mini-burrito with some cheese cubes, a banana and a Pepsi for my post race meal, chatted with a couple people next to me, grabbed my clothes, changed… caught a shuttle back to the transition, grabbed my bike and headed to the car. That ride was too pathetic to capture in my Garmin. Got to the car, packed everything and headed home…. The 2.5 hour drive home was perhaps the last obstacle that the race threw at me. The traffic was just gnarly and relentless.

What are my take from this race? The swim went just as planned, the bike was a shitshow, and the run was good, but probably could have been faster had I not burnt all those matches on the bike. I am going to take a week off to recover and then will have 4 weeks til my date with the Ironman Santa Rosa in May… some introspection and perhaps some rejiggering of the crankset and/or the cassette might be in order. Stay tuned.

The splits are here - swim, bike and run.