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.

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