Be sure to check out my Oceanside 70.3 Preview Talk at Nytr! If you missed the event, click here for the audio file of the talk and the powerpoint, available for download, and the file will be emailed to you.
2010 Ironman 70.3 California, Oceanside Race Preview and Guide
By Jim Vance
Hard to believe, but the 2010 season is about to start! The California Ironman 70.3 race is about to kick off the North American events, on Saturday, March 27th, 2010 in Oceanside, California. If you have done this event before, I’m sure you’re excited to get back to it again! If this will be your first time, get ready for a fun event with plenty of challenges, but great support from the United States Marine Corps, local residents and triathlon fanatics. It would be rude not to mention the beautiful scenery of the Pacific Ocean and small, but equally beautiful mountains on the Camp Pendleton Marine Core Base.
In order to maximize the experience for you, and especially your performance, there is some critical information you should know before you toe the line. This article is meant to be a tool to prevent any surprises for you on race day, which can easily be avoided. I am confident if you follow these guidelines and keep the following information in mind, you will have a solid race performance.
Let’s start with the basics and go over the distances. Ironman 70.3 consists of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run, totaling 70.3 miles. Sounds fairly simple, but even if you’ve done a 70.3 race in the past, each race presents its own logistical challenges and physical demands, unlike other similar events. These differences and challenges are important to recognize and prepare for, perhaps just as much as training for months is important to prepare you.
Athlete guide is available for download at the following link:
ARRIVAL TO THE RACE
When you arrive in Oceanside, make sure to get there early. It is always better to have more time than you need, than need more time than you have. Don’t create stress when you can easily avoid it by getting up early and getting to the event with plenty of time. You should be there at least 90 minutes before your wave starts! This may sound like a long time, but with so many people, smaller tasks will take longer. This includes longer lines at restrooms, traffic, body-marking and setting up your transition spot. Chances are you will also see some friends and get talking with them, only to realize time has flown by and your race is about to start. Also, the later you get there, the tougher it will probably be to find a transition spot you are comfortable with. A general rule to follow is to figure out what time you need to be there, and how long you think it will take to be there at that time, and add 45 minutes. This will ensure you have enough time, and not be stressed trying to get to the start.
The transition area opens at 4:45 AM, with the first wave of male pro’s typically going off at 6:40 AM.
From the I-5, you should take the Mission Ave exit, and head toward the ocean. You will see people directing traffic for parking. Since you don’t check your bike in the day before, you will have it that morning. Hop on your bike with all your things in your back-pack and get riding to the transition area. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR HELMET ON! If an official sees you riding to the start without a helmet THEY CAN DISQUALIFY YOU BEFORE THE START! That would suck, to say the least. So put that helmet on anytime you are on your bike.
A question many people have is how much of a warm-up should be completed before starting the race. A great guideline is to never start a race without a sweat going, (full-Ironman events possibly excluded.) Remember the swim is only 1.2 miles, which is not much longer than an Olympic distance swim. If you normally warm-up for the swim in an Olympic distance tri, you should warm-up for this event.
How should you warm-up? If you’re the type who always likes to get in the water and splash around, you’re in for a surprise at Oceanside, because you are not allowed to get into the water until just before the start of your race. You won’t even get to touch the water with your toes until about three to seven minutes before your wave starts! You can’t even get in the water the days before the swim, because of boat traffic in the Oceanside Harbor. So if you are a person who always relies on a nice swim to warm-up, you need to be flexible and come up with a “Plan B”.
A simple jog on the course is a lot easier, and recommended. The event can be crowded with people, making a bike warm-up not only difficult, but dangerous. Plus if you take your bike out you may come back to find there is less space in your transition spot than before.
You do not need to jog far, just enough to get a sweat going and feel warmed-up. Hold back and save the intensity for the long race ahead.
After your run, get your wetsuit on and continue your warm-up by simply staying in motion. Swinging your arms, practicing your stroke in the air, and simply running in place are great ways to make sure your body is ready for the swim ahead. They will have all the athletes corralled in an area near the start and you can expect to stand there for at least 20 to 30 minutes, maybe longer.
Here’s a video from YouTube which clearly shows the transition area, the athletes waiting to enter the water, and T1 traffic flow, and more…
By the time they tell you to step into the water, it will only be moments until your wave will start. You will need to get your face and body accustomed to the temperature of the water in order to avoid hyperventilation. Stick your head in the water, blowing air out, lifting up to get another breath, and repeat. Once you feel like you’ve acclimated to the water temp it will not be long and the horn will sound. Make sure you are in a starting position which is relative to your swim ability. This means faster swimmers to the front, and from the left, (inside of the turns), to the middle. Slower swimmers should be more to the right to start.
If you are a slower swimmer, you need to be aware that there may be fast swimmers in the age group wave behind you. Don’t necessarily swim to the left, alongside the buoys, just because most of the people from your wave are in front of you.
If you are worried about the cold water temperatures and don't have a neoprene head cap, you can always put on a silicone swim cap UNDER the cap you must wear for the race. Silicone is great for keeping the heat in from the head, much better than latex swim caps.
THE SWIM – 1.2 MILES
Swim waves can be found at the following link:
Once the horn sounds you will swim straight and the course will veer left. All turns will be left, with the exception of the finish of the swim, where you will turn right and go up the boat ramp you came down at the beginning of the swim. Be sure to consult the map to understand the course fully.
The course is marked about every 100 meters, with signs. If you breathe on your left side, you will see the markings on the buoys as you swim. If you are strictly a right-side breather, it would be a good idea to try a lot of bilateral breathing patterns in the next few weeks to prepare yourself to see these markings. Knowing where you are in the swim is a great tool! You can pace yourself better, swim straighter, as well as use it to help recognize a turn coming soon.
If you are a right-side breather, then on the return trip of the loop, you will see all the fans standing alongside the shoreline cheering the swimmers. You may think the course is about to end, but it’s always further than you think it is! Check on your left side every now and then to see how much farther you have to go.
How fast should you go in a half-iron swim? Really, there is not much difference between an Olympic distance swim and a 70.3, only about 400 meters. Therefore, you probably should not feel any difference than the pace you swim in an Olympic distance swim. Don’t worry about burning out before the bike, the swim is really too short, and with a wetsuit in salt-water, it could very well be one of the best swims of your life. Also, the pace on the bike is slower than an Olympic distance ride, so you will be fine.
The first transition is a long run! There will be approximately 300 meters of total running, from the time you exit the water until you exit T1 with your bike. Be careful! It is not uncommon to slip while running on some of the pavement sections, especially the turns. If there is a carpet or turf to run on, that will be much more comfortable for your feet and safer than the pavement.
After exiting the water at the south end of the transition area, run all the way to the north entrance of the transition area. From there you will run to your transition spot, and then exit at the south end.
Before the race, make sure you use some sort of landmark to gauge where your transition rack and spot is. Don’t think when you come out of the water you’ll be able to count racks or read signs for the racks. Choose a landmark which is obvious and preferably not repeated. For example, there are two spots of port-o-johns in the transition area which are only in those two places, and different ends of the transition. In contrast, if you tried to use the white tents on the side, you might be thoroughly confused on where you’re going since the tents go on and on. The less thinking you have to do in the race, the better.
MAKE SURE YOU HAVE YOUR NUMBER ON! Once you exit T1, hop on your bike and get rolling!
Be very wary of the people around you as you start the bike. It can be very crowded and a wreck here can put an early and frustrating end to your day. If you are trying to start with your shoes already in the pedals, use the flat portion of the starting road to get some momentum and get out of traffic before trying to put your feet in the shoes. About 600 meters into the bike you will hit a short, but steep hill. Then it is fairly flat for the next 30 miles.
The biggest test of the bike is not the distance or nutrition, but rather your pacing skills. Because the first 30 miles are almost pancake-flat, you will be tempted to rip up the roads! Be careful, you must save something for the back 26 miles, which will be rolling hills, with three challenging climbs. You may feel fine at 30 miles, but when you see the first large, corkscrew looking climb, you will be questioning how you’re going to feel when you’re cresting its peak.
In order to prepare for this, it is a good idea to conduct a longer or more intense ride with flatter portions at the beginning, and hilly, challenging portions at the end. This will give you an idea of how sharp your pacing skills are. If you like to race with a heart rate monitor or power meter, it’s a good idea to use it to know how hard you can go and still have something left for the backside mountains.
On the bike, you will have your first aid station at about 13 to 14 miles. The second aid station is at about 26 to 27 miles, and the final aid station will be at about 45 miles. The aid stations will be serving water, a still to be determined sports drink, fruit, Powerbars and Powergels. The first two aid stations will happen on an incline, so speed will be controlled by gravity. The aid station workers are not allowed to cross the white line, so you will need to be close to it in order to receive any items.
When approaching an aid station, listen to the instructions they give. There is a bottle toss area first and they will tell you when and where you can get water, gels, etc. If you need to cool off, this is a good time to grab an extra water bottle and poor it on yourself.
At the third aid station you will need to slow down in order to retrieve any items, because the course is flat there, and it’s easy to be going too fast. If any bottles drop and roll onto the street, they can cause a cyclist behind you to crash. Make sure to slow enough to get the fuel you need here. The last 11 miles is flat, but there is normally a strong headwind, making it very challenging.
Later we will discuss nutrition strategies related to the bike and run.
Here’s a website link with the bike course entirely mapped out, from satellite viewpoint: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=39914
There is a downhill on the course which you need to be careful on when descending. Back in 2000, a rider was actually killed by riding at too high of a speed and losing control. This descent will be marked with warning signs and is a “Do Not Pass” zone. The speed limit on this hill is 25 mph. They will have officials checking, so just make sure you control your speed. A crash can ruin your whole day and possibly more than that.
When you roll into T2, you will go down to the north end of the transition area, just as you did with T1, where you will find the dismount line. You will then run south with your bike to your transition spot.
If you have committed some violations on the course, then you will need to serve your time in the penalty box. See the 70.3 Athlete’s Guide on the website for all the details on rules and how they are enforced. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO KNOW THE RULES!!!
Once you have put on your shoes and grabbed what you need, head out of T2 and get running.
You will be hard pressed to find a run course as flat as Oceanside. The course is almost pancake-flat for the first 2 miles of each 6 mile loop, running right along the sandy beaches. From there, it is rolling for the next two miles, but no dramatic changes in elevation.
You run out 3+ miles, and back 3+ miles, on each loop. You have the additional distance being the distance from T2 to the loop, and the loop to the finish line. Depending on the tides, there will be a small portion of sand on the run. Nothing crazy, maybe a 400 meter stretch is all.
You will have an aid station approximately every mile, with the first station coming right when the strand begins. This station is normally manned by the Triathlon Club of San Diego, a rather lively group. If you are wearing anything TCSD, you’ll be cheered on like a rock star! Also, if you have your number with your first name on it, you’ll get a lot of cheers from people calling your name. It may seem small and innate, but when you’re dead tired and motoring on, it’s a big help!
The aid stations will be serving fruit, water, a still to be determined sports drink, Powerbars, cola, and cold sponges for cooling off.
The key to this run is very simple, RHYTHM! If you can maintain rhythm by being relaxed, but quick, you will do very well on this run course. If you run with poor mechanics, with your head down and pounding your feet loudly on the pavement, it will be a long day for you out there.
When you’ve completed the two loops you will head into the finish line area and be greeted to stands full of cheering people. Cross the finish line and smile, strike a pose, whatever you want to remember this moment, because they will be taking a photo of you as you cross.
Here’s a video of the 2008 sprint finish between Andy Potts and Craig Alexander. You can also see the flow of traffic clearly between cyclists finishing, runners starting, and runners finishing...
Before discussing the post-race information, it’s important to cover the topic of race nutrition. This is always a complex topic which must take into account our individual differences in both taste and ability of our stomachs to handle what we give it.
As you probably know, most of the nutrition during a triathlon of this length takes place on the bike. Figure out approximately how long you will be on the bike, and how long out on the run course. Next, figure out how you will meet your caloric needs based on those estimations of time.
One choice some people opt for is gels during the bike. But why fumble with wrappers and worry about trash and litter? Though you can place a flask in your pocket, or on the bike, they are still small to handle and easy to drop. On the run is a better time to utilize gels and gel packets.
On the bike, most have the ability to hold 3 water bottles, 2 in the frame, and one aero-bottle in the front aerobars. In the aero-bottle it’s probably best to go with strictly water. In the other bottles, store your calories. If the calories spill out of the aero bottle, you’re in trouble.
You can pack one 24 ounce water bottle with the calories you need from your drink mix of choice, and then topped off with water and dissolved. It makes a giant gel-like substance, but easy with your one bottle, and requiring less water than a gel.
Obviously each sip taken from the calorie-packed bottle will need to be followed with a drink of plain water. This you get from the aero-bottle, or other bottle. When approaching an aid station, simply replace or refill the empty bottle.
If you use a clear 24 ounce bottle for calories, you can get visual feedback of how your nutrition intake is going. Since the course is marked in 5 mile increments, you can estimate, or use your odometer on a bike computer. When you hit 14 miles, or the marker for 15 miles, you should look down at the bottle and see that ¼ of it is empty. At 28 miles, or marker 30, half of the bottle is gone, and so on. This is excellent visual feedback, which is obvious and does not require any complex calculations to know if you’re doing things correctly. Positive feedback also boosts your confidence, since you know you are following the plan perfectly. If you are a little off, you can adjust to get back on track. Either way, you’re doing the things you need to do to have a great race.
If you can not store enough calories in one bottle, then you need to come up with some other sources at the aid stations, in order to get what you need. However, this should be minimal and fairly easy. It is good to know what the aid stations have as a contingency plan, should something go awry with your original plan, such as a dropped bottle, spilt contents, upset stomach, etc.
On the run, figure out your plan as well. Taking in a gel at every aid station would NOT be a wise decision. To take a gel at every aid station would give you 1200 calories! OUCH! That’s way too many. Don’t forget that Gatorade has calories in it too, about 50 per 8 ounce cup you consume. (NOTE: The sports drink for the race is still to be determined, so please check and do research prior to the race for caloric count).
Too many calories has negative effects, as your body must send water to the stomach and intestines to break down and attempt to absorb the calories you have consumed. This means pulling water away from the muscles, which need it badly. This is also why liquid calories are great, as they are already partially broken down and easier for the body to absorb. This is why you need to be sure and follow any caloric intake with water, in order to aid the breakdown and absorption process without disturbing the water needed in the muscles.
Whatever you do, DO NOT make race day your first time testing your nutrition plan! PLEASE! Save yourself some hard lessons, (and expensive lessons given the cost of race entry), and learn this stuff in your training. There is still plenty of time to do workouts to see what you can do to tweak the plan. This includes cola on the run. If you’ve never run with flat cola in your stomach, I would not advise doing it on race day for the first time, even though it will be offered.
The nutrition aspect of the race can seem mysterious and a lot to think about, but if you follow this advice, you’ll be able to solve the mystery and make it much easier, not even having to think about it. Less thinking about the peripheral means more focus on going hard and fast!
When you cross the finish line you will receive your well-deserved finisher’s medal and t-shirt. After receiving these, head over to the white tent. There will be the medical facilities to get treatment for anything you may need, (blisters, etc.) Just past the medical area is the massage therapy area. Get your name on the list for massage, but get in a short cool-down of some sort, such as walking or jogging easy for 10 to 15 minutes, before getting on the massage table.
Once you are feeling better, from the medical help or massage, head down further in the white tents and get yourself some food. They will be serving food from 11 AM to 4 PM. They normally serve pizza, salad, drinks and other goodies.
Later in the day, around 4 PM, the same area for eating in the white tents becomes the awards area. If you finish in the top 10 in your age group, stick around for awards because you get one. If you are anywhere in the top 5, make sure you show up if you want to do Kona. The single spot for an age group has gotten passed down to 5th place before!
If you want to check for results, they tend to be posted in two areas. One is just behind the finish line, on the side of the white tent. The other place is where the awards will be, further down the white tents.
If you are interested in doing a full US Ironman event, stick around for awards even if you didn’t get one! They will offer a certain number of slots at full Ironman events which are already sold out. If there are more people wanting the slots than they have, they hand out the slots according to how well you did in the race, by placement in your age group. If there are more slots available than people wanting them, you can get it by simply being there.
If you want to qualify for the 70.3 World Championships in November, you should also attend the awards. Have your checkbook ready because you must prepay for these events at the awards ceremony. There are no IOU’s with Ironman.
After noon, you will be able to go into the transition area and gather your things. Make sure you still have your wristband and number, because security will not allow you to remove your bike without it.
Finally, if you get a chance, take the time to thank the volunteers. They give up almost an entire day to come out and support you in your endeavors, with the fulfillment of the experience as their only compensation. Quite a gesture on their part.
Best of luck, and remember to be safe and enjoy the day.