Orangeman 71.4 - Race Recap

Finished! Orangeman 71.3
I'm still patching together the events of Sunday's epic (and brutal) race at the Orangeman half distance triathlon. The race was supposed to be a half-Iron distance of 1.2mi swim, 56mi bike and 13.1mi run. It ended up having a mile added to the run that was already an ass-kicker. First I'd like to say how completely outstanding the race itself was. The organization was top notch, the pre-race talk was informative, safety was made a priority, there were TONS of staff, volunteers and support, the aid stations were plentiful and well stocked, and  the whole race went on beautifully. I heard a few doubts about the race initially, as people weren't sure if they'd get the permit to shut down Ortega Highway or if it would be well-organized as a first year tri, and I can say that this race gets an A+! If you missed it this year, make it next year and sign up early as it will sell out! Be informed, however, that a lot of people said this race was harder than any other half-ironman (including Wildflower and Silverman) and harder than some full Ironmans.

I felt really anxious leading up to the race. I know 70.3 is pushing my distance, but I put in my training and felt eager to just get the thing started. We had a productive pre-race day and got everything sorted, ate and got to bed at a decent hour. Having a smooth pre-race day is so key to getting off on the right foot race day. We used my slightly anal-retentive checklist and it helped us get packed in no time. Call me crazy, but it works!!

We woke up at 3:30am, ate, had some tea and were out of the house by 4:30ish. We arrived at the race with plenty of time to set up and get ready. The transition area was really nice. Lots of bathrooms, changing tents, floodlights and staff. Adam and I headed down to the water and got a nice warm up swim in. The water felt pretty warm and the crowd excitement was high!

Swim (1.2miles / 41:20):
Salt creek is a major surf spot and has a nasty shorebreak than can whip up a 5' wave and pound you into 1' of water. Fortunately, we were graced with relatively spread apart sets of smallish waves, so entry was not a big problem. What was a problem was the order of the swim waves. I don't know why race directors put women in front of men. It's not safe, it slows the men down, and it causes chaos in the water. The first group was relay, aquabike, open water swimmers, and clydesdales. The second group was all 144 women. Then 2 groups of men came after us separated by 3 minutes. Then the "newer swimmer" wave 3 minutes behind them. Now, I know a lot of people are talking about the women going first to clear the swim course and get on the bike course faster, but...the newest/slowest swimmers were all the way in the last wave. So, why couldn't the women go after the men? I'm a pretty decent swimmer, but I know Adam got hung up (and lost time) swimming behind and gently in between slower women. Swimming "around" wasn't possible with the utter chaos of 800 swimmers in the water at once and with the major chop/lack of buoys to sight. Either mass start or women behind men is my vote.

My swim itself went okay. I can swim a LOT faster than the 41 minutes I clocked in at but I was using the swim as a warm up and was saving my energy for later. The first buoy was easy to spot, came around it no problem after picking through a number of girls in my wave. The second buoy... what second buoy? All I could see were legs, arms, splashes, sea, sky and somewhere ahead a beacon on a lifeguard boat. I decided to follow the motion of the herd and trust that we would find a second buoy somewhere ahead. I fell into a decent rhythm and decided that was as good as it was going to get since I had to keep checking where the heck I was going. We usually swim open water and sight landmarks, but the way the boat/2nd buoy was aligned, there was nothing behind it but sky. The water was super choppy and there was a definite current that was pulling you off course. I came up through the 1st wave in front as the red cap guys began to infiltrate our wave and even a few yellow caps (super speedy guys!). Most of the guys were as polite as possible coming through us, although I did have to give a swift elbow to one jerk.

I came out of the water feeling happy, warmed up for the bike and like I put in a good effort.

T1 (4:31 with run):
I am a total space-case when I come out of the ocean. There is no speedy T1 for me. We headed out of the water up the beach and up the first of many, many, many hills for the day. Compared to the hill that comes out of Pacific Coast Tri, this was a wee bump. My friend Thierry was cheering me on and yelling at me to pick up the pace :) Crazy Frenchman! I kept fumbling with my gloves, but I didn't want to descend Ortega without them. No big deal, ran out of T1 and onto the bike.

Bike (56 miles / 3:27:42):
I was SO stoked to do this ride! For those of you not in Orange County, Ortega Highway is notorious for being one of the most scenic and dangerous highway roads and it is one of two links between Orange County and Riverside County via the San Bernadino National Forest. It's winding, climbing and is an absolutely NO bicycling zone. Except for one day....they pulled off the incredible feat of shutting it down to cars for the race! The course snaked through some parks and residential areas and onto the bike path. Any rough transitions between paths were smoothed out with one of Bill Davis's bright orange metal ramps. It made me smile each time I saw one and I thanked him silently. We finally made it into the beginning of Ortega and I could hear Adam in my head reminding me not to "drop the hammer" too early on the ride. I love hammering out a hard ride, but I knew my legs would be toast if I did. I kept a steady pace and was pleased to be cruising at 18-19 mph with little effort. I passed a lot of guys and leapfrogged with a number of people. Bill and Brian passed me and said hello and later Julia came up alongside me and pedaled ahead. I felt fantastic! My Speedfil hydration system was perfect and I was pleased that my Gu Flasks full of e-Gel worked great. So much easier than screwing around with opening packets of gel.
Bike Course Elevation Map - about 3800' total elevation gain [from my Garmin 310xt file]
The aid stations on the bike were stellar. The volunteers clearly called out what they had and the hand-offs were smooth. I refilled my water just in case at the 1st aid station, and then again at the top. It was awesome to see so many friends heading up and heading down. I saw Adam on his way through an aid station and was so excited since he was practically right behind our speed demon coach-to-be Joby. The final 10mile push to the top of Ortega was great! Challenging, but not too hard, with a nice shaded uphill into the turn around. Downhill was fantastic. The turns on Ortega are wide and sweeping, so you can descend relatively fearlessly unlike GMR which has tight, blind white-knuckle turns. In hindsight, looking at my top speed, I'm not sure why I didn't descend faster, but I think I was pretty happy just keeping my pace even. In the last third of the ride, I started to get hungry and a little distracted. I was really excited to come up on Tammy Lynn, since she's such a strong rider. I thought, "I must really be hauling ass if I've caught up to her!" Unfortunately for both of us, she wasn't feeling so hot, and I wasn't going that fast. It was good, however, to touch base with her and I knew that no matter how rough she was feeling, she's one of the toughest chicks I know and she'd pull through. 

T1 (2:18):
I came off the bike feeling like a champ and eager to start the run. I felt like the race was in the bag at this point and since my long runs had been quite successful, I had no doubts that I'd wrap the race up in great time. I was hungry, so I took some extra time to grab an oat bar I brought just in case and a bottle of water. The aid stations were so good on the bike that I banked on them being good for the run, but wanted water just in case.

Run (14.2mi / 3:05:44 - ouch):
Running off the bike is usually pretty easy for me, I tend to go too fast so I made an effort to slow down and stretch out my back and legs with an easy pace. I headed up the first of many hills and felt more exhausted than I wanted to. Tammy Lynn came up behind me and I was happy to see her pushing on. She tried to motivate me forward and I dug down inside myself and ... well... I hit the bottom. No reserve well of energy. Crap. I figured on the lap back in I'd gain some ground. I was wrong.
Run Elevation profile - about 3200'  elevation gain [from my garmin 310xt file]
Right off the bat, the tendon between my ball and heel of my left foot started to ache. I've been injury free all season, so this was a bit startling. I'm not sure if it was cramping or what was going on, as it hasn't hurt since the race. The pain was enough to get me to stop and stretch my foot out for bits at a time. As I headed back down the first loop, I was greeted by intense pain from grinding down steep hill after steep hill. I realized as each mile my pace slowed that the fun part of my race was over.

I made an effort to pick up my spirits, my pace and my smile as every half mile or so, I'd see someone I knew heading my way. I felt better as Keith ran by and let me know that this race was harder than any of the other half-Ironmans he's done. There's a line between when you're able to push past the pain and when you're hurt. I realized there wasn't anything I could do about being hurt, but that I could finish with grace and a good attitude. Heading out on the second lap was a hard thing to do. I knew it wouldn't be pretty, but there's only one way home and that's through the finish chute! Finally, I made it back towards the beach, on the dirt path and up the brutal steep hill that lead to the finish chute. I saw Thierry, then saw a smiling bunch of Team FC folks, friends and Adam! I gave it my all as I ran down the finish chute and was greeted by more Team FC ladies who presented me with my medal! Ladies, I can't thank you enough for being there with your kind words. I felt shattered and emotional and your kindness meant a lot.

In Hindsight:
As my first Half Ironman distance, my main goal was just to experience it and to finish in a decent time. My idea goal was between 6-6:30, but I had underestimated that run course. My run was about an hour longer than I planned and I'm bummed to post that time here on my blog, but it is what it is. After talking to Joby about my run course issues, I learned that I should have spent some time conditioning my body for all those downhills. I think I also need to work on my strength. It's hard to find time to work in stuff other than running, swimming, biking and stretching, but I really felt that certain areas in my legs were super unbalanced and weak. This meant that as I became fatigued, the muscles that support my joints and propel me forward just said No MORE!. I could have pushed the swim harder too. Considering I couldn't swim until May 2010 and have battled with some major ocean fear issues my whole life, I've come a long way!

All in all, it was an incredible experience and I have my work cut out for me for the winter (continue to lose weight and work on core/body strength). I am looking forward to having a real coach next year to help push me towards the next level of my triathlon experience. I am so fortunate to share this experience (and lifestyle) with Adam. There is nothing better than sharing a race course with him after countless days of training together. I am also exceedingly grateful for the new friends and teammates I've acquired with this long training process. I want to thank each and every one of you who I trained with and raced with. Your smiles, kind words, cheers and positive energy made a humongous difference in every step along the way. I am looking forward to returning to Orangeman with a vengeance next year!


Marcia said...

Nice job in your race! Course was definitely tough

Lee Jarvis said...

For such a grueling event, you sure do look like a happy camper coming through that home strait!

Thanks so much for the detailed posts, you always offer insight, inspiration and food for thought for many an athlete of any discipline.

HUGE congratulations again!

Richard said...

Nice report and well done. That was a tough course for your first race and like you I also struggled on the run. Still the next one will be better and I wish you a great season in 2012.

Big Daddy Diesel said...

Congrats!!! That course profile is brutal!!