What a great race this was. Not only because I was really happy with my overall result but the venue is amazing. Thanks for reading, hope you enjoy.
So why is this a great place? First, it’s so close to San Francisco. SFO is pretty cheap to fly in and out of and there are so many flight options. Santa Cruz is about a 90 minute drive from SFO, so you are close to an awesome city, but still far enough to where you don’t feel you are in a big city and overcrowded. For anyone wanting to do this race in the future, I think that getting Airbnbs is a great option. I spoke to several people staying at one and they all loved it. Santa Cruz is pretty small, so you are close to everything. Since we were staying with points, I decided to book the Hilton, which is about 10 minutes out in Scotts Valley. The hotel is not far, but if there is traffic it can take up to 30 minutes. We were lucky that we didn’t really encounter traffic, and free will always beat convenient in my book.
The race took place a week after labor day. We took Emma out of school for the week leading to the race and visited Sequoia and Kings Canyon National parks, it was an amazing experience. Riding on those roads and running on those trails was absolutely amazing. I tried to do everything early in the morning so we could still enjoy the rest of the day hiking and traveling from place to place.
On Friday we made it back to Santa Cruz in the early afternoon, the first thing we did was check in. I just wanted to get that part over with. Since this 70.3 took place on the same weekend as the 70.3 Worlds, there were not many vendors there. I was hoping that Normatech would be there as I had left my boots at home and they definitely needed some flushing out. I got to the IM village, right as they were starting the athlete briefing. I usually don’t go to them as there is never a place to sit or shade (that was the case this time also), but we had gotten an email saying that the swim might be cancelled due to the unusually warm weather, so I wanted to hear what they said. They explained that the warm weather was causing some algae to spike the bacteria levels at the pier.
As soon as I got the email I prepared myself mentally not to have a swim. Of course for me that is the worst case scenario, but since there was nothing I could have done, I just had to deal with it. Surprisingly during the briefing they said that the only difference was going to be that the swim start was going to be shifted a little, so instead of swimming in a rectangle it would be more of a triangle to try to avoid swimming to close to the pier, which I was absolutely OK with.
After sleeping in. I met up with a Chilean Triathlete, Camilo Barroilhet to do a quick ride. It’s a good idea to pre-ride the beginning of the bike as there are a lot of turns. After a quick run, I went back to the hotel to change, get my bike ready and come back to check it in. While waiting to see if I could borrow a tool at bike support, I ran into Jana and Simon, a German couple who I follow on Instagram.
I knew they would be there but I never expected to run into them. It was so nice to meet them in person with their baby. We talked for a little bit, wished each other luck and said: “Maybe, we’ll see each other again”. As I was about to leave, I remembered I hadn’t checked that by bike shoes clipped in correctly. I had just replaced the cleats, my left foot was so worn my foot kept unclipping me during my rides the previous day. Went back into the transition area and made sure I could clip in and out. As I took my left shoe off, the boa system (to tighten and loosen the show) broke. Great, now I don’t have shoes for the race, I thought. I was not about to spend hours looking and trying new shoes on, so I managed to somehow get the shoe tight enough so that my foot would still go in, but it wasn’t really tight. I was glad that it had happened the day before the race and not during. Back at the hotel we had an uneventful evening, got everything ready and went to sleep hoping my hack on the shoe would hold.
Morning of the race
Woke up and had breakfast at around 4:30am. I wanted to leave the hotel at 5am, which we did. Race start was supposed to be at 7:05 for the amateurs and 6:50am for the pros. Plenty of time if I made it to transition by 5:30ish. We had to make a quick stop at Safeway to get some Imodium as my stomach was feeling a little nervous, I guess. When I got to the transition area, I was surprised to see that it was pitch black. Never before had I been to a race where I couldn’t I see anything while getting ready, they always had lights. From now on, I’m bringing a head light, as holding my phone and trying to pump my tires at the same time, is not very convenient. After getting everything ready (in my head), left transition and met up with the girls. They had been looking for parking. By the time we had gotten there most of the parking was taken already. She found something not too far and still free, which was great. This is another good reason to have a hotel or Airbnb close by, not have to worry about parking at all.
As we made our way down from transition to the swim start, Christelle noticed that it was going to be a long way from the beach to my bike, I think it ended up being close to half a mile and it’s uphill for the most part. We made it to the beach, but it was weird as we had made it there pretty early and there weren’t that many people there. There were no lines in the bathrooms, so I paid one last visit. Unlike other Ironman branded races, there wasn’t any music either at transition or at swim start. We just followed the people until we made it close enough to the beach. Because the swim start had been moved, you now had to walk in the sand for about a quarter of a mile. Once I put my wetsuit on, Chris decided to stay back with the girls and to go the exit or at least to the pier so that could see me swim by.
When I got to the swim start, I still couldn’t hear anything. I had no idea what was going on, but the fog had rolled in a little, I could still see the first buoy but not the second. I wondered if we would even swim. I decided to get in the water and warm up a little, most pros were warming up already. To my surprise the water wasn’t that cold, I was told it was 63 degrees and it actually felt good. At 6:40 I got out of the water since I knew that the pros were supposed to start 10 minutes later.
Once I got close the swim start area, I finally noticed that they had 1 loud speaker, but you could barely hear it. The first thing I heard, was that the swim had been delayed to see if the fog would lift. The first delay started at 20 minutes.
While I waited in the middle of 2000 people I swam Simon and Jana again, what are the odds? We started talking again and as we stood there, the delay was extended another 20 minutes. Finally at 7:35ish they announced that the swim was going to be modified and that everyone should make it to the swim exit, which was about 1 mile away, so we all walked back.
They said the swim would only be 0.5 miles. It is better than nothing, I thought. I’m surprised I didn’t freak out more as usually I want to swim to be long, but at that time I was just glad we were still swimming. We met up with Christelle and the girls again. We would finally start at 8:05 so by the time that the pro men started, Simon and I kissed the girls goodbye and started making our way down to the swim start. As soon as I got there I noticed that it was going to be very difficult to make it to the front, everyone was lined up in between to barriers and I was 600 people behind front row. Luckily, I found a guy that saw me trying to swim through the hundreds of people and asked me if I was a fast swimmer.
After I said, I’m OK, he replied: “me too, let’s make it to the front.” I followed him, we made it all the way to about 100 people back. I knew it was going to be a short swim but swimming around 100 people wasn’t going to be good. With about 3 minutes to the start of our race they let everyone get about 100 feet closer to the water and things opened up a little. I made my way to almost the front, to about 8 people deep. Of course being Ironman, we were told by the person that was going to start us, that we had to do so in an orderly fashion. “Yeah”, I thought, “we are here to all go on a 70.3 stroll through California. We are here to race, they should let us race from the start.”
As the clock ticked down to 8:05, the person starting us, started letting people go 1 by 1 “rolling eye emoji”. As soon as we were through we ran to the water. Remember that the clock starts as soon as he lets you through. So, even if they ask you to walk the clock is already ticking. As I ran into the water, I took about 3-4 steps in the water and dove in. When I came back up, I only had 3 people in front of me. I didn’t really sprint, I wanted to see what everyone did. The guy right in front of me was kicking very hard, so I just stayed behind him, knowing that going around him was going to cost me some energy I didn’t need to spend. We went by the first buoy, then second, people starting to fade and all of a sudden it was the guy who was right in front and me. Everyone else was behind us, as we made it to the third buoy, which was the turn buoy he swam around it. He started to go too far to the right. I followed him for about 4 strokes and I realized he was going off course so I stopped following him and swam towards what I could see was the other red buoy. “Should have used Roka googles” I thought.
As soon as the paddle boarders realized that he was going the wrong way, they went to intercept him. I always breath to the right, so I could see all of this. When he realized he was off course, he was already too far behind to catch back up with us. Now I was leading, “should I let someone else lead?” I thought, but it was such a short swim that I decided it would be OK. I ended up leading the rest of the swim. It was weird, I knew I was doing a 70.3, or a 69.5, with the short swim, but I felt like the swim was even shorter than any sprint triathlon I’ve done. I didn’t push too hard, just hard enough so that nobody could pass me towards the end. If I looked behind me, as I breathed, I could see a group of guys pretty close to me. My goal was not to get passed. Since visibility was so poor, Ironman made all of the paddle boarders form two lines, which were amazing help and easy to see.
As I touched the sand with my hand, I took two more strokes, grabbing a little sand to propel me a little farther. Pushed up with both my arms as if I was doing a pushup, I stood up and started running. I knew I was the first one out of the water, but totally expected someone to fly past me. The first 200 meters we had to run in loose sand. It was probably the hardest part of the whole race, my HR was very high from running in my wetsuit and the sand, but people were so loud cheering, I didn’t care.
As I made it to the pavement I could finally start running, saw the girls to my left, gave them a huge smile and continued running. I saw a ton of shoes on the side of path, which reminded me of Puerto Rico 70.3, where people did the same. I would never stop to put shoes on during transition, especially not at Santa Cruz, your feet are covered in sand. Then you have to take them off again in transition. No, Thank you, my feet will survive. About half way to transition 1 guy passed me, he was sprinting up. My HR was high enough, I just kept my pace. As I made it to transition, every single bike was still there, one of my favorite things to see when I make it to T1, all the bikes there. I love to see it completely empty for T2 also, which doesn’t really happen to me, but hopefully as I improve my bike, less and less bikes will be there.
Got to my bike, finished taking my wetsuit off. The long run made most of the sand fall off my feet, wiped them off with the towel, put socks on and very carefully put my left shoe on, making sure the boa system wouldn’t fall apart again. After struggling to put the shoe on for what it seemed 1 minute, it finally went in, put my second shoe on, grabbed my helmet and bike and started running to the mounting area. I saw the guy that had passed me and two EMJ (Every Man Jack) guys running out in front. I thought: “Well, I won’t see them again until the turn around”. Got on my bike and immediately got passed by two other guys.
The beginning of the bike is through town and it borders the ocean, very pretty but with a lot of S on the road. I was in and out of my aero bars just making sure that I wouldn’t hit any cones, which separated the bike from the run courses. I got passed here also by another guy, they were all going really fast. Once you get to HWY 1 it’s a lot easier to just get in aero, put your head down and go. I passed 2 of the guys that had passed me at transition and a 26 year old. When we got to the first little hill the 26 year old passed me again, as soon as he got in front and got to the top of the hill, he would slow down. I would have to slow down also and wait for the 6 bike length gap. By this time we would either be on a flat or going downhill again and I would pass him very easily.
The problem was that at every single hill he’d pass me again and slow down. He did this maybe 8 times, by the 8th time I told him: “DO NOT SLOW DOWN AFTER YOU PASS ME”. For that last time he didn’t slow down too much, but I would eventually pass him again. I had a feeling he’d blow up.
We then started biking on this part of the course that’s kind of flat, two other guys passed me. I thought, “I need to stay with these guys if I want to lose the kid”. They were biking fast, so I had to go above my power for about 10 minutes to try to stay with them. When it was flat or downhill it wasn’t a problem, the issue was on the climbs, I was pushing a lot harder than I was supposed to. It was the price to pay to lose the kid though. The next big hill, I was kind of expecting him to pass me again, but he never came, I was so relieved.
About 3 miles before the turn around the pros came flying down, going the opposite direction. I knew I was close, after the men, came the women and then 5 guys that were ahead of me. Did the 180 turn and then I couldn’t see anyone behind me, there was a big gap. After the turn around you go straight up a hill, this is where I lost the 2 guys I was trying to keep up with. About 1 mile later I saw the 26 year old, he had blown himself up. The return was pretty lonely, I ended up passing about 6 pro women but didn’t get passed or really saw anyone else going my direction. I was just concentrated on staying as aero as possible and sticking to my wattage plan. I could see all the other athletes making their way to the turn though. The course as I described above is absolutely amazing, the pavement is great for about 90% of the ride and it’s rolling, but still fast if you take advantage of your momentum going down the hills.
I decided to be a little more conservative riding back, as I had pushed a little too hard for the first part to try to stay with the two guys that were riding fast. In the last mile I did get passed by 1 other person, who seemed was trying to get a Strava segment for the last 500 meters to the dismount area. He got there so fast that he almost crashed. Got off my bike and my bike was the first one back in my area, I knew I was the first one in my age group to make it back.
Getting my shoe of was a little easier than putting it on. I put my running shoes on, grabbed my hat, sunglasses and number and before running out I realized that I had left my run nutrition in the cooler in the morning. It had been so dark that when I did my final check, I completely missed it. Nothing I could do at that point, so just ran out. Cursed at myself for a brief second internally and forgot about it.
As I came out of transition, I saw Christine Cross right in front of me, she is a professional triathlete who I also follow on Instagram. I got excited for a second as I was going to say hi, but that excitement went away pretty quickly as I realized I wasn’t going to get to say hi, she was flying. I had a half marathon to run, without nutrition so I just let her go, and focused on keeping my planned pace. Before the mile 1 marker I saw the girls, waved, smiled, said hi and yelled at Christelle that I left my nutrition in the cooler. She didn’t really acknowledged me so I just kept running. Later she told me that there wasn’t anything she could have done, so she just ignored me. I don’t even know why I told her either, there wasn’t any way she could have helped me anyway, but at the moment I felt the need to tell her.
Before getting to mile 2 I got passed by a guy that didn’t have a number on his calf, but I assumed that he was in my AG. He was running really well, I wanted to keep to my plan, so I just told him “good job” as he went by me and kept running. I started feeling a pinch in my quads, almost like I was going to cramp. I had 2 BASE salt sticks with me, so I started taking salt immediately. It was so early in the run, I was a little frustrated. I didn’t want to have a bad run due to cramps again. At mile 3, I decided I needed some calories, so I grabbed a gel, it took me like half a mile to finish it.
Right after that all the pros started to go by towards the finish. I was pretty alone by that time, I looked back and there wasn’t anyone behind or in front of me, except for 2 cyclist that seemed to be biking at the same speed as I was running. I pretended they were pacing me, so I liked it. Mile 4 and 5 came by and my legs were still a little tight, almost about to cramp. By mile six, I guess the salt and the gel had kicked in and the pain went away. I was finally able to start running in the 6:30/mile pace range. It felt really good. Even though these 2-3 miles we went through a park area where we run on very loose gravel, it was hard to run through this, but I felt good so I didn’t care. They would end up being my best miles. Mile 7 the first stick of salt was gone. Mile 8 the pain came back after going up a hill. I took more salt.
Mile 9, I saw Christine as I caught up to her, we chatted for a second and kept running. I didn’t think I’d see her again so it was nice to briefly talk to her and continue trying to keep my pace. At the mile 10 aid station, I grabbed another gel hoping that I could go back to feeling like mile 6 & 7 but it wasn’t to be. Once I got to mile 11 my second stick of salt had also ran out. I wanted to push harder for the last 2 miles but my legs didn’t let me. Every time I tried to push the pace faster than 6:50 I could feel a cramp coming.
I ran as fast as I could without letting my legs cramp. At mile 12 I passed the guy that had passed me at mile one, the one I thought was in my age group. I told him nice job and kept running. Turns out he ended up winning my age group, but due to the idiotic rolling start, even though I passed him on the run and finished ahead of him, he still beat me on the overall time by 1 minute.
Mile 13 was the longest mile for sure, my watch told me we had gotten to mile 13 about 3 minutes before the mile 13 marker. Luckily the last .3 miles are downhill. I was running as fast as my legs would let me, which didn’t end up being that fast. I made the last turn and remembered that in the athlete briefing they had warned us that we would finish in the sand. Looked back, there wasn’t anybody in sight, tried to just keep the momentum of the downhill and get through the sand as quickly as possible. I was so excited I hadn’t actually cramped and in my head I hadn’t seen anyone in my age group pass me, I thought I had won my age group. I was so excited, first race in a while that I could sprint to the finish and that I felt relatively good, knowing that I didn’t have my nutrition and that had ran out of salt.
About 15 minutes later, when I had access to internet I refreshed the app and noticed that I was actually 3rd in my Age Group, even though nobody passed me. The guy that won my age group beat me by 1 minute and second place by 14 seconds. Looking at their swim times I would have definitely had over 4 minutes of a head start had the swim not been short. The short swim ended up hurting me a little, but I’m still so happy I made the podium for the first time and felt really good for the most part throughout the race.
Swam 10:35 for the .5 mile swim
Ran 1:29:45 (Run was 13.3 miles according to my watch)
For a total time of: 4:09:45
It was nice to get called out 3 times at awards. The first one was FOW (first out of the water award), Roka gives a $50 award and a nice silicon swim cap for the athletes that come out of the water first in their respective age groups.
The second was the 3rd place finish plaque. I have been wanting one of these since I started racing Ironman branded races and the closest I had ever gotten was 6th. Being 3rd with a very short swim was amazing.
The last time I got called out was for the World Championship spot. I wasn’t going to take the spot to Worlds in 2018. It is in South Africa and obviously, I still want to qualify and go to Kona, so I wasn’t considering South Africa. During awards I was talking to Tim O’Donnell (T.O.), he got 3rd overall and he mentioned that he had been told that South Africa was absolutely beautiful. Don’t know how many more years I’ll be doing this and I really need to take any opportunity, so I spoke with my wife and the decision was: “If I get a spot, we’ll go”. We had been told that my age group was only going to get 1 spot and the guy that won, was considering taking it, until the very last minute. I ended up taking the first of 2 spots that would be given to our age group, so I guess we are going to South Africa next year.
Unfortunately not everything went so well. We then received a call from the Kennel that our 14 year old Weimeraner had been staying at and the vet told us that his stomach had flipped and they would have to put him down. It was just an emotional day, going from such a high to a low pretty instantaneously. We will miss Mac for sure!
I want to of course thank everyone that has made this possible. Starting with my wife and family, they are so supportive to this very time consuming sport and they put the best face even on race days, when they have to be ups just as early as I do and stay up all the way to the end. To my coach Mike Ricci, from D3 Multisport. We have been working together a very short period of time, but I’ve seem some great improvements in my performance. To my team and teammates from BTC Elite and all of our sponsors. Colorado Multisport, Roka, Felt, Castelli Triathlon, Infinit Nutrition. Last but certainly not least all of the companies that support me while doing this amazing sport: Newton Running, Rudy Project, Perky Jerky, Trailnuggets, Catalyst Case and Tritats. Ironman Louisville is just 4 weeks away, I am so excited to go back to where it all began for me. Thanks for reading!