First 70.3 race report - HITS Triathlon Series Palm Springs

A week has passed since my 70.3 race debut: It's about time I blog it! I'm sorry to have taken so long, but this is just such a busy time of year at work (and at home, with a 90lb puppy!) that today is the first time I've had to take a deep breath and, well, reflect on my accomplishment. So, here goes.

First things first: I am grateful for the most supportive wife and friends, whose cheering, both in person and virtually, have a huge impact on my ability to race. Thank you!

Second: 1.2mi of swimming, 56mi of cycling, and 13.1mi of running is a LOT of racing. But I think this is a good distance for me. While sprint triathlons are fun for speedwork (and speedplay!) I am not a sprinter and so will never excel at short races. I am also not quite fast enough for Olympic distance races (usually 750m-1km swim, 25mi bike, 10k run), though I prefer a 10k run to a 1/2 marathon off the bike. And even though my 70.3, half-iron distance, debut was SLOOOOOOOW, I know I can improve a lot in all areas over these distances, and so continuously improve. I'm already signed up for my next one!

Now, logistics. This is a GORGEOUS race in an amazing setting. The host hotel is a Waldorf Astoria resort, La Quinta - where Frank Capra wrote It's a Wonderful Life. It is breathtaking. The casitas are lovely, the beds are fantastically comfortable, and the tubs are deep enough and long enough to enjoy a soak pre- or post- (or in lieu of) exercise. We drove out on Friday, 30 November, deciding at the last minute to leave Lola at home. Next time, we'll bring her, but my nerves were a little frayed due to (1) the impending race, (2) the impending 4-hr drive to the race, and (3) the fact that I had withdrawn $300 from the drive-up ATM and then driven off without it earlier in the day! (The bank has since deposited that amount in my account, conditional upon a count of the bills in the machine and, if necessary, a police investigation of the surveillance video.) I actually came close to just calling off the race, staying home and eating ice cream. Wanda convinced me otherwise. Thank goodness.

We arrived at our casita around 8pm, and had some lovely room service before I laid out my kit and goodies for the next day. (That sounds way more suggestive than I originally intended.) Then it was off to sleep for 9hrs. Race day morning began with a Bonk Breaker bar and some Nuun, and a warm shower to loosen my muscles. A little DZNuts chamois cream, and some Body Glide in key areas, and we were off to the races.

The race site itself is the Lake Cahuilla Recreation Area, which is breathtakingly lovely. I didn't know that yet, since it was so dark when we arrive at 5:30am. But a pre-dawn view across the lake gives you a bit of a sense of the beauty of the place:

The transition area was already hopping, with both 140.6 (full Ironman) and 70.3 (half-Ironman) athletes preparing for their races:

As the sun came up, and my nerves settled down, I prepared my spot in the transition area. This is the first race I have done where I had my own little bench (a personalized one, no less):

This was a very nice touch. So, I suited up in my rental wetsuit (which Wanda has since bought me as a Christmas present, as it was brand new when I put it on and yet once I had used it it was discounted 35%!), and headed out to the beach to check out the water and the competition - which included pro Paul Amey, the 2011 Ironman AZ 2nd-place finisher!

My only real concern on race day, at least initially, was: Would I beat the 70-min cutoff time for the 1.2mi swim? I had never covered that distance, and I hadn't been in the water since May. Seriously. I had basically spent all my training time on my run, with some extra time on the bike. I had covered 400m in 12:34 in May in a sleeveless wetsuit; if I could match that pace in a fullsleeve wetsuit, at about 25lbs lighter, then I would be good to go. The course included two loops, punctuated by the need to exit the water and cross the timing mat. I felt really good, smooth, and confident on the first loop and so I asked the course official for my time as I exited the water after loop 1. I heard 29-something, and so jumped back in brimming with even more confidence. I knew I would make the cutoff, so I took it easy and finished the swim in 1:00:57. Look at the smile on my face (h/t to Jon Tracy for the photo): 

After a slow-ish transition - I wanted to wear both calf sleeves and socks - and a quick pit stop to pee (I just could not bring myself to pee in a rental wetsuit), I headed off on the bike. My previous PR on the bike for ~56mi was 3:35-3:40, which I had accomplished at both the Skull Valley Loop Challenge and the Tour de Tucson in 2010 and at the SOMA 1/2-Ironman relay in 2011. I was aiming for the same time today. The course was mostly flat, with a little climb out of transition and another halfway through each of the two loops, and some lovely long but shallow downhills. This was meant to be a fast course, but I paced myself gently because I knew I had a half-marathon to run afterward, something I had never done immediately after a bike ride. The strategy worked well. I pushed myself without pushing too hard, fueled to avoid cramping, and dismounted with a PR in 3:29:58.

T2 was quick - for me, anyway - and I headed out on the run. But something didn't feel right almost immediately. Though I hadn't experienced any cramping due to my fueling efforts on the bike, I think I must have had too much liquid in the final hour or half-hour, as there was some obvious sloshing about in my belly as I tried to run up the hill out of transition; I grabbed a handful of pretzels and slowed to a walk. But my hips were also tight from the bike, and so my weird little waddle was already resulting in some weird rubbing in my shoes. Not a great start! But I met a very nice young woman, Jaclyn, who was also experiencing a little unexpected distress, and so we kept each other company for the first half of the "run" or run/walk. I was stocking up on Hammer Electrolytes and Anti-Fatigue Caps at the aid stations, along with water and HEED and the occasional chunk of banana. Wanda drove by and honked at us on her way to the finish line, and that felt good. (It also felt good that we were actually running when Wanda honked!)

At the turnaround, we realized the course was actually mismeasured - 14mi instead of 13.1 - not exactly the news I needed. And it was clear that I was developing a blister on the ball of my right foot and a hotspot on the ball of my left foot. But Jac and I decided to power through. We both started to run, no matter how slowly, with the simple motivation that the race would thus be over sooner. While the first half was walk-run, the second half was run-walk. I peed behind a hedge (there were exactly zero portalets on the run course). I powered through the discomfort. And I ran hard downhill through the finish with a smile on my face. Wanda, Jon, and Em were at the finish to greet me, and I felt pretty damned great.


We had a great meal with Jon and Em that evening in La Quinta, and another one the following day in Palm Springs after Em's race, before heading home after a very successful weekend. Thanks everyone!

Lessons learned:

  • Do this race again: It was awesome.
  • Do more of the HITS Triathlon Series events: They are terrifically well-organized, the race director greets every swimmer out of the water, transition is set up very swankily, the on-course aid stations are well-stocked, and the finish-line food is delicious.
  • To make the most of my next half-Iron distance event, be sure to have included a bunch of brick (bike-run) workouts in my training. I know I can knock at least 75mins off my finishing time - on this course, anyway - if I actually run the half-mary!
  • And, as always, to keep smiling.


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Reader Comments (3)

Great Race Report! I just read it to Em as a bedtime story, and she was pumped to hear about it again. We're really glad that we could be there to see you finish your first 70.3! And even more to have enjoyed some fine meals after each race!! You'll get the run under control soon enough. Some bricks will help with the "finding your legs" part. Overall half of it is how fit you are (from a lot of bike/run training) and the other half is your strategy-pace and nutrition. Sounds like you did great on the strategy part, and your fitness will only grow as you continue. Congrats man!

December 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJon

So ridiculously proud of you!!!! You've inspired me a LOT, and you have me actually considering doing one myself.... Did I mention I hate swimming? But that's how much this post inspired me!

December 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAri

Awesome race dude! Doing this race and distance this year, thanks for the useful race report. Made me laugh that you were nervous about the swim cut off and then crushed it by 10 mins! Keep up the good work!

August 28, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

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