I haven't done a "real" race report in a long-time, but after enjoying a great race execution I figured it was time. I've picked up a ton of little things over the years reading ST race reports and hope there might be some tidbits in here for others down the road. Ironman Santa Rosa was my 2nd Ironman, having completed Ironman Arizona in 2015 just after I turned 18. Apologies for the long read - hope those that are interested enjoy! I'm happy to field any questions.
Ironman Santa Rosa
Despite being registered for Ironman Santa Rosa since the fall, my race prep was non-traditional as a short course athlete. Being a student and collegiate triathlete racing for the University of Colorado, the biggest focus of my early season was USAT Collegiate Nationals, a sprint-distance draft-legal and Olympic-distance non-draft on April 5th. With that perspective, Ironman Santa Rosa was a â€śBâ€ť race with one main goal â€“ qualify for Kona. While the â€śbigâ€ť volume was there, the big weekend bricks and Ironman specific workouts and days were not. Iâ€™m very lucky to have the support of D3 Multisport with the guidance of D3 coach, Brad Seng. In addition to coaching for D3, Brad is the head coach for the University of Colorado Triathlon team. He has been an invaluable resource and has a great understanding of my priorities and balance when combining collegiate and personal racing over a big range of distances.
Training for this season started at the beginning of September 2018. I had three phases â€“ fall training until travel over Christmas, spring training until Collegiate Nationals, and then 5 weeks of Ironman prep. One of my bigger spring training weeks is included below. This was essentially the â€śtemplateâ€ť week from which workouts would be added or subtracted in order to accommodate school commitments and races. I really enjoy having a consistent and predictable schedule, and I typically start my first workouts of the morning just before 6 AM, with the goal of having everything done by early afternoon. However, with a full undergraduate and graduate course load this spring, Tuesday and Thursday were the notable exceptions. Between morning swim and strength and my final class ending at 8pm, there just wasnâ€™t time to fit in a needed bike workout. So, late night workouts it was.
This season of training has been my most consistent yet, since starting triathlon in 2014. Iâ€™ve made three changes that I believe really helped with that consistency:
1 - Core: 5-6 times weekly for 10 minutes. Over the past 5 years of multisport focus I feel that my general core strength has regressed. Introducing a simple 10-minute core set done at home or at the gym has really helped. I believe this has benefits with regards to holding form in the water, on the run and staying steady on the bike.
2 - Strength: Iâ€™ve always shied away from strength, figuring my hours were better spent swimming, biking and running. While I feel like a strong triathlete, I often feel pathetically weak when it comes to simple exercises like pull-ups, push-ups, etc. Training now includes twice weekly strength and stability following my shorter Tuesday and Thursday swims. These arenâ€™t super intense heavy weightlifting sessions, but instead just workouts that focus on dynamic strength.
3 - Illness Recovery: I used to train through being sick, especially anything that was above the chest, but ultimately, they almost always became chest colds. For the few colds I picked up during fall or spring training, I immediately stopped training and replaced any training hours with at least an hour nap per day. This almost always knocked the cold dead and I was back to full training within 3 days. The one exception being when I tried to push through a cold near final exams/Christmas travel and ended up in a month long on/off training cycle due to a reoccurring heavy chest cold.
Following Collegiate Nationals, I jumped right into a 4-week Ironman prep block. Overall training structure remained with a few small changes.
1 - Swim volume was reduced in favor of a twice weekly run workout with Boulder Track Club.
2 - Saturday rides became longer with a more significant run off the bike.
Overall, I wasnâ€™t going to suddenly become a specialized long course athlete in these four weeks, so my personal goal was to just learn as much as possible. I had a few lessons learned and a few key workouts. My only planned Ironman-specific long ride was the first warm and sunny weekend of the year in Boulder. I had a nutrition plan and executed on it, but when I went to run off the bike, it become clear I hadnâ€™t nailed it. While sufficient on the calories, the hydration and electrolytes were clearly missing. With Bradâ€™s help, a few more revisions were made to the race nutrition plan.
One of the staple workouts I had the chance to run with Boulder Track Club was a long run with mile on/mile off repeats. Being only two weeks out from race day I cut the main set short to 5 repeats (10 miles total) of 5:35 pace on + 6:35 pace off. Nick Noone (2017 IMSR winner) pushed me on these and I felt great. This was a big turning point to being excited about racing Santa Rosa, only two-weeks away. Additionally, it was a key workout for me mentally in my execution plan. My mantra for the day was â€“ â€śthe race starts at mile 18.â€ť That mile marker would be 8 miles to go â€“ first, that is an easy hour run and second, if I can do 10 miles at 6:00 pace, I can do 8 miles at 7:15 pace. The rest of the day was all about getting to mile 18 in the best shape possible.
Santa Rosa is conveniently somewhat on the way from Boulder, Colorado to Los Angeles, California. I will be completing a summer internship in Los Angeles so I ended up wrapping Santa Rosa and the move into one. After my last class of the semester ended on Tuesday, with the help of my mum, I loaded up my life and cleaned out my apartment. Unfortunately, making the drive out to Santa Rosa meant missing my Thursday graduation. I guess Ironman is just a little different way of celebrating. We made the 20-hour drive from Boulder to Santa Rosa on Wednesday and Thursday, arriving in time for Thursday afternoon check-in. Race prep was a standard affair. I got myself checked in and sorted out bike and run stuff.
Being Boulder, Colorado based is awesome from almost every training perspective, except open water swimming. While Iâ€™ve been setting personal bests all winter in the pool, the two open water swims I have completed, the draft-legal and non-draft swims at Collegiate Nationals, have both been disastrous. My open water swimming since leaving Seattle for university has been a source of frustration, but I was hoping the long hours spent in the pool would pay off over the 3.8 kilometer swim.
I lined up with the 55-minute group about two rows back from the front and had decently clear water right from the start. Unfortunately, much like my prior two race swims, I was slow off the line. After the 1st turn buoy I was back near 20th place, trailing the 2nd pack.
At about 1500 meters in (when Iâ€™d typically be exiting the water in a short course raceâ€¦), I started to find the relaxed and strong pool stroke Iâ€™ve been developing and worked my way up to the front of the 2nd pack. Heading back towards the 4th turn buoy, I could see a smaller pack about 30 body lengths clear ahead and decided it was time to go for it. I picked a swimmer up ahead and got after it. After a strong, but not anerobic effort, I bridged up headed into the 4th turn buoy.
At Ironman Santa Rosa swimmers come out of the water and over a timing mat before starting the 2nd lap. After the dive back in, I picked one of the swimmers with an easy to sight wetsuit/trisuit combo and locked into the draft. The 2nd lap was a bit like trying to drive at 60 miles per hour through bumper-to-bumper traffic. It was complete mayhem, but thankfully I had a good set of feet and just relaxed. I came out of the water in 53:16, well under my goal of 55 minutes.
Out of the water I put my short course experience on the line and hit the boat ramp running fast. I did my best to follow the wise words of one of our excellent CU Triathlon coaches â€“ â€śThe number one rule of transitions - donâ€™t be in transition.â€ť A 3:46 transition put me on the bike with a 45 second T2 advantage to my closest competitors and multiple minutes on many others. This dropped me in with the lead swim group, with only eventual winner Jan Stepinski up the road having swam a 49:00.
After driving the course on Friday, I was really looking forward to getting out and racing the bike course. The mix of climbs, descents, rollers and a decent number of turns really made it feel like a bike course I could excel on. The primary goal for the bike was deliver myself to T2 fresh, fueled, and ready to run.
Based on my recent FTP ramp tests, races, and long rides (at altitude), Brad suggested an average power target of 230 watts to 240 watts. I raced Ironman Arizona back in 2015 at 215 watts and ended up experiencing a power fade through the bike and a tough run. As such, the big step up in power worried me at first, however after looking through my power data from 2019 and accounting for racing at sea-level, I was ready to give it a go.
Having very little opportunity to test nutrition prior to the ride, I took the time to outline a nutrition plan down to the minute. I think this was absolutely key to being able to execute my race as desired. Additionally, it kept my mind active and occupied throughout the bike. I started with three mixed bottles on-board plus two SIS gels, a Milkyway bar, and a Clif bar. I did not use special needs, hopefully saving about 60 seconds of slowing, gathering items, and coming back up to speed. In total, I consumed 2106 calories at 436 calories per hour and 457g of carbs at 95g per hour. Additionally, I consumed a single SaltStick capsule every 20 minutes religiously.
Coming out of the swim, I made the first descent from Lake Sonoma with about six other guys. Most appeared to be pushing 280+ watts when we hit the first climb and I was quickly left behind. I reminded myself to stay disciplined, pulled out my Clif bar and started eating â€śbreakfastâ€ť. I think taking the time to eat some solid real food set my stomach up well for the remainder of the day and helped avoid the pretty strong empty stomach hunger I often get at the end of long swim/bike training mornings.
Between mile 10 and mile 20, I was feeling tight and uncomfortable, but was confident I would loosen up based on a similar experience during a long Sunday ride completed two weeks prior to race day. After about 20 miles of riding everything started to loosen up and my average power settled in at about 232 watts. At this point, I had passed some of the initial â€śsprintersâ€ť and was settled into 4th place, about 90 seconds down on 2nd and 3rd.
Throughout the remainder of the bike I focused on staying aero, staying extremely disciplined to my nutrition plan, and keeping my power numbers in check. I was feeling stronger and stronger throughout the bike and my average power began to drift up, ultimately ending right at my upper target of 240 watts. At about mile 60, I started hearing the time gaps were shrinking to 2nd and 3rd. I moved up into 3rd just before Chalk Hill on the second southbound leg (mile 80) and then started catching sight of 2nd after making the turn onto the finish leg with 15 miles to go. My average power was still locked at 240 watts and I closed the gap and moved up into 2nd coming into T2. I was very pleased to feel continually stronger throughout the entire bike leg. I ended up having to pee twice, once just before mile 50 and then again around mile 80 â€“ which was a great sign that I was well hydrated.
TrainingPeaks - Ironman Santa Rosa Bike
At 172 pounds, with an average power of 240 watts and normalized power of 247 watts, I rode a 4:50:41 split (23.0 mph). I've been riding the Premier Tactical, with the incredible support of Dan Kennison/Premier, for a few years now. Racing at all distances, I've ridden the bike on courses ranging from inner-city Olympic-distance to the country roads of IMSR. It is always a blast to put the bike through it's paces. Iâ€™d like to try and eek out a few more watts of free speed by looking at hydration configuration (down tube bottle position and behind the seat bottle position) and arm position. I rode a set of GP5000 TL 25mm tires, setup tubeless at 80 psi. I think the lower pressure really helped take the buzz out of some of the chip-sealed country roads.
The goal of the run was to stay disciplined. At Ironman Arizona in 2015, I came off the bike with the Pro Women and set right to sub 7:00 miles. In hindsight, a recipe for disaster. After a strong 14 miles, I fell apart and spent the next 12 miles on the struggle bus, run/walking my way to a 3:42 marathon. With that on my mind, I stuck with the mantra â€“ â€śthe race starts at mile 18.â€ť The goal was to run the first 18 miles at 7:25 pace and then pick things up from there.
I started the run with a pack of Shotbloks, an SIS gel, and two packs of SaltStick chewables. I planned to pick up additional Shotbloks on course and then alternate Gatorade Endurance and water at each aid station. I downed the SIS gel quickly and then kept at one Shotblok and one SaltStick chewable per mile.
I had two minor problems on the run â€“ first, I had mistakenly read somewhere that there would be Shotbloks available on course, they were not and second, I accidentally threw away my second SaltStick packet after consuming about half the tablets. My brain was too slow to figure out that I had thrown away my Gu packet at the previous aid station. I was not running a single extra step so there was no turning back â€“ onwards it was. I fixed the first problem by taking a chance with an on-course Gu and just doubled down on drinking Gatorade to take care of the second.
On the run I was quickly passed by Robin Schneider, and then another four athletes over the course of the first two laps. I just did my best to keep a smile on my face, enjoy the miles and encourage those passing me.
At the start of the 3rd lap, I was feeling fatigued, but strong, and knew it was time to race. I dropped my pace from my 7:25 target to about 7:10 per mile, and hung on the best I could. My watch was not super happy with the underpasses, out-n-backs and tree coverage, so I kept myself occupied by calculating my average pace based on total time at every mile marker. Over the course of the final lap I passed two athletes who had blown past me during the prior laps, moving back into 4th. The last two miles were brutal â€“ it was a game of one foot in front of the other and telling myself that the fastest way to the finish line, and subsequently not needing to run any further, was in fact to continue running.
While I had absolutely no idea given the now numerous athletes on the looped run course, Kyle Fox was closing on me fast with a 2:57 marathon split. I hung on to the 4th spot finish by 5 seconds, completely oblivious to Kyle entering the finish chute behind me. Although, I honestly donâ€™t think I had a second more to give on the run. I ended up finishing the run with a close to perfectly even 1st half/2nd half split for a 3:13:08 (7:22/mile).
Ironman Santa Rosa Results
Ultimately, I was extremely pleased with the execution of this race, in many ways more than the actual finish result and time itself. My overall time was 9:03:49, an improvement of 27 minutes over 2015 Ironman Arizona. Additionally, I shaved a minute off my swim split and 29 minutes off my run split. While my bike was a bit slower, I think this was primarily course driven and power was up 25 watts. I did Ironman Arizona on a last-minute whim and used the â€śjust checking the boxâ€ť line of reasoning to validate the poor run performance there. At Ironman Santa Rosa, I went in with a specific goal. With the help of coaches and prior lessons learned, I put together and executed on a race plan. I believe that executing on such a disciplined plan allowed me to maximize my current fitness, despite very little Ironman specific training. I took my Kona spot this time and Iâ€™m really looking forward to heading out to Hawaii. There is lots of work to be done, but Iâ€™m excited for the race. From everything Iâ€™ve heard, racing disciplined there will take another level of mental strength, but Iâ€™m looking forward to the challenge.
Right now, Iâ€™m taking 2 weeks completely off, ending my â€ścollegiateâ€ť season. This summer I will be returning to a short course focus with the following races on the calendar:
LA Triathlon â€“ June 2nd
Eastside Triathlon â€“ July 6th
Legacy Triathlon â€“ July 20th
USAT Age-Group Nationals â€“ August 10th
Long Beach, CA | Boulder, CO | Kirkland, WA
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