Big Kahuna Half Ironman Race Report
12 weeks of training came down to one long day on Sunday, September 8th. We can finally say that we have done it. Angela, myself and a couple of other friends, completed a 70.3 mile half Ironman triathlon race. I read somewhere that the percentage of the population who have completed that distance is 1% or less. Therefore, we are officially in a fringe group of endurance junkies. I am very proud to be a member of such a unique and intense group of folks. Also, given that we recovered so well from the race in the first 24 hours, I am pretty sure we will be doing many more long course triathlons in the future. I decided to share a complete race breakdown, leg by leg, with you below, so that you know not only how things went in detail for us but also how the Big Kahuna itself was executed.
The entire week leading up to the race, I was surprisingly not very nervous. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I was just flat-out tired of thinking about it all. So, I just kind of said, screw it, I am not going to back out now, so why worry? Also, We had completed 2 other multi-sport races, 1 Olympic triathlon and 1 aquathlon, in the 4 weeks leading up to the Big Kahuna. In fact, the Tri Santa Cruz triathlon was almost the same set up as the Big Kahuna, just a shorter distance. Therefore, I think the familiarity and experience helped to keep my fears and anxiety in check. Also, as a final mental prep for the race, we took the entire day before the race off and stayed indoors watching a Harry Potter marathon to keep our minds distracted from the race. The race expo was pretty small and uninspiring but this is a small race so it fit. On race day, the transition area was actually quite nice, with floor based bike racks which gave every athlete more space to set up. The crowd was also pretty friendly and having a good time before the race. I think everyone was generally excited.
The 1.2 Mile Swim:
As you can see in the gallery here, the view at the start of the swim wasn’t promising. Foggy, overcast, and cool weather with a slight drizzle is what we were greeted with at the start of the race. Despite all of that, what I consider to be my weakest leg turned out to be the smoothest all day. I started to the left and back of my swim wave and steadily swam my way throughout the entire 1.2 mile swim. I finished strong and cut my target time by about 6 minutes. I think keeping myself calm and relaxed from the very start was key to my successful swim. As I was swimming, it struck me that I only started swimming about 3 years ago. Back then, it was a struggle to complete just 1 pool lap (25 yards) and now I’m regularly taking on 1 mile or longer distances in my races. The water temperature was around 60 degrees fahrenheit and felt fine after the first 200 yards. The sighting was a little difficult with all the fog and choppy waves, but I really focused on swimming straight over the last couple of weeks so I was able to stay on course. The swimmers that decided to swim close to the pier got a friendly greeting from the resident sea lions on the Santa Cruz Wharf. The water safety staff kept the swimmers and sea lions apart but that was interesting none the less. All in all, the swim was great and I came out of it energized and ready for the bike leg.
The 56 Mile Bike Ride:
Things started out great for the first 15 miles and the weather stayed cool and overcast. Then the flat tires started. What should have been my strongest leg by far, became the segment that completely shredded my time goals. I went through 3 tubes during the bike leg and spent over 30 miles riding on a flat tire. The race organizer really disappointed me here as there were no cycling mechanics at any of the three aid stations and no communication could be made between the course staff and the SAG team. I tried but failed to flag down one of the SAG vehicles on multiple occasions. The only assistance I got was from my fellow riders. Angela caught up to me with about 10 miles left in the race and we rode in together so she could make sure I didn’t fish tail off of a cliff with a wobbly back wheel. I have to admit, I went through a lot of emotions during those 30 miles of painful riding and even wanted to throw my bike in the Pacific at times. However, I never once felt that I would not finish the race. I was just frustrated that my goal time was derailed by a microscopic piece of metal in my tire that was shredding my tubes, which I probably picked up on the rail road crossing on the route. Needless to say, I am switching to run flats in the future. Outside of the tire issue, riding up and down the Pacific Coast highway was awesome. Cool temps, ocean breeze and picturesque views greeted you at every mile. The water bottle exchange at the three rest stops were also convenient. In the end, I do believe that things happen for a reason as the flat tires did create the opportunity for Angela and I to finish the last part of the race together.
The 13.1 Mile Run:
Since, she was so helpful over the last 9 or so miles of the bike ride, I decided to return the favor and pace her through the run. That 13.1 mile stretch was probably one of my most enjoyable running experiences ever. All my years of training, racing and experience just came into full perspective. Running along the cliffs of Santa Cruz with my best friend to the finish of our greatest athletic accomplishment just meant so much. I know that if it wasn’t for Angela’s willingness, passion and support for us participating in endurance sports, I wouldn’t even be here writing about it. As far as the logistics of the run though, it wasn’t bad at all. The course was an out and back mostly along the cliffs of Santa Cruz. The skies seemed to want to clear up right when you least wanted them to, so the sun cooked us a little during the run. Despite the warmer temperatures, our run was made more enjoyable by the cool ocean breeze and the unlimited supply of energy gu shots, electrolyte drinks, water and salt caplets from 9 different rest stops along the run course. Surprisingly, what I appreciated most from the run were the porta-potties. I have never stopped during a race to use the restroom before, and due to over hydration, I had to make a couple of pit stops. Another lesson learned, don’t chug all the water. The course was also relatively flat so that made it pretty reasonable for us first timers.
The 70.3 mile day was so worth all the training and training and training. As for the race itself, well, the Big Kahuna could take a few lessons from Ironman branded events. The t-shirt was a bit cheap and uninspiring. The bike support was lacking, route debris filled, and the bike out that started up a hill was dumb. The run finish was ok for me, but running a mile on the sand can be a bit daunting after banging out 69+ miles leading up to it. We were, however, met at the finish by some awesome friends and family that came out to support us, tons of locals watching the finish at the beach. All of this was topped off by receiving one of the coolest medals I have ever gotten at a race. It felt really great crossing the finish with Angela at the end also. A shining achievement, made even more memorable by sharing it with my wife. We reflected along the run course on our very first 5K and how far we’ve come. Firstwave Events, who hosts the race, did a good job overall, and had results up by the end of the day. The official post race pictures were pretty sad but the awards and food at the end were solid. All in all, a good event for first timers wanting to complete a 70.3.
I need to congratulate my coworkers Eric and Tom who completed their first Half Ironman races as well. Also, a really big thank you to everyone that texted, messaged, called and came out to wish us luck and offer support. Endurance sports are awesome, especially when you can enjoy them with very minimal pain and injury free. In fact, it is that commitment to recovering properly, analyzing each race event carefully, investing where it counts in equipment and building up slowly that has made events like this one so achievable. This race meant so much to us in many way. We’re looking forward to pushing through more boundaries next year by executing on the competition and training strategy we’re putting together now. We hope to achieve some 70.3 personal record times next year. With that all that said, I am glad to share below that we have now completed a number of distances in each of the race categories, and have just a handful of goals left to check off.