Ironman Santa Rosa Race Report
Execution. Flow. Focus.
That’s the theme of my 12th Ironman completed in Santa Rosa just a few weeks ago. This race has been my focus for the past few months, only testing the fitness a bit at Ironman 70.3 Oceanside. Needed to shake out some things at this race which has been on my list for a long time.
This is the second year in a row I raced Santa Rosa and when they changed the date from July to May, I had this feeling that it would be absolutely perfect. I booked the AirBnB we stayed at the previous year right away knowing it was ideal for bringing Clark. Arrived on a Tuesday afternoon with plenty of time to settle in. We also had this opportunity with Ironman to do an Ironman Minute video with them about our story. Our story of selling off everything we owned and leaving everything behind to trek across the US in our Honda Fit with our golden retriever Clark, interviewing guests on our podcast along the way. Connecting our listeners with guests who were looking, finding and living their purpose. This became known as our Ride the High Vibe Tour. We landed in California 6 months later and have settled into west coast life here in Carlsbad.
I registered early on Wednesday, might have been one of the first few people to do so, and then got away from the village. This race was about staying focused and on my path. My path to Kona. Everything else would be a distraction. I gravitate to connecting with others and chatting about the sport and more, I had to take a step back from it all to focus on myself, my race. Got in a solid pool session at Ridgeway Pool, a 60-minute bike ride on a part of the bike course and a short run with Jess on the Santa Rosa Trail to top off the day.
Thursday was totally chill, no activity. Friday I got up early and ran through a bike/run session to make sure everything was fine. And then consumed a ton of pancakes, and they did taste so good. Drove up to the Lake Sonoma to drop off the bike and take a dip in the pristine conditions. Water was amazing. So perfect. Back to the AirBnB for a 30-minute yoga session with Laura led by Jess. My yoga practice in the 2 weeks leading into an Ironman gets bumped up a notch. 3-4x if not more. As the training load gets reduced, my body craves the yoga. It just feels better. Moves better. And my mind is more clear and confident that I’ve done all the work I can, and it’s time to let the body heal a bit. Yoga is super key!
Woke up at 3 am to get in my breakfast and sit down for a 30-minute meditation. There is always time to meditate. This is where I sit quietly and power up my energy from the inside. It’s not so much about calming my nerves, it’s about bringing it! Because of the shuttles, I wanted to get down to the pick-up early. So I walked to Courthouse Square leaving behind Jess & Clark to snooze a bit longer. They were planning to meet me when I got off the bike. There really is no need to go up to the swim to view, logistically it doesn’t make sense. And the bike is a point to point too so it’s just easier to have your family and friends see you when you come off the bike. And then there is plenty of viewing on the run with a 3-loop course.
Meditated again on the bus ride up to the lake. Visualized the race again from start to finish and focused hard on staying in the moment. The conversations around me on the bus were all based on topics I just don’t entertain. Tire pressure. Water temperature. Nutrition recommendations. And the list goes on. I focus on what I can control. I’ve prepared well and have no doubts that what the day brings I will tackle head-on at that moment. Moment to moment. Which is truly the only thing that does exist. Approaching these Ironman races with an attitude of being AWAKE and READY for anything.
Made my way to the swim start where this year, they didn’t allow for a swim warm up. So I dove into the breathing routine that has worked so well for me in past events (Pre-Race Pranayama Breathing Exercise). It gets your body primed for the effort it’s about to take right from the start. Seeded myself in the back of the 1-hour group, and just waited calmly. I made eye contact with Mike Ergo, a friend and YT podcast guests, and he came over and gave me a big hug. So much energy at that moment. Mike is certainly living his purpose. It’s so evident in his smile and attitude.
The gun goes off and we filter through the 5-lane corrals they set up to help ease the 2000+ athletes into the water. The sun was directly in our eyes to start, but this first section is only 4 buoys long until you turn right and away from the sun. Had a solid groove going around that first lap. Hugged the buoys and kept sighting every 4-5 strokes. That is a skill I encourage every triathlon swimmer to achieve. Coming back along the short I stayed to the right of the buoys until the final turn buoy (turning left), then pushed strong back to shore. A quick run on the boat ramp to head back into the water for my second loop. This time it was clear until the first turn buoy. Still had sun in my eyes, but sighting saved me again. After you turn right and head down that long stretch to the furthest point away from the swim start, the chop in the water rose. It might have been the number of swimmers or the boats, or the wind, in any case, it was an opportunity to stay calm in the chaos and just take it one stroke at a time. Stroke by stroke. After reaching the turn buoy, I linked up with this girl in a Roka wetsuit and pink cap ( I know, I’m sure there were numerous swimmers like this), and we swam stroke for stroke all the way to the finish. It was sort of nice to have that company looking at each other at times, then changing the way I breath to only come back to her side and she’d still be there. Flow. I was in super flow on that swim. Best I felt on an Ironman swim. Exited the water and ran up the hill. Stopped at the wetsuit strippers and quickly was back on my feet, wetsuit in my hands. Pushed up the final hill to T1, grabbed my bag and hit the tent.
A quick dump of the bag I stuffed my wetsuit in, and then proceeded to get on my helmet, glasses and shoes. Stuffed some extra nutrition in my back pockets, chamois cream smothered on really good and ate 1/2 an Amrita Pineapple Chia bar. I knew that the descent is quite steep and comes up quickly so this early fuel is key after swimming for an hour.
I had the most amazing experience on this ride. Goal was to hold a certain wattage for the first 70-80 miles, then let the effort increase slightly to the finish. Without much effort, I was able to hold slightly higher watts the entire ride, and my legs were never in the hurt. I focused on 2 words. FLOW. FOCUS. Flow was what I felt from the start of this trip, and when you let go of your expectations, hard lines, stories you tell yourself, and just let the universe direct you, flow happens. As I would descend down the hills and the road took a turn, I had faith that I could carry my momentum into the turn and be fine. That was flow. And as far as focus, well, that for me was achieved through my steady meditation practice. Daily time sitting down quietly and watching the thoughts come in and leave, and giving all my attention to one breath. One focus point. Working on not moving, remaining still even though everything in your mind and body is saying to adjust or shift. A 45-minute daily practice has been my jam. And it showed itself on this course. I would spin on the uphills, and carry my momentum over the top and cruise on the downhills. Rarely did I get out of the saddle, and rarely was I seated upright. I maintained aero position quite often and stayed in each moment. When my mind did wander off in anticipation of the next mile marker, I quickly brought it back to the moment I was in. Each pedal stroke. It became a practice.
Fueling was a task that I just threw myself into. Every 10 minutes something had to happen. I consumed my Skratch every 10 min, washed down with extra water. I ate a 1/2 Amrita Bar every hour, until the final hour where I switched to GU gels. I would also take a lick of Base Salt every 20 minutes. This was something new I tried knowing that the day would be warm, maybe not hot, but warm. In the past, I would take salt but not as regimented as this. Base Salt works.
Came upon that 80-mile mark and increased my effort a bit. Hunkered down into aero as the winds picked up knowing that the effort would still be there, and I have no choice but to embrace the situation. It really wasn’t bad at all, and soon I was cruising back into town with this renewed energy. My cycling legs were there for sure, and my fueling plan was spot on. I did keep pouring water over my head too at all the aid stations. That was refreshing for the body and mind. I encourage all athletes to do that no matter the conditions. It keeps the body cooler and refreshes the focus if you have zoned out.
Entered the town and crushed the final miles, I slipped out of my shoes and kept pedaling down that main stretch into transition. Off the bike and ran barefoot into T2.
They had my bag waiting for me so I could just take it from the volunteer and enter the changing tent. Dumped the bag and stuffed my helmet in. Socks, shoes, headband and glasses, race belt, watch and load up on nutrition. They also had a table with vaseline, with the volunteers at the ready to make sure you use the wooden tongue depressors to keep it clean. I was ready to roll but had one more stop before exiting T2. Sunscreen. I wore a new kit from OwnWay and the legs are bit shorter than I’m used to, so my SoCal suntan didn’t reach that far up the legs. Just as a precaution, I had them lather sunscreen on my legs, arms and chest. Started my Garmin watch immediately, something I haven’t used in years, and off I went.
Right from the start, and the video Jess took says it all, I had running legs. Leaving T2 I was hitting 6:50 miles. I must have been feeling the high of the race vibe and benefits of the nutrition plan I nailed on the bike. Plan on the run was to run 7-7:30 as long as I could. Keep taking in GU’s every 2-3 miles, I like to take in about 1/2 gel with water each time to let it absorb because that stomach can revolt when pushing the pace. Took in 2 ibuprofen on the bike with about an hour to to, and planned to take 2 more at 1 hour into the run. Continued with the Base Salt licks every 1 mile or so and kept moving. Didn’t stop at aid stations. If I couldn’t grab what I needed, I’d get it at the next one. That happened at about mile 5 when I missed the first water station and had 1/2 a GU in my mouth. I would have run with that sticky mouth for about another mile. No problem. This is flow. This is focus. You just adapt. Whatever the situation is, you just adapt best you can. Have no hard lines. Have no expectations. Always be willing to change.
Kept pushing the pace and felt really good. I hit 13 miles at 1:42 and knew I’d be close to a marathon PR if I didn’t slow down. At mile 14 I started coke. That’s where I felt my pace starting to slip. I kept pushing when I could and easing off when it became too much. Staying in the moment, always checking in with my pace, this is how I was able to come close to my goal. At each station too, I was pouring water on my head and dumping ice down the back of my jersey. This woke me up each time, and each time I would surge for a bit trying to hold the pace. That’s what you need to do in those moments of getting comfortable. You need to push, push and push again being relentless in your pursuit of running faster.
I looked down at my watch at mile 25 and saw that I was on pace for a marathon PR if I could just hold this effort. I thought I did, but that last mile seemed long. I must be honest and say that my awareness wasn’t spot on. I had taken a turn up over a bridge and banged into the side of it, stumbling sideways, most likely due to low calories at that point. Regained focus and just ran best I could to the finish. At this time, I was also managing a tight hamstring and balancing between pushing and remaining relaxed. Ease and effort. Something I take from my yoga practice.
Finished strong down the chute to meet my love who would get to give me my medal. We embraced with a big hug and then I hunched over. I was fatigued. I was probably low on calories. But soon after regained my thoughts and made our way to the food tent. Oh man, this was the best post-race food Ironman has had to date. VEGAN paella! And tons of it. I didn’t even go into the food tent, just stopped at the guys serving this up and had myself 2 bowls. I knew this is what the body needed right after a day like that. High vibe food. Continued to recover and feel better in the hour following the race. Then it was time to head back to the AirBnB.
Collected my bike and bags and walked home. Rested for a bit, took a nap, and then woke up at 10:30pm to go back down to see the final finishers. Something we love to do. Hearing Mike Reilly keep up the energy to bring home these last few athletes is an experience you just have to see. Haven’t missed one in years.
As far as nutrition, I also had some nachos back at our place around 8pm. Then nothing until noon the next day. This wasn’t on purpose. I was looking forward to the athlete’s breakfast, but it was all vegetarian at best, and vegetarian doesn’t cover vegan. But vegan does cover vegetarian. So we waited around and chatted with some friends and loyal podcast listeners. Then finally after all that, it was noon and we realized we hadn’t had any food. On to the nearest smoothie shop to slurp down some fruit. I truly believe that this fast, this timeframe of not adding any additional inflammation to the body, is what’s allowed me to recover so quickly.
It’s now 2 weeks from Ironman and I’m already back on the bike, swimming and running a bit. I’m not sure what is next, but something soon. I feel inside that this fitness is still looming and needs to be released. One this I know, we’ll be back for Santa Rosa in 2019.