Some days you just have to do epic stuff, or so the sign told me somewhere on the course! So having said that, Santa Rosa IM was my epic day! While I definitely did not set any speed records, I did execute and achieve what I set out to do. It helped that as long as I finished, I was going to PR! I had a couple of goals: (1), minimize the suffering as much as possible, (2), preferably not injure myself in any sort of major physical or mental way, (3), enjoy the day, and (4), finish with Mike Reilly telling the world that I am an Ironman!
Backing up to the journey to get through this, as many of you may recall from my last race report, I PR’d at this year’s 70.3 Santa Rosa. Since then I stuck to my training plan as much as possible, although some physical setbacks left me missing a couple of my really long planned bricks. So, I entered the race knowing that my fitness was there from the standpoint of each individual distance, but the last build before the final taper came in really light on the brick days. Once I hit my taper time, I tapered, rather than try to make up for lost time which was my initial reaction. I have come to realize that nothing ever goes quite to plan, but I will admit it was in my head a bit for the last month knowing I would arrive at the start line with a couple of nagging physical issues and having missed a couple key workouts. Oh well.
Just like the 70.3, the recommendation was to catch the shuttle bus on race morning to Lake Sonoma from the T2/Finish Area in Santa Rosa. I had staged the bike at Lake Sonoma and run gear in downtown Santa Rosa on Friday. I beat my alarm up and by 4:40 am race morning I dropped my run and bike special needs bags and caught the shuttle bus to Lake Sonoma. I must say the shuttle process worked out great again and this time I did not end up on a bus that broke down! The bus ride was much more subdued possibly because folks were mentally preparing or that everyone was already tired and had not even yet started the day.
As a side note, this was my first time figuring out what should go in special needs bags, and I will say that I way overpacked them. The nutrition replenishment was needed, but thankfully, I did not need the Tylenol, Vaseline, body glide, tums, moleskin, etc. that I put into each of the bike and run bags. I will also say that the baby wipes and the “secret weapon” came in handy on the run, but more on that later!
During the week, it was unclear if the swim would be wetsuit legal. Even at the athlete briefing on Friday the race director was indicating it probably would be warmer than the 76.1 degree F that was the cutoff wetsuit temp. At 4:45 am on Saturday, they announced it was 76.1, so it was going to be a wetsuit legal swim. For the swim, it again was a rolling start where you self-seeded based on your estimated finish. I seeded with the 1:20-1:30 group as I was just planning on cruising the swim . The swim was two 1.2 mile loops where you had to get out and cross a timing mat and re-enter for the second loop. The swim went well although there seemed to be a bit more body contact than during the ½ iron race. I finished the swim in 1:28:22, and I took my time on the ¼ mile run up the boat ramp into T1. This was my first race with wetsuit strippers and I am a fan! It sure helped get the suit off quick. I took the opportunity to change into a dry kit as it was recommended by some experienced IM folks. This was also my first “clean transition” where everything except bike mounted hydration and nutrition had to be with me in the changing tent. My T1 time was just over 12 minutes, which given the crowd in the changing tent and the run up the hill, was pretty good.
The bike course was pretty much the same on the north end of the bike leg for the full as it had been on the ½. It started with a non-aero bar high speed decent and then you just get to grinding through the rollers. The south end is pretty flat. Overall, the course is really pretty and the ride went great. I really focused on lower end aerobic heart rates for me and that paid off through minimizing the suffer later on. The biggest challenge was that somewhere on the early part of the ride I lost some of my nutrition. My biggest complaint about the CS CTC Tri tops is the pockets are not deep enough. Not a great way to start the day, but it meant I took banana handups at all of the early bike aid stations. It may have actually worked out better. Like the 70.3, my plan again was to alternate some Simple Fruit gels, Honey Stinger gels, and Cliff Bars trying to get about 250 calories an hour in on the bike. Losing two cliff bars early changed the plan to bananas as mentioned. Again, I stuck to water as my hydration plan with some Salt stick capsules to keep my electrolytes managed. Once I got to the bike special needs, I learned from the earlier loss, and tucked my replenished nutrition into the legs of my shorts rather than use the pockets. The bike route did two loops on the southern end of the course in the Santa Rosa area giving riders a chance to see their support teams as they came through town. I really liked the layout as it may have been the most spectator friendly course I have raced. My bike time for the 112 miles ended up at 6:30:20 and averaged just over 17 miles an hour and felt great coming off the bike!
Also on recommendation for T2, I changed from my cycling kit into a running singlet and running shorts. After 6.5 hours, it felt great to get out of the cycling shorts! My T2 was 11:51. Looking back, I could have done a better job with the sunscreen, but I was onto the run course.
Again, I really focused on specific heart rate work. The first 6 miles went easy and I averaged just under 12 min/mile. Again not fast, but perfect for my goals. Somewhere between 6-8 miles in my heart rate started climbing, so each time I got up close to my threshold I slowed and walked for a minute or two and dropped back to a sustainable level. For the balance of the race, I would run until my heart rate got to a point where I know my threshold to be and then walk for a bit. I ended up averaging 13:37 min/mile for the marathon. It was slow and steady and I was ok with that. Much of the course is shaded and is a mixture of hard compact gravel/dirt and asphalt trail. It was three loops and the spectators lined the course. It was great to have folks cheering and encouraging! I stuck with water and ice from every other aid station in the beginning but it turned out to be every aid station toward the end. I could not stomach anymore gels so pretzels, frozen grapes, and orange slices from the aid stations fueled me. The course also passed the special need drop three times. I only ended up hitting it at the third pass by, but I appreciated the opportunity if the need would have arisen. I again had overpacked my run special needs, but two things were definitely needed. Let’s just say the porta jon just past the special need station was a bit light on TP by the time I hit it on my third loop. I was glad my gut had given me a heads up that I was going to have pay a visit so I grabbed the baby wipes. The “secret weapon” for the last lap was a king size two piece Snickers Bar. I am not a huge candy guy, but I will say that in the moment it may have been the most amazing thing that I had ever tasted. I ate the first half almost immediately and ran to mile 22 for the second half of the Snickers. Along the way, I was carrying it in my hand and had another athlete offer me $500 bucks for the second half. At that moment, it was NOT worth it!
The run finishing shoot was awesome! The crowd was cheering. I think I now might know how it feels to be on the field at one of the big sports stadiums. It didn’t matter that no one except my family knew who I was, but it felt like everyone was cheering for me and for all of us. It was an experience that I am not sure could be replicated without doing this again. Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman was announcing names, and I will say it was something truly magical to hear “Daren Otten, you are an Ironman”.
The final race time was 14 hours, 20 minutes, and 17 seconds. Not getting me to Kona, but it got it done! The first 120 miles were really not bad, the last 20 are a bit tougher. In the end, I only ended up with a little chaffing and a bit of a sunburn. Not too bad in my book!
I must thank my family and friends who have supported me as I have trained and raced this event. Once again, I have to thank Chico Tri Club for convincing me that this was a possibility. I finished this race because people like Greg and Tammie Watkins, Joanne Gilchrist, Shawn Hughes, Margaret Boomberg, Sean Molina, Jason Berry, Manny Mejia, Laura Van Dervoort, Amy Bromelow, Tony English, Mitch Harrell, Eric and Kristie Ayers, just to name a few who have inspired me that anything is truly possible!