Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa, the kinder, gentler, Ironman 70.3 (as opposed to St. George or Oceanside!). Remember to be careful of drinking the Neuman punch!
I think this is my first race report . . . Ha! I do, however, feel obligated to provide some information to those who may have mistakenly signed up for the full Ironman Santa Rosa in July! (any signup for a full is pretty incomprehensible in my mind)
First point is that this was the largest field ever for a USA 70.3 and the second largest 70.3 in the world with 2,850 racers. About 500 more than last year’s Vineman 70.3.
Race day morning started, for me, with trying to find parking at 4 am in Santa Rosa. They published a nice map showing parking lots for athletes race day but the biggest parking structures at the Santa Rosa Plaza were all blocked off race morning!? I parked in another suggested lot under the fwy but the parking ticket machines would not accept payment that early in the morning. Myself and other racers left our cars there anyway. I made a comment to a race organizer who then went to a supervisor who said that they knew plaza parking would be blocked (Wtf!? No mention to athletes at the briefing) but said she would notify Parking about the other lot. I ended up with a note on my windshield saying “OK” and initialed and no parking ticket. Nicole Goller ended up driving Trevor, Tyler, and Jeff up to the lake and I didn’t get the story on that.
The bus ride was fine and worked out. I was there early, busses would run from 4 – 5 am, and I got on one of the first school buses. They had announced that they would provide pens so people could body mark each other on the ride up in the warm bus and to save time. It was going to be in the low 40’s at T1 that morning. I was a little amazed when a guy got on the bus to announce this and then passed out ONE pen for the whole bus to body mark each other. I was half way down the bus and we got the pen a couple of minutes before we got off the bus.
There were a lot of people already in T1 when we got there who must have driven up. There is very limited parking at the lake and athletes were strongly advised to take the shuttle busses. Set up was fine but the parking lot was an old dirty asphalt lot that they had not swept so it was painful to walk barefoot on and after the swim you had to wipe all the pebbles off your feet before you could put your socks on. They had morning clothes drop off bags for everyone to drop off before the swim. When I went to drop off my bag there was a HUGE line of athletes in wetsuits trying to drop off bags 10 minutes before race start because the volunteers were casually sorting bags by number as bags were turned in. Eventually everyone just started dumping their bags over the fence and getting down to the start. The volunteers had plenty of time later to sort bags.
There was no national anthem before the race start which I thought was a little odd. They had bins for swim times because it was a rolling start which were pretty well laid out. I went in the water to acclimate when the first age group started (for example, Tyler). This caused all the bins to start moving and I had to ask around to figure out where the bins had moved to. The swim course was changed the day before because of early morning winds and the chance of significant chop. I swam Thursday and it was fine but on Friday, when I dropped off my bike in T1, it was pretty choppy. We ended up swimming under the bridge towards the marina and then back clockwise. The swim start was good with plenty of space, single file water entry. I had no problems with the low 60’s water temperature (big plus for Lynda!) and I did have booties on. There was plenty of room between swimmers on the way to the first mark. After the first mark it seemed to get more crowded especially as we approached the second mark. I was getting passed slowly by other swimmers ( I got in with the 35-37 minute group based on my OC open water swim two weeks ago but ended up swimming a 41) and coming up on others. After the third mark, they kind of squeezed us close to the shore which made the crowding even worse and there was a lot of body contact going on. Part of it could have been the large number of swimmers in that time range but it was the worst crowding I’ve experienced that far into a swim. There shouldn’t be as much of a problem with the original swim course if there is no wind. The run up to, and into, T1 was a little crazy. They carpeted the run path up the launch ramp but stopped it at the road. The ramp was ribbed concrete which was actually easier to walk on than the road and I heard lots of athletes complaining about the painful run to T1. I ended up fast walking the whole way to save my legs. The booties helped too. Once to the top we had to run all the way around T1 (2900 athletes) to the other end, hence the long T1 (11 1/2 minutes . . Stop laughing). My Garmin showed .46 miles for T1! T2 was actually two blocks long on a four lane road in downtown Santa Rosa (you leave your running gear there Friday, in the middle of the street, and cannot access it racemorning). I was at the far end of T1 and T2 which required long runs with my bike for both. My Garmin showed .18 miles for T2.
Bike start was good. I could see all the swimmers in the water getting pinched close to the shore as I crossed over the bridge. The bike was a little windy the whole way. Sometimes headwinds, or tailwinds, or crosswinds. I think the new course also took us over more, and worse, rough roads. I was always around other riders and it was difficult to concentrate on maintaining power between riders, potholes, and crosswinds. Other riders also tended to push the hills and cruise the crest and downhills which meant I was passing the same riders over and over again.
The run started out well. I got into a cruise pace which was a little slower than some of the other athletes around me. The run course, close to T2, has runners in both directions on different laps sharing a pathway that is two runners wide in each direction. This meant there were runners with significant differences in speed trying to get through at the same time. The run course was basically dirt path on the south side of the river on the way out and old bumpy asphalt on the north side coming back. There was a nice cooling breeze with mild temperatures and lots of shade which made for great running conditions. I saw a lot fewer walkers on this course than I used to see on the Vineman course. The running course, at times, was really circuitous going through the pathways and bridge crossings and different laps. There were plenty of aid stations on the route. There was plenty of pizza and food at the end of the race.
Overall, I think the course is a faster course than the old Vineman course. The swim is open water and, with the rolling start, gets you out on the bike course a lot sooner than the wave starts did for most athletes. Wind and chop could be a problem though and the run to T1 is REALLY long and arduous. The bike is typical Vineman with some of the same roads. The run, though crowded at times, is much less exposed and cooler. The out and backs give you a chance to see other athletes ahead and behind you. The full Ironman Santa Rosa courses will be a little different (i.e. LONGER) so some of what I experienced is applicable and some not. It looks like the run goes out farther along the creek and doesn’t come back to the start like the 70.3 did. This should mean less problems with runners on the same path with different speeds and on different laps that I saw on the paths close to the run start.
Bottom line is I didn’t quite get my sub 6 hour race but I did have my fastest 70.3 yet.
Hope this helps any future Santa Rosa Ironman racers.