It’s funny how life works out. Because of Covid, IM Sacramento was rescheduled multiple times. And with the option to defer one more time to April of 2022, I reluctantly agreed to race in October. For some reason, I thought I could do Ironman Sacramento, then race Oceanside 70.3 on back-to-back weekends. I thought I could focus solely on Sacramento, then somehow recover in time to have a decent swim and bike in Oceanside and roll the dice on the run. Hilarious in hindsight. My last out was to just forgo Oceanside if I was too sore or too much in a hole from Sacramento. Well, as luck would have it, a bomb cyclone hit Sacramento in the wee hours of Sunday morning and the Ironman was canceled. In my opinion, it was the right call.
IM Sacramento had already been reduced to a one lap bike (56 miles) and at 5:30am the wind and rain felt like they were at their peak. Fellow Team Zoot member Scott Callender and I drove to transition race morning and as we were walking in with our ponchos on, the race director called the race. Heartbreaking considering the time and sacrifices made. I was in such a weird place that I didn’t even want to do anything training related on Sunday.
After the trip back to Orange County CA, I just didn’t know what to do with the week. It was Monday and I was supposed to be sore and damaged from the Ironman. Instead I felt relieved and fresh. Monday night, I did a one-hour bike with a 20 minute run off and I felt absolutely great. I was floating on the treadmill and was shocked at how nice it felt. Tuesday was a morning swim and easy run at night. Wednesday was another swim and hour bike ride with some pops. Again, not really caring or knowing what to do, I just went through the motions and tried to mentally prepare for a race that I had no business being in. The week sped by and before I knew it, I had my race bib and was racked on Friday afternoon.
The Race – Saturday October 30th, 2021
Driving down to Oceanside was easy and I was able to park about a mile from transition. I made the dark walk to the harbor with a few other racers. As I was walking, I felt something. Race day excitement. Oh yeah! I forgot about you. That 15-minute walk was perfect to realize that I was going to race today. The sadness, frustration, and strong mild anger from traveling all the way to Sacramento and not being able to race was suddenly washed away with the opportunity to have at least one, (air quotes) big race in 2021.
Walking into transition did not feel like a normal Oceanside 70.3. Not sure how many people kept this one-off October race registration but I recall transition looking smaller than typical. And it felt much softer and subdued. No problem I thought, less lines for the bathrooms and less jostling for bike rack space. I did my best to organize my area and make sure everything was set. Typically for this race you don’t have to wear your race bib while on the bike. Due to Covid, it was mandatory. Not a big deal, just needed to remember to put it on after the swim!
As the race start drew near, I did one final check of equipment and then put my wetsuit on. Air temps were perfect at 59/60 degrees so the wetsuit added more warmth. I made my way to the beach as this year they brought back an ocean, surf swim entry as opposed to a harbor start.
I HATE surf swim entries. I thought about ending the swim report after that sentence. Sorry, let me correct, I LOATHE surf swim entries. I hope you get the point. Maybe it’s a lack of experience, a childhood trauma, or a just plain detestation of going through waves. The fact that I knew we would enter through the chop made me lose sleep the night before. Hard pass.
I found the 30-32-minute swim wave banner and decided to take a quick dip to A) acclimate to the water temp and B) cram for my surf test that would be upon me in minutes. The water was fine temp wise BUT for some reason I started hyperventilating during my quick dip. I found my breath as I was still dodging waves and thought “OK let’s get this over with now instead of during the race”. Thankfully I was able to swim a bit and settle down. Morning of there was a ton of fog too, which delayed the swim start, so lifeguards yelled at us to get out of the water. You could hardly see the first, red, right turn buoy.
In line, I saw Mark Goddard and Shawn O’Shea from Zoot. We hugged and wished each other luck. The start would be pushed back to 7am and we would be sent off in groups of five people, about ten seconds apart.
Being in the swim corral, spectators were lined up and it “felt” like a normal race. I gave a few fist bumps and felt ready to get the day started. A few more seconds and I would be at the start line, ready to hear my send off.
Like an alpine skier in the block, I heard the dot dot…BEEP!
I slow jogged into the surf and did my best to stay upright and slosh through the low waves. What a unique sight. Seeing lines of waves tumble into the beach and seeing spots of athletes bob and maneuver their way through. It was really a unique mental picture.
I scratched, clawed, and pulled myself to the first red buoy and made the right turn. From then, it was almost a straight line to the harbor jetty where another red buoy would turn us right again, into the harbor. I settled into my stroke and did my best to find feet but I swam somewhat solo for most of the swim. Into the harbor, I felt some relief not having to navigate waves anymore, but because of all the swimmers it was just straight up choppy. Oh well, we’re racing! (remember?). Towards the last few buoys, I remember thinking “wow that was quick”. Not quick on paper lol but felt like the swim was done before I knew it. I thought “maybe I should train solely for IM’s and only do 70.3s!”. What a concept. Out of the harbor and down the long run into transition. 33:38
Was like I had never gotten out of a wetsuit before. Time stops when you are in transition naturally so I was panicking thinking I was taking forever. I oafishly removed my wetsuit, remembered my race belt, helmet, and was off. I was eager to see what kind of bike fitness I had and what effect the last week of training/non-training had on me. 4:25
Having done Oceanside several times before and riding the coast often during training, the bike is second nature at this point. You kind of know every in and out, every bump and pothole, every flat and uphill section. The first part of the bike is about 20-ish miles going north through Camp Pendleton and mostly pancake flat with a rather deceptive tail wind. At certain times I would push 24-25 miles per hour and think blowing up was an inevitable conclusion. We still had the notorious three climbs to tackle and I was barely a third of the way into the bike leg. At Christianitos, you make a right turn back onto the base and that is when the real fun starts. The first climb always reminds me of that initial tick tick tick when you go on a roller coaster. You need to get elevation in order to pick up speed and momentum so climbing up a steep incline is the coasters best move. The first climb is just like that. Smallest chain ring and pumping out of saddle. I did my best not to burn too many matches but again, we were racing! So I probably pushed a bit harder than I should have. BUT I felt good. After a lovely downhill to recover, it was more and more hills. Except, this time, I was ready for them. I knew, and oddly remembered, their inclines and approximately how long the other two climbs lasted. So I wasn’t bothered by them. I just plugged away and caught people up front who were hill adverse. Again, felt good. My motto just might be “train for IM, only race 70.3s” lol.
What I was worried about was the infamous head wind at mile 50 of the 56 bike ride. What I should have been worried about was my bike and the condition of the aerobars. Because at mile 44/45, my right aerobar snapped off. WTF!? Luckily, I stayed upright (phew!) and was able to tuck the aerobar between my front headset. Unluckily, I now could only ride in aero position with my left arm while my right hand was on my brake. A little awkward but I knew I only had 10-12 miles left so I could muscle it out. On the back stretch to transition, I got as low as I could and just kept pumping. This would be the dreaded six-mile headwind stretch. Side note on Oceanside, this is the type of race that if you let up or soft pedal for a bit, a pack of six to eight people typically ride up on you at any given time during the bike ride. No idea why that is but I always feel like a pack is just about to engulf me during that race. Low and behold when I made the turn back towards the harbor, a pack of riders were just behind me. Most likely the whole time. One rider moved to the front and as he passed he offered to work together to catch some riders up ahead. I don’t think he saw my makeshift aero bar contraption because all I was thinking was “don’t crash and don’t get dropped”. Funny thing, I didn’t get dropped. He led the way for maybe a mile or two, then I pushed past him and ended up dropping him…and the pack. I caught up to the riders ahead and kept catching people until the very last downhill dip into the harbor. I was watching my bike Garmin and was doing my best to break 2:30. Into the harbor, tons of spectators and people cheering. I slipped out of my bike shoes and prepped for the run ahead. 2:32:08
COMPLETELY ran past my transition area to the wrong bike rack and had to double back. D’oh. Rookie move. Slipped on my Nikes, and had my hat, gel, and some pre-race-caps in a large Ziploc bag so I could run and grab them at the same time. 3:16
Out of transition, my only goal was to get through the run. I know that sounds silly, but my heart was never really into this race and I knew the run was not easy. Rolling hills, some steep pitches up the pier, and some steep downhill pitches too. So my ultimate goal was to just finish and say I raced. What ended up being a big blessing was great weather. Temps remained cool and it was overcast for 99% of the race. If it held for the run, only good things would happen. As I set out on that first mile of 13, I always remember from past coaches to PACE the first mile of a race. You are so jacked and amped from the crowd that you go out WAYYYYY too hard and then pay for it later. I ran the first mile at 6:11. Gulp. I was out hot and tried to reign things back. BUT the thing was, I was feeling good (no leg fatigue from the bike) and I was stamping out a good run cadence. SO I just went with it. I also remembered a big training day I had about a month ago. I did a 5:30 trainer ride with intervals holding slightly above my threshold power and slightly below, interchanging every five minutes. I had a one hour run after that. What I remember is getting off the trainer after five and a half hours and my knees being absolutely shot. I could barely walk to the fridge to grab a water bottle. In that moment, I was going to ditch my hour run. But I thought, just give it five or ten minutes and see what happens. After a few long procrastinating minutes, I started the treadmill run and…slowly…started to feel better. My knee ache went away and after ten minutes, I was back to running a normal cadence. So while on the Oceanside run, I knew if I could run after a hard AF bike set, I could push this run and hold on. And that is exactly what I tried to do. Just keep pushing. And the miles soon started to tick by. At the harbor pier, I saw Mark again and asked him where I was in my age group. He yelled out “you’re winning dude!”. Lol, thanks bud. I was definitely not winning. But it made me laugh.
The run is two loops of an out and back course. The “end” of the loop farthest from transition has a left turn with a small out and back which has got to be a giant FU to racers. Because when you think you are out of room to run, you have to do this short turn around. Diabolical.
I did my best to just tick off the miles and maintain my pace. I kept hearing someone yell my name and realized it was my swim coach, Mike, spectating. Once I realized it was him, it gave me a very much needed boost on the second lap. My steady diet of coke and red bull was doing its job and I didn’t feel much wane in energy. Making the final stretch around mile 10, I knew I just had to get through the last two rollers and then back onto the boardwalk for the final mile to the finish. Easily the hardest three miles, I power shuffled up the hills and hung on as best I could on the down hills. The last stretch was flat and a huge smile on my face formed as I knew I was A) almost done and B) kind of having a pretty good run. Into the finish chute I was all alone so I figured I had a decent race. I heard my name called and I was elated to be done. 1:23:56 (BAM!)
Shockingly Oceanside is always a hard race no matter how well you train for it. Preparing for a full Ironman certainly has its benefits when you only race half the distance. I was pleasantly surprised and happy at how the race unfolded.
This race was my second fastest Oceanside after completing this race 11 times (11!) with my second fastest run (only :44 seconds off my fastest). I still think I am a better swimmer than what my result shows.
This was also my second fastest bike split. I know I pushed the entire ride so I’m really scratching my head to see where I could have saved time. Not sure. Maybe just more overall bike fitness.
Still elated about my run. 1:23 high is a time I would pay for any day for ANY 70.3 let alone Oceanside. 5th fastest run in my age group and 49th fastest run overall.
My transitions certainly could have used some help and there is probably :30 to 1:00 savings total there. Not much.
I was 11th in my age group and 74th overall. Considering the past week with Sacramento, I’m proud of the effort. And even more, I was able to nab a spot for the 2022 70.3 World Championships in St. George. YEEEEWWW!!!!
Charles Reiter is a Team Zoot age group athlete from Newport Beach, Ca. Follow his shenanigans on IG at @chuckster134