scenic view of waterfall in forest

Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz 2022

The last 2 miles of the run, I thought to myself “I am never doing this again,” but last night when I couldn’t sleep due to the pain in my legs, I was already looking up races for next year…

I raced an Ironman 70.3 (1.2 mile open water swim, 56 mile bike ride, 13.1 mile run) in Santa Cruz last weekend. It was a really fun weekend with friends, the course was beautiful, and I’m really proud of my training and racing so hope to share some of that with you here.


During a 50-miler (trail race) in March, I broke my foot, and working out was temporarily put on pause. I started stationary biking again in April and realized I had retained a lot of bike fitness while I had been training for the running race for the previous 6 months. So I entertained the thought of a triathlon.

At the beginning of May, after debating for a few days whether I felt okay about racing on the date 9/11, I signed up. My grandfather had been a firefighter in New York City and retired 2 weeks before 9/11, but he lost friends in the attack. I decided I would race for him and his friends.

My training for the 2 months leading up to the race (at the top it says “+ 2-3 ez lifts/week”).

My training went really well. I didn’t follow a training plan, I didn’t do any workout I didn’t feel like doing, and I didn’t plan what I’d do more than a few days in advance. I very slowly ramped up my running, and my busy clinical rotation schedule (during my last year of medical school) made sure I didn’t have enough time to run more even if I’d wanted to. I started adding intervals on the bike once or twice a week. By July and August, I was confident enough in my build that I could do (relatively) high volume training, and I peaked with some 18-20 hour weeks during medical school elective weeks and vacation time. I tried to stick to 80/20 training (80% of training easy, 20% of training moderate to hard), and I tried to keep it fun, temporarily downloading Zwift to make indoor training like a video game and doing my long runs on hilly fireroads and singletrack trails (also because I planned to race a 50k 2 weeks after the Ironman). The swimming was a bit of a drag, with the pool never open when I was free, always crowded, and located a 20-minute drive away, so I mostly swam only twice a week. I struggled a bit with recovery “weeks,” sometimes not resting enough after probably digging myself into a hole and having to take more easy days, but I guess it worked out in the end. (Or at least, the taper worked.) And I put extra effort into nutrition, really thinking about food as fuel and replenishment, over-writing the existing wiring in my brain that sometimes confuses food with fear. I finally made it to a triathlon un-injured and with race-appropriate preparation.

Pre-race banana bread.

Race Day

I woke up around 4:45 and did some Duolingo, which is my usual morning routine in an effort to maintain my Spanish. I walked downstairs around 5 and was surprised that I woke up the people sleeping in the living room since we had all agreed to leave around 5:40, which seemed soon to me. I had my usual toast with almond butter and banana, and a slice of homemade banana bread as an afterthought. The house was pretty quiet with everyone focused on packing and eating (we had to be out of the AirBnB by 11, at which point we would still be racing). Or maybe all our talking was exhausted the previous night (shout out to our grocery shoppers and chefs for an amazing pre-race meal and shout out to everyone for the triathlon (and, I suppose, non-triathlon) talk). Anyway, we made it out of the house around 5:50 and to transition by 6. It was a little later than I thought it would be, and I spent 20 minutes waiting in a bathroom line (which was worth it in the end), but was a little more rushed than I’d anticipated being to set up my transition area and throw on the bottom half of my wetsuit (at least I remembered BodyGlide unlike for Ironman Canada in 2019). I walked the half mile to the starting line in bare feet, wondering if it was a mistake not to leave shoes at the swim exit (but let’s be real, I would never have found them among the 2000 others and the pros don’t do it). The sunrise was gorgeous, with dimmed rose-pink and golden orange peeking through purple morning clouds. The air was warm, perhaps 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and smelled of seaweed. There were a few flies near the saltier seaweed that had washed ashore. I found some friends but we quickly parted as they went for a pre-race dip. The age groupers (like me) lined up on the beach according to estimated swim times, and my more experienced triathlon friends had told me to line up in an even faster group, so I slid my way between tall neoprene bodies to make it to the front of the age groupers. The guys behind me were talking about how they were water polo players and I hoped they wouldn’t totally run over me during the swim.

Sunrise at the start.

Someone sang the national anthem at the start line, there was momentary calm, and I cried. The photographer was right in front of me, too… should’ve put my goggles on earlier. Then the pros were off, and not much later, we were off! They sent us in groups of four, five seconds apart. I wasn’t wearing my Garmin (watch) because I planned to bike based on rate of perceived exertion (RPE for short) rather than power (I don’t have a power meter), speed (I don’t have a speedometer), or heartrate (my wrist-based heartrate never registers right when I’m biking, and the watch strap kept coming undone on my training rides), but every single other person around me was. I kind of laughed to myself at the start line when they were all holding the start buttons on their watches while I wasn’t sure what to do with my hands! The water was cold for about 30 seconds and then I forgot all about it in the adrenaline and focus on aiming straight to the next buoy. I swam for what felt like twenty minutes at least, getting passed left and right, but happily not being run over or running over anyone until I finally turned to the right and rounded the corner buoys and started swimming back to shore. My line wasn’t perfect because I didn’t realize the swim ending arch was towards the right of the last buoy, but it was pretty darn good. I was happy with how the swim felt and a little disappointed when it ended because I was finally warm and ready to keep swimming. I rode a wave into the shore and tripped a bit as I started running on the sand, having temporarily been a sea creature. But at least I didn’t fully belly flop on the sand and didn’t drop my goggles like I did at the Alcatraz Triathlon last year. As I exited the swim, I passed someone with a prosthetic leg and was inspired. My feet survived the quarter mile of pavement for the jog to my bike at the transition area. I plopped on the ground and stripped off my wetsuit, took a sip of water, zipped on my bike jersey (pre-loaded with Gu and Larabar), snapped on my bike shoes and helmet, and ran my bike out of the transition area to the mount line. We were off once again!

santa cruz ironman 70.3 bike transition waving while running
Waving as I ran through transition.

The bike course was amazing. First of all, it was on a nearly deserted Highway 1, as the race officials had closed it to all but local traffic. Second of all, the roads were newly paved and felt as smooth as my trainer. Third of all, the cliffs, the farmlands, and the waves were just spectacular. And last but certainly most importantly, the volunteers and locals cheering were energetic, responsive, forgiving, and just overall irreplaceable. I had so much fun waving at all the women who seemed to cheer extra for me just because I was a woman (only ~25% of the racers identified as female). I loved shouting out thank you every time I passed the aid stations even though I didn’t take anything (all my nutrition and water was in my two 750mL bottles filled with Skratch Endurance and my jersey). I said good morning to a local surfer, who responded but seemed totally thrown off by a racer acknowledging him. And I apologized profusely to the fast biker who got caught behind me for my slow, not-at-all-confident u-turn at the turnaround point when we had to go single file, but he seemed cool with it. Beautiful time trial bikes passed me left and right (since I’m a relatively faster swimmer than biker), and I passed a few people towards the end when I found my groove (why does it always take until the end of the segment?). Overall, the bike ride was so smooth, and I think I could have pushed quite a bit harder, but I figured it was better to have a good run than overcook it on the bike. (And for the first time ever in a race, I was looking forward to the run. I wasn’t really sure what pace I’d go and planned to run based on RPE and heart rate rather than a pace per mile, which is how I do training runs too. My running has drastically improved ever since I started trail running last year, so I was excited to see what I could do with this relatively flat run.)

And the run exceeded my expectations… until the last mile. My transition was very fast—bike racked, helmet off, shoes off, jersey off, running shoes on, running shirt on, sip of water (definitely should have had more than a sip at this point—I don’t think I realized how hot it had gotten), four Gus and watch in hand, and I was off for the last time! The first 3 miles of the run passed really fast. My RPE was about 5/10, and my heart rate was lower than I’d anticipated. I wasn’t quite having enough fun to ask the volunteers if they had tiramisu at the aid stations like one of my cool friends, but I did try to thank all the volunteers (especially the cute kids who were volunteering!), cheer on fellow runners, and get my trash into the trash cans instead of around them. I reached the trail portion of the run and spread my arms to do “airplane arms” and embrace the added challenge with footing. As we ran along the cliff, I mentally reached into the water and took some of its power. There was a small hill around mile 8 that got me a bit excited, so I pushed miles 9 and 10 after swallowing a throat-searing vanilla Gu without water, and I must have overdid it given the heat and my lack of effective hydration over the previous hour. Coming into mile 11, I could see what looked like endless winding road along the bluffs and no spectator could get me going. No racer offered encouragement either. I was a little disappointed that none of the community I felt I had imparted so much to throughout the rest of the race could help pick me up at this point. My vision got a little blurry. I walked through an aid station and drank water. I started running again. Then I stopped hands on knees, not really out of breath or in much pain but somehow mentally exhausted. It was weird especially because I had practiced pushing through this point so many times in training, and this was exactly what I had looked forward to doing before the race. This was always my favorite part of hard intervals, leaning into the pain. But I just didn’t have it for the last 2 miles. I didn’t do enough visualization, maybe. I wasn’t having fun anymore, and I couldn’t remember my “why” when my mind wasn’t really working. But eventually I saw my boyfriend and another group of friends cheering, so I had to run, and, swearing under my breath, I broke into a trot past them. Only to stop again hands on knees a bit later. So it went for last mile or so of the race. And then I ran/tripped down a steep hill, turned a corner onto the beach, and it was all over.

Pretending I was ok as I passed the cheering squad at mile 12.

I dazedly let a volunteer take my timing chip off my ankle and I took a cold waterbottle. (Thank goodness Ironman had trash, recycling, and compost at the event or I may have said no to the waterbottle.) I felt pretty out of it, and my cheeks felt really hot, but I found some woman who had passed me on the run and congratulated her. She had come from somewhere in Europe (I was so delirious I can’t remember where exactly) and told me she had been a professional triathlete when she was younger, which was cool. On my walk back to transition to get my phone and bike, I met two more nice triathletes, one of whom won their age group, who shared with me some of their stories. Then I wandered back to where I’d seen my friends cheering for me and hung out with them, cheering for my other friends and other racers, until my last friend came through.

Recovering and cheering for our finishing friends!

We all got dunch and took a group picture near the awards ceremony (top 5 of each age group got awards #goals). I met a couple other people who recognized my shirt (I was wearing a Crocker “Think Pink” cotton shirt that I got in high school when I was a rower), one of whom had also rowed in college. They told me to wait around and see if I’d get a ticket to the 70.3 World Championships since I finished high enough that it wasn’t implausible, and… I didn’t get one.

What a day. What a distance. What a crew.

Group photo after — I’m on the far right

P.S. I didn’t want to emphasize times, since my current mindset is that it’s about the experience, but if you’re interested, my race times were overall 5:12:13 with (approximately) 30 minutes for the 1.2 mile swim, 2 hours 48 minutes for the 56 mile bike (20 mph average), and 1 hour 47 minutes (8:04 minutes/mile) for the 13.1 mile run. I placed 13th out of 93 females age 25-29, 67th out of 671 females, and 466th out of 2,576 overall.

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