Monday, July 11, 2016

Ironman 70.3 Vineman - Race report

My first ever race report (though not my first race) -- albeit an eventful one. Looking at the overall race, it certainly makes me sad! However, looking into it based on how the first half of the race went, I am elated that I came out finishing the race!

I came into the race a bit nervous and excited since this was my first ever 70.3. I thought I had prepared well and I documented my training here. There is a huge gap between what I was expecting based on my training and what I ended up with -- that is covered largely in this race report :)

Amit, Prasad, Shashi, Sony and Me!

Venki and Prakash met us at Dinner while their IM training

Race day

Had a good night sleep of 6-7 hours and woke up fresh and excited for the race. Drove to the start, completed the T1 setup. My wave was scheduled to start at 7:10 am.
All excited!

Da Coach, Athletes, Wives

Morning nutrition

  1. Had a banana (~100 calories) around 5:40 am
  2. Had a Rip Van Waffle cookie (~100 calories) around 6:25 am

Warm-up swim

Went into the water around 6:45 and spent 5-10 mins swimming around and getting used to the water. Water was warm and nice and fresh. Worth the time as it removed all water anxiety and I felt confident and excited.


  1. It was a deep water start. Athletes in my wave were hanging around in the waters near the start buoy for about 6 mins before the start.
  2. Started off towards the trailing end of the wave to avoid anyone swimming over me.
  3. Got into the rhythm early on and started enjoying the swim.
  4. Mostly swam straight as sighting was not much of an issue since mostly at the time, the course was shaded and narrow.
  5. Turnaround: Reached the turnaround point around 29 mins. Had to walk around the turn buoys since the water was too shallow to swim. Even after the turnaround, still had to walk more to find decent depth to swim.
  6. Felt a little bit of cramping on both sides of the chest. Don’t remember this happening in training. Became ok in a bit as I started swimming.
  7. The turnaround walk disturbed my rhythm a bit though the swim back distance and time felt short. Probably due to a gentle downstream current.
  8. Came out strong from the swim in 52 mins -- better than expected time of 55 mins. The weakest sport for me was supposedly over and in a good time.
All smiles before the start

Getting to the deep water start

.. and off we go!

Nervousness all around ;)

.. and here I come!


Went smooth and got out with the bike in 6 mins. I wouldn’t stress about lowering it much more in the later races. Carpets from right after the swim exit to the bike was a bliss (compared to Tri Santa Cruz and Oakland I did last year which blistered my feet).
All set to spin!
  1. As soon as I got on the bike, I realized that am having some Gastrointestinal (GI) problems and felt very uncomfortable.
  2. Next my HR was constantly hovering around 175, so gradually slowed down to get it down to early 160s. Lesson: Should have just walked the bike out rather than running with it.
  3. GI issues did not fade away at all. All the electrolyte drinking and Gu made the palate worse too. Ended up puking a little a couple of times. This was in the first 15-20 miles or so. I decided not to push as hard as I did in my training rides and just concentrated on maintaining a good pace.
  4. Miles 15-25 were hard due to moderately strong headwinds. Getting on the drops helped tremendously though I am not used to those in regular flat rides.
  5. Around mile 20-25 when I was off my seat for a stretch/relaxation, I felt an upcoming cramp on the inside of the right quadricep. I immediately got back on the bike and started massaging a bit. By that time, I had already taken 1 salt tab and was keeping up with my electrolyte intake. I soon took another salt tab in hope to fixing it. Soon enough, I got the same cramp on my left quadricep. This was the time I felt my race is going to turn up different from what I imagined.
  6. So midway into the bike ride, I started fighting with cramps and kept massaging them one at a time. They got better temporarily on and off and I could not find any correlation between my nutrition intake (electrolyte, salt tabs and gu gels) and cramping getting better/worse.
  7. The cramps got worse with time and I had to use every opportunity to save my quads. Did not pedal much during downhills. Took it easy and opportunity to stretch and massage the quads. At any uphill, however small it was, I switched to easy gears and spun off which was relaxing as it did not put any stress on the quads.
  8. Between miles 30-40 I was cruising really easy as it was mostly flat and no headwinds (partial tail/side winds) without stressing out my quads much. Wanted to prepare for the climbs coming up between miles 40-45.
  9. Found the climbs easy as I was on the lowest possible gear and was just spinning enough to go uphill gently.
  10. By mile 45-50, cramps worsened and frequency of cramping pains increased and so did my massaging. By this time, my hamstrings started to cramp too.
  11. Miles 50-56 were the most difficult. As I was 3-4 miles away from the finish, my conditioned worsened and I was literally counting every half mile and checking my watch to see the remaining distance. Literally ½-1 mile away from the finish, the cramps got so bad that even when my knee bent for any spinning, I got a sensation of getting a race-ending pull/spasm anytime. I was not sure if I would survive until dis-mounting. I somehow did after ridiculous massaging and got off the bike.
  12. My bike time reads good on paper. However, per my training and no cramps, I could have bettered it by at least 10 minutes since my re-fueling stops were quick (thanks to the volunteers) and there were no traffic signals to stop and wait for. I found the bike course easy enough compared to the courses around Portola Valley here, but my condition made the experience bad.


  1. Walking into T2, I had my doubts about the rest of the race. By walking to the transition area, I could tell that walking is probably feasible since it’s mostly the lower legs at work which were fine at the moment.
  2. Got to the transition area and bent to pick up my stuff. Felt hurting cramps again. Got the stuff carefully and put on my hat and fuel belt
  3. As I tried putting on the shoes, I had to bend my legs at the knee to hold my shoe to fit in my foot. Severe cramps as soon as I folded my leg. I immediately stopped and went for the other leg. Same problem! Somehow managed to put on the socks -- seemed it required different muscle usage compared to putting on the shoes.
  4. I sat down on the ground to find another body configuration to put the shoes on. This body posture was even worse. Just could not apply any force to put the shoe in! I was left in a very desperate and helpless situation since I did not want to quit before even trying to walk.
  5. Luckily my transition spot was towards one end of the transition bars so I crippled my way to the side and grabbed hold of the bars and helped my way up. Took me some time to figure out the right pose but managed to do it. I had only the toes inside my shoes. So I just forced my feet in and wiggled and eventually got my shoes on!!
  6. I walked to the Run Out and there was an aid tent. I explained my situation and the guy said the cramps will just get worse if I don’t get any electrolyte. Of course I knew that! I had two options: 1) Quit 2) Not Quit. The reason for quitting was purely based on my physical condition. Mentally I did not want to. So I decided that I will give running a try and will take it 1 mile at a time. I knew I was far from the cut-off, so taking incredibly long time for this segment will still earn me a finish.
  7. My cheerleading Asha team missed me by a few minutes and I could not see them at all during this time. That hurt me more mentally since I would have asked for advice and get some confidence going into the run.

Took me more than 9 minutes for this transition. But there was nothing at the moment that could have made it faster, and of course I was not even trying. In “usual” circumstances, this could have reduced to 3-4 minutes easily.


  1. Started walking for the first 100m or so and then switched to a really easy run. Kept switching back and forth between walk and run and things went ok with that routine.
  2. For first 3-4 miles, I balanced my arbitrary switching of run/walk to make sure things don’t get worse and I do get some non-snail’s pace since I wanted to minimize the time I spend in heat walking, but also wanted to exert less. Got into some rhythm and still lived one mile at a time.
  3. Since my body was cramping and it was hot, I made sure I drank enough electrolytes and took salt pill once every 45 mins or so. I was carrying a cooling towel around my neck, arm coolers and a hat -- I poured water at every water stop and made sure heat does not add itself to the factors that were killing me or my race.
  4. Reached mile 5 water stop where Venki and Prakash were waiting. Most embarrasing moment award goes to that moment ;) I burst in tears trying to vent out whatever I was going through. Just seeing them and talking to them for those couple of minutes made me feel so much better mentally. It was the kind of reinforcement I was subconsciously looking for.
  5. I carried long for next few miles without getting much worse. I did start feeling stress on the outside of the knees due to ITBs. And at mile 8, I suddenly got a cramp in my left upper calf. I stopped right then and noticed a medical van literally a few feet away. I limped up to them and asked if they can do “something” to alleviate this condition of mine. They said they can take me to the finish line and attend me there :-/. That was not an option for me. I was still functional and decided to just keep going while adding my calves to the list of muscle groups to worry about.
  6. I reached mile 9 to see Venki and Prakash again. Another reassurance and a landmark since now I could start counting backwards. “Only” 4 more miles to go from there.
  7. Running intermittently became more of a problem that earlier. By mile 10.5-11, got pretty worse. From mile 11 onwards, I decided to walk for a mile and then re-evaluate. Walking also started to become an issue since bottom of my feet were also calling out for help. Not cramping but just tired. Tried to stretch my calves all this while after every few minutes. Did not really seem that it helped much.
  8. Walked until mile 12 without running, and then tried to run again. Cramps made me stop immediately. So I decided that I will just walk until close to the finish line and run the last few meters.
  9. Came close to the finish line with 0.5 mile to go to see such a wonderful crowd cheering for me. And then I saw our Team Asha folks cheering including Coach Char. I just cannot explain how it felt. I was sure from here on I will make it to finish either walking or crawling while meeting the cutoff. Then saw Neha cheering with full stream a few dozen feet down the road. There was a bunch of ladies who started cheering me from their tent and almost coerced me to run to the finish line. After their constant cheers, I could not avoid the urge and started to run to stop immediately due to both legs cramping. So I just continued walking until I saw the finish and jogged on to the finish line to get the medal.
  10. I met Neha there and asked me to get me seated somewhere where I can sit for some time since I knew I would not be able to get up from there for a good amount of time and effort. Good call on that!
Struggling to walk... just waiting for the finish line

Seeing the first hint of the finish line

Barely making it!

I managed to somehow finish this race with plenty of time left before the cutoff. Of course this was not the kind of race I had imagined even in my dreams, so there was a significant disappointment factor in my mind. However, the feeling of finishing the race given the state of affairs from the middle of the bike ride was amazing. As of this writing, one day has passed since the finish and the latter feeling is what I have with me. There are more races to make up for things that did not go well. On the bright side, it’s easier now to create a PR in the next race B-).


An ordeal it was!

What worked

An easier section to write :P.

  1. The swim went well. I was most concerned about the swim going in the race and it turned out to be a comfortable one. I got into the rhythm early on and finished it few minute ahead of usual -- probably wetsuit swim over pool swim advantage played it part since I was not tired after the swim as I feel after a long pool swim.
  2. In my training report, I did mention that I had focused a lot on the bike ride to shave off good chunk from the total. Even after a sub-optimal bike ride, I would say the plan worked. I found the course easier than many of the folks and even with cramps I did well with time without pushing very hard. All this came from my focused training which also gave me some experience with when and how to dial back the effort when needed. Most importantly, I had enough time left for my run/walk.
  3. Since my run was the most painful, I did pat my back for finishing it in a way I have never experienced it before (my first ever half marathon which was the SF 1st half comes close). Especially after being down from mile 0, I could make good judgement calls regarding how should I cover the distance with walk and run. All this came from the experience I gained from 3 years of running which is more than the biking or swimming experience.
  4. Lining up my socks with Vaseline (on the inside) helped prevent any blisters that have happened to me earlier during long runs.

What did not work

Of course we now know what did not work. But the real question is what was the cause to such an outcome? I still say that I trained well for the race and was well prepared to take it on. Probably need to dial in more electrolytes and salt tabs than I used to do but I feel the pre-race day preps might have had a big role to play.

Day before the race

Minor factors could be not enough rest due to jetlag since we returned from Japan three days ago. Or not a very good taper since I did not do a bike or a run in the last few days. However, one major factor that I find convincing is a mild version of Hyponatermia.

  1. I woke up early and headed to the Crissy field where Neha was running. We started for Windsor around 10:15 and reached by noon. Did all the check-in and briefing stuff for the next 2 hours, then headed to the swim start to do the bike check-in. Until this time which was around 4pm, all I had was 250 ml of water only!
  2. We then had lunch and had a cup of Pepsi since I was thirsty :-/ We bought 2 huge bottles of water and headed to our cabin that we rented. I noticed that I was dehydrated a bit after seeing dark yellow color of my urine.
  3. In one go I had around 750 ml of water. (In general, I drink close to a liter or so for my entire day).
  4. We then went for dinner where I remember drinking at least two glasses of water i.e. another ~500 ml.
  5. Went back home, prepped up for the race day and went to sleep after having some more water. I went to the restroom quite number of times and I remember I had perfectly clear urine color which at the time I thought was a great sign of hydrated body until I read this article a few minutes ago: It's published on trainingpeaks so I do give it some credibility.
I am not certain this is the cause for all this but it does explain why I started cramping as early as the swim and was nauseatic on the bike and threw up too. In any case, pre-race day hydration did go wrong!

Lessons learnt

  1. Nutrition/Hydration on the race day and before is equally important.
    1. Start having more electrolytes and salts during bike rides.
    2. Start taking care of hydration and food both before the race and on the race day mornings. Need to practice that on weekend training days.
  2. Maybe should have relaxed even more on the bike. My mind was playing games of finishing the distance to reduce the time for cramps vs. slowing down to tend to them. Mostly the second won but it is possible that slowing down more would have helped.
  3. Practice more open water swim to bike transitions including biking for a bit after since I have had minor GI issues during Oakland olympic last year (which was minor compared to this and became ok with time). Need to really sort this out.

Alright, off to training for Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz! I really hope this was the worst race ever for me and lessons learnt would help me make a better triathlete.
This race was a physical failure but a mental win -- a big one!

More pictures by Venkat:
Official pics:

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