Big Kahuna 70.3 Half Iron Race Report

So here we go…my sorta long race report for the Big Kahuna 70.3 in Santa Cruz, CA.

I got up around 5AM after about 6 hours of sleep, pretty good for the night before a race, and a bit later than usual (wakeup time) – but I was so close to the start line that it made getting to the course easy. I sipped on a bottle of Heed/Perpetuem as my breakfast. I just wasn’t feeling the bagel I had prepared for breakfast. Since the hotel was only two minutes away by bike, I left around 5:45PM – along with about 3-4 other folks from our luxurious resort (Days Inn).

The transition area was already buzzing (as expected). The way it was laid out –there was clearly ‘good’ spots and ‘bad spots’. The entrances/exits were all along one side, so the best spots were those closest to the entry/exit. Those were of course gone, I value 90 minutes of sleep more than 30 seconds of T1/T2 speed. I decided to go with an aisle spot, a bit further away but it would minimize any mess in trying to getting my bike out. After getting everything unpacked onto the ground I realized I left my towel behind in the room. Had this been any other location, I might have decided to forgo it, but since I knew I had to wash the sand off my feet after the swim, I finished setting up and then made the quick bike trip back and forth to pick it up. I also contemplated adding air to my tires knowing they might have been a touch bit on the low side – but decided against it (not sure if that was a good or bad decision). Around 6:30AM I following the rest of the lemmings over to the beach (about a 1/3rd of a mile away).

Because it was a Hawaiian themed event (The Big Kahuna), they had some Hawaiian conch shell dude do his thing and bless the water/event with a big toot. No sharks attacked, so I figured that seemed to have worked. At this point they started randomly announcing people’s names and numbers and where they were from. Including a 15-year old kid that was racing. At that point I knew what would become my only real goal for the day.: Beating the 15 year old.

I went for a quick 5 minute dip in the chilly 57* water to get acclimated and then headed up into the crowd to prepare to start. I’ve found that for me the 5-minute pre-swim is the difference between a good swim performance and a dismal one. Without it, I just can’t get into a rhythm.

For reasons unknown to me, they mixed the ‘29 and under’ males with the Elites as the first wave. At first thought, I was thinking “Great, just what I wanted!”. But the more I thought about it, the better I realized this was. Primarily – because the elites would be out of the way within 1-2 minutes, it effectively cut the field in half making plenty of room for the rest of us that weren’t going to be swimming a 22 minute 1.2 miles.

The swim was also a beach start (meaning it started on the beach and you ran into the water). I wasn’t expecting this, but it turned out fine. At exactly 7:00AM they shot the gun and off we went. My strategy was multifold:

1) Don’t get eaten by a Great White shark (a Great White shark had attacked just down the road last weekend)
2) Don’t get attacked by a seal/sea lion (thus causing/instantiating #1)
3) Don’t get flattened by an elite
4) Swim a sub-35 minute swim

I’m happy to report I succeeded on all four fronts.

I got into the water and stayed a little to the right of the main pack, perhaps 10 yards off the right side and just kept a nice solid pace from the beginning all the way through to the end. It was kinda cool hearing the sea lions barking off in the distance from under wharf – as long as they stayed there. There really wasn’t much to report on the swim, I didn’t get kicked in the face or anything else – I just plodded along. I do wish they had more than three buoys, because of the gentle rolling seas it was a bit difficult to see the next point sometimes.

Total swim time: 34:13 (1.2 miles)

I’m the one in the middle in the photo below.

This would officially be the longest transition on earth. Seriously. I took some Virtual Earth imagery and doctored it up a bit to show how long it is. The red line is the swim course with the three orange buoys, and the red dots are the start/finish/T1. The blue line is the bike course as it heads out of town.

As far as execution on this, it involved first crossing 100 yards of loose beach sand, then going up a ramp, then down a concrete street for 1/3rd of a mile (yes, I measured it) in bare feet. Finally you get to the transition area.

Based on casual glances, I think my actual time in the transition ‘area’ was about 2:30 – a bit longer than I would have liked, but I knew that if I didn’t adequately take care of ridding my feet of all of the sand I would only pay the price later on the run. I did remember to have an extra water bottle with the lid removed with water at my bike to wash my feet. They also had Rubbermaid buckets with water at the entrance to T1. After loading everything up I was ready to go.

Total official T1 transition time was: 5:35

Cycling is not my strongest suit. My general goal on the bike this year is to simply make it to the run with a respectable time. Well, actually – my real primary goal is for my bike not to malfunction. Based on all I’d heard from a number of folks who had done this course before, the idea was to make it quickly to the turnaround point (28 miles up the Pacific Coast Highway) before the headwinds kicked up, and then catch the daily southerly tailwinds back – the key being to make good time because the winds increase as the day goes on (thus making stronger headwinds for the way out). I basically followed that plan. My outbound was averaged 20mph and I made the turnaround point in 1:24:10. With the turnaround completed and I was all ready for that tailwind.

Hmm…no tailwind. In fact, I think there might be a slight headwind. No biggie, I’m sure in a few miles I’ll get a tailwind – perhaps I’m just at the wrong angle to the wind. 10 miles later…no tailwind. Ok. I guess I’m not getting a tailwind today. I was still maintaining pace, but I was slowing ever so slightly. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was tired, or if there was a head wind or what. And then I realized what the issue was. My front tire was slowly deflating. Not a ton, but enough that the bottom was slightly bulging.

I decided to press on for another couple of miles to see if it was just my brain playing tricks on me or if it was really slowly deflating.

Two miles later. Yup – deflating. I decided not to replace the tube and went with the pump instead. It took 90 seconds to complete the first pumping. This including standing over bike, get pump out, get tire situated for pumping and then pumping and putting it all away. Wow…the bike seemed fast after that. I was hauling. My average speed went from 18mph to over 22mph – with less effort to boot. It’s funny, on my speed charts from my GPS unit you can very clearly see where I inflated my tube, and then as time goes on a gradual slow down – and then it repeats again as I inflate/deflate again.

I ended up doing that drill once more around mile 49, roughly 10 miles after the first inflation. While these cost me some time, it saved me time changing a tube. I knew that if I changed a tube it would cost me at least 8-10 minutes. It was a gamble, but it worked. I strolled into town a short while later. When I picked up my bike after the race, my tire was fully deflated – it probably had less air in it than a new tire in the packaging.

The course was pretty cool, mostly just a lot of rolling hills. Here’s a shot on the way back into town (south toward Santa Cruz). As you’ll note, I haven’t started using aero bars yet – that’s on the list for the winter.

Overall Bike Time: 2:50:17 (Roughly 19.8mph)

The run is my strongest sport and I count on it to make up time. I also know I over train for the run as I’m simultaneously following a marathon training plan for my run portion. I headed out of transition and onto the run, aside from a brief incline out of the transition area (maybe 100 feet), it was a very flat course. It basically strolls along the ocean’s edge, above the cliffs and crashing water. Very cool.

What wasn’t so cool was what happened around the first mile marker. My stomach wasn’t feeling quite right. I wasn’t sure what it was, but figured it wasn’t a big deal – just a minor stomach ache and that it would disappear. I was still maintaining a good pace – 7:37 minutes per mile, but things weren’t so good down south. I figured that maybe ridding myself of some of the liquid I had accrued during the run would help, and I happened to sight a port-a-potty just ahead (otherwise trees would have been in order). After a brief 60 second stop there, things still weren’t feeling so good. In fact, they were feeling downright bad. Pretty much like I was going to lose my breakfast.

At that point I remembered back to being sick as a kid and the rule of throwing up – it ALWAYS makes you feel better. So I figured that sounded like a great plan. At the 1.3 mile marker, the urge came and I threw up more than I ever have in my entire life. At least 30oz of pure liquid. It was like a firehouse. I’ve never done that before while exercising, so I’m not sure what happened. The whole trailside experience took about 5 minutes until there was simply nothing left, then I walked about 5 more minutes to let everything settle. I was surprised that while I was bent over 3 different people actually stopped and asked if I was alright (all racers, both male and female). Strangely no non-racers asked if I was alright (despite some passing by). I assured them that I was just giving nutrients to the plants and they carried on. Overall time lost: About 10-12 minutes (including the bathroom break).

As soon as I started running I was instantly back at around a 7:45 pace. I pretty much stayed at that pace for just about the rest of the race. I slowed down a touch on two long hills around miles 7/8.

The below photo is around mile 11 or so as we headed back into town. I’m the one in the photo who was told to smile. :)

There was one other evil part left. That would be the finish. If you refer to the swim map, the swim start is also where the finish line was, and the swim finish would be where you came down off the oceanside pathway (along left/bottom side of photo) and onto the beach for the last 1/3rd of a mile. Yes…the nice sandy beach. There was a group of four or five of us that all hit the sand at the same time and let out a communal groan. It was much like stepping off one of those flat people movers that are at the airport – you feel like you’ve just come to a stop. But with the finish line so close it wasn’t too bad. You made your way down to the water and ran along the water for a short distance, and then eventually back up onto the sand down a chute to the finish line. It was kinda fun dodging the water lapsing on the beach.

I finished in a time of 5:21:06. This ended up being about 9 minutes ahead of my goal time of 5:30, and within 60 seconds of my ‘predicted’ best case time based on some numbers I had run on Saturday night. Ironically all of my theoretical numbers were nearly dead on.

Overall I’m fairly happy with my first half iron. I lost a total of 3-5 minutes on the bike due to mechanical issues (tire), plus whatever unknown speed/work effort slowdowns I endured as part of the deflating tire. And I lost 10-12 minutes as part of the run cookie tossing incident. Without those I would have been in the 5:05-5:10 range. But what happens…happens, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Oh, and btw – I beat the 15 year old. Passed him at around the half way mark on the run. Because really…that’s all that counts.

I don’t know what caused my cookie incident, my suspicion is that my concentration of Heed/Perpetuem was to blame, but it’s never caused me issues in training. Not sure – I’ll have to keep tweaking that until I get it right, perhaps lowering the number of scoops.

I’m really looking forward to next spring and summer. I’ve got one more tri (The National Triathlon -an Olympic distnace one) this year left and then finish up with marathon season. After that I’m looking forward to working hard on the bike and swim to really improve in those areas. In the 4-5 months I’ve been cycling I’ve seen continual week over week improvements so I think a good solid winter of cycling will really help for next year. And ready to tackle Ironman Canada in 2008.

The Big Kahuna 70.3 race is a fun one and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone. There are some minor organizational things they could do tidy up, but nothing that took away from the event.


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  1. Hey Rainmakes, great race description, I like your blog style, similar to mine. I think I’ll try to follow your blog and check out what you’ve been doing!



  2. Angel

    Thank you for the awesome write up!! I just signed up for this race. My first 70.3!

  3. Erika

    Rainmaker, nice blog entry. The hubby just got orders to Monterey and I am looking at doing my first half-ironman distance tri. Do you think the Big Kahuna is a good race to start out on? Thanks for any input.

    • I think it’s a great one for a first half-iron (and, where I did my first half-iron). The course is mentally relatively easy in that it’s out and back on the bike and run (versus loops, but everyone varies). I’d love to do it again sometime!