Ironman 70.3 Oceanside 2016

11:35 PM


I'd arrived in Oceanside with plenty of time to spare before checking into the hotel. Parking was a mess, and I instantly regretted trying to take my car to the crowded Strand. Lesson learned. I walked about a mile to Ironman Village, and a bit further to the Junior Seau Community Center right below the pier.

View from above. Little did I know that I would end up running up and down this stretch multiple times!

I stood in line, signed my waivers, and got my morning bag full of stuff. Slightly disappointed that my Ironman California 70.3 participant shirt was a Men's Medium despite me ordering a Women's Small (what was the point of even asking this when I registered for the race?), but I told myself that it would get stuck in the back of my drawer regardless. The yellow palm trees looked a little too In-N-Out for my liking; I was bitter because I tried to visit the new In-N-Out for my post-drive lunch and it was CLOSED. 

Exiting the center, I headed into the Ironman Merchandise tent to pick up my drawstring backpack. I was impressed by how large and durable it seemed, and I could see myself using it at the pool. Wanting to get back to the hotel and get everything organized, I headed out. Before I left, I caught a glimpse of a lady rocking the SOAS Barcelona kit. It was my teammate Whiting! We talked about the race and travel logistics, and where the other girls were--we parted ways and had some prep work to do, and possibly a group swim TBD.

What have I done?

Greg was caught in terrible traffic, and didn't know if he could make it in time to check out my bike before I racked it in transition. I brought my bike into the hotel room and tried my best to figure out why the front brakes were askew. Pulled out the bike tools and tried to find the right piece to get the job done--no luck. Note to self, read up on bike maintenance. While waiting on Greg, I organized all my gear for the following day. Eventually, he made it and we walked over to transition in the harbor together.

Team tiny bike

I got my bike onto the rack. It was the smallest bike by far: while racking it by the seat, my front wheel dangled above ground. I nervously played with the aero bottle that we had installed a couple of nights prior, and hoped that it was a good choice. As I contemplated this decision, a guy walked up to me. "Nice Alias," he said. "How do you like it?"

"I love it," I replied. "It's my first race on it, so I'm excited to try it out. I've put a lot of miles on it."

"You were looking for a road bike with aero bars, specifically?"

"Yup." I wasn't sure where this conversation was going. He wandered away to check out more bikes, and I noticed that he wore a Specialized polo. Wow, that was an impressive conversation, Rebecca, could you be any more awkward?

What I had wanted to say was:

I rode my last half Ironman on my Dolce and wanted something lighter and with better components. I spent every other weekend at my local bike shop, picking up parts and picking the shop guys' minds about my bike options. I told them that I was ready to upgrade from Dolce, but I didn't know if I should just attach some clip-ons and invest in a fast wheelset, or get a different bike entirely.
"You're ready to go carbon," my bike shop guru Jeff told me. After weeks of research and me constantly in there, he presented me with some closeout options: an Amira build or an Alias--a full triathlon/TT bike where we lived (super hilly, technical, congested, high-traffic roads) would be impractical, and I needed something versatile that was responsive and handled well. Much debate ensued between the Specialized Alias 2014 105, 2014 Ultegra, or the 2015 Ultegra, we felt that the 2015 was the best value. I love Specialized and my Alias feels perfect.

Luna, racked and ready for her first race.

Greg and I met up outside transition and we switched into race mode. He showed me the swim course, assured me that I would be fine, and checked the surf report. No waves, maybe some current, a little chop at the turnaround harbor mouth. The buoys were plentiful, unlike in Santa Cruz where I was convinced that I was completely lost and swimming in the wrong direction and into the horizon.

Doing my homework for the swim course.

My pre-race dinner was unconventional. I had lived in this part of Southern California from birth until age twenty-ish, and my post-workout place of choice was Wings-N-Things. The breadsticks are my number one weakness, and you just can't find them like that anywhere else. I assured myself that I needed all the salt that I could get. Wings, breadsticks, carrots, celery...The Last Supper. I wanted some froyo, but it was getting late and I needed to rest up.

We headed back to the hotel, I laid out my race stuff for one last check, settled into bed and ate Red Vines (stress eating at its FINEST).

This year's team kit: loving it!

Race Morning

Greg's alarm went off at 4:20, mine went off at 4:30, and I was irritated that I couldn't have 10 more minutes of sleep. I had tossed and turned all night, with nightmares of getting lost, forgetting my bike, oversleeping, and basically every Worst Case Scenario. I sat in bed and drank 1 full water bottle (20 oz), and then Greg handed me my Race Morning Breakfast of one banana and two servings of oatmeal. We did another last-minute check before heading out into the cold, dark morning.

Transition has this crazy energy on race morning. I enjoy it for about five minutes before it starts to get to me, and I get anxious. My agenda is: set-up bike and run gear, pump air in tires, grab swim stuff (wetsuit, goggles, and cap), and leave ASAP. I was racked next to the oldest man in the race, and he talked to me about his neoprene booties. He wiggled into his wetsuit and grumbled, "I'm too old for this shit," and we both laughed. He ended up winning his division, btw.

I left, got in the port-a-potty line, and Greg checked the swim conditions. It was cold, and I was miserable. Air temperature was 45 degrees F. UGH. A girl ahead of me asked another guy to share some TP. What if there was no TP in my port-a-potty?! Cue panic.

We watched the pros set off, and then I took my time getting into my wetsuit. Last open water swim, I didn't take as much time to work all of the suit into my crotch and armpits, which resulted in the panicky, "I can't breathe" feeling and lots of crying/feelings of failure. Greg pulled the rest of my suit up my hips, which is equivalent to stuffing ten pounds of potatoes into a five-pound bag. 

Questioning my life choices.

He kissed me good luck, I said my usual weary, "See you in about seven hours" goodbye, and I wiggled into the sea of neoprene and tried not to cry. The panic was REAL, and if it wasn't for my SOAS Racing teammate Rebecca finding me (what are the odds, seriously?!) and giving me a quick hug and some encouragement, I probably would've ran back to Greg and became Spectator of the Day. Feeling braver, I found the other "Under 30" neon yellow-capped gals. The pro men ran by, and I was inches from super triathletes like Andy Potts and Sebastian Kienle--the same guys that I would watch in Kona and they were RIGHT THERE at the same race! How cool was that?!

Me plus Andy Potts (!!)

The Swim
1.2 miles of being kicked, punched, and pulled under by thousands of my new friends.

I made my way to the water's edge. Why is time happening so fast? The panic was creeping up again.

No no no no no! My brain screamed as my body trudged into the water. Why did I think that this was a good idea? Why am I doing this? What the hell is my problem? I don't want to do this!


I splashed some water on my face. The water temp was 62 degrees F that morning, and it felt relatively warm. 


I swam with my head above water, screaming internally, and tried to turn around. 

The air horn blared.

Too late. Shit.

I got sucked into the vortex of white water, limbs, and neoprene. I got bumped and nudged, but the women are pretty courteous. I couldn't catch my breath, I couldn't relax, so I made a quick decision to breathe unilaterally, left side only--that way I could see all the buoys and swim a clean line.

I counted buoys, counted breaths, and tried to focus on my stroke. And I got punched, hard, on my left eye. My body screeched to a halt, my head reeling.

"Sorry," the silver-capped guy said. I shrugged and slowly got going again.

I swam to the first turn, and that's where the waves began. I tried to look up and find the red buoy, but my timing was such that I was on top of a wave and all I saw was water and sky. Well then.

The red buoy was met with a calf cramp. Shit.

The next red buoy was met with bilateral calf cramps.

This is the story of how I died. Oh, wait. You're in a wetsuit, idiot. Breathe.

View from the rocks.

The swim was choppy, but nothing super crazy. A lot of people slowed down and got sucked into the current, and I used this as my opportunity to speed up and swim as hard as I could. Finally, I could see the last buoy and swam to the boat ramp, getting bumped by other swimmers along the way.

I felt myself getting pulled out of the water, steadied, and my feet touched the boat ramp. The world came back into focus: cowbells clamoring, cheering crowds, and looking for the clock. I forgot to start my watch, and I knew that my swim wave started at 7:17--the clock said 8:14! That was just under an hour!

Looking at the clock and doing some quick math.

Not knowing there the timing mat was, I ran as hard as I could through transition and did a quick assessment: not dizzy, not nauseated, and a belly full of harbor water. Yum.

Greg was grinning and we exchanged high fives. Off to T1!

Clearly amazed to have finished the swim

The Bike

56 miles of technical turns, challenging climbs, and headwind from hell

As I ran through the bike racks to my lone bike, I had enough time to work my wetsuit down to my waist. I grabbed onto the empty rack and high-knee'd my way out of my suit. Note to self: cut the legs a little shorter.

Definitely not hard to find my bike--last one on the rack!

I had worn my tri shorts and my sports bra under my wetsuit, so I pulled my SOAS Speed Top over my bra. It fit like a glove and had a higher neckline than my usual tri tank. The day was starting to warm up, so I decided to leave my arm warmers tucked into my gear.

Why is my bike so far away from Bike Out? Anyway, I clomped through the transition area and headed to the mount line. I clipped in and headed out...directly to a hill that caught me off guard and I was definitely in the wrong gear. Wanting to avoid a bad shift like the Swanton Rd climb in Santa Cruz, I got onto the hoods and off the saddle. Don't break your chain, don't break your chain...

Hills on hills on hills

The first half of the course had a lot of turns in the city before heading onto the base. I was cautious and stayed on my hoods for the most part, or down on the drops for the sharp turns. The course volunteers were great, and were strategically stationed around potentially problematic areas, warning us with cues and signs: "Hard left!" "Sharp right!" "Dip!" "Bumps!"

100% done with all these turns

Winding, narrow paths and a few no-pass zones...the miles rolled by. I tucked into aero and got frustrated because I kept getting stuck behind slower cyclists. Be patient, it's a long day on the course. Save something for the climbs. I made the best of the bike congestion and started taking in some water, Clif Bloks, and Nuun. Once we got further on base, the terrain changed. Around mile 30, I realized that a giant mountain was staring me in the face, and a hundreds of tiny cyclists were slowing making their ascent. 

Mentally unprepared, I shifted into my smallest gears and started the climb. After 3/4 of the way of burning legs and making very little progress, I unclipped and walked the steepest part. I clipped my left foot in, pushed off with my right, and promptly fell over. Damn it. I was so embarrassed.

The damage was minimal. I took most of the hit on my left knee and hip, and the nose of my saddle was shifted. I forced it back in place, checked my chain, and swung my leg over the right side, and got going again. Suck it up, buttercup.

"Are you okay?" A few people asked me.

"Yes, thanks," I replied, my face burning with shame.

A few miles later, I looked down and realized why. My right ankle was covered in blood. It looked fairly deep, but I figured I had enough adrenaline to keep me going until T2. So that's why everyone wondered if I was okay...

After the first climb fiasco, I promised myself to charge the rest of the climbs and not to back down.

You're small. Really small. You have an advantage. You can beat all these people up the hill. Then you charge the downhill.

I leapfrogged with a whole bunch of ladies in my age group. I fought hard up the hills, and rode the drops as fast as I could. I was instantly grateful for practicing the Ojai descent, because it helped me develop nerves of steel while flying 30+ mph.

I finally dropped the last group of F25-29 that were in my vicinity. Knowing that the last descent led into a headwind back to the coast, I had more left in my tank to push hard into the wind. I tucked into aero and held on for dear life, and got into my drops for the last few turns back into town.

Did I get blood on my bike?

"Go Rebecca!" Greg and my sister were cheering near the harbor. I grinned, and headed back to transition. You got this.

Trying to do my speedy bike justice.

The Run

13.1 miles to become an Ironman, while my stomach was not-so-iron

I racked my bike, and surveyed the damage. The cut was deep, but not too bad; I tried to clean off with some leftover water and a sock. Shoutout to SOAS Racing for sending me black socks in my team package! I pulled on the socks and hoped the compression would keep everything together until I could get to a medical tent.

I exited transition and felt really good.

At least I look fast.

The run was a two-loop course that took me along the pier, on the Strand, and into the neighborhoods and back. 

The first loop felt incredible. My pace was great, definitely sub-10 but at a controlled effort. I saw SOAS cheering section of Jenn B and Yvonne, who made the run extra fun! I saw Liz quite a bit ahead of me, caught a glimpse of Annette, and Whiting and Rebecca not far off. SOAS Racing was in full force! Greg and my sister were stationed nearby, and high-fives and promises of sushi were quickly exchanged.

High-fiving like it's my job.

The second loop was on the Pain Train. It burned, chafed, showed some dehydration signs, and some GI distress. The up/down inclines along the pier were rough and jolted my knees. I speed-walked the incline and suffered with the guy next to me.

"Did they put enough hills in this course or what?" I said, as we both laughed and trudged upward. 

Feeling slightly better, I held onto a good pace through the Strand and was powered by SOAS. So lucky to be a part of this team of awesome women!

Twin duo in action--team booty spank by Jennifer, photo by Yvonne (not pictured)

I slowed to a walk/jog strategy, walking through aid stations and taking in my Shot Bloks. Mile 10.8 (60.8 overall) was where I had to give myself a pep talk in the port-a-potty, and calculated possible splits and finishing times based on my condition while contemplating the TP (how TP became a recurring theme this race is beyond me). Math was never my strong point, but in dire situations like racing, I get crazy good at figuring out pacing.

It's just another run on your lunch break. It's a beautiful day. Look at the water. Your knees don't hurt. It's amazing. Enjoy every step.

Mile 12 was rough. So, so rough. I looked over at the guy next to me and recognized him from social media. We talked about our races for the year, how this run didn't turn out like we had planned, and his involvement with California Triathlon. It turns out that he was working on organizing a local chapter in my neck of the woods--I'll definitely keep an eye out for that! Thanks for the company, Anthony!

Half a mile to go, and I could see that finish line. Come on, you always have another gear...

Eyes on the finish line.

When I'm racing, I'm in my head--I'm aware that everything else is going on around me, but time just stops and everything is quiet. Strangely enough, it's my happy place: when my body is in the most physical stress, my mind is elsewhere. People have asked me, "What do you think about for that long?" My answer is...well, everything. Nothing. It's where nothing matters except taking one step at a time.

I heard Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, as I reached the red carpet.

"Rebecca Aquino, from Ventura, CA!"

Bringing it home.

Finally. I saw Greg and Veronica in my peripherals. I couldn't look at the time clock. I had tunnel vision, and I was going straight to the finish.

Flying through the finish line!

There is something to be said about reaching the finish line. Months and months of training, moments of doubt and panic, crying in the bathroom, freaking out in the cold Pacific Ocean water a week before, and seriously thinking about not even making it to the starting line...

It's all for that moment. That one glorious moment frozen in time where you cross the finish line knowing that you did your best that day, conquering all those moments where it seemed impossible.

It always seems impossible until it's done.

I need to go to the medical tent, but can you take my photo first?

Also, I took a photo at the Ironman wall. I didn't do it at Santa Cruz, my first half, and I really wanted to do it in Oceanside. And I promise that I went to the medical tent afterward. 


Swim--58:02 (50th AG, 655 F, 2254 OA)

Bike--3:32:18 (36 AG, 493 F, 1953 OA)

Run--2:14:42 (34 AG, 402 F, 1691 OA)

Total 6:56:58

Overall, I'm so happy with how I placed. It was a tough race for me, and my first race this season; I was able to hit 2/3 of my race goals-- 1) finishing the swim in under 60 minutes and 2) running faster than a 2:15 in the run split.

For context, my last race was Ironman Santa Cruz 70.3 and I had the following results:


Total 7:28:57

Swim -4 minutes
Bike -11:16
Run -16:xx

My goals of getting faster on the bike and "actually running this time" were things that I actually followed through on and definitely paid off. I know that I can get my run fitness wasn't where I wanted it to be and I didn't put in the miles. My bike is fast, and I know that I need to spend more work on "the engine": more riding (!) and more strengthening.

For the swim, in the week leading up to the race I was able to feel things starting to come together. I see myself putting in more time in the water, which should get easier as the days get longer. Now that I'm starting to get the "feel" of the water, I hope to see my times dropping.

My race plan for this season is to build speed in local sprint and Olympic distances, and hopefully putting in a 70.3 to end my season in September. I haven't committed to anything yet, but I'm optimistic that I can get my time down to a 6:30 or better in the months to come.

Thanks for reading, hopefully I'll have a little more to report in the near future! It's gonna be a great season, I can feel it.

Huge thanks go to--

XTERRA Wetsuits, because I've never raced without my Vortex 4 and their customer service is excellent. I've had my wetsuit since before XTERRA was one of my team sponsors, so you know it's real.

Feed The Machine, my go-to for all things nutrition. I look forward to working with you guys to get my nutrition ON POINT. Thanks, Cyril!

SOAS Racing: from the designers and crew that make the SOAS magic happen, to my amazing and supportive teammates that I can only hope to be like when I grow up! Thanks for taking a chance on a rookie like me.

JNPT: my physical therapy and sports rehabilitation crew and the smartest people that I know, thanks for taking a look at my knees, shoulders, back, ankle...and pointing me in the right direction. I lose my mind every race week and nobody gives me a hard time about it in the office. I'm hoping to pursue a physical therapy/related career and pay it forward someday.

My sister Veronica and her sign-making skills that are second to none; sharing what I do with my family is the best feeling ever. She's the only one in my family in California, and we gotta stick together.

Greg, my coach, training partner, and boyfriend--it hasn't been easy playing all these roles while having more than enough on your plate as well. Thanks for knowing when to let me cry and when to tell me to toughen up. It's a delicate balance, and you walk the line well. Because true love is taking the 101 to the 405 to the 5 on a FRIDAY afternoon to watch your partner race early the next morning.

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