Ironman Santa Rosa Race Report

Jenn and Michael Campbell pre race at Ironman Santa Rosa

In 2019 I turn 60 years old…hard to believe! As a competitive triathlete ageing up it is always a year to contemplate finding the best race to optimize your abilities within your NEW your age group. After much research I chose Santa Rosa because it was close to home, an early season race, and I had friends going. The course promised to be fast! Little did I know how fast.

Swim – The swim in Lake Sonoma was beautiful and relatively calm. I positioned myself in the 1:15 to 1:20 pack as did Jill and Mike. Throughout the swim I thought about Victoria’s queen of open water swimming, Susan Simmons, who believes swimming is meditative so I tried to stay in that groove rather than letting the race consume me. The first loop was excellent as I was able to find feet, swim close to the bouys and rarely had to sight. The first 1.9 km time was 33:56 min. In the second loop I was a bit farther out from the buoys and the crowd had spread a bit, so feet were harder to find. The pace on the first loop helped me achieve a best IM swim at 1:11:32. Once out of the water the main challenge was to run up a fairly steep boat ramp and I was mindful not to overexert my calves with the sudden change from being contracted (in the flutter kick) to extended (running up the hill). I was worried about my Achilles which had flared up in the last 2 weeks before the race. I tested my Achilles with a few methodical steps, it was fine so off I ran stripping.

T1 – I had a perfect AWA placement for my T1 bag on the top rung at the start of the row as I entered. No volunteer was available to help which was good as it was easier to get it myself. As always, I ran right through the tent to the last chair by the exit and proceeded to put on my helmet and glasses. I ran to the bike carrying my shoes because it was a long way to my rock star parking afforded by my AWA status. Getting and AWA ranking was a strategy Mike and I had planned and achieved through our in 2018 racing season and it payed off in this race. While un racking my bike I saw that all of my AG competitors’ bikes were still racked so I felt a wave of excitement that I may have been the first out of the water. HPR and Tyee workouts had really helped my swimming.  My goal for T1 was to come close to the awesome time of Jackie Davidson (5:34) had done last year. When I lapped my watch at the mount line my watch showed 5:32.

Bike – Santa Rosa is a course with rolling hills with very rough sections of roads, I knew this going in and made the mental decision to just accept the roads the way they are and deal with it. I didn’t want them to wreck my day. We had driven portions of the bike course to see how bad the roads were, and I knew in advance where to expect rough patches.

The bike started out with my first adaptation of the day… changing from “power based” targets to heart rate / speed targets as I lost my power meter. I stopped briefly to try to reset and calibrate with no luck. My pre-race contingency was to aim for the sweet spot of 140 PBM and 30Km/hr and I had my watch configured so a screen would have this data available. A quick tap on my watch and plan B was active. Once I settled into my adjusted race mode, the ride was great with spectacular scenery to distract from the various road conditions.

The route had some technical turns that were challenging, and I had to focus lots of attention on the road surfaces. I was worried about bottle handling on the course, but there were enough smooth sections for me to refill my concentrated nutrition into my aero bottle keeping my hydration plan on target.

 At about 52 miles I was behind an athlete and witnessed him swerve off the road and crash into a vineyard. I knew it was a very bad situation for him and made the split-second decision to ride as fast as I could to the next controlled intersection to get him help since I do not race with a cell phone. I had noted where he had crashed, that he had entered the field close to the farmer who was working in his field and stopped to report all of this to the state trooper at the controlled corner approximately 5 km up the road. Witnessing that crash set my mental focus into a tailspin for the rest of the day. I thought about the injured athlete for the rest of the race and still have unnerving visions of that event.

Just after I stopped to inform emergency personal of the incident, I saw Donna and Wayne. Donna was cheering and knew nothing of what had just transpired, she call out that Jill was back a ways and that I was still in first place. At around 100 miles fatigue started showing up and my average speed dropped to just under 30 km per hour but chose to hold back a bit for the run as my last indication from Donna was that I had a good margin on the others in my AG. I dismounted with a bike time of 6:08:24. This was a tad slower than I had wanted but I felt my reserved ride effort had put me in a good position to achieve a strong marathon.

T2 – was another long run from the dismount line to the tent (200 meters), so I decided to take my shoes off, run in bare feet and leave my helmet on my head. This worked well in spite the odd looking photograph Donna had managed to snap of me in T2. The 6:00 min for T2 was definitely longer than I had wanted but included a porta potty visit. Normally I prefer to take my potty stops during the bike or run segments because I can force myself to recover the stop time over the duration of the marathon that cannot be made up within the limited time spent in transitions.

Run – Santa Rosa is a three-loop run course along shaded pathways beside a river and my desired average goal pace was 5:45 min/KM.  The course had lots of aid stations and cheering crowds. I broke the race into 3 portions of 14 km each and focused on the pacing for each loop. I also focused on my form, foot strike and rhythm. I took electrolytes every station instead of water and had no cramping. I am extremely pleased with my run segment results– my best triathlon marathon run ever. Run 4:08:57

Race final time 11:41:41 – 1st place F 60-64 and 2019 Kona qualifier

Things I learned, things to share and people to thank

  1. Train and race with friends: There is nothing better than seeing friendly faces and hearing words of encouragement out on course. I purposely hang around my bike in the morning to talk to those close by me in and learn their names so I can cheer them on if I see them on course. Family and friend support along the course is invaluable for my mental health especially during the tough times (like the last 10 k of the marathon). Thank you, Donna Morrissey and Dr. Wayne Walker, for being there all day for us. I am particularly grateful to the Human Powered Racing team for accepting Mike and I as athletes and training with us this season. Coach Mike Neill and his team were open, inclusive and fun to swim, ride and run with this year. We made new friends and knew they were watching us on race day and sending good vibes. I appreciated having Diana Thaxter with us for the entire journey, she is an athlete extraordinaire and I am inspired by her courage, strength and determination, she truly is a GEM. Racing with Chris Lough and Jill Kirker, long time friends, is always positive on and off the course. They are so motivating and uplift my spirit; I believe I can achieve anything when they are with me. 
  • Have contingencies, shit happens: Ironman is a long day and things derail even with the best planning. I didn’t quite achieve the 6 hrs bike time I had planned, but I was close and able to run well off the bike. My power meter died in T1 and I had to go with plan b- Heart rate and average speed. Had I been told this was going to happen I may have freaked out before the race, but during the race you just have to accept it, make the change and move on. Post-race analysis showed the batteries were drained below the 3 volt minimum operating requirement even though I had measured the volts on new batteries that were installed the week before the race. The only thing we can think of is the pedals kept waking up and trying to connect during on our 16 hour drive to the race. Next time we will add the new batteries to the pods ONCE we reach the race destination.
  • Read and compare old race results/reports: At ITU worlds in 2017 I severely cramped with 2 km to go. Reading that report over before Santa Rosa reminded me to be sure to review and update my custom nutrition formula and take in extra electrolytes on the run.  Santa Rosa was my fastest Ironman marathon and a BQ qualifying time for this old gal. I am particularly pleased about that. Mike Neil reminded me that the race starts in the last 10 km of the Ironman and I worked hard to race the last that last 14 km loop. I thought of Crystal Bergeron running with me in the last two KM at worlds and I know she was watching me. This time I didn’t cramp and no one in my AG was able to run me down.
  • Join the race forums and read all pre-race information: I joined two race forums on face book and followed much of the conversations. In advance I knew what the lake temperature was, I knew the bike course corners to watch out for race day and had a good idea what to expect. There was a lot of chit chat about the rough roads and warnings to tighten everything down on the bikes. Mike and I put extra time into preparing our bikes including tightening every bolt, placing extra elastics on our water bottles and dropping our tire pressure to 90 PSI. My bike performed beautifully, and I did not drop anything.
  • Talk to the athletes – Before Santa Rosa I reached out to athletes whom I knew had raced last year and each one of them gave me a unique perspective on their race day learnings. Jackie Davison shared her T1 swim to bike ramp advice as well as her run course strategy. Diana Thaxter gave me my T2 transition strategy to remove my bike shoes. Garth Fuller provided a narrative on the road conditions and Wendy Garrett helped me set my mental attitude for attacking those conditions. Mike Neill reset my perspective on the entire race reminding me it really is a long warm up to a 10km run so save some energy to race it. I know the entire team at HPR was watching and cheering as we crossed each timing mat.

I am extremely grateful to the triathlete community for being open to including Mike and I in their sphere of friends and sharing their wisdom. I hope my race report and shared learnings will be beneficial to others and that they find value in reading the information above. Thank you all for supporting me.