"I'm sorry, your race is over". This was the first communication I received upon stepping on the beach after nearly swimming for my life, and incidentally, the second time I was told this by an Italian race official in 20 hours.... Elation immediately transformed to bewilderment.... I began to wonder if entered a dream state upon being swallowed by the Adriatic - the fury of the sea unleashed by Poseidon upon the unsuspecting athletes who attempted to challenge his domain for disregarding his brother's warning of lightning.... After seeing Denise and the boys at the swim beach entry, I then realized I was indeed in the world of the living, but the race would no longer be what I expected or planned.... But that was my oversight - it's Italy, and nothing ever seems to follow a defined or logical plan....
Italy 70.3 Pescara Race report
One week pre-race taper: London and Rome I began the journey in London making the most of a 2-day layover touring the main sites and Harry Potter studio with Denise and the kids. Upon embarking on an easy run along a small downtown London canal, I quickly noticed sea level is quite agreeable to training at 7500 feet. We arrived in Rome 5 days prior to race day and almost immediately my diet was far from my typical gluten free low carb regimen and utterly destroyed: Gelato, pasta, pizza, and pan.... following the mantra, "when in Rome..." Our hotel abutted on of the city's largest parks, villa Borghese, alive with delicately manicured flowers and forest, ancient relics, a biological reserve, an art museum, and winding trails.... I ran this same park weekly as a college student studying philosophy over the summer of 1992 and wondered how my current self would stack up against the beer guzzling 190 pound frat boy in his 20's.... I had an easy run with a couple strides and pick ups at pace to keep form. Also, I was able to enjoy 2 swims in the hotel's outdoor 25 meter pool overlooking the park with many Italian poolside onlookers wondering why in the hell I was swimming there.... basking in the sun checking out gym sculpted bodies is the proper Italian pool vibe.... and to further my faux pas, my speedo swim trunks were like pants relative to the typical Italian men's fashion....
Pescara, Italy: 2 days prior to race dayFriday: Denise and I decided to rent a car to drive east from Rome across the mountainous terrain of central Italy to venture were neither of us have traveled before. Renting a small SUV similar to a Honda Pilot, we were in contention for the largest car on the road.... second only to the tour buses. Leaving from Rome early afternoon, we spent extra time on the drive stopping to explore a hilltop castle perched upon a mountainside; arriving to find a small ultra-endurance run race passing through the same town and disappearing into the steep mountainside.. For as much whining and flopping Italy's national soccer team seems to display, there are some serious hard-core athletes out here, soon to experience firsthand on race day... Arriving in Pescara hours after we planned and late Friday evening, we missed the Ironman and Ironkids registration. We were able to just make Denise's 10k night run through town scheduled at 9pm, which began 9:20. Back to the hotel at 11:00 pm after Denise rocked her run, we got the kiddos to bed and I began unpacking gear. This was the first time I inspected the bike since leaving Denver and found the left handbrake and rear drivetrain in need of serious repair. Finally able to get bike in good working order and gear organized by 1:30am and was off to sleep, European style.
Saturday: Woke up around 7am for breakfast and ventured out for a quick spin on the bike through Montesilvano were we stayed just north of Pescara. If Rome is the San Francisco of the US, think of Pescara as the Santa Cruz, but a more densely populated beach resort town. Riding along the coast dodging cars, motorcycles, and people all merging upon the narrow roads in chaos set the scene for my initial biking in Italy. Leaving the bike in the hotel room at 11 am, I decided take the car to the Ironman registration, a 15 minute drive from our hotel. After scrambling for parking for nearly 45 minutes and finally finding the registration venue in town, it is now 12:30 pm and I'm starting to stress on time with bike check in closing at 5 pm. Finding the registration desk and just witnessing an Italian family register their 2 children for the Ironkids swim/run, I then attempted to register our boys. "No more spots available, we have had a lot of sad children today". Apparently not the 2 Italian kids in front of me.... after spending an hour pinballing between multiple people and even the site race director, it was a no go for the kiddos and a deflating experience to say the least as the boys were talking about the Ironkids race for weeks... Picked up my race packet and rushed out to drive the mountain part of the course. After a brief highway section it ascended through amazing picturesque medieval towns flanked by olive groves, green rolling countryside, and hairpin downhill turns with little shoulders or warning. Definitely a biker's course and very complimentary to training in the Colorado front range. Drove back to the hotel, threw the bike in the car, plucked the kids from the beach, and Denise dropped me off near the bike check at 4:10 pm - plenty of time to walk through a gate by 5pm, right? There was a "priority" bike check in the Ironman All World Athlete (AWA ) area but really this translated to "AIA" - All Italian Athlete check in. By 4:30 pm, it was my turn to enter the bike check entry gate and the race official stopped me. In broken English, she asked me to show my helmet. "It's at the hotel" I replied, and "I won't be able to leave and return by the 5pm closure, could it be extended?" As several race officials convened to discuss my situation, many Italian athletes without helmets were whizzing past me through the check, no issue.... Must be those poorly crafted American bike helmets of suspect.... The main official came over and stated, " I'm sorry, your race is over". After much more debate back and forth and actually recruiting an Italian to jump in to help, someone pulled out a helmet that looked like it was last used by Greg LeMond.... I buckled it on, walked through the bike check gate, then handed it back to the official once through the gate.... Racked bike and good to go.... Met Denise and kids for an early 7pm dinner - the earliest opening of any restaurant we could find, and it was basically us and some elderly local Italian couples. We saw few Americans or foreigners in Pescara and few locals spoke English (quite different from Rome, but refreshing to feel more off the path) but still able to piece together meals and navigation with little effort. After an exhausting day, I finished organizing race bags and to bed at 10:30 pm, sleeping extremely well.
Sunday - RACE DAY! At this point, other than wondering why I chose to cluster all race preparation in 24 hours, you're probably thinking why would one would ever consider hitting the sack at 10:30pm the night pre race??? Well, that's because the race was scheduled to start at 12:15. Yes, in the afternoon.... Other than having some nonsensical rules applying to all non-Italians, they must enjoy their early morning sleep and breakfast. Waking up at 7am race day was a little unnerving, especially since my normal training routine starts around 5 am ish.... Enjoyed a relaxed breakfast, drove to transition/swim start with family, and lined up transition bags on the racks and spent some more time with family. Rain was in the forecast and experienced a couple light drizzles pre race but nothing sustained and actually a couple spans of blue sky.
Swim This was only my second open water swim in an ocean/sea event with my first being Santa Cruz last September around a pier with relatively calm water. By 11:30am, the weather was starting to look more ominous and the sea was picking up chop with bigger waves forming. I did a quick warm up swim and feeling solid in my new ROKA wetsuit purchased just prior to arriving. The swim was organized as a rolling start by expected finish times, and in the last couple minutes, I decided to over-reach and move up positioning toward the 30 minutes and under grouping just behind the pros. Had I not done this, I would not have been able to compete in the swim to follow.... The race surprisingly started on time with pros hitting the water at noon despite lightning, then age groupers starting at 12:15. Probably 80 or so age group athletes in front of me. There was now lightening in the distance with the sky turning black and waves crashing through the parallel rocky barrier protecting the shoreline. The rolling start was sending out 5 or so athletes at a time through gates every 5 seconds and I was finally off! I'm racing in Italy and swimming in the frickin' Adriatic Sea, how amazing is this!!!! Running out until the sea was above my waist, I then dove in and began cranking strokes preparing to enter the crashing waves through the small opening in the rock line barrier in front. As I reached my head out to breathe just after crossing the barrier, a wave crashed upon me, filling my mouth with seawater as I somersaulted underwater. This is the real deal for an open water swim.... I accepted this, regained composure and dug back in. At the crest of several waves later, I saw that I was fairly close to the buoy line and the undertow seemed to ease giving me confidence. Every third or forth wave crest I would buoy site for direction and saw athletes scattered around. I was able to keep a decent line despite not being able to follow feet in front. I just focused on keeping form and counting strokes. Near the outside 2nd turn, a wave threw me into the buoy, briefly entangling me around the buoy anchor rope. Through some effort, I was able to free the reigns before the next incoming wave but tweaked my back a bit. On the last approach segment outside the rock line shore barrier I was relieved to find the path home - a tight opening spanning about 20 meters flanked by rocks and crashing waves. As I approached, there were about 10 swimmers in this opening seeming not to move and I thought that was an oddly strange place to rest.... Swimming up closer to this area, I saw them stroking hard and flailing, then found myself in this cauldron of wave, spray, thrashing and panic.... At this point, I was swimming at max effort beside, behind, in front, and under athletes moving 2 feet forward then 2 feet back.... At one point, I was launched OVER a swimmer by the push of the wave crest. After what seemed like several minutes at an all out effort in this confined area of madness, I broke free of the grouping and started upon the final approach to the beach, exhausted but overjoyed to be inside the protection offered by the rocky barrier! I walked up to the shore, so wiped out I had a difficult time unzipping the back of my wetsuit, and noticed race officials waving me over to stop on the beach. I removed my earplugs and heard "I'm sorry, your race is over". Denise had said they cancelled the swim about 1-2 minutes after I started in the water, and some athletes were actually pulled back by their wetsuit zip cord near the shoreline who tried to make it out there after the declaration was made....
Swim Time: 35:29 to beach official stop. All age groupers given 1:00:01 for swim + transition (the pro recorded swims were 25:05 to 38:57)
Transition 1: Denise was close to the shore and confirmed the officials notification that the swim was cancelled and race probably as well.... I was in disbelief.... I looked up to see a thousand plus athletes with dry wetsuits and utter despair on their faces walking over to the T1 transition changing tent. Loudspeakers then began to echo "no need to run to transition, conserve your energy as we will consider the bike in a rolling start". As if running from the swim start to the transition tent would deplete reserves, especially ironic to the few athletes who experienced the beat down in the sea..... Transition was fully packed by time I entered with folks changing, eating sandwiches/fueling and trying to keep cover as it started to rain. Wished I hadn't put all my nutrition on the bike frame....
Bike Upon reaching my bike, the rolling start line for the bike exit was filling fast and I was able to squeeze in near the middle of the pack and it briefly stopped raining. Considering the rain forecast and wanting more traction to charge the winding descents, I dialed down the tire PSI to 105 front and 110 back (usually 115/120) earlier that morning with plan to hold around 230 watts on the ride but lose a little speed with the tires deflated (pulled a Tom Brady). With the rolling start free for all, cyclists were bundled all over the course in the first 20 km and unfortunately "on your left" was not in my Italian language repertoire. Several race monitors on motorcycles were yelling, honking, and calling out folks for blocking and drafting in this segment, but it was extremely difficult to create space with so many athletes riding different paces with much stop and go to avoid penalties. Once leaving the city on a highway road, the route started climbing into the small towns filled with cheering locals despite the rain. Chatted briefly with 2 different athletes from Pescara on climbs who were extremely engaging and occasionally shouted out sharp upcoming turns to me when I was far in front of them, just awesome sportsmanship! It was deafening to hear the crowds roar and cheer the local Pescara athletes as they passed by the mountain towns. Very strong cyclists here with much pushing for position and cranking hard on the climbs and overextended in the 280-300 watt range often to keep pace. I followed suit and charged down many of the hairpin descents but fortunately did not befall into any carnage as some others did on that course with roads slick from rain. Most difficult 70.3 bike course I've been on (though admit my limited experience). I felt I nailed my nutrition by using my watch to guide scheduled fueling and relying on grabbing water bottles from the aid stations, which to my luck, happened to be free of the gas.
Bike Time: 2:34:55 AG 11/278
Transition 2: I feel the only benefit from the AWA Ironman program in Italy was the positioning of the bike near the pro's rack, right at the T1 bike exit. Unfortunately, this was negated by the rolling bike start. The downside is a longer run through the transition area holding the bike and then a longer run back to the transition bag area, changing tent, and exit. Therefore, in heeding the advice of Mark K, my goal was to "not f&$k around in transition". Albuterol, shoes, gel and off to the T2 run exit. Time 2:45
Run I was feeling extremely fatigued at the start. The higher than expected efforts on the swim/bike was starting to take it's toll. Started out at a sub 7 min/mile out of the gate, however I was getting dusted by many behind me. Damn, these Italians can run too! Pushed it over the bridge climb and then on starting the loop turn into town, severe cramps in the right leg set in. After a quick stop and stretch, I was able to run through it and dialed back the run back 10-15 sec per mile to keep a sustained pace. Cheers of "Bravo, bravo" were echoing through the town corridors by locals and athlete's families. The three town laps were fortunately on flat roads shrouded by trees. By the second of three laps, I was fading hard and heart rate climbing to higher threshold levels. I then found Denise and boys on the course which instantly gave me strength and the needed boost to hold pace to the end. Crossing the finish, I was overwhelmed by sheer exhaustion and the mixed emotions of realizing an embattled journey was at its end. Viva Italia!!!!
Run Time: 1:34:55 AG 12/278 Overall: 98/1409
Race: • After I finally let go the disappointing hour allocation to my swim effort with great support from Denise and friends, I'm completely content with my race. I sent a letter to officials pleading to include swim times but do not expect anything to come of it. Guess it's hard to exactly know where I stacked up in my age group but I imagine the faster bikers and runners in my age group also completed the swim. In prior races, my bike and run were stronger so in terms of ranking, the way it was handled may have actually worked in my favor. • My main goals were to improve upon prior performances and gain experience, and, in terms of experience, I got much more than I bargained for.... • I feel a race rolling start for the swim is great, not so much for the bike. • Specialized turbos have excellent traction on wet roads for a fast tire, thanks to Mike Breyer for the recommendation! • Serious athletes flourish in this area of the world. The great food must motivate exercise in order to eat more of it. • I will need to dial in a more controlled swim and bike effort for the full IM distance in Boulder or I'll be in trouble on the run.
General: • Italy is an amazing country to visit with excellent food and easy to travel with children. • Italians are generally pleasant but aren't impressed that you traveled across an ocean with family for a small race in an area less frequented by Americans. They have enough tourists here already. • There are endemic inefficiencies and peculiar rules that seem to apply only to non-Italians, but things eventually come together here and you just have to go with the flow. • When accounting for time to get something done or get somewhere, double it. Triple it to be safe. • British airways was hands down the best flight experience we had as a family. Our Air Italia flights connecting London and Rome were the complete opposite. Pay the extra $$$ and fly BA. • Spend as little time as possible in Naples but Herculaneum is a gem. • I would definitely return to Italy to ride or visit, unlikely to race. • The food is spectacular, did I mention that?