A supposedly fun thing I'll definitely do again
I’ve always found the breadth of areas people are capable of being passionate about so interesting. When I meet someone with a deep love for something that I feel little towards I like to try to understand the mechanics of how they actually experience that passion. Learning how to love things is a skill, since after all it’s much easier to do things that you love than those that you feel ambivalent or antipathic towards.
Publius Terentius Afer said “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto”—nothing human is alien to me. If one person loves or enjoys something any person can love and enjoy that thing. It’s just a matter of finding the right way in.
To me, this is why it’s so important to have friends who are nerds about hobbies, spiritual practices, ways of thinking, etc, outside your own. More important than teaching you how to do them, they can teach you how to love them.
In that spirit, this is my race report. Maybe it will be the right way in for a few more people to the wonderful world of Type 2 Fun and endurance sports.2
tri bois (team aerostache on the left)
Race Report — 2023 Oceanside Ironman 70.3
Let’s start with what went wrong.
I generally do a good job of preparing for races like this the night before, and getting a good night of sleep. For some reason that didn’t quite happen this time. The house we rented in Oceanside was weirdly hot hours after turning off the heat. I got in bed at 8:30 but got up like seven times to keep opening more windows or take off clothes. I eventually fell asleep around midnight which was less than ideal. Poor sleep is one of the things that really messes with my brain, and when I woke up at 5 AM I was feeling extremely negative about the race. Why the fuck am I doing this? Is there some way I can get out of going? Maybe I can take a covid test, if I see anything there I could say I’m sick and just go back to sleep. I let the thoughts continue in the background and got out of bed and started moving.
I’d prepared my race nutrition the night before and left it out on the kitchen counter, but was so groggy when got up I accidentally washed my water bottle that had the endurance mix powder3 I’d added the night before. I didn’t realize until I got on my bike that I had two bottles of water, instead one of water and one of race mix. I also left all the other race nutrition (a mix of Picky bars and energy Bloks) on the counter at our place instead of putting them in my race bag. Doh. The result was that I wasn’t able to start fueling until about two hours into the race at the first bike aid station, whereas normally I start eating immediately after getting out of the water.
Once I finally got to the first aid station the only food they had was Fig Newtons. I hadn’t actually had a Fig Newton in years and I had no idea how they’d feel on my stomach. The golden rule of endurance races is “nothing new on race day”… whoops. I grabbed like six of them and stuffed them in the back pocket of my tri-suit to start eating. I did the same at the next two aid stations, and was also able to refill a water bottle with gatorade and get half a banana. Overall most of my bike nutrition came from Fig Newtons though—I ate roughly 1500 kcal worth which actually, surprisingly, felt pretty good. Cycling through a Marine Corp bootcamp in the warm San Diego sunshine, stuffing fig-filled pastries into my face, I definitely had a moment where I thought to myself “this is a new and fun experience”.
One of the peak experiences for me on this race was the drive to T0. In the quiet pre-dawn stillness we played Puppets by Atmosphere and it was a really excellent race vibe. This was inspired by the race video we watched the night before called How To Run 100 Miles, by Brendan Leonard of Semi-Rad. Puppets was the theme song of the documentary, and listening to it before our race let me channel some of the epicness of a 100 mile ultramarathon, even though we were doing something much easier. There is something primal about the pre-dawn journey to the race start with your tribe and I felt that strongly this race…
I’m not much of a swimmer but the water felt jacuzzi-warm after training in the SF Bay, and being in the water with two thousand other people as the sun rises is never not epic. Swimming is my worst tri-sport, but this one felt pretty nice actually.
The ride was fantastically beautiful. We wove in and out of the coast and Camp Pendleton, the sea was a shade of candy blue I’ve never seen before, and the hills were furry and green (plants like rain!) instead of the normal light brown and dark brown that were the predominant landscape colors when I use to live in San Diego.
The run was the most enjoyable of any 70.3 I’ve done. I felt super consistent, and ran the second half faster than the first as I got more confidence that I still had plenty left in the tank. The last mile was the best of the race for me. There’s a ridiculous scene in David Goggins’ book Can’t Hurt Me when he does his first ultramarathon, goes home, and basically loses it (in all the ways) from dehydration, exhaustion, and the general unpreparedness his body had at that time to run 100+ miles. His partner wants to take him to the hospital and give him painkillers but he refuses because he wants “feel the pain” that he earned.
The end of my race was nothing like that really, except that I let all the pain in in the same spirit.
Normally when I do endurance races my mind is constantly trying to hide or run away or make all the enduring stop—for example one thing I’ll do to distract myself from fully experiencing the hardness of the race is to constantly think about the percentage I’ve completed, re-calculating every few miles and savoring each minor percentage point gain. I also go through periods of flow where I just feel great, it’s beautiful out, my body is moving well, and each step or pedal stroke feels like magic. But for a long enough race there always comes at least one part (usually many) where I fully want to quit. Why the fuck am I out here? Why am I doing this? I could be laying on a couch eating pizza and watching TV. Why keep doing this? The answer for me is complex, but at the deepest level I think it’s just that I’ve turned into a person who identifies with grit. And perhaps because I use to very much not be this type of person, it feels like an extra special part of me. Endurance races are a crucible to continue reforging my identity into someone who just doesn’t quit when it matters.
Anyhow, for this last mile of the race I let my defenses down and fully embraced all the feelings of the moment: pain, weariness, self-doubt, unease, and the tiredness of a long struggle to simply keep putting one foot in front of the other. And then I kept running. Pride, joy, gratitude, and a rising anticipation of the finish were also there. I sped up and sprinted the last half mile and when I crossed the finish line I teared up a bit with a mix of all these emotions. I’d finished another one.
Something about truly opening myself up to all the things at the end made the race and the accomplishment seem weightier to me too, like my mind integrated that last mile back over the first 69.3 and the sum total was both enormous yet conquered.
I don’t know if I could run a whole race like this but I plan to keep trying.
I finished the race in 6:14:50. Not my best time, but I feel great about it which is all that really matters.
I’ve had a body high for the last week now. My legs feel springy, movement in general feels more solid somehow, and the comforting weight of a hard thing well-accomplished feels warm and good.
I deepened friendships and made great memories with my race friends. And I’ve gotten back to a peak level of fitness that I’ve only had a few other times in my life. Overall 10/10, A+ race!
this picture brought to you by endorphins
Some tactical notes
An assortment of notes and reminders about how to do triathlons better:
- Plan out race morning to a tee, including the drive there. Roads near the race are often closed race morning, so plan accordingly.
- Watch an inspiring athletics documentary the night before. My go to for this is the Barkley Marathons. Prepare to have your mind absolutely blown by what humans are capable of if you haven’t seen it.
- Have coffee ready to brew the night before. Whoever is up first can start it. A good BM is critical to having an enjoyable race. Plan your last pre-race day meals with this in mind as well—I usually have an early dinner the day before the race at ~5 PM that is medium-high in whole foods, carbs, and fiber.
- Put sunscreen on in the morning before putting your wetsuit on. It will help you take it off more easily at T1, and it will save you a bit of time with having to re-up more sunscreen during transitions.
- Once you get on the bike start eating immediately. Your body will probably not want as much food as you need, so the solution is to keep eating until you’re ~30% past the satiety point. Somewhere in between feeling full and feeling sick.
- Whole foods play better with the stomach than liquids or gels. Eat accordingly. I usually bring a few Picky bars and try to eat plenty of fruit from the aid stations.
- That said, I usually have one bottle of a sports drink on my bike (and one of water), plus some low-caffeine Bloks.
- Have a salt plan! I like this and this.
- My rule of thumb for hydrating is that I should drink enough water to have to pee every three hours.
- Tri-suits are pretty nice actually. I tried on a bunch until I found a Zoot suit that fit me well.
Do a race with me!
I usually do at least one tri (70.3) and one trail race (usually multiple distances for these, 13.1 and up) every year. I’ll probably do the IM Santa Cruz 70.3 this year as well. I’ve got a great crew of people who do these with me, but just like the ideal number of bikes, the optimal number of race friends is n+1 🙂
I’ve written about this before but one last piece of endurance races that I find very special is how they can be isomorphic but compressed analogues of many truly important but hard things in life. That is they let you experience, in a single very intense day, all the parts of doing a hard thing (on any time scale). The excitement, nervousness, fear, suffering, self-doubt, anticipation, and accomplishment cycle. A Hero’s Journey that you can do in one day, but which you can then recall on a gut level during other journey’s you may be on with longer timescales and less consistent feedback. A bone-deep knowledge that if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, in the right direction, you can accomplish great things.
A full triathlon is 140.6 miles—2.4 mile swim, 112 mile cycle, and a marathon (26.2 miles) in that order. This is a race distance that can quickly become a significant part-time job to train for, so a more popular distance is the 70.3 or “half-Ironman”. ⤴
Doing more endurance sports would be good for most Western humans for a multitude of reasons. Living in the Bay Area a particularly salient example of this for me is the relationship of between longevity and exercise. High-volume moderate + vigorous activity is very likely the safest and most reliable way to extend both healthspan and lifespan, yet very few people max out its benefits. ⤴
Tailwind, citrulline, and a scoop of some off-white powder in an unlabeled mason jar my friend claimed was Accelerade. ⤴