Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa 2017

May 20th, 2017 by

11th place – 4:03:40

After many months away, it was finally time to dig out my race kit, apply some number tattoos and toe a start line once more. After an initial five week stint of training in both San Diego, California and Boulder, Colorado I finished the trip by heading to the beautiful vineyards of northern California and Napa Valley where the event took place for my season opener.

Exiting T1

Heading out of T1 into the rising sun. Looks can be deceiving … it was a chilly morning.

swim exit


Last season, save for 70.3 Dublin I was completely underwhelmed by my swim performance whilst racing. What once was always my mainstay discipline had faltered on more than one occasion, leaving me wondering where it had gone. Whilst training in San Diego I made use of the excellent Masters swim program that provides daily coached sessions (workouts in Americanism) for all abilities, and whilst in Boulder I luckily joined in with the Apex Coaching squad that my friend Joe Gambles (pictured above – exiting the water in front of me) is a part of. I made sure I swam a good volume, and the beauty of all these sessions was the healthy dose of intensity work included. I wasn’t just plodding through 20km of pool time per week at least, and I felt my swim was in a decent place leading into Santa Rosa. I rarely get nervous before a race these days, but there were some gentle butterflies making an appearance as we lined up in the water and the National Anthem started booming out all around us. Next the cannon (yes, a cannon, and no, we weren’t warned) sounded and we were moving.

I have little, if any fast twitch fibres – it’s why I gravitated to endurance sports I suppose – but I can always ‘get out’ fairly fast in 70.3 and IM races. What with this being my first race in months, plus there being a whole host of quality swimmers in the field I knew I had to concentrate to stay in the mix. I started with those who I needed to keep pace with to my right (I always breathe that way when under pressure / swimming hard)… Andy Potts, Sam Appleton, Tim O’Donnell and Jarrod Shoemaker amongst others were right there and I settled in on their feet at the rear of the group. All seemed good… till the first turning buoy around 500m and I lost the feet. Joe came right past me, spotting the danger, and from there on in we dangled dangerously in arrears, desperately trying to stop the invisible elastic from snapping. I didn’t swim well, and it was all I could do to stay in contact with Joe till we hit the exit boat ramp. Thankfully he had kept the damage limited to 25secs or so, and we could see the group of four “just there” in front of us.

Not a terrible start on paper, but certainly work to do as the season goes forward: concentrate, and concentrate more.

lake sonoma

swim venue with the exit boat ramp on the far side…


Similarly to my swim over the previous month of training, I felt that I had combined a healthy mix of needed volume ‘base miles’ with some quality ‘top end’ pace work on the bike too. Nonetheless, there is nothing that replicates the punchy speed of a race other than a race itself, and I knew to expect a fast start. Not only was the quality of competition likely to make life difficult but also the course profile itself. The point to point course had a net elevation drop between the start in Lake Sonoma and the finish in city centre Santa Rosa, plus the forecast was for a prevailing tailwind too.

The air temperature in the morning was chilly, (even for a Scot abroad) given we started at 6:10am, with the sun barely rising and I struggled with cold feet and awkward bike shoes. It took me too long to finally get my feet into the shoes meaning valuable time and energy was wasted in those early miles. I watched Joe ride off into the distance, never to see him again, but caught up with Andy Potts. We did our best to limit our losses to over the first 15 miles until we were caught and passed by a fast moving athlete who in turn dragged Andy out of sight with him. I rode solo for the bulk of the middle portion until being caught by Jordan Rapp and a couple others during the final 15 miles.

I felt that I was riding a reasonable tempo for the most part, but switched off enough to lost too much time in the lesser part. And that just isn’t possible at this level of racing anymore. Once upon a time averaging a fairly healthy 300w and 42kph for the 90k, coupled with a front(ish) pack swim would leave you competitive, and yet I had still lost nearly 8 minutes to a flying Sam Appleton as I reached T2! Believe me, that isn’t entirely kind news to the ears. Work to do.


Stuck in 3rd gear would be as good a description as I can muster. Given it was my first race and I had just spent two weeks in the altitude of Colorado, I couldn’t really pin down a clear target because I honestly wasn’t sure how my body would react to sea level. I went to Boulder to see Joe, lots of other good friends that I’ve not seen in years and also to have a good training block in a super training location. I didn’t go there specifically for any thin air benefit, because I didn’t have the time to; two weeks was all I could manage and a basic, general rule of thumb is at least three weeks before “dropping down”. I’m not even sure I am an ‘adaptor’ to the benefits of training high anyway, as I’ve not really incorporated it into my training and racing enough over the years to examine the effects it has on me and my results.

That being said, I shuffled along the river trail paths of Santa Rosa in an “ok” fashion and did my best to simply enjoy racing again. It wasn’t competitive running at all, but it was a start and I’ll move forward from here. The out and back two loop course allowed at least for me to see and cheer Sam and Joe who were cruising along in 1st and 2nd places, which given they were my fellow homestayers, made me smile. We would have a fun meal out with a beer or two later on to celebrate. It isn’t just about the racing after all.

On that note, a heartfelt thanks to our fantastic homestay hosts, Rob & Shelli who made our stay as smooth as could be possible – Joe and Sam had stayed with them on many previous trips, and I was luckily invited along too. Homestays are an aspect of racing in the US that is such good fun and makes a race so much more of a memorable experience.

Thanks to Rob and Rocky Arroyo for pictures.

My next race will be Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire, June 18th.