The Bike — 56 Miles
Be very wary of the people around you as you start the bike leg. It can be very crowded and a wreck here can put an early and frustrating end to your day. If you are trying to start with your shoes already in the pedals, use the flat portion of the starting road to get some momentum and get out of traffic before trying to put your feet in the shoes. About 600 meters into the bike you will hit a short but steep hill. After this, it is fairly flat for the next 30 miles.
The biggest test of the bike is not the distance or nutrition, but rather your pacing skills. Because the first 25 to 30 miles are almost pancake-flat, you will be tempted to rip up the roads.
Be careful; you must save something for the back 26 miles, which will be rolling hills, with three challenging climbs. You may feel fine at 30 miles, but when you see the first large, corkscrew-looking climb, you will be questioning how you're going to feel when you're cresting its peak.
In order to prepare for this, it is a good idea to practice with a longer or more intense ride with flatter portions at the beginning, and hilly, challenging portions at the end. This will give you an idea of how sharp your pacing skills are. If you like to race with a heart rate monitor or power meter, it's a good idea to use it to know how hard you can go and still have something left for the backside mountains.
On the bike, you will have your first aid station at about 13 to 14 miles. The second aid station is at about 26 to 27 miles, and the final aid station will be at about 45 miles. The aid stations will be serving water, Gatorade, fruit, Powerbars and Powergels. The first two aid stations will happen on an incline, so speed will be controlled by gravity. The aid station workers are not allowed to cross the white line, so you will need to be close to it in order to receive any items.
When approaching an aid station, listen to the instructions they give. There is a bottle toss area first, and they will tell you when and where you can get water, Gatorade, gels, etc. If you need to cool off, this is a good time to grab an extra water bottle and poor it on yourself. Also, the Gatorade bottles fit nicely into your frame's bottle cages.
At the third aid station you will need to slow down in order to retrieve any items because the course is flat there and it's easy to be going too fast. If any bottles drop and roll onto the street, they can cause a cyclist behind you to crash. Make sure to slow down enough to get the fuel you need. The last 11 miles are flat, but there is normally a strong headwind, making it very challenging.
This website maps out the entire bike course satellite viewpoint.
There is a downhill on the course which you need to be careful when descending. Back in 2000, a rider was actually killed after losing control while riding at too high a speed. This descent will be marked with warning signs, and it is a "Do Not Pass" zone. The speed limit on this hill is 25 mph. They will have officials checking, so just make sure you control your speed. A crash can ruin your whole day, and possibly more than just that.
The Second Transition
Click for a transition map.
When you roll into T2, you will go down to the north end of the transition area—just as you did with T1—where you will find the dismount line. You will then run south with your bike to your transition spot.
If you have committed some violations on the course you will need to serve your time in the penalty box. It is your responsibility to know the rules! Once you have put on your shoes and grabbed what you need, head out of T2 and get running.
The Run — 13.1 Miles
Click for a map of the run course.
You will be hard pressed to find a run course as flat as Oceanside. The course is almost pancake-flat for the first two miles of each six-mile loop, running right along the sandy beaches. From there, it is rolling for the next two miles, but no dramatic changes in elevation.
You run out three miles and back three miles on each loop. The additional 1.1-mile distance is the ground covered from T2 to the loop and the loop to the finish line. Depending on the tides, there is a small portion of sand on the run. Nothing crazy, maybe a 300-meter stretch is all.
You will have an aid station approximately every mile, with the first station coming right when the strand begins. This station is normally manned by the Triathlon Club of San Diego—a rather lively group! If you have your number with your first name on it, you'll get a lot of cheers from people calling your name. It may seem small and innate, but when you're dead tired and motoring on, it's a big help!
The aid stations will be serving fruit, water, Gatorade, Gu, Powerbars, cola, and cold sponges for cooling off.
The key to this run is very simple: rhythm! If you can maintain rhythm by being relaxed but quick, you will do very well on this run course. If you run with poor mechanics, with your head down, and pounding your feet loudly on the pavement, it will be a long day for you out there.
When you've completed the two loops, you will head into the finish line area and be greeted to stands full of cheering people. Cross the finish line and smile, strike a pose—whatever you want to do to remember this moment.
When you cross the finish line you will receive your well-deserved finisher's medal and t-shirt. After receiving these, head over to the white tent. There will be the medical facilities to get treatment for anything you may need—blisters, IV's, etc. Just past the medical area is the massage therapy area. Get your name on the list for massage, but do a short cool-down of some sort, such as walking or jogging easy for 10 to 15 minutes, before getting on the massage table.
Once you are feeling better—from the medical help or massage—head down further in the white tents and get yourself some food! They will be serving food from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. They normally serve pizza, salad, drinks and other goodies.
Later in the day, at around 4 p.m., the same area for eating in the white tents becomes the awards area. If you finish in the top 10 in your age group, stick around for awards because you get one! Also, if you are anywhere in the top five, make sure you show up if you want to do the Ironman World Championships in Kona. I've seen the single spot for an age group get passed down to fifth place before!
If you want to check for results, they tend to be posted in two areas: One is just behind the finish line, on the side of the white tent. The other place is where the awards will be, further down the white tents.
If you are interested in doing a full Ironman event, stick around for awards, even if you didn't get one. They will offer a certain number of slots to some Ironman events which are already sold out. If there are more people wanting the slots than they have, they hand out the slots according to how well you did in in your age group. If there are more slots available than people wanting them, you can get it by simply being there!
If you want to qualify for the 70.3 World Championships in November, you should also attend the awards. Have your checkbook ready, because you must prepay for these events at the awards ceremony.
After noon, you will be able to go into the transition area and gather your things. Make sure you still have your wristband and number, because security will not allow you to remove your bike without it.
Finally, if you get a chance, take the time to thank the volunteers. They give up almost an entire day to come out and support you in your endeavors, with the fulfillment of the experience as their only compensation. Quite a gesture on their part.
Best of luck, and remember to be safe.
Jim Vance is a USAT Level 2 and Elite Coach for TrainingBible Coaching, and a professional triathlete. Questions or comments can be sent to email@example.com. You can also follow his writings and training advice at his coaching blog, CoachVance.blogspot.com, and on Twitter at Twitter.com/jimvance.