Race Report: IM Santa Cruz 70.3 (and how I learned that I had Exercise Induced Asthma)

Ok guys this is gonna be a long one:

So over the past few years, I’ve dealt with a lot that has really inhibited my racing and taken some of the fun out of it.  I loved doing triathlons through undergrad with my collegiate team.  Towards the end of my senior year things started to become less fun.  I was extremely stressed out, and I started to have what I thought were anxiety attacks on my harder workouts, which made it harder to then get those workouts in.  I wasn’t enjoying them.  This continued through grad school, where as soon as I hit a higher threshold, I just felt like I could not breathe.  So I decided to take a step back, and just hop into races for fun.  No gps watch, no time goals or PRs.  Just running.  It was good.

When I got out to California, I decided I wanted to jump back into triathlons.  My friend & ultimate #fitnessgoal Leah had just made the Timex team and was training for Kona, I had multiple weddings that I was attending this year, my fiancé was still in NC, and I just wanted to get into some sort of community in this new home.  Also my school anxiety had dissipated. So I joined the Silicon Valley Triathlon Club.

I jumped into track practices and some bike rides with my new team.  It was so fun!  I was doing fine, and keeping up, until one fateful bike ride.  I got dropped on a fast ride, and in an effort to catch up  to the group I kicked it into a heavy gear (literally, and physically).  My heart was pumping hard, and next thing I know, I feel my throat start to close up.  Just like before, as soon as I felt it happening, I start to get upset which made the wheezing worse.  I had to stop and get off my bike, and through tears struggle to get air.  I was embarrassed, lost on a new road, I couldn’t breathe, and I didn’t know anyone who could come pick me up.  Luckily, one of the girls on the team stopped and helped me out – we are now friends, HI BRITTANY!  It was on this ride that I knew what I was dealing with was not an anxiety attack.  A short doctors appointment two weeks later confirmed: Adult onset asthma – exercise induced.  An inhaler puff before workouts was all I needed.

SO, given this new asthma diagnosis, I do what any reasonable athlete would do: Sign up for my first triathlon in 4 years.  And not just any triathlon, a half ironman.  This wasn’t going to be a PR race.  This wasn’t going to have any expectations tied to it.  All I wanted to do for this race was fall back in love with triathlons again.  So with that in mind, here is how my race went, and some tips for those of you planning on doing this race in the future:

Packet pickup:

  • This race was recently acquired by Ironman, so its still fairly new.  Packet pickup was smooth and small.

    Got my number!
  • FYI there is very little parking and this area of Santa Cruz is prone to bike theft.  While your bike is perfectly safe overnight inside the transition area, DO NOT leave your bike unattended on your car unless you have a lock that you are extremely confident in.  If you have some errands to run before you leave your bike, just put it inside your car.
  • Swag included a mesh bag and a t-shirt.  Would have liked something a little more special since its an IM event.  Or even a coupon code for another IM event like the Rock n Roll series does.
  • I stayed to listen to the athlete info session, which if a race offers, definitely go to.  You hear a lot of small details about the race that you wouldn’t know about otherwise.

The Swim:

  • Just in case you were not aware, west coast water is COLD.  Water temps were 58 degrees this morning, and while colder than it had been, still not unusual.  You will want a long sleeve wetsuit for this race.
  • I double swim capped for this one too, because I had gotten
    Me and Brittany about to “warm up”

    some brain freezes on

    earlier swims.

  • About 15 minutes before start, we got in the water to warm up.  HIGHLY recommend doing this, especially in as cold water as this was.  Getting in the water and getting your face submerged beforehand takes the shock out when you actually run in.
  • This race is a run-in start, which I love.
  • Water today was super choppy.  As soon as our wave of women entered, we got hit by a big ol’ wave of salty water.
  • This swim course is amazingly well marked.  I never was out of site of a buoy.  I think I had the best swim ever just because I didn’t wander off course like I usually do.
  • This course goes all the way around the wharf in Santa Cruz.  Once you get to the end of the wharf, you might get stuck in a cross current.  We had a pretty strong one this morning.  Just keep swimming long strong strokes and you will make it through.
  • You may hear some sea lions!  Don’t worry, they won’t bother you.
  • The transition from the swim to the bike is about a quarter mile run.  Some people leave shoes on the side of the chute for them to run in.  The challenge with this strategy is remembering in your post-swim brain where you left them, and finding them amongst hundreds of other shoes.  I left some sandals knowing I probably wouldn’t use them.  Brittany ended up trying to run in her flip flops, but her feet were too cold and numb for them to stay on.  I just powered through and ran barefoot.

The Bike

  • The bike course is an out and back, with a little detour to make sure you get a climb in.
  • If you are traveling from somewhere not in the Bay Area, know this:  Santa Cruz is NOT warm and sunny all of the time.  Usually it is chilly and windy in the mornings, and then the sun comes out around noon.  Take this into consideration when deciding on your race day outfit.  I wore my tri-suit, and then layered a wind breaking cycling jacket over for the bike.  Arm warmers are okay too, but I tend to stay cold after a cold swim so if you are the same, go for the
    I’ve never taken the best race photos…

    jacket, and don’t be one of the unfortunate individuals scouring the bike shops for cold gear.

  • Also know this:  there is going to be a headwind on this ride.  It might be on your way out, or it might be on your way back.  Highway 1 is a rolling wind tunnel.
  • Along the side of the road on your way out and in the same area on the wa
    y back are some gnarly rumble strips.  They will seriously buck you off your bike.  Be very careful with crossing these when you have to pass people.
  • They do not close off any highway lanes for this race, so cars will pass you very closely.  It felt a little unsafe, and it slowed me down because I had to constantly check behind me and even wait to pass people sometimes.
  • There is about a mile climb off Swanton Rd.  It is pretty steep so kick it into your granny gear and settle in.  Be careful on the descent as it winds down in switchbacks. The TT bike handles fine down this, just use common sense and keep your hands on the breaks and elbows off your aerobars.


The Run

  • Santa Cruz was starting to warm up for the day, so I left my jacket in transition and was fine running in my tri suit.  I was hot an salty by the end of the run.
  • Course-wise I have no complaints.  As soon as you exit transition  you have the crowd cheering you on, even up a little rocker hill in your first quarter mile.
  • The course is a lollipop, with an out, a big loop in beautiful Wilder Ranch State Park, and then back.
  • There are aid stations about every mile, which is AWESOME.  They are stocked with water, Gatorade, and other snacks.
    Screen Shot 2016-10-09 at 4.04.26 PM.png
  • Wilder Ranch is trail, so take that into consideration when calculating your pace estimates.
  • I did not do as well on the run as I would have liked.  I had been having some foot pain leading up to this race, and I was just burned out on running.  Long runs were painful and not enjoyable.  I was able to hang on to an easy 8:30 pace until I left Wilder Ranch around mile 9.  At that point my inhaler medication had worn off, and that dusty trail was just no match for my lungs.  I had to walk/jog the last 4 miles, in between bronchospasm.  Next race I’ll remember to take my inhaler with me.
  • The finish is on the beach sand!
    Luckily its only about 40 feet, and makes for an epic picture.
  • Finishers swag included a medal and a finishers hat.


  • I ended up with a time of 6:08.  Not my best, but thats not what mattered today.  I had fun today (I mean, minus the whole “can’t breath” thing).
  • If you want to do this race next year, remember that it is colder than you think it will be in the morning, but will warm up by the run.
  • Practice open water swimming, especially if you have access to an extremely cold ocean.  The best thing I did in my swim training was acclimatize my body to swimming in that cold, choppy water.
  • Have fun!  Santa Cruz is beautiful and has so much charm and stuff to do.  Enjoy your time there!
  • Will I do this race again?  Yup.  See you next year.


If you have any unanswered questions about IM Santa Cruz 70.3, OR about my journey to discovering that I had adult onset asthma, despite being an endurance athlete, please comment below!

Happy breathing!




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