Race Report: Santa Cruz 70.3

So I find that it is really helpful to read multiple race reports, especially over a couple years so that you can get an idea of the ebbs and flows of weather and race conditions.  So to see what last years race looked like, click HERE!

So this race report is kindof a bummer to write because I personally didn’t do that well.  Basically I thought I had the whole asthma thing under control, and we are still working on it.  Either way, I’m super glad I finished, and probably won’t be doing this race again as an individual.  Relays only for me for this one 😉

So, my second Santa Cruz 70.3 race report, here we go!

Day Before/ Packet Pickup:

  • This is an Ironman event so they keep is as streamlined as possible.  T1 and T2 is in the same area, so all you have to worry about dropping off the day before is your bike.  You can leave all your run stuff if you want, but you’ll also have plenty of time to set up your transition on race morning.
  • For swag, you get a t-shirt, a cross body bag, and for some reason a can of red bull.  Who on earth wants red bull the day before a race?!  Also any of y’all who do more than one IM event a year getting tired of the same swag?  I have a bag just like this already from Santa Rosa.  Oh well.
  • Definitely recommend listening to the info sessions before, as there are lots of helpful tips on getting the best out of your race performance, especially if you are unfamiliar with the area.
  • If you are picking up your packet and aren’t dropping off your bike yet, leave your bike in your hotel or inside your car.  Santa Cruz can get a lil sketchy, especially around that area where the packet pickup is.  Don’t leave your bike on your car unless you are very confident in your lock.
  • This is a good time to make the walk from transition to the swim exit so you can get a feel for how long that run is.  Some people were surprised on race morning.

Race Morning/ Swim:

  • Race morning brought the usual chaos: body marking, transition area set up, last minute bike tweaks.  We had 5:30-6:30 to get in and set up.
  • Water was warm this year!  So Santa Cruz water temps are usually pretty cold – mid 50s.  Cold enough that your feet, hands and face quickly go numb.  This year we had a balmy 68 degrees!
  • The swim was such a disaster this year!  There are many reasons why:
    • First – due to high bacteria levels and red tide, the swim was re-routed from its normal rectangle around the wharf to a pyramid that extended far away from it.  This was actually pretty nerve wracking to see the buoys on Saturday because the last one extended SO far out from the end of the wharf.
    • On race morning however, it was the very thick fog (us Bay Area residents lovingly refer to it as “Karl”) that ultimately threw a wrench in things.  From shore, we couldn’t even see the first buoy.  First, we waited about 30 minutes past the anticipated start time to see if it would thin out.  When it didn’t, we then moved all the way to the other side of the beach, and it was announced that we would do an abbreviated swim.  We had to wait while race officials brought all the buoys in to a half mile loop.  By the time the pro athletes went off, we were an hour behind schedule.
    • The second reason this swim was a disaster was the seeded swim start.  I have NO IDEA why IM did a seeded swim start when you have the whole beach at Santa Cruz.  There was not enough space in the corrals for us to be able to squeeze in with our predicted swim pace, so my friends I was with and I got stuck at the back of the pack.  By the time I got in the water, we were a full hour and forty minutes behind our anticipated start time.
    • Because people in general can’t seed themselves well, I was climbing over swimmers the entire time.  I also had no idea where I ranked in terms of my age group, and since people went off one at a time instead of in waves, there was no point in which the bike course really thinned out – which at times was very dangerous for cyclists because they don’t block off a lane for this race.  More of this in the bike section of this post.
    • Overall, let us hope that this new seeded swim start gets enough negative reviews that they decide not to do it next year.
  • Remember you have about a quarter mile run from the swim exit to T1 on hard concrete.  A lot of people leave shoes or sandals in the swim finish chute that they can quickly put on and make the run to transition without hurting their feet.  Definitely recommend doing this.

Bike Course

  • The Santa Cruz bike course goes out scenic West Cliff drive and onto beautiful Highway 1.  Okay, the first like 5 miles of Highway 1 are not beautiful, but it’ll get there.
  • Santa Cruz DOES NOT block off a lane for race participants, so be very careful of cars when passing.  This year was especially dangerous because of the seeded swim start, you were always passing people or being passed.  You couldn’t just get into TT position and ride really.
  • Most mornings, you will get a headwind going out, and a tailwind coming back.  This past weekend we had a freak wind transition, and had a tailwind going out and headwind coming back.
  • IM took out the Swanton Road climb this year.  Usually you get a little break from the wind and about a mile climb via this road right off the highway, but this year they took it out.  Don’t worry though, this is still a challenging, rolling course.   I really credited my weekly hill repeats with coach for being able to tackle and recover from the rollers.
  • Parts of the course have some pretty heavy rumble strips between the shoulder and the main road.  Try to cross these quickly so you don’t lose your balance on your bike.
  • Go with Gator Skin tires for this race!  There is always debris and crud on this road.  I saw waaaay too many people pulled over with flat tires.

Run Course:

  • The run takes you back out West Cliff drive and through Wilder Ranch State park in a lollipop loop.
  • Since we got such a late start on the swim, it was very hot and sunny.  I wish I had paused to put on some sun screen.
  • There are aid stations every mile on the course, and they are stocked with oranges, bananas, Clif products, Gatorade, water, coke, and red bull (again, who on earth drinks red bull during these things?!)
  • Wilder Ranch is very dry and dusty, especially after a couple hundred shuffling triathletes have run the course before you.  This is the point where my lungs failed me.  I have exercise induce asthma and dust tends to be an aggravator.  Put me in a dusty environment on race day and its not good.  I did not have my inhaler on me and really suffered, so lesson learned – and the reason why I won’t be doing this run next year.
  • The finish line is on the beach!  We got a finishers hat – again, anyone who does more than one of these events a year wish we got something different?

More about Santa Cruz:

  • This is a small town and traffic can get really congested, especially on the weekends when its nice beach weather.  The whole Bay Area comes down to get some sand and sun.  If you can splurge on a hotel or AirBnb that is walking distance from the packet pickup/transition area, then definitely do so, it will save you a lot of parking stress.
  • Weather can be pretty unpredictable, so for your race bring something for all conditions.  Mornings can be pretty chilly and misty.  Last year I needed a jacket and gloves, but this year it was warm and I was fine in just my tri suit.
  • Also, because weather can be unpredictable, expect the unexpected and understand that whatever decision race organizers make is entirely for your safety.  People were pretty upset the swim got shortened, but I mean, what can you do?  I’d rather do a shortened swim and be able to be seen by the lifeguards.
  • This year the water was warm, but its usually in the mid 50’s.  That means you want a long sleeve wetsuit, and last year I double swim capped.  Some people wear booties.


Hope this post was informative if you are planning on doing this race!  Any questions I didn’t answer?  Post below!



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