Ironman Buys More Races

2015 California Race Announcements

Yesterday, I was sitting in the office and picked up my phone to look at whatever new notifications I’d gotten, because that’s what you do in 2015. When I saw this email I actually exclaimed, “Oh shit!” (And, I hate the use of the word ‘exclaimed,’ but in this instance I’m not sure there is any other word that is more appropriate.) Of course, then, I had to try and explain to my co-workers why this was an ‘oh shit’ moment.

Look, maybe nothing will change with Big Kahuna or Superfrog, just because Ironman bought them as it continues its massive push towards total domination. Maybe. But, probably not.

People on the twitter are already upset that the Superfrog entry rose to $500, with $200 of that going in a mandatory donation to the Ironman Foundation. I have my unease about the Ironman Foundation and, certainly, I can’t afford a $500 half-Ironman race. But, coming as part of the announcement of the acquisition, the price increase was actually probably agreed to by the old owners of the event and shouldn’t be a huge shock.

What I think is more interesting is what exactly all this means for Ironman’s plans.

The company now has three California races in the span of three weeks—two of which are one week apart in Northern California and attract very similar competitors. (I’m actually going to guess that part of what convinced Big Kahuna to sell to Ironman was that they felt it was just going to get harder and harder to compete with Tahoe 70.3 and the other M-dot races.) So, now you own all these California races—races that used to be known for their independence and grassroots feel. If you’re a business and, no one disputes, a savvy one, what do you do?

I see no way that something doesn’t eventually get moved and/or cancelled. Not this year, obviously, but 2016 or 2017? Definitely. Maybe the company is hedging its bets against Tahoe, since originally it was weighing Ironman Tahoe or Ironman Santa Cruz, and so far Tahoe has had two rough years. Maybe if they actually have a year where they can do the full Ironman Tahoe and the 70.3 on the same day, they’ll decide that event format is a huge money-maker and move Big Kahuna to the spring or early summer, and roll out same day 70.3s and fulls around the country. Maybe they’re just eliminating the competition. Ironman also bought some of the smaller events that the Superfrog and Big Kahuna production companies put on. I’d be shocked if those continue beyond the next couple years.

Or, maybe, alternatively, I’m totally wrong, and this is all just part of a plan to own everything everywhere in all event formats and distances.

Either way, I’m not sure how all the buying up and squashing of competition in the last five to ten years hasn’t violated plenty of anti-trust laws. I don’t love anti-trust laws, because the line between what is just capitalism and what is illegal capitalism seems to change often, but they exist. And, if these kind of monopolistic practices were happening in another industry, I’m not sure they’d be allowed.

Which isn’t to say that, obviously, Ironman will probably do a great job with the races and Big Kahuna—sorry, IRONMAN SANTA CRUZ 70.3 now—could become wildly popular. I was, actually, originally rooting for Ironman Santa Cruz over Tahoe. And, maybe, everything Ironman does is totally beneficial to the sport, and the company is simply trying to serve a need on the West Coast. But, man, oh shit.

Race Report: Big Kahuna Triathlon

Won a trophy -- if not THE trophy.
Won a trophy — if not THE trophy.


Short version: It turns out that if you don’t really train for a half-Ironman, then it’ll go pretty much how you’d expect it to go. My legs stopped working with 2.5 miles left to run. Between then and the finish, I went from second to fifth, which was excruciating — physically and emotionally. On the plus side, my legs worked for a lot of miles before that point. And, it turns out my five hour finish (5:08) may not have been as super slow as I thought; the race, itself, was also slow and long. (For the Big Kahuna aficionados, they’ve extended the bike course slightly.) Bonus miles!

Long version: When I’m really not excited about a race and can’t think of any possible reason I want to do it, I tell myself just to go through the motions. Just go through the motions of getting ready, setting up transition, warming up, standing at the start, and eventually the rest will kick in. It usually works.

Sunday, I went through the motions like I’ve done this before and eventually we were running down the beach to the ocean. I am, apparently, really fast at that, because I hit the water first. The crowd sorted itself within the first 20 feet. Then, it was me and a girl who was swimming quickly away from me. Right after I lost her feet, another girl went by me, and then it was just me. But, I knew I was swimming well. I could tell from the amount it hurt my arms and by how many guys I was passing from the earlier waves. I, actually, maybe for the first time ever, didn’t hate my life or the sport of triathlon during the swim. I knew I was swimming a PR, so at least there’d be that high note.

After coming out in 28:30 (yay!) and running the half-mile to transition in bare feet on concrete, I started the part of the race I was second-most worried about: the bike.

It wasn’t awful. It wasn’t great either. My heartrate monitor stopped working — no matter how many times I pressed “Find” on the computer — and I don’t have power in my race wheels, so I went by feel. Going by feel works really well if you know what that effort is supposed to feel like. I have no idea right now. Instead, I kept asking myself: Does this hurt? But, in a way you can sustain? Should you pass that guy up there? Probably, you should.

About 10 miles in, I saw someone up ahead hanging on the wheel in front of them, to such a degree that this person was coasting at points and at other times sprinting to jump back on the wheel. Typical, I thought, 45-year-old male behavior. Because that is who I usually see drafting. I rarely see the front women go deliberately out of their way to draft. For the most part, I see women just trying to deal with the men they’re catching and the men catching them and the general chaos that is triathlon when you’re a fast female in a mass race. Then, I realized this was a woman. It took me another 10 miles to catch her, after which she tried to hang on to my wheel for a bit.

At the turnaround, the woman in first came blazing through from farther up the road, past the turning point, yelling about having missed the police cars and cones and volunteers. Trying to keep her in sight was a new motivation, but it only worked for so long. Then, things got blurry for a bit. I’m not sure if it was partially the fog that was literally making things blurry or partially that we had reached the edge of my fitness, but I was struggling with that classic battle: I just want to be off my bike, but then I’d have to run. Lose-lose. Also, I was actually literally having a hard time seeing.

I was enough out of it that when I got to transition, I swung my leg over the back to dismount, still coasting in slowly, and I got my leg caught on the seat. I’ve never done that, even in practice, and I didn’t have the wherewithal to save it. The whole bike came crashing down on top of me as it, and I, tipped over and semi-skidded to the dismount line. I’d like to think at least some of the time in my not-so-awesome 2:47 bike split was used up by me pseudo-crashing and picking myself up.

But, still I was fine. Everything was fine. The run started out strong enough. I focused on high turnover and running steady. I told myself that I’d finally nailed my nutrition and wasn’t going to collapse in a heap somewhere in Santa Cruz — as has happened before. I just kept ticking off 7:15-7:30 miles. It was fine. Even when it got ugly around halfway, which happens for everyone on this course as you run around a never-ending field, I was still running in the 7:00s. Heading back up the long hill in the sun around 9 miles in, I rationally knew that I didn’t feel any worse than anyone else and, in fact, I felt far better than the last time I had been crying while stumbling up this stupid hill. No, everything was fine.

See, everything is fine. I'm obviously have a better race than that guy.
See, everything is fine. I’m obviously have a better race than that guy.


Obviously, abruptly, it wasn’t fine anymore. I’ve heard the phrase “the wheels came off” and I’ve even used it, but I don’t know that I ever fully appreciated what it meant before Sunday. I went, very suddenly, from running 7:30s to running 9:30s. My legs simply hurt. Every step the right leg screamed in pain, especially on the downhills. My legs wouldn’t bend. They wouldn’t move forward. They were done. I was still pretty fine aerobically, completely aware of the women closing on me from behind, but there just wasn’t much I could do about it. One woman, who actually started five minutes after me, passed me with 1.5 miles to go. She then put more than another three minutes on me in that last 1.5 miles. And, she wasn’t running that fast.

Eventually, it ended. I didn’t even walk, not even through that long stretch in the sand at the end, though walking might have been quicker at points.

I'm actually right at the point when it went bad here. It just looks like I'm still running, because things look faster from behind.
I’m actually right at the point when it went bad here. It just looks like I’m still running, because things look faster from behind.


The extra added bonus fun of doing a race you’re not physically prepared for is that when you push your body to that point, and it hasn’t had the appropriate amount of time to get ready, it really hurts. I have been in more pain since Sunday than after any race except possibly the Dipsea that first year. My dad said that I just wanted to see how far the tank could run on empty. And, I guess now we know.

Big Kahuna: Ready or Not, Here I Come


These are the prizes you win at Big Kahuna. I have one of those bronze hula girls.

The first time I ever did this race in 2009 it was to be my first half-Ironman, but the swim got cancelled and it ended up being my first 56-mile bike + half-marathon race instead. It was still long and sucked. (My actual first full half-Ironman was the following summer at Barb’s Race, which I did with an injury and which prompted me to decide the half distance was not for me.)

I did Big Kahuna again in 2011 as my last race right before Steve broke his leg and before my surprise temporary hiatus from triathlon. It went better that time, but the half distance is still not my favorite thing.

This is the only picture of me still in existence from either of the times doing the race:

Looking serious
Looking serious

So why did I agree to do it again this year? Especially after Ironman and being a bum for the last six weeks and feeling terrible? Why do we do any of these things? It sounded like fun at the time. We want to see what we can do. Why not.

Of course, usually when I think something sounds like fun and I want to see what I can do, I’ve run farther than seven miles and ridden my bike more than a handful of times. But, that’s ok. Hopefully, muscle memory kicks in. If this was an Olympic distance, I’d feel confident that my muscles would remember what to do. But, it’s a half. And I don’t know that my muscles ever learned what to do in halves in the first place, so there’s not much to remember.