HITS Palm Springs 2016 – Race Report and Review

Facebook Twitter Pinterest

I started out 2016 thinking I would only do one major race and it would be a half iron distance. Since we were going to be in San Diego from May until December for my wife’s work, I figured it would be a great year to train for something but I hadn’t really considered the time commitment of a full iron this year. I ended up signing up for the CVC half iron distance in Chula Vista that was set for August and started slowly working into training in February (coming off of a skiing knee injury over the New Year).

When we got to San Diego in May, I ramped the training up a bit and really started to have fun as expected. San Diego has to be the best place to train for a triathlon EVER. Training was going very well into June and July and I really started to get that triathlon bug that I had a few years ago. So, one night my wife mentions that maybe it’s a good year to go ahead and do another full iron since training is so good here and I guess I was in the right mood that night so I started looking at races. I wanted something close to San Diego and something in November/December so I had the right amount of time after the half iron to train for the full. Of course, Ironman Arizona in November is only about 5 hours from San Diego but you can’t sign up for this year’s race in June as it was already sold out. Anyway, I ended up coming across the HITS triathlon series and their Palm Springs event which is supposed to be their Championship event of the series. After the first 500 athletes the rest of the spots are reserved for those that have done other races in the series and want to compete for the Championship. That wasn’t an issue at all and I was able to sign up. I think 170 people were signed up for the full.

The cost to sign up is only about $350 to $400 for the full. So, it is much cheaper than Ironman. You do pretty much get what you pay for though. If you want the crowded, loud, and epic finish line, huge race expo, awesome swag, and all that goes with Ironman, you won’t get that here. I’ll go into more detail on that as I go through my race experience.

Anyway, there I was…all signed up for a full iron! This would be my second. I did Ironman Arizona back in 2012.

The half iron in August came and went and it was horrible. Ha! I never wrote a race report for that one so I’ll do that now: PR swim of 29 minutes (course was short), horrible bike course with terrible roads and it was 4 loops, incredibly hot on the run and 3 loops. Worst half iron time I’ve ever had. There you go. On the plus side, my friend and an athlete that I have coached for several years (Lisa Madson) completed the same race and it was her first official half iron finish!

Training after the half iron went well until about mid October. At that point I began to feel as though I was overtraining. I think starting way back in February and then changing plans and adding the full iron just made for too long of a season. Those last 6-8 weeks of training for the full were very difficult. I had no drive to train at all and my body was just tired. I took some time off for a few days at a time at several points and it didn’t seem to help much. When I finally tapered and took even more time off I started to feel much better and ready to race but I was pretty unsure of how I would do given the way training had gone for the last two months.

I had also gone up to Palm Springs 3 weeks before the race to ride the bike course. I did 80 miles on the course that day and I am so glad I did. Although I found the course to be very challenging and the roads to be in poor condition, just knowing what to expect was a huge help.

There is a ton more I could say about the training and the time leading up to this race but I think that is enough! Let’s talk about how the race went for me and all the logistics. Hopefully I can get enough detail in here for those that are reading this because they are friends and/or follow me on social media as well as those that are thinking about doing this race and want to know what to expect.

FRIDAY – Expo and Packet Pick Up

I drove up from San Diego on Friday for the mandatory pre-race meeting, packet pick up, and gear drop off. The pre-race meeting was set for 3pm and the expo and packet pick up went until 6pm. This all took place at Lake Cahuilla recreation area southeast of Palm Springs (really more like La Quinta or even Coachella area).

Here is a video of the lake from a post I did on Instagram and Facebook when I got there.

I got there just before 3pm, left all my stuff in the car and just went down to the meeting to make sure I didn’t miss that…you know….it’s MANDATORY.

The race director went over the courses and the logistics of the race fairly well in the pre-race meeting and then took questions. There were a TON of logistics to this race so there were a lot of questions. Here are some of the things about this race that they covered:

  • Swim is an “in water start” and is 4 loops. You stay in the water for each loop (no timing mat checks between loops)
  • Waves go every 3 minutes starting at 7am. Full iron male, full iron female, and then 4 half iron waves
  • T1 is right there at the same place (of course), but T2 is in a completely different location (HITS Desert Horse Park about 7 miles away)
  • Bike ride for the full iron is 2 loops but not all the way back to the lake. You go from the lake to the turnaround in Box Canyon, back down and turnaround at the T2 location, back out to Box Canyon, and back to T2. So, first turnaround is around 33 miles, second is around 60, third back in Box Canyon is around 86, and then finish at the horse park
  • Run is 4 loops (actually out and back) of 6.55 miles each, all inside the horse park.
  • All your swim stuff would be transported from T1 to T2 for you as long as you put it in the designated bag they gave you at packet pickup
  • All wetsuits had to be dunked in a chlorine solution for 15 seconds to decontaminate them so that a certain type of mussel was not introduced into that lake
  • Bikes and wetsuits stayed in T1 overnight with wetsuits tagged as decontaminated
  • Racers would park at T2 and shuttle to race start and T1 in the morning rather than parking at the race start

After the meeting, I went and picked up my race packet and got my bike, bike gear, and wetsuit out of the car and headed to T1. I got the wetsuit decontaminated on the way into transition and then found my spot.

One thing that is really nice about the HITS series is their transition set up. They have these boxes (see pic below) for each racer. So, there is no fighting for space. Each transition area also comes with a little stool to sit on. I got pink! Ha!

hits3

So, I put my bike and all my gear for riding in transition. You didn’t have to leave all your bike gear overnight (just your bike and wetsuit) but I decided to leave as much as possible so I didn’t have to carry much in the morning. I put my helmet, shoes, windbreaker, and some cheap gloves in the “wet bag” they gave us in our packet and left it in transition.

After T1 was all set, I went to go pick up my athlete tracker that I had reserved. Unfortunately, the email from the race telling us that we could reserve trackers had NO PRICE on the email or the form you fill out which made it seem like it was included. When I waited in line to pick mine up I found out it was $39. So, I skipped the tracker. I went back and checked the email to make sure I didn’t miss the price but there indeed is no price anywhere. I was disappointed with that whole situation for a few minutes but figured it was one less thing to remember to take with me in the morning and to remember to give back at the end so I moved on.

I was pretty much alone at this race as far as family and such but my friend Rochelle was doing the half iron so I did get to chat with her a bit at the expo. Other than that, I was ready to head to the hotel to check-in, have some dinner, and then prep all my nutrition and stuff for the next day!

SATURDAY – Race Day

I had all of my nutrition prepped the night before and in the mini fridge for the morning. I only had to bring my run stuff and my nutrition since all my bike stuff was already there. That part of this set up was kind of nice but I would still prefer 1 transition area than 2 separate ones.

I got up about 4:30am and left at 5am. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring a packet of Shakeology (which I have used for race day breakfast for years) and so I had a muffin that I bought at a grocery store. Not an ideal situation for me but it wasn’t going to be my main nutrition for the day anyway.

I got to the T2/finish area at the horse park around 5:30 and found my spot in T2 where I could set up my run stuff. Then I dropped off my special needs bags for the run and the bike and boarded a shuttle for the race start. All I had with me was a few bottles of nutrition (some for before the start, some for on the bike) and my music. I had small playlist set up for the shuttle ride and for as long as I could listen before the race start. It included just two artists: Sia and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. My top 3 songs were Dark Necessities, Unstoppable, and Elastic Heart. Unstoppable was my theme song the whole day.  If you haven’t heard that song, it may just become your new running theme song!

In T1, I took all of my bike gear out of the “wet bag” and filled the wet bag with my morning clothes and shoes so they could get transported to T2. I had a ziploc bag with me for my ipod and earplugs so they didn’t get wet in the “wet bag”.

Transition closed around 6:40 and I headed down to the beach for the swim. Go time.

SWIM – 1:22:03

My goal on the swim was to swim conservatively and not spend much energy. My swim times are always way more competitive than my bike or run times (especially more than my run times). I swam IMAZ in 1:05. I expected this to be around 1:15 or maybe slightly faster. I wasn’t terribly disappointed with 1:22 given the conditions but it was a bit slower than expected.

The report was that the water was 59 degrees. I saw several racers say that their Garmin was showing 55 degrees though. All I know is that I had an ice cream headache for at least half of the first loop. Can I just say that no one should ever have to experience an ice cream headache WITHOUT also getting to eat ice cream? I mean, really. Ha!!!!

I was in the first wave that went out at 7am. The race did start on time according to my watch. All of the other waves went while I was on my first loop. I came around the first loop at about 18 minutes, which meant that the last wave had just left 3 minutes before. So, less than halfway through my second loop I hit a wall of the slower swimmers from that wave. Loops 2 and 3 involved a lot of sighting and going around people and then the final lap was pretty clear.

Overall, the swim course set up wasn’t that bad. Yes, it was cold and the loops meant you ran into other waves from behind but there isn’t a whole lot that can be done about it at this location. The only real complaint I have about this swim course is that there really aren’t any checks for cheating that I could see. You could easily just swim 3 laps leisurely and get out and have a PR swim time. As of the posting of this blog, the results show one person with a 49 minute swim time. That is HIGHLY unlikely in a 4 loop course. It’s not impossible, but it’s not very likely. 4 loops without any timing mat checks is not so good, in my opinion.  In the end, I couldn’t care less if others are cheating when I am not planning to place but I think the race should have as many checks in place as possible to prevent it for those that are trying to place.

I chose not to wear booties or a neoprene cap for this swim. If I had it to do over again, I might wear the booties. When I stood up at the end of the swim, the bottoms of my feet were numb. I actually fell back down when I first tried to stand up.

Swim Nutrition: Muffin and coffee for breakfast, 1 scoop plain Generation UCAN with 1/2 scoop of Beachbody Energize about 30 minutes before the swim, 24 oz water

T1 – 7:49

I made my way up to T1 with my numb feet and got my wetsuit off. I swam with a triathlon bib on under my wetsuit and put a jersey on in T1. I thought of my friend Brooks as I was standing there in T1 with just a pair of bib shorts on. Ha! He consistently does spin workouts in just a pair of bib shorts.  Always reminds me of Borat.

I wasn’t planning on rushing in T1 but I was worried about how I would get my bike shoes on with no feeling in my feet. So, I walked around a bit, used the bathroom, and then started to get some feeling back in my feet. I had expected my hands to be numb from the swim and had a jacket and cheap gloves (that I could discard) ready but the sun was already out and it didn’t feel cold at all. So, I just sat down on the nice little stool and took my time getting my bike shoes on my still partially numb feet.

I also made sure everything was in the “wet bag” that I wasn’t taking with me on the bike and then I slowly headed out of T2 to the mount line with my gloves in my jersey pocket. I left the windbreaker in the wet bag and didn’t use it at all.

T1 Nutrition: Just a little water

BIKE – 7:15:05

So, did I mention that there was a wind advisory in the area until 2pm? No? Well, the winds were steady at about 15-20mph out of the NW with gusts up to 30mph.

Fortunately, the race goes mostly west and south on the way out. So, heading west down airport road was smooth sailing and fast speeds. In fact, without too much effort (or at least it seemed at the time), I had a 21 mph average at mile 20 just as I was about to hit the 13 mile steady climb to the turnaround in Box Canyon. Of course, I knew I would lose pace climbing that but going in with a 21 mph average was good. I felt strong and ready for that first climb, but then it got more and more crazy as I made my way up the canyon…

None of the roads are closed on this course including the road through Box Canyon. I had ridden it on a Thursday afternoon three weeks before the race and there was very little traffic. For some reason though, as I climbed the canyon on that first loop, the car traffic coming down the canyon the other way was getting heavier and heavier and the winds were gusting heavier and heavier. Lines of cars were backed up behind bikes coming down the course. After I made the turn around, I was behind a line of trucks and cars (including many semi trucks) and would have to hit my brakes going downhill behind them. Other racers would actually go around them and into the bike traffic coming the other way but I had no interest in that since some cars were even pulling out looking to see if they could pass. It was a very dangerous situation, in my opinion. It was very frustrating to be coming downhill and having to use my brakes because of car traffic on the race course. All of this while you were getting hit with 30mph gusting cross winds!

NOTE: In defense of the race director, there was apparently an accident on I-10 (overturned semi due to high winds) and people were trying to use Box Canyon to bypass the westbound lanes of I-10 that were closed for over an hour. This seems to be why there was so much traffic. So, it’s not likely to be an issue next year from what I understand but it most certainly was this year.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the dogs! At the corner of 60th and Johnson, there are a couple of houses that have a ton of dogs and they would charge you every time you would go by. That was super fun. I didn’t realize this was a Spartan race too. #sarcasm

I made it to the turnaround point back at the T2 location about 3 hours and 20 minutes into the ride and picked up my bike special needs bag. I thought I was feeling pretty good as I started the second loop but as I went out Airport road I noticed that my speed at the same effort level was about 2 mph slower than it was on the first loop. When I hit the first incline of the second loop I knew it was going to a long second lap.

The nice part about the second loop was that the winds and the traffic in the canyon were pretty much non-existent. The bad part was that I was spent! It was a very long climb up that canyon.

It definitely took me longer than I expected. I was expecting somewhere between 6:30 and 6:45, but I was not expecting 30mph crosswinds and all the traffic either…so I am not too upset about the bike time.

I most certainly was not a fan of this bike course but it would be ok if they could really do something about those dogs and make sure that traffic was not an issue. It’s a tough course either way though and once again there aren’t any checks against cheating that I could see (no timing mats at the turnarounds even). On that second loop up the canyon, bikes are far enough apart that you could probably just turn around early and no one would know. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people did.

The aid stations on the bike course were fine although I only grabbed water from them so I don’t know how they were if you were planning to get anything other than water from them. I know they had HEED. They had aid about every 15 miles and it worked just fine for me.

Bike Nutrition:

Started the bike with 1 bottle of Generation UCAN mixed with Beachbody Energize (6 scoops UCAN, 1.5 scoops Energize) and 1 bottle of electrolytes (5 scoops of Beachbody Hydrate)

Picked up replacements of about the same mixtures via my special needs bag for the second loop. I probably only had about 5 scoops worth of the UCAN on the second loop.

So, total was about 11 scoops of UCAN, 9 or 10 scoops of Hydrate, and 3 or 4 scoops of Energize.

T2 – 7:07

Just have to bang out a quick marathon now, right? No biggie. #sarcasmagain

T2 was pretty uneventful. I was stiff from the bike ride so I took my time. I was wishing that stool from T1 was there now because I bike with no socks but I definitely don’t run a full marathon with no socks. So, that stool would have been really nice! I managed to get my socks and shoes on anyway and I drank the last of my electrolytes from the bike bottle and headed out for the mind-numbing 4 loop run.

T2 Nutrition: Just the last couple of swigs of my electrolytes. I had my last bit of UCAN about 15 minutes before the end of the bike ride so I wasn’t in need of any of that.

RUN – 6:04:05

My goal on the run was to go under 5 hours. I figured I could run about a 9:30 pace and walk a bunch of aid stations and take breaks and I would be good. It was a little tougher than that though, as you can see from the time.

My legs were already toast from that ride up the canyon….twice. I joked with a friend this morning that DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) happens in Ironman too…the problem is that the delay isn’t long enough for you to be done with the race yet. Ha!

I knew the run would be tough both physically and mentally because it is 4 loops and uh…well…it’s an Ironman marathon, but there were unexpected difficulties both physically and mentally for this one as well.

First of all, since the entire course is inside the horse park grounds, it looped back on itself a lot. So, at just about any point, you could see another part of the course to your left or right. This was tough mentally because you wanted to be over there but you knew you had to run around to get there. It also, once again made for easy cheating as there were no timing mats out on the course and there were easy places to cut the course or just turn around early (especially after dark).

My first loop was before dark so I got to get a feel for all the turns and the layout of the course (which was laid out different than the map online) before it got pitch black on the course. Others did not have that luxury and it wasn’t the easiest course to follow.

Most of the course was on uneven surfaces.  Soft dirt, gravel, loose chip seal on pavement, hard dirt, sand, etc.  Check out the dirt tan from the pic below.

hits1

I did my first two loops in about 2:45 and was hurting big time. It was now pitch black on a good portion of the course and I had picked up a head lamp from an aid station (they were giving them out, which as a nice touch).

On loops 3 and 4 I was just trying to walk/run and make 15 min miles or so. If I could stay running, I was typically doing 11-12 minute miles and 15 min miles when I would walk part of a mile and run the rest.

The aid stations on the run were awesome. Well stocked with tons of stuff including chips, pretzels, oranges, grapes, bananas, gummy bears, candy bars, broth, coke, HEED, gels, water, and more. They never ran out of anything while I was on the course. I was very impressed with the aid station support.

I wish the course marking would have been better and they would have had people out there directing people at some key points. I saw a couple of people that were lost and not sure what part of the course they had done and my friend saw someone purposefully cut the course. There was one particular point near the out and back turnaround on the run that was poorly set up and directed. I had to ask about it on my first loop at the nearby aid station to be sure I was doing it right.

Not much else to tell about the run except that I made it. Oh, except that I looked at my watch when I was about 1.5 miles to the finish and realized that it was close to 15 hours on the race clock and I had enough time to make it if I picked up the pace a bit. I contemplated if I even cared at this point since 15 hours was beyond my goal time anyway but decided that I did care and I should try to make it under 15. When I hit the 1 mile point, I had 13 minutes to go for a 15 hour finish so I pushed it and ended up running a 9 minute mile to finish around 14:56. I am not sure how that was possible but I did it. That felt really good to be able to push myself there at the end.

Run Nutrition: I had 4 scoops of UCAN on the run course with small amounts of Energize mixed in. I had them prepared in small gel flasks (actually travel bottles for shampoo…much cheaper). I also had chips and HEED and a few gummy bears and coke on the course. I basically had whatever I felt like at each aid station.

My stomach felt good the whole time. Really no nutrition issues like I had in Arizona.

FINISH TIME: 14:56:11

FINISH LINE

If you are looking for an epic finish line like you see at Ironman, don’t expect that here. There were probably a dozen people TOTAL at the finish line. It’s very underwhelming, to be honest. However, I didn’t really care. I knew it would be somewhat like that at a small race like this. If you plan on doing this race, just don’t expect the epic feel to the finish line.

INTERESTING NOTES

This is the first year of this course.  If you look at the results from two years ago, you find some interesting differences:

  1. The winner in 2014 on the old course came in at 8:56:18.  The winner this year came in at 10:35:18!  Wow!  Now that is a big course change!
  2. I found several people that did the course in 2014 and this year (I used 2014 because the 2015 results are incomplete online).  One example:  2014 time = 12:26:10, 2016 time = 15:09:46.  Yea, so this was a harder course for sure.
  3. The race director said that 170 people were signed up for the full iron.  The current results shows 93 finishers.  So, only 54% finished the race (some of those may have not started the race either).

OVERALL THOUGHTS

Given the course and all the factors, I am not too upset with that finish time. Going into the race, I thought I was capable of a 13 to 13:30 finish but there were some unexpected factors there and that’s ok. Having finished IMAZ under 12 hours just a few years ago really made me feel bad about this race at different points during the day, but it is all about perspective and I needed to get the right one because I definitely had the wrong one at several points during the day.  I talk to my kids about perspective all the time and I had to remind myself about it a lot during this day.  I told my daughter Maddie the other day that “comparison is the thief of joy” and asked her to memorize that quote.

I think this was a decent race overall and worth the money. The only things that I thought were not acceptable about it could easily be changed. They need to do timing mats at strategic locations to cut down on possibility of cheating, they need to deal with the dogs or change the course, they need to do better with the traffic in the canyon (unless the accident was the only reason for it), they need more volunteers directing people on the run course and/or more signage and lights.  Now that I write it out, it sounds like a lot.  I guess it kind of was a lot of stuff that wasn’t so good.  I’ll be sending the race director my thoughts so hopefully they can fix some of it because I really do want to see more options other than Ironman.  As long as they aren’t dangerous and have issues like easy cheating then they don’t have to be the epic experience.

hits2

Thank you all for reading!

SPECIAL THANKS

My Wife:  My wife, Paula, encouraged me to go ahead and take on another Ironman and she supported me during many workouts this year.

My kids:  My kids push me to be better every day.  They are my reason and my inspiration.

My friends and followers:  All my social media friends and followers that are always so encouraging to me.

Nancy:  Aunt Nancy helped me with the girls during training quite a bit and even flew down to San Diego again to take care of them during race weekend.

 

8 Comments

  • Lindy

    December 6, 2016

    First, congratulations!! You committed to a goal, you committed to the training needed to reach that goal, and you committed, mentally and physically during the race, to finishing. So again, congratulations!
    Your race report is so will written it was a real pleasure to read. I’ve never done, nor will I, a 70.3 (other than as a relay) or a 140.6, but I can honestly say, as when reading Willa Cather, I felt I was present with you on your journey.
    You have an amazing family, an amazing work ethic, and your continued willingness to share and inspire those around you as we strive to reach out own goals is much appreciated.
    You are, regardless of the designator, an Ironman!
    Lindy

    • BASEtraining

      December 6, 2016

      Wow! Thank you so much, Lindy! That means a lot.

  • Dave Ward

    December 8, 2016

    Wow! What a crazy day. Sounds like the only issues were with the course and not YOU. Solid training plan and knowing your body well enough to get the nutrition right does pay off. Way to go Rhino.

    • BASEtraining

      December 8, 2016

      Thanks, Dave! My personal discipline during training (especially nutritionally) could have been better and I would have gone into this race lighter and faster…but overall it went ok. I do feel for anyone that was doing their first Ironman here and was just hoping to finish under 17 hours because this was a tough course and conditions for that.

  • Bill Perkins

    December 9, 2016

    Thanks for shariong your experience with us Ryan. I was there in Palm Springs as well, participating in the Sprint. I was really curious what the full was like given some of the issues I experienced. It sounds like you conquered. Great job! You can be fulfilled in that. And I can be inpired to up my training. Thanks again!

    • BASEtraining

      December 9, 2016

      Hi Bill! Thanks for the comment. Wish we could have met there!

  • matt

    April 25, 2017

    What a lame course right? I did the Half and it’s beyond me why you’d put in a 10 mile climb in the middle of the desert, and not just keep the original (flat and fast) course. And the run in the horse park was retarded. Never again!

    • BASEtraining

      May 16, 2017

      I so totally agree. Really lame!