Santa Cruz 70.3 Race Report

Triathlon; swim, bike, and then run.

Not three separate sports. One sport. Three disciplines.

Never has that been more apparent to me than after Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz this weekend. It was, to put it bluntly, a total shit show.


Before it all went wrong. PC: Camille Gulick

I came into the race feeling great, but in hindsight (you might hear that a lot), probably a little under trained. I had a pretty serious bike crash a month before race day. Considering I went over my handlebars at about 30 km/h, I got staggeringly lucky that my injuries weren’t more serious. (See the photo at the bottom of the page – it’s a little grim!) Nevertheless, I wasn’t able to do much for a few weeks, and my run suffered the most.

Still, I definitely felt good enough to race.

The fast and reasonably flat bike course suits my riding style, and Santa Cruz in September should be a good temperature. I had my best taper week yet leading into the event, and headed down to town a day early. Check-in was smooth. I had an easy swim, bike, run on the Saturday and was ready to go.

The first thing to go wrong really wasn’t my fault. I entered to transition early, got set up and headed for the beach. It was incredibly foggy. Like, I can’t see anything out at sea foggy. The swim course is meant to go round the Santa Cruz pier, but you could barely make it out through the mist. The organisers decided it wasn’t safe to do the swim. Disappointing as this was, it was undoubtedly the correct decision.

The start was delayed by over an hour and the course was changed to about 700m. It wasn’t too much of a big deal, although I did get pretty hungry waiting to get in the water. Eventually we got underway, with a very controlled, one at a time start. I ran into the ocean and timed my dive perfectly over a wave.

I mean I really nailed it.

From the shore it must have really looked like I seriously knew what I was doing. Just a shame I filled my goggles with water and had to stop pretty rapidly to clear them. Not my best move ever. Anyway, the swim was short and fast. A chance to settle into a slight rhythm but really it was in and out. 770m in about 13 and a half minutes was a solid split and I was rapidly into the race.

T1 at Santa Cruz includes a run of about 800m, so not at all fast, but I was through fairly quickly and out onto the out and back bike course.


It really was a great ride…. PC: Camille Gulick

The wind was behind heading out, which is pretty unusual on this coast. It made for a very fast first half of the ride. I felt great. I was riding hard but in control. I was eating and drinking on schedule and really thought I was on course for a great day.

The only slight dampener on proceedings was the amount of blatant drafting* going on. With a lot of athletes on a course like this, it’s never going to be possible to avoid it completely, but a lot of people weren’t even trying. At one stage I got passed by a huge group of about 15 guys going at a ridiculous pace, riding as a peloton. I eventually caught some of them and called one guy out. He told me that everyone was doing it so why shouldn’t he.

I’ll tell you why, because it’s cheating.

Gaining an advantage over other athletes by breaking the rules. You might as well take some EPO or put a motor in your frame. Cheating is cheating.

I overtook another guy who promptly moved in right behind my wheel. He got a pretty expletive laden rant and decided it was probably best to drop back, you know, like the rules dictate.

Anyway, I hit halfway on the bike in one hour 15, a frankly ridiculous split for me. I backed off into the wind on the way back and all the while felt like I was riding fairly easily. In hindsight (see..!), I wasn’t.

I came into T2 in two hours 36 minutes, a PB for a 70.3 bike by eight minutes. Boy was I going to regret that. Out onto the run feeling real good. First few kilometres bang on target split.

Then the wheels came off.

I don’t mean came a little loose. I don’t mean I didn’t feel my best. I mean full on, I don’t know how I’m going to finish. With more than half of the run to go.


Before – running strong through the first miles. PC: Camille Gulick


After – just so much pain coming into the finish. PC: Camille Gulick

It was terrible. My stomach wasn’t great (back to the drawing board on nutrition) and I was overheating dramatically. The late start and lack of shade on the run course didn’t help, but more than anything, I had pushed too hard for the level of fitness I had. Swim, bike, and then run. It doesn’t matter what you can do in a stand alone workout, you have to do it off the bike.

I tried everything I could to keep cool and keep going. Ice, water, coke. All barely helped.

With just three kilometres to go, I still wanted to quit, but I knew I’d be mad at myself in the end. I caused this, I had to get out of it.

I eventually finished as a total mess, stumbling across the line.

At Victoria 70.3 in June I ran 1:42 on what I thought was a bad day. In Santa Cruz I did 1:56. I was just so disappointed in myself.


I don’t think I can ever be accused of not giving it everything. PC: Camille Gulick

But I didn’t quit, and I’ve learnt a valuable lesson. There is always a price to pay in triathlon for pushing hard. Time to go back to basics in my training. I have to be fitter and smarter. One sport. Three disciplines.

I’ll return to training slowly, with some exciting non-triathlon events on my horizon for the new year.

First though. The small matter of a move to New Zealand……

*For those not familiar with triathlon rules, most amateur races are non-drafting on the bike. This mean you must stay six bike lengths behind the rider in front of you, to avoid getting the huge energy saving of riding behind another athlete. If you get closer than this, you have to make a pass.

My full race results can be found here.


Hitting the ground at 30 km/h – really not my best idea but it could have been a lot worse. PC: Camille Gulick

One Comment on “Santa Cruz 70.3 Race Report

  1. Hi Luke, such a long time in being in touch. We lost you email address my computer died and I lost all my contacts. You have really moved on, nice to hear your news Bryan and Jean Jarvis

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