Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Santa Cruz AquaBike - my race report

Sunday was the 29th annual Santa Cruz Triathlon. This year they had an AquaBike option which I jumped on because I didn't want the pressure of having to run a certain amount in a certain time. It turned out to be a good thing because I managed to set myself back on Monday running a 5K time trial and I was pretty sore and my one other run that weekend was a bit of a bust.

Packet pickup was the Saturday before and it reinforced my feeling that the AquaBike was a bit of an afterthought. I had a run number in my packet and there was no separate AquaBike wave. This meant that, as is often the case, I was in the last wave of the day with the other old ladies and the "leftovers" (which in this case was the Athenas/Clydesdales and the Relay teams).

I was supposed to be meeting friends in Santa Cruz for a day of fun but I barely had time to get my packet before the expo closed and then I had to immediately drive back over the mountain to finish up several errands.
I did get some time to enjoy my swag. SCT always has good swag and this year was no exception. I got chap stick, which I can always used, Gu Chomps and a SCT water bottle plus some other stuff I can't remember. This year's bottle was full size -- last year it was slightly smaller - and, for some reason, had a blue cap. I needed an extra blue cap for a blue bottle so I got to swap the clear cap I was using on it for a blue one and that made me happy.

I had trouble getting to sleep that night. I'm back into a pattern of staying up too late and sleeping in and you can't just go to bed at 10 pm and wake up at 4:30 am when you've been going to bed at 1 or 2 am and sleeping until 10 am or even noon. I guess I should have taken my sleeping pills but I don't like to take them if I'm not going to get eight hours of sleep as I wake up groggy.

I woke up groggy anyway and with my usual "why am I doing this? maybe I should just stay home" thoughts. I really am not a morning person!

I got to transition in reasonable time and was set up and visited the port-a-potties with way too much time to spare. I managed to kill some time visiting but I still ended up in my wet suit way too early. Then I had to use the facilities again. Awkward.

When I got down to the beach, I told myself I would NOT go in the ocean to warm up. I knew I'd be freezing by the time my wave went off. But not warming up makes me nervous and eventually I succumbed. There was a seal lion cavorting with some of the swimmers and you know how much that freaks me out. So between sea lion fear and freezing, I was not a happy camper.

But time passed and soon it was time to get in the corral for our wave. I ended up surrounded by Clydesdales. Man, those dudes were TALL. I was afraid they'd trample me so I started back farther than I normally do. The horn went off and we all ran into the water. There were more crashing waves than normal and I found myself being pushed back to shore twice instead of the usual once.

Then, I just wasn't feeling it. I had only swum one time since Ironman Canada and I guess I have lost some swim fitness. So that "what am I doing here?" feeling lasted a lot longer than normal. But eventually I got into the swing of things and started to enjoy my swim.

Unfortunately, I had a strong impression that I was the very last swimmer which did not make me happy. But my 15 minute buzz went off about where it should have for a decent, but not fast, swim and the 30 min. buzzer was also on time. I figured I was headed for a 40 minute swim, which is "eh" but not horrible for me.

I felt like I had done a good job sighting on the way out to the pier and I was able to cut the course as short as you can cut it and not cheat. I cut across the top much closer to the pier than I like and the sea lions were going mad, but I figured it was worth it to save the time.

On the way in, I saw a gal in a purple cap behind me. (So she started 4 waves ahead of me??) She seemed to be catching up to me so I used her as motivation to haul ass to the shore. I continued to do a good job with sighting, heading straight for the Dream Inn until I got to a point where a sail boat was between me and the inn. I had to pick a side to go around. The purple gal was to my right and there seemed to be lifeguards to my right, but not my left so I went right.

Looking at my Garmin track, I should have gone left. I think I would have saved a minute or two doing that. Plus, the helpers made me stand up much sooner than I would normally and then cautioned me about a wave breaking behind me. Um, yeah, that's why I normally keep swimming until my hands touch the sand, dudes. But I was able to dolphin dive with the wave and got a bit of body surfing help from it, if not as much as normal.

Purple cap actually stood up and got to shore before me, but, once I was out of the water, I took off and left her in my dust. I ran as fast as I could to transition. The pounding up the sidewalk was horrible on my bad calf but I gritted my teeth and ignored it. I did have a brief flashback to Big Kahuna and it reinforced both why DNFing there was a good idea and also how much worse my injury was back then.

In T1, there were hardly any bikes left, but there were some. So that's good. I figured there were 10 people still to get out on the bike course when I left -- several more than when I got there in spite of an extremely long T1 time due to the run up from the beach.

I never found the wading pools to wash my feet off and I'd forgotten my camping towel so I was swatting at my sandy feet with my socks and ended up just putting them on with my legs full of sand. I was so tempted to just not wear socks and will definitely stop wearing them on the bike after this.

The bike ride was okay. The wind had picked up a bit from when we first got there, which was disappointing, but it seemed to gradually die down as we got closer to the turn around. A few racers passed me on the bike early on so clearly I wasn't last out of the water in spite of what it seemed like. I passed a few too. In general, there were some slow people out there that I was able to gradually pick off and once the last couple of slow swimmers but fast bicyclists zoomed by early out, I didn't get passed any more.

At the turn around, I discovered why I thought the wind had died down. It had shifted and we had a headwind the entire way back to town! I knew I wasn't going to PR my bike with that wind but I also knew I had a lot more endurance than last year and so I just keep picking people off. One of them eventually caught up to me once we passed the bigger rollers, but the rest ate my dust.

Bwahahaha! Take that even-slower-than-me racers!

On the way back into town there is this odd out-and-back section and I saw someone from the wave before me who was also doing the AquaBike. They didn't seem to be that far ahead of me so I decided to try to catch them. I wasn't able to but I arrive back in transition properly thrashed and I was happy enough with my performance.

It wasn't awesome, but it wasn't terrible either.

At this point, it was not clear what to do to "end" my race. A bunch of us Aquabikers conferred and eventually we gave our timing chips to a volunteer and went up to the finish line to pig out and sweet talk a medal out of the volunteers.

The medal was okay. It was a key chain on a ribbon. This is the second time this year a race has done that. I guess it's a good idea since a lot of people don't care about medals and can use a key chain, but I love medals and the keychain thing looks lame when you put it on a ribbon. So I took the loop off that made it a key chain and now I have a medal and I'm happy.

When they posted the results, even though I never caught up to my friend, I finished ahead of him. He beat me in the swim and in the bike, but not by a lot and I whopped him in transition. See? Transitions count!

I ended up 2nd in my age group out of 3 and 23rd overall. (But it said 21 at the race - I like that finish better.) There were only 27 AquaBikers in total. I wonder if they'll do it again next year? I think AquaBikes are more popular for longer distances. But I know for a fact that three of us were battling running injuries so I think there will always be someone interested in this option even for shorter races.

Next year is the 30th anniversary so I am definitely going to sign up for that, but hopefully for the full race. If I am still injured next year, I don't know what I'll do. Maybe give up triathlon and take up knitting! (Okay, I'm not serious. I'm a crappy knitter.)
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