Tuesday, July 8, 2014

California Sprint Triathlon: A Triathlete Reborn

I did it! I finished my Sprint triathlon that I have been training for all season

I've been looking forward to the California Sprint Triathlon for months. It was going to be my Come Back party. I invited my mom to come out and watch me race and my whole family ended up gathering for a party afterwards along with my fellow New-to-Multi-Sport peeps that I've been training with since March.

When I first signed up for the race, I had modest goals. Mostly just to finish the damn thing. Maybe not get the dreaded motorcycle escort on the bike portion like I did during the AquaBike last year.

Then I signed up for the Mountain Bike race at Wildflower as a tune-up and to practice. My goal then became to do this race in no more time than that one even though the course here is longer. So under two hours, basically.

But somewhere along the way, I got ambitious. My training was going really well and I was getting faster all the time. By the time race day rolled around, I had set some pretty fast time goals for myself, perhaps not even that realistic.

A few weeks before the actual race, the club had done a practice run and I had been able to do the swim in 20 minutes even with a stop for coaching at the turn around so I wanted to go under 20 here. Then, we had a lot of regroups and coaching on the bike course and still came in at around 57 minutes so I figured I could do it in 50. But I really wanted to do in 45 even though I hadn't biked that fast in pretty much ever except for this one race I used to do down in San Diego that had 12 feet of elevation gain. And we'd done the run in 37 minutes with some regroups and it being over 90 degrees out, so I was hoping to do the race in 35 even though there be no 20 minute T2 on race day and I hadn't done that kind of pacing in practice either. (My original run time goal was "under 40 minutes.")

When I added it all up and threw in 5 minutes for "transitions and miscellaneous crap", it came out to an hour and 50 minutes but I really, really, really wanted to finish in 1:45. Just because. I guess that seemed like a reasonable time and also if as few people signed up as had been signing up for USA Production races all year, that gave me an outside chance of a podium finish.

So there I was. Putting a lot of pressure on myself to meet were probably impossible goals.

I woke up on race morning and I was super excited but also stressed. Like I often do when I have to wake up way too early, I had that "I don't want to do this" feeling. I am not a morning person by nature. I knew it would pass, but I also knew I was pretty tightly wound and I risked not enjoying myself if I didn't cut it out.

I got to the venue in a reasonable amount of time and set up my transition area very quickly. Then I went for a short 10 minute run to warm-up and get my lower GI track moving. I ended my run at the bathrooms sure it had worked and feeling pretty smug but when I got to the stall... Nothing.

Now my insides were all worked up and nothing to show for it. I hoped it wouldn't backfire on me later on and went back to transition to put on my wetsuit.

The coaches walked us through transition giving us last minute tips and then we went down to the beach. The swim start was not where it was last year, which confused me, but being in the next to last wave gave me a lot of time to figure it out. As usual, I ended up close to the start of the wave but, unlike what normally happens, I didn't get swum over by a ton of fast people. I guess I seeded myself pretty well this time.

The buoys were very well placed and I found myself swimming straight and true. I also felt like my swim was pretty effortless. I was having a good time when I started getting bopped in the head.

It was a woman and I think her sports watch must have been on her right wrist because with every stroke I would feel a bang. She was oblivious to my presence and determined to swim exactly where I already was. Um, lady. There's someone already here. Cut it out.

I finally was able to hang back a bit so she could swim past me as I couldn't get around here. I had this idea I could at least draft off her, but after she stopped smacking me with her sports watch, she kicked me a few times in the head for good luck and then veered off to the right. I was not about to follow her in her quest to go off course, so I kept aiming for the buoy and let her go. Weirdo.

I was able to draft off a few other people in the beginning, before her at least. But on the way back most of the pack was swimming very wide of the buoys and I didn't want to swing wide too. I think this worked to my advantage until the last turn to the beach where I became fixated on the Finish arch instead of the last buoy. The Finish arch was on the beach and way to the left of the last buoy so I ended up zigging a bit until I realized this and had to zig back to the left to make sure I didn't miss that buoy. (This was very apparent when I looked at the Garmin afterwards. Less so at the time.)

I had passed people in the waves ahead of me up until my detour, but when I got back to the last buoy, I was greeted by a bunch of swimmers from the relay wave behind me. Ugh. Between this slight course adjustment and the course being long in general, I got out of the water at slightly after 20 minutes which was disapointing (especially as I didn't know yet the course was long) but I shrugged it off and hustled to T1. Total time: way off my goal. Blech.

Now that I have a 910XT, I don't put my watch in my swim cap any more and I haven't got a good routine for getting my wetsuit off without getting tangled in the watch. As a result, I got to my bike and still had one arm stuck in my wetsuit. However, my googles, cap and suit pretty much fell off me at that point (that's never happened before) and I still had a pretty fast T1, under two minutes!

I grabbed my bike and hustled out of there at about the same time as Jerry. He passed me getting on the bike though. I need to work on that - I always struggle to clip in and went up the hill out of the park with one foot not clipped in at all! Then Sandy flew by. "Hi Sandy!" She turned but was in race mode and I don't think she had any idea who was calling to her.

Then this little kid on a mountain bike passed me. Grrr. But the little kid didn't disappear into the distance like Sandy and Jerry so I made it a goal to always keep him in sight. I figured that would help me keep my speed up. He could be my rabbit.

Hey, there's Arjun!
 Hi, Arjun!
Hi, Marie! Looking Good!
You too. Good Luck!

There were a lot of people passing me but I was passing people too. I had no real idea of how I was doing on the bike though. It was windy, too, so I was pretty sure my bike time goal was also going out the window. Oh well. I concentrated on keeping my rabbit within my sights and having fun.

I did a pretty good job on that until that uphill part to Vallencito and then the turn onto Vineyard. Somewhere in there, probably when I was braking to avoiding crashing into cars and bikes on a tight part of the course, I lost sight of him and never saw him again. But as I was approaching the turn back to Isobel there at the intersection I saw a flash of Blue & Yellow jersey. It was Jerry. "I'm going to catch you, Jerry!" I told myself. But then I never saw him again.

At this point, I realized that I had made much better time than I had realized and that, not only was I going to make my 50 minute goal, but that the 45 minute goal was actually possible after all. I grit my teeth and went for the final push. I was slightly worried about killing myself on the bike and not having any legs for the run but I decided it was a Sprint and I'd kick myself if I finished it with energy to spare.

So I hammered it all the way back to the park! I flew into T2 and was changing my shoes when who should come in behind me but Jerry. Weird. I have no idea then what happened (we figured out afterwards that a volunteer sent him the wrong way on the course and he had to bike longer than the rest of us but we didn't know that at the the time) but it was nice to start the run with Jerry and the other Marie. It was just like a training day and not a race. It felt right.

I was about to hit my Lap button at the timing mat when I realized I  had left my Garmin on my bike! Normally I'd just leave it behind, but our rack was only 10 ft from the mat so I went back for it. I still had a good T2 time.

On the run I tried to keep up with Jerry and Marie D but it wasn't happening. I regretfully let them go and concentrated on running my own race. Then Arjun passed me.

Hi, Arjun!
Hi, Marie! Looking Good!
You too. Good Luck!

At the first aid station I remembered to have something other than water since I hadn't had calories on the bike. I'm not sure I really needed it though. I took some at the second aid station as well and threw a cup of water over my head too just in case. It wasn't that hot -- in fact it was perfect racing weather -- but I figured running makes me hot. It felt good.

On the way back I saw a bunch of of Y Tri-ers and I even passed a few people but mostly I was getting passed. A lot. Note to self: run more in training.

At 2.75 miles in, my watch beeps and I see the time. The good news: I'm going to beat 1:45 overall!! The bad news: I'm not going to make my 35 minute run goal unless I really hustle. I try to pour it on, but it doesn't really feel like I'm running any faster. I do my best to keep my pace up though and I'm glad I went back for my watch because, if I hadn't, I definitely would have slowed down at this point because my legs are feeling it.

(Later on, I look at my splits and I actually did increase my pace for the last .31 miles -- by almost 2 minutes per mile, in fact. It just didn't feel like it.)

As I get to the finish line, I see my mom and all the Y-Triers waiting for me, cheering me on. I get near the finish line and the photographer tells me to raise my arms. OMG I'm going to finally get a good finish line picture! (Eh, sort of. She was sitting at funny angle, but I can fit that in Photoshop.)

They give me my medal and a wet towel and my sister takes my timing chip off and says something about sweaty ankles. (Other peoples, I am pretty sure.) I am so high because even though I missed my swim and run times slightly, I made all my other time goals and smacked my bike and overall time goals -- the ones I thought were horribely unrealistic and going to break my heart -- into the ground!

I did it, babee! I am a triathlete. Again.

And I finished in fourth place in my Age Group! Out of twelve!

All I wanted to do was finish MOP, so that was a bonus and I even got my "flirting with the podium" finish in spite of there being as many entrants in my age group as last year. Plus, when I go over my race, I find that even if I had done everything 100% correctly, there is no way I would have made up the one minute difference between myself and the third place finisher.

So ... no regrets. The best kind of finish.

It's hard to describe how I was feeling after doing this race. For a long time after my accident, I could no workouts at all. I tried to keep a hand in the triathlon community by volunteering and doing all the social events, but it wasn't the same. People talked about their races and their training and I felt like a character from the Bruce Springsteen song "Glory Days" when I talked about mine.

Last year I did what I could to race even though I wasn't really training and that was better. But it still wasn't the same, because I was constantly haunted by the ghosts of What If.

It wasn't until after Wildflower this year that I really started to feel like a triathlete again. That's when I was finally able to train like I wanted to and make the kind of progress that I wanted to. Sure I still sometimes have to skip a workout or back off due The Head but, for the most part, I am training, really training, and I feel like I did when I first started in triathlon with goals and signing up for races and like I can finally once again say "I am a triathlete" and not "I used to do that."

It feels good.

The Stats:
Swim: 21:18 - 4/12
T1: 1:33 - 1/12
Bike: 43:14 - 6/12
T2: 1:36 - 4/12
Run: 35:57 - 5/12
Overall: 1:43:38 - Age Group: 4/12 Women: 112/182 Overall: 329/442

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