Sunday, August 30, 2015

August: The month of racing

When I first planned out my season, I didn't really plan to race so much in August. But two races moved their dates, one after I had already signed up, and the Splash 'n Dash came back this year and the next thing you know, I was signed up to race four times!

If that sounds a little crazy, it is. But to make it even crazier, I had two races the first week in August and two races the last weekend in August. Normally, I wouldn't do that, but I had good reasons for racing each race.

Splash n' Dash #3

The first race of the month was the last Splash 'n Dash of the season. I wanted to do as many Aquathlons as possible, so I had signed up for the Splash 'n Dash as a series as soon as registration opened. Plus, it was the day before my birthday.

So I did the race and I made it a party. I handed out leis to my friends and I convinced my friend Jerry to wear a grass skirt and beachcomber's hat. It was just as impressive as it sounds. So impressive that when he crossed the finish line, the announcer spontaneously created an awards for Best Costume just for him.

I had a pretty good race. I knew I had PRed my run but I forgot to push the Lap button when I crossed the timing matts out of the swim so I didn't get a swim time. I figured it out when I was getting out of my wetsuit and saw the watch still running.

At that point, I was a minute ahead of last month's swim, but it seemed unlikely I had beaten my first swim time, especially as the first race I messed up and didn't swim around the last buoy but just went straight to the shore. (I'd say about half the people do that and no one seems to care, but I made a point to do it right for races two and three.)

Then I took off for the run wearing a lei and a headband with palm trees on it. It is surprisingly hard to run with a lei. But I had fun anyway and had a very good run, turning in my fastest time of the series. In the end, in spite of the slightly slower swim, I PRed the race! I took two minutes off my first race's time and a whopping four minutes off the second race's time. So I was very happy.

And then we had cake. Yeah for cake!

Dip 'n Dash #2

That Sunday I headed down to Santa Cruz for the second Dip 'n Dash. It was held simultaneously with Tri Santa Cruz (my first ever birthday race back in '09) so we had the choice of doing a Sprint or an Olympic distance Aquathlon. I went back and forth on it because the World Championship course is a Sprint distance so I thought I should do short stuff to work on speed and practice for that. But I also wanted to do the longer course because I was supposed to be training for a Half Marathon and also to get more training time in.

In the end, I did both. Sort of. What happened is that I actually signed up for the Sprint Distance, but remembered I had signed up for the Olympic. Race day, I was feeling a bit cooked before the race even started and I considered asking to downgrade to the Sprint. But I forced myself to do the Olympic. Because I'd signed up for it. Even though I hadn't.

The swim was very hard because the buoy guy messed up the second buoy and tied it too far out. I was skeptical before the race when I saw where the buoy had been tied, but I figured that while it was farther out than the one we swam around in July, it was also closer to the first buoy. Maybe the diagonals worked out and it was the same distance, I told myself.

There were very few Dip 'n Dashers and we were the last wave. I resigned myself to being last out of the water.

The Swim

The horn sounded and we ran into the water and started out. Everything was pretty good at first. I felt good. And I caught up to the last wave of Sprinters before even the second buoy. Some of those people looked very cooked and were just bobbing up and down in the water resting. I thought that was odd.

When I got back to shore and made my way around the turn around to get back in, there were two guys with me. But they ran up the beach because they were doing the Sprint tri so I got into the water basically by myself. Since I was prepared, I wasn't as upset about it as I normally would have been. But by the time I got to the second buoy the second time, I was pretty tired and I sensed that quite a bit of time had passed. I was not happy about that.

Transition

I made it back to shore and started running up to Depot Park. About half way up the bike path, my watch beeped. I looked at it and it said 1.5 miles! This is when I started to sense that something was very wrong with the swim course.

I have done a number of races with transitions in Depot Park and I have struggled with what to do about my feet. I've tried leaving flip flops on the beach, leaving swimming shoes, and running barefoot. Every choice had problems. So this time I tried a new thing. I wore my booties.

And it worked great! I didn't get cut on glass, I didn't have to slow to a crawl when I hit the dirt path, and I didn't feel like I was slipping and sliding around as I ran. I am going to wear booties for every Depot Park race from now on.

Anyway, I got into transition and popped back out on the run in a reasonable time. However, by now it was an hour and five minutes into the race. That's crazy!

Oh, that's why

Later on the race director sent out an email apologizing for the misplaced buoys. It turned out that the 1500m distance was more like 1800m. This explained why some of those Sprint tri people were flat out exhausted before they even hit the second buoy as they also had to swim much farther than expected. At least in my case, I swim a mile to 1.5 miles every Sunday, so I could do it. I felt bad for the people who were expecting a 750m swim and for whom 750m was a very big swim and then had to swim 900m.

The Run

Anyway, back to the run... I felt really good on the run and I even passed another Dip 'n Dasher on the way back into the park. I don't think I was Speedy Gonzales but I did run my fastest 10k since before I got injured way back when. So I was happy.

I ended up second (last) in my age group and I actually beat two people overall. (It turns out I also beat them out of the water so I wasn't the last one out like I thought.)

To race or not to race

Fast forward a few weeks to this weekend. I was scheduled for the Oakland Sprint Triathlon, which I had signed up and paid for back when registration first opened. My original plan was to beat my times from last year. But that was before I ended up injured in the first part of the season and hardly biking at all in the later part.

I really struggled with whether or not to do this race. The last Dip 'n Dash was the day after and it was a Regional Championship. Plus I really wanted to swim around the wharf, which I had no managed even once this year. Maybe I should skip the tri and just do the aquathlon, I thought.

I was also just burned out in general. Why am I doing this? I asked myself earlier in the week. When I start thinking like that, it's time for a recovery week! So I skipped a few planned workouts and took it easy.

In the end, I decided to do them both and just see what happened. I had never done anything like this before so I had no real plan. I was going to do Oakland, maybe not push as hard, and see how I felt. So that's what I did.

Oakland Sprint Triathlon

Oakland was interesting. They had changed the swim so we got out farther down where it was easier to get out without bashing yourself on rocks. It was supposed to be .6 miles instead of the .5 it was last year. They had changed the run, they said, but the map looked pretty similar to me. And they had changed the part of the course that was out by the port due to construction so that it was only 12 miles instead of 12.5. So direct comparisons to last year were going to be tough.

Then, when I got to Oakland, it was misting. No one was talking about it though so I convinced myself it was just fog moisture and not rain. (Ha!) I set up my transition and I went for a short run to warm up. I was feeling pretty good, chatting with people in transition, putting on the magic suit and just killing time until it was time to head down to the swim start.

Because booties had worked so well in Santa Cruz, I decided to wear them here. I remembered the run to the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks as being soaked and slippery. I figured the grippers on the booties would be a big help.

The Swim

They put the youngest and oldest in the same wave so for the first time in my life, I got to be in the first wave! We started farther out from the pier (because of the farther swim start). The water was a decent temperature but murky. When the gun went off, we started out and I have never been beaten up so badly in a swim in my life.

Pretty early on, I got smacked pretty hard in my right eye socket. That kind of took the piss out of me. Plus the buoys were very close to boats and the water tasted/smelled funny (probably from gasoline from their motors). Finally, the swim was hard. I felt like the water was fighting me. Usually I enjoy the swim, but not this time. I just grit my teeth and got through it.

T1

Then I ran back to transition. Because of the swim course change, the run was different. I am pretty sure it was longer than last year but I was moving faster because of the booties. And also being in better run condition. I even passed some studly Pac West athlete at some point (the look on his face - priceless).

I did have some trouble getting out of my wetsuit. (It's been 50/50 with getting the new suit caught on my timing chip.) And when I put my sunglasses on, they were soaked with rain. I tried to wipe them down, but ended up just leaving them there.

Even with all that, I was a minute faster than last year.

At this point, I figured I was close to last in my age group, if not last, because of the hard swim.

The Bike

I made my way out onto the bike course and it was clear that it really was raining. The roads were soaked and my tires soon were too. It was really my worst nightmare -- to be racing in the rain. The last time I did this, I crashed!

I was careful as I could be at first. In spite of my best efforts to avoid them, I ended up going over some of those white reflector bumps and the white line between lanes and it was slick and I was freaked. But I didn't crash!

I didn't crash the whole race in fact. Which is more than a lot of people could say. I got through what I considered the most technical part of the course just fine. And, as the race progressed, my confidence grew and I started to have fun.

I didn't biff on a right turn where I had to not only turn tight but not hit the two bikes that had biffed before us and I didn't have any trouble getting over the three railroad crossings and I didn't biff again when we had to turn right into an enormous puddle (and again there were bikes on the ground who hadn't made it to not hit). I started to be very glad that I hadn't canceled on this race.

Because of the rain, I could not really go all out on the bike even if I had wanted to. Originally I was thinking that I should go easy on the swim and the run since I was going to swim and run the next day and hard on the bike. But with a rainy bike ride, it becomes about riding within your abilities.

T2

When I got to the end of the course, I figured I was in last place in my age group. I wasn't upset about it because I expected it. I just haven't been riding my bike enough this season. What I didn't expect is that I would have trouble running my bike back to my rack. I figured out that my brake had moved and it was grabbing the wheel rim on one side! I pushed it back in place and everything was okay. I just hope that happened when I got off the bike, not somewhere on the course.

I changed shoes, grabbed my race belt, hesitated over the sunglasses but ultimately left them and took off. Time to chase down some 55-59 year olds!

The Run

I got my first chance right out of the gate when I saw someone with 56 on their calf who was already walking. My goal became to keep them from passing me later in case she stopped walking. I kept going, was passed by a lot of fast guys doing the Olympic, but also passed a few people myself. Around mile 1.5, I saw another 56 year old. I was gaining on her. I passed her! That's two people I have to keep behind me, I told myself.

I felt really good. And every time I looked at my watch, it had a faster average mile pace than the last time. I was negative splitting the run! This lasted until we had to go back over the pedestrian bridge. Having to climb three flights of stairs, run across and then go back down them just takes forever. You can't really run it. I put 20 seconds per mile back on my average pace just from that. Darn.

At this point, I was hoping for another gal in my age group to pass so I could be in (hopefully) third place. But I ran out of real estate. I crossed the finish line convinced I was in fourth place again, but happy because I had run so fast.

Wrap-up

Sure enough, when I checked the results, I was in fourth place. But I had PRed the run. In fact, I had come in second in the run in my age group! And I felt good. Like I could race again the next day. I even won a t-shirt in the raffle.

Afterwards everyone was bitching about the swim. The Olympic guys ended up swimming about 1.2 miles, someone told me. And my watch said .72 for our swim. Plus, I was told, we were swimming against the current. No wonder I thought the water was fighting me. It was.

Dip 'n Dash #3

But I felt good all day and decided to do the Dip 'n Dash after all. When the alarm went off, I didn't change my mind and, the next thing you know, I was headed down to Santa Cruz.

I figured out pretty quickly that the hardest part of racing two days in a row is to stay focused for the second race. That and making sure the wetsuit is dry in time. I got down to Santa Cruz and realized that I hadn't packed my race belt or my sunglasses. It was sunny so I used my driving sunglasses. But I had no extra race belt in my car in my secret "extra triathlon equipment" compartment. So I had to pin my bib to my shirt. I had never swum with a bib and I wasn't happy about it, but I survived.

The Swim

For the third and last Dip 'n Dash, we swim around the wharf. Therefore, there was no mixup with buoys. I had a decent swim though I was almost beat out of the water by a guy swimming with only one arm. That was slightly humiliating. Also I was slower than last year.

The Run

I had a good transition and a good run though. I felt really good for the first 1.5 miles. But by mile 3, I was kind of toast. But even with slowing down a lot in the middle, I managed to PR my run over last year. So I was very happy with my race. Exhausted. But happy.

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

When they stared giving out awards, I wasn't paying attention and then I heard my name. What? I won something? But we aren't up to my age group yet. It turns out I had won 2nd Place in the Series contest. Whee! I have no idea how I manage that with all those fast women. But apparently a lot of them missed the first event and so couldn't make up the points.

And to think I almost didn't do this race! If I hadn't, I wouldn't have a cool plaque and a coupon to get something free from the Rudy Project. I also got $25 off on some compression gear for placing 3rd in my age group.

Conclusion

My plan was to train (and race) pretty hard in August and then start tapering for ITU Worlds, which are in two and half weeks. Having the experience of two good races right before that is going to really help a lot with my confidence for that race. Now if I could just figure out why, the more I swim, the slower I get.

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