On race morning, I got up at 4am and had my pre-race meal: turkey deli meat, Safeway deli pasta, and a quart of Gatorade. I coated myself in sunblock (not only for the sun, but also as protection against swimmer’s itch), donned my jersey, and we set out. We got as far as Railhead Park before I realized Mistake #1: I had left my phone and all my maps back at the motel. Through a combination of Chieko’s semi-functional GPS, my foggy memory, and blind luck, we found the drop-off point. Hooray!
I rode down the 3/4 mile to the lake and set up my transition area. I hit the porta-john, put on my wetsuit, and went into the water about 10 minutes from the gun to start my warm-up. I ended up being in the water a much longer than I’d meant to be, because the buoys had drifted off course. There was also a lot of confusion among the swimmers as to where we were supposed to make the turn to start the second lap. There was a consensus that we’d all just follow whoever was in front, and hope they knew what they were doing!
Finally, the countdown started, and we were off! I was quickly left behind by the fastest swimmers, but that’s OK. I found my pace and stuck to it. As I started my second lap I could hear the countdown for the Sprint distance race, and realized I was about to have company. Sure enough, the fastest swimmers from that group quickly overtook me.
Once the chaos of being passed by several dozen people settled down, I realized Mistake #2: I really had to pee! It seems I should have downed that quart of Gatorade an hour earlier. I’ve heard that some people just go ahead and pee in their wetsuit, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I kept going, and eventually I finished, but not before inhaling half the lake (Mistake #3: zero practice in open water in the weeks before the race… it was too cold!).
I started peeling off my wetsuit while making my way into the transition area. I was exhausted, and the clock on my bike indicated I was way behind schedule (even accounting for the buoy delays). It came out much later that the buoys either drifted during the swim, or just weren’t set correctly to begin with, as another racer’s Garmin measured it as 1.57 miles (instead of 1.2). Woah!
I set off on the bike, but had a really hard time breathing because of all the water in my lungs (I was still coughing it up a day later). The hills seemed especially hard. It took me until mile 12 to figure out why. Mistake #4: my front brake was rubbing on the wheel. Doh! I stopped and adjusted it (the housing just needed a slight twist), and moved on.
At mile 11 I spotted my father, ready with his camera, and figured the rest of the family wouldn’t be far away. Sure enough, 30 feet later, there came a mighty roar as nearly a dozen members of my family hooted and hollered and rang cowbells and shook signs. I grinned madly and waved as much as I could. I sure appreciated the morale boost, as by that point I’d climbed over a thousand feet with my front brake on. I was hurting!
The bike course was gorgeous and the sun was shining, but the hills were a bit more than I’d bargained for. Training in Seattle, I thought I was ready for a ‘hilly’ course. I discovered there’s a big difference between the short steep hills of home and the low grade but miles long hills of the Sierra Nevadas. By the halfway point I was starting to lose motivation, and by mile 40 I was really struggling. My ass hurt, I was tired, my slow pace meant I was all alone out there, and the aid stations were no longer manned. I played some songs in my head, thought of my family waiting to cheer for me when I finally got back to the park, and kept going. By the time I got back into town, the cops had long since moved on and I had to wait at the traffic lights. That was weird and annoying, and added a couple minutes to my time, but oh well.
I finally pulled in amidst more hooting and hollering, took off my bike gear, put on my running and hat and shoes, and set out. I was pretty tired, but my legs felt alright. I struggled up the first hill and found myself on a beautiful, tree covered dirt path, alongside a little man-made creek. It was lovely, and if the whole run course had been like that it would have been awesome. Unfortunately, the back end of the run course consisted of a cliffside gravel road, barren of any tree cover, and it was getting hot. I was so tired I even had to walk up some of the hills. I made sure I looked good whenever I went past my fans, of course:
By the second lap of my run they’d started handing out Coke at the aid stations. I hadn’t tried Coke during training, so I really shouldn’t have grabbed for any, but it just sounded so good! My second lap went by pretty quickly thanks to the caffeine and sugar boost, but by lap three the boost had worn off and I was left with soda in a stomach that hadn’t eaten anything solid for 8 hours (aka, Mistake #5). Lap three was miserable, and I walked quite a bit of it. I had just enough left in me for a final run, almost a sprint, to the finish, and then I was done!
It was finally time to sit down for the traditional victory pina colada!
By the next morning it was clear that I need to find a better sunblock for the next race:
swim: 58:32 / bike: 5:04:41 / run: 2:36:41
(distances: 1.57 / 56 / 13.1 miles)
placed: 14/14 in my division, 156/161 overall.
notes: My goals, in order of importance, were to finish, without injury, in under 7 hours. I nailed the first two, but the 3rd was obliterated by the swim being an extra .3 miles, my front brake rubbing for the first 12 miles of the bike, and the hills (on both the bike and the run) being far more difficult than I was ready for.
But at least I finished, proving to myself that I can survive that distance. Now I just have to get faster.