Sunday, race day
I showered and applied a thorough layer of sunblock while Alida toasted a couple muffins for me (she was taking her “Iron Sherpa” role very seriously… and did a great job). I also had a couple packets of oatmeal and a banana. I was pretty calm at this point, just following my pre-race routine and checking things off the packing list. I went through my usual limbering up routine, packed up my frozen (well, mostly) bike bottles of Cytomax, gels, etc, and we set out for the park.
I’d waffled as to whether to take my car and try to find parking or just take the hotel shuttle. I would much rather have my car there to simplify post-race logistics, but I always worry I won’t find parking and I’ll end up delayed and stressed and AAUUUGHHH!! We ended up driving anyway, and found a spot just a few blocks from the start line. Phew!
The swim course is basically a rectangle, with two red buoys at the far end. Oh, can’t see them? That’s because they’re a freaking half mile away. Allow me to zoom in for you.
And here’s me, studying the course and starting to freak out just a little. I calmed down again once I had my goggles on, because I assume the mirrored lenses are super intimidating.
Oh, but before all that I had gone in to transition to put the bottles on my bike. It was during this I discovered that I’d left one of my throw-away bottles at the hotel. Crap.
See, my plan was to start the bike leg with four bottles, three of which I would toss at aid stations, and replace with three bottles that I would stash in my Special Needs bag (which would be waiting for me at mile 65). This was my “in case I take longer than planned on the bike… plan.” If I ended up taking exactly as long as planned on the bike, I’d be fine. Failing all else I could resort to drinking either water or Gatorade at the aid stations. At every race something is bound to wrong; there’s just too many variables and moving pieces. I was hopeful that this was that one thing, as it was pretty minor.
I watched the pros get started (about 6:25am) and then began making my way towards the beach. I quickly realized I’d miscalculated how long it would take me to get there. I was only 100yds away, but there were a couple thousand other athletes also trying to get to the same place, and we were also getting hung up on spectators who refused to get out of the way. There really should have been an “athlete’s only” corral.
I’d been conflicted as to where to seed myself for the swim start. Upon reaching the beach and seeing how packed it was nearest the first buoy, I decided to keep moving until it thinned out a bit. This ended up being on the very far end, where we were only about 4 athletes deep.
The Swim (2.4 miles)
I still got to the beach with a good 15 minutes to spare, but as soon as I got in the water they started hollering at people to exit the water and get on the beach. What the hell, man!? I gotta warm up! Arg. I managed a quick sprint of 25yds or so, and then just stayed crouched in the shallows to try to acclimate. That water was cold! As a special bonus: my wetsuit is too big for me now, and allows a constant refresh of cold water to flow through, which both slows me down and keeps me from ever warming up. Joy.
A man behind me was describing the swim to his girlfriend, helping her sight the itty bitty red turn buoy, saying “So we just swim out to that, turn left, turn left again, and then swim back.” I couldn’t help but add “… twice.” He glared at me a bit while they both laughed. I’m a funny guy.
Ahead of us someone asked the guy next to him, who was wearing a watch, “Hey do you know when we start?” BANG! went the cannon, and there was his answer!
Placing myself on the far outside meant I had a bit of a longer swim to the first turn, but it also meant my chances of getting kicked in the face were drastically reduced. I still had to deal with people slowing down or stopping in front of me, or losing their sight line and swimming directly across my path, or catching up to me and slapping my feet and legs, all while trying not to freeze to death. It’s a very weird experience.
By the time I made the first turn I was acclimated enough to put on a little speed. I was still really cold, I was just used to it. As we came in from the first lap, we had to exit the water, run (or as it turned out, walk, because there were so many bodies) through the inflatable on the beach, which had a timing chip sensor mat, and head back out again. I managed to spot my family and gave them a quick wave, then it was back to the frozen depths.
About halfway out to the first turn the wind picked up and brought three-foot waves with it. This meant that every few breaths the water would drop below my head while it was turned, then slam back into place, making a loud clap in my ear. It also meant that every few breaths I swallowed some lake water, and tried not to think of how many other mouths and wetsuits that water had already been in and out of that day. Ick.
I was now very consciously swimming as hard I felt I could and still make it back to the beach. I kept telling myself that this was all my arms had to do for the day, so I may as well make it count. Even so, it seemed to take an eternity to make it back to the beach. I glanced at the clock and saw it was just a hair over 1:30, my goal time. All things considered, that was pretty damn excellent, and I was sure I’d be really happy about it just as soon as I got over my hypothermia.
I ran up the beach, peeling my wetsuit half off as I went, grabbed my swim-to-bike bag and headed for the changing tent. I went to the far side as there were free chairs there, and starting changing. I was greatly slowed by a full body quiver I had going from the water. I was so cold I couldn’t get my hands to work very well, let alone my brain. The volunteers kept interrupting me to ask if I needed help. I was thankful for their presence but I was shouting LEAVE ME ALONE I CAN DO IT MYSELF in my head. Once I finally had on my gloves, socks, shoes, and shades, I sprayed on some more sunblock, made quick use of the urinal in the tent (best idea ever!), and set out for the bike racks.
Continue to part 3.