Monday, September 22, 2008

The Triathlon at Pacific Grove Race Report. Finally.

(be sure to read the thrilling posts leading up to the actual Triathlon at Pacific Grove:
Part 1: Tri Training: A Retrospective
Part 2: Heading out to the Pacific Grove Triathlon
Part 3: Almost there, Pacific Grove Triathlon
Now, where was I?? Oh yeah,
3 - 2 - 1 GO!)
The gun went off (horn? whistle? shout? it's all a blur) and the front of the pink-capped group sped into the water, dove, swam away. The middle of the group ran to the water, leaped in and swam away. The back of the middle of the group, where I was, ran to the water, waited for the person immediately in front of them to get out of the way and then dove into the water and tried to find room to swim. It was challenging because of the crowds. In my part of the pack were weenies and newbies who weren't as interested in swimming right over someone in their way and weren't as interested in getting kicked in the face. We just wanted to get through the swim without getting tangled in the kelp or drowning or freezing.

When I'm wearing a wetsuit I don't kick as much as I do without, but during this race I learned to be a defensive kicker. Whenever someone slammed into me I'd kick hard to keep them off. Not necessarily nice of me, but I didn't need someone using me as a flotation device. I know that going a straight line, without bothering to go around someone, is the thing to do in a tri swim but I just don't get it. I certainly wouldn't body check someone during a run, why would I do it during a swim?? My mama taught me better than that.

It was crowded, splashy and kelpy. Because of my pre-soak I had no reflexive gasping and freezing; because of my mental imagery I had no anxiety about the crowd. I was remarkably calm and focused for the first time in an open water swim around other people. The only change I made in my swimming was to breathe every other stroke, always on my left, sighting every other time. That made it much easier to get enough oxygen and I'd shift my eyes to the right while sighting so I'd see what was going on over there. When it got kelpier I sighted more often, trying to find a clearer space.

The huge orange buoys were good for sighting but I also kept an eye on the women swimming strongly in front of me. If one was swimming a straight line I'd just sight on her cap. That didn't work as well on the second loop when the woman I sighted on swam directly off course. I realized it quickly but I must have looked strange to the guys on the kayaks and surfboards.

Before I knew it I was back at the beach. I waited until I could touch sand and then got my legs underneath me and tried to stand up. Easier said than done, but I managed to wobble my way up the sand and around the rock, grabbing the rock for a slingshot effect back to the water. I ran in again, dove cleanly and swam away. It had cleared out considerably by that time.I was in a gap; slower than the leaders but faster than the back of the packers. While there were still plenty of women (and a couple of the slowest men) swimming near me, I was able to find longer stretches of open water. A couple of times during both loops I found myself on top of a large batch of kelp and following Coach Paul's instructions I stopped kicking entirely and just grabbed on and pulled myself along top until I was clear. That worked very well.

I got stuck for a while behind Kicky McSplasher and every time I'd try to veer around her she'd go that way too - an accident I'm sure, but annoying anyway. I finally just went straight ahead and clipped her on my way past. I also got behind a woman switching between breast and free stroke and changing her pace with the change of style. I ended up clipping her too. Sorry!

As I got about halfway between the last buoy and the beach the fastest swimmers of the wave after mine caught up and passed me by, one of them trying to go over me. Nuh uh, I wasn't letting that happen. Big area and she easily could have gone around me, I was swimming a straight line at that point and it's not like I'm so small she didn't see me. I got to the beach the second time and it was even harder to get my legs under me and stand up. Like a drunken sailor I weaved my way out of the water and toward transition.

Swim time: 40:11.9
Swim lap 1: 19:50.9
Swim lap 2: 20:21.0As I ran up the stairs and along the ramp I ripped off my caps and fumbled to unzip my wetsuit. I was freezing and my fingers weren't working too well. Despite my earlier, careful reconnoitering of the route back to my bike, I took the middle way straight across the grass instead of along either pathway. Because I had on booties I didn't care what surface I was on, I just wanted to get changed quickly.

"Quickly" being relative. I was so cold and fumbly that I just sat down to remove the wetsuit and booties and put on my socks and cycling shoes. I pulled on my arm covers, jammed the helmet on my head, put on my sunglasses and tore the top off a gel. All while trying to lift my bike off the rack. It seemed to have gained about 20 pounds since I put it there earlier in the morning. I got it off, finished the gel and dropped the package on my towel and headed out.

T1: 7:29.5

Where's the mount line? The nice man pointed it out and I jumped on my bike and sped off. In theory. I actually fumbled with the mount but I managed to get going. As I did I saw Olivia's wonderful sign and all my friends underneath, cheering away. What a lift that was! I took a drink and settled in. I calmed my breathing and took stock. I felt remarkably well and so I pedaled hard. Not to my limit, I wasn't that crazy, but I took advantage of how strong I felt. I passed many people and was passed by many more. I followed good etiquette and stayed right, although some people hadn't read the handbook.
I really didn't look at the scenery at all on the first loop. I passed Ms. Claudia as she was riding along, shouted hey, and continued on. I felt great going up the hill at the turnaround. There was a water stop there, which I wasn't expecting, handing out bottles of water or electrolyte drink. I had my own so I didn't have to worry about getting a hand-off. I made the turn with no problems and powered down the hill and away.

At this time my thoughts all were geared toward finding a place to pee. I knew I should have stopped either between the water and bike or before I ran out, but I wasn't thinking. I didn't want to take time but I was getting very uncomfortable on the bike. TMI, right? I scoped out the locations of the porta potties and considered stopping on my next loop.

As I neared the turnaround I saw, and heard, my buddies and teammates cheering. I slowed down for the tight turn and sped back up again, giving a big smile to my friends. Again I headed out, passing some people and being passed by others. Again I wasn't looking at the scenery as much as looking out for where I was going.
Once again up the hill, around the turn, back down. Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go. About half way back at a little park I saw a guy run out of a porta potty and ride away. I slammed on my brakes, unclipped and leaned my bike against the side, ran in and took care of business and then hightailed out of there. I don't think it even took a full minute but I felt enormously better. As a point of information, cleats on the bottom of cycling shoes are very slippery on the floor of a porta potty. Just a warning!

Again back to the turn, again getting a lift from my friends. This time after I passed I got emotional and teary, and that's when I took a moment to think about all our honorees and everything they've gone through. I spent the next few miles thinking about my dad, about how much he would have loved spending the day in Pacific Grove. I dedicated this race to him, as I dedicate all my races to him, and continued on.I was a little slower getting up the hill again this time but I was determined on the way down to enjoy the scenery, for at least a few miles. I had missed seeing the lighthouse the other two times and managed to get a view when I passed it. I noticed there were surfers in the water (who knew?), seals on the rocks, birds everywhere. And lots of rude cyclists too.During all loops I made sure I was drinking frequently. I managed to eat my gel (I think I had 2, but I'm not sure) without glopping it all over. Much easier to eat with an extra hand to squeeze out the last drops. I was glad I had decided to stick with gel instead of anything else because my stomach was feeling fine and I didn't want that to change.

Back around the turn, more cheering, another uplift, and they shouted out that it was my last loop and to go to transition next time. Heh, I had asked Olivia to do that because I was sure I'd lose count. Thanks guys, you really kept me from going around an extra time.

I was getting a little tired, but more importantly the wind had picked up. The outward direction had a strong headwind, which turned into a cross-headwind in a few spots. I was still passing some people, being passed by others. I was much slower going up the hill for the last time and I was able to cut the corner tighter than I had before.

This final time back I wasn't looking at anything except the other cyclists who had apparently all gotten tired because many were riding crazy. I didn't want any accidents at this point. As I neared the end I looked at my cyclometer and thought to myself that I couldn't possibly be done, I must have one more loop to go. It was much earlier than I had thought it would be and I was really confused. Only the fact that the Olivia sign was no longer on the side of the road convinced me that I was, indeed, done with the ride. Keeping my fingers crossed that it was right, I headed toward the bike-in and hoped for the best.

I slammed on my brakes, unclipped one foot, came to a dead halt and slowly lifted my leg over the bike. I started to run back to my transition spot, realized it was crowded in there and had to pick a good line.Bike Time: 1:42:44.25
Lap 1: 25:15.8
Lap 2: 26:36.8
Lap 3: 24:56.8
Lap 4: 25:54.8

I racked my bike, shoving over the bike next to me that had racked right on top of my number. I pulled off my helmet and arms but had to sit again to put on my running shoes. I got them on, slugged down another gel, put my hat on and grabbed my race belt with my number. I clipped on the fuel belt and race belt as I ran out of transition.

T2: 5:21.9
I started running and Whoa! Wobbly legs, fast heart, yikes! But there was THE SIGN and my buddies cheering away, so I had to look good. Fake it, right? It worked and I ran (shuffled) along. I passed all my tri coaches and waved and slapped hands with them. I ran off feeling strong and -- well, not exactly. I was huffing and puffing and trying to get a rhythm, but it was tough. Wouldn't you know it, the sun had finally come out and it was really warm, almost hot. I was finally glad that I only had on the sleeveless tri top. I sucked down my Ultima, speeding (shuffling) along.

The route was changed at the last minute because of reconstruction on the trail path. We ran on the other side of the street from the return route, cutting over to the path after a the construction area. It was sort of down grade in that direction which was good, I needed that break. There was a water stop at the turnaround right at the Aquarium and I dumped a cup of water over my head. Although the trail was flat there, the street we turned onto was a small hill. Ok, maybe just a large up-grade. I took a walk break, then continued running.

I knew at one point we'd be turning left and going uphill. I reached that point and there was another waterstop at the bottom of the hill. I didn't take anything, and walked up the hill while I took a drink of Ultima. I carefully ran down the hill to conserve my quads, knee and back. Another left turn back onto the road and all of a sudden there were the cheering crowds again.

And Mama Lisa, running along side on me, on the sidewalk, asking if I was ok. I nodded and kept running. She asked if I was drinking and I nodded again, thinking that although I love her, I didn't want to get penalized for being coached. Go away, I thought quietly to myself! She asked again if I was making sure to drink. I nodded again, pretending that I didn't know her and she wasn't coaching. Once more, she asked if I was drinking and told me to make sure I started early. That time I yelled out Yes! and kept running. I was torn, she's run along side me in so many marathons and is always an enormous boost for me, but this time the regs clearly stated that no coaching was allowed. Oy! My answer satisfied her and she stopped to cheer on other people. Sorry, Mama Lisa, I didn't mean to be so rude!

Back along the cheering throngs. On one side of the road were the coaching staff, on the other were my friends. Zip around the corner, speed away again. And then walk once I was out of their sight. Dang, I was tired and breathing heavy and sweating and oof. I only took a moment and started running again. Lots of people out there, again passing and being passed. At the waterstop I again dumped water over my head and it cooled me off. Also, I again walked a bit on the upgrade.

The headwind was strong in that direction, good news and bad news. I appreciated the cooling effect and didn't appreciate the wind in my face or being slowed down. I never breathe well with wind in my face, whether it's hot, cold, wet or dry. I attributed my asthma-like breathing to the wind. And my quickly increasing fatigue.

Up the hill, down the hill, and there were my friends. My fuel belt was annoying me because it kept sliding on my tri shorts and banging my back. I grabbed one full bottle from it, ripped open the velcro and tossed it to Bree. She wasn't sure if she should catch it; would that be outside support? Would I be penalized? I didn't care in the least, I was even happy if I never saw the belt again.Speeding around the corner for the last time, one last cheer from all the coaches, shuffling as fast as I could. My breathing totally sucked by then but it was my last couple of miles in my first (and maybe last) triathlon and I was going to be damned if I slacked at that point. I poured more water over my head at the turn, walked for a moment on the grade, ran to the hill, walked up, ran down without regard to aching body parts and turned the corner. That was it, bring it on home. I hit the afterburners and started sprinting with a good quarter mile to go.Past the crowds, past my friends, sprinting as fast as I possibly could. I saw the finish line from way off and ran harder. I probably scared the crowd with my wheezing but I was determined to cut every second I could. I crossed the finish line and almost immediately had to completely halt to get my medal and have my chip removed. Then I kept walking and wheezing and almost crying and nearly puking.Run Time: 1:15:19.4 (ave min/mi 12:07)
Run Lap 1: 24:43.3 (ave min/mi 10:50)
Run Lap 2: 24:49.6 (ave min/mi 12:36)
Run Lap 3: 25:46.5 (ave min/mi 13:05)

Full Course: 3:51:06.95!
All rank: 813 of 897
Female: 322 of 398
Age group: 21 of 28

As I paced along, trying to breathe, Bree and Anita came running up to congratulate me. I gasped out a few words and kept walking, trying to catch my breath, trying not to get sick. At those moments I possibly felt worse than I even have when I've finished a race. I had pushed, I left everything on the road, I was empty. I paced up and down the street, Anita and Bree pacing along with me. I continued pacing until I thought I'd better get my butt down the street so I could see Claudia finish.

Sure enough, just a few minutes after me came Claudia steaming across the finish. We were finally done, finally completed what we had planned so many months before. It was over finished done, and I was thrilled.

But I couldn't catch my breath. Our entire cheering squad surrounded us, congratulating us. I sat down on the curb and tried to calm down and get my bearings. I finally was able to breathe and cooled down. We stood up and all headed back down the street to see our coaches.
Hugs all around, thanks rendered, astonishment (mostly mine) voiced. Then we got to Coach Al and Mama Lisa who in our hearts will always be THE coaches. More hugs, congratulations, thanks. Coach voiced concern that my lips were blue. Funny, right after our test swim a teammate told me my lips were blue. I guess I had spent the past 4 hours hypothermic. Time to dry off and eat.
Coach Paul reminded me that we had to check out at the TnT tent and get our pins. I'm so glad he did because it was the last thing on my mind. They knew I was done but officially I needed to check out. At that point I realized that I hadn't brought anything dry to change into. D'oh! Not like I've never done this before, never finished a workout or race and needed to change. Bree sweetly loaned me some cash (since mine was on my bike - in the transition zone) so that I could buy a tee shirt. Then although we wanted to go straight to lunch, we heard that we should get our stuff out of transition.

After being misdirected and redirected I got back to my bike and slumped onto the ground. I started stuffing the wet things into the wet pack, then stuffed it into the bottom of my back. I grabbed things and threw them in willy nilly, not particularly caring how they ended up. When most things were packed I took out my phone to check for messages and Claudia ran up and told me we had a table! Food! Beer! Hurry! I went to cram my phone back in the side pocket and caused my room key card to fall out. I slammed them both back in the pocket and with a big grunt heaved the pack on my back. I unracked my bike and hurried (hah!) back again. We scurried across the street, left our bikes on the front porch of the restaurant and sat.

We ate. We drank. We talked and chatted and happy happy joy joy. I was exhausted and still a bit sick to my stomach but figured food would settle it. We ordered, ate, drank, sat for along time. I was thrilled to be part of that crowd, happy to have my friends around me, glad beyond words that it was over.


I looked at the results later and had to laugh. Everything was faster than I had expected. Total swim time of 40 minutes? Sure, in a pool maybe. The visualization and mental rehearsal and pre-chilling myself worked as advertised. I didn't freak out, didn't jump every time someone came near me, was able to swim as I had practiced. Total bike time of 1:42? Not according to my practice rides! In fact, during our course preview rides I took about 30 minutes for each lap. Granted I was riding comfortably then, but 10 minutes faster per each lap? And the run! I can almost believe the overall average of 12:07, if I had been running the entire time without any walk breaks at all. And if I had been running faster than I thought I had. But the first lap with an average of 10:50? No way no how. Maybe on a track on a good day when I'm well rested. Right after I'd done a hard swim and bike ride? I don't think so!

I asked around and nobody else thought the run course was short. Coach Paul was frankly skeptical when I mentioned it, saying that they're pretty careful about marking courses. I know that, but still. I did realize that one reason I was wheezing wasn't that my asthma was so bad, it was because I was running so hard. I still can't believe it, but I'll take it until they realize their mistake.

Looking Back

What would I have changed about the training? My health, but that's a given. I would have liked to feel more a part of the team but much of that was my fault; it was hard to socialize with all the strangers when I didn't even want to socialize with my friends. I would have liked many more bricks, and longer distances for them. I really would have like to start the weekend workouts earlier. Meeting at 8:00 am on Saturdays and 8:30 am on Sunday, sitting through all the talks and clinics and then not working out until it was hot as a boiling pot of pasta or smoggy as Los Angeles in 1980 made the training more difficult than it needed to be. I understand that people like to sleep in, but I think more people would rather do the workout and get it over with early and have some time of day left for other things.


There are so many people to thank. I need to start with all the people who helped me raise $4,126 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the real reason we do all this. Friends and coworkers (who are also friends) and relatives gave me from $1,000 to $25 and every cent was deeply appreciated. Thank you for your generosity and concern for the cause that's so dear to my heart.

I have to thank my doctor for her assistance in getting me on some meds that enabled me to stop crying and get some training done.

Thank you to the incredible coaching staff of our tri team: Head Coach Paul for creating a comprehensive (and brutal) training schedule and for keeping an eye on my injuries all season; swim coach LuAnne for her kindness during my worst back aches and for trying to (re)teach me how to swim; coaches Mike K, Mike D, Andrew, R2, Adam for their time and knowledge and encouragement. Thank you to the team captains for their course support and Sunday workouts, and especially thank you to Christine for her exuberant spirit. Thank you to Erika for managing so well on her rookie season. Thank you to the mentors (especially Ginger) for holding things together.

Thank you to our honorees, for sharing your lives and putting faces to the cause. I wish you good luck with your treatments and recovery and life beyond cancer.

Thank you to my sis for being there when I needed her. For knowing what I was going through, for offering to come here at any time. For listening to me when everyone else was tired of hearing about my sadness and depression and stomach problems. Just for being you.

Thank you to the rest of my family for (mostly) understanding that I had no time or energy for anything except training. Extra thanks to Noah for for training tips and for reminding me that I "might be over thinking it a tad" which was spot on! Thanks to David for taking my worn old bike and making it tri-worthy.

Thank you to all the people who took such incredible and abundant pictures of the race that I was able to plunder for use in this report. I'd give credit where credit is due but I have no idea who took which picture. If I used your picture, thank you!

Thank you to Olivia for the Best! Sign! Ever! and for being the Best! Cheerleader! Ever! Thank you to Jeanette for listening in nauseating detail to all my woes and for drying my tears when I needed it. Thank you to my girls (in no particular order): Anita, Bree, Pam, Sandy, Mary Ann. I love you for always being there, even now that half of you are so far away. I will never ever forget our runs together, they are really the most special memories I hold. Bree and Anita, I will forever cherish the memories of you cheering me on at my first triathlon.

Thank you to Phil for being at all the trainings, for showing by example how to improve and how to get through it and how to get strong and fast. Thank you for your energy and good nature and even your doubts. Good job, Triple Crowner!

Thank you most of all to Claudia, who made me do this convinced me this was a good idea. I'm still not sure whether I'm going to kick your ass for this! Thank you for holding my hand through it all, for sticking with me through every little bit of training, for driving everywhere, for going out for wonton soup, for being every bit as obsessive as me about every teeny detail, for surprising me at the race with my friends, for pedicures and wine and -- ok, maybe not the wine, that's what started all this! -- texts and calls and really, just being my friend!