I spent Saturday down in Monterey to watch the Olympic distance race at Pac Grove, and then my good friend and fellow coach Kirk and I made our way on up to Santa Cruz to check in for Big Kahuna. We walked along the boardwalk and then moved on to the house to meet up with some of the SF Tri PEPs. We had a grand total of 13 people staying in our little house, ten of whom were racing. It was definitely cozy, but worked out well. We decided to make dinner easy, so rather than cooking, we went to the pizza place down the street for some tasty pizza and beer. After dinner, we enjoyed some more beers and some hot tub time before turning in to attempt to get some rest.
Race morning came really early - people started getting up at about 4:30 to get ready - but everyone was super calm. We had this nice little dance going on in the kitchen, making bagels, getting coffee, filling water bottles. Kirk was the ultimate athlete support system, and he followed behind us, wiping the counter, making more coffee, and marveling at the sense of calm among such a big group of triathletes (I'm pretty sure you could never get a group of nine type-A marathoners to function like that on race morning - they'd all be big balls of nerves, snapping at each other and freaking out!). My favorite part of the morning was when Kirk went to make some toast and realized that Super Dave, who was racing, had been waiting to use the toaster. Kirk took his toast out and told Dave to go ahead and make his bagel. Much to Kirk's surprise, Dave put Kirk's toast back into the toaster after his bagel was finished. Such politeness would rarely occur among marathoners, and they certainly wouldn't make breakfast for someone who wasn't racing!!!
Once we got all our stuff together, we loaded our tri bags into Kirk's car, and rode our bikes to transition. Kirk was even nice enough to follow us on the dark ride over there, since none of us had lights on our bikes. We staked out a good spot for most of the SF Tri team in the corner of the transition area, set up, got body marked, and headed down to the beach to get ready for the swim start. It was nice and foggy which was unexpected (but welcomed!). It wasn't too cold, and the water didn't feel too bad either, at least not compared to Aquatic Park. The start was a little bit late, but before I knew it, I was lining up for my wave and running into the water.
Just part of the SF Tri crew before the race
The swim was great. I knew that the buoys were pretty far out there and that I wouldn't see them until I got near the end of the pier, so I tried not to think about it too much. The swim out past the pier seemed to take forever because of some swells, and I also had a minor freak-out when I realized how clear the water was that morning. I've done this swim at least five times, and I never remember being able to see anything in the water, but this time I saw a bunch of kelp and it freaked me out. I had to focus really hard on looking straight ahead instead of down so that I wouldn't see any sea creatures that would make me panic! (just keep swimming. just keep swimming.) When we got sight of the first buoy, it seemed to be SO far out, but we were there in no time, and on to the second buoy. I made the second turn at 18 minutes (seriously?!?), which seemed to be way faster than any of my previous 70.3 swims, so I was super excited knowing that I just had to make it back to shore. I did my best to sight off of the Dream Inn, but for the longest time it didn't seem to get any closer. Finally, I got to shore, gave Kirk a wave, and went running up the hill to transition. I'm still wondering if the swim wasn't a bit short, but whatever - I'll take it! Swim time: 34:51
Exiting the water...this shot cracks me up!
T1 went pretty smoothly, but it was obvious I was out of practice. I was fumbling with things that should have been second nature. Definitely need to practice that a little more. T1: 6:04
I knew going into this race that the bike was going to be torture. I took about six months off after Ironman because I had very little motivation to ride, partially due to my accident last fall, and partially due to the colder than usual "summer" in San Francisco this year. Also, it was really foggy out on the road, which meant fogged up sunglasses and slick roads. So many people had crashed on the train tracks, that they made us get off of our bikes and walk across the tracks. I almost fell just walking, so even though it was a pain, I'm kind of glad they made us take that extra precaution. I took the opportunity to shove some food in my mouth and then got back to it. That's one thing I did feel like I got right this race, especially on the bike - I ate when I felt hungry rather than having some ridiculous nutrition plan, and it all worked out fine in the end. I think most of my stomach issues in the past have to do with all the air I swallow in the water, so I also tried taking a GasEx before and after the swim, which seemed to help. I'll definitely try it again next race to see if it has the same effect.
It felt like we had a bit of a headwind on the way out, so I couldn't wait to get to that turnaround and head back the other way. After the race I talked with the other SF Tri PEPs and they all said the same thing. Man, were we in for a surprise, because with the turnaround came a damn headwind! I was trying desperately to just keep spinning easy so that I could save my legs for the run, and every few miles I would recalculate my time to figure out if I was going to make it back soon enough for a PR. Miles 40-50 were pretty freaking painful on my butt! It wasn't the miles that were killing me, but that dang bike seat!!! Once I hit the turn back into Santa Cruz, I knew I was home free - I just wanted off that bike - and I knew that I would probably at least PR. Now it was a question of by how much. Quite a bit slower than last year, but given the amount of training I did, I'm fine with it. Bike time: 3:15:21
Coming back into town on the bike - soooo happy to be done!
I came screaming into T2 just behind a bunch of other SF Tri PEPs - we were all in a clump, and the announcer was impressed at our club turnout (yay for that black and green!). I made a quick gear transition, but had to stop by the bathroom, which slowed me down just a bit (I had to pee so bad I almost stopped at one of the beaches to use the bathroom, but I'm SO glad I didn't waste that time!). T2: 4:09
Feeling good heading out on the run!
As I came out of the transition area and glanced at my watch, it said 4:00. Holy crap. All I needed was a sub 2:00 half marathon, and I would not only have a 22-minute PR, but I would also have a sub 6:00 half Ironman!!! Okay. Dig. Deep. I watched my Garmin like a hawk, knowing that I needed to stay below a 9:10 pace if I was going to make it. I don't remember it ever really hurting, though I know I was definitely working hard out there. Every SF Tri uniform I saw gave me an extra boost out on the course (it totally helps to have a built in cheering squad on the course!), as did the water stop volunteers. I kept rolling along at an 8:40ish pace and I took short walk breaks at the water stops, but I was super diligent about picking it back up ASAP so that I could get it in there under six hours.
My concentration was unbreakable until just after the 12-mile mark. With less than a mile to go and 5:50 on the clock, I knew that I was going to make it. I was exhausted, but I was so excited to make my goal, especially given the way I felt about the race coming into it. I got all choked up and started to laugh/cry, which made me start to hyperventilate, so I had to stop and walk to catch my breath. I told myself to calm the f*ck down and I managed to regain my focus as I ran down the hill and onto the beach. The Big Kahuna finish is absolute torture because it requires you to run along the shoreline for more than a quarter of a mile. And we're not talking nice, hard packed sand beach, this is an obstacle course of old seaweed, soft sand, kids with sand castles, and the incoming tide all the way down the beach to the finish line. Sick bastards, those course designers. I dug in and kept an eye on my watch just to be sure, and I made my way down the beach, looking for Kirk and the other SF Tri PEPs at the finish. As I came around the corner into the chute, I sent a celebratory fist pump Kirk's way and struggled through the soft sand across the finish line just in time for that sub-2:00 run... Run time: 1:58:15
...and that sub-6:00 half Ironman!!!
Final time: 5:58:42
After I crossed the finish line I wasn't sure if I wanted to sit, lie down, or just pass out, but I opted for staying upright and did my best to walk around. I got some food and hung out at the finish, chatting with the other SF Tri PEPs and giving Kirk the rundown on my race. I was glowing from my unexpected PR, but also on the verge of cramping, so I did what I could to focus on the glow and used that to cheer the rest of our triathletes in down on the beach. It was freezing out there, but really fun to see everyone so happy with their finishes!
Nice and salty and FUH-reezing on the beach - LOVE Dave's pink pirate beanie, btw!
Happy PEPs! PRs all around for me, Katya, and Megan!
Once everyone was in, we headed back to the transition area to pack up our stuff and handed it over to Kirk (our hero!!!). I can't even believe that we got back on our bikes to ride home, but we somehow made it happen. The rest of the afternoon consisted of beers, burgers, the hot tub (not the best post-race therapy, and probably why I hurt so much for the next couple of days!), followed by movie night - Hot Tub Time Machine, baby! All in all, it was a fantastic weekend - great race, fabulous people, and an all around good time. Can't wait for the next one!