Santa Cruz Triathlon

Santa Cruz Triathlon
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At the risk of sounding self-centered, I must tell you that Santa Cruz is my favorite place to race. Forget about surfer’s heaven. It’s triathlon paradise. Perfect, salty ocean to swim in just past sunrise. The most beautiful rugged coastal views as you ride your bike on California’s famed Highway 1. An amazing run with the ocean on one side and beautiful beachfront homes on the other.

The Santa Cruz Triathlon has been around for 35 years, and is a non-profit race. I like that! Even if I don’t get the most high-quality t-shirt, race swag or post-race food, I’m OK with it because I know all the money that doesn’t cover race expenses, goes back to Santa Cruz community organizations.

This race was actually my second-ever olympic distance triathlon, back in 2013. I fell in love with that course right there, but with scheduling conflicts, did not get an opportunity to do it again until now.

So here I was, four years after my first Santa Cruz Triathlon and one year after I first came up with the concept of a BOGO race, about to do again.

A reminder:

    A BOGO race
    noun

    1. A race that you can pull off of the fitness you built training for your key race of the season, which was of similar or longer distance, duration or level of difficulty, and took place four to six weeks earlier. A “train for one, get one free” race, if you will:

    Having done Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz only two weeks prior, the Santa Cruz Triathlon was my BOGO race.

Santa Cruz Triathlon

Race morning

Parking in Santa Cruz is a pain in the butt, so I made sure to arrive at Depot Park a good two hours before the race start. I found a parking spot right next to the Santa Cruz Police Department, which I thought was most excellent – could there be a safer spot to park? Nope. Should I have read the parking signs? Yup. (Spoiler: got a parking ticket. Oh well. More funds for the Santa Cruz community!)

My friend Lisa had just parked a few spots ahead of me and after we spent some time in our cars with the heat full on, we braved the chilly dark morning and rolled our bikes into transition.

With an 8 a.m. race start (8:05 for my wave, but as late as 8:30 for others), we had lots of time to get bodymarked, set up our bikes, goof around a little and take photos with the crew.

Kicking ass at any age! From left, you have the following age groups: 35-39, 45-49, 60-65, 65-69, 50-55.
Kicking ass at any age! From left, you have the following age groups: 35-39, 45-49, 60-65, 65-69, 50-55.

As you can see, we are all very tri-couture in wetsuits and jackets. It was still cold and, as many other times before, I was having a difficult time imagining myself jumping into the ocean. Brrr!

It had to happen, though, didn’t it? We headed to the beach around 7:40, I left some shoes by swim-out for the transition run, then walked over to the swim start. I didn’t have time for a “warm-up” swim, and to be honest, I don’t see how it would have warmed me up in any way. I was still feeling all stiff and shivery inside my wetsuit. At least, the air could not have been more different from two weeks prior – not a hint of fog. Perfect visibility. We could see all the way to the pier and beyond.

Swim

A beach start is a good thing for this race – it gets your heart rate up a bit, so the cold water doesn’t feel all that cold. Eh… OK, it still does. I wore a neoprene cap under my race swim cap, no neoprene socks and no gloves (lesson learned at Half Moon Bay), so those first steps in the water were quite a shock.

This swim start was a mess. I had lined up near the middle of my wave (I know my swim abilities; do not belong in the front), but I guess I outran some women to the water and dived right into the thick of it. Wow, that was some aggressive swimming? I should be more like that!

I let the first (fast!) pack of women go ahead and settled into my pace. Though, settled isn’t quite the term for it. More like, I settled into feeling unsettled in the cold water. There were no waves – it was perfectly flat, in fact – but I just couldn’t make myself “go”… I felt slow, sluggish and stiff. I kept trying, though, and refused to look at my watch. I sighted often and had to constantly adjust my course because after every few strokes, I felt like I ended up much further to the left than I should have been. The swim course basically starts on the left of the Municipal Wharf, you swim diagonally towards it, around it, and then back to the beach:

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It wasn’t until I swam around the wharf that I felt like I got into the groove. Maybe there was a current that made the second part of the swim easier, I don’t know. But I definitely felt stronger and faster (passed a few people, even) coming back.

Swim time: 29:11
(This includes the short run across the beach; my swim-only time was 28:20, according to Strava. Considering I did this same swim in 35 minutes four years ago… progress.)

T2

Long as usual. Run from the beach to the parking lot that was our transition area. I wasted at least a minute putting on running shoes, only to maybe save this much actually running it, rather than the barefoot jog I had done two weeks ago. From now on, I am only doing this transition run barefoot.

T2 time: 4:09

Bike

I know this bike course so well by now, I feel I could ride it blindfolded. Except, the part along West Cliff Dr – which proportionally is a much larger section of the course than it was of the 56-mile IM70.3 route – is way too technical for my comfort. No sharp turns, but constant turns nonetheless. They make me nervous. Especially considering how some people throw themselves into those with reckless abandon.

No surprises, except at the very beginning: there is a little hill that starts right as you exit bike out, and we were told this time the mount line was on top of it! Yes, faced with this short but steep climb right as you mount your bike puts you in danger of toppling over if you’re not in the right gear (I’ve seen it happen). But must we be treated like kids who don’t know how to handle themselves with a bit of a challenge? As you can tell, I was quite annoyed by this little detail, as running up (and down!) a hill in bike shoes is as far as it gets from my idea of fast or fun.

Other than that, I had an ok bike leg. Not as fast as it should have been, given the perfect conditions. I maintained an average speed equal to my average at the half-iron distance two weeks ago… So that was disappointing. I think I was too cautious on West Cliff Dr and I certainly could have pushed myself harder everywhere else.

Since I started in one of the early waves, the bike course was not crowded, so I had no excuse.

Next time: less smiling for the photographer and more suffering!
Next time: less smiling for the photographer and more suffering!

Bike time: 1:14:29
Avg speed: 20.06 mph

(It’s not terrible, for a course with 1650 ft of gain over 25 miles, but still. I was hoping to go under 1:10. Goals for next time!)

T2

One thing I love about olympic and sprint-distance races is you don’t have to pee by the time you reach T2 (or before!). Just a change of shoes, take helmet off, put hat on and go.

T2 time: 1:22

Run

This run starts with a bit of a climb, but once that first bump is behind you, it’s all very gentle rollers along the beach. As usual, I started too fast off the bike, but this time I went with it. My strategy was to hold a tight pace for as long as I can, preferably until the finish line. What’s the worst that could happen – blow up and walk a mile? Worth the risk.

Within the first mile or two, a woman breezed past me like I was standing still. She ended up winning the women’s race. 43 years old. Ran a 43-minute 10K, 6:53 average pace. Goals! (Also, bad news for me, as I join her age group next year. Ha.)

Peter Kain, who won the race overall, passed me too – a 39:50 10K at 54 years old. How do they do it? Amazing.

Back to my run, though, the first three miles felt hard, but under control. I dipped the pace to under 7 briefly, but that felt unsustainable, so I backed off. I guess 7:15-ish is my “comfort” race zone these days. It’s a suffering I can tolerate.

Santa Cruz Triathlon 2017

By the turnaround at mile 3.2, however, I was starting to feel less tolerant of running, racing, and life in general. To put it mildly. In other words, time to eat some carbs!

I had a bit of a nutrition hiccup for this race, since on the bike I’d only had half of a bottle with Gatorade Endurance, and occasional sips of Gatorade on the run course. Good thing I had grabbed a Honey Stinger gel out of T2, so down that went. Viva la sugar! The effect was pretty quick and my head cleared up, but my legs were of another opinion. They decided they’ve had enough of this and would like to slow down now. (Probably should have had more water, too…)

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The last 100 or so yards before the finish are a solid downhill, and my watch was telling me that I would finish this run in under 45 minutes, so I booked it… Well, later I found out that my official time was 45:05 — but I also found that I won my age group, so I was pretty happy with my run, and with my race overall.

Santa Cruz Triathlon 2017

Run time: 45:05

Back in transition, I ran into Lisa, who had done the Aquabike — and soon other friends started arriving as well. We waited around until the awards ceremony. It turned out a whole bunch of us placed in our age groups — sweet!

Last podium in the 35-39 age group! And, last race on Betty Squad this year. What a year, full of memories, laughs, new friendships, and so much more. See you at the races in 2018!
Last podium in the 35-39 age group! And, last race on Betty Squad 2017. What a year, full of memories, laughs, new friendships, and so much more. See you at the races in 2018!

To toast the end of tri season 2017, our little group had lunch at Riva Fish House on the pier. Great food – huge! portions – and local beers on tap. Winning!

So that’s a wrap for this year of triathlon, folks. Don’t park by the Santa Cruz Police Department for more than two hours at a time, OK?

See you in 2018!


Santa Cruz Triathlon results

Swim: 29:11
T1: 4:09
Bike: 1:14:29 (20.06 mph)
T2: 1:22
Run: 45:05 (7:16/mi)
Total: 2:34:18

Gender place: 6 of 186
Division place: 1 of 24
Overall: 78 of 632

Stress-Free Fundraising for Girls on the Run

Stress-Free Fundraising for Girls on the Run
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I don’t talk about it much online and on social media, but one of my favorite commitments in the past two years has been coaching for Girls on the Run. I’m the Head Coach for the team at my son’s school, and to the surprise of many parents and other coaches, I do not have a daughter in the program. I do it because I love it, and I love the idea of instilling in young girls a love of running, and the confidence, happiness, and healthy habits it brings.

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What is Girls on the Run?

Girls on the Run is a wonderful program for girls in third through fifth grade. It operates as a non-profit organization, running after-school programs in elementary schools across the United States. At our school, the program is 10 weeks long, from March through mid-May. Twice a week after school, the girls play games that keep them active, engaged, and get them to think about and discuss topics that, frankly, I wish I could have been able to talk about when I was their age. We talk about ways to deal with bullying, gossip, and other negative behaviors at school, and how to turn negative thoughts into positive ones, gain confidence and love ourselves for who we are.

Oh, and we run, of course! The program culminates with the Girls on the Run 5K. In our area, more than 5,000 girls and their families participate each year!

Fundraising

As a non-profit organization, Girls on the Run redirects all registration fees towards covering program costs – putting up a 5K for thousands of participants is not cheap! – and providing scholarships to families who would not be able to participate otherwise. The organization has very few full time employees in each area. Here in Silicon Valley, I believe there are four or five GOTR employees altogether, and I won’t be surprised if most or some of them are part-time. GOTR relies exclusively on the efforts of volunteer coaches and race volunteers. And, it counts heavily on its sponsors and fundraising efforts.

Each GOTR chapter partners with different organizations and has its own fundraising initiatives, and all participants and coaches are encouraged (but not obliged!) to fundraise. Which is where it gets tricky for me personally: I love GOTR and would love to fundraise. But I hate asking people for money! I feel that I already bug my friends and neighbors enough with so many other fundraising efforts, our school’s annual Walkathon, Jump Rope for Heart, Fall Harvest, the this and the that – how many times can you ask people for money before they block you on Facebook?

So I was really excited to learn about a program that allows us to fundraise – without asking people to donate.

Shop with Scrip

I learned about Shop with Scrip through a Fit Approach campaign – and it was like a breath of fresh air to my weary self.

What is Shop with Scrip: it’s a platform that enables organization to run fundraising campaigns by facilitating families to buy gift cards to places where they already shop. Amazon, Whole Foods, Target, Walmart, Bath & Body Works, Starbucks, Kohls, did I say Amazon? Literally, every big retailer I can think of is on their list.

As a fundraiser, you simply ask people to order the gift cards they think they might need for their shopping needs (and who doesn’t shop on Amazon these days?) — and a percentage of all card values goes to the organization for which you are fundraising. The average is about 4%, but some gift cards kick back as much as 9%.

Fit Approach registered a fundraising campaign for Girls on the Run, and as a participant, I could order a $200 Amazon gift card — and 2.5% of that would go to GOTR. It’s not much, but imagine hundreds of people contributing – who otherwise would not have donated to the organization directly.

Every little bit counts, and now that I know I can contribute to GOTR by ordering all those gift cards (for teacher gifts, birthday gifts, and my own shopping needs) — I’m looking forward to kicking off our 2018 GOTR season even more!

You can use Shop with Scrip to fundraise for any nonprofit organization, school, church, sports club, music and band program, and many others. If fundraising is as big a pain in your butt as it has been in mind, it’s definitely worth checking it out!

Disclaimer: This campaign is sponsored by ShopWithScrip. Through my affiliation with the Sweat Pink Ambassador community, I’m fundraising for Girls on the Run, a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering young girls through running. All monies fundraised are donated to Girls On the Run at the conclusion of the campaign. Thank you for your readership and interest in forwarding Girls On the Run’s mission of: inspiring girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running.

2017 Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz

2017 Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz
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Hmm.

How to say this and not sound crazy…

I placed 5th in my age group at Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz and stood on the Ironman podium. I also snagged a spot to the 2018 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in South Africa.

Those sound like alternative facts, but no. It’s the truth!

Many things came together for this to happen – timing, circumstances, luck. But a lot of it was also hard work. And it likely is a once-in-a-lifetime thing for me, so I’m going to write it all, relive it, and enjoy it over again. I hope you do, too.

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A late-season decision

I was not planning to race IM703 Santa Cruz this year. My only 70.3-distance race in 2017 was supposed to be Santa Rosa in May, but I crashed my bike two weeks before that one and had to drop out. That left me with a few Olympic-distance races for the rest of the year and a new A-race, Escape from Alcatraz.

Well, Escape didn’t go to plan, either, what with the cancelled swim. I did well otherwise – placed 10th in my age group and had a solid bike and run in very harsh wind. But I paid that exorbitant race fee to escape from the Marina Green and do a brick workout on some San Francisco hills. It just didn’t feel like the highlight of my race season. (It was such a letdown to not be able to swim, in fact, that I have yet to write that race recap. Maybe one day soon!)

I let my Escape disappointment stew for a few weeks, then asked my coach what he thinks about Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz. Mostly, I wasn’t sure if it would be smart to do it just two weeks before another race I’ve had on my calendar for a while, the Olympic distance at Santa Cruz Triathlon. He gave me the green light, though, and here I was:

Race morning

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Standing in the middle of several million dollars’ worth of carbon in the dark-as-pits morning and asking myself, why am I not in bed like normal people?

Because I love it, that’s why!

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I had the most fun race morning hanging out with my Betty Squad teammates: in transition, on our way to the beach, and then for quite a while, on the beach. And I mean quite a while. When the sun finally came out, it quickly became clear that the sky was anything but: a thick, thick fog lay over the ocean; so thick that even walking on the sand, we were hardly able to see the water!

The swim start had already been moved about 200 yards up the beach, away from the Santa Cruz Pier, because of red algae that had blossomed there due to unusually high temps the week before (it had been 106 degrees in Santa Cruz the previous weekend!) So instead of the typical swim out and around the pier, we were going to swim diagonally towards it, then around it and back to the usual swim-out location.

The foggy sky had other plans, though: since none of the buoys were visible, race organizers deemed it unsafe to start the swim. And after a half-hour delay, they announced that the swim will be moved to the other side of the pier altogether — and shortened to half a mile.

And so off we went again, more than 2000 athletes in black (wetsuits), walking along the ocean, under the pier, and out into the Swim Out chute that was now split in the middle into two narrow tunnels, one for those going in the ocean and one for those coming out.

It was going to take forever for us all to get in, but hey: what’s “forever” when you spend it in good company? We danced a little, joked, laughed, talked – and what do you know, the fog started to lift. The pros were off and soon after them, it was our turn.

Swim

We had a rolling start this year, which meant that everyone was supposed to seed themselves based on expected swim time rather than start with their age group in a wave determined by the race organizer. That’s fine, except when you move 2,000 people across the beach to a different start location, all order and logic go out the back door. It was just one huge crowd funneling through a narrow tunnel, making slow progress towards the water. At least we saw all the pros run through, having completed the course in around 10 minutes.

I started my swim at 8:36 a.m., a good hour and twenty minutes later than planned. The water temperature was a balmy 68 degrees — unusually warm for this location. And with the fog all but gone and a short rectangular swim course, I could literally see all the buoys any time I sighted. It was pretty amazing.

One of these is not like the other...
One of these is not like the other…

I was a little further on the outside perimeter of the course than I’d have liked to be – that is, closer to the safety kayaks than the buoys – but overall, I felt great in the water and the swim went well. No collisions, no punches. Quick and easy!

Swim exit a bit crowded, yes?
Swim exit a bit crowded, yes?

Swim time: 15:57 (for a half mile)
Division rank: 29

T1

Half-mile run from the beach to transition, as usual. I ran barefoot. Some people bring shoes, but I don’t think these are that needed to run on asphalt and concrete, both fairly smooth. (Others had brought flip flops, which I thought was just awkward…)

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I’d forgotten to bring a towel, but the turf surface in transition ensured little to nothing stuck to my wet feet. I pulled on socks and shoes, put on my helmet and glasses, grabbed Magic Bike and off we went. Luckily, my rack was right behind the pros and very close to Bike In/ Bike Out.

T1 time: 5:34

Bike

First, this bike course is beautiful. It’s almost entirely along the ocean, so the views are amazing. It’s all rolling hills and has few, wide turns. Not technical at all. This year, the organizers changed it back to the original Big Kahuna bike course, removing the Swanton Loop that was added on for 2016. That pegged the total elevation at around 2800 feet (vs 3800 in 2016). So already it was a faster course.

Second, I got myself a sweet bike upgrade earlier this year: a pair of ENVE SES 7.8 wheels, and those are fast. And I mean, fast! They are amazing!

Magic Bike not only looks incredibly spiffy these days, but he is one heck of a smooth and speedy beast!

A post shared by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

Those two things combined equaled the most awesome ride in the world ever! I was going 40-45 mph on the downhills with little need to brake. In fact, I think I only had to hit the brakes once when an SUV cut me off merging onto Hwy 1 from the left. But what are you going to do. Traffic is never completely stopped during these events, no matter how much we pay to race safely on the roads.

There was a lot of drafting happening, though. I was catching up to peloton upon peloton of bikes and having to pass them so far into the road, I was riding in the middle of it rather than on the shoulder where we’re all supposed to be. Who is to blame, though? When you shorten a swim this much and send more than 2,000 people on the road on a rolling basis, packs inevitably form. Even among the top age groupers, I saw many riding in pace lines. Drafting is becoming more common these days, unfortunately.

This guy stuck to my back wheel for a while, rather than falling behind six bike lanes, per official rules. So common.
This guy stuck to my back wheel for a while, rather than falling behind six bike lanes, per official rules. So common.

I tried to not take the drafting personally, although I will say this: Guys. When a faster girl is trying to pass you, let her, yeah? Sometimes, women are faster than men, and that’s OK. But when you refuse to let them pass and shamelessly draft – then you’re just embarrassing yourselves. Why don’t we all focus on our own race?

[Not ALL guys are like this, of course! Some quickly re-pass… on the right. Ha. But I did also get quite a few “Go Betty” cheers. So yes, I don’t want to generalize. Just saying.]

Other than a few little frustrations like that, I had a great ride. There were some foggy patches, but nothing with terrible visibility. This race is worth doing at least once in your life simply to enjoy the beautiful ride!

Bike time: 2:47:43
Division rank: 9

T2

I have no idea what I did in there for nearly three minutes…
T2 Time: 2:25.

Run

The biggest benefit of racing in Santa Cruz is usually the weather. You’re by the ocean, so it’s almost always breezy, often overcast and at this time of year, you can expect it to be in the 70s, tops.

Not on this race day. As I started the run, it already was hotter than it ever got all race long last year. The scorching sun was full on.

I settled into a comfortable pace and focused on doing my run thing: reeling in the slower runners. I was getting passed a lot, too, of course. But focusing on people ahead of me who are going slower and working to pass with control helps keep my mind away from things like, “one mile down, 12 to go, oh man I’m only getting started.”

The first three miles are on West Cliff Dr along the ocean. Those always feel great. Then we turn into Natural Bridges, then on a bike path alongside Highway 1, and then we have a hill going up to Wilder Ranch. Wilder Ranch is all trail.

I felt strong and smooth the first three miles, but as we climbed into Wilder Ranch and hit the trails, I felt myself slowing down – a lot. I almost made peace with the fact that I’m not going to PR this run course this year, it felt like I was losing minutes, not seconds, each mile. Which is funny, because I later compared my mile splits year to year, and they are almost identical:

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I was better prepared for the uneven surface of the trails this year, with regular running shoes. (Last year’s racing flats felt a bit too thin for those rocks and the significant camber.)

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I saw many teammates on the course, and many, many women wearing Betty Designs kits. It was great to encourage and be encouraged by fellow women who believe that #badassisbeautiful and go out to #doepicshit!

The last three miles are back along the ocean and it was like the breeze breathed life back into my legs and my brain: I got my second salty wind and picked up the pace. I have to say, it’s so satisfying to finish a run feeling strong. It’s 1000% better than when you know you will finish, but you’re getting slower and slower because you just don’t have it.

For this one, I felt I had it. It was my fist-in-the-air victorious finish :-)

Run time: 1:43:20
Division rank: 4

I had some water, ran into my friend Tina, and we headed back to transition for food and to hang out. (The post-race “feast” at Santa Cruz is back in the Expo/ Transition area because the beach is too small to fit everyone… and I’m guessing they don’t want us to make a total mess of paper plates and soda cans.)

So Tina and I had some pizza and Coke (no beer at this race, either. why?), went back to our bikes and were chatting while putting away our stuff, when I realized that my phone was overheated and not working and I asked a guy standing nearby if he could check my official time.

Sure thing, he says, what’s your bib. “It says here, you finished in 4:54, 5th in your age group.”

Say what?

Can’t be.

But it was! And Tina got 4th!

It only got better after that: my teammate Jonya (we spent all morning together before we started swimming at the exact same time) got 3rd in her AG, and so did Elke (3rd), Jordan (1st), Ellen (3rd)… Janae and Gabby finished strong with big PRs. It was total Betty Squad domination!

I headed back to the beach to look for friends and ran into Jonya and her hubby, and we enjoyed some celebratory adult beverages by the beach until the time for awards.

Those were the best!

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Then I went to grab my bike from transition and head to the car, when I walked back through where the awards ceremony had been and realized they’re about to do slot allocation for World Champs 2018. With 5th in the Age Group, I didn’t have much chance at a spot – there is usually just one per age group – but I figured I’d stay and see. And it paid off! We got a second spot because an older age-group finisher did not want hers, so it was allocated to the F35-39 division. And the top three gals were either gone or did not want a spot, either; so the 4th place woman and I grabbed the two spots!

We’re going to the 2018 World Championship in South Africa! Crazy!

What an incredible day! I want to thank the Academy…

Just kidding. But I DO want to express so much gratitude to Betty Designs – I feel so privileged to be on this team, in the company of the most amazing, badass women in triathlon. And have the support of awesome sponsors: Gatorade Endurance (no artificial colors, dyes or sweeteners in the new formula!), Coola Suncare (best organic sunscreen around!), Rudy Project (check out my sleek golden helmet and glasses, best ever yeah?), Hoka One One (Tracers FTW), ROKA, Suunto, Mavic and Enve Composites (so.freaking.fast!).


Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz Results

Swim: 15:57
T1: 5:34
Bike: 2:47:43 (20.3 mph)
T2: 2:25
Run: 1:43:20 (7:53/ mi)

Gender place: 38
Division place: 5
Overall: 298