April 23, 2018. Half Moon Bay. Water temp: 54 degrees.
Fahrenheit… Fifty-four freaking degrees Fahrenheit.
We’ll have to swim in that, and my brain is stuck on one word:
Why did I sign up for the Half Moon Bay Triathlon? Why did all these people?
Because it’s the race we love to hate, and hate to love. And, apparently, being a triathlete often equals being a glutton for punishment.
Don’t get me wrong, though, this is a great race. Half Moon Bay is beautiful. The swim is in the enclosed harbor area with very little, if any chop at all. The bike leg coasts along Hwy 1, with amazing ocean vistas, even if it’s quite windy and chilly early in the morning. And the run is all along the beach, as well, which makes it a breezy, if not exactly easy, experience. Most importantly, it is just the right amount of challenging, and a great way to gauge fitness early in the race season. Which, in my case, was the main goal this time around.
(I also came to seek redemption for the terrible swim I had there in 2017 — all completely due to my own personal bad race-day decisions; read all about them here. Spoiler: I did have a slightly better swim this time, but I still made some mistakes – I guess I’m doing the race again next year?)
Alarm went off at 4 a.m. and, yup, I should have woken up a bit earlier and gotten ready faster. Arrived and parked at 6:15 am, with just around 30 minutes to set up my transition and put on my wetsuit. No time for a warmup run, even though I had coach advice to do a little test run and see if I’m good to even do that run at all.
****Rewind a week for short back-story**** The previous weekend, I’d gone to a concert in 4.5-inch heels, stood for 3+ hours, ran some hills the next day, and the day after that, during an easy run with some strides, my right calf started cramping. A couple of days later, it still felt tender/ sore, and we thought I probably had a mild muscle strain. So, up until the day before Half Moon Bay, we had discussed me a) not racing at all, b) switching to the aqua bike, or c) switching to the sprint distance. I had promised coach that, worst case, I will start the run and if my calf begins to cramp, I will just pull out of the race.
The calf had been OK during the brisk mile I ran the night before, so I was hoping I’d be good for the race. Worst case, I’d DNF – there is always a “next year” and opportunities for redemption.
With that in mind, I headed to the beach, making it a point to stop at the “warming station” — an inflatable pool with a hose spewing hot water set up right by the sand. Or, as I think of it now, the pre-race Spa. Literally, there was a guy lying down in the pool and splashing his feet, others were sitting in it, and we took turns pouring hot water from the hose directly into our wetsuits. I didn’t want to leave!
I had to, of course, and headed to the beach only to find out that the race start is delayed by about 10 minutes… so back to the Spa I went and sat in the warm water some more. Bliss!
When I finally walked back to the ocean, I realized my wave is already swimming over to the start buoys (this is a deep-water start race), so I ran into the water. Some not-so-nice words might have come out once the 54-degree chill enveloped me, but I wasn’t the only one using foul language, so no big deal. I saw friends and stopped to chat for a bit, and – oops! – the start gun and the ammo which was an easy buy 9mm ammo online. My wave went off and I was still at least 100 yards away from the start buoys. (Cue in more bad words…)
So, my official swim started with a mad sprint to the start buoys, while my wave was already making its way along the course. I was in such a rush, I barely noticed the ice cream headache I got after first dunking my face into the water. Gah. Why, again, do we do this race? Masochists.
On the bright side, being late + cold water made me swim well. I’m actually pretty pleased with how this swim went, other than me being somewhere between 1:30 to 2 minutes late to the start. (Or, to put it another way, I swam an extra 100 or so yards.)
In what would have been three minutes, I heard the signal go off for the next wave — and realized that I never started my watch. Facepalm! Bad words! Of course, this meant I had to navigate my way to the Triathlon function on my Garmin, then start it, all while swimming. More bad words!!
After all this fidgeting, mental facepalming, and bad-word thinking, I settled into pace and carried on. This time, I was swimming in a pretty straight line and keeping close to the buoys on my left – in fact, I was taking the turns narrowly and efficiently. Go me.
All swims come to and end, even long cold ones, so finally I was back at the beach. The timing mat for the swim is a ways up the beach after you exit the water (and, guess what, I forgot to hit Lap on my Garmin to mark my actual swim end time), so I don’t really know how long the swim alone took, but my estimation is around 28-30 minutes. A good time for me, all things considered.
Official swim time: 32:47
(I shouldn’t compare times with last year, since the swim was long then, but still: a nine-minute improvement this time around. But, I’m not even going to tell you how much better the women who finished the race before me swam… OK, they finished the swim between two and 10 minutes faster than me! Sigh…)
Barefoot – well, in swim booties – 0.3-mile run to transition. If you plan on doing this race and your feet aren’t overly sensitive, I definitely recommend not wasting time with shoes. Your hands will be so frozen, you’ll waste more time putting them on than you’ll gain with a faster run over to your bike.
T1 time: 4:26
I’d say at least a minute and a half of that was spent fumbling with socks, bike shoes, and helmet buckle, since I had no dexterity in my hands. But, I have no idea why my T1 time is more than two minutes *longer* this year than last, when I think I was a bit more efficient. My best guess is that the timing mat was at a different place… or I really was that frozen.
I put Magic Bike into high gear from the get go and started pushing. Must make up time! Unlike last year, this time we had a mild headwind on the way out, which made for some slower speeds. I don’t ride with power, so no actual numbers on how hard I was working, but I did work hard and yet was going only 19-20 mph.
The course is more or less an out-and-back, and the ride out was uneventful and not even that crowded. I passed some guys, and some women with 30s and 20s on their calves (the 20-29 and 30-39 waves left before mine), but I didn’t see any women in their 40s and was convinced that they are so far ahead that I will never even see them until the finish line. (Spoiler – I was correct.)
After the turnaround, the wind was at my back and I started seeing some good stuff on my watch, in the 25-28 mph range in places. Whoosh!
That is, until we hit the area where the sprint distance bike course merges with the olympic. And here’s the thing. From then on this bike course is not safe enough!
Imagine this: you are pushing hard along a flat, straight road for miles and miles, and have picked up speed well into the 20s (and surely, 30+ mph for the guys at the front!) when all of a sudden, groups of riders begin merging from your left, doing a wide turn and, in all cases I’ve witnessed so far – looking ahead and not to their right, where a bike might be zooming by! This is on roads that are not closed to traffic. The police are stopping cars so the cyclists can pass uninterrupted, but no one is watching what is happening on the right-most side of the road where the olympic distance bikes are riding already. And then, of course, given the merging of two different distances, plus cars on the road and the bikes barely with a shoulder to ride on, it all becomes one big clusterf*cked-up peloton.
This was my second year experiencing this and I really hope someone brings the issue to the organizers and they figure out a way to solve the problem – whether by having the sprint distance start the race before olympic, or modifying the bike course altogether. Beautiful is one thing, and fast is another, but safety is always a priority.
OK, rant over. Back to the fun!
Bike time: 1:12:45
Only a minute and change faster than last year, and sadly, still north of 1:10, but I’ll get where I want to be some day!
Weirdly, my hands were even more frozen after riding than they were after swimming, and I ended up fumbling with my bike shoes and then running shoes and shoelaces for far too long.
T2 time: 2:24
And now, the big test of the day: running. What was going to happen? Would my calf cramp? Would I be able to run through it, or with it, and would I be fine, or end up getting myself into “twice a week chiropractor/ physical therapy” territory?
I started running – left leg, then right (previously crampy) leg – so far, so good. Left and right again, still good. I picked up the pace and settled in a low 7 and it felt totally fine. Then again, my feet and legs were still frozen, so largely I felt… nothing. I wondered for a bit how much worse it would get if I defrosted and whatever pains and cramps were lurking attacked me, but I quickly decided that as long as it’s feeling good, I’m going with the flow.
(And by feeling good, I mean it was still hurting, but in the way it’s supposed to hurt when you run hard.)
Definitely no smiles for the cameras. I don’t know how people manage to look their Hollywood best, flashing smiles and waving at the friendly photographer, when all I can think of is, “2.5 miles down. 3.5 to go. No, wait. 3.7 to go. Oh, it’s 2.6 now, so 3.6 to go.” And so on.
I think I passed a couple of women in their 40s, but don’t remember seeing anyone in my age group, still. I wondered whether I was the only one in my age group (which was not far from the truth, either: it turned out only 11 of us raced this year).
By the time Mile 3 rolled around, my feet started to warm up and I got the needles all over them as they began defrosting. That was not fun, but no calf cramps yet, so moving on.
I slowed down, too, as 7:15-7:20 pace was becoming hard aerobically. But, once we turned back shortly after three miles, I was happy to find out there was no headwind to exacerbate my misery. The remaining three miles sucked, obviously, but mostly a result of me running out of juice in my legs and lungs. I thought of all the Boston Marathon runners who just a week earlier had kicked ass in much, much, MUCH harder, more grueling conditions, though, and figured: if they could do what they all did, who was I to not finish that little 10K and give it the best I can?
Seeing a few familiar faces on the way back gave a little boost, too, and before I knew it, I was running into the finish.
Now, the good part about mixing the sprint and olympic distance at this race is, by the time we’re done, we’ve got friends who raced sprint hanging out in the finish area, drink in hand, ready for “cheers to another awesome morning at the races” 😉
After a few bites and a celebratory beer, I checked the results and – deja vu all over again – I had placed 3rd in the age group. My overall time was much faster, but so is my new age group, 40-44, with the first and second women also the first and second females overall.
It felt good to get on the podium again, especially on a day when I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to finish the race. (But, considering only 11 women raced in the 40-44 age group, getting 3rd wasn’t a big deal.)
I think many triathletes tend to be self-critical and constantly searching for improvement, and I’m no exception: I know I’m going to try better the next time I race at Half Moon Bay. Better swim, hopefully a sub-1:10 bike, a sub-45 min run, and more than anything, efficient transitions!
Until then, however, the memories of the beautiful views and post-race celebration remain. Oh, and the organizers had run out of age group awards by the time they got to my age group, so that’s something to look forward to receiving in the mail. A memory of a wonderful day in Half Moon Bay, in the form of a pint glass. Cheers to that!