Tri Santa Cruz: Swim, Bike, Run, Win

I raced a sprint tri last weekend. It was fun and quick! Just like this recap, I hope. So here we go:

Tri Santa Cruz is a local, somewhat low-key event in – yes – Santa Cruz, Calif. I will tell you about the “somewhat” later. First things first: location. Beautiful, beautiful! I raced the Santa Cruz Triathlon there last year and fell in love with it, especially the run course, out and back along West Cliff drive and with stunning ocean views throughout: I can’t do the race again this year because of a scheduling conflict, but I wanted to race in Santa Cruz at least once. So with a little over a week to go, I signed up for Tri Santa Cruz.

There were quite a few options to choose from with this race: sprint or Olympic distance triathlon, sprint duathlon, and a sprint and international distance dip and dash aquathlon.

I chose the sprint tri because I thought it was on Saturday — why, when the website clearly stated Sunday, August 10, I don’t know? Anyway, good thing I realized my error in time and, come bright, dark and early Sunday morning I was once again navigating the twisty-turny Hwy 17 to Santa Cruz.

Race Setup

Transition was set up in the exact same place as the Santa Cruz Triathlon, except now we each had pre-determined rack spaces marked with our bib numbers. That took some race-morning confusion out of the picture, which was nice.


In other awesome news, there was an actual bathroom right by transition (on the side of the red building in the photo below), plus plenty of porta-potties. You know I never fail to report on the potty situation at races, right? #detailsmatterSo, drink away your pre-race coffees, my friends, there are plenty of places to “go” – sans wait – before the race!

Speaking of racing, it was hardly 7:30 when we all got ushered out of Transition, to head towards the swim start. My official wave start was at 8:39, so I thought that was a wee bit rushed, but what can you do. Quickly squeezing into my wetsuit, I grabbed my swim cap and goggles, kicked my flip-flops in the tri bag and pitter-pattered – barefoot – the nearly half-mile over to the beach.

The Swim

First, all wave starts were delayed by 10 minutes. So my “warm-up” dip in the ocean – water: not so chilly at this time of year, but I was glad to have a wetsuit! – turned into a “let’s hang out in the water for a while” thing. I almost did a false start, too: saw a large group of hot pink caps run into the water and sprinted over, only to find out this is the Olympic distance. Turned out, the organizers had the same color caps for sprint and oly distance women (hot pink), as well as some of the men (yellow). That was confusing!

Anyway, my real wave start came soon enough and we all sprinted into the water. I jumped in and started pushing like it was my job. Coach D said to go fast, it’s a short distance so just go for it. I did go for it, but considering my mediocre swim skills… well, at least I got to stay with my swim wave!

A quick 750 meters and 11:43 mins on my watch later, I exited the water. (Everyone says the swim course was a bit short, though. My Garmin showed 640 yards, too. That’s way short.) But here’s the weird part: instead of having a timing mat at the beach so we can get our actual swim times, the Swim Out mats were at Transition. That’s 0.4 miles of barefoot running added to the swim before you’re officially in T1. So:

Official swim time: 15:09
Rank: 21 (out of 85 women… actually not that bad, given my swim skills!)

T1

Nothing interesting to report, except that I saved 15 seconds or so by not putting socks on.

Time: 1:41

The Bike

Pedal to the metal time! Hardest gear, highest effort. (It was only 12.4 miles, after all.)

I passed a bunch of people on the way out – OK, a lot of people – but also got passed by crazy-fast dudes who were racing the Olympic distance. Don’t know how they do it.

The bike course for Tri Santa Cruz is two laps for the sprint distance and four for the Olympic. (Another reason why I chose the sprint… Two times around gets boring, with four I would’ve lost count!) There was a u-turn before we headed back to ride along West Cliff drive, with winding right and left turns.

But boy, was it flat. The flattest bike course I’ve ridden in a race, for sure:
Time: 34:54 (21.4 mph avg)
Rank: now in 7th!

T2

Helmet off, visor on; slip bare feet into Zoot shoes (comfy!) and off we go.

The Run

Just as pretty as I remember, except the faster pace made it harder to enjoy the views. The weather was excellent, though, overcast and with a perfect amount of mild morning chill. I ran as fast as I thought I could and caught a couple of women. None were in my age group. In fact, I didn’t see anyone in my age group and that made me suspicious: maybe I was the only 35-39-year-old competing? I did get passed by a few professional-looking gazelles – they turned out to be part of the elite group racing the Olympic distance. (Like I said: somewhat low-key event!)

The run was just as flat as the bike. In hindsight, I should’ve pushed the pace more and suffered. It was only for a little bit!I crossed the finish line – right by transition – with an official run time of 24:15, avg 7:48 pace.

Definitely could’ve gone faster. Oh well.

The official results took quite a while to come out – more than an hour after I finished, in fact! That was annoying. There were very few finishers when I arrived, so I figured I maybe did well – but had no way of knowing unless I waited… and waited.

Finally, the results were posted and I found out I had won my age group and placed 6th female overall!

Official time: 1:17:19
Place: 6th Female
AG place: 1

What was truly notable, though, were the ages of the five ladies before me:

Overall female winner – 15 years old
Second place: 40
Third: 13 (!!!)
Fourth: 15
Fifth: 18
Sixth: yours truly.

So really, it was between me and a 40-year-old, and she beat me by nearly eight minutes. Glad she wasn’t in my age group, or I wouldn’t have gotten this lucrative Age Group winner award:


But as the Race Announcer flat out refused to even try pronouncing my last name, I’m sure I would have made that ridiculous face (and pose) upon accepting it, regardless:

(Ironman 70.3) Recovery Accelerated with the Help of Vega Sport

Before I completed my first Ironman 70.3 event, I thought I’d be so sore after those 70.3 miles that I’d be on bed rest for weeks. Imagine my surprise when this didn’t happen. Not back in March and most definitely not now!

Here’s how my “week after Vineman 70.3″ looked:

Monday, the day after the race, was an official day off from training. We spent a few quiet hours at the hotel pool before checking out and driving home.

On Tuesday – I was back at the track for speed work. My legs? Fine! All body parts, in fact, were perfectly functional. Sure, my pace was easier than what I’d normally crank out, but I still managed a few 8-minute tempo-paced miles. I also biked to and from the gym, a little under three miles each way.

On Wednesday, swimming: a “pleasant” 3100-yard set that included kicking, 10 50-yard sprints and a couple 400, 300, 200, 100 ladders. It all took me 1 hr 13 min to complete and no, it wasn’t really pleasant :-) .

On Thursday, I attacked an insane hill on the bike, climbing a total of 1,850ft over a short 21-mile ride. An hour and 40 minutes in the saddle.

On Friday, I ran five very hilly trail miles. The first two miles alone are a steady 500-yard climb. Then there’s more. Then a 30-min walk to shake off the legs.

On Saturday, the regular hill reps on the bike, as if nothing happened the previous weekend. A short 20-ish minute run off the bike, too.

And Sunday, a week post Vineman 70.3, was swim day, one hour and 2500 yards in total.

Training time: 9 hrs. (My typical weekly time is 10-14 hours depending on where I am in the training cycle. Not too bad for the week after a half Ironman.)

So I’m telling you all this because:

1. I’ve wanted to talk about active recovery for a while now.

I used to take days off after a long race, but found that I really do get back into the groove faster and feel better if I keep up my regular workout routine. Just dial down the intensity a bit for a day or two. A day or two, not a week!

2. I also want to talk about fueling your recovery.

This is more important than anything! Just like you need to fuel your body right before and during a race, you have to give it the best recovery fuel possible after the race! After every workout, in fact, every single day of racing and training.

My normal recovery fuel, for example, used to be chocolate milk – until I realized I was allergic to dairy! So I started just watching what I drank and ate post workout, trying to get some carbs within thirty minutes of finishing up. I often make smoothies with frozen fruits and some greens, bananas, sunflower butter, and almond milk or coconut water. After extra-hard workouts, I throw in some vegan protein powder, too.

And when we came home from our Vineman 70.3 trip, waiting for me was a package from Vega Sport with some products to review, thanks to the Sweat Pink Ambassador program of which I’m a member. I received the box with 12 single-serve Recovery Accelerator supplement packs, which I’ve been taking once a day, daily, after training. (And after the key, or harder, workout on days when I have to work out twice.)

I received this product for free, for reviewing purposes — but under absolutely no obligation to provide positive feedback. So what you see below is my experience with Vega Sport Recovery Accelerator – in what I’d call a pretty busy/ active post-half-Ironman week :-)

  • The taste (Tropical flavor) is great and incredibly refreshing!
  • The first time I tried it, I put it in a smoothie. That wasn’t ideal, as it’s very sweet on its own.
  • From then on, I just mixed it with water: simple and delicious!
  • Adding ice makes things even better!
  • Talk about on-the-go recovery fuel! Just grab a packet and your shaker bottle (or even a regular bottle would do, as it mixes quite easily), add water, shake and drink!
  • The ratio of carbs to protein is 4:1, which I’ve read is the ideal recovery ratio (the same as that of chocolate milk, if you can tolerate it).
  • The ingredient list seems on par with that of typical protein or one-meal shake-type nutritional supplements. Vega is known for its plant-based, natural products, which definitely gives me peace of mind.

I can’t tell you with certainty that this drink is the reason I was able to enjoy such an easy, active recovery after Vineman 70.3, but it was certainly an post-workout ritual that I enjoyed!


 

Disclaimer: I received the product for free, courtesy of Sweat Pink and Vega Sports. I was not compensated for reviewing the product in any other way. All opinions – as always – are my own.

Ironman 70.3 Vineman: The Amazing Race

Registration for Ironman 70.3 Vineman 2014 opened nine months in advance and sold out within four minutes. And that is perfectly understandable. If this race recap doesn’t convince you, you should probably go see for yourself.

Vineman 70.3 has got to be one of the most amazing triathlon events in the world. It may not have had the spectator crowds of Kona or Challenge Roth, but the beautiful course and volunteer support made up for that, and then some!

Here’s the swim-bike-run-down of my experience:

Travel

Vineman takes place in beautiful Wine Country – which could make for a wine-infused weekend, indeed… unless you are traveling with kids. In which case, take my advice and look for a convenient hotel with a swimming pool. You’ll get to the wine tasting when the kids go to college. Patience.
For our stay, I picked one of the hotels listed on the race website, thinking it will be close to all race locations and save us some travel stress on race day. It turned out to be a 30-minute drive to the race/ swim start and about a 15-minute drive from Windsor High School, which hosted the Expo, T2 (bike in/ run out) and race finish. Though to be fair, with a swim start in Russian River/ Guerneville, a point-to-point bike course and a run start/ finish in Windsor, it’s pretty much impossible to stay at a place that’s within walking distance of anything. Unlike Oceanside 70.3, this race seems to be more “spread out,” and while maybe half a dozen other athletes stayed at our hotel, the parade of lean muscle, spandex and multi-thousand-dollar bikes I was expecting wasn’t quite there. (Not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.)

The Expo

The day before the race, I was hoping to pick up my race packet and be out of the Expo quickly. But arrived nine minutes after the beginning of the first mandatory pre-race information session. Agh! No can do packet pickup unless you attend one of those and get your hand stamped! And with these sessions happening only once on the hour, I had some time to kill. Great business model for the expo vendors! An (overpriced!) Ironman 70.3 Vineman shirt, Ironman 70.3 Vineman cycling jersey and a pair of new shoes later — and a couple hundred dollars lighter, oops! — I caught the 11:30 information session. That turned out to be a showing of a 15-minute video about the race and few last-minute tips from the race director. Then off to get the race bib/ backpack and done! Not a perfectly executed pre-race plan, though: with T2 very conveniently set up right next to the Expo area in Windsor High School, I could’ve brought and set up my run stuff for race day. Oh well: back to the hotel, then back again to set up T2:If you’re reading this and plan to do Vineman in the future, learn from my mistake and pack up your run stuff (shoes, hat, race belt, nutrition, etc) with you when you go to the Expo.

The rest of my day was pretty much all taken up by a drive out to Russian River to swim part of the course. And, of course, the usual pre-race dinner:Sushi to Dai for in Santa Rosa is now officially KidRuns’ “number one most favorite restaurant, of course!”… I have a feeling it has something to do with the fact that he got to try Ramune – Japanese soda in a fun glass bottle with a little glass ball inside – for the first time. But the sushi was pretty great, too. We went back twice after the race. Clearly a sushi success.

Race day!

The typical 4 a.m. wake up call felt early, but I’d gotten a decent night’s sleep. I just wish hotel rooms had good coffee machines (and coffee), for a change. Two mediocre cups and a Honey Stinger waffle made breakfast and after loading the bike, my tri bag and one sleeping child into the car, we were off to Russian River.

The half-hour drive went without a hitch and my morning escort headed back to the hotel, while I slowly dragged my bike, bag, still sleepy head and full bladder (two coffees, remember?) towards the river and T1. I arrived about an hour before the first wave start and the place was already buzzing with excitement. Racks were arranged by age group and my area ended up being all the way down near the Swim Out (and a solid walk from Bike Out). See all that sand around? Key detail to remember for later.

But for now, to the surprise of no one, I spent the majority of my time in T1 was in line for a porta-potty.Yes, a single lonesome porta-potty for the entire section of T1 that housed the Female 35-39 age group and a bunch of others. What I’m saying is, Vineman people, please have more of these new time. There was a whole lineup of porta-potties at the other end of T1, but the walk alone would’ve been a good 5-10 minutes, what with the crowd of people going back and forth on the narrow carpeted areas on each side of the bike racks. The wait was so long that I forgot a key pre-race/ ride ritual, applying chamois butter (or as the kid calls it, Butt Butter Giggle Giggle). Well. Nothing like applying a handful down your crotch area right next to your racked bike, right? Like a fellow F 35-39 lady said, it’s not like anyone’s looking, we’re all too worried about our own s$%^. Yes, please and thank you.

Then I squeezed into my wetsuit, my age group was called over to the swim start, I grabbed an Espresso Hammer gel (pre-swim fuel of choice; caffeine was much needed after the bland hotel coffee) and trotted over to the river. Game time!

The Swim

Oh, the Vineman 70.3 swim. It’s… fun! And funny!! I’m told the river is always pretty shallow in those parts, to the point where you can walk parts of the swim course… but this was something else! Despite the wall put up at one end to help raise water levels a bit, the “deep water start” was, in fact, chest-level deep. So instead of treading water, we just stood and waited. At the sound of the gun, we dove in (interesting thing to do when you’re already in the water!) and started swimming.

Now, the river is also narrow. So despite the fact that I could see the bottom at most times (and stand up and walk, or just rest, if needed), the place felt crowded. I took a few hits to the head and feet, but nothing major. Got into a rhythm, managed to swim at other people’s bubbles for the most part and even stayed with my own wave. Success! (This from the person who usually falls so far behind, at least two or three more waves catch up and pass by the time I get out!)

The course was clearly marked by numbered buoys and there were kayakers around for the swimmers’ safety, but really. There could not have been a safer swim course!

Walkability aside, I decided I’d be using my legs plenty through the day, so better to stick with swimming. At the turn-around point, though, we all had no choice but to stand up and walk. The river was so shallow, my hands were hitting the bottom with each pull. Not that walking was pleasant, mind you: the river bed is quite rocky! So I jumped back into a swim as soon as I thought the water was deep enough and carried on the rest of the way.

Overall, it was pleasant. The water was warm (70 degrees or so?) and there was virtually no current, but I was glad to finally exit that water. So glad that I apparently gave the camera guy at Swim Out the most idiotic smile in the world and I will regret sharing it with the whole wide internet… Seriously. What was I thinking??

Swim time: 42:03 (67th AG, 1,360 overall)
What can I say, I suck at swimming (and at swim-out photos)

T1

Two words for T1: very muddy. All those wet feet splashing river water onto the sand where the racks were set up would do that! I wiped my feet in a towel vigorously, but I should’ve worried more about getting mud into my bike clips. The short run out of T1 to the Bike Out area deposited enough mud in there that I had a bit of trouble clipping in once I mounted the bike!

Time: 4:14

The Bike

Like I said: hit a tiny snag clipping into my pedals on the way out because of the mud on the bottom of my shoes. This would’ve been a problem if I had tried clipping in immediately after exiting T1, which just so happened to be quite a steep little uphill. The volunteer who gave me my race stuff at packet pickup had warned me that lots of people think they can take the li’l hill thing and fall over, so I’d made up my mind to walk it. No shame in that! Better to lose a few seconds there than risk a bruise at mile 0.001 of the 56 miles ahead.

Once safely clipped in, I started pedaling on what is hands down the most beautiful bike course I’ve ridden in a race. No doubt about it! The sky was overcast, temperatures were still low (perfectly so!) and we hit the scenic areas right away. Could not have asked for a better day to ride a bike through the amazing My goal for the bike split was to do my best. Ride like a mad woman! No holding back. No conservative pedaling in lower gears just because I have a half marathon to run afterwards. I tried this at Oceanside, saved those legs for the run — and had a crappy run regardless. Might as well have fun, right?A sharp right turn leading into a very steep downhill gave me a little scare (see face above), but other than that, the course was made up of pleasant rollers and not-too-challenging turns. In fact, with those views all around, the only challenge was to not slow down and enjoy the scenery as it should be enjoyed! Slower pace and perhaps a few stops along the way for some wine tasting. Some day!

I’m doing exactly what you thin I’m doing: whistling to myself. I do that on long rides when I can’t listen to music… sing and whistle. It’s fun for me, but no guarantees for the rest of the folks out there!

Ms. Fuji was once again one of a select few cheap-ish roadies on the course, but I’m happy to report I passed my share of pimped-out TT bikes (even a few Shivs!) on the course. Naturally, I was passed by many, many more – no surprise there, as this year the fastest age groups, including the men, all started behind us. Next year the wave starts are in reverse, so I’m guessing this wouldn’t happen as much.

The course didn’t feel too crowded or anything, but I can’t say it ever felt lonely, either!

The only mildly challenging part of the course comes at mile 44, when you hit Chalk Hill. Do yourself a favor and don’t watch the race course video only two days before the race. To hear the man describe this hill there, you’d think it’s Mount Vesuvius erupting all around you as you fight to climb to the top, in your easiest gear and on the brink of death! In reality, this is a tiny, 300-ish foot climb that’s only a half mile long and perfectly doable in your big gear. Over before you know it! And to think I actually saved some energy for this thing… After that, the last 12-ish miles were downhill and flat, and before I knew it, I rolled into Bike-In, dismounted and headed into T2.

Bike time: 3:04:48 (50th AG, 1106th overall)

T2
Having made no porta-potty stops on the bike course, by the time I reached T2 I really had to go. As I was putting on my shoes, a woman on the rack right next to me squatted and actually peed right there (on the grass!) while pouring water down her crotch from a bottle. I swear it’s true! The things you’ll see in triathlon… Who knows, maybe she saved a valuable two minutes – which is pretty much how long I had to wait in line for the (again, one and only) porta-potty in my transition area. Seriously, Vineman: more porta-potties in both T1 and T2 would be really, really nice!

Time in T2: 6:19 (mind you, this included a pretty long walk from bike dismount/ Bike In to the transition racks!)

The Run

And now, my favorite part! In my first few triathlons (sprint and Olympic distance), I couldn’t wait to get off the bike and run. Here, I was fearing the run. I fully expected an experience similar to Oceanside 70.3, where my stomach started cramping around mile 50 of the bike course and didn’t let up for the entire half marathon. It was torture.

This time? No such thing! First, I was much more conservative with the carbs I took on the bike. I didn’t could calories or grams of sugar or anything, but I’d estimate I took in roughly a third of the carbs I gobbled down in the form of Cliff Shot Blocks and Gener8 energy drink on the bike at Oceanside. For this race, my two bottles were filled with water and three Nuun tabs each, and my Shot Bloks were half Strawberry, half Margarita flavor, which has three times the sodium of normal Bloks. Electrolytes! Sodium! Sodium, sodium, sodium! It’s the miracle drug for endurance racing. For me, at least.

I headed out on the run feeling fresh-legged and strong and felt like that the whole way! The. Whole. Way! I enjoyed every single inch of those 13.1 miles! Yes, the sun had come out and yes, it was hot. But what else is new? I was soaking wet anyway, so I could dump as much water on me off the aid stations anyway. And the Coke. If you’ve never tried Coke on a long-distance race, you should! I don’t care if it’s death in a cup, in those final miles of a 70.3-mile long race, it’s a magical miracle with a light fizzle that’s just what you need! No idea why I always give race photographers the peace sig, ignore it.

For the first three or four miles, I ran with a chatty fellow who told me he’s done at least 20 half Ironman events (he lost count!), but this is his last. Why?? Because he’s now 47 and feeling old. Dude!! At 47 I fully expect to be in my prime athletic form. Don’t give up so easily! And, as if reading my mind, as we approached the 6th mile marker he picked up the pace easily and left me in his dust. There. I hope it’s not going to really be his last half!

The dust thing was quite literal, mind you, because we had just about entered La Crema Winery. For a little over a mile in a half smack in the middle of the course, the run was in a winery. Like, you were running right next to the vines and stuff! Now, this sounds fabulous, and was indeed amusing and “so cool!” for the first few hundred yards, but let me tell you. You run on a dirt road and all those feet pounding make lots of dust! Before long, you’re thinking, “OK, this is fun and all, but can we get back on the road, please?”

Regardless, I was grateful for running frequently enough on dirt roads/ trails to be able to relax into it and enjoy the change in surface.

I am even more grateful for the cheerful PINK Volunteer Station right on the entrance/ exit of the winery, where a whole bunch of loud – and I mean LOUD – pink-clad ladies were cheering us on and handing out water, coke and cups of ice. I grabbed one of each, ice last, and just as I was about to dump some over my head, one of them shouted:

Shove it in your bra! Shove it in your bra!

And that was the best – BEST! – advice I got all day. Best. This close to the heart, the ice cooled me down immediately, and because it still took it a while to melt, the cooling effect was long-lasting. Awesome!

From then, going back towards Windsor was hot, but not too hard. After the rolling climbs of the first five miles, the course evened out and even though I had slowed down a bit, I managed to hold a somewhat steady 9-ish minute-mile pace. I picked it up for the last mile, realizing I might be able to finish the run leg in under 2 hours (my original dream 70.3 goal!), but I guess it wasn’t meant to be this time. My run split was 2:00:10! Still, it was such a happy finish to such an amazing day! My official time was 5:57:34: under 6 hours, my original goal!
Run time: 2:00:10 (27th AG, 579 overall)

Most importantly, the food spread in the finish area was insane. Veggie burgers, humongous slices of watermelon, peaches, plums, grapes, bananas…!!! I was ravenous – a sign that I fueled my race just right, with no stomach trouble whatsoever, but super hungry once I was done! Piled up a plate so high, it’s a miracle nothing fell over in the few feet from the spread to the tables, where I sat down and shoved my face with zero table manners whatsoever.

Not to worry, this is an Ironman event. Everyone is shoving their faces with no manners whatsoever! Very deservedly so, too!

The atmosphere was amazing, everyone cheering for the finishers (a 72-year old came in shortly after me, what?? Hear that, 47-year-old guy thinking of retiring from Ironman?). The race director was giving us updates on the World Cup final score too, which was going on right then – but who wants to watch the World Cup when the party is right there?

I wandered limped around a bit looking for my family – tough to reunite without a cell phone and a specific meet-up location, lesson learned for next time! Once I picked up my gear bag and retrieved my phone, we met up – turned out they’d been waiting for me right at the Finish, but arrived about 20 minutes after I crossed. I’d fully expected to finish this race 40 minutes slower than I did! So there you have it, the recipe for the most amazing race day ever:

  • Beautiful course
  • Funny swim
  • All out on the bike
  • Strong on the run
  • Perfect nutrition strategy
  • Ice down your bra

Mix it all up and you get a 40-minute PR!

Total race time: 5:57:34 (38 AG, 812 overall)

Goals for next time: run a sub-2 hr half and keep eating at that overall time. Maybe one day I’ll be closer to 5 hours than 6!