A Big Day (and a win) at the Big Kahuna

There’s such magic in triathlon. Walk around the transition area in still-dark morning and take in the buzz of hundreds of people getting ready to race: Stand by the ocean – or lake, or river – and watch the sunrise before you jump in the water:

Then listen to the rush of the wind and the zzzip-zzzip of racing wheels and feel your lungs burn as you run towards that finish line. And the food, of course — because, hey, you worked for it!

I’m not exaggerating, sometimes I want to do a race just so I can eat all the yummy food at the end. And watch the sunrise at the beach. Of course.

It was that sunrise that tempted me most when I considered doing the Big Kahuna. It’s a half-Ironman distance event in Santa Cruz and I had heard great feedback from others. Only, it was scheduled just three weeks before my last 70.3 race of the year, Challenge Rancho Cordova.

So what to do, what to do… Oh, I know! Do it in a relay team!

For sure, a relay team is a great way to experience triathlon. Maybe you’re not ready to jump into all three disciplines yet, or maybe your coach just tells you it’s a bad idea to do the whole thing. Just choose your leg, find two buddies to join in one the fun and go!

And that is how team Everything Is Awesome was born. Cory – a friend from my tri club – did the swim. I did the bike. And Tiffany, a trail-running friend, ran the half marathon. We were, of course, awesome. And the race was awesome! In short: Everything Was Awesome!

The best part? I finally got to enjoy a swim start with my phone (camera) in hand – and I’ve got the gazillion photos to prove it:The Big Kahuna has a Hawaiian theme (as you may have guessed by the name) and the race started with a Hawaiian blessing. Very touching. The first wave of swimmers sprints into the water. Ahhhhh, but check this out:How beautiful is this sport???

And here’s a short video of the last wave – including all relay swimmers – going in:

Once Cory was in the water, I took a few more pictures and then ran over to Transition to get ready for the bike leg: By the time I made it there, plenty of triathletes had been done with the swim already and were jumping onto their bikes.

Transition areas are so beautifully hectic. Of course, if you’re participating in the full race, chances are you see them for only a few minutes (if not just seconds). So I fully appreciated the opportunity to enjoy the hustle and bustle while waiting for my teammate. It was awesome!

Cory was back in no time – it took her just 30 minutes to do the 1.2-mile swim!

I grabbed the ankle bracelet that held our timing chip, wrapped it around my left ankle and was out of there like a shot to begin my leg of the race.

56 miles on the beautiful Highway 1! A treat!

I’ll admit, I underestimated that bike course, just a teensy bit. OK. I underestimated it a Lot! I knew it’d be hilly, but thought, pffffff, they’re just rolling hills, nothing to worry about. Little rollers.

Relentless rollers! Up and down, up and down! It was so foggy for the first 15 or so miles, too; I was wiping moisture off my sunglasses with my fingertips constantly.

By the way. Wiping your nose and then wiping your glasses with the same hand: don’t do it.

We came out of the fog just about where this video was made (not by me) seven years ago. Crazy how it felt just the same:

We did enjoy a few miles of sun before turning back… and getting hit by the most brutal headwind I have ever experienced. OK, maybe I’ve had worse… but not in a race.

I had been pushing into a 20.3-mile average up until the turnaround. Within three miles, my average was down below 19 mph. I was most definitely not impressed with my performance at that point…

Once we came back to Davenport (about 10 miles out of Santa Cruz), the wind let down and I pushed the pace a bit, but my speed never did go back to the 20s. Still, I rolled into transition in 2:55: my fastest 56 miles yet.

Tiffany was waiting for me near the Bike In area, grabbed the ankle bracelet and was off!

Cory and I, meanwhile, got to enjoy some delicious salads and sandwiches and hang out on the beach while waiting for our runner. It was a beautiful day and racers were already breezing into the Finish line. Which, by the way, was on the beach: Can you imagine going for 70.3 miles, the last 0.5 on sand? While having to dodge kids running into the water and other beach goers?

All these amazing athletes made it look easy!

And just like that, Tiffany came and team Everything is Awesome joined the Finish line party!

And guess what! Yup. First place, women’s relay. Yay!

What an amazing, well put-together race that was. If you live in the Bay Area and have been itching to do a half-Ironman distance triathlon – on your own or as a relay team, it’s definitely one to consider!

That’s One Small PR for Me, One Giant Race for Mankind

This weekend was the fifth running of the San Francisco Giants Race. And I’ll tell you what: this one seems to be getting more giant each year!

There were nearly 16,000 finishers in the three distances combined (5K, 10K and half marathon) – check the results if you don’t believe me. My half marathon age group alone (F35-39) had 426 finishers. Back in 2010? Only 102.

So now that we’ve gotten the math out of the way and you’re convinced in the giganticness of the Giant Race, here’s how it went down for me this year. (If you want to check out last year’s recap, you can do that too. In fact, if you want to see photos of the course, definitely do that since this time I barely took any. You’ll see why below.)

9 Things about the 2014 Giant Race Half Marathon

1. The porta-potty lines were GIANT, as usual.

But I had great company, it was fun!

2. Headed – running! – to the start 10 minutes late.

Coach D told me to warm up, so there you go. By the time I made it to the corner of 3rd Street and Townsend, my wave – #2 – was long gone. So rather than slowly advancing towards the Start line with the current wave – #4 – I decided to try and squeeze through the crowd as quickly as possible. More “Excuse me, coming through” than I could count, I crossed the start, about 11 minutes after the gun.

3. Started right behind the 2:45 pace group.

So much zigzagging. And running on the sidewalk. Heck, even the sidewalk was crowded!

4. Passed people. Passed more people.

At the 10K turnaround point, the crowd thinned out somewhat, though by then, the half marathon leaders had started coming back so dodging runners became slightly dangerous. But I felt fresh and surprisingly strong. And completely oblivious to my still nagging road rash and knee/ hip kinks (result of a bike crash a week ago). Adrenalin! Helps!

Pace for Miles 1-3: 8:02, 8:06, 8:13.

5. Three short climbs.

There are three short climbs, all in Mile 4 of the half. I always underestimate them. But still feeling pretty good, legs light and breathing back to normal quickly after each climb. Pace for Miles 4-6: 8:33 (climbing!), 8:12, 8:19.

6. Some guys just don’t like to be passed by a girl.

I was still passing people and occasionally getting passed by someone who had clearly been late and missed their wave start as well. This one guy in a blue shirt, though – I noticed this because everyone else was wearing orange – decided he shall not be passed by a girl in a blue skirt and sped up ahead of me. I kept my pace and shortly after ran by him as he had slowed down. He sped up. And again. He gave up right before the turnaround (near Golden Gate Bridge, very pretty). Pace for Miles 7-9: 8:18, 8:11, 8:24.

7. One mile on a dirt road and one final climb

Mile 9 is always one of my slowest in this race. Must be the change in terrain, as we run on the dirt/ sandy road by the ocean for almost the entire mile. Then we head over to the final climb, followed by a steep downhill where everyone sprints, trying to make up for time lost on the hill. Mile 10: 8:38.

8. Final stretch on the Embarcadero.

Scenic! I was feeling some fatigue by then, but I made myself pick up the pace again. To my surprise, it wasn’t that hard. Maybe because by then, the crowd had thinned out considerably and I could run like a normal person. Miles 11-13: 8:16, 8:13, 8:12.

9. Bringing it home!

Right before entering AT&T Park, I passed the 2:00-hour pace group. The pace leaders shouted encouraging words as I looked at my Garmin, realized I could PR by several seconds at least, and booked it. Pace for that last stretch: 6:53 (for 0.3 miles, according to my watch – you know how GPS watches always measure races longer than the official distance — and surely the zigzagging must’ve something to do with that, as well).

Net time: 1:49:19, a 16-second PR!

The End!
Ah, kidding of course. This is where the best part begins! Grab your medal, walk around, stretch, just hang out at the field. When else do you get a chance to do something like this? Only happens once a year, at the Giant Race!We lucked out with the weather this year – perfectly overcast while we ran and slightly chilly (windy) at the finish, but nothing a change of clothes wouldn’t fix!

After a quick Starbucks run (best!), I came back to the Park shortly after 10 a.m. to pick up KidRuns’ bib and get him ready for the Kids Race. That wouldn’t start until all 5K runners were done and off the grass – and with almost 6,500 5K finishers, that took quite a while. So we sat in the bleachers, enjoying the sun – then the shade, as the sun got a wee bit too strong for my taste and we moved.

The Kids Run

Was fun as always. Well organized, kids go out on the field in relatively small waves and run one, two or three laps around while parents wait in the bleachers. Here’s KidRuns’ wave coming back from their lap of glory:Unlike last year, when he was tired and absolutely refused to run, this year he reported his race was “the best”! We stayed to watch the very final wave of kids and family relay participants, finally heading home well after 2 p.m.

Yet another fun – GIANT Fun! – day at the races!

2014 Giant Race results:
Net time: 1:49:19 (8:20 min pace)
Gun time: 2:00:23
Age group: 34 (out of 426)
Female: 283 (out of 2103)
Overall: 931 (out of 3,746)

GIVEAWAY: Free entry to the See Jane Run Tri & Du

Hello, Ladies!

(Sorry, boys – this one’s for the girlfriends only. You can read if you like – but we’ll be talking about lady things and feminine products. Danger!)

Ha. Kidding!

I’m only sharing some great news, namely that the lovely ladies at See Jane Run have shared with me one free registration to the See Jane Run Triathlon (or Duathlon) in Pleasanton, Calif. on September 21.

It’s a fabulous event, perfect for first timers or experienced triathletes, sprinters or long distance aficionados!

The 400-yard swim is quick and definitely non-threatening, perfect if you’re not used to open-water swimming. The bike course is flat and easy and the run is interesting, with parts fire road and parts asphalt; a few tiny climbs and turns. It’ll be over before you know it – and once you cross the finish line, there’ll be this:I did the event last year and LOVED it. Read my recap here.The only difference this year will be the bike course. It was shorter in 2013 due to construction – 8.4 miles instead of this year’s 11.1-mile course.

And if you aren’t feeling like tri-ing it, you may use your free entry for the duathlon option: a 1-mile run, 11.1-mile bike and 3-mile run to wrap it up.

So what do you have to do to enter? Just follow the cues in the widget below.

Can’t wait to see if you win? You can register today, and save 10% with the following code: SJRAMB236.

(Pssst, it’s also valid on purchases in the See Jane Run store (any location) or online!)

Oh, and yes: of course I’m kidding about the “no boys allowed” thing! Men are more than welcome to participate. Just keep in mind: you may be chicked!

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