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

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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 2:55:22 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!

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