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!

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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

Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon

Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon
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What do you do when a bike crash sets back your training for three weeks?

Keep calm and triathlon!

(The following rundown of events is related to the MHST, so I’m including it here. Bear with me.)

MHST COVER

During a training ride on April 30 — just two weeks before Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa — I lost control of the bike, veered towards the middle of the road, hit the ground pretty hard and rolled over into the opposite-traffic lane, all at the soundtrack of my bike making scary clattering sounds behind me. Luckily, there was no traffic at either direction at that moment and I found myself lying down with my left leg bent outward, at a painful 90-degree angle.

The clattering sounds, it turned out, were just my toolbox breaking into pieces and all the CO2 cartridges and allen keys rolling down the road. The bike is fine and only needed some smoothing round the shifters and handlebar edges.

My knee, however, was not: besides the road rash, it felt painful and wobbly as I stood up. I took some time to clean up and assess the damage — with the help of two Park Rangers who blocked traffic and provided first aid supplies, thank you! — but when I tried to pedal home with my group, I knew I’d need a ride home.

The day after the crash, I saw my doctor and while he assured me that structurally, everything looked OK, my knee was quite painful and stiff. For three days, I limited myself to slow walks in the neighborhood; after that, I tried some easy, flat riding. It wasn’t impossible to ride, but definitely not good enough.

A few attempts to run failed – too much pain – and five days before Ironman 70.3 Santa Rosa, I made the decision to pull out of the race.

The following week, I had an appointment with a knee specialist who confirmed that I had no soft-tissue damage to my knee. I wasn’t at 100%, but the pain and stiffness were fading away and the surface wound was healing up.

So here I was, six days before another race – the Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon – wondering whether I should sit it out, or give it a go.

The Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon is a bit of a misnomer, as it isn’t really a “sprint,” with its quarter-mile swim, 16-mile hilly ride and 5-mile run. But let me tell you, it’s all about perspective. At that point, it had been weeks since I’d run longer than a couple of ill-fated miles at a time, and five miles sounded like a long run!

But, I’ve done this race before and I ride on the course almost weekly (in fact, my crash was a few miles down the road from the race venue) — so I decided to give it a go.

Race morning

Arrived to transition area with a good hour to spare! This almost never happens, but I learned my lesson from last year: the backup that forms on the single road leading to the race venue is brutal, so don’t leave at the last minute.

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Even had some time to take goofy photos with friends and go on a little warmup run. Winning!

Swim

The swim was as uneventful as it gets for me. It’s a deep-water start, so we all got in the water a few minutes before our wave. Perfect water temperature for a wetsuit, not to mention clean and calm. We were, after all, swimming in one of the reservoirs that supplies our drinking water.

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I didn’t get smacked or kicked at all during the entire swim! Even sighting was kind of easy because of the way the swim course loops around, so you just need to make sure you swim close to the shore the entire time.

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My watch shows I swam 1,372 yards, which is as close as it gets to the official race distance of 3/4 miles, or 1320 yards, so I’m quite OK with my swim on this one. My time was nothing to write home about, as usual, but I beat my swim time from last year a little bit, so there’s that!

Swim time: 24:40

T1

There is a very short run up a ramp to the transition area, which seemed even shorter this year as the reservoir is at the fullest it’s ever been! Before the swim, I had taken the advice of a friend to spray some TriSlide around the bottom of my wetsuit legs, and I enjoyed the benefits here: I have never slipped out of my wetsuit faster! It did not stick to my feet at all, just went “phlewwwwwp” out of my feet and on the ground. Helmet, sunglasses, socks, shoes and onto the bike!

T1 time: 1:33

Bike

Obviously, I was hoping to have a much faster time on this bike course than I did last year, when I raced MHST with only three weeks’ worth of bike and swim training. (My focus had been elsewhere before that.) But with a bike crash three weeks before this race, it was all a question mark.

I had ridden the bike course with my training group the previous weekend, but kept a low effort throughout, and especially on the climbs. The course is all rolling hills, with one short but steep climb at around mile 11 of 16.

So I got going, squirted some Gatorade Endurance in my mouth every now and then (quick calories!) and even choked on it once, trying to swallow while also breathing pretty hard. I guess I was working it.

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My knee was not complaining. In all training rides before that, I had been feeling a pull on the back side of my knee, but I guess the adrenaline of race morning was enough to mask that.

I passed some people, got passed by a few, and rolled back into transition in less than 50 minutes. So, I did manage to get through the bike a teeny bit faster than last year, after all.

Bike time: 49:30

T2

My favorite thing to happen in transition took place here: I couldn’t find my rack spot! I ran my bike over to what I thought was my rack row, but didn’t see my towel there, so I panicked a little bit. Looked over the next rack, and the next. Finally, after what seemed like at least a minute (it was probably just 20 seconds or so, though), I saw my space. My wetsuit was just strewn all over my towel, hiding it completely. Note for next time: hang wetsuit on rack, leave recognizable things in transition spot (such as bright towel) open!

T2 time: 1:25

Run

And now, the true test of the day: running five miles after a hilly bike ride, off of just about no run training for three weeks and on a knee that was functioning at 80%, at best.

I remembered every single mile of this run course from the previous year, which was both a blessing and a curse. It’s always good to know what to expect, and I knew when I’d be running uphill on the way out, going down on the way back. “Hill” is kind of relative in this case, mind you; they are small inclines that you’d hardly feel if you kept an easy pace. Obviously, at race effort things are very different.

The entire run felt hard. As it should! But in addition to the physical part of it, I was feeling doubt in my head – which anyone who’s had their share of racing will tell you, can be key to whether you have a good race or not. If you’re not on top of your mental game, forget about being on top of your race game!

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Then, at around mile two, I spotted a familiar race kit running ahead: my Betty Squad teammate and USAP Ambassador Julianne! Julianne is in my age group, so technically we’re competing directly — but as I ran by her with a quick “Hi” and tap on the shoulder, she did the most Badass Betty Sister thing of all: gave me relevant race course intel!

“Keep going, there are only two women ahead of you!” she said.
“Age group?” I asked.
“Yes!” she confirmed.

And somehow this gave me the willpower to keep pushing. My knee was not in pain, my brain was: I was feeling the lack of proper training in my entire being. But heck if I would not try my best to catch those gals. I passed one of them before the turnaround, and the other shortly after. There were still about two miles to go: two miles in the pain cave. I don’t really remember much happening, other than me wondering the whole time whether I’d get passed back. I knew I was running slower than the previous year, when I threw down two seven-minute miles to the finish. This year, my pace was closer to 7:30. But I did drag myself through that finish, and I won’t lie: I was happy to be done!

Run time: 36:53

Things got better almost right away, as I ran into a few friends and the beer and food line were still pretty short. Once you’ve crossed that finish line, life is good!

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It turned out that I had, indeed, passed the first two ladies in my age group and took the AG win (my first at this race; last year I was second). Sadly, they seem to not have stuck around long enough to get their AG prizes, so I had the podium all to myself. Oh well! Here’s a huge closeup of my face, then. #DoEpicShit!

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As usual, we pretty much closed out the event, hanging out with our beers and burritos, having a grand ol’ time!

Congratulations to everyone who raced, but especially to Jen and Tina, who also took Age Group/ category wins; Lisa, who took second in the Aquabike, and all my training buddies who rocked the race in all their goofiness and awesomeness!

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I love this sport so much!


Swim 24:40
T1 1:33
Bike 49:30 (19.39 mph)
T2 1:25
Run 36:53 (07:22 min/mi)
Total time: 1:54:04

Overall: 68 of 517
Gender: 8 of 179
Age Group: 1 of 23

Half Moon Bay Triathlon

Half Moon Bay Triathlon
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In the heat of Ironman training last year, I made a pact with myself that the following season I’d take it easy and stick to the Olympic distance.

How cute. Just because it’s shorter doesn’t mean it’s easy!

In truth, the last time I completed an Oly tri was in 2013, my “rookie” triathlon year. I did two that year, both under less than ideal circumstances. (Details; more details.)

So in a way, my first race of 2017 at Half Moon Bay Triathlons felt like my first Olympic distance race ever. I had no idea what to expect.

Half Moon Bay is a sweet little fisherman’s village and harbor on the Northern California coast, just 20 or so miles south of San Francisco. It has beautiful scenery and with no chop on that side of the bay, an ocean swim that’s as “calm” as it gets. But at this time of year, the water is freezing and strong winds and temps in the low 50s usually make for chilly bike and run conditions.

The cold kept me away from this race for its first two years, and last year it was scheduled too close to the Boston Marathon. This year, I decided to give it a try.

HALF MOON BAY TRI COVER

So here I was, setting my alarm for 3:45 a.m. on April 23. Oddly, I didn’t mind getting up at this ridiculous hour. It had been so long since my last race that I was actually excited!

The drive to Half Moon Bay in the pitch black night is scary as poo, with the unending, twisty, hilly turns of Hwy 92. I was that car driving 20 mph in the 25 mph zone — which is kind of funny when you consider that later that day, I’d end up riding my bike faster.

Luckily, I arrived without accident, and right on time, around 5:30 a.m. I found some friends in transition, set up my stuff, and had just enough time to do a little 2-mile warmup run, as instructed by Coach. Winning already!

The warmup gave me a good idea of the run course, which was all by the ocean and fairly flat: but already quite windy. I guess that comes with the territory!

At 6:30 a.m., we were rushed out of Transition and headed to the beach, about a third of a mile away, to get ready to swim.

Swim

Knowing that the water would be in the (high) 50s, I came prepared with a neoprene skull cap to wear under my race swim cap, neoprene socks, and swim gloves to keep my hands warm. They had warming stations on the way to the swim start/ finish (i.e. inflatable little pools filled with hot water), and were hosing hot water down people’s backs, into their wetsuits, to provide an extra warm layer. That felt so good!

I dropped an extra pair of shoes in that area, too, for the somewhat long run back to T1.

Swim waves were three minutes apart, separated by age in 10-year increments, men and women mixed together. I’m not crazy about a setup like that, because some men simply seem to swim too aggressively and the risk of getting smacked on the head is high, but that’s triathlon.

Photo by USA Productions.
All race photos courtesy of USA Productions.

Our wave took off at 7:06 and I immediately noticed three things:

  1. The water was so cold that my face – the only part of my body with exposed skin – went numb right away.
  2. My goggles were leaking.
  3. My gloves were too big for my hands – why did I never try them on before the race? They ballooned up with air and water and pulling felt harder, as if I was swimming with paddles, but I didn’t seem to be getting a paddle benefit.

This was going to be a long, long swim.

It literally was a long swim: my Garmin showed 2014 yards as I exited the water, and later on I saw that almost everyone on my Strava flyby list had 2000+ yards as well. FYI, 2014 yards is 1841.6 meters, which is much closer to the 1900-meter length of a half Iron-distance swim than the 1500 meters of an Olympic course swim. But I get ahead of myself.

The good news was that I got used to the water temperature fairly quickly. I deeply regretted the choice to wear gloves, but couldn’t get them off at this point. I thought about stopping at a water safety volunteer’s kayak and handing them off, but wasn’t sure if that was allowed. So on I went, pulling and pushing back that water like I meant it. (My arms and back were sore in all the places after this race, even my biceps. It was like I’d been pumping iron all day!)

This was also one of the most crowded swims I’ve ever been in. It seemed like the crowd hardly spread out after the swim start – maybe because before we even had the chance to find some space, swimmers from the wave after us caught up, and then we caught up to people from the wave before us. I stopped five or six times to empty out my goggles and was promptly run over every time.

When I finally reached the end of that swim, stood up and looked at my watch, I was in shock – and not in a good way. It had taken me 38 freaking minutes. What?

I have been working harder than ever on my swimming and my times in the pool are improving, so I was disappointed. But I didn’t really notice the longer distance at the time and thought this was simply a result of swimming with gloves.

Not the swim I envisioned or trained for, but you've got to work with what you get on race day.
Not the swim I envisioned or trained for, but you’ve got to work with what you get on race day.

Well, I had a nearly 0.4-mile long run to transition to process and get over the disappointment. Sh%t happens, best to not dwell on it and let it ruin the rest of the race.

I took off the stupid gloves, slipped off my socks, put on shoes and booked it, running as hard as I could to transition. It was a good way to warm up, too!

The timing mats for the swim-out were at the transition area entrance, so my official swim time was even worse:

Swim time: 41:34

T1

The good news was, by the time I was ready for the bike, the sun had come up and it was actually warm. I had heard many stories from people who had done Half Moon Bay about being cold the entire race, so I had gloves and a cycling bolero, which I ultimately didn’t need. Just the helmet, glasses, socks and shoes, and on to circle the entire transition area to Bike Out in my cleats. (That was awkward, but no: I am not even one bit mentally ready to try a flying mount yet.)

T1 time: 2:49

Bike

Beautiful bike course! Ocean on one side almost the entire way, mostly flat with a few gentle rollers on the way back. It was windy, but in an out-and-back course, what we lost to the wind in one direction, we gained in the other. I was feeling good, pushing pedals, passing people, and every so often getting passed by the zip-zip of deep race wheels.

Sprint distance athletes already on the run this early in the race? Possible!
Sprint distance athletes already on the run this early in the race? Possible!

Things got a bit more crowded once we merged with the sprint distance athletes on my way back. OK, to be honest, it felt like the freaking Tour de France. Packs of people riding two- or three-abreast, and drafting galore. I was doing my best to pass as quickly as I can and find space to keep riding.

I don’t ride with power, so I have no idea what kind of watts I was pushing – but kept my effort high the entire ride; this is not a smile:

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I rolled back into transition and saw a whole bunch of bikes still missing from the racks. People were still out there riding and I was done!

Bike time: 1:13:33 (20.31 mph)

T2

This was a quick helmet off-hat on, cleats off-running shoes on thing. I also realized I forgot to leave a gel out for the run, so I grabbed one from my tri bag. And off to run a 10K.

T2 time: 2:34

Run

I took off at a pace that felt good and sustainable, so it was a bit of a surprise when I looked at my Garmin and saw 6:50 pace. Oops, I most definitely can’t hold that for six miles, let’s dial it down.

Then I looked at the gel in my left hand, and another “oops” moment: it was a Vanilla Bean flavor GU. I never buy GU gels (Honey Stinger for this gal!). But I did win a box of them in a raffle at the Pro Athlete meeting at Vineman 70.3… back in 2014. So basically, my nutrition for this run was going to be three years old. Great!

I decided I would only take the GU if I felt an absolute need for calories and carried on.

The first two miles felt good. It was hard, but not impossible to run a low 7-min pace. I guess I was going too fast for the race photographers, because this is the only photo I could find of “me” on the run:

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Mile 3 had some minor climbs – over a bridge, nothing noticeable really – but I was already feeling myself slowing down. Well, they do say that most people run out too fast and here I was. I was hoping I could at least keep a 7:30 pace to the end, which would still get me a nice little 10K PR.

But once we passed the turnaround point and were now running in the opposite direction, it hit me. The wind! It felt crazy, crazy strong. I’ve had to do a few of my training tempo runs and fartleks in strong headwind, so I know what running with massive resistance feels like, but this felt doubly hard because I had already been going faster than I should have.

Three-year-old GU to the rescue! I squeezed it into my mouth, swallowed it, and of course from then on all I could think about was how it was sitting in my stomach, wondering if it’s going to make me throw up or worse. Nothing of the kind happened, but the thought was there.

At the next aid station, I asked for water. Then for some reason the hand-off didn’t quite happen, so I stopped and ran a couple of steps back to the volunteer to get it. I was hoping it would dissolve the GU in my stomach, so in my mind, it was worth the loss of two or three seconds. This actually worked, because from then on, the GU didn’t bug me that much and I ran on.

It felt very, very hard. At one point, my pace fell down to 8 min/ mile and I blamed the wind – but by then, my everything was tired, too. Legs, body, brain. Then one last mental test, as we ran right past the finish line, but had to circle around the road, make a U-turn and run back through the chute.

Mind you, the course was a bit short, so I really had no idea how long this “looping away from the finish so we can run back to it” would last.

The run was 6.1 miles according to my watch, so I’m taking my official pace with a grain of salt.

Run time: 45:25 (07:19 min/mi)

No official race photos of me crossing the finish either (did I run through too fast, too?), but I have this little gem of a facial expression immediately after:

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I actually like this terribly unflattering photo. It captures exactly how I feel at the end of every darn race.

And then this one, no more than a minute later, with my friend who was hanging out at the finish already:

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The bipolar nature of triathlon, ladies and gentlemen: suffering one minute, beaming with happiness the next.

We then checked the results and I was quite happy to find out that I did manage to bike and run my way up to the age group podium, after all:

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The rest of the morning was fun, hanging out with my training group friends and Betty Squad sisters. Three Bettys raced that day, and three podium-ed. Rockin’!

A post shared by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on


Half Moon Bay Triathlon
Olympic Distance
Overall: 101 of 516
Gender: 15 of 148
AG: 3 of 28
Swim 41:34 (02:46 /100m)
T1 2:49
Bike 1:13:33 (20.31 mph)
T2 2:34
Run 45:25 (07:19 min/mi)
Elapsed 2:45:57