Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon

Morgan Hill Sprint Triathlon
14
Shares
Share on Pinterest

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.

MHST-transition

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.

140796-048-022h

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.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 5.32.04 PM

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.

140796-007-020h

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!

140796-031-016h

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!

140796-016-003h

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!

140796-004-031h

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!

IMG_4639-2

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
22
Shares
Share on Pinterest

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:

140795-182-002h

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:

140795-146-017h

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:

140795-079-009h

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:

140795-079-012h

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:

140795-124-009h

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

The Mermaid Run San Francisco: Sirena 10

The Mermaid Run San Francisco: Sirena 10
22
Shares
Share on Pinterest

If I had to guess one item on the bucket list of most San Francisco Bay Area runners — or runners anywhere, really? — I’d go with running on the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’d chance, even, that it’s an item you never really get to cross off the bucket list. You do it once, then again, and again – and it never gets old.

GGBridgeMermaid

The price you pay for racing on this beauty, however, is steep. Literally. Getting up to the bridge – and down, and back up again – involves hills. Not massive trail-like hills, but hills nonetheless.

I knew full well about those hills when I signed up for the 10-mile distance at the Mermaid Run San Francisco. The memories are fresh, even if it had been more a year and a half since I last ran a race over the bridge (the San Francisco Rock’n’Roll half marathon). But while the course doesn’t easily lend itself to a PR, the last time I ran that particular race was back in 2013, so I had a PR in mind anyway.

Truth be told, I was hoping to run somewhere around 1:15, a 7:30 min/ mile average pace. (One day, I really hope I can do this course in 1:10 — a 7 min/ mile average pace — but with this year’s race schedule, I knew that couldn’t happen… In fact, for me to be able to run 1:10 on this course, I think I’d need to make this race a key one for the season. Planning your race season: a topic for another, important!, conversation.)

Race Morning

I carpooled with a couple of friends and we got to the Marina Green early enough to score a convenient parking spot just a short walk away from the start. On the flip side, that is also when I realized I forgot my Honey Stinger gels… Not a terribly big deal, I should be able to survive 10 miles without extra carbs. (In hindsight, though: a huge deal for my mental game over the last two miles of the race.)

As usual, Moms Run This Town San Jose had a solid presence at the Mermaid Run and getting organized for a pre-race photo – or two! – was a party.

San Jose MRTT Mermaids ready to roll!
San Jose MRTT Mermaids ready to roll!

When we got the “five minutes to start” warning, I lined up near the front, put my music on and got ready to go.

Hills, wind and mind games

The first two miles of the course are flat and I settled into a comfortable pace. Probably slower than I should have been running, but I didn’t want to blow up too early in the race. The lead group took off super fast and I could barely keep them in my sight within the first mile. Obviously, those ladies were running a pace I couldn’t match for the life of me, so I just ran my own race.

As it happened, I spent those first miles in the company of a small group of ladies and a dude. Why men run those women-only events, I don’t know. We actually talked about this before the start and one suggestion was that they come to run with and support a woman in their life. That’s quite nice, indeed — except this dude was running solo and feeling quite competitive, it seemed. He took off chasing the lead pack and I was left to run with a few ladies in silence.

It’s weird, racing in a tiny group and with no spectators. Quiet to the point of awkward. It doesn’t quite feel like a race, but you know you must push and try to run your best. One long, silent mind game.

For me, anyway.

Every race tests the mind, but in this one, my mind games began much earlier than I thought they would. Just as soon as we started climbing those hills (somewhere along mile 3), I felt tired and started wondering if it’s even worth to push the pace to the point where my lungs hurt. Why? Why make myself hurt when this is the last race of the season, I could run a comfortable 8 min/ mile pace and still get my course PR, and just enjoy the day?

Oh shut up. Because. Because we’re runners, and we do these things to ourselves.

Then came my first course surprise. I saw that we are running out on the left side of the bridge (against traffic), and not on the right as I remembered it from 2013. Not a bad thing, since we wouldn’t have to share the narrow pedestrian walkway with runners still making their way out over the bridge while we were running back, but still. I was kind of bummed because one thing I loved about this course was seeing everyone I know on my way back over the bridge: the smiles and high-fives are such good distraction from the pain!

As it was, I had no distraction but the wind, the beautiful views of Marin and… the flight of stairs we had to run down to get to the other side of the bridge! Course surprise number two!

Down under the bridge we went, over to the other side, and — a flight of stairs to climb! So painful! So annoying that I was forced to slow down to a walk! (No point in running up stairs, it isn’t much faster and I’ll get way too winded to settle back into my pre-stairs pace easily.)

Another lesson in “always double-check the course, even if you thought you know it.”

Running back over the bridge was lonelier and windier than ever and not even the beautiful San Francisco skyline could distract me from the pain in my lungs and my tired legs. I somehow made it over the bridge and – a brief reprieve! – settled into a few delicious downhills before hitting the last two miles of the course.

The last two miles are on a straight, flat dirt path, and are simply brutal. Every time I’ve run this section in a race, I’ve suffered so much! I had actually set a pretty ambitious goal for myself pre-race: to muster the strength and try and run a 7:30 or 7:20 min/mile pace for those miles. Well, I couldn’t. All I kept thinking about was my gels, and how I forgot them, and I needed some calories, even though I drank some Gatorade from a couple of aid stations (and some of it tried to make its way back up my throat ewww… another reminder to not do stuff I haven’t practiced in training!).

I don’t know if that was a mental bonk or a physical bonk — the first is more likely! — but I ran those last miles in 7:57 and 7:47, and I swear I felt that I could not have gone one second faster.

My Garmin clocked my total mileage at 9.75, too, so either the course was short, or the GPS was off — possibly because of the stairs at the far end of the bridge? Who knows.

I was so happy to be done with it at that time, that I could care less about the actual distance, or my time. As it turned out, I finished in 1:16:39. Almost two minutes off my 1:15 goal, but I knew I had given all I had that morning.

I made a beeline for the food, too, and the bagel and banana tasted like heaven!


As usual at Mermaid events, I loved and soaked up the festive, friendly atmosphere. More than a thousand women looking strong, fit, healthy and fabulous in one of the world’s most beautiful places. What more could I want?

Oh, and there is a Philz Coffee truck right near the finish area. Perfection!

Time: 1:16:39
Pace: 7:39 min/ mile
Overall: 13 of 1139
Gender Place: 12 of 1118
Age group: 4 of 185