California International Marathon

California International Marathon
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On December 3, I ran the 35th California International Marathon. As luck would have it, my original time goals got thrown out when I sprained my ankle a week before the race. But, CIM ended up giving me so much more than I expected.

Three days before CIM, I started a fundraiser for Girls on the Run and “sold” each mile in exchange for donations. I always run the last race miles for family and friends, but this time, thanks to the generosity of my amazing friends, I had a mile dedicated to a person the entire way — from the start line in Folsom to my last steps across the finish.

So, be warned: this race recap is long and not quite the mile-by-mile breakdown you might expect of a typical course review.

Goals and training

My stretch goal for CIM had been to finish in 3:30 or less. Goal “B” was to break 3:35, which would still be at least a two-minute PR. And I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon again, which meant running 3:40 or less to get a five-minute or longer cushion.

This marathon training cycle was only 10 weeks long, but I felt physically and mentally ready to get after my goals. I was coming off a solid triathlon season, with a 1:43 half marathon at Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz in early September, and a 45-minute 10K at Santa Cruz Triathlon two weeks later. I was feeling fit and excited to run my first marathon since Ironman Vineman on July 30, 2016.

Training was going great, I did all my tempo workouts and long runs as instructed. My coach had me run three 19+ milers this time, on three consecutive weeks: 19.2, 20, and 19.5 miles, all with a 45-minute easy warmup and the rest at 7:55-8:20 pace. I thought he was nuts for making me do these, but they actually felt really good – almost *easy* – and I had an opportunity to practice nutrition and get my gut used to taking in gels a little bit more frequently (my nutrition goal for CIM was to be able to take in at least five gels this time, to meet the demands of higher energy burn).

Side note: You might be thinking, aren’t long runs supposed to be easy? The answer is yes, and no. When the purpose of a long run is to develop endurance, which is the case with those who start a marathon training cycle from a fairly low base, then yes – long and slow. But if you are coming off of many 15-hour training weeks and the ability to race a half marathon hard at the back end of a five-hour race, the endurance is already there. So my long runs were meant to push my body and get it used to holding marathon pace, and with each of them I felt more confident that I would be able to do it.

On Thanksgiving Day, I ran my last hard workout, 6.2 miles at tempo pace. I didn’t race a Turkey Trot on purpose; I didn’t want the temptation to go too hard, given how fatigued my body felt at that point. In fact, even that 46-minute 10K on rolling hills left me pretty wiped out; in retrospect, I should probably have toned it down a bit.

A few easy short recovery runs followed, and the Saturday a week before CIM, I headed out on my last sort-of long run: an hour and 40 minutes of running, the first 6 miles at super easy pace, 5 miles at 8:00 min/mile, and whatever was left, very easy again. Except a minute and 21 seconds into it exactly (it is all conveniently on Strava now!), I slipped on some foliage, my left ankle bent at a weird angle, and off I skidded on the sidewalk. It hurt so much that I had to sit there for a couple of minutes before I limped back home.

Obviously, the timing of the sprain was terrible. But on the bright side, all the work was done: I now had a week until CIM to rest it and see if it would recover enough for me to still run. The ankle was swollen and bruised by the next morning, but I was able to put weight on it and even hop up and down a little, with not much pain. The week that followed was mostly rest, trainer rides, and some short and very easy runs. Each day, the swelling went down a bit more and the blue turned yellow (a good sign). With three days go go, I ran for one hour and the next day, just two days pre-race, was a 70-minute run at an easy pace with some pickups.

My ankle felt strong enough and I knew I would finish the marathon, but I needed to revise my time goal. I was still hoping to run under 3:40 for a BQ, and even 3:35-ish for a PR. Most importantly, I now had 26.2 miles to run for my generous friends and for Girls on the Run.

Race start

CIM starts in the middle of a road in the middle of nowhere. OK, that’s not really true. It starts in Folsom, California. That’s a very pretty area! Except at 6 a.m. on December 3, it was all dark, so I could make very little of my surroundings, other than the start line on my left and a long, long line of porta potties on the right. It was cold, but not freezing. (Bring warm clothes to throw away if you’re running this race, though.) I spent the next hour waiting in line for a porta potty, then waiting in line for coffee and water, and then waiting in line for a porta potty again. With just 10 minutes to go, I headed toward the start.


CIM is a fairly large marathon, but does not feel crowded. I crossed the mats only a minute or so after the start gun and was able to settle into my pace without any need to zig-zag around others.

Mile 1 was for my friend Tiffany and her aunt Eileen, who was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Tiffany loves running downhill, and that mile – all of it going down – was just perfect. I took long, deep breaths of fresh air and thought about her aunt and the long road she has ahead of her. Compared to that, the 26.2 miles I had to run? Nothing. A blessing to me and my legs to be able to do this.

At Mile 2, we hit a few climbs and I thought of Sheri. This was her mile. Sheri has three little kids and works full time as a kindergarten teacher. So what was I going to do, complain about having to run uphill for bits at a time? Can you imagine how hard it is to run a family of five and a full-time job that requires the daily care of 20+ kids? Perspective is what it’s all about!

Mile 3 started on a delicious downhill and my lovely friend Patti would have loved it. Patti picked mile 3 for her three kids. They’re all grown up, though, and Patti will soon turn the big 6-0, a faster and stronger runner than ever. I thought how I want to be Patti when I “grow up” and I also thought that Patti should really try and go for a BQ. Well, I thought it, so it’s got to happen, right?

Mile 4 was Kathy’s mile. Kathy is a breast cancer survivor and I thought how I hate the word “survivor” — more like conqueror is what she is, and anyone and everyone who has beaten this nasty disease. As I hit the mile marker, I took my first Honey Stinger gel.

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By now, it was obvious the 3:30 goal was really, definitely and for sure out the window, but I was on pace to hit a BQ time, so on I went.

Mile 5 actually ended up my fastest split in the entire marathon, a 7:58. There was a lot of downhill in that mile, and I thought of Maria and her three kids. They’re all so young (one of them still in diapers) and Maria is now training for a marathon and a 50K in early 2018. I thought of how all the training must feel like an uphill battle with kids that little, but Maria is so strong and making it feel like a nice and smooth downhill run.

Then Mile 6 came and the biggest smile appeared on my face because this was Liz’s mile, and anyone who’s ever met Liz knows she is the most positive person in the world. Liz is always smiling and always loving the run. Earlier this year, she ran a 100K and one of the people I met at the aid station where I volunteered for a few hours told me he’d been going from aid station to aid station all day and whenever Liz would come in, she’d have the most positive attitude and biggest smile on her face. Yup. That’s Liz! Mile 6 had some solid downhills, too, and I ran 7:59.

Mile 7 started with a little climb (gah!), but I quickly distracted myself thinking of Thuy and the story she told me once about her son, a high school swimmer, and how he and his friends carboload with pasta before each swim meet. So I asked her, “Oh, what distance does he swim?” (Thinking, if he’s carboloading, he’s probably a distance swimmer, like 800 or 1,500 meters?) Nope. He swims the 100 and it takes him 50-something seconds. I laughed out loud at the memory and what do you know, hill over.

Mile 8 has some good uphills, too. Geez, for “the fastest marathon of the West” this race sure has a lot of hills?! I had to nail them, though, because this was Marjorie’s mile – and so I thought of unicorns and nail polish (this makes absolutely no sense to anyone but three to five people in the world, I know). At the end of the mile, I took my second Honey Stinger gel.

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Mile 9, more uphill! But I thought of Judy, and how tough she is – earlier this year she smashed her half-marathon PR and ran a sub-2 hour race, just because I told her she could. I actually thought she’d run something like 2:02 – 2:04, but told her it is well within her ability to go sub-2, and there you go. So, I put mind over matter and carried on.

Mile 10 was for Cindie and even though it started with another climb, there was a good downhill there too and I thought Cindie would appreciate it. She ran a half marathon this year on exactly three weeks of training. If she can do that, I can handle a few little hills, right? An 8:09 mile for Cindie.

Mile 11 was for my 9-year-old son — he asked for it and how could I say no? The hills eased up somewhat in this mile and I thought of the big sweaty hug I would give him at the finish, and how lucky he is to have me as a mom. Ha. (Just kidding. The kid gets on my nerves sometimes – ahem… – but I’m lucky to be his mom!)

Mile 12. Kathy’s mile again, but this time for her dad because December is one of his three birthday months (don’t ask). I thought of Kathy’s dad, and some thoughts snuck in of my dad, too, but I know she wouldn’t mind. At the end of that mile, I had another gel (geez, Kathy, nearly half of my “eating” miles were yours?)

Mile 13 – almost the half-way point! – was Marie’s mile. Marie recently ran an hour-plus marathon PR in New York and I thought of how strong she is, a mom of two little kids, working full time and training hard and consistently for so many months. If anyone deserves a marathon PR, it’s Marie. (I was hoping I’d get one too, of course… Pace was still solid.)

Mile 14 was my husband’s mile, and I thought of the two marathons he’s run with me, even though he hates running, just so we can spend more time together, doing what I love to do. I’m so grateful for having his support all these years. I know it isn’t easy, especially when you have young kids, and I thought of all the spouses out there on the course, cheering for their husbands or wives, and I thought how they’re so amazing to do this for us.

Then came Mile 15 – another one of Maria’s miles – and the hills seemed to ease up so I picked up the pace. And I thought, see? Whatever bumps we hit on our road, easier times always await us ahead. Just got to be patient and make the best of them.

Somewhere here, mind you, the 3:37 pace group caught up with me and I did a bit of a double-take because, I’m no math genius, but I can do basic pace calculations and knew that I should have been at least two, if not three minutes ahead of a 3:37 finish at that point. I asked two women running with the group if they were going a bit fast and they confirmed. So I picked up the pace a little bit, to try and get ahead to more empty space. (It was a big group! If you don’t like feeling crowded when you run, these pace groups are probably not for you…)

For Mile 16, Liz had requested “a fleeting thought” – but how can that happen? No way. I believe this is around where we get the last climb of this hilly course, too, but there’s a lot of downhill in the mile, so I knocked out an 8:04 for Liz, and I ate my fourth gel for the day. I spent the whole mile picturing Liz running the Boston Marathon next year, and if I’m right (which I almost always am!), she will be knocking out 8:04-ish miles all along this course, and Mile 16 is where her favorite part will start because it’s the hardest. (Boy, can daydreaming about the Boston Marathon make the time go by quickly?)

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Mile 17 was Darlene’s mile. Darlene was out there on the course running her first marathon, in honor of a friend who is battling breast cancer. I hoped she was running with strong legs and a full heart. She had been nervous before the race, but I knew she’d knock it out the park. And I was right, as I later found out she not only finished, but beat her goal as well. That was a fast mile for me, too, at 8:05 and I was still feeling strong.

Mile 18 was Marjorie’s mile again, and for some time, I thought how weird it is that it doesn’t really feel much harder than mile 8 (her “first” mile). I was feeling good, my left leg (ankle) was doing fine, and I also had that persistent thought in my head that Marjorie’s running has been so consistent lately, she really should give it a go at the marathon distance. Just saying…

Mile 19 was a big one, Lisa and Joey’s mile. Joey is currently kicking leukemia’s ass and 2019 will be the last year of his treatments. So I see it as no coincidence at all that on this mile, a spectator shouted at us, “That’s it guys, no more hills from now on.” An 8:09 mile for Joey.

For Mile 20, I had a plan. This was Nadine’s mile, and she’s from Germany, so when things got rough as they often tend to at around this time in a marathon, I was just going to picture her telling me in German to stop joking around and keep running. (Except it wasn’t going to be the word “joking.”)


What do you know, though, there was no need for the German language. I was feeling strong and smooth and even wondered if I had been too conservative until now? Nadine is just about to start another marathon training cycle in her quest to BQ again, and I thought this was all a sign of how things will go for her this time around: smooth and wunderbar!

Mile 21 was Sheri’s mile and I thought about her running schedule for the next few weeks. We were done with the hills in the race, but I was thinking of all these hills and hill repeats I’ll have Sheri do all winter. She’ll love them… eventually! Ha.

Miles 22 through 24 are always my family miles, so my thoughts went back to my husband and my son and I wondered what they had for breakfast. We stayed at the Embassy Suites Sacramento, which has free breakfast, including made-to-order omelettes that are sooo good. You have to try them. And then I thought my daydreaming was turning into full on hallucinating, because I swear I heard my husband’s voice call out my son’s name. I looked around, just in case they really were there and what do you know – I see my husband and he’s yelling, our kid is right behind. So I did what no marathoner in pursuit of a BQ time should ever do: I stopped, turned and jogged back a couple of yards. I found him, and gave him a big sweaty hug and a kiss; and he gave me a coke and said, “Go now, go!” All that made Mile 22 the slowest yet, 8:22, but who cares? It was the best!

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I managed to pick up the pace a bit for an 8:11 Mile 23, but somewhere between that and Mile 24 my legs said, We’ve had it, can we slow down now? My mom’s mile… figures, she’s always telling me to slow down! My left calf and hamstring got so tight, I realized I was running with a bit of a limp. I was also hungry, and wished that I had brought six gels, not five (I’d taken my last one at mile 20). Luckily, they had Clif Shot gels somewhere between Miles 23 and 24, and I grabbed one. Boy, does that thing feel thick and uber-sweet. I’m not a fan, but beggars can’t be choosers, so I squeezed whatever I could in my mouth and downed it with a cup of water.

Mile 25 was coming, and I’d need the energy. This mile was for Dave, my friend Jen’s dad: a lifelong runner and multiple-time marathoner, with a PR of 3:28:17 at the Oakland Marathon back in 1981. Dave passed away in November and his memorial service was on December 3 — the day of the marathon. So you will understand how he was on my mind the entire race, not just during his mile. In fact, he literally was on my back, as I had printed his photo and pinned it to the back of my shirt:


By Mile 7, though, my sweat tore through the paper and I felt the photo flapping around, so I took it and put it in my skirt pocket. A couple of miles later, I ran by two guys and one of them said, “All you need is wings on those pins on your back, and you’ll fly.” Yes, I thought, they would be angel wings!

Back in Mile 25, I gritted my teeth and hung on to an 8:20-ish pace. I wanted so, so badly to walk and my brain was just about to convince my legs that some walking would be OK – I knew now that I’d make my BQ time with a good margin. Just then, though, I woman caught up to me and said, “Let’s do this girl, we’re almost there. You and me. Let’s work together to get to the finish.” She told me her name, which I promptly forgot, but it started with an A. The angel that Dave sent to get me through, I knew it. Mile 25 was 8:17. We talked briefly, she was going to BQ by a lot, and so was I. She asked me if I was going to PR and I said, I think so – but who knows?

Mile 26, the last mile, is always for my dad. He only lived to see one of my marathon medals (my first, in 2003), and he was so proud. I gave into the fatigue and my cramping left leg and slowed down a bit. Then I came around the last turn of the race, saw the finish and, this was a first for me, two different sides for men and women. Women took the left side of the road and men, the right. I veered left and willed my legs to do one final push towards the mats. I saw my family again and wondered how they made it so quickly from mile 22 to 26.2? Doh, they drove.

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Just as I crossed, I saw the “Lady with an A” again, she had finished maybe 20-30 seconds ahead of me and was still bent over catching her breath. I stopped to congratulate her and thank her for her support, and she asked, “So who is Dave?” So I told her about Jen’s dad, and then I told her about everyone else who “came” with me on this marathon and showed her my “tattooed” left forearm. This was probably my favorite part of the marathon, and not just because I was already done!

Here is my extremely tired attempt of a smile at the finish:


Then I reunited with my family, downed two bottles of water and we headed to post-race destination one: the BQ bell. Well, that was a good 40-minute wait, actually – they don’t joke when they say CIM has the largest portion of runners who qualify for the Boston Marathon! The line for the bell went all around a mostly shady area and I kind of froze my ass off while waiting, but all worth it.


I got a special Boston Creme “Boston Bound” cupcake, too (except I didn’t get to eat it because I put it down at some point and forgot to pick it back up. Marathon brain is no joke…):

Boston-Bound Cupcake

This was marathon #8 for me and, with a nine-minute margin, I hope a shoe-in for the Boston Marathon. I have no intention on running a marathon in 2018, so Boston 2019 will be lucky number 9. Can’t wait!

Official time: 3:36:05
Pace: 8:15

(First half 1:47:32 — Second half 1:48:33. My coach predicted exactly a one-minute positive split for me. Either he is that good at anticipating how I perform, or I’m that good at doing exactly as I’m told… or both!)

Santa Cruz Triathlon

Santa Cruz Triathlon
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At the risk of sounding self-centered, I must tell you that Santa Cruz is my favorite place to race. Forget about surfer’s heaven. It’s triathlon paradise. Perfect, salty ocean to swim in just past sunrise. The most beautiful rugged coastal views as you ride your bike on California’s famed Highway 1. An amazing run with the ocean on one side and beautiful beachfront homes on the other.

The Santa Cruz Triathlon has been around for 35 years, and is a non-profit race. I like that! Even if I don’t get the most high-quality t-shirt, race swag or post-race food, I’m OK with it because I know all the money that doesn’t cover race expenses, goes back to Santa Cruz community organizations.

This race was actually my second-ever olympic distance triathlon, back in 2013. I fell in love with that course right there, but with scheduling conflicts, did not get an opportunity to do it again until now.

So here I was, four years after my first Santa Cruz Triathlon and one year after I first came up with the concept of a BOGO race, about to do again.

A reminder:

    A BOGO race

    1. A race that you can pull off of the fitness you built training for your key race of the season, which was of similar or longer distance, duration or level of difficulty, and took place four to six weeks earlier. A “train for one, get one free” race, if you will:

    Having done Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz only two weeks prior, the Santa Cruz Triathlon was my BOGO race.

Santa Cruz Triathlon

Race morning

Parking in Santa Cruz is a pain in the butt, so I made sure to arrive at Depot Park a good two hours before the race start. I found a parking spot right next to the Santa Cruz Police Department, which I thought was most excellent – could there be a safer spot to park? Nope. Should I have read the parking signs? Yup. (Spoiler: got a parking ticket. Oh well. More funds for the Santa Cruz community!)

My friend Lisa had just parked a few spots ahead of me and after we spent some time in our cars with the heat full on, we braved the chilly dark morning and rolled our bikes into transition.

With an 8 a.m. race start (8:05 for my wave, but as late as 8:30 for others), we had lots of time to get bodymarked, set up our bikes, goof around a little and take photos with the crew.

Kicking ass at any age! From left, you have the following age groups: 35-39, 45-49, 60-65, 65-69, 50-55.
Kicking ass at any age! From left, you have the following age groups: 35-39, 45-49, 60-65, 65-69, 50-55.

As you can see, we are all very tri-couture in wetsuits and jackets. It was still cold and, as many other times before, I was having a difficult time imagining myself jumping into the ocean. Brrr!

It had to happen, though, didn’t it? We headed to the beach around 7:40, I left some shoes by swim-out for the transition run, then walked over to the swim start. I didn’t have time for a “warm-up” swim, and to be honest, I don’t see how it would have warmed me up in any way. I was still feeling all stiff and shivery inside my wetsuit. At least, the air could not have been more different from two weeks prior – not a hint of fog. Perfect visibility. We could see all the way to the pier and beyond.


A beach start is a good thing for this race – it gets your heart rate up a bit, so the cold water doesn’t feel all that cold. Eh… OK, it still does. I wore a neoprene cap under my race swim cap, no neoprene socks and no gloves (lesson learned at Half Moon Bay), so those first steps in the water were quite a shock.

This swim start was a mess. I had lined up near the middle of my wave (I know my swim abilities; do not belong in the front), but I guess I outran some women to the water and dived right into the thick of it. Wow, that was some aggressive swimming? I should be more like that!

I let the first (fast!) pack of women go ahead and settled into my pace. Though, settled isn’t quite the term for it. More like, I settled into feeling unsettled in the cold water. There were no waves – it was perfectly flat, in fact – but I just couldn’t make myself “go”… I felt slow, sluggish and stiff. I kept trying, though, and refused to look at my watch. I sighted often and had to constantly adjust my course because after every few strokes, I felt like I ended up much further to the left than I should have been. The swim course basically starts on the left of the Municipal Wharf, you swim diagonally towards it, around it, and then back to the beach:

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It wasn’t until I swam around the wharf that I felt like I got into the groove. Maybe there was a current that made the second part of the swim easier, I don’t know. But I definitely felt stronger and faster (passed a few people, even) coming back.

Swim time: 29:11
(This includes the short run across the beach; my swim-only time was 28:20, according to Strava. Considering I did this same swim in 35 minutes four years ago… progress.)


Long as usual. Run from the beach to the parking lot that was our transition area. I wasted at least a minute putting on running shoes, only to maybe save this much actually running it, rather than the barefoot jog I had done two weeks ago. From now on, I am only doing this transition run barefoot.

T2 time: 4:09


I know this bike course so well by now, I feel I could ride it blindfolded. Except, the part along West Cliff Dr – which proportionally is a much larger section of the course than it was of the 56-mile IM70.3 route – is way too technical for my comfort. No sharp turns, but constant turns nonetheless. They make me nervous. Especially considering how some people throw themselves into those with reckless abandon.

No surprises, except at the very beginning: there is a little hill that starts right as you exit bike out, and we were told this time the mount line was on top of it! Yes, faced with this short but steep climb right as you mount your bike puts you in danger of toppling over if you’re not in the right gear (I’ve seen it happen). But must we be treated like kids who don’t know how to handle themselves with a bit of a challenge? As you can tell, I was quite annoyed by this little detail, as running up (and down!) a hill in bike shoes is as far as it gets from my idea of fast or fun.

Other than that, I had an ok bike leg. Not as fast as it should have been, given the perfect conditions. I maintained an average speed equal to my average at the half-iron distance two weeks ago… So that was disappointing. I think I was too cautious on West Cliff Dr and I certainly could have pushed myself harder everywhere else.

Since I started in one of the early waves, the bike course was not crowded, so I had no excuse.

Next time: less smiling for the photographer and more suffering!
Next time: less smiling for the photographer and more suffering!

Bike time: 1:14:29
Avg speed: 20.06 mph

(It’s not terrible, for a course with 1650 ft of gain over 25 miles, but still. I was hoping to go under 1:10. Goals for next time!)


One thing I love about olympic and sprint-distance races is you don’t have to pee by the time you reach T2 (or before!). Just a change of shoes, take helmet off, put hat on and go.

T2 time: 1:22


This run starts with a bit of a climb, but once that first bump is behind you, it’s all very gentle rollers along the beach. As usual, I started too fast off the bike, but this time I went with it. My strategy was to hold a tight pace for as long as I can, preferably until the finish line. What’s the worst that could happen – blow up and walk a mile? Worth the risk.

Within the first mile or two, a woman breezed past me like I was standing still. She ended up winning the women’s race. 43 years old. Ran a 43-minute 10K, 6:53 average pace. Goals! (Also, bad news for me, as I join her age group next year. Ha.)

Peter Kain, who won the race overall, passed me too – a 39:50 10K at 54 years old. How do they do it? Amazing.

Back to my run, though, the first three miles felt hard, but under control. I dipped the pace to under 7 briefly, but that felt unsustainable, so I backed off. I guess 7:15-ish is my “comfort” race zone these days. It’s a suffering I can tolerate.

Santa Cruz Triathlon 2017

By the turnaround at mile 3.2, however, I was starting to feel less tolerant of running, racing, and life in general. To put it mildly. In other words, time to eat some carbs!

I had a bit of a nutrition hiccup for this race, since on the bike I’d only had half of a bottle with Gatorade Endurance, and occasional sips of Gatorade on the run course. Good thing I had grabbed a Honey Stinger gel out of T2, so down that went. Viva la sugar! The effect was pretty quick and my head cleared up, but my legs were of another opinion. They decided they’ve had enough of this and would like to slow down now. (Probably should have had more water, too…)

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The last 100 or so yards before the finish are a solid downhill, and my watch was telling me that I would finish this run in under 45 minutes, so I booked it… Well, later I found out that my official time was 45:05 — but I also found that I won my age group, so I was pretty happy with my run, and with my race overall.

Santa Cruz Triathlon 2017

Run time: 45:05

Back in transition, I ran into Lisa, who had done the Aquabike — and soon other friends started arriving as well. We waited around until the awards ceremony. It turned out a whole bunch of us placed in our age groups — sweet!

Last podium in the 35-39 age group! And, last race on Betty Squad this year. What a year, full of memories, laughs, new friendships, and so much more. See you at the races in 2018!
Last podium in the 35-39 age group! And, last race on Betty Squad 2017. What a year, full of memories, laughs, new friendships, and so much more. See you at the races in 2018!

To toast the end of tri season 2017, our little group had lunch at Riva Fish House on the pier. Great food – huge! portions – and local beers on tap. Winning!

So that’s a wrap for this year of triathlon, folks. Don’t park by the Santa Cruz Police Department for more than two hours at a time, OK?

See you in 2018!

Santa Cruz Triathlon results

Swim: 29:11
T1: 4:09
Bike: 1:14:29 (20.06 mph)
T2: 1:22
Run: 45:05 (7:16/mi)
Total: 2:34:18

Gender place: 6 of 186
Division place: 1 of 24
Overall: 78 of 632

2017 Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz

2017 Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz
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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.


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


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!


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.


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


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


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!

A post shared by Aleks Todorova (@aleksruns) on

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


I have no idea what I did in there for nearly three minutes…
T2 Time: 2:25.


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:


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!



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 (!).

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