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.


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.


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


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


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:


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)


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


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:


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:


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:


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:


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

Tri Talk Tuesday: Recovery and Rest for Moms

Tri Talk Tuesday: Recovery and Rest for Moms
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Tri Talk Tuesday is a monthly linkup hosted by You Signed Up For WHAT?!, Blisters and Black Toenails, and The TriGirl Chronicles. I LOVE this month’s topic, Recovery and Rest for Moms. What a great month to join the conversation!

Triathlon Recovery

They say that nutrition is the fourth discipline in triathlon.

If that is the case, then recovery is the fifth. (Blowing snot rockets is the sixth, but let’s talk about that some other time…)

The thing is, though, many of us triathletes also happen to be Type A personalities who are always in go-go-go mode. You’ve got to be that way if you’re going to balance life, work and three sports, right?

Well, not really. I don’t need to tell you that pushing your body too hard, without allowing it to rebuild, will ultimately break it down. Everybody knows that.

[tweetthis]”Anyone can work hard. The best have the discipline to recover. @laurenfleshman [/tweetthis]

Knowing is one thing, however, doing is another. Add being a mom to the mix, and the chances of R&R falling by the wayside increase exponentially. Now that school is back in session, mornings are crazy and evenings are for catching up on housework, work, doing that evening session on the trainer or in the pool…

Nine hours of sleep? Whoever could do that??

Sleep is important, of course, but it isn’t everything. There are the other usual suspects in proper recovery: how you eat and drink, how you structure training – those things make all the difference.

I wanted to share a few things that I’ve been doing in the past two years that, I believe wholeheartedly, have made it possible for me to:

– train seven days a week (that’s right, every day!) for weeks and months at a time;
– train twice a day at least two or three times a week;
– schedule back-to-back races (like the Livermore Half Marathon and San Francisco Rock’n’Roll on the same weekend; and Ironman 70.3 Hawaii and Escape From Alcatraz on two consecutive weekends) and complete them all in good time and injury-free;
– and, not least, PR a whole bunch of run-distances this year (5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon) and do well in triathlon, too.

Of course, those are things that I have found work well for me. I am not a doctor. I am not a professional runner or triathlete. Take everything with a grain of salt.

Sleep early, sleep often

I feel like a hypocrite saying this because my son is now seven and sleeps through the night. This was not the case up until he was three and a half years old, though, and I remember chronic sleep-deprivation quite well. To all moms with babies, toddlers and, in general, bad sleepers… oh, I understand!

But without enough sleep, our bodies cannot properly repair the muscle fibers we tear up in training and racing.

These days, I try to be in bed by 10 p.m., even if I don’t have to wake up at 5 am or 5:30 the next morning. If I have an early-morning date with the pool or my triathlon training group, I go to bed even earlier. And believe me, if I had the opportunity to take mid-day naps, I absolutely would!

Structure training wisely

I alternate days of hard workouts – especially running – with days of swimming and/ or spinning out the legs on the bike. When training for a marathon and focusing on running exclusively, I alternate hard runs – intervals, tempo runs or hill repeats – with super-easy 30- to 40-minute runs at an aerobic pace.

On days when I train hardest, I go to bed earliest.

Recover actively

I am a firm believer in active recovery. I have found that it works better for me than taking a complete day off; but that may not be the case for everyone. If you feel like your legs are getting heavier and heavier after each run or ride, take a day off. Swimming is a great, super low-impact way to add some action into an otherwise low-key day.

This is especially true post race, when your body needs rest the most. I take at least a couple of days completely off after key races. This allows me to recover physically as much as it gives me a mental break from all things running and triathlon.

Eat the right foods, at the right time

This is obvious, but I can’t not mention it. First, I always have some carbohydrate within 30 minutes of training. This is to replenish the body’s glycogen stores. Then I have some protein, healthy fats, and more carbs. Carbs are a triathlete’s best friend!

Also, they are delicious:

(There’s protein in there, too! Picky Bars are 4:1 carb to protein ratio, which is just the perfect formula for recovery. It’s science, dude.)

I also eat a LOT of this:

The fats in avocado are anti-inflammatory. So is Sriracha sauce. They taste delicious together.

I might often be too busy to whip up a healthy nutritious smoothie (and have to clean the blender afterwards), but I always have time to cut a bagel in two, toast it, smush up an avocado – yes, a whole one – on top of it, and drizzle it with Sriracha sauce.

Don’t feel guilty about downtime!

Finally, something that I struggle with on a daily basis: Mommy guilt. I go on a three-hour bike ride in the wee hours of Saturday morning, back home by 10 a.m., and then it’s a full day of activities and family fun. You wish you could just take a nap, right?

Well, sometimes, you should give yourself permission to take that nap. Or come up with an activity that gives you a bit more down time: day by the pool? BBQ in the back yard? Go to the movies? You can’t be always in “ON” mode and train, work, run around and parent, brimming with energy. Those moms don’t really exist, do they?

[tweetthis]Triathlon recovery and rest for moms on #TriTalkTuesday! #triathlon #womenfortri #swimbikerun #realwomenMOVE #sweatpink [/tweetthis]

What do you do to rest and recover from training and racing?

Next month’s Tri Talk topic is OFF SEASON. Can’t wait!

8 (Totally Imaginary) Must-Have Running and Triathlon Gear, Apps and Accessories

8 (Totally Imaginary) Must-Have Running and Triathlon Gear, Apps and Accessories
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In the February issue of Triathlete Magazine, Jesse Thomas wrote about the most awesome, totally imaginary tri products he wished were real. He crowdsourced ideas from his fans on social media, so the collective tri geekiness came up with some great stuff — like a business casual tri suit (for seamless transition from training to work); or a laser helmet attachment that tells you if you are in the draft zone (red) or out (green). And my favorite:

“An automatic spouse-appeaser option when you sign up for a race: You click the box and on race day she gets flowers and a babysitter.”


(Or for the husbands: a case of fancy local brew to drink with the bros. Cheers to that.)

As a runner and triathlete, I often find myself daydreaming of things that would be so cool to have – if only they were real. (Because no triathlete is ever in possession of enough gadgets, you know?) So if I may, here are a few of my humble additions to Jesse’s master list.

First, as a runner, I wish for:

1. The one magic shoe.

I wish there existed only one single brand and type of running shoe in the whole world. It would magically mold itself to our feet and become the optimal shoe for our weight and gait, thus enabling each runner to run efficiently and injury free, in perpetuity. The best part? You could get your shoes 100% personalized with your favorite colors, patterns and inspirational quotes.

2. The app or device that syncs with my belly.

I wish there was an app or Garmin-like device that connects to my stomach via bluetooth and tracks all calories I take in, along with macro and micro-nutrients. It would then sync with Strava, RunKeeper or any other fitness app, to match those against the calories I burn in training — and alert me whenever I’m off my ideal nutrient intake for optimal training and race performance. As a bonus, it would make dinners suggestions based on my daily data, complete with easy recipes and one-click ordering and delivery options for all ingredients (or meals).

3. A self-cleaning, odor-free porta potty.

Self explanatory.

4. Self-cleaning, odor-free running clothes?

Or any kind of clothes, for that matter… but who are we kidding. Running clothes are the only clothes we have these days.

Now, as a triathlete, I’d like to add a few more things to the list:

5. The one magic saddle.

That molds to every cyclist or triathlete’s butt, for maximum comfort without compromising aerodynamics. So we don’t ever have to worry about reapplying chamois butter, ever again.

6. A 1.2-mile long swimming pool.

To enable the perfect time trial for your 70.3 or 140.6.

8. A bike with self-pumping tires.

Because I always forget before a long ride!

8. A self-cleaning house.

The trick is this. It only cleans itself while I train and the area cleaned is commensurate with time and quality of training. The smarter you train, the cleaner your house when you get home. Bonus: extra-special self-cleaning service happens during races, but is independent of race performance – because no matter where you placed, you gave it your best!

–> What are some imaginary products on your wish list?
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