2018 Half Moon Bay Triathlon

2018 Half Moon Bay Triathlon
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April 23, 2018. Half Moon Bay. Water temp: 54 degrees.

Fahrenheit… Fifty-four freaking degrees Fahrenheit.

We’ll have to swim in that, and my brain is stuck on one word:

Why?

Why did I sign up for the Half Moon Bay Triathlon? Why did all these people?

Because it’s the race we love to hate, and hate to love. And, apparently, being a triathlete often equals being a glutton for punishment.

Don’t get me wrong, though, this is a great race. Half Moon Bay is beautiful. The swim is in the enclosed harbor area with very little, if any chop at all. The bike leg coasts along Hwy 1, with amazing ocean vistas, even if it’s quite windy and chilly early in the morning. And the run is all along the beach, as well, which makes it a breezy, if not exactly easy, experience. Most importantly, it is just the right amount of challenging, and a great way to gauge fitness early in the race season. Which, in my case, was the main goal this time around.

(I also came to seek redemption for the terrible swim I had there in 2017 — all completely due to my own personal bad race-day decisions; read all about them here. Spoiler: I did have a slightly better swim this time, but I still made some mistakes – I guess I’m doing the race again next year?)

Pre-race Spa

Alarm went off at 4 a.m. and, yup, I should have woken up a bit earlier and gotten ready faster. Arrived and parked at 6:15 am, with just around 30 minutes to set up my transition and put on my wetsuit. No time for a warmup run, even though I had coach advice to do a little test run and see if I’m good to even do that run at all.

****Rewind a week for short back-story**** The previous weekend, I’d gone to a concert in 4.5-inch heels, stood for 3+ hours, ran some hills the next day, and the day after that, during an easy run with some strides, my right calf started cramping. A couple of days later, it still felt tender/ sore, and we thought I probably had a mild muscle strain. So, up until the day before Half Moon Bay, we had discussed me a) not racing at all, b) switching to the aqua bike, or c) switching to the sprint distance. I had promised coach that, worst case, I will start the run and if my calf begins to cramp, I will just pull out of the race.

The calf had been OK during the brisk mile I ran the night before, so I was hoping I’d be good for the race. Worst case, I’d DNF – there is always a “next year” and opportunities for redemption.

With that in mind, I headed to the beach, making it a point to stop at the “warming station” — an inflatable pool with a hose spewing hot water set up right by the sand. Or, as I think of it now, the pre-race Spa. Literally, there was a guy lying down in the pool and splashing his feet, others were sitting in it, and we took turns pouring hot water from the hose directly into our wetsuits. I didn’t want to leave!

I had to, of course, and headed to the beach only to find out that the race start is delayed by about 10 minutes… so back to the Spa I went and sat in the warm water some more. Bliss!

When I finally walked back to the ocean, I realized my wave is already swimming over to the start buoys (this is a deep-water start race), so I ran into the water. Some not-so-nice words might have come out once the 54-degree chill enveloped me, but I wasn’t the only one using foul language, so no big deal. I saw friends and stopped to chat for a bit, and – oops! – the start gun for my wave went off and I was still at least 100 yards away from the start buoys. (Cue in more bad words…)

All photos courtesy of USAP Events.

Swim

So, my official swim started with a mad sprint to the start buoys, while my wave was already making its way along the course. I was in such a rush, I barely noticed the ice cream headache I got after first dunking my face into the water. Gah. Why, again, do we do this race? Masochists.

On the bright side, being late + cold water made me swim well. I’m actually pretty pleased with how this swim went, other than me being somewhere between 1:30 to 2 minutes late to the start. (Or, to put it another way, I swam an extra 100 or so yards.)

In what would have been three minutes, I heard the signal go off for the next wave — and realized that I never started my watch. Facepalm! Bad words! Of course, this meant I had to navigate my way to the Triathlon function on my Garmin, then start it, all while swimming. More bad words!!

After all this fidgeting, mental facepalming, and bad-word thinking, I settled into pace and carried on. This time, I was swimming in a pretty straight line and keeping close to the buoys on my left – in fact, I was taking the turns narrowly and efficiently. Go me.

All swims come to and end, even long cold ones, so finally I was back at the beach. The timing mat for the swim is a ways up the beach after you exit the water (and, guess what, I forgot to hit Lap on my Garmin to mark my actual swim end time), so I don’t really know how long the swim alone took, but my estimation is around 28-30 minutes. A good time for me, all things considered.

Official swim time: 32:47
(I shouldn’t compare times with last year, since the swim was long then, but still: a nine-minute improvement this time around. But, I’m not even going to tell you how much better the women who finished the race before me swam… OK, they finished the swim between two and 10 minutes faster than me! Sigh…)

T1

Barefoot – well, in swim booties – 0.3-mile run to transition. If you plan on doing this race and your feet aren’t overly sensitive, I definitely recommend not wasting time with shoes. Your hands will be so frozen, you’ll waste more time putting them on than you’ll gain with a faster run over to your bike.

T1 time: 4:26
I’d say at least a minute and a half of that was spent fumbling with socks, bike shoes, and helmet buckle, since I had no dexterity in my hands. But, I have no idea why my T1 time is more than two minutes *longer* this year than last, when I think I was a bit more efficient. My best guess is that the timing mat was at a different place… or I really was that frozen.

Bike

I put Magic Bike into high gear from the get go and started pushing. Must make up time! Unlike last year, this time we had a mild headwind on the way out, which made for some slower speeds. I don’t ride with power, so no actual numbers on how hard I was working, but I did work hard and yet was going only 19-20 mph.

The course is more or less an out-and-back, and the ride out was uneventful and not even that crowded. I passed some guys, and some women with 30s and 20s on their calves (the 20-29 and 30-39 waves left before mine), but I didn’t see any women in their 40s and was convinced that they are so far ahead that I will never even see them until the finish line. (Spoiler – I was correct.)

After the turnaround, the wind was at my back and I started seeing some good stuff on my watch, in the 25-28 mph range in places. Whoosh!

That is, until we hit the area where the sprint distance bike course merges with the olympic. And here’s the thing. From then on this bike course is not safe enough!

Imagine this: you are pushing hard along a flat, straight road for miles and miles, and have picked up speed well into the 20s (and surely, 30+ mph for the guys at the front!) when all of a sudden, groups of riders begin merging from your left, doing a wide turn and, in all cases I’ve witnessed so far – looking ahead and not to their right, where a bike might be zooming by! This is on roads that are not closed to traffic. The police are stopping cars so the cyclists can pass uninterrupted, but no one is watching what is happening on the right-most side of the road where the olympic distance bikes are riding already. And then, of course, given the merging of two different distances, plus cars on the road and the bikes barely with a shoulder to ride on, it all becomes one big clusterf*cked-up peloton.

This was my second year experiencing this and I really hope someone brings the issue to the organizers and they figure out a way to solve the problem – whether by having the sprint distance start the race before olympic, or modifying the bike course altogether. Beautiful is one thing, and fast is another, but safety is always a priority.

OK, rant over. Back to the fun!

Bike time: 1:12:45
Only a minute and change faster than last year, and sadly, still north of 1:10, but I’ll get where I want to be some day!

T2

Weirdly, my hands were even more frozen after riding than they were after swimming, and I ended up fumbling with my bike shoes and then running shoes and shoelaces for far too long.

T2 time: 2:24

Run

And now, the big test of the day: running. What was going to happen? Would my calf cramp? Would I be able to run through it, or with it, and would I be fine, or end up getting myself into “twice a week chiropractor/ physical therapy” territory?

I started running – left leg, then right (previously crampy) leg – so far, so good. Left and right again, still good. I picked up the pace and settled in a low 7 and it felt totally fine. Then again, my feet and legs were still frozen, so largely I felt… nothing. I wondered for a bit how much worse it would get if I defrosted and whatever pains and cramps were lurking attacked me, but I quickly decided that as long as it’s feeling good, I’m going with the flow.

(And by feeling good, I mean it was still hurting, but in the way it’s supposed to hurt when you run hard.)

Definitely no smiles for the cameras. I don’t know how people manage to look their Hollywood best, flashing smiles and waving at the friendly photographer, when all I can think of is, “2.5 miles down. 3.5 to go. No, wait. 3.7 to go. Oh, it’s 2.6 now, so 3.6 to go.” And so on.

I think I passed a couple of women in their 40s, but don’t remember seeing anyone in my age group, still. I wondered whether I was the only one in my age group (which was not far from the truth, either: it turned out only 11 of us raced this year).

By the time Mile 3 rolled around, my feet started to warm up and I got the needles all over them as they began defrosting. That was not fun, but no calf cramps yet, so moving on.

I slowed down, too, as 7:15-7:20 pace was becoming hard aerobically. But, once we turned back shortly after three miles, I was happy to find out there was no headwind to exacerbate my misery. The remaining three miles sucked, obviously, but mostly a result of me running out of juice in my legs and lungs. I thought of all the Boston Marathon runners who just a week earlier had kicked ass in much, much, MUCH harder, more grueling conditions, though, and figured: if they could do what they all did, who was I to not finish that little 10K and give it the best I can?

Seeing a few familiar faces on the way back gave a little boost, too, and before I knew it, I was running into the finish.

Now, the good part about mixing the sprint and olympic distance at this race is, by the time we’re done, we’ve got friends who raced sprint hanging out in the finish area, drink in hand, ready for “cheers to another awesome morning at the races” 😉

After a few bites and a celebratory beer, I checked the results and – deja vu all over again – I had placed 3rd in the age group. My overall time was much faster, but so is my new age group, 40-44, with the first and second women also the first and second females overall.

It felt good to get on the podium again, especially on a day when I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to finish the race. (But, considering only 11 women raced in the 40-44 age group, getting 3rd wasn’t a big deal.)

I think many triathletes tend to be self-critical and constantly searching for improvement, and I’m no exception: I know I’m going to try better the next time I race at Half Moon Bay. Better swim, hopefully a sub-1:10 bike, a sub-45 min run, and more than anything, efficient transitions!

Until then, however, the memories of the beautiful views and post-race celebration remain. Oh, and the organizers had run out of age group awards by the time they got to my age group, so that’s something to look forward to receiving in the mail. A memory of a wonderful day in Half Moon Bay, in the form of a pint glass. Cheers to that!

Overall result

Swim: 32:47
T1: 4:26
Bike: 1:12:45
T2: 2:42
Run: 45:14

Total: 2:37:55

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