So, no "Did I or didn't I" suspense here. I finished the Camp Pendleton Devil Dog Duathlon this morning AND exceeded my expectations! So far, it's my favorite race this year. Okay, it is my only race so far, but despite the threatening rain and all the badasses with crazy gear that intimidate me and my own major doubts, I couldn't have been happier with the morning and the entire experience.
What a contrast to yesterday afternoon, around 1:30 pm when it was thundering and lightening, atypical natural phenomenas that almost never happen in Southern CA. I definitely took that for an inauspicious sign. The afternoon did not necessarily improve - we left at 3:05 on the nose, headed east, in the rain, and hit major Friday-afternoon traffic. I think that we crawled along for the first 45 minutes, averaging around 5 miles an hour in some stretches. Finally, the traffic opened up and we could zoom a bit more, which was great because we had dinner plans AND had to stop to buy new running shoes at REI for someone who had forgotten his (cough, cough, not I!). Fortunately we made it down south and were not late meeting up with friends for a great dinner in Dana Point. They had major news - Pregnant! With twins! Needless to say, we had a lot of catching up to do in a short 2-hour time period.
I went to sleep still worried about the weather. The forecast indicated showers until 9:00 am, which, I decided, would be doable. After all, I had feared torrential rains, so light showers were definitely preferable to that. We officially hit the road to Camp Pendleton around 6:30, right after a breakfast and coffee stop that we ate and drank on the drive. The morning was beautiful - a dramatic mix of clouds and sunshine - and we enjoyed a short but beautiful drive south, often catching glimpses of the Pacific Ocean just to our right. For the first time all week, I began to feel somewhat optimistic about the event. Wow, optimism?! What a concept! We turned into Camp Pendleton, showing off our race packets and getting the go-ahead to drive onto the base which, I think is privileged to some very nice land - lots of rolling hills and access to the ocean.
We arrived with plenty of time to spare, which gave me the chance to rack my bike, use the bathroom twice, drink plenty of water, decide what to wear (that one was complicated - leg warmers for the run or not? long sleeve shirt or not? full gloves or those that are cut off), and set up my stuff in the transition area. Then, we waited in the car until it was closer to the start time, so we ran to the start line and put on our race faces. No photos, but you'll have to trust me. It seemed like a good idea at that point to think about my race strategy. I had not articulated it to anyone, but before this past week, I secretly hoped to finish in 2:00 hours, give or take a minute or two. I knew that the run would be stronger for me than the bike, but I hoped to bike the 18.6 miles in around an hour. However, I had no idea how I would feel transitioning from run to bike. So, at 8:29 am, I figured that I would just do my best and see what that meant for me.
The first run was not super fast or slow - it took us about 10 seconds to actually cross the start line, and Michael and I ran somewhat together for the first quarter or half mile. Then, he encouraged me to go on, so I did! Not that I sped up too much, but I kept a nice pace. The 5k was an easy out-and-back course that offered a few nice mud puddles because of the rain. When I ran into the transition area, my watch read 26-something which was more or less what I hoped. The transition was probably my fastest by far (that's not saying much), and would have been faster except that I decided to take off my leg warmers for the bike portion and I had to fish my energy stuff out of the vest that I opted not to wear for the ride. Then, I ran my bike to the mount area and hopped on it! Okay, more like I tried to climb onto it somewhat gracefully. It probably took me another 60 seconds to clip in. I'm so smooth on the bike.
The bike leg actually felt really good which was all that I wanted. I enjoyed just being able to RIDE and not worry so much about traffic and cars and everything that I have to consider when I'm normally in the saddle. I also hoped to pass a few people, and I did, even people who had fancier bikes and clipless pedals (usually I'm ONLY passing people with the non-clipless pedals because I'm so slow). While plenty of speedsters zoomed past me, I felt good about my pace and reached the turn around at 59 minutes or so - which put me just under 30 minutes for 9 point whatever miles. Excellent! My confidence that I would finish in an hour was bolstered, until the headwind hit me as I headed north. Holy crap! The first few miles of the return trip were brutal. Finally, we turned back east and the wind ended up behind us which was great for the final miles of the bike ride. Except for the wind, the ride was great - nice easy hills and curves to enjoy and a pretty good road for most of the ride. No complaints.
So, I ran my bike into transition and, for me, quickly prepped for the second run leg. The one major fail on the bike was to eat anything, so I grabbed my energy food-things to eat on the run leg. I also took in plenty of water on the run course. Once I left the transition, I looked at my watch and saw that it read something like 1:35. So, a sub-2 hour race was less than likely, but I would be under 2:05 which suited me just fine. I also saw Michael as I headed out of the run gate, and I waved and he cheered. Yay! Starting the run, my legs felt really good. I was worried that dealing with wind would have trashed my legs, but that didn't seem to be the case. At this point in the race (yes, it really did seem to be a race for me), I just wanted to have a solid, final 5K and to leave enough 'in the tank' for a strong run to the finish line. I hit the turn-around and then enjoyed the nice downhill run to the 2 mile marker. There, my watch clocked 1:52:30. Hmmm, a 7:30 final mile? Possible but not necessarily probable. I normally hate being a 'clock watcher', but I figured "what the hell" - if I wanted to hit that sweet spot, then I'd need to run smart. So, I pushed myself but did not go all out until 1:58, when someone said "You're almost at the finish line" and then it was a full-on GO GO GO! And I snuck in at an official time of 1:59:48. My unofficial time was probably about 10 seconds faster, but I can't say that I really care because the official time brought a huge smile to my face as ran across the finish line.
So, all of those doubts about everything - well, it's not bad to have them, but it is definitely more enjoyable to come out on top! I was so worried that my lack of racing for several months would have a negative impact, but I do think that it's been good for me to really focus on Wildflower and to not throw in a bunch of 10Ks just to do them. Not that this race serves as an indicator of my performance, but it did boost my confidence, especially on the bike which is my major weakness. This morning, my legs felt strong, and I am more than happy with Sunshine! While the course was easier than what I'll find at Wildflower, the wind presented a good challenge that I managed to meet successfully. Finally, that final run felt amazing, and I think that I'm in pretty good shape for May 6!
Final thoughts on the Devil Dog Duathlon:
- I would absolutely participate in this event again. It was fairly small but well-organized, and while there were plenty of badasses out there with crazy gear, I loved that there were plenty of people with mountain bikes on the course, just doing their own thing.
- Being at/on Camp Pendleton was pretty cool, and the volunteers (many of whom were obviously active military) were awesome.
- I hope to never again see a guy's butt crack because there is some see-through material on his bike shorts. Unfortunately, this was one of those situations where I passed him, then he passed me, then I passed him, then he passed me... So, I had to see it several times, and it was like an accident on the freeway - you can't help but look.
- One of these days, I'm going to stay around for an awards ceremony to see if I do well enough in my age group. I figured that I was in the bottom half of my age group, but as it turned out, I was in a pretty slow group and ended up doing fairly well (out of 13 people - ha!).
Once I finished, we were both ready to head home, but we did take a nice detour through San Clemente, one of the many surfing capitols of California. It was almost noon, and my stomach had made itself known! So, we found a great little Mexican spot, La Cocina de Ricardo (Ricardo's Kitchen, in case you cared). I had my doubts when we pulled into the parking lot, but then we walked in and there was a customer speaking to the cashier en español - always a good sign. And the food? It rocked! I had a burrito with chile colorado served "mojado" (wet - with sauce on top), and Michael had fried tacos. I was skeptical when the cashier recommended them, but they were fantastic.
So, well-nourished and tired, we returned home. It was gorgeous day to be on the road - clear skies and snow covered peaks. A pretty amazing Saturday in Southern California!
(If you make it this far, good for you! That was a lengthy spiel.)