It was a pretty early morning for us, but not as early as if we'd spent the night at home, and I did appreciate the extra hour or so of sleep. All of the race information warned us about parking, so I wanted to arrive early enough to not stress about that. We weren't the last people there by any means, but not the first either! Arriving in the dark and pumping tires and double checking gear under the light of a flashlight was not ideal, but it worked. By 5:30 am, I was headed to packet pick-up (where I learned that I was in the LAST wave) and then on to the transition zone. As I set up my stuff, it did occur to me how complicated my gear and the transition zone used to seem - this time around, I kept thinking "Is this it? What did I forget?!" because it all seemed fairly uncomplicated. Maybe I've developed some comfort with all this tri stuff? But I also had the feeling that something must be amiss!
By the time that we had to be out of the transition zone, I felt pretty relaxed (except for that nagging "what did I forget thought", and Michael and I could take in some of the Malibu scenery:
"Scenery" being the lifeguard station and the waves breaking!
And then it was time to get started! For the swim, we had to walk down the beach to the start and would swim to the finish. The walk south was great - it was such a beautiful morning and exciting to be in the mix of the crowd!
Michael and I had fun watching the elite wave start out, but as we watched the waves of people go out and battle with the ocean, my confidence eroded a little bit each time. Getting past the first buoy, depending on how the ocean waves were breaking, seemed tricky. Other women in my group were getting in the water, to practice their stroke or to get a feel for the water (Oh, yeah, that's what you're supposed to do...), but I stayed firmly planted on the sand because I was afraid that if I got in the water, I'd panic and not do the swim. Talk about feeling like a rookie! I kept thinking "If I can survive the swim, I can finish this race. I know it!". Great little pep talk. The other thought that popped into my mind as I waited to start was my whole "respect the race" blab from a few months ago. I was seriously feeling like an ass because while I was familiar with the olympic distance, I hadn't done an ocean swim since the beginning of June. What the hell was I thinking?!
Fortunately, the time to think rationally was over as it was time to line up and get ready to go:
Once the cannon went off, we headed into the water and the fun started! Getting around the first buoy wasn't as terrible as I thought that it might be - although I did get a little off course. And then we just headed north, keeping the buoys to our right. I felt like I was swimming in one of those "Endless pools" because I had no sense of my pace or where I was in relation to the beach. I took in a few mouthfuls of water, but I could see pretty clearly and there wasn't tons of contact - it was a relatively calm swim in terms of touching and grabbing. I finally reached what was the last buoy - people were turning right, so I turned right, much to my relief and surprise - almost done! With the swim, at least. I exited the water, happy to be out of there and on to transition. I wasn't wearing a watch for the swim, so I had no idea what my time was. I had estimated that it would probably take me longer than usual, so I was hoping for 34-36 minutes, but, since the course had no clock visible (to me, at least) around the transition zone, I didn't even worry about my swim time. I did note that I was not the very last person in my rack to be out of the water since there were plenty of bikes still racked - that is always a positive sign for me.
At that point, it was on to the bike! I knew that it could possibly be a good bike leg for me, in part because of my comfort with the course. Heading north on PCH from Zuma was a "known known", thanks to our many rides over the summer. I had a dream-like moment on the bike when I thought to myself "Shit, am I wearing my helmet?!?!". Obviously I did, but what a weird thought - it was indicative of the "Am I doing this" feeling that I had at different parts of the day. Other than that mild moment of panic, it ended up being a great ride, although not super fast, in part because I did not push it at the beginning and in part because of two no-pass zones. The no-pass zones totally sucked because they were stretches that would lend themselves to a fast pace except that a group of us got stuck behind a slower person. Ultimately, not the fastest bike leg for me, but it was gorgeous and really pretty fun!
I was so happy to be off the bike - not that I was exhausted or even that tired, but I knew that I had survived the swim and the bike, and that my legs seemed to feel good, so the FLAT run would be a nice way to end the race. Also, I was right in the thick of a group of 40-something-women, and I hoped that I would be able to pass a few on the run. Starting out on the run, I felt great and had a smile for Michael:
For the first mile, I ran at a pace that seemed too good to be true - easily maintaining 8:30, numbers that I hadn't seen in months! I worried about starting out too fast, but the pace felt easy, my breathing was relaxed, and I was enjoying passing people. So, I decided to keep it up if I could. Which I did - and by mile 3, I had picked off the women in my age group that were clumped together on the bike. Success! The last few miles were fun and fast (for me), and even though I was getting tired, I kept pushing myself and even cranked it a bit when I hit mile 6 and knew that the finish line was right around a corner or two and that I would finish the run under 50 minutes! (Did I mention that the course was FLAT?!)
Michael positioned himself for a smile and a wave, right before I crossed the finish line at, what was total shock to me, under 3 hours for a nice, shiny PR! I was so happy that I finally broke that damn 3 hour threshold, and I couldn't believe that I managed to do so at this race, of all of them.
After getting my medal, some water and food, I checked the results to make sure that I really did finish under three hours because it just seemed fairly unreal. What pushed me over the edge? Had I finally mastered the art of the transition? Was my bike leg faster than I thought? Well, it turns out that my transition times still suck. However, my swim time was crazy fast for me - under 30 minutes! Obviously there was a serious current pulling us north on the swim, but when I saw the time, I just started laughing at how ridiculous my estimated time was. Maybe it was a good thing that I had no idea how close I was to pulling off a PR? I'm not sure - I'm just delighted that it was such a fun and, for me, a fast race!
Thinking about yesterday morning, I can't believe that I almost didn't show up to race - literally and also in a more figurative sense. I recognize that I was a bit "off" my mental game going into it and didn't feel that I had much of an edge when I started the swim, but I didn't panic in the water, tried to ride strong on the bike, and I really pushed myself on the run. This was such a pleasant surprise of a race, and, just as important as the overall time, I couldn't stop grinning throughout the race because I was enjoying myself so much. I'll admit that I feel almost guilty about the PR because it felt so 'easy'. I think about how focused I was for Wildflower, how much I wanted to be happy and proud of my performance there, and how that just did not happen, despite training hard and strong and despite improving my time there. This race felt relaxed and serendipitous, and maybe I need(ed) to race just for pleasure in order to feel good about it? I have yet to figure out what the perfect recipe is for me, but this is definitely a nice note on which to end the 2012 tri season!