We arrived in Sonoma on Saturday, and all the nervous excitement that I hadn't felt throughout the week suddenly spilled over, especially when we arrived in Guerneville and I saw all these intense athletes biking and looking much more competent than I on their much nicer bikes. At that point, I decided to focus on my breathing and on not throwing up for the rest of the day! Since I was coming to the race totally cold - no prior knowledge of anything - it seemed like a good idea to drive the bike course, at the very least, before checking in and all of that fun stuff. We slowly made our way from Guerneville to Windsor High School, winding through vineyards and up and down hills, feeling the bumps and turns in the road along the way. I kept thinking "Hmm, this seems like a long way to bike!" and finally Michael just came out and said it. I refused to freak out, reminding myself that I had survived this distance last year and obviously I enjoyed the experience enough since I signed up for a race of the same distance again. Or I was just crazy and a glutton for punishment (also possible).
Race day preparations and other provisions
My official 'gear' for the day
And the race:
Despite a less-than-stellar night's sleep and some pre-race anxiety, I was excited for the day to start, and while I kept thinking about what I *should* have done to better prepare, I also felt hopeful that I would have a solid (for me) performance out there. The early start time for my age group definitely favored a good outcome or, at the very least, survival, and so did the weather, which looked to be chilly throughout the morning but warm by the time I got to the run. It seemed to be just a quick moment, really, between the time that I set up my gear and the time that I needed to be on the beach, heading into the water. As my wave was allowed in the water, I reached down and realized that I didn't have my timing chip - HOLY CRAP! I almost started to freak out and to cry. Instead, I went to the official table right by the start line, told them that I forgot my chip, and they had a new one for me within a minute - so I was in the water with my wave. Shew - that could have been a total clusterfuck if I hadn't realized that I had forgotten the chip. Fortunately, the waves were 6 minutes apart, so even with that little snafu, I had plenty of time to get comfortable in the water before my wave was officially off and swimming! And despite a serious lack of open-water swims this 'season', it went well. I was relaxed throughout the swim, even after my timing chip issue, probably because there seemed to be very little body contact. I felt like I was in the second half of my wave, but I decided that I couldn't worry about that too much - I just wanted to have a fairly strong and even swim which seemed to be the case, breathing easily and moving well through the water. Swimming in the Russian River was awesome!
Body marked and ready to go!
The swim start!
Exiting the swim, finding my stuff in transition, taking note that my bike wasn't the last one there, and getting ready for the next leg seemed to take forever. I didn't look at the time when I made it to my bike, so I wasn't sure how long my swim or transition took. It was still really chilly and I longed to put on my arm-warmers, but I didn't want to waste any more time in transition than I had to (it still took me FOREVER). I stuffed all my crap into the official plastic bag that they had given us and then I stuffed that bag into my transition backpack to give to Michael as I exited the transition area. I opted for the hand-off so that I wouldn't have to worry about all of my stuff making it to T2 - obviously I didn't have much faith in myself or in the Vineman organization. This cost me some time, but I could live with it. After handing Michael my pack, I walked my bike up the small hill and mounted then - that was a race-day decision, based on a conversation I overheard between these two guys, one of whom said to the other 'No way would I try to mount at the base of the hill'. Maybe I could have managed the hill, but I'm usually so awkward as I try to mount the bike, that I probably would have fallen just getting ON the damn bike. Therefore, walk the hill it was. And then I was off to enjoy 56 miles of biking!
The long walk with the bike...
Still walking uphill!
Biking in and...
Running out - plenty of energy in the legs at this point!
Yes! Off the bike and on to the run! Like T1, getting to my pile of stuff seemed to take a very long time. I thanked the person who had tied a pink feather to the part of the rack where I had stashed my run gear because it would have probably taken me an additional 5 minutes to locate it if I hadn't spotted the feather. Bike racked, shoes exchanged, helmet off and hat on, I grabbed nutrition for the run and was off. As I headed towards the run start, I realized that I had not grabbed my salt tablets and decided not to return for them. Maybe a mistake, maybe they wouldn't have made much of a difference, who knows at this point?
At any rate, I started the run with a great pace but I tried to force myself to slow down. My goal for the run was to negative split - hold the first part of the race at around 9:00 minute miles and then speed up at the end. Well, that plan did not work out for me - live and learn. I held a strong pace for first half, some of which I ran with an acquaintance from Cal Tri. It was REALLY nice to see a familiar face out there, and he was super nice to slow down and run with me for a bit. He also warned me about one of the bigger hills along the run which I appreciated. So, a great first half for the run, but then mile 7 came along, and I started to seriously dog it! My body was aching. Also, I took in water, gatorade and 'cola' at the aid stations and tried to eat chips and fruit, but had a hard time with food - could not manage most of the fuel that I had stuffed into my pockets. My pace slowed way down, especially at mile 9, but I kept running along, even though sometimes it seemed like a shuffle. When I hit mile 11, I told myself that I could do anything for two miles and was determined to pick up the pace. And then mile 12 - I was ecstatic! My overall pace had totally dropped from the first half, but I wanted to end with a bit of pep. It helped that I saw Michael and lifted my head up to smile, and then, almost at the end, there was a woman with a 40 (or 41 or 42) on her calf, so I pushed myself to pass her. Finally, I came up on the finish line and saw that I could slip in just before the clock turned over to the next minute. It wasn't a pretty finish nor did it lend itself to a good photo, but I was oh so happy, especially when I looked at the time and knew that I had a PR by almost 10 minutes on a more challenging course than Boulder!
That's either a smile at the end or I'm gritting my teeth in pain.
I felt pretty out of it at that point - kind of deliriously happy and exhausted at once - but was able to get some food and sit and eat a few bites of pasta and some chicken and fruit. I should have just had a huge plateful of oranges, they tasted so good! Once I felt a bit less dazed, I met up with Michael, gathered my stuff in transition, and we walked to the car, surrounded by other people who had endured a day of fun and/or suffering, personal triumph or frustration (or some of both) and by the people who supported them. By 2:30 pm, we were sitting in the Bear Republic Brewpub in Healdsburg, splitting a burger, fries and drinking beer (which we did not split!). I think that at that point I was truly happy with and grateful for the entire experience - being in Sonoma, racing in such a beautiful place, having a good race, being lucky that Michael comes along for the ride, and stuffing my face in a blissful post-race stupor. Life couldn't have been much better at that moment!
A few final thoughts and the numbers:
Compared to my first foray into the 70.3 distance when I had zero expectations and knew that just finishing would be a personal accomplishment, I felt a bit more nervous about meeting the expectations that I had set for myself for this race. While my training wasn't perfect by any means, I had worked hard, especially throughout June, and I hoped for a PR. Who doesn't? I thought that a PR would be possible, but I also knew that shit could go wrong, so I tried to keep some of my hopes and expectations in check. I also recognized that there were some key steps that I had omitted - not previewing the course and things like that - which could possibly cost me in a major way.
Ultimately, I raced well for myself, in part because of almost ideal race day conditions. I finally had a sub-40 swim. I would have loved for an even faster leg (duh) but no complaints. I knew that the bike course would be a challenge, not necessarily because of the hills but more because of the less-than-great roads in some parts. My dream goal was sub-3:10, but I knew that I would be happy with something around 3:15. I ended with 3:17 and some change, holding a 17 mph pace for the course (17.2 for the first half; 16.9 for the second - I'm happy with the consistency there; it's still slow, but I'm getting faster incrementally). The run was NOT consistent - I ran an 8:24 pace for the first half, which then slowed to something like a 9:36 pace for the second half. Oops! Talking to other people, that seemed to be the trend, and I still hit my goal, running a sub-2 hour half-marathon on a somewhat hilly course. Overall, I was happy with my swim/bike/run performance!
As I said before, I had some really negative thoughts while I was on the course, especially the bike, and I think that I have a lot to learn about 'racing' this distance. Fortunately, these dark thoughts didn't seem to affect me too much overall, even though I told myself that I was an idiot for being out there and that this whole triathlon thing must be a mid-life crisis and that this would probably be my last race ever (seriously, I said that to myself at one point). I wish I could say that I was positive throughout, but that was not the case! Maybe next time? Also, I think that I could have / should have stayed more on top of my nutrition. Perhaps some of the negative thoughts were a product of hunger? While a slower second-half run was the trend, I think that I could have pushed a bit more if I had felt less depleted out there. Live and learn - fueling and nutrition may be the "fourth leg" of this triathlon business for me, especially on longer courses. At the same time, I also know that I pushed myself a bit more than I did last year, so maybe I need to get used to what that feels like for longer periods of time.
Finally, on a somewhat serious and somewhat silly note, I love my smash kit. It's kind of obnoxious (I think), and I can't believe that I paid the amount of money for it that I did. However, it is really comfortable, doesn't chafe, and lots of people complimented me on it throughout the day, even a young, cute 27-year-old-guy who zoomed past me on the run. I did learn something very important about tri suits - once you are away from the tri community, wearing a tri suit in public is a definite no-no, even if you are just running into McDonalds to change so that you can look more presentable elsewhere. Talk about weird looks and raised eyebrows!
This was a painfully long recap, but so was the race! I am now enjoying some R&R in Boulder, CO and contemplating my next move...