As for this race... I usually don't go on and on about my pre-race days for a smaller local event, but I think that I followed a good list of what NOT to do. First of all, I've felt somewhat unmotivated training-wise. Also, we have kept up an unusually busy social calendar as we're trying to get together with friends as much as possible (which may impact the first point). So, not only did I eat some really rich Mexican food Friday night at Rocio's Mole de los Dioses (yes, that is the "Mole of the Gods" restaurant - if you like mole, which not everyone does, this place is for you!), but we spent part of Saturday at a toddler's birthday party, at which I ate several cookies and 2 pieces of cake, and then we had Middle Eastern Saturday night. To top it all off, Gus, our dog, has been getting up in the middle of the night - at least once, but sometimes twice - to go outside. On Saturday night, he got up, and subsequently woke us up, at 12:00 and then again at 3:00. So, not very auspicious circumstances for the race.
However, I reminded myself when I woke up at 5:00 am (after not sleeping much between 3-5) that this was NOT my "A" race but more of the 'ripping-the-bandaid-off' type of a race. With St. George very much on the horizon (next Saturday!), it was nice to locate all of my shit, some of which I hadn't seen since last summer. I was about 100% sure that I would forget an essential item, but I somehow managed to make it to Bonelli with all the necessities. That was the first surprise and relief, but it still didn't exactly calm my nerves which were a bit on edge.
Arriving at the park early Sunday am, I was initially excited to see all of the athletes and take in the energy. Yay, a triathlon! But once I checked in and started to REALLY prepare for the race, I just wanted to leave. Part of this was nerves, plain and simple, but it also stemmed from the fact that Michael had opted to stay in bed after a rough night's sleep. As much as I wanted him to be at the race as my sherpa and photographer, I also understood his choice. Plus, he'll be there at St. George and Boulder, which are far more important to me. But I still missed him, as weird/dependent as that sounds. The other aspect of the race that made me nervous, strangely, was the fact that I knew so many people racing, spectating and volunteering. Signing up, this was one of the bonuses, but as I started to get ready to race, I just wanted to be alone, to zone out and be with my thoughts. Also, I felt a weird pressure because I knew so many people and, thanks to my awesome self-confidence, I was sure that they would give me the side-eye as a "triathlete".
Thanks to Harrison Shao of CalTri who took this photo - I somehow wiped my race number on my face, that is not a beard!
Despite my nerves, it was fun to see so many people I knew. With that in mind, I tried to breath (just breath!), focus on my race and enjoy the experience, no matter the outcome and repeated to myself, time and again, that this was NOT my A-race. Lining up for the swim, I felt okay - the water temperature was a great and it was a nice morning, despite haze from a nearby fire. It was so exciting to see the first waves start, and then it was the pinked-capped ladies' turn! My first thought starting out was "Holy crap, this is so much harder than I expected!". There was a lot of contact initially, but then we spread out and I felt more comfortable. The swim ended up being slower than I had hoped/expected - I exited at 20:56 for 1000 meters, for a 2:05 pace. Coming out of the water, I grimaced at someone who was cheering for me. Such good sportsmanship!
The ladies, lining up for the swim. Photo courtesy of TriEvents.
Beth's only advice to me for the day was "Go as HARD as you can on the bike :)" - she included a smiley face on that 'suggestion'! Not really what I wanted to hear, but after a quick-for-me transition (sub 4:00!!!), I was on the bike course, trying to pass slower people and also leave room for the faster people to pass me and attempting to push myself on the bike. I've raced this course once - 3 years ago, although that was a full Olympic distance (today's race was just a bit short), and while it isn't Wildflower hard, it isn't easy. Lots of hills, some tricky turns and some portions of crappy road. Plus, it's a 3-loop course, and I get bored by that third lap. Anyway, I tried to push hard and was happy with the split on the first lap, less excited about the 2nd lap split, and a bit disheartened by the third, but what could I do? I finished the 33km course in 1:12:33 for 17.4 mph ride. While it wasn't the ride I wanted, I looked back at my 2012 race, and my time definitely improved! So, progress is progress.
After a quick transition (would have been faster than 1:24 except that I stopped to talk to a student from work in transition - he actually won the sprint division!), it was time for the run. Recently, I've felt great running off the bike, so I was hoping for a strong run, but you never know. I did try something different this time. I usually switch from the Garmin Edge on the bike to the Garmin 110 to track my run. Yesterday, I opted to stick with the Edge which gives me overall pace rather than specific mile splits, so I ended up running very much by feel.
My one complaint - my race bib kept riding high which made me feel like I was wearing high-waist pants or something.
The run-by-feel strategy is one that I might implement in future races because, holy crap, I ran a fast 8km (for me!), holding a 7:30 pace. I wonder if I would have backed off had I seen the pace, and, at the same time, I wonder if I had something left in the tank at the end?
At any rate, I crossed the finish line a very happy camper - relieved that the race had gone better than expected, despite a rough swim and slightly disappointing bike, and I remembered why I keep pushing along. These experiences challenge me time and again, and while I often question myself and my enthusiasm wanes at times, there are those moments when things click. My strong run probably helped my attitude, but even with my less-than-great performance on the swim and the bike, I remembered to cheer on other people and felt energized by the support that was out there on the course and it was just fun to be out there!
Finally, the second "first" (a true first for me!) - a podium! Before my training/attitude/eating went to total shit, I had harbored a secret hope to place at this race as a nice way to end my triathlon experience here in Southern CA. As I headed into the race, I lowered any and all expectations, so it was a very pleasant surprise when I ended up 3rd in my AG! I understand that it's a small local race, so it's not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but I was excited enough to wait around for the awards ceremony. Triathlon has been a challenging road for me - the swim and bike do not come easily, and I know that I didn't execute a perfect pre-race or race plan, but the accumulation of years of somewhat hard work is beginning to reap benefits. While I have zero photos (at this point) of my podium, it was fun to get a cheer from the crazy CalTri folks as pictured below:
It's definitely a motley crew and I'm not the most dedicated member, but triathlon has become a somewhat significant part of my life, and, in one way or another, I've shared that with many of these people.
So, the final take-aways from the race? Transitions matter (for the first time ever, I tried to hurry and it might have made the difference between a podium spot or 4th place); I'm still a better runner than swimmer/biker, but I can improve, slowly! And, the most important note - the camaraderie and energy on the course make the race experience. Keeping that last point in mind, I finally feel excitement about St. George, rather than dread, and I can't believe that it's next week! As I said in my last post, racing season is upon us!