It's a 70.3 distance triathlon - ocean swim (1.2 miles), coastal bike (56 miles) and trail run (13.1 miles), which takes place in Santa Cruz, CA.
To preface this entry, let me tell you a few things: I felt so ready for this race..up until 2 weeks ago. In those two following weeks, I worked a lot of overtime at work, and it was more difficult to make my workouts and get quality sleep. Luckily, in the last week I was tapering, but the stress of a CPA's busy season can easily shift your schedule out of whack and I was struggling to keep up for a bit. I drove down to pickup my race packet yesterday and considered 'forgetting' to set the alarm before I went to sleep..you know...so I would oversleep and have the day off? :) Actually, it wasn't just the increased hours at work, it was the fact it was an OCEAN swim. I put that in all caps to show you I was fairly nervous about this. The only time I have really swum in the Pacific ocean is on vacation in Kona.. much different than the chillier water temps in Santa Cruz. But like I always tell people, you need to do what scares you and what pulls you in the face of your fears - you are always better for it.
Another item which made this race feel different is that I had no on-course race support - no team, friends or family. A lot of this was because of scheduling conflicts..and oh, the mere fact that I live 3,000 miles away from a lot of my family and friends! I know my family is always with me with me in spirit (and now tracking me online!) Also, my team has such a strong reputation that I had people cheering for me on the entire course, as they saw my jersey whiz by. I could have probably asked a few people to come and watch me on race day, but something drew me to stay quiet and enjoy this race as a complete solo effort - just me. Plus you are never truly "alone" during a triathlon race. (Especially the last half of the run, where a lot of people tend to slow their pace + spectators cheer on athletes...)
4:15am alarm goes off. I packed my gear the night before as I always do, so all that was left is to make a quick pot of coffee and sizzle a few strips of bacon for the hourlong drive to Santa Cruz. I got the in the car and popped on my Rich Roll podcast station. Rich has such a nice soothing voice and hosts amazing guests so this was the perfect thing to listen to early in the morning. As I reached closer to Santa Cruz, my coffee buzz kicked in and I turned up some tunes to pump me up. I scored a decent parking spot, as I was earlier than I expected. There was a mandatory pre-race meeting at 6:45am on the beach, which discussed the course, so I had plenty of time to setup my transition area.
After I laid out my towel and put all of my gear in place, I made my way down to the beach..
I had some time to warm-up as my wave was the fourth to go and this consisted of me saying "Okay..Heidi, it's just the ocean. There are no sharks...Wait what is THAT? Oh, just a piece of seaweed.." and then I proceeded into the water. I do what I usually do - take a deep breathe and blow out water quickly out of my mouth. I still felt nervous to go in much further than my waist, but after some internal negotiations with myself, I decided to JUST DO IT. So I started swimming and tried not to focus on the barking sea lions set against the pier. I heard they may jump in the water at any time, but not to worry, as they are harmless. "Harmless?? They can weigh up to 800 pounds!"
Before the initial swim wave at 7am, the race start was slightly delayed due to the fog. (It usually lifts..but takes longer sometimes). I used this opportunity to get back in the water and try to get more comfortable. It calmed my nerves to splash around for a bit more. When I heard the yellow caps being called, I ran over to join my age group. It was my first 'run to the water' versus an in-water swim start. This will be interesting, I thought to myself. I watched the previous waves high kick up their legs before they dove in. Hmm..I suppose I'll try that.
I felt a little jittery in the two minutes on the beach waiting with my wave, but after the gun went off, I ran towards the water and just jumped in. To give you an idea of the cousre, I swam around the entire Santa Cruz boardwalk pier. It creates a giant "U".
Initially, I felt good.I am getting a little better at sighting so I was able to keep a decent swim stroke while staying focused on the buoys. Then I got kicked around a bit and touched some kelp..eek! I got back on track and as I rounded the pier, I felt I was going faster than usual, so I decided to keep that pace and make it count- being my last 70.3 distance of the 2013 triathlon season. When my fingertips could feel the ocean floor, I stood up and ran through the timing arch - Swim time (PR): 34 minutes!
I love the bike portion of a triathlon - it's usually my favorite part! It took a little longer than usual to get to transition because it was not right next to the beach - it's probably 1/4 mile run uphill to the transition area. I ate a tablespoon of coconut butter (my new favorite endurance food!) and tried to fit my bag of macadamia nuts and coconut chips in my back pocket..Um..I haven't raced in my team kit in a little while and I forgot that the pockets are very small. I don't keep a bento box on my tri-bike so I can keep it as aerodynamic as possible, so not much room there either.. Okay, I'll get some additional nutrition on the course.
The first five miles on the bike are amazing..as they are on all race courses. Your legs are fresh, you just finished your swim, you're good to go.. But then reality sets in and you check your Garmin and promise yourself you'll stay within a certain range. I'll be honest here - I wanted a sub-3 hour bike split. It's one of those prized treasures in triathlon Olympic-distance racing. So I kept an eye on my watch, but did not obsess over it..much. It is an out-and-back course, which takes you on the beautiful Route One and there is a usually strong headwind when you are riding north. I knew about it unfortunately.. not one of the most fun parts to grind through. But like all challenging moments in life, it passed. I passed the first aid station at mile 12 and no food was available..only water and Heed (an electrolytes drink). I ate some of my macadamia nuts and hoped it would get me through until the next aid station.
As I approached the second aid station, I knew something was not right. Route One has a lot of rolling hills and at the bottom I could just start to see a roadblock...the traffic was stopped. There was a large fire engine blocking the aid station, with an ambulance parked by. A cyclist had wiped out at that aid station. Thinking that I may be soon hungry didn't really matter - this guy was in a lot worse shape than me. Fortunately, he was okay.
Most of the bike ride was cloud covered and fairly warm and this stayed constant through the entire ride. As I approached Mile 40, I thought I'd have a good chance at hitting my goal time. I pushed through and also wanted to keep something in my legs for the run. As I flew back into town and turned into transition, I looked down at my watch..it read 2:54:09. Whoohooo!
The weather for the run was absolutely perfect. There was a cloud cover for most of it, and the trail, although it was hilly in some parts, ran along the ocean. It was breathtaking. (Literally!)
I thought in order to hit my big overall goal of finishing the entire race in under six hours, then I would need to keep a decent pace, so I kept a 9:15 pace and that felt manageable. I felt a little hot towards the end of the run, but overall I stayed true to my goal pace.
The last mile or so of the half-marathon is mostly at a decline and my legs were happy for this. This happiness turned to shocked, as was I, when the runners were motioned left (Back to the beach??), and had to run 1/2 mile on the sand in order to get to the finish line. At the same time, it was also pretty inspiring, as by now the sun was shining incredibly bright and the beach was filled with beach-goers. I ran down the beach, as hard as I could, trying to avoid the small dogs and small children playing in the water. I think they thought it was fun to watch all of these triathletes bustling down the sand, but I didn't want to have a collision! I successfully avoided all of the sandcastles and distractions on the beach and made my way towards the finish chute. When I looked at the clock it read something around "5:53.." I got tears in my eyes-I knew I had made my sub-six hour time goal!!I was actually faster than that, since that was the initial clock of the day and I started after it. I waited around the post-race area, soaked in the sun, ate some fresh fruit, drank a lot of water, soaked my legs back in the ocean..and checked my official results when they got posted: 5:38:52!
My Vineman 70.3 time was 6:09 last summer..so I shaved over 30 minutes off that.. I did a happy dance in my mind and sat back down on the sand to relax on the beach.
Packing the evening before for the race, I missed my family, my husband and teammates - all who would not be there for the race. But in a positive twist of luck and grit, I pushed myself to my physical limits and I could take in the entire experience, in a way that I could only do on my own. I savored my finish line. I just had me - and a big beautiful ocean to stare out into and reflect. I will always love having support on the course, but sometimes, when you are forced into a moment of solitude and struggle, you will find there are substantial personal gains will be made.