Never Ever Tri Anything New on Race Day. Ever. Everevereverever (Mission Bay Triathlon)

Clever use of the “Tri” not withstanding, the lead into this particular post is a very old adage that’s been passed on from coach to racer for millennia. The logic is this: on race day, you’re going to be pushing yourself to the max, dealing with other competitors, and you may have to deal with unforeseen obstacles (flat tire, crash, jellyfish, etc.), so the last thing you want to do is introduce something unfamiliar and only make things more complex. If you decide you’ll use a new pair of shoes, you run the risk of crazy blisters or injuries. If you get a new bike, you could find yourself miserable and slower because of it. If you add new nutrition elements (different type of gel, new sports drink), you could get a wicked case of the “trots” mid race, and brown shorts are no fun.

Or, if you decide to try mounting your bike using a different method than you’re used to, you could end up on the ground. After our first triathlon experience, Yeller and I were itching to get back out there, so we signed up for the Mission Bay Triathlon since we knew a handful of the participants. Our experience was minimal, but the course layout was similar to Tri Rock; the ride was a little shorter, but the rest was the same, so we were fairly comfortable with the whole thing.

We showed up on the Saturday before the event to register and check out the expo, transition area, and the cove where we’d be swimming. We were comfortable with the layout of the bike course and the run was fairly straight forward, so we focused on where we’d be racking our bikes and swimming. The cove was pretty typical, but the interesting thing was how many boats were docked. We figured they would move some of them come race day, but we figured wrong. The rest of the layout was similar to Tri Rock, with the exception of the size of the Expo… it was small. We wandered for a few minutes, grabbed some free Chobani yogurt, and then went home to prep for the next day.

Race Day

As per usual, we were up way too early on race day. We packed up the Jooberry, took the tired dogs for their AM walk (I think they were back snoring before we shut the door to leave), and hit the road. Because we get up so early, we typically find good parking, and this was no exception. We unloaded our things and headed toward the transition area and immediately noticed that unlike Tri Rock, where you have a spot assigned to you based on your bib number, this place was every man/woman for themselves. We were early enough to have our choice of spots, so I grabbed a spot that I thought would be good… it wasn’t, I should’ve gotten closer to the bike out, not the run out. Yeller grabbed her spot, and we went to get marked and find our friends.

We ran into a number of friends and hung out chatting for a bit. A common theme was the terrible use of the bike racks by A LOT of people. Considering there are always a good number of beginners at any given event, there were a lot of people who didn’t know how to properly rack their bikes. The most common issue was rows of people facing their bikes the same way. Typically you want to alternate so you can fit more bikes/people onto a rack, but there were a lot of people who didn’t seem to grasp this. Not a big deal, but it did cause some space issues.

The Swim

Finally, the start was upon us, so we wandered over to the start to check out the water and get ready to head in. This start was a running start, where the horn would blow and everyone would sprint into the water. This was different than our first experience, but we figured we’d just hang near the back and we’d be ok. We gathered with friends and chatted for a while as the waves got underway. As our group shrunk, we did our best to loosen up and get ready for the whole thing to get under way.

Eventually, it was Yeller’s turn. I gave her a kiss, wished her good luck, and stood back to watch the start. Once the horn sounded, she got a good jump into the water and was underway. I was able to follow her as she swam, thanks to her unique swimming style, so I kept an eye on her around the course. Because my age group started so much later than her, I was even able to run to the swim out and cheer her on when she got out of the water.

Then it was my turn… I found a place, not in the front, but not in the way back so I could get into the water cleanly and without a dozen people trying to swim over me. The horn sounded, I started my watch, and I was off. Of course, running into the water, the first thing on my mind was “don’t be a stingray, don’t be a stingray, don’t be a stingray” before I was able to dive in and start swimming. I tried to keep a good pace, but it was quickly broken by a kick to the face. Thankfully, it wasn’t hard enough to draw any blood, but still, it was a kick….to my face. I popped my head up to make sure I was ok and then pressed on.

The course took us out a little bit to a sharp left at a buoy before another left and onto the shore. Remember those boats I mentioned? Yea, they were still there. If we swam too far to our right, we’d swim headlong into quite a few anchored boats, so they had people on surfboards helping to keep swimmers away. Thankfully I didn’t need to be moved, but considering I have a tendency to swim right, I was sighting a lot more than I probably should have, which slowed me down.

Sill, the swim went ok, I was pretty tired coming out of the water, but it wasn’t horrible. I was tired enough to where my head wasn’t super clear though.

The Bike

I popped up out of the water and jogged into transition to my bike. I quickly got my wetsuit off, grabbed my helmet, strapped it on, grabbed my bike, and took off jogging toward the mount line.

During the weeks leading up to the event, I wanted to try a quicker mounting method by leaving the shoes clipped into the pedals on the bike. I opted against the flying mount because of how wrong it can go, so I settled on a one footed mount kinda thing. Basically, you jog with the bike, put your outside foot on the pedal/shoe (some opt to stop for this step), step up and swing your other leg over the saddle, take a second to locate your other foot, and off you go. The “stepping up” adds to the forward momentum making it easier to stay upright while getting your other foot situated. I practiced it a few times in our parking lot, but as I would quickly discover, a few times isn’t enough.

I got to the mount line, looked down to step up, and noticed the non-drive side pedal, the one I would step up on, was toward the rear of the bike. This was a problem, because when I stepped down on the pedal it would freewheel backwards so I couldn’t generate any forward power on the bike, which would make it harder to locate my right foot and get going. The fix was simple, spin the crank backwards until the pedal was in the right spot, but remember how I said I was tired? Yea, that simple fix might as well have been trying to figure out teleportation. I was LOST. I stared at the pedal for what felt like hours thinking “crapcrapcrapcrap, what do I do? Crapcrapcrapcrap.”

I eventually settled on mounting the bike normally and using my foot to get the pedal to the right spot. This didn’t work out so well because I accidentally rotated the shoe just enough for it to begin to release from the cleat. A few failed mount attempts later, I decided to just pull the loose cleat off the pedal, put it on my foot, and locate my right foot when I got going. This went well, until I instinctively backpedaled with my left foot so I could propel my self forward a bit more. You see, my right shoe was clipped in, but dangling freely, and I have relatively large feet, so when I backpedaled, the shoe hit the ground and pitched the bike up to the side, which tossed me over onto the ground. Yup, they call that a fail. I heard a few gasps, and people asking if I was ok, to which I responded with a “yea, I’m good”, because I was… physically. I checked my bike for any misalignment, and then just stopped and took a breath. I pulled my other shoe off the pedal, put it on, calmly climbed on the bike, and took off (to more than a few cheers.) Yes, this experience was in the back of my mind when I climbed out of the water at the Life Time Tri. Sometimes, slower is faster.

Once I was underway, things smoothed out. I was familiar with the course, so I was able to settle in and relax at a good pace. We went up and over a small hill before heading to a sharp left turn (almost a complete 180) to head toward Fiesta Island. One loop of Fiesta, and then we went back to the bike finish. A smallish course, but pretty straight forward.

As usual, there seemed to be a lot of lollygagging with people blocking portions of the course by not keeping right. I weaved through them as best I could, but unfortunately, lollygagging meant I couldn’t launch off of a particular point on Fiesta Island. Near the back “straight” of the island, there’s a sharp downhill left that you can really hammer it off of if you line it up right. There were a number of people in front of me who either weren’t aware of this or didn’t get the right line, so I had to slow down more than I would like.

Another thing that I noticed was the rather surprising (to me) amount of drafting. In most triathlon events, drafting is illegal, partially because it’s dangerous when you’re riding on aerobars where there are no brakes, and partially because of the advantage it gives drafters, but I saw more than a few packs of people drafting each other. Most annoying to me was when a guy pulled up next to me and said “that guy’s been drafting you damn near the whole course.” I took a quick peek back to see a guy on a road bike sucking my rear wheel like a baby with a pacifier. I wasn’t particularly happy, and considering I basically carried his lazy ass for most of the course, his legs were fresher than mine, so he eventually passed me (illegally as well). I made a mental note of what he looked like and began to contemplate my retaliation. Ok, maybe not retaliation, but I wanted to keep an eye on him.

All in all, I lost 2 minutes because of my massive mount fail. Lesson learned, come next season I’ll be well practiced on my mounts so I don’t end up on the ground, losing time, again.

The Run

When I got to the dismount, I jogged with my shoes on at first before changing my mind and just walking. The shoes are tough to run in, so I didn’t want to risk hurting anything before the run. I got to my area, took off my helmet, racked my bike, put on my socks, shoes, shades and race belt, and I was off.

The run course was a little odd. We ran down the path a bit before a sharp turn-around and then along a course I was familiar with from my training for the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon. They kind of squeezed people together in a few parts, with cones leaving very little room for people to pass each other. Not to mention there was a short grass section near the finish that was a little slippery. They even had a “Watch your step sir!” volunteer to help make sure people didn’t eat it. Thankfully, I’d only hit the deck once today.

My Tri-Rock run did not go great, so I vowed to run better this time, and I did. I settled into a comfortable pace of around 9 min/mi and relaxed into it. After a few minutes, I spotted the guy who drafted me in the distance, and I noticed I was reeling him in. This made me happy… I knew he was in my age group since I could see his age on his calf, so I was hell bent on not letting him finish before me. I resisted the urge to hit the gas too hard considering I was reeling him in already, so I just made sure I was comfortable with my stride and watched the distance between us close. I tried to hide my pleasure when I passed him, but I was pretty stoked. I also managed to resist the urge to look back and watch the distance grow, but I did sneak the occasional peek when going around turns or something. After a while, I couldn’t see him anymore… suck it, drafter. 🙂

After getting my most satisfying “kill,” I rechecked my pace and just enjoyed the run. There were a few challenging parts, particularly where we got onto the Mission Beach boardwalk and had to deal with walkers, people lollygagging on beach cruisers, other joggers, rollerbladers ,and the like. I had to cut between people more than a few times… Mission Beach as Pacific Beach overflow, and PB has a certain reputation here in San Diego and it certainly lived up to it. If you saw dozens of people running toward you wearing bibs like they were in a race, wouldn’t you think to GET OUT OF THEIR WAY and not just walk into their paths? Yea, common courtesy was lacking in some places.

Thankfully, the volunteers made up for the jerks. Most of them were enthusiastically cheering the runners on, complete with cheerleader chants and the occasional dance (I’m a poet!). I clapped along a few times, gave out a few high fives, and generally enjoyed their exuberance. They helped the run fly by even faster.

The Finish

After their weird right turn over the grass, there was a short street section before you made a quick right and crossed the finish line. Once through the line, I grabbed my medal, took off my chip and gave it to a volunteer, grabbed a water, and had my first “ice cold towel” experience. These weren’t as fancy as the Life Time towels, just cheap towels cut into quarters, but they were COLD, and a wonderful thing to have at the finish.

After getting situated, I looked around to find Yeller, since I figured she finished before me, considering I didn’t see her on course. I found her a few minutes later standing with friends, so I took a minute to see how she did and tell her about my mount fail. Talking about it reminded me that my knee and elbow were stinging a little bit, so it was probably best for me to hit up the medical tent to get the wounds cleaned up.

Once I was all bandaged up, we wandered around for a little bit talking to friends and checking our times. I did ok considering my spill and Yeller was pleased overall with her results, but wasn’t a fan of the sharp turn around on the bike course, nor was she big on the really narrow parts of the run course. That said, she ran at a solid pace on the run and was able to reel in some of her friends. Overall, she had a good time.

In looking back at it, I had fun. The spill sucked, but it was a fun experience and I was quite pleased that I was able to pass the guy who drafted me on the run. I’m not 100% positive on whether or not I’ll do the event next year. It depends on how it lines up with other happenings.

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