It’s been about a year since my first foray into the world of triathlon, having completed this same race at around this time last year. Things are a bit different this time around though… First and foremost, in addition to doing this race with my Team Challenge peeps again, I was finishing up my first season as a Mentor. I was doing the intermediate distance this time around instead of the sprint like I did last year. I’m in better shape this time around than I was last year, so I was hopeful for better results, in the form of faster averages. Finally, this wasn’t my “A” race, it was essentially a warmup for the race I’ve been preparing all summer for: Ironman 70.3 Silverman. Still, I was hopeful I’d put up a good time, and having a good race prior to Silverman would be a nice positive boost before the big one.
My overall goals for this race were pretty straight forward: finish with a respectable time, and with no injuries. I wasn’t intent on going pills to the paint while out there, but I wasn’t going to just doddle through the race.
Considering this wasn’t our “A” race, Tam and I didn’t have the benefit of a full taper week like our teammates did. We’ve been training hard for Silverman and we’ve both been beginning to feel a little fatigued from all the work, so the taper would’ve allowed us some time to recuperate so we would be at our absolute best for the race… but being primed for Silverman is more important. Without the full taper, Tam and I were certainly not 100%, but no excuses, we both were gonna go out there and try for a good race! Besides, even with the fatigue in our bodies, we’re both better athletes than we were last year.
As with every race, we were up at some ridiculous hour, 3:45AM to be exact. The dogs really don’t like when we get up early for races… Milo especially, he’s like me, a bit of a grump when he’s tired. We prepped most of our things the night before, including applying our fancy temporary tattoo race numbers, so we just needed to grab hydration, air up the bike tires, and load up the car before we were on our way. We were aiming for about a 4:30-4:45 departure time, since we were to meet our TC crew in the lobby of the hotel at 5:15, and when we finally got going the clock said 4:46, so not terrible.
Of course, we get to the lobby with entire minutes to spare. There were still people trickling in right up until just before the shutters went off! Finally, the pictures were snapped, and the Team Challenge convoy made its way out of the hotel and down to transition.
Tam was registered separately, so she didn’t rack with the rest of the Team Challenge group, but she was on the next rack over, so we weren’t very far apart. Considering there was no need to go get marked, transition preparations were a breeze. Racked our bikes, laid out our transition areas, applied sunblock, hit the porta-johns, got our calves marked with our ages by the roaming age marking girls, put on the thick and weird timing chips (disposable this year!), squeezed into our wetsuits/lava pants, and we were all set to wander over to the swim start. So wander we did! We encountered a few non-Team Challenge friends doing the race with us and spent a few minutes chatting, but eventually we moseyed on down to the swim start and got ourselves prepared.
Unlike Bass Lake, where it was two “750 meter” laps, this swim was one solid lap. We go down a flight of stairs into the bay, swim out for a bit, swing a right and swim out for around 500 meters, make a U-Turn, swim back a few hundred meters, and then bust a left back to the starting point. The bay was much clearer than it was last year, visibility was probably a few feet, which was a bit of a surprise… not used to seeing the rocks below the surface of the water. Tri-Rock also uses a “Time Trial” start, which is definitely a misnomer. In a TT, there’s a delay between the various racers to try and space them out, this was more of a continuous start, where they just had everyone stream down the steps and into the water. There were maybe a few seconds between groups, but they didn’t pause between waves or anything. I know some people aren’t fans of it because it removes some of the craziness of the water starts, but I didn’t mind it last year. I’m not big on being kicked in the face.
The announcer for the race eventually got on the PA and told everyone to begin lining up by swim cap color for the start… which about, oh, 63% of the racers did. There wasn’t anyone at the start trying to keep everyone organized, so it was a mess. Intermediate distance was off first at 6:30AM, Sprinters started at 7:30, and the wave order was by cap color and followed something called “ROYGBIV”… which I had never heard of before. Tam seemed familiar… but anyway, R for Red, O for Orange… you get the picture. I had on an Orange cap, so I was second, duh, but if you looked at the start line the order was more like RIRVBOYOBRIR. This made it a bit of a pain in the neck to get with the group so I was ready for the start.
Eventually they started sending swimmers, so I made my way up behind the pack of Red caps, which of course meant fighting through the people who cared more about getting a good view of the swimmers, and less about the fact they were in the #$%#ing way. It also meant making sure all the clueless Red cap guys realized their wave was starting. I mean seriously, there were guys standing around totally oblivious to the fact their wave was starting. Anyway, I found a spot, at the back of the pack (figures), and followed the group toward the water. After a brief pause by the start, I crossed the mat, started my watch, and made my way down the stairs. Took a split second to collect my thoughts, and I was off.
First impression: “wow, the water is nice and warm!” Second impression: “The water actually smells like diesel fuel!” The warmth was a nice surprise, wasn’t swimming pool warm, but definitely a nice comfortable temperature. The diesel fuel scent that filled my nostrils was not a nice surprise, and was actually really gross. The swim start is right next to a marina, so of course there were plenty of boats docked, which obviously tainted the water. While gross, I couldn’t let the smell of the water phase me, so I began to initiate my plan for swim domination… and by “domination” I mean “Operation Get Away From Everyone.”
OGAFE was simple, I would swing a little wide of the optimal line and swim MY race… and it worked pretty brilliantly for the most part. I got off of the optimal race line and out of the crazy, and began sighting for the first turn buoy, all while sticking with a new “long blink” swimming style I’ve incorporated. Since I’m not a big fan of seeing things below me, when my face is in the water I close my eyes, when I breathe, I open them. I breathe every other stroke, so my eyes aren’t closed for more than a few seconds, if that. It’s helped keep my mind calm, and allow me to focus on swimming, and not on what I can or cannot see. Speaking of see, I was using new goggles for this race. I was able to take them for a dip a few days before the race, so I knew they were sound, but it was their first long distance swim, and they were awesome. The big plus is they are anti-fogging, which meant it was easy for me to see when I was sighting, something that was an issue in other races, and during practices. I got ’em on a whim, but it turned out to be a wonderful purchase.
Ok, back to swimming. I eventually made it to the first turn, and then things got a bit more hectic. I found myself sandwiched between two other swimmers, and it was extremely difficult to get into a rhythm. There was lots of bumping, slapping, and tarzan swimming looking for an opening. I actually smacked one of them in the back of the head pretty good at one point. I felt bad, but there’s no apologizing in the swim, contact happens, you try not to let it bother you and move on. Finally, I decided to just speed up and angle away from them so I could settle back into my own pace. I had to do a quick watch check as I was going too, was a little concerned it got knocked off and was at the bottom of the bay. It wasn’t. 🙂
While swimming along, something interesting happened. Saturday was an eventful and awesome day, a day which I will share stories about at a later date, but it ended up popping in my head. This had the surprising effect of causing me to smile, and actually wanting to laugh while in the water. Suddenly, the swimmers, the course, what was beneath me, all of it melted away, and it was just me, swimming and smiling, thinking about the day before. It was a nice change from how the swims used to go.
After a while I hit the U-Turn point, around which there was a nice bit of wake causing me to bob up and down, and began trying to sight for the buoy to turn back in toward the swim exit (which was the same as the start.) That would prove to be IMPOSSIBLE! You see, the sun had just come out right after we got in the water, and once we started swimming back after the U-Turn, it was blasting us right in the face. So it wasn’t so much sighting, more like being blinded every time you poked your face out of the water. I ended up sighting off of the only thing I could see, splashing from other swimmers, and followed the best I could. After what seemed like forever, I was finally able to see the buoy (I was probably 20 or so yards from it before I could clearly see it), which meant another fun little quirk. Before we got in the water, the announcer said keep all the buoys off your RIGHT shoulder, as I approached the buoy to turn left toward the swim exit, I noticed there was a life guard on a surfboard making sure everyone kept the buoy off of their LEFT shoulder. Great… but no biggie. I rounded the corner, spotted the swim exit arch, and made a beeline for the stairs.
The exit was a little precarious, I was extra cautious so I didn’t smack my feet on the stairs, but I made my way up to the top and began the long jog to transition.
My total swim time was around 39:55 according to my watch. Not exactly setting the world on fire, but once again the swim was a little long, clocking in at 1,857 yards, or around 1,700 meters. The two most notable things? First, I was almost a full 30 seconds per 100yds faster than what I did at Bass Lake. Second, I was SMILING when I got out of the water! Bonus was I wasn’t completely spent, and felt like I had a lot left in the tank.
Of course once I started making my way to transition, I had to pee… thankfully the Porta-Johns are right by the transition entrance, so I made a quick detour, and hoofed it back to my transition area. Skip was hanging out by the rack cheering us on, and he was quite pleased to see me out of the water and in good spirits. I ripped off the wetsuit, put on my socks and shoes, grabbed my helmet and shades, and made my way to the mount point.
The Bike, unlike Bass Lake, was a multi lap event. Intermediates did 2 laps, Sprinters did 1. Also unlike Bass Lake, it was dead flat… my watch clocked 223 feet of climbing in around 21 miles, which is basically nothing. The route included one “hill”, which was an overpass, and then it was mostly straight until we got onto the Naval base. From there it was a series of sharp turns through the base up to the U-Turn point. The route back mostly mirrored the route out, with a few different turns before linking up on the main road. Primary difference is on the way back the road is really, really rough… lots of bone jarring bumps from all the broken pavement. Once back near the start, you go up and over the “hill”, make a very sharp U-Turn before doing it all again.
Once on my bike, I quickly got up to speed and made my way around some of the slower traffic on my way to the “hill”, where I promptly encountered a road block. On the right was a slower rider, on the left was another slower rider who was sort of swerving back and forth. She wasn’t passing the other rider, she was just hanging out. Eager to get around, I decided to pass on the right… a generally unsafe maneuver, but I wanted to get going. I began my pass, and the rider on the right gradually started moving over. I warned her, which startled her, understandably. I apologized, joked for a second, and continued on… and then I hear:
“You know, you should probably pass on the left.”
I look over, and it’s the rider who was lollygagging on the left, preventing me from passing. My response:
“I would’ve, but someone was blocking the way.”
Then, I was off.
In the lead up to the race, we got Tam a new front mount Between The Arms (BTA) water bottle so she could drink while out on course without stopping. The new water bottle caused problems with the location of her Garmin, so after futzing around a bit I decided to give her my mount, and relocate my Garmin… which in retrospect was a horrid idea. The new location meant I had to look down and pretty far back to see the screen, and I couldn’t even see it very easily. This made it impossible to do a quick glance if I wanted to check my speed or cadence or something. But of course, just to add insult to injury, I had forgotten to setup the race profile on the computer so most of the metrics I like to see, like… oh, CADENCE, were gone. This meant I was racing blind so to speak, I could see my speed, but the rest of the stuff on the screen was useless (who cares what effing time it is during a race?). So I just settled into a comfortable pace, hard enough to feel like I was working, easy enough so my legs weren’t feeling fatigued. Turns out it was a pretty quick pace.
The course is pretty straight forward after the hill, it’s just straight. There’s a quick little chicane over some train tracks, but it’s mostly just “go fast in a straight line”, so that’s what I did. But then you make a right onto the Naval base, and things get fun… or scary I guess depending on your bike skill level. It wasn’t like the back part of the Bass Lake course with heavily cambered turns, it was a series of sharp 90 degree turns over sometimes precarious pavement. Still, it was a hoot, and I was able to carry some serious speed through the turns, closing gaps on riders in front of me, and opening gaps on riders behind me. I rarely hit the brakes before I entered the turns, usually just getting up on the base bars and not pedaling to scrub off a little speed, so I was at or near full speed the whole time. I know I made a few volunteers nervous with how fast I was going, but never once did the bike feel nervous are twitchy under me, even when I hit a few mid turn bumps! I was having a blast through the base, weaving through traffic and carving up the corners.
As I was tearing through the base, I caught up to a rider on a bike who looked vaguely familiar. As I passed him, I realized who it was… On our way to the race in the morning, we were tailed by a fellow in a minivan hoping to find some free parking (which he/we did), and lo and behold, here he was out on course! Because apparently no one pays attention to the “no drafting” rule, he latched onto my wheel when I passed him, but he did seem to have a difficult time carrying the same speed through the turns. We’d end up leap frogging each other a few times throughout the race: he would seemingly catch a breather behind me, pass, I would stay back out of his draft keeping pace until he inevitably slowed and then I’d pass him again. I got caught up in a slow group right at the SUPER tight U-Turn so he put some distance on me, but I managed to catch up again, and we continued to play leap frog to the finish. Although he was drafting quite a bit, I wasn’t overly concerned about it, if he was caught, it’s his race, not mine.
One thing that was a concern was my patch kit. I have an Xlab Super Wing with two Gorilla cages mounted to my seat. In one of the cages, I have an Xlab Mezzo Cage Pod… well, I should say I had an Xlab Mezzo Cage Pod. The Gorilla cages hold tight, but not tight enough… I was concerned I was going to pitch the pod, so I was checking it periodically while riding… that is, I was checking it periodically until I got on base and immediately forgot about it due to all the fun I was having carving corners. Somewhere just after the on base turnaround point on the first lap, I heard something hit the ground behind me. I immediately remembered the pod, so I reached back to see if was there, and sure enough, it was gone. 🙁 I wasn’t about to stop, so I kept on truckin’, while keeping my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t get a flat. Thankfully, I didn’t. 🙂
As I was on my second lap, I caught up to a rider on a Cervelo P3, I can’t recall if it was a man or woman, but either way, I flew past them and went about my business. A little while later I was passed by two riders… one of them being the aforementioned P3 rider. I had passed them going a good bit faster, so I was a little surprised at the speed they were now carrying. But whatever, I know it’s a bad idea to surge on the bike, so I let them go and stuck to my pace… and wouldn’t you know it, a few minutes later I was passing them both. Remember those train tracks? Yea, so they have signs marking them very clearly as no passing zones… and guess who decided to pass me as I was approaching the tracks? Yup, Mr/Ms P3 and their buddy… I wasn’t happy. But of course, I passed him/her again right at the hill as we turned in back toward transition.
My goals on the bike were to put down a good time, and not blow myself up. Mission accomplished, and then some! I finished the bike in an official time of 59:53, good for an average speed of 22.1mph over the distance. Fastest in the CCFA group, and, this was a nice surprise, 4th fastest in my age group. Knowing I could’ve gone faster with a proper taper and a more aggressive mindset made me feel even better about it.
Oh, and the bike was filled with Team Challenge fans cheering us on. It was pretty awesome to hear people screaming my name, urging me on, and shouting “Congratulations Joel!” as I was flying down the road. 🙂
Once I got off my bike, I trotted over to my transition area, racked my bike, changed my shoes, grabbed my race belt and my fancy new Team Challenge visor, and I was off and jogging. The course was also the same as last year, and like Bass Lake, this was also a 2 lap run. We started out down the path along the bay through Seaport Village, then we turn onto the Embarcadero and run along it’s perimeter, at one point going over the grass… which is weird. We turn back onto the path through Seaport and continue down a little bit before swinging a left, and hitting the turn around point. We backtrack the entire way back, and then do it again!
The first thing I noticed… there was a LOT of orange out on course! It was pretty cool seeing all of my fellow Team Challenge peeps out on course. Some run/walking, some running, some just walking with a purpose, but all of them looked to be having a blast. It’s weird to find such enjoyment in something like doing a triathlon, but endorphins are a force to be reckoned with. 🙂 TC always rolls in big numbers at this race, but it’s still always nice to see exactly how many of us were out there.
My goal for the run was to keep at around a sub 9minute pace, and not get hurt! I’m fairly confident I could go faster, but I didn’t want to. Silverman is approaching, so blowing myself up on this race wouldn’t have been a good idea. So I just settled into a comfortable, easy-ish, pace and kept an eye on my watch just to make sure I wasn’t slacking or pushing too hard. I pushed the pace a little bit toward the latter part of the race, but for the most part I kept it hovering at right around 9 per mile.
As I got going, one thing I regretted right away was not drinking more of my Skratch mix on the bike. I wouldn’t say I was dehydrated, but I wasn’t as hydrated as I would’ve liked. I made sure to stop at every aid station, but water isn’t the same as the Skratch mix. The later is FAR tastier, for one… although since I like to dump the water over my head, it being water and not sugary hydration drink is nice. Other than wishing I drank more on the ride, the run was an enjoyably uneventful affair. There was no pain coming from my legs, so my thoughts drifted to Silverman pacing in-between high fiving teammates, laughing at the antics of some of the spectators (“Lookin good visor!” never mind the bright orange kit and afro), trying to stick to my pace, and just enjoying the run. I found myself feeling a little slower than I wanted from time to time, often because I’d catch a runner and then subconsciously match their pace so I wouldn’t surge, but a quick glance at my watch kept me honest.
As I got toward the end of the run, I spotted one of my mentees, Jake, ahead of me walking. I had seen him a few other times in on the run, and while he was running he did look like his legs were getting heavier and heavier as the miles went by. We were very close to the finish, so when I caught up to him I gave him a few words of encouragement and told him to run into the finish with me. He was up for the challenge and started jogging again, so I paced him for a little before I began upping the pace a little as the finish line got closer.
While Jake continued at his own pace, I gradually inched my pace upwards as I got close to the finish. I mentioned to Tam before the race that I never ended up in a sprint finish, so I decided I’d sprint against myself… and the guy slow jogging to the finish blissfully unaware that I was bearing down on him. So, I took off! Working on strides while training for Silverman had me prepared for this moment, so I accelerated smoothly, tried to maintain good form, and raced through the finish.
And I was done. The run took me 53:08 according to the official time, good for an average pace of 8:51 per mile… right about where I wanted to be. When all was said and done, I finished the full gauntlet in 2:39:18.38, good for 5th in the CCFA division. I hit the TC tent to check in and give my heart a second so it could stop beating out of my chest. Once I was somewhat composed, I hit a cheer station to cheer in some of my fellow TC peeps, before heading back to the finish to cheer Tam in. Once she was through, it was time to unwind, cool off, and see in the rest of our teammates.
The goal coming in was to put in a respectable time, have fun, and not get hurt before Silverman… and I can safely say I checked all three boxes. I was faster in all three phases than I was on average when I did the sprint distance last year, I had a blast all around, and I came through the other end with no injuries! Icing on the cake is the fact I put down a blistering bike split, I was hoping to be quick, but I didn’t think I’d be Top 5 in my AG quick! Plus, TriRock is always a blast considering the huge Team Challenge presence on course. It’s always more fun when you can share a moment with a great group of people.
Looking forward to next year, when chances are TriRock will be my “A” race!