It’s been awhile…there’s a reason for that. I’ll convey that in another post here soon. But for now, I want to just dive into 70.3 Santa Cruz.
We began our trip by doing an extended road trip. We went from our home in Colorado through Wyoming before taking a bit of a detour in Salt Lake City. We hit up a 24 Hour Fitness to get 1000 meters of swimming in, then went to Layton, where I spent a few years of my childhood. T and I drove around the neighborhood, seeing a few houses I recognized and a school that I went to. The neighborhood was definitely smaller than I remember, and so was the house I grew up in. Anyway, moving on. We continued on West Highway 80 through western Utah, driving over the Bonneville Salt Flats which was a very cool thing to see. We stopped and took some pictures standing on the salt. Then we stopped in Wendover for the night. The hotel we picked was old and felt unsafe, so we unpacked the car way more than we wanted to. Finding dinner at a casino right across the border in Nevada, we then went back to the hotel and crashed for the night.
Thursday continued the road trip. We drove through northern Nevada, eventually stopping in Reno for lunch. T and I both had memories of Circus Circus from our childhood, but both of us were unsure if it was the Vegas Circus Circus or the Reno location. A quick visit to the casino confirmed which one it was. After Reno, we pressed on to Sacramento, CA. T spent a few years of her childhood in Fair Oaks, so after finding another 24 Hour Fitness, we found her childhood home as well. After that, we got in a short run at a park and found some dinner at a place she remembered from childhood. Then we stayed at a (much nicer) hotel for the night and got some decent rest.
Friday was our final of the road trip until post-race. We took the 4 hours to drive to Santa Cruz. Checking in at the hotel, we figured out that it was right across from transition and the race expo. Total bonus! We hauled our stuff into the hotel room and then just headed across the street to get registered/checked in. T and I scouted out the trans area and were only a few minutes away from a race briefing, so we hung around to listen to that. After that, we went back to the hotel room to relax a bit before finding a place in Santa Cruz for sushi. Not a bad place. Then we walked along the ocean a bit and the Santa Cruz boardwalk before deciding to call it a night.
Saturday morning, we made a roadtrip up to San Jose to grab Chick Fil A for our bike ride. We also hit a Target for a few things. When we got back down to Santa Cruz, we went for a very quick bike/very quick run. We also went to another athlete briefing where some pros were speaking. I knew Linsey Corbin was racing and hoped to corner her and get a picture. Sure enough, I pulled it off. After that, we got in our car and drove a bit of the course. We realized that there were going to be some punchy hills, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Stopping for lunch at a place about 11 miles from the start, both T and I discussed our fears. I admitted that I was terrified back at Silverman in 2015 but never said a word. She asked if I wanted to drive more of the course, but I said no. I wanted to not know what I was facing. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, eventually wandering out for our breakfast for dinner. First we found a place to get manicures/pedicures. Then it was back to the room, last minute prep, and bed.
Sunday morning was race day. I woke up with some jitters, but tried to push them down. Leaving our hotel room for transition, I did my best to stay calm. When I got into trans and split away from T, it was like returning to an arena I hadn’t been in awhile but was very familiar with. Setting up my trans area was routine and easy. I had been there before and knew I could do what I needed to do. T and I killed some time and eventually got into our wetsuits to walk down to the ocean.
We were faced with what looked like a very dense fog as the sun came up. We knew we both wanted to get in a pre-race swim, so we eventually waded our way into the ocean and started summoning the courage to dive into very unfamiliar territory and get in what we needed to get in.
Unfortunately, T had a mini freak-out before the swim and I was in the position of having to comfort her and reassure her, something I’m not used to doing. I told her it would be okay and she would do great things. She seemed to calm a bit and we started working our way to the swim start.
We heard rumblings that the swim was being pushed back, and sure enough, there was an announcement saying it would be pushed back about 20 minutes until the fog cleared a bit. Once that happened, they would let us know the gameplan. We found a couple of T’s teammates and commiserated with them about what was happening. The rumors were flying. Would the swim be cancelled? Shortened? Keep being pushed back? No one knew. Then an announcement came, saying that we would be shifting over to another part of the beach, and that our swim was going to be shortened. No one seemed to know the distance – we heard everything from a simple “get wet to start your chip” to 800 meters to 1000 meters to it would be a full ½ Ironman swim.
In some sort of organized line sort of, we waited our turn to get in the water. It was still a rolling start, but not organized in any sort of way. The swim appeared to be an 800 meter swim, maybe a bit shorter. T and I both were a bit relieved it was shortened. I said goodbye to her, hit the start mat, ran to the water, and began.
It took just a couple strokes to get my breath under me. Knowing the distance had been shortened considerably, I knew I could “bomb” the swim and still have a reasonable day. So while I still stayed a tad conservative, I just went for it and pushed myself as well. I was happy with how I swam, but not everything was perfect. My new wetsuit was scratchy against my neck a bit, so I opened it up. I also had to sprint to blow past a dude who kept pace with me. My line was nowhere near straight. Clearly need some open water practice!
When my hand hit the sand, I knelt down, but tried not to waste any time. I hauled my carcass out of the water, and with no transition mat in sight, I looked at my watch. Seeing a sub 2:00 per 100, I patted myself on the back (mentally) and started the ¼ mile slog towards trans.
Swim Time – 16:38
With a very long run back to transition, I didn’t worry about my time. Knowing I haven’t really raced a tri in awhile, I took my time, making sure I had everything in order. My nutrition was on my person, my water bottles loaded, and I peeled out of trans ready to face the road and see what happened.
T1 Time – 7:42
T had said something very important to me the day before or two days before the race – what happened in the past, both good and bad, didn’t matter today. Draw on the good experiences, leave the bad experiences behind.
Man, did that advice work!
I bombed out of transition like a man possessed. I had a very specific gameplan in mind. I would hydrate often but not to the point I was drinking for the sake of drinking. With a cool temperature and an overcast sky (still some fog too), hydration was important but not crucial. I also had set my Garmin to beep every 15 minutes to remind me to eat.
The first few miles of the race were through a residential neighborhood up on a cliff. Nice view, if it’s not foggy. But speedy too. Then you do a brief climb up to the PCH, where you ride north. The PCH was a bit bumpy, and there were rumble strips early in the ride, so I was on my toes.
My watch beeps at specific intervals (10 miles) and notifies me of the time. When I saw 32:10 for my first split, I about screamed for joy. That’s an insane time. If I’m doing 35:00 or 37:00, I’m ecstatic. So you can imagine how elated I was. That being said, I knew I had a long way to go, a few more hills to climb, and my pace might not be sustainable.
The whole time I was riding, I kept reminding myself that the past was the past. Silverman and Chatt? They were failures, to be sure. But is it fair to call them failures? Silverman was a brutal course that I showed up vastly undertrained for, and Chatt bit me in the heat department. I also reminded myself how amazing it was to be racing in California, my new work home. I was so grateful to be enjoying myself.
On the first huge hill, I just tossed it into the easiest gear I had. Recently, T and I converted our gearing from 12/25 in the back to 11/28, which allows us to have an easier time climbing. I definitely was grateful for the extra gearing that day. I didn’t get discouraged by the slower time; I instead used it to my advantage to talk to myself and remind myself of what I was achieving.
An important note here – some of you may/may not remember that at Ironman Boulder last year I was witness to a very unfortunate event. A triathlete was hit by a car about 5 bikes in front of me and unfortunately died. I was able to finish my race but her death hung on me. Anytime I head a siren at Boulder or Chattanooga, I couldn’t help but worry about T. At Santa Cruz, while I heard/saw a couple ambulances, I was able to not stress myself and wonder if it was her. I think that played a major part into my day going well.
At the turn around, I saw my time and was just stunned. I was sub-1:30:00, so I was on pace for a sub 3:00:00 bike. I would have been happy with a 3:30:00, so to be doing what I was doing was great. However, I knew I had 28 miles to go and didn’t have the greatest fitness, so I was going to be pedaling against myself for the back half of the ride. I hit the aid station, grabbing water. I was sticking to a great hydration plan.
So the back half of the bike was definitely a bit more uphill. Not more hilly per se, just a bit more climbing. It didn’t matter though. I was in a zone I have not felt in a very very long time. I pounded the pedals, churned out the miles, and before I knew it, I was turning back into town towards transition. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, knowing I was going to do just over three hours. I realized awhile back that sub-3 wasn’t happening, and while I would have loved 3:04:05 (my Boulder 2013 time), I was perfectly content to settle for 3:10:00. Bounding down the final hill towards transition, I hopped off my bike, hit my Garmin, and got mentally ready for the run.
Bike Time – 3:09:35
I wasn’t 100% sure how long I had for the run, but regardless, I breezed through trans. Forgot sunscreen, but no problems otherwise.
T2 Time – 4:10
Okay. I’m going to put something out there. My running has not been good since 2013. I’ve done some good stuff in running like the BAA 5K time, but most of my running has been a loooong, slow slog to ensure endurance. The problem with this running style is I have no speed for more than a mile or two. Furthermore, I just have not enjoyed running in a long time. With that in mind, here we go.
As I started the run, it was getting warm as the fog burned off and the clouds were cleared. I knew it was going to be in the high 70’s/low 80’s, but it felt hotter. Knowing I am susceptible to heat, I was very conscious of what I was doing. I talked with a few people early but failed to make a true run buddy. I also saw T riding back into transition as I hit the first mile, so knowing she was in a good place was wonderful. I knew she would finish; she would actually have a chance to catch me depending on how she ran.
The run took us back through the cliff town and then out on a trail into some farmland that eventually looped us near the ocean. The first 3 miles of the run were fine, but the run to the turnaround point was boring, hilly, and very hot/dusty. Definitely did not enjoy myself that much, but started mentally thinking about how I was going to silence every demon that had been haunting me. Every mile sign I hit, I said to myself “one mile closer”.
The view of the ocean definitely was beautiful. I’ve spent a bit of time in various spots in SoCal with Delta viewing the ocean, and this view certainly didn’t disappoint. I loved it and I definitely think it pulled me into a good spot. As I started back towards trans, there was about 5 miles to go. I figured I might see T, but I might not depending on how well she was doing. I didn’t see her, so I knew she was lurking not too far behind. Awesome.
With about 3 miles to go, I saw a runner heading out. I shouted some encouragement to them, because I realized I had been there with Silverman. Hell, I’ve been there in a lot of races. I knew how it felt. I never want to see anyone fail and I hope whoever they are made it.
When I reached about 12 miles, I made a true run buddy. She was a Betty team member and we talked about this and that for awhile. I told her about my demons and she was happy I squashed them. She explained a bit about Betty and we promised we’d push each other to the finish. She went ahead of me, and I didn’t mind.
At the final push, you ran down a hill, hit the beach for about 20 yards, then the finish line. I was a bit overcome with emotion, but more determination. I heard that you run on sand to the finish; I didn’t notice. I just pushed myself, hit the finish line, and said a sincere thank you to whoever was watching over me.
Run Time – 2:59:48
Total Time – 6:37:53
I got my medal, hat, a bottle of water, took a couple of finisher pictures, then went back to find T. She came in about 15 minutes total behind me, and I ran to the finish line to find her. We hugged and both expressed our pride for each other. We walked back to transition, grabbed a bit of food, then got our stuff packed up and walked back to the hotel to get cleaned up and go celebrate.
This race was redemption for many, many things.
I will be writing a blog in a few more days about why I have been incognito, talking about some thoughts that have been going through my head this last year. I will also talk about the future.