Race Report: Orange County Triathlon, International Distance 2011

Last Sunday I raced my first international distance of the season (also known as “olympic” distance), and it was a blast (among other things). I’m really not competitive at this distance, and I don’t know that I ever will be. First off, hardcore triathlete ladies do this distance. Usually I can at least beat the newbies on mountain bikes and beach cruisers at the “sprint” races. These–if I finish in the top half, I’m happy. There were pros racing this thing! Distances: 1.5k swimming (.9miles), 40k bike (24.9miles), 10k run (6.2miles).

I will take you through my race thoughts again, so you can relive the magic on the course.

Pre-race: I make it to the course & see a park kind of far away with ample parking. I think, “I’ll park there. No crowds.” Only as I was unpacking the bike did I realize my bike would actually be in a different place at the end of the race, & I would have to WALK miles back to my car in order to drive and get it. OH WELL.

I usually pack my bike in the trunk, which means I need to remove the front wheel, so I always double check to make sure all is good after I put it on. I forgot to check the back wheel, though. So I start heading to the race course on the bike, put on my breaks just a teeny bit during a downhill & my bike comes to a scratching halt & I can smell rubber burning–I saved myself from a fall (thank goodness), & luckily my tire was OK, too. Turns out my back wheel must have moved around during the trip & wasn’t properly on the bike. Good morning for a race!

Swim: The lake is really pretty and really calm. It’s completely narrow, so the course goes out really far, and then you come all the way back again. My wave lines up & I’m not at all in the mood to push things (given that my swim practice has been less than stellar, I’m not sure I can handle the distance at all–much less at a fast pace). So I watch everyone run and jump in & just watch some more. I’m so bad at racing sometimes, mostly because I hate crowds. Finally I get in the water & start moving at a nice slow pace. I’m pretty convinced I’m not even on the race course anymore because no one is hitting my feet or my face. But I take a minute to look around & readjust my goggles (note to self, buy new goggles that don’t require a dozen readjustments during race) & I see some people & the buoys up ahead– so all is good. I’ve never been so calm during a swim. I guess this is improvement. I’m not flailing around, doing the backstroke, worrying about seaweed, having panic attacks. But I’m also pretty slow. Towards the end, the waves of men behind me were catching up and running over me, which finally motivated me to pick up the pace. But as I finished, I walked out of the water about as slowly as I went in, as if I were in a daze (this is proven by the incredibly unattractive race photo taken at that very moment). That’s just too much time in dark, dreary lake water for me.

Transition 1: Wetsuit comes off pretty fast (I’m always so impressed with my wetsuit skills), but I notice the gels I tape to my bike are already falling off. I rip them off, put them in the back of my race shirt & I’m on the bike.

Bike: I studied the course beforehand (super smart idea), & so I knew that mile 1-5 was uphill…and then I promptly forgot all the other elevations. All I could remember was “there is another hill later on, but the last 4 miles is downhill.” These are the lonnnnng inclines I never practice on, but I’m not terrible at them. I have one hill near home that I’ve been hitting pretty regularly. It is terrible. Even if I start going up it like a maniac, slow motion hits me pretty soon & I’m barely upright. Well, luckily, none of the hills were that bad & it was so fun during the downhills–I really tried to keep the speed up and gain some time on those. I was still not going so fast that I didn’t think, “Kristy enjoy the scenery! Look over there at the cows! I mean, horses! Wait, I think cows!” I’m not at my best mentally during these races. But then the odor hit me. Cow. or Horse. Something that smelled horrible. We turned off near the turn around (it was an out and back kind of course) & got to ride on a cool bike trail for a bit–then it felt like you were really in the country & was pretty cool. Coming out of that, I hit the second major uphill portion of the course–and right before I reach one of the summits, my chain drops & I just start spinning. Yikes. Luckily, I clip out of my pedals & don’t just fall down the hill. And I actually know my bike well enough to put the chain back on (you think this is basic, but you should’ve seen me in Vegas a couple of years ago…clueless). I lose a minute or two, but it’s better than getting a flat! At this point, my energy starts failing me & I start to distract myself in order to make it up the hills. I try to say the alphabet, but for some reason–all I keep saying is that LMNOP (ellemeno p) part–over and over again. I then start counting to 10 over and over again–and then sure enough, it’s downhill! Wwwweeeeeee. And we’re done! I feel much better about the bike than I thought I would.

Transition 2: This race is different than most in that we had to pre-set our running gear the day before for this transition (most races all gear is in one spot & you go back and forth). They said to bring bright towels, bandanas, chalk, etc to mark where your stuff was–but instead I just put my shoes and hat in a grocery sack & set it next to a bright orange cone that was there. I AM A GENIUS! This cone is the brightest thing out here! No way I can miss this! Until the moment on race day when I actually make it to the area–there is no cone to be found (I guess they removed it), and I have NO IDEA where my bag is (among hundreds of other bags). I just keep running back and forth, trying to remember spacing–but really having no idea. I end up just putting my bike away somewhere & continue looking. Finally, I see it–but am hyperventilating from the stress and frustration of it all. Not a great way to start the run!

Run: The run was almost completely trail, which is good and bad. Good because it’s pretty & is always changing & dirt roads are softer–bad because it’s nonstop ridiculous hills. The first couple of miles weren’t at all bad, so at this point I was pretty optimistic about my time. I thought, “Oh cool. Let’s start slow and steady & pick it up every 20 minutes.” Unfortunately, after that first 20 minutes, nothin but hills. No one was running the steep ones –there was no point–you could literally walk them faster. Towards the last couple of hills, my quads were not happy with me. In good news, plenty of volunteers and water stations. In bad news, half of the crowd was shouting nonsense advice and words of wisdom about the race course. Never, ever listen to the crowd, especially when they say the following:
“You’re almost through!”
“Just make it around this corner, and it’s downhill from here!”
“This is the LAST hill!”
“1.8 miles to go!”
“Your stride looks great!”
“400 meters to go and IT’S ALL DOWNHILL!”
I of course believe everyone, even though I should’ve learned my lesson by now. But I always answer them back like I’m not really sure I believe them, “REally??? It’s all downhill?!?”–hoping that they will just be honest and say “Well, we don’t actually know that, but we thought it would make you go faster” or “yes, I mapped the course elevation last night & turns out–it IS in fact all downhill.” Only minutes later, when I see another looming hill, does the bitterness begin to boil. How dare they lie to me!!! And the 1.8 miles–it seemed so exact, who just shouts out a time like that without knowing??? The 400 meters to go–I decided to trust him because he was wearing an official race shirt & he was pretty close to right on…thank goodness, because I sprinted the last couple of minutes imagining I just had to do one lap around the track…anymore, and I would’ve been walking.

The great thing about knowing you didn’t medal (but still finishing 3:09, I’m getting faster!) is that you don’t have to stick around for the post-race boredom. I grabbed a banana, yogurt, and water & started the long trek back to my car (and then drove to get my bike). I felt really really great. It wasn’t an easy course, but there’s such a satisfaction to finishing it. It was a really pretty, hilly course, and those are sometimes more fun than the flat fast ones. Don’t get me wrong–I’ve made sure my next triathlon is both flat and fast. It’s good for the ego! Since I’m racing less this season, I did find a local Culver City 5k to do in a few weeks. My running is really getting going again, so I’m eager to speed up those run times! It turns out I won’t be able to make the trip to Nationals–got to do a work event instead (which I’m totally happy about, so it’s OK), so just going to keep qualifying with other races so that someday I’ll make the trip! It does mean I can mix up my races a bit this season, so I’m still figuring out which direction I want to go. Short and fast–or getting better at longer distance? My heart is saying short and fast–I’ve just loved really hard, fast, short workouts these days. Anyways, second race of the season & it was a fun one!