The night before I was supposed to leave for Santa Cruz, my right shoulder seized up while packing, of all stupid things. What started out as a minor twitch turned into painful spasm that stabbed deep into my shoulder when I moved my arm the slightest. I went to sleep that night with a heat pad and multiple, extra strength Tylenols, followed by more throughout that restless sleep. When I awoke it was even worse. It only made sense that I’d get injured right before another race, which has happened three times this year.
After much indecision and stress that morning, I ended up traveling to the race, which was the right call because the pain went away over the next two days and by race morning it was hardly sore at all.
The 27-strong field lined up on the beach to the start of a gun. It boomed, taking a month off my eardrums’ lives, and I was suddenly grabbed from behind and shoved to the left, colliding with Justin Rossi, another former cyclist turned triathlete. My astonishment turned into rage. I cursed at the guy who dun it and followed him into the water, scathing, and then taking a swing and a miss with my fist after I dove in. Next, my goggles filled with water, which I knew was bound to happen because on every practice dive the day prior, they’d filed to some extent. These goggles also get super fogged up in 12 seconds and are tinted, making it very difficult to see in the low morning, overcast light. The zero visibility water didn’t even matter at that point. I was swimming blind, zig-zagging and flailing every which way. I stopped to empty my goggles but they filled up again immediately, this time just on the right eye, so I swam with one eye the whole race, the other soaking up a gram of salt water by the minute. Eyes crave electrolytes.
It took me a few minutes to get into my stride, or stroke I guess, and I began catching up to a large group. Since my vision was so poor, it took a long time to actually catch them and get onto someone’s feet. It was about halfway through the race but I finally found a pair of white feet in the dim water and the effort was cut in half. I banged into a lot of people for the next 12 or 14 minutes as we rounded the pier, me peeping out of the equivalent of heavily advanced cataracts, the other racers most likely assuming I was in a drunken rage. We made our way back onto the beach in 27:11, four minutes down on the lead group and two minutes back from the second, which was a surprise new best for me.
The third-of-a-mile transition run on bare feet over pavement hurt like a mother. I’d put on flip flops but kicked them off quickly since they were too slippery on the wet pavement. I lost about 30 seconds during that whole fiasco to Sam Long, who I’d come out of the water with and I knew he was a guy who’d be a useful ally during the bike.
Michi Weiss flew by all of us and eventually caught the lead group, passed them with Justin Rossi, and set a best time on the run (and bike) to win.
I, having much more human—less laboratory—physiology, averaged a mere 341 watts for the first 30 minutes to catch Sam, Steven Killshaw, and one other. Steven, Sam, and I worked fairly well together for the rest of the race, which was beautiful. During a triathlon, unlike a time trial, you have enough oxygen in your brain during the bike to soak in a bit of the scenery. The course had started out on a small, winding, cliff-top road that overlooked the ocean to the left. The sky was gray and wet, as was the road. Green pines and mossy oaks thickened as we rode out of town on Highway 1. As I caught Sam and the others, we took a right hander onto a small, potholed country road that wound its way up into the foggy, forested hills. We climbed a shallow grade, pushing sea level watts with ease, took a tricky descent, and popped out back onto Highway 1, where the legal drafting really came into effect. Sam was taking super hard pulls, then falling too far back afterwards, which upset the flow despite his strength. Instead of six bike lengths, which is the legal limit, he was 20 bikes back. I think we could have cut a minute off our time if the three of us had been more fluid, but we still only ended up cracking 2:13 on the hilly course, compared to 2:10 of the lead pack and a fucking insane 2:04 of Weiss (Justin, who is one of the best domestic time trialists in the country, did 2:06 by bridging to the lead group after the swim and then following Weiss after his attack at the turn around, eyes bleeding just to stay on the wheel apparently).
I’m seeing steady progress on the swim, which is encouraging because I know that I won’t be competitive until I come out with the first or second swim groups. I seriously doubt that I’ll ever have the power to average 350 for two plus hours and be able to run fast afterwards.
Steven, Sam, and I came off the bike together and charged up a steep, fog-slicked hill out of transition, following the same cliffside road that we’d begun and ended the bike on. Sam was dropped before the first mile was through, then I was dropped shortly after. I developed a nagging lung cramp but kept it under control until it dissipated at mile three. By then the gap out to Steven was 45 seconds. I kept it there for the next five miles, many of which were run on narrow dirt paths with uneven footing, making the run more enjoyable than a monotonous straight paved road.
My average pace, bolstered by one last full strength caffeine gel, went from 5:56 down to 5:53 and continued to drop with three miles to go as I passed Justin and shortly afterwards, Steven. I kept the pressure on till the end and even choked down one last gel with a mile left, just for my coach Michael’s peace of mind in thought. I finished 10th, out of the money, in 4:01 something with a run split of 1:16:39 on a fairly rugged course, which was another PR thanks to good legs, mostly uninhibited lungs, sea level air, and mild temps.
I celebrated not being on crutches after the race by consuming a mountain of gluten-rich pizza with a few others, then later with a long afternoon of surfing at Steamers. I grew up surfing in Oregon, where fighting for waves was usually just fighting with four people, not 40. I was on a rented soft top, I’m not a good surfer by any stretch of the word “good,” and I narrowly avoided getting in a fight with a few locals who were pissed that I was in their way (and for colliding with one of them). I’m sure I was partially in the wrong since I was just plowing straight down the waves full speed ahead without turning. However, I made certain that when I did drop in, I dropped in first so I’m not entirely confident that I was solely at fault. I did get a couple overheads, which put a huge smile on my face for the rest of the night, regardless of coming up somewhat short in the race. When I finally had to call it a day I paddled in the long way back around the point to the beach, my right shoulder (now sore again) clicking with each stroke, face burnt a nice crisp pink, the sun low but my spirits as high as could be. I devoured a bag of fish-shaped candy in the car and called my brother Galen to brag about surfing, then drove back to my relatives Jack and Laurie’s house in the hills of Aptos to help them empty a bottle of wine.
Adelaide didn’t come out this weekend because she was doing bigger and better things, racing the inaugural edition of 106 West, a triathlon so high it makes your lungs bleed, your eyes roll, and your bowels do both. You can read her race report here (she got third overall), and about the race here on Slowtwitch. Up next for her is Harvest Moon half next weekend, and for me Cozumel 70.3 in three weeks.
This is not during the race, by the way. I just needed a picture so you’d click on the link.