“Spell socks,” my wife Erin told me, a few months into our relationship. We’d met in lily-white Portland, Oregon, and I was ten years out of my college French classes. The only language I spoke or heard spoken was English.
“S-O-C-K-S,” I recited.
“Congratulations on your first Spanish phrase,” she said.
Eso sí que es: basically, It is what it is. And this was my mantra yesterday, as I ran up and down too many short, steep, gravel hills, feeling the inside seam of my running shoe dig into the scab of a big blister on my toe. The healing blister was from last weekend’s experiment in running sockless, because triathletes are sometimes stupidly obsessed with shaving a few seconds off of their race times. Maybe I will skip the socks, I had thought, and charged out for a four-mile trail run experiment.
During yesterday’s 6.2-mile run, all I wanted was an even-thicker pair of S-O-C-K-S and a Band-Aid, but they probably wouldn’t have added any speed to my wobbly legs. Since the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon four weeks ago, Coach Raeleigh Harris did a great job of putting my body back together and preparing it to push hard. I had a great swim and set a personal record of 1:11 on the 26-mile bike (just under 22 mph), so by the time I discovered that the run was not even a little bit flat (shock! dismay!), I had no energy left for miracles. I ran an 8:28 pace and watched a bunch of women in my age group pass me. Eso sí que es, I sighed to myself, and hummed along with the faint strains of “Rude” emanating from the direction of the finish line.
The morning had begun at 4:20 with coffee and graham crackers with peanut butter. I’d eaten so much this week while my dad was in town, and washed it down with beer and martinis, that by the time the weekend arrived all I wanted was a diet of air and water. Since none of this was in my nutrition plan, I sipped on Skratch sports drink while I set up my gear on the Oakland Triathlon Club rack, happy to see so many from our club racing together today. The midsummer early-morning was bright and calm, and the waters of Shadow Cliffs lake looked cleaner than they had yesterday.
We raced at the Shadow Cliffs Rec Area outside of Pleasanton, CA.
I warmed up based on Coach Raeleigh’s suggestions, but probably only got about 3-4 minutes of total warmup time in the crowded start corral. As I found a decent position near the front of the inner start buoy, I told myself that this time, this race, I was going to get my head in the game quickly and treat this as a true time trial. The day’s conditions were very good (72-degree water, a mostly flat bike course, and a two-loop run course on a somewhat-shaded trail), and for the first time this season, I was racing a standard international-distance triathlon. Today was about setting a baseline.
The horn sounded, and I got my momentum quickly, swimming almost as hard as I did in Thursday’s training swim for the first couple of minutes; by then, I felt good and didn’t back off much. It was a relief to swim in warm water—but only for the first half, before I grew uncomfortably hot in a long-sleeved wetsuit. I rounded the second buoy shortly afterward, and when I saw how far the final buoy was, I started noticing that my shoulders were getting tired. I don’t think I slowed down TOO much, though, and prodded myself to keep going. My swim time was a little over 28 minutes, and other athletes would agree afterward that the course seemed long; as much as 1.1 miles instead of .93.
Starting out, I played with my gears a lot to find a good cadence. I couldn’t read my Garmin very well and judged cadence by feel, but the data shows I ended up riding mostly in the mid-80s. I stayed in the aero position for the first 20 miles, but as I was running low on water and (probably) on a false flat, I really started to lose steam and experience hip flexor tightness. I stood up on the pedals and tried flushing out my legs that way, then rode about a minute sitting up. After that I felt much better.
A minor annoyance was the aero helmet. I was borrowing it from Erin and had never worn it before (yeah, yeah, I know: never try out new gear on race day). It felt speedy and was mostly comfortable, but it started digging into my forehead around mile 10 and there wasn’t much leeway for adjustment. Also around that time, the helmet was getting hot.
I should note, too, that I told every single person I encountered on the bike, “Good job,” or something similar. Maybe three people answered me. This mutual encouragement is part of the sport, and I was disappointed that so many athletes were so insular. Folks, you can focus, go fast, whatever, but the secret source of energy often comes from a shared word of encouragement. Don’t be a triasshole. This is a hobby, and it’s supposed to be fun.
On my second loop of the run.
I didn’t find that my speed or comfort improved after the first 10 minutes, and I really felt my running weakness in this race. The short, steep, gravel hills were irksome, but mostly, I just didn’t have much power to spare after pushing hard on the bike. I focused on my elbows cutting through the air and repeatedly told myself to relax my shoulders. Returning to good form was the only thing that got me through this run: that, of course, and the cheering I got from the OTC volunteers at the first aid station and Erin at the transition area.
Though I kept telling myself to hang on to whatever advantage I’d gained on the bike, a couple of women in my age group passed me and I knew I just had to do my best and my time would be whatever it was. It ended up being better than I expected, and I was still able to push myself and my heart rate to get the most out of what energy I had left. And again, thank goodness for OTC volunteers and their cheering!
When I crossed the finish line, I literally just stopped. My legs were D-O-N-E. For a few moments, I couldn’t move and felt a little stupid, like a cow in the middle of the road or something. The volunteers had to come over to me to get my chip, and give me a finisher’s medal and bottle of water. Finally I remembered how to walk, and after a few minutes of exchanging hugs and congratulations with Erin and teammates, I made my way over to the results.
I may have only finished seventh in my age group, but you can bet that I was third place in line at In-and-Out Burger.
* Thanks for reading this giant block of text! If you were at the race and have a few more pics, feel free to share them with me and I will post them here.