In some fog bank of memory, years ago, I told Erin I might someday race a half Ironman–a.k.a. a “70.3” for its number of miles. The 70.3 distance is her favorite because, compared to the whimpering, twitching, starved-but-can’t-eat state that beset her after Ironman Louisville 2010, she claims that a half Ironman is hard but only “leaves you sore enough to know you’ve done something.” And indeed, as I write this, the particulars of how I came to feel both hung over and like I’ve been run over by a Prius are wreathed with the kind of debauched haze that usually follows a trip to Las Vegas.
Yes, I “did something” yesterday: in 90-degree heat, for almost six hours, while consuming a copious amount of sickly sweet mixed drinks, which led to peeing in my shorts twice. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was my first 70.3 at Challenge Rancho Cordova.
Rancho Cordova, CA
Swim (1.29 miles, 35-ish minutes, 1:43/100m-ish pace)
Speaking of pee, triathletes are wary of borrowing or renting wetsuits for a reason. We like to buy our own, because if there is one constant in every race, it’s that after a few days of
obsessive careful hydration combined with pre-race nerves, it’s that you’re going to pee in that wetsuit. So when you see over hundred athletes paddling around in the deep water, gazing with mock interest at the line of course buoys… Yeah, we’ve all done it. Endurance athletes check their shame at the neon inflatable balloon arch.
Before the race, in wetsuits. (Photo Kasey Caletti)
I queued up in my favorite starting location, just behind the far-inside starting buoy, and shared a few excited words with super-fast Oakland Triathlon Club teammate Christina Liebner. Then the countdown seemed to jump from ten to two, and the horn sounded. I sprinted the first 100 yards to the first buoy, according to plan, and for the first time all season, I saw that I’d kept up with the lead swimmers.
That all changed as I slowed down to settle into my normal pace, and I switched to stage two of the plan: Enjoy the day. Folsom Lake is placid, cool, and clear (but not too clear–I don’t want to know what’s on the bottom). As I rounded the first big turn in the course, the sun came up over the trees, lighting up the return buoys a glowing, neon orange. I found myself too far to the outside of the course, adjusted, and sped up a little. My wetsuit forced me to arch my back, causing some lumbar pain which would return with a vengeance later.
Bike (56 miles, 2:58-ish hours, 19mph-ish)
Like all my OTC teammates, one of my main goals of the day was staying cool. As the sun got higher, heat began to rise from the road; I noticed it every time I passed out of a shadow–and there weren’t many of those on this drought-stricken, exposed course. I was thankful for the loan of Coach Raeleigh Harris’s white aero helmet, borrowed to replace my unvented, black
cast iron kettle Giro Selector. I also used Pearl Izumi white cool-sleeves for the first time, worn under my wetsuit to get soaked, and which I kept damp with water throughout the bike and run. I actually was chilly for most of the race.
I tackled the first 25 miles of hills (total elevation gain, just under 2,000 feet) in an easy-to-moderate gear, and made sure to maintain the same effort on the later downhills. For the first forty miles, I jockeyed back and forth with a few other women with enormous quads; every time they coasted down the hills to recover from grinding up the hills in a huge gear, I passed them and gained a few minutes. Then they’d catch me again on the next flat. This probably would have continued to T2, until the stabbing pains in my lower back and hips caught up with me, too.
By mile 42 I had to give up on the aero position. I really couldn’t ride the drops, either. Sitting up in a headwind was a bummer, and so was the resulting loss of speed. I still had a half marathon to run, though, and I didn’t want to do it with back cramps. I took my friend Paula’s advice, and looked around for some native blue oaks to appreciate. I didn’t see any, so I enjoyed the singing birds.
Meanwhile, I’d kept up with my nutrition and blew past the final water station only to feel the urge to pee afterward. Peeing on the bike is actually a good thing in long triathlons, because otherwise, it means you are too dehydrated. But the caveat is that you have to do it before a water station so that you can rinse off. Not doing so is gross, and it also leads to chafing. But I’d lost my chance… for now.
Run (13.1 miles, 2:07-ish, 9:42 min/mile pace)
What can I say? I felt GREAT for the first 6.2-mile loop. And then I DIDN’T for the second one.
I haven’t run more than 10 miles (at once) all year, and had cut way back on my weekly mileage while recovering from some annoying hamstring issues. The first loop of this two-loop course felt almost miraculously comfortable: I felt no pain anywhere. My heart rate was good. My pace gradually increased. I drank my nutrition on schedule, poured ice-cold water over my head every mile, and yes, proved to myself–twice–that my hydration was right on target.
A cheering passel that included teammates, Coach Raeleigh, and Erin started off the second loop of the run very well. But by mile 8, my legs tightened up and I felt like I was running on wooden puppet legs. A very fit guy with a carbon fiber prosthetic passed me with an enviably smooth stride. I told myself to toughen up, and stop focusing on what hurt. I sped up for about a half-mile, but my legs weren’t interested in speed. Only by mile 12 did my impatience intervene. My impatience is a force to be reckoned with, and it bullied my legs to hurry the hell up and get this race over with.
Total time: 5:47:something.
Along with six small children, I stood in the Village Green water feature for at least another six hours. I relished the feeling of rinsing off the accumulated sweat, Cytomax, sunscreen, and other byproducts of a day in the heat, imagining that my nausea and fatigue were swirling away, too. And by the time I got a real shower in the hotel, packed up the car, and sat with teammates in the shade, I was ready for that Neapolitan shake from In and Out.
So went my last triathlon of the season. Thank you to everyone who raced this summer, put their fitness to the test week after week, and cheered for Oakland. I know you all have your lives outside of this sport, but speaking as someone who hasn’t lived anywhere for more than 18 months at a time for many years, I am so grateful for your friendship and the chance to share this fun, difficult, dirty, slightly crazy, completely self-affirming sport with you. Have a great off-season!
After the race.