The race was the San Diego TriRock which was held in downtown San Diego at the Embarcadero Marina Park South. The 1,500 meter swim was in the harbor, the 14.5 mile bike was a three loop course that headed south (was supposed to be 20 miles into the Navy base but heightened security due to 9 /11 caused a last-minute change which left many disgruntled participants), and a 6.2 mile out and back that headed north, along the harbor via a heavily tourist patrolled sidewalk. The course was anything but ideal – more on that later.
Getting Ready to Race
Due to the shortened course that would now require us to complete three loops, our wave time (I raced with my good friend Asia) was moved back from 8:30 to 9:10. Transition was set to close at 6:30 so we were quite upset about the possibility of a nearly 3 hour wait from transition til the gun. However, at the last-minute the transition closure for Olympic participants was moved back to 7:30. The late transition closure time actually gave us an extra hour of sleep and we were able to get up at 5:15 and get a good start on the day, including our much-needed coffee, which has become a pre-race tradition.
After setting up our gear we walked over to the start area to watch some of the sprint racers. We also checked out the buoys for the Olympic swim and were quite surprised by how far we had to swim. At this point the nerves started to really set in. We did some stretching and eventually the boys (our boyfriends also raced) had to line up for their wave which was three ahead of us. After they were gone and in the water, my nerves really kicked into high gear. I have never been so nervous for a race in my life. I was twice as nervous as I was for the marathon. It also didn’t help that as we waited in the corral to get in the water we heard that about 12 people had crashed on the course due to pot holes and rail road tracks. Not only was I afraid to get a flat, now I was afraid to wipe out!
The wave groups were separated by 7 minutes and the only chance we had to warm up in the water was during the few minutes we had after we jumped off the dock until the gun went off. As soon as we were jumping into the water one by one like lemmings over a cliff, two skydivers jumped out of a plane above us with giant American flags to remember the victims of 9/11. It was quite a mix of emotions to feel the blood pumping through my veins in anticipation of the race start, feeling more alive than ever, at the same time as I was mourning those who lost their lives 10 years ago.
The gun went off without warning and suddenly my race had begun! I started to swim carefully, trying not to kick anyone or get kicked. There were about 100-120 in my wave but we quickly spread out. I knew that I was in the front of the pack, but I couldn’t be certain. I just focused on heading in a straight line and really focused on my pull. I learned a couple of weeks ago that I am barely pulling water down when I swim, which is very inefficient. Although I’ve only had three times in the water to practice my new technique, I can certainly tell a difference. After I rounded the first buoy and started making my way to the second set of buoys (the course exited the harbor, turned right and then u-turned back and after one final left hand turn entered the harbor again), I started passing people wearing green caps, meaning that I’d caught up to some people in the wave that started 7 minutes ahead of me. This was a boost of confidence as I wasn’t even close to half way finished. I spent the remainder of the swim passing countless green capped swimmers and several pink caps, who were two waves ahead. I even saw a couple of silver who started with Mike 21 minutes earlier than me.
Needless to say, these people I was passing didn’t have the best form. It was easy to spot many of their errors (don’t get me wrong, I am NOT a perfect swimmer by any means), specifically I saw lots of legs that had fallen and were creating a lot of drag. As I rounded the last buoy, I spotted someone under the water with great form. As I popped my head up to sight the finish, I realized the person with good form was a girl from my wave, wearing a red cap. I hadn’t seen a fellow red cap for at least half the race. I tried to keep up with her and kept thinking I had passed her, only to find out that I had passed someone from a previous wave. In the end, I decided it was better to catch her elsewhere in the race rather than swim too hard.
Swim Time: 27:02 (1:49 per 100 meters) – 4th in age group, 67th overall
We exited the water via stairs that led to a walkway along the harbor and near the transition area. I ran quickly back to my bike and was happy that I wasn’t very disoriented as I have been afte some of the aquathons. I was certainly a bit tired but I had plenty of energy to keep going. At transition I put on my helmet, socks, and cycling shoes, took a big swig of both Cytomax and water, grabbed my bike and ran to the exit.
Transition 1 Time: 2:10 – 5th in age group
As soon as I got onto the course, I was immediately yelled at by some very fast men speeding by me, shouting “on your left!” very aggressively. Little did I know, I had just passed the girl who had come in 3rd on the swim. I made my way through the first loop pretty cautiously. I was shaken up from the agro men with aerohelmets and aerobars and also wanted to catch my breath and assess the situation. After a couple sharp turns I was on the main stretch which began with a small hill. About halfway down the straightaway the road started to get really bad. Potholes were everywhere and there was debris all over the course. I even saw a banana at one point. I felt like I was playing Mario Kart in real life and I really didn’t want to feel what Bowser feels like when he hits one of Donkey Kong’s bananas.
I slowed way down the first time I crossed the railroad tracks and the road seemed to get worse after I went over them. I slowed down again at the u-turn and got passed by a woman who I thought was in my age group (turns out she wasn’t but I thought because her number started with 25 she was). After taking a swig of water and cytomax, I decided to turn up the intensity because I didn’t like being passed. I pedaled as hard as I could but also couldn’t help but slow down to avoid huge potholes. I was thankful when I was back on the nicely paved road and worked my way up the hill again. At this point I had passed just as many men as had passed me (so what if they were on mountain bikes or were Cyldesdales?!) and I was feeling pretty good.
Once I got onto my second lap, I cranked it up again. I found myself actually passing quite a few people and being a little annoyed that they weren’t staying to the right, just as those intense men had probably been annoyed about me! About halfway through the 2nd lap I tore one of the Gus that I had taped onto my bike and ate it as quickly as possible. During training runs I love to eat Gu because I think it tastes like frosting but when you are pushing yourself as hard as you can, it’s not fun to keep your mouth shut and savor the taste of cupcake. I tried to get as much water down as possible with it, remembering my error at the AFC half marathon where I had some stomach cramps from taking it without water.
The second lap was uneventful except for a girl from my age group passing me and the fact that I hit a very deep pot hole that rattled me so hard that I cursed out loud. This is when I started getting very angry at the TriRock organizers for forcing us to do three loops on this miserable road. Somewhere on this lap I started playing cat and mouse with a woman who was not in my age group but a good match for me. I was glad to finally pass her at the end of the third loop. Besides cursing the TriRock organizers I was also constantly looking for my good friend Asia who has just learned to open water swim in the last couple months. I never saw her and started getting worried that something terrible happened to her! When I got off my bike after the third loop I felt surprisingly energized.
Bike Time: 46:37 (18.3 mph) – 8th in age group, 281 overall
When I reached transition I immediately noticed that there were 3 bikes on my age group’s rack. I was doing well! I had no idea how many other racks there were for girls in my age group so I assumed I was somewhere in the top 10. I had thought that three girls in my age group passed me on the bike, but I wasn’t sure since the number on their arm didn’t mean what I thought it meant. I was also very relieved to see Asia’s bike missing, meaning that she hadn’t drowned!
After a quick change into running shoes and a hat, I took a swig of water and was off!
T2 Time: 1:58 -7th in age group
This would be my first 10k race. I had never competed in a race this distance and I honestly had no idea how to pace myself. This was one of the reasons why I didn’t wear my Garmin watch. I wanted to go by feel, not by how fast I was actually going. I started the run feeling pretty good. I immediately passed the woman who I had played cat and mouse with on the bike. Apparently she had a faster transition than me!
By now it was about 10:30 a.m. and it was getting hot. The run course was along a very crowded pedestrian walkway in a megatourist zone. Since it was a beautiful Sunday morning, hundreds of people were meandering along the sidewalks, some with strollers, some with dogs and others on bicycles. Although some were aware that a race was being held and were courteous to that fact, most were not and just went along with their business. Not that I can blame them. The only one to blame was the race director again, but instead of getting mad, I just tried to work with it and do some people watching while I ran.
The first mile was the longest mile of my life. I was shocked to see the 1 mile marker, thinking I was at least 1.5 miles in. I even said aloud to the woman I was passing (at this point I had passed quite a few people!) that it was the longest mile of my life. In retrospect, the highlight of this mile was passing the girl in my age group that had currently been in 3rd place. I didn’t realize this at the time, but as soon as I overtook her I was now in 3rd.
Despite a rough first mile, I felt good for most of the remaining run. I focused on getting to the halfway point first. I took water at both aid stations on the way there and started a ritual of drinking one cup and pouring the other on my head from the second aid station on. I saw a few familiar faces on the course and said hello to them, including Mike who I saw just before mile 1 and Jeremy who I saw at about mile 2 or so. At about mile 2.75 or so, a girl on her way back high-fived me. In retrospect I think she was the one winning our age group and was giving me a shout out!
At about mile 5, I was ready to get the race over with. I was more than ready for every water station that I came to and the heat was getting more intense. I started to repeat my mantra, “pain is temporary, pride is forever” in my head and tell myself that 1 mile was cake. I’d be done in about 8 minutes.
As I made the final turn onto the Marina Park South with about 0.15 miles to go, I decided I needed to dig down deep and go as hard as possible to finish. I found a woman about 100 meters ahead of me and told myself that she was in my age group and that I needed to pass her. I tried imagining that I was going for a podium spot, even though I really didn’t think I was. I found myself passing other guys as I ran and tried to catch up to her. I finally did, but she wasn’t in my age group. This didn’t stop me from pushing on and I sprinted to the finish. I nearly collapsed at the finish line – I had pushed myself to my very brink. I literally had nothing left. I had to bend over and catch my breath and remained in the finish zone for at least a minute, drinking my water before I could even think about putting on my medal and taking off my timing chip. I knew I had performed well and I was proud of myself for such a strong finish.
Run Time: 51:52 (8:22 min/miles) – 3rd in age group, 150 overall
The Podium Awaits!
After I found Mike and Jeremy and we watched Asia finish, we checked the preliminary results. I was absolutely shocked and ecstatic to find that I had finished third in my age group!!! A real podium finish! I couldn’t have even dreamed that I would finish so well on my first race of this distance. I was also thrilled to find out that Mike had placed 2nd in his age group. We waited around for the awards ceremony and accepted our official TriRock beer mug which were labeled “2nd Place Olympic” and “3rd Place Olympic.” I was so proud of Mike and I for putting in so much hard work over the last year to get us here.
I also found out that I had only come in 3rd by 4 seconds. Apparently that feeling that I got at the finish was due to a fellow age grouper that was literally on my heels behind me! After looking at the official times online, it turns out that she outswam me, but I passed her in transition and then she could never catch up on the bike. Then, she ran a 10 seconds per mile faster than me on the run but wasn’t able to catch me! I couldn’t believe how close I had come to losing my podium without even knowing it. I must have had some intuition that she was behind me.
After looking at my final results, I realized that although I have come a long way on the bike, I need to put in more time on it. Although I’m happy to have come in 3rd after learning to ride a road bike only three months ago. I am excited to see how much improvement I can make over these next few months and throughout Ironman training. Although I have no plans to do a sprint or olympic distance triathlon until mid summer next year, I am looking forward to more races at this distance!
Final Time: 2:09:40 – 3rd in age group, 13th woman, 118 overall