Until the Silicon Valley Super Sprint a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t done a sprint triathlon since my very first tri in 2012 — and I had no intention of doing one this year. Silicon Valley was the training race for the group I captain, and I have learned that I don’t like doing the same race as the group. (I want to be available to problem-solve for everyone else without having to deal with my own shit.) My grand plan was to race the Olympic distance at Silicon Valley on Saturday and then cheer my brains out for the sprint on Sunday.
But then this became the year with no water, and the Silicon Valley races moved north to Half Moon Bay — and when that happened, the sprint and the Olympic got scheduled for the same day. And, unlike at Napa last year, the Olympic started first, so if I did that, I wouldn’t get to see my group race at all. I didn’t want that, and I didn’t feel like getting up at 4 a.m. just to cheer, so, fine. I would do the sprint (er, “super sprint”).
I know sometimes it’s cool to be all “I had no goals or expectations!” about a race when you totally have goals and expectations, but I honestly did not have goals or expectations for this race. Okay: I had a thought that it would be nice to bike something close to 30 minutes, but other than that, I just wanted to not literally fall on my face like I did at my last sprint.
The thing about moving races to alternate sites is that nobody has a damn clue what’s going on. The reconstructed course in Half Moon Bay had a point-to-point bike route and two transition areas. I could have made race morning easier by picking up my packet and setting up T2 on Saturday, but that would have meant at least three hours of driving, and, no. I was driving two friends, and our initial idea was that we’d drive to T1/packet pick-up, get our numbers, drop off the bikes, drive the 9 miles south to T2, set up our run stuff, then drive back to T1 and finish getting ready for the swim before transition closed. Writing that out makes it sound insane. It was insane. And it’s not what happened. Once we saw what we were dealing with, parking-wise and transition-area-wise and time-wise, we went straight to our Plan B of putting our T2 bags on a truck, which, we were promised, would deposit them at T2 in some sort of order by rack number. Well, we didn’t have a rack number in T1 — all three of us ended up in these un-nmbered overflow racks at the very back of transition — but several volunteers assured us that the bags would make it and, really, what were we going to do?
At the beach, it was foggy enough that it was hard to see the buoys. For at least a half-hour, the fog would lift a little bit (“Hey! It’s that yellow thing!”) and then roll back in (“Nope, lost it again.”). The Olympic waves started and the swimmers almost immediately disappeared into the mist. At that point they announced the sprint start would be delayed at least 10 more minutes to hope for better conditions, so I killed time braiding people’s hair and feeling glad I’d worn socks down to the swim start to keep my feet warm as long as possible (seriously doing this at every race from now on). About 20 minutes before my new wave start time I finally couldn’t take it any more — and by “it” I mean “waiting to pee” — and went down to splash around in the cold, dark water until it was time to start.
Swim – .35 mile (600-ish yards) – 13:51 – 13/89 women, 3/20 AG
The fog hadn’t cleared much, but it was a straightforward enough course that I didn’t have much of a path to plot. I remember thinking at one point that I was actually managing to move in a relatively straight line, but I screwed up my Garmin at the start, so I have no perfectly triangular map to prove this.
But then the third leg took ages, and I was convinced I was off course and at the back of my wave. At one point I saw a jetski heading toward shore off to my right and thought, “Can I draft that?” And then I realized I should probably just put my head down and swim harder. I hopped out of the water, got the top of my wetsuit off, looked down at my watch, saw something like 00:00:03, and was like, guess we’re gonna figure that out later.
T1 – 4:35
It was a pretty long run up the beach, down a road, down a little bit of rocky path (mostly carpeted, thankfully), through the entire transition area to my rack, and back through the entire transition area to the bike mount. I managed to actually run most of the way and to stuff my things into my “swim clothes” bag with less ineptitude than I displayed at Vineman, so while this number is nothing impressive, I consider it a win.
Bike – 9.5 miles – 31:15 – 16/89 women, 5/20 AG
How are you even supposed to ride the bike leg of a sprint tri? I settled on “hard, but not so hard I can’t eat or drink or talk or breathe,” which may not have actually been hard enough.
The first couple of miles of the bike course took us out of the park, and I remember a bit of a headwind and a bit of a false flat. As soon as we turned onto Highway 1, though, all that wind was at my back. One weird thing I noticed pretty quickly was that nobody was passing me. Usually the bike leg is a constant chorus of “on your left,” especially if I’ve had an even halfway decent swim. This time, I only remember one woman passing me, plus maybe a handful of guys. I was tempted to thank the tailwind — but then, we all had the same tailwind.
Around mile six, I started leapfrogging with a man in his 50s. I’d pass him on the “hills” (slightly more uphill flats); he’d catch me on the “descents” (slightly more downhill flats). After the first round, we started some good-natured heckling. I passed him twice; he passed me once; and when I finally got by him for good, he hollered after me that I’d be seeing him on the run. This is far from the first time that I’ve found myself being exactly the same race speed as a 50+-year-old man, so I think I’ve found my ideal training partner demographic …
T2 – 5:02
Because I didn’t have my swim time, I wasn’t sure how I was doing overall, but I felt like I was having a solid race. That all went out the window as soon as I got into transition. There was a poster with bib numbers and rack numbers, but my number wasn’t on it. I asked a volunteer where I was supposed to go, and he said, “You’re definitely somewhere in these four rows” and pointed me to the right. I then spent the next several minutes stalking up and down the rows, looking at every bag and not finding mine. (At some point I had the wherewithal to dump my bike on a random rack.) Meanwhile, at least three female teammates came into, and left, transition. I was pissed.
Finally, I asked a different volunteer if I was definitely in the first four rows on the right. “No!” she said. “You’re right there!” and pointed directly at my bag — on the left side. Obviously. I grabbed it, dragged it over to where I’d tossed the bike, switched shoes, mayyyyyybe said something a little snotty to the first volunteer (sorry, dude), and headed out. It was probably my fastest transition ever except for the part where it was one of my slowest transitions ever.
Run – 3.1 miles – 27:14 – 15/89 women, 4/20 AG
I got on the run and I was angry and I was flying. I looked at my watch and saw I was running sub-8 pace, and I knew there was no way I could hold that, but I decided to go with it as long as I could.
To the extent that I could think at that speed, my only thought was: If I want to make up for the bag situation, I have to catch all the women who came in after me on the bike. Of the four I knew, I was fairly sure I could outrun one of them, I knew one was usually faster than me, and the other two were wildcards. Game on.
I spotted the first one somewhere in the first mile. I passed her but spent the rest of the race running scared; I’ve started faster than her before at workouts only to have her shoot by me at the end. The second, I passed early in the narrow trail out-and-back. The third just after the turnaround. And then there was just one.
I really didn’t think I was going to get her. I let myself be OK with that, because she wasn’t in my age group anyway. But as I kept running whatever pace I was running at that point — mid-8s? — I realized I was slowly getting closer. A handful of yards, then a handful of feet, then — right as we went to cross Highway 1 — we pulled even. A few steps later, I was in front.
One last motivator: I spotted a yellow jersey ahead. My guy from the bike! I was slowly gaining on him too. “You were right!” I said as I pulled up. We ran shoulder to shoulder until I pulled further ahead on the cruel final hill up to the finish.
Overall – 1:21:57 – 15/89 women, 4/20 AG
I knew I’d finished under 1:30, which I felt great about, but I didn’t think it was anything remarkable; so many people from my group were already done. I cheered in the remaining finishers, then got in line for a burrito and started listening to the sprint awards. The woman I’d passed closest to the end of the run ended up third in her age group, and mine is usually more competitive, so I assumed there was no way I was placing. Naturally, I’d just taken a giant bite of burrito when they called my name for 3rd place in women’s 30-34.
I was, honestly, stunned. Since someone in my AG had won overall, the awards went a little deeper for the rest of us, and my 4th place was actually 3rd AG — or, as it turned out, 2nd AG, after they confirmed the times the next day and discovered a DNF that bumped another woman in 30-34 up to the overall awards.
Being on the podium was surreal. Me, winning an award, for sports?
It wasn’t a big field, and it wasn’t a big race, but I’m still proud. I don’t think I’ll ever be “good at” racing sprints — I was still able to do the rest of my planned longer run later in the day, which suggests I maybe didn’t exactly leave it all out there — but to be momentarily good enough to win something for it was strange and exciting and fun.
The day before the race, I’d been driving around my neighborhood looking for parking for nearly an hour, damp and cold from open-water swimming and full of stress about how much I still had to do to get ready and what time I’d have to go to sleep and how early I’d have to wake up, and for the first time in a while, I found myself wondering: Am I enjoying this? I love being a captain, I love helping people through their first triathlon season, but was I still loving doing it myself?
This race proves that yes, I do still love it. Yes, I am improving. And yes, maybe I even have some aspirations to get faster and stronger and maybe make this podium appearance not a one-time-only thing.