I headed out for the drive to Folsom just a couple of hours after riding Alpine Dam. People had been telling me it was crazy to do that ride and then race; I kept insisting I wasn’t doing Folsom to race. I entered Folsom as a rust-buster; I hadn’t raced since Napa in April, and I needed to remember how. I also wanted to feel the heat, to give my race nutrition strategy another test, and to practice walking aid stations and then running again — something I’m expecting to do at Vineman. It was all about the experience; time was beside the point.
And that’s a good thing, because the entire thing was sort of a boondoggle — from the 90 minutes I spent stuck in traffic three miles from my house to the end of the swim, when I couldn’t figure out how to exit the water. One hot (but at least not apocalyptically hot) mess.
This was my first USA Productions race, and it’s a big event for my tri club. We had our own rack in the club area of transition, which was good and bad for me — good because it was nice to be around people, bad because it wasn’t where I would have chosen to be and, well, because it’s not always nice to be around people. Being around people means being around people’s neuroses, and after a fair amount of “can I…” and “have you seen…” I had to have a talk with myself: You are not in captain mode right now; you don’t have to fix things that aren’t your responsibility. My responsibility was to feed myself and use the porta potties and get down to the water, and I tried hard to just focus on that.
Swim – 35:40
I decided in the five minutes before my start to wear my regular wetsuit. The morning air was a little chilly, and the water was supposedly still in the low 60s, so I figured I’d go with what I knew worked. This was my first-ever in-water start, so my warm-up was paddling slowly out to the first buoy. I was feeling pretty good until I realized I had no idea where the next buoy was — we were looking straight into the sun. I asked a couple of women next to me if they could see it, and they said nope, they had no idea either.
So when the horn went off, I hopped on some feet and hoped the feet knew where they were going. There was a rowing buoy line in the water, and I was right on it (I could see the underground cable and my hand occasionally hit one of the little round buoys), but I had no idea if it went to our buoy or not. At least I was going straight to somewhere …
I truly never saw the buoy until I was about 10 strokes from it, and I only saw it then because I noticed others making the turn. Even once we were out of the sun, I was never really sure I was on course. At the end of the swim, my Garmin recorded 1.08 miles, so perhaps I never really was on course. It was my slowest Olympic swim ever, though actually at a decent mile pace (if only I’d managed to swim less than a mile).
As I got close to shore, I realized the last few feet between the water and the beach were littered with big, slick rocks. I stood up, tried to take a step, and kicked a rock. Tried again, stumbled on a different one. People around me were running out just fine, but between the rocks and general post-swim disorientation, I literally could not figure out how to get onto the beach. It didn’t help that I started laughing at how ridiculous I felt, which only made me more wobbly. Eventually I managed a solid step forward and beelined out of there.
T1 – 7:06
One thing I haven’t mentioned is that on my way out of the house on Saturday, I cut my finger slicing bread. I slapped a band-aid on it and it seemed well on its way to healing, and I was more worried about waterproofing it on race morning than anything else. Besides, how much do I bend my finger when I swim?
So. I got to my transition area, accidentally pulled off my timing chip (which I’d pinned) with my wetsuit, and noticed a little bit of blood on the ground. I wondered if I’d maybe scraped my ankle with the pin. And then I looked at my hand, and … I’ll stop there. I didn’t see a medical area inside transition, and hell if I was going to drop out of the race because of a knuckle cut. I had some tissues and band-aids in my bag, and eventually I decided that the best plan was to wrap a band-aid on as tightly as I could and go ride. So that’s what a 7-minute transition looks like. I hope I never see one of those again unless I’m bleeding, and I hope I’m never bleeding again in transition.
Bike – 1:36:58
I frankly wasn’t expecting much out of my legs after Alpine Dam, but I did want to get at least a bit of race-pace riding in on a fairly flat course. The one thing I didn’t consider was that flat course = crazy wind. I worked a little harder than I should have in the first 10 miles and had something like a 13 mph average to show for it. I’m not a great at riding into a headwind; it’s hard, but it also gets to me mentally. And I wasn’t familiar enough with the course to tell myself there would be a tailwind later — because what if there never was?
At least the flat course meant the wind wasn’t scary (just annoying and loud). We made a turn onto a random out-and-back stretch just after the halfway point, and I got a few minutes of the wind at my back, which felt awesome. The aid station was on this stretch, and I checked one of my race goals off the list by successfully grabbing, drinking, and ditching an aid station bottle.
Back on the main road, we made a right turn and picked up the tailwind. Miracle! My sole goal became to get my average speed over 15 mph, and it was amazing to routinely click off miles in the 17, 18, even 20 range while doing very little.
The one frustrating thing about this stretch was that I knew I could have gone even faster if my saddle hadn’t been so uncomfortable. I was trying Soas shorts for the first time, and I was hoping they’d solve all my problems, but they…did not. I stood up a handful of times in the last 10 miles to readjust my position, and every time it was hard to convince myself to start pedaling again. (I’ve since gone back to my bike fit guy and have a narrower saddle to try. This only seems to happen during harder rides, but since I’m hoping to ride 56 miles at race pace in a month, I’d like to fix it.)
I’d expected this course to be a slam dunk sub-1:30 bike split, given that I wasn’t all that far off at Napa, but I actually rode about a minute slower than I did there even though Napa is objectively harder. I think that a course with some climbing suits my riding strengths better than a windy, flat one — which is something to keep in mind for future races.
T2 – 3:59
I got back to my rack and there was nowhere to put my bike. Not only was I clearly the slowest person my tri club, but I got the added insult of having to duck and weave between bikes (AND WETSUITS) to squeeze my bike back on the rack. It’s a good thing I always take my helmet off last, because I kept bashing my head into someone’s aerobars. The shoe swap/sunscreen spray/hat grab part of things happened pretty quickly because I was pissed and wanted to go run.
Run – 58:23
What I wanted from this run was a) some quality time in the heat and sun and b) a sense of what would happen to my pace if I walked through every aid station. This is the one part of the day that I am 100% happy with. It took until almost the turnaround for my legs to feel normal, but I bribed myself with Shot Bloks (one each at miles 3, 4, and 5) and splashed cold water on myself at every aid station. I also took a few sips of Cytomax somewhere in there.
Honestly, I was shocked to see how steady my pace stayed. I’ve had a hard time before with running after walking an aid station, but knowing I could keep my pace solidly in the 9:2x range even with those breaks kept me going. I’m aiming for 10-minute miles at Vineman, so this was encouraging.
The heat was noticeable for the first time all day — I heard it was 85 by the end, still not as hot as the forecast said — but the cold water helped tremendously. I passed a couple of people in my age group in the last couple of miles, and I felt strong running back through transition and across the finish line.
- My final time was 3:22:06. It’s fine. It’s probably about right for the effort I wanted to put in, though I would have liked to not spend 11 total minutes in transition. It’s also proof that if I really want to finish under three hours, I’m going to have to learn to ride faster.
- Eating: some bread and almond butter in the morning; most of a bottle of Roctane, 3-4 gummies and about half a Picky Bar on the bike; 3 shot bloks during the run. I also had some plain water on the bike course, refilled my handheld bottle a couple of times on the run course, and used 2 salt packets, one at about mile 20 of the bike and one at mile 4.5 or so of the run. I forgot to eat a Gu before the swim and I don’t think it mattered, mostly because I didn’t have as much time to kill before my wave start as usual.
- Someone in my tri club recorded almost exactly the same swim distance as I did, and she said she missed a buoy. I wonder if I missed one too, though I don’t know where that would have happened. Most likely I just swam stupidly.