Race Recap: Santa Cruz Triathlon

tl;dr: met most of my goals, had the bike of my life, and PR’d by 11+ minutes.


Sara and I stayed with our husbands in a cottage a few minutes from the start. We drove down mid-day on Saturday, picked up our packets, and laughed like crazy at dinner with teammates (during which Michael Imperioli was sitting behind us, but none of us noticed — our waiter had to tell us later). Pete and I went for a beer after that — why stop now? — and I was asleep by 11 and out until just before 6 a.m. My pre-race sleeping game is pretty spot-on.

Sara’s husband drove us to the start, and I rudely passed up transition spots next to some teammates for a spot near the bike in/bike out, figuring that even though it might be a longer run in from the swim and out on the run, it would mean the least running in bike shoes. Blah blah porta potty, blah blah transition set-up, blah blah running out of time to put my wetsuit on so carrying it down to the beach. We missed the “mandatory” pre-race meeting but had plenty of time to warm up, get in the ocean (not much colder than Aquatic Park), and take some pictures before they called our wave.

Swim – 32:53

In all my excitement about having something to sight on my breathing (right) side, I’d failed to learn that the swim course doesn’t go straight along the pier. Instead, it’s a diagonal cut across the ocean from a spot a couple of hundred(?) yards down the beach, then around the back and straight to the beach along the other side.

Based on earlier waves, the advice I heard was “start right, stay right.” I lined up on the right, and I went into the water on the right, but by the time the crowd had sorted itself out, I was somehow on the left. That gave me a decent view of the furthest buoy, though, so I kept shooting for that. Could I have cut it closer? Certainly, since my Garmin swim distance was 1.08 miles (…again).

The return leg was a mental struggle — and not one I was anticipating. After all, I’d have the pier on my breathing side and the beach in front of me; how could I go wrong? By swimming totally solo, for one thing. By worrying that I was drifting left, for another. I thought I must be spinning around and swimming in the wrong direction. An intermediate sighting buoy or a kayaker on the left or anything would have helped, because everything looked the same and I felt like I was bobbing randomly in the open ocean. (No sea lions, though I could hear them and I’m told others felt them!)

Anyway, I was sure I’d been in the water for way more than 40 minutes, so when I looked down to see a time starting with 32, I was stunned. That’s my best Olympic swim of the season, though it probably felt the worst. I think the lack of markers and the disorientation messed with my sense of effort and distance. If I could swim that course again now that I know what it looks like, I think I could do it better, but I can’t really complain about a season best.

T1 – 6:24

I was dreading T1. It’s a .4-mile run up the beach, across train tracks, and down a long path, and I have wimpy, sensitive feet. I was hoping the swim would numb them, but it didn’t quite. I did manage to run the whole way without needing to walk or puke, though, so that was a win. Honestly, I’ve had T1s slower than this in a race where I didn’t have to run .4 miles.

The previous race I’d spectated on this site had bike mount/dismount about halfway up the small hill out of transition, but this race moved it to the top of the hill — a relief, because I saw some sketchy mounts/dismounts at the other race. Yeah, it took me longer, but I didn’t fall over.

Bike – 1:23:49

My main objective for the first part of the bike was to catch Sara, who’d left transition a minute or two ahead of me. At the random out-and-back in the early miles, I calculated that she was about three minutes ahead, and when we hit Highway 1, I started pushing.

This bike course was perfect for me. It’s not flat after all; it’s a roller coaster of several (smallish, 50ish-foot) hills. I must have finally figured out how to use momentum, because I’d see a hill looming in front of me and by the time my brain could go “what the…” I’d be halfway up it. I rode the whole time in my big ring and even pedaled most of the downhills, because the road was straight and reasonably well-paved and because I figured out that cruising at 23 mph is amazing.

I was passed a bunch in the first few miles, then settled into a leapfrogging relationship with a guy and a girl for the next stretch. I’d pass on the uphills; they’d pass back on the downhills. I lost the girl after the second round, but it took me four or five times to solidly ditch the guy. Every time I went around, I’d say something — like “on your left, see you on the downhill” or “on your left, hi again” — and he did not appear to be into it, so the last time I said “on your left, I’m really sorry” and he finally laughed.

I found Sara just before Davenport, but when we hit the last hill into the turnaround, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to hold that pass. My legs felt dead pushing up the incline and through the aid station, maybe just because everyone’s pace dropped a lot while we squeezed through? It was pretty narrow, and I was happy to get back on the road upright.

I was bracing for a headwind on the way back, but it seemed fairly calm. I was feeling pretty good about coming in sub-1:30 but really wanted to crack 17 mph while I was at it, so I kept pushing through the rest of Highway 1, then stretched my legs out a little as we wound through town. My Garmin read the course a little short, so I thought we still had half a mile to go when I suddenly saw the “prepare to slow down” sign. I braked harder than I meant to but dismounted cleanly (no thanks to the guy who ended up with his bike horizontal across the right-hand side of the line) and walked the hill into transition because I was sure I was falling on my ass otherwise.

T2 – 2:09

Shoes off, shoes on. I tried a new trick of leaving my water bottle and race belt inside my hat so I could just take the whole bundle out onto the run course, and I liked it. I saw my total time as I was leaving transition, and I knew that I’d need a big 10K PR to break 3 hours, and I found that oddly relaxing. Maybe that was the wrong reaction — I’ve been thinking a lot about that — but in the moment, I took it as a sign to have the strongest run I could, versus chasing an arbitrary time and ending up disappointed.

Run – 57:14

You know what’s hard? Running after biking at 17+ mph. Oh, you knew that? I did not. My brick workouts have been a strength of my training this year — but running after biking the fastest I’ve biked in my life was new, and it hurt. I almost walked up the little hill (speed bump?) coming out of transition, saw a pace in the 11s, got sad, yet somehow still hit the first mile marker in 9:04. I had the great idea to lap my watch at the marker, forgetting that lapping in multisport mode ends the workout, so I got my little “you just finished a triathlon!” beepy song with 5.2 miles to go.

The run is flat but unshaded, and I wilt in those conditions, so I never felt good — though if a 57-ish 10K is my new “not feeling good” pace, well, OK. I walked all three aid stations for sips of Gatorade and water, and I topped off my handheld bottle twice. I saw almost everyone I knew on the course at some point during the run, and it was an amazing distraction to look for them. I knew Sara would run me down at some point, and I was pleased to make it a couple of miles before she came flying by. I saw her again at the turnaround, followed quickly by three training partners in a row coming the other way, and then Lauren, whom I ran over to hug. Coming off the path, I saw a few teammates with their medals on, cheering that the finish line was right around the corner, and — much like the bike finish — I didn’t believe them, but then I saw the arch and Pete and that was it. Final time: 3:02:29.


  • I said when I finished that I’d be mad about that 2:29 later, and it’s been three days, and I’m still not mad. Did I leave 2:30 somewhere? Not all in one place. Maybe I could have picked up a minute on the bike and a minute on the run, but I’m not sure. Would this have been sub-3 in a race without such a long run to T1? Maybe, but that also wouldn’t have been this race. Would I have run 2 minutes faster if I hadn’t stopped at the aid stations? I actually doubt it; I think those breaks enabled me to keep the pace I was running.
  • That said, now I really want that sub-3.
  • My final PR was by almost exactly the amount of my bike PR, and that’s cool, but I can’t ride that gravy train forever. My bike had the most room to improve going into this year, and I’ve improved it. Do I think I can still get faster? Sure, but the gap is getting smaller, and I’m not sure I’ll ever routinely ride faster than 1:20. I’ve got to drop time from the swim and run now too, which is scary, because I think I’m a lot closer to my speed ceiling in those sports. Maybe not. We’ll see.
  • I ended up 16th/28 AG and one of four women from my tri club who occupied the 13-16th spots, all within six minutes of each other.
  • Nutrition nonsense: toasted roll with almond butter when we got into transition, about half of an english muffin with the rest of the almond butter about 45 minutes later, and some water with Nuun throughout the morning; 3/4 of a bottle of Roctane and three shot bloks on the bike plus a salt tab; and lots of water and two more shot bloks running. I could have used some plain water on the bike and wished I’d taken another salt tab once it was apparent how warm and sunny it was, but this general plan works for me.
  • New favorite finish line food: grapes.
  • One of the super-fast ladies in my age group? Sonja Wieck, whom I recognized on the sidelines as I was walking to meet my friends. I did that awkward “I know you…from…the internet!” thing and we did some chatting and some cheering. Only later did I find out she won the women’s race.
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14 thoughts on “Race Recap: Santa Cruz Triathlon

  1. speed ceiling? that’s hogwash. 🙂

    congrats on your race girl! nice riding!

  2. Linda says:

    Congrats on a great race! Way to go!

  3. Kristina says:

    Woo-hoo! Congrats on the race – especially on the speedy bike! It’s especially nice to end a great season with a PR.

  4. erin says:

    Yahooo! Congrats on a great race! Agreed… grapes are so tasty at the finish line!

  5. Michaela says:

    Congrats on the PR! Nice work!!

  6. Congratulations! What an awesome race. I’m so glad the bike went well because it seems like that’s the toughest thing to figure out (from my non-tri person perspective, at least). i hope you celebrated right!

  7. Layla says:

    Nope, I don’t think you’re near a “speed ceiling.” That’s the thing about outdoor endurance sports, and something I’m still figuring out, too: The sky is the limit.

    Congratulations on the PR!!

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