Category Archives: Triathlon

Wildflower 2014

We’re the heirs to the glimmering world

I think it’s taken me so long to write about Wildflower 2014 because Wildflower is never just a race. It should be everything I hate: I don’t like crowds, or camping, or drinking when I can’t drink because I have a race the next morning and shut up you stupid kids, isn’t it time for bed? And even in the immediate days and hours before, when I’m checking the forecast to see how damn hot it’s going to be or dreading the drive or remembering I need to find a tent to borrow, I hate it a little. Why can’t I just do a race where I sleep in a bed the night before like a normal human being?

But then I get there, and I’m in some kind of weird magic camp where triathlons are normal and people are exceeding their expectations of themselves and everyone’s smiling, and I feel a sense of community I don’t get many other places. Maybe it’s the beer. Maybe it’s the generous coating of dust that settles on everything. Maybe it’s the shared knowledge that you are about to do something totally dumb with a few thousand strangers who also thought sleeping on the ground and then exercising strenuously for a few hours and then hauling several pounds of gear up a hill before sleeping on the ground again would be a capital way to spend a weekend.

Whatever it is, I keep going back.

We were here, we were here

Last year at the finish line I fell hard for Wildflower. This year, I resolved to go back and do it “right” — meaning, arrive early (vs. slipping in just before the close of packet pick-up on Saturday, my usual M.O.), race on Saturday, and cheer my brains out on Sunday. I had no interest in tackling the long course myself, but if I was going to bike 160 miles I might as well try to bike 56. A relay team formed, fell apart, formed again; enthusiasms rose and fell along with the water levels in the lake (well, actually, the water levels just fell); and finally, come late April, I knew I was showing up at Lake San Antonio on the first Friday in May as the biker on a relay team better known as There Better Be a Swim.

Friday was a whirlwind of work, drive, drive, drive, stop in King City to blow it out big at the Dollar General for cheering supplies, drive, drive, stop. Was I excited to race on Saturday? Hard to say. Was I excited to wait near the bottom of Lynch Hill with our relay swimmer to jump in with our runner so we could cross the finish line wearing $1 foam crocodile hats we bought for some reason? Yep. Was I excited to get out the bubble stuff and the clapping hands and the kazoos and the fancy duct-tape-and-poster-board signs and put together the best cheer station ever on Sunday? YOU BET.


Perhaps my priorities were misplaced.

We’re the heirs to the glimmering world

It became a joke: How many times did I cry during Wildflower weekend? “All of them,” I would say. “All of the times.”

But the first time was a few miles into the bike course, after the sweat-fest of Beach Drive, after the turn out of the park. There was this big farm — ranch? — parcel of land of some sort, anyway. And there was a long driveway leading from the farmhouse to the main road, and at the end of that driveway sat an older couple in camp chairs, ringing their cowbells.

Snuffling behind my sunglasses. Singing The National in my head. Legitimately moved by all the little things. That’s my Wildflower.

For the first 30-35 miles, I honestly had the best bike ride of my life. I wish I had data from when I rode the Olympic course in 2012 to compare, but I don’t need to see numbers to feel my progress. I was skipping up the hills and sliding down, leapfrogging with a sweet Team in Training rider, waiting for a couple of friends I’d passed on Beach to catch back up to me on the straightaways. (50+ men, all of them, always: my true racing age group.)

It was hot, but I was handling it, dousing myself with a full water bottle at every aid station. Each time I’d start to flag, it seemed there were volunteers right there to revive me with a fresh bottle of cold water. It absolutely helped that I was just doing the relay, and a few times, I felt like a jerk: Yeah, I’m riding hard and passing people, but I’m also just doing this; I didn’t already swim and run and I’m not about to run again. This is my whole race. I better push it.

My team had asked me my predicted time, so they could be back in transition to meet me. I rode 3:55 with plenty of untimed stops on a cooler day at our training weekend, so I thought around four hours would be right. But when my runner came in for the handoff on race morning and confirmed, “four hours?” I for some reason said “3:30.” That would be a crazy time for me. That would only be five minutes slower than Vineman on a course with 1200+ more feet of climbing. It would make no sense. But for the first 30 miles of the bike course, I thought I might pull it off.

Hey love, we’ll get away with it
We’ll run like we’re awesome

I didn’t make that particular crazy goal, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise, because the first 40 miles of that course is an easy flatland jaunt compared to the final 16.

The issue wasn’t really Nasty Grade. I was prepared to be slow on Nasty Grade, and I was, basically losing in five miles all the time I’d spent banking in the previous 40. What really got me were the five miles immediately after, heading back toward the park. It’s yet another place where I think the Wildflower conventional wisdom hides the real issue. It’s miserable climbing up a 900-foot hill for two miles? No shit. Everybody knows that. Nobody talks about the fact that after you come down the screaming descent, you spend the next several miles losing all that momentum you worked so hard to gain by climbing a substantial portion of the way back up.

(Other examples where Wildflower’s conventional wisdom lets me down: It’s not the heat, it’s the dust; it’s not the race, it’s the climb up the dirt hill with all your gear after.)

I should have known how awful that part would feel; I’d ridden the course before. What I didn’t appreciate is that on that course preview day, I was having a terrible ride — period. It was windy; I’d wanted to quit a bunch of times. At some point, though, I’d managed to pick up a few friends riding similar paces, and we’d groaned and chatted our way through the final 10 miles. It felt bad, but so had everything, that day.

On race day, things had felt great, so I was unprepared for the final push to feel like such a slog. I went from smile-crying and thanking every volunteer to groaning and trying not to make eye contact. But once we were in the park, the hills to the finish didn’t seem as bad as I remembered, and I whipped down Lynch and into transition so fast I could hardly believe it was over.

Lying in the grass, post-bike, post-watermelon slushie drink

And then we failed to catch our runner with the crocodile hats, but that’s fine. We were here, we were here. We finished 13/26 relay teams in our division, in a cluster of teams that all finished between 6:30 and 7:00, and all three of us beat our individual time goals. I can’t be disappointed with a 3:48 on that course, especially considering that was a faster average pace than I biked the Olympic in 2012.

Serve me the sky with a big slice of lemon

As for the rest of the weekend: After getting my bike out of transition, I went to a Picky Bars-hosted happy hour and awkwardly chatted with four-time champ Jesse Thomas about which Picky flavors we ate on the bike. (Mine is Smooth Caffeinator, his is Need for Seed. If you were wondering.) (He was, for the record, incredibly nice. He asked how my race was, and I thought of the best possible answer only later, which was “Great! Almost twice as long as yours and we had three people doing it!”) There were beers. I hiked back to the campground, where there were more beers. At some point I discovered an Oreo in my jersey pocket and couldn’t remember where it came from. I found many, many uses for dollar store craft supplies.

And then Sunday, otherwise known as CryFest 2K14. We cheered for a couple of hours at the top of Lynch, making sure we saw all the TAG athletes go out on the bike course. Because of the huge gap between wave start times (about 1.5 hours between our first athlete and our last), we actually saw everyone go out on the bike AND most of the guys come in on the bike AND some of the guys head down to finish the run. After our first three women biked back down Lynch, we repositioned at the finish, where we then stood for the next couple of hours clapping these clapping hands as though they would actually will people across the line.

Best dollar I’ve ever spent

I’m sure the clapping hands were annoying to everyone around me, but I had nervous energy to burn and a lot of people to cheer in. I also had dollar store maracas, which I offered to anyone who started to whine about the clapping. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right?

Everything after that isn’t really my story to tell, but almost everyone from our group finished strong and happy. There were high-fives, tears that weren’t mine, lots of hugs, so much cheering. Anyone who tells me triathlon is an individual sport has never been at that finish line.

I don’t know if I’ll go back next year. I said one more Wildflower, said I had to do it right to know if I was done. But doing it right just made it all that much harder to quit.

Italicized bits throughout are from The National’s “The Geese of Beverly Road,” which I had stuck in my head for all of Wildflower weekend, and which prompted more than one person to suggest that possibly my version of “pump-up music” was different from theirs.

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Race Recap: Silicon Valley Super Sprint Triathlon

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 …

52706445-9A2X9730T2 – 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.

52706444-_MG_4527Being 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.

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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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Racing on the Last Sunday of September

Racing on the last Sunday of September is apparently a thing I do now, if you stretch journalism rules a bit and call two a trend. Last year, I was already in Berlin, picking up my bib for my first marathon. This year, I’m about to head down to Santa Cruz for (perhaps) my final tri of the season.

It’s funny, looking back to last year. Berlin was the capper to the straight-up craziest month of my life, in which we spent three out of the first four weekends at weddings, had an offer accepted on a house, scraped together the downpayment for said house, discovered Pete had to go on a last-minute international trip, talked a friend into accepting our power of attorney in case we were in Germany when we had to close on the house, sent Pete off to Chile, closed on the house with exactly enough time left to get to the airport (as I recall, I rolled up five minutes before the flight to Frankfurt closed), flew to Germany, reunited in Berlin with my parents who had been traveling in Italy, and — oh yeah — ran 26.2. It was wild and crazy and it’s all happening-y, and when we came back to San Francisco, we were marathoners and home owners and about to enter another major phase of our lives.

This year, September hasn’t been quite so…dramatic. Aside from a trip to Portland last weekend (Cliffs Notes: a run on my favorite path, Pine State Biscuits, getting rained on before seeing Frightened Rabbit and The National outdoors, probably a top five favorite meal at Ava Gene’s, and a lot of beer), we’ve just been here. Doing normal things. Living the life that got put in motion last September. No complaints — normal is good! — but wow, I’m coming into this particular race weekend with a significantly smaller dose of pure adrenaline.

When I first decided to keep training after Vineman —  and that it seemed like my body and my brain could hang on for at least one more hard effort this season, which was not at all a given, since I started in February and that’s a long time for me to continuously train — I had Big Plans for Santa Cruz. I’d heard it was a forgiving, flat course, and I got it in my head that I’d be able to go under three hours. That would be another 15-ish minutes off my Olympic-distance PR (from Napa in April) and a nice, round number that I’ve had in the back of my head for a while.

Realistically, though, I don’t think that’s going to happen. My running has apparently gotten somewhat faster, but I haven’t pushed speed at all on the bike, and my swimming is stuck at the same pace it’s been since March 2012. Flat courses aren’t necessarily better for me, especially when they have a reputation for being windy. (My best Olympic ride ever was at Napa, which had two rated climbs. I rode significantly worse at Folsom, which was flat as a board but into a headwind. I think there are two things going on, even if you subtract wind from the equation: I’m good at climbing, and I’m bad at pedaling consistently with no breaks.) I’ve never done an ocean swim. And Santa Cruz also features a long run — half a mile? — from the ocean to transition; I think the fastest transition time I saw in my age group last year was 5 minutes.

I still think I can PR the distance, though, and I’ve got a couple of other goals. The big one is to really race; this may or may not be my last Olympic tri of the year, but the other one I’m considering would be maybe 75% caper/vacation, 25% triathlon — so I want to race like this is it for 2013. As for the rest:

Swim: I would like to be closer to 30 minutes than to 35, which roughly encompasses the range of times I’ve had this year. I would also like to take advantage of the fact that the pier we swim around is on my right (breathing) side and swim in a relatively straight line for once. And if a sea lion comes near me, for the love of god, I am throwing out all of my swim goals and hanging out with that sea lion! (I don’t think the sea lions come to the people who want to swim with them, though.)

Bike: This is the big one: I want to bike under 1:30. I’ve been relatively close twice this year, and I hit the 25-mile mark under 1:30 at Vineman, but that doesn’t count. If we’ve got 20-mph headwinds, this won’t happen. Otherwise, I think it can, and I’m going to push for it.

Run: It would be cool to run something in the 56- to 57-minute range. My 10K PR is just over 55 minutes, and I don’t have any illusions that I’m going to come close to that, but 57-ish seems doable. (I did that in Napa, but there’s no way that course wasn’t short.) B-goal is under an hour.

Transitions: I would like to not be embarrassed by my transition times. That said, I expect my T1 will be on the order of 6-7 minutes, so my overall hope is for under 10 minutes total.

If I hit those numbers, I’d be coming in around 3:05-3:10 — which would be a more than 30-minute improvement from my first Olympic tri, and while that hardly counts because that was Wildflower and Wildflower will always be slower than everything else, it would still be cool.

Overall B-goal is to PR (under 3:14). C-goal is to beat my Folsom time of 3:22 — my current best on a flatter course — which should be doable as long as I don’t repeat my pre-Folsom trick of slicing open my finger the day before and having to waste 7 minutes in T1 searching for a band-aid.

And seriously, all time goals go out the window if a friendly sea lion wants to play.

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This is Not a Race Report: Lake Tahoe Triathlon

This is not a race report because there was no race.

This has been sitting in my drafts, in varying stages of done-ness, since the day after we got back. It’s funny trying to figure out what to say about a race that didn’t happen. But in some ways, I still did what I went to Tahoe to do, which was ride up a giant hill on Highway 89 to prove that I could and celebrate with some of the best friends a girl could ask for. Victory?


We got our first inkling that something was wrong the Friday before the race, via an email from the race organizers announcing that all of Friday and Saturday’s events had been canceled. Wildfires more than a hundred miles away had sent massive amounts of smoke toward Lake Tahoe, and the smoke was now sitting there, dragging the air quality into the unhealthy and potentially dangerous realm. There was hope for Sunday, the email said; the winds could pick up and blow the smoke away, and projections looked positive. They’d let us know on Saturday at noon.

The email came just minutes before Emily and Diana got to San Francisco. Frustrating timing, but it’s not like anything else would have been better: the flights were booked, the Airbnb was paid for, and the girls’ weekend was long anticipated. One way or another, we were going to Tahoe. The next morning, we set off driving, nervously checking email as the noon deadline approached. We got the final word somewhere near Davis: nasty air, no race*.

The organizers promised a party — but we were a little late for that, finding one tray of quinoa salad and a few sad veggie burgers pieces of chicken left in their trays. We scavenged for what might well have been the final free beers, got our goody bags (goggles, cute T-shirts), and wandered down to the lake.

“Well,” said Diana, looking at the deep blue water, “I’m definitely going to be swimming in that.”

That statement set the tone. No, we weren’t going to race. We weren’t going to get a medal. And we weren’t going to get our highly anticipated relay finish photo, the planning of which might have involved purple clothing and the cross-country transportation of a Northwestern porch flag. But we could still swim, bike, and run in Tahoe, as much as the smoky air would let us.

That first afternoon, Diana and I swam a mile in the lake — crystal-blue, totally clear, the biggest bathtub I’ve ever been in. We were staying on the west side of the lake, about halfway between north and south, and when we started out, the smoke rendered the mountains on the eastern shore as little more than hazy outlines. But over the course of our swim, the wind picked up, the smoke blew on, and we were rewarded with clearer views. I could have stayed in that lake for hours, but there were tater tots to eat.

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Instead of rushing around in the wee hours doing race prep, Sunday was low-key. We walked to a bakery, wandered around the lake, and hung out in a sporting goods store instead of using any actual sporting goods. (Bought nothing but tried on Hokas for the first time. Capsule review: Intrigued by the Bondi B’s, hated the other model I tried, felt like a circus clown.) Dinner was salads and sandwiches, with a dessert of Pepperidge Farm cookies, gossip, and Boggle. Not the day we expected but a great one nonetheless.

I’d decided to wait until Monday to ride, hoping for less smoke and less traffic. There was a winding bike path heading north from our rental house all the way to Tahoe City, which I knew would eventually connect to the wide-shouldered segment of Highway 89 near Truckee. But I didn’t want to ride north. I wanted to go south on 89, along the race course and up the hill I’d been training for. I wasn’t sure what riding 89 would be like, but I knew the hill came early, and I at least wanted to give it a good shot. If that was all I was comfortable doing, I could turn around and ride north instead.

Before starting, nervous:

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I biked about a mile from our cabin to 89 and had another two or so of bike path to start. The path was narrow — technically two-way, but I’m not sure how — and I got stuck behind a texting dude for a bit. My relief at losing him when the bike path ended greatly drowned out my fear at suddenly being on a state highway with no shoulder to speak of. The road would have been open during the race — but I think a few hundred other cyclists around me would have helped me feel safer, whether deservedly so or not.

The first bit of the course was quiet, though, with only a handful of cars passing by and one other cyclist heading the other direction. I was on a part of 89 that sits a bit inland from the lake, so I’m not sure if I would have had a view even without the smoke — but with the smoke, I couldn’t see anything beyond the trees lining both sides of the road. They were spectacular trees, though.

Around six miles into my ride, I hit the hill. Pretty quickly, I was in my lowest gear and cranking away. Up, up, up. Around a curve and up. Like Alpine Dam, but with longer stretches between the curves and pines instead of redwoods. The same advice applied, though: Eyes front. Don’t look for the top.

I wish I could say it felt easy. That all my training had clearly paid off, and that I sailed through that 2-mile chunk at 4.7% average grade like it was the little speedbump I cruise up and over on the way home from the ocean. But that would be lies: It was rough. I was working, pushing, breathing hard — some combination of the smoke, the altitude, and the fact that the climb was just f’ing hard. I never hit a stretch that I thought I couldn’t do, and I knew from the tenths of miles that somehow kept clicking off on the Garmin that I was making progress. But it was not fast, and it was not pretty. No style points on that climb.

The downhill that followed was even more of a mess. I was heading toward a couple of major parks and roadside viewing areas, so traffic had picked up, as had the wind. I’m sure I didn’t actually descend as slowly as I’d climbed, but it felt like that. I hope I would have felt safer in race conditions, and a little bit more capable of going downhill without squeezing the brakes so hard, but who knows? I passed some beautiful things I couldn’t look at because I was so focused on the road, and crossed a wild little section with lots of wind and no trees or guardrails where I first thought “I’m done,” and then kept going and ended up in this crazy U-turn-y descent, where I made it through one of the (apparently — I looked it up later) two zig-zags before saying “Nope, I’m really done” and pulling over to a campsite where I could safely unclip and turn around.

The climb back up through that U-turn included the steepest stretch of road I encountered on the whole ride, but once I crested that hill, it was smooth sailing all the way back. This surprised me; I thought I’d have to do a climb similar to the initial one again, just heading the other direction. But I’d misread the map, and I had just one little hill on the return before a flat-to-downhill ride back to the park. There were a couple of scenic overlooks on the way, and as one of the benefits of this non-race, I stopped near Emerald Bay to take it in.


Back in January, on my birthday, in a hotel room in Dallas, I took a hard look at the Tahoe course for the first time, and I wrote this to Emily and Diana:

To be honest, I’m less than 100% sure that I could do the Tahoe bike course (I’ve yet to climb anything nearly as hard as the biggest climb here — and that’s at sea level!). But, it’s only January, so anything is possible by August. … I guess what I’m saying is that the hills make me want to throw up in my mouth a little but what the hell, in the spirit of OWNING IT during my 32nd year on this planet, I’m in!

In the end, I rode 23 miles — all but about a mile of the course, whatever mile would have come after those sketchy downhill switchbacks — and climbed 2200 feet. It took a little under 1:50, and if I’d raced exactly like I rode the course that day, it would have been my slowest Olympic-distance bike leg by far, as well as my toughest course. (Some might consider Wildflower a tougher Olympic course, but the altitude and the nature of these hills made this one harder for me, and the total gain is about the same on both.) But I’m so proud of what I did. I’m glad I didn’t chicken out, and I’m glad I rode smart — to my edge but not beyond it. And I’m glad I was able to pick up my race shirt, because it has the Highway 89 logo on the back and it makes me smile to think that I rode that on my own.

We spent the rest of our trip in Squaw Valley, passing on the $30+ trip up a mountain in a gondola for lawn games (cornhole, croquet) and Olympic rings-spotting. No, it wasn’t a race. But we still got a weekend outside, an adventure together, and plenty of stories to tell. Who needs a medal when we can have all of that?

And … who wants to bike around Tahoe and/or swim across it? Because now I would like to do both, ideally in a year with no forest fires.

{*And a note about that. My personal, highly unscientific opinion is that canceling the race was the right call. The smoke smell, “feel,” and haze were the worst in the morning on both days we spent in the area, and while I didn’t have any noticeable problems breathing on the ride that wouldn’t/couldn’t have been caused by altitude alone, I was coughing more than normal for a couple of hours after. I know having to cancel a race puts organizers in a tough spot; there’s a lot of money spent that they can’t recover. That said, I think Big Blue Adventure could have done a bit more than they did, at least initially. We ended up with an offer for 50% off registration for any of their events next year, but the initial offer was 25% off the same event only. Bike the West, which had a trans-Tahoe ride the next weekend, transferred registrations to next year’s event for free for any participant who wasn’t comfortable riding in the conditions — even though that event was held. I don’t know their financial situation, and the note specifies that their contract required producing the event no matter what, but I think that’s an impressive response, while Big Blue Adventure’s was more along the lines of adequate.}

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Since Vineman, I’ve been…

Working. It was nice of my job not to go crazy until after the race — but boy, did it ever go crazy. My current project centers on international meetings, so I’ve been working on Europe time or Australia time or Japan time or all three simultaneously. Thank heavens for a) my sweet work-from-home usability testing set-up (I had no idea how much I would value an office with a door until I had one) and b) my AeroPress.

Recovering. I did nothing resembling training for the whole week after Vineman — not on purpose, at first, but I kept having early meetings or other work events scheduled at awkward times, and after my third failed attempt at swimming, I decided to take a zero for the week. I was sore on Monday and Tuesday, but I made myself walk a couple of miles each day, and by Wednesday, I felt fairly normal. Weirdly, later in the week my lower legs and feet started feeling tight — but that’s subsided as I’ve returned to a more standard activity level. I’m staying conscious of it, but I think it’s finally safe to say I — I! — managed to train for and race a 70.3 injury-free.

Captain-ing. After having an absolute blast as assistant captain for TAG to Wildflower in the spring, I’m back to help with the Santa Cruz training group. This group is smaller than the Wildflower one, and we’re training for a smaller and less logistically complicated race, so I think it will help me get my legs under me as a group leader. I have so much to learn in this role — about when it’s right to give advice or tell my story, when it’s better to step back and let people try things for themselves, how to be an authority and a friend — but it also feels exactly like where I should be. It’s also been a great way for me to ease back into training, with totally manageable workouts that get me moving on a regular schedule.

Vacation scheming. Thanks to the magic of the internet and its many clever tutorials on maximizing air miles, we booked flights for two trips in the second half of 2013: Vermont in October and Chicago/Michigan/Pennsylvania in December. We’re also going to be in Portland for a previously scheduled weekend in September. There are still some details to be ironed out — like exactly how we’re getting from Michigan to Pennsylvania — but mostly we’ve turned our attention to craft brew tour planning.

Dreaming. What’s next? I loved the 70.3 distance, but I’m not longing to do another one immediately; sleeping in on Saturdays has been delightful. Ironman? Someday, maybe, but not in 2014. Instead, I’m thinking about some goals for shorter races. The Santa Cruz race TAG is training for looks like a PR-able course, and I’m curious to see what I can do in an Olympic-distance race when it’s the endpoint of a training cycle and not a stepping stone to something else. I’d also be curious to run a stand-alone 10K, because the last time I ran one that wasn’t preceded by a swim and a bike ride was August 2011. There’s also new 10-miler in Berkeley in November where I could finally tackle the goal of racing 10 miles that I set two years ago. I was toying with the idea of doing a century ride — or a least a metric century — but organized rides seem to dry up by October (which makes sense, as that’s when the rain usually starts), so that probably won’t happen this year. Basically, I’m waiting to see if any races call to me, with the only certainty being September 29 in Santa Cruz.

Posting my Vineman pictures all over social media. Yeah, I know. But come on. I’ve had a “D Goal” of getting a good race picture at every race I’ve entered since 2010, and this is the first time I’ve made it.


I have to get my money’s worth somehow.

Race Recap: Vineman 70.3

If racing is a celebration of training, then my time at Vineman on Sunday was one big 6-hour, 34-minute, 54-second party. It seems cold to say that the day was all just execution — where’s the drama in that? where are the crazy highs and lows? — but the number one thing I felt throughout the day was well-prepared.

And what that preparation got me was a bunch of times faster than the ones I thought I could pull off. I spent most of the day with a big dumb grin on my face. Part of it, I’m sure, is the sheer joy of the automatic PR, the fact that as long as I finished, I’d be doing something I could barely conceive of a year ago. But most of it was a confidence I don’t think I’ve ever felt before in racing — that I’d done everything I could to be ready, and now all I had to do was do it.

I don’t know where that confidence came from, but I’m glad it was there, because from the moment I got to Santa Rosa on Friday night, I felt calm. My phone was full of text messages with other people’s nerves, and I kept expecting my own to kick in at any minute, but they never did. On Saturday, we hit up some Sonoma County favorites: Flying Goat for coffee, Arrigoni’s for sandwiches and snark (overheard: “What gluten-free options do you have?” “Well. All of our sandwiches come on bread.”), Powell’s for candy. I went to the athlete meeting, got my wristband and packet, set up my T2 stuff, and lazed around the hotel until it was time for dinner with Michaela, Courtney, and friends. (And pros! Michaela’s post about chatting with a pro is fantastic.)

I started trying to put myself to bed around 10 p.m., and with the exception of one wake-up, I slept solidly until the alarm went off at 5:30. I picked up my friend from his hotel, drove back to mine to load the car, and Pete drove us both to Guerneville. By chance, we ran into my parents while looking for parking, so all of us walked to Johnson’s Beach together, and then it was up into transition and down to the water.

Swim — 40:18

I was in wave 17 of 23, starting at 8 a.m. The waves were split six minutes apart, but from the time we were called to get in to the time the horn went off, it felt like an hour. The water was warmer than the air — 70-ish degrees, warm enough that steam was rising off the top — and I was glad I’d chosen the sleeveless wetsuit even given the chilly morning.


In my practice swims, I’d always started toward the far bank of the river, so I found a spot on that side toward the front. I’m not sure how many people were in the wave — 50? 75? Vineman split up many of the traditional age groups to even out the waves, so I was with women 30-32 — but we were really spread out, and I felt very little contact getting through the start.

I was waiting for the first shallow bit with the plants sticking out over the surface, just after the bridge, but I never found it — I must have been just slightly to one side. In fact, I never encountered any particularly shallow spots; after the turnaround, I touched the riverbed a couple of times, but mostly I was able to swim normally. I saw people ahead of me dolphin-diving once or twice and spotted some people walking at the edges, but it seemed like most of my wave was swimming most of the time.

I felt like I was doing a good job staying in the thick of my wave — which is not something I’ve always done. I caught my first purple cap from the wave in front maybe halfway through the outbound leg, and it took longer than that for the first dark green cap from the wave behind to catch me. The river is narrow enough that I honestly wasn’t doing a whole lot of sighting, other than just making sure I was rounding the buoys on the right, and I know that benefited me.


The one tricky part was figuring out a line to the swim exit, and I swam more of the last .2 with my head up than I wish I had. I just couldn’t quite get a handle on the angle of the exit ramp. I saw people start to stand up but I kept swimming as long as possible, then picked my way over the rocks as quickly as I could and got over the ramp.

I was shocked, honestly, to see 40:xx as my time. I felt like I’d had a good swim relative to my normal open-water swims and, from what I could tell, relative to my age group — but that would be a good time for me for that distance in the pool. That said, swimming in a current-less, shallow, narrow river is probably about as close as it gets to swimming in a pool, so I suppose it makes sense.

T1 – 7:07

I mean, yeah, that took forever. I’d never done a two-transition-area race before, and I probably should have practiced shoving all my junk into a plastic bag with haste. I also walked the whole way out of transition through the sandy parking lot. I wasn’t doing myself any favors on time, but my footing wasn’t awesome and I’d long ago decided it wouldn’t be worth running my bike out, especially if I was going to walk the little gravelly hill out of transition …

Bike – 3:24:50

… which I did. And then there was still some confusion about who was going to mount where and so I kept walking, up and around until the road was flat. It probably took an extra minute on either side of the timing mat, but two minutes weren’t going to make a difference in my day.

As soon as I got settled on River Road, my first order of business was food. I had a Gu ripped open and ready to go, and I nibbled on it for a couple of miles. So glad I did, because as before, I didn’t manage to get any food down during any of the especially jostle-y parts of Westside, and I didn’t get fully on my regular food-drink-salt pill schedule until an hour into the ride. I was nervous about the tight right turn off River — perhaps the only thing about this course that qualifies as “technical” — and I’m still surprised by how steep and precarious it feels, because on foot it doesn’t look like much. But the people around me heeded the warnings to slow down and we went into the turn single-file, which made me feel much more secure.

After that, I just rode. And rode. And ate. And rode. I sang to myself. I kept an eye out for friends — Ron caught me on River, I caught Lisa on Westside, and Cristina and I leapfrogged for much of the ride. I kept clicking off miles under 4:00 and knew I must be averaging over 16 mph. I think I previewed the course exactly the right amount: my two rides were enough to always know what was coming next but not enough to plunge me into boredom.

P7142280We got so lucky with the weather. It stayed foggy and gray until I was going past the Dry Creek General Store around mile 25, when I started seeing streaks of blue peeking out over the vineyards. By the time we hit the Canyon descent, it was bright and sunny, and that’s one of those moments I’ll always remember from this race — flying down that hill, warm sun and mountains and vineyards all around me, feeling happy and strong.

My obsessive over-planning of snacks paid off a handful of times. My bento box ejected my baggie of Shot Bloks (I’d only eaten one of the six!) and the last bit of my Picky Bar as I went over various potholes, and my extra Gu must have gotten lost somewhere during the swim or in transition. But I’d stuffed more Shot Bloks and a Fig Newton into the zippered compartment, so I had quite the rolling buffet. Every time I started to feel tired or sore or angry, I thought, “Let’s throw some food at that problem,” and I did, and it worked great.

My saddle started to bug me around mile 30, and I stood up a bunch on the flatter bits to stretch. Between that and the little climbs leading up to Chalk Hill, I kept waiting for my speed to drop — and it did, but only a little. The way the aid station before Chalk Hill was set up, I didn’t even realize we’d made the turn until I was hitting the sharp incline that serves as a warning shot for the real climb. The hill itself was kind of a mess — people walking to the far right, then people passing them but riding slowly in the middle, then people who were stronger climbers trying to pass them, and the few really strong climbers all the way on the outside flirting with the yellow line. As a (relatively) stronger climber (in this field, on this hill), it was tough to get enough open space to climb at my pace while also not blocking people coming up even faster.

But then it was over, with a short downhill and then a few little bumps on the part of the course I hate. I’d packed a goody bag — a handful of cherry cola and watermelon candies — for this stretch, and every time I started to feel rough, I thanked myself for my foresight and ate a treat. As we came into Windsor, a few cars got aggressive and I did a little talking back, but mostly it was smooth sailing all the way to the high school. After Chalk Hill, I was pretty sure I could come in under 3:30; then I had a stretch where I wasn’t sure and picked up the pace again; then I knew I was going to make it and relaxed for the final miles. I waved to the goats, coasted through the turns, tried to stretch my legs, and finally spotted the high school roof and Pete and my parents cheering near the bike in. I couldn’t believe I was done.

T2 – 9:38

When I got off the bike and stood up, the backs of my butt and legs — basically where my hamstrings and glutes connect — were in searing pain. The same thing happened in Napa with my old saddle, and I’d gotten through the run there fine. I knew I could do it again, but those first few steps were not pleasant. I took my time walking my bike a long way — my Garmin recorded almost a quarter mile! — to my T2 spot and spent a few more minutes stretching once I got there. Eventually, I dumped the last of my bike water bottle into my handheld, stuffed food and the contact lens case I’d loaded up with salt pills into my pockets, and took some long steps to stretch out more as I headed toward the run course.

Run – 2:13:01

I hit the run out and started to jog, and I immediately realized that running felt a lot better than walking. It was a relief, and as I ran through the enthusiastic spectators in the first half-mile of the course — the only part where crowds were allowed — I was choking back happy tears. I knew I was well ahead of my goal, and for the first time, I also knew I was going to stay there. “You’re doing this!” is what kept popping into my head, and I’d smile and then start to cry and then remind myself to keep it under control because there was still a long way to go.


So, I ran. I walked the aid stations as I planned to, and went through every sprinkler and got sprayed by every garden hose, and in between, I ran. When I went over the timing mat at mile 6 at just under an hour, I knew I was right on pace; little did I know that the online tracker claimed the mat was at mile 6.6, and Pete and my parents briefly thought I was going to pull out a sub-2 half!

The high point of the run was probably the archway of misters at the start of the La Crema winery loop. The low point was absolutely the out-and-back on a boring road right after the loop. By that point, I was getting hot — and I know, I was so lucky, it could have been so much worse, but it was still full sun and 80 degrees — and I took a little more time at the aid stations to grab water and ice (where there was still ice; several aid stations had had theirs melt already). I dropped a Nuun tab in my handheld bottle around mile 9, but the heat and fizziness somehow combined to build up pressure in the bottle, and half the water went shooting out across the street. I could only laugh, but it still felt like a very long way to the next aid station and a refill.

I was tired, absolutely, and getting majorly chafed from all the water I was dumping on myself, but I felt weirdly … awesome? I was talking to the people around me, and keeping an eye out for friends, and while I wasn’t moving particularly fast, I never doubted that I could keep running. Non-volunteer spectators were only allowed on the last 1.5 miles of the course, so hitting the crowds was a big milestone. Then it was 10 more minutes of running, then five. Then I spotted my friend Ron again — he’d just dyed his hair red, and I’d been making wine jokes ever since, saying he’d gone Cabernet or Zinfandel for Vineman — and as I came up behind him, I yelled, “Hey, Pinot Noir, you coming with me?” He laughed but waved me on, and then I was at the last intersection before the high school, and then I was turning into the chute.

The chute wound through the parking lot, and I really wasn’t sure how much further I had to go, but I knew I had the dumbest smile on my face. A friend called out and I smiled even bigger — then Cristina was at the fence cheering — then it was Pete and my parents — and then it was the finish line. The announcer said my name, and I threw my arms up, and I was a half-ironman finisher. Total time: 6:34:54.

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I ran into Layla at the finish and she was eating watermelon, so my next move was clear. I made it over to the food tent and piled a plate with watermelon slices and pasta salad, grabbed some water and chocolate milk, and looked for friends. Eventually, I slowly made my way back to T2 to gather my stuff, found my T1 bag (full of ants who’d gone after my throwaway bottle of Nuun-water, which I clearly should have actually thrown away), did some expo shopping, and walked back to the car. Walking away from the high school got us through the worst of the traffic, and within 45 minutes, I was eating nachos and drinking beer at Lagunitas in Petaluma.

I have more to say that’s all feelings-y, but this post is long enough. I’ll just say that when I look back on the day, there’s not much I would change, and that’s a pretty exciting way to feel after my first 70.3. There are things I could do better, places where I can build on this. But my pie-in-the-sky goal back in April was to hold 16 mph on the bike at Vineman, and I did. My motivation all year was to finish this race under seven hours, and I did. And knowing I could do this at all — that the girl who started running at 25 and learned to ride a bike at 29 could finish a half-ironman at 31 — is the craziest and most awesome thing, period.

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Vineman Race Plan and Goals

I’m sitting here surrounded by stuff. Our trip to Vineman starts after work today, so I wanted to get as much packed as I could ahead of time.

I don’t know why I feel the need to write out my entire packing list by hand every single time, but I do, though it really doesn’t change that much from tri to tri. I think it’s one last little way to exert control before going into a somewhat unpredictable environment. And frankly, checking things off lists just makes me feel like I’m Doing Things Right.


In the past few days, I’ve gotten a few things out of the way: a bike tune-up and final ride; a last swim; an aquajog subbing for my regular shakeout run (my calves were tight after last Saturday’s run, and I’m not taking any chances, which seems like the kind of mature and reasonable decision I’m hardly ever capable of making). If anything, I’ve tapered too much, but I’m not sure I believe that’s a thing. Riding my bike home from the shop yesterday, I wanted nothing more than to keep riding, but I was out of time and told myself it would be better to save it for Sunday anyway.

So, all that’s left is thinking through the day and then executing what I’ve trained and planned for. My overall time goal is to finish under 7 hours, but that could break down a lot of different ways. But I had to figure out some rough time estimates to tell spectators where I’ll be, and to figure out how much food and water to carry, so, here’s how I’m hoping each leg will go. (Note that there’s an implied “just finish!” goal for each of these.)

A goal: 42 minutes
B goal: 45 minutes

I’ve gone 41-42 minutes in both of my swims in the river this year, but a) that didn’t include actually getting out of the rocky river — something I’m ashamed to be a wimp about but am a wimp about nonetheless — or any issues that arise from swimming in crowds, and b) looking at my swim times in the pool and at other races, a 42-minute swim would, frankly, be beyond my demonstrated abilities. I hear that happens sometimes on race day, and if it does, that’s great, but I’ve been expecting to swim 45 minutes this whole time, I think that’s in reach, and anything faster would be icing.

Other stuff:

  • Eat and drink throughout the morning — a little bit at a time is fine.
  • Try. Act like I’m swimming in a race, not just out for a lazy Sunday float.

A+++ goal: 3:30
A goal: 3:45
B goal: 4 hours

My first course ride came in at 3:44; my second, with a few minor detours and a long water stop, was 3:55. My initial goal was to be able to hold 15 mph, which would be 3:45, and I’m sticking to that. Before my water stop on the second ride, I was closer to 16 mph, hence the A+++ goal — but I did stop and am expecting to stop at least once during the race (either to refill water or to stretch or to use a bathroom or all of the above), so I don’t expect 3:30. Still, I’m going to see if I can hold 16 mph until the turn onto 128.

Other plans:

  • Two bottles on the bike: Rocktane in the front and either water or Skratch in the back. Plan is to supplement with aid station water — and I could do a full swap at mile 29, if I want to. I still haven’t decided.
  • Salt caps in the outside stretchy pocket of my bento, one every hour.
  • Food! I will, will, will get a whole Gu down in the first five miles before we’re off River Road. I’ve waited too long to eat both times I’ve biked the course, and it really catches up with me around mile 40. Not this time! I’ll also have a Picky Bar and Shot Bloks in my bag, some extra food stashed in my pockets, and a special treat — either a Fig Newton or gummy watermelon rings, whichever I’m in the mood for — after Chalk Hill.
  • My main goal is to not avoid the crushing low I’ve felt both times after the turn onto Chalk Hill Road. It’s a rough part of the course, I’ve been baking in the sun for hours, and I’m just ready to be done. I think not eating enough has been a big part of the issue on previous rides, but part of it is also attitude, and I want to psych myself up to be as positive and happy as I can be on that stretch, no matter how the rest of the ride is going. It’s kind of the “three-hours-to-go” mark of the day, and that’s awesome, but three hours is still a long time and I want to have the best energy I can going in.

A goal: 2:20
B goal: 2:30

Oh, who even knows with this run. I really think it’s going to come down to weather. I thought at one point that if I had a really blockbuster day, I could run 10-minute miles, but I deeply doubt that now — especially since I’m planning to walk the aid stations.

I barely ran 11-minute miles on my first course run, the day of 95 degrees and the emergency garden hose. The weather forecast has gotten more favorable since then, but “more favorable” still means 80+ degrees. I ran at a 10:15 pace last weekend for 10 miles of the course, but it was only 70 degrees and I’m not banking on that for Sunday.

I don’t mean to use weather as an excuse for my performance, whatever it may be. It’s not an excuse. But it is a fact that I run poorly in heat, and while I’ve done what I can to get up north to practice, three hot runs does not equal acclimation. I’ll be armed with salt and Nuun and water and I’m going to do as much as I can without ending up in a med tent.

2:20 feels reasonable; I ran the SF half in 2:07 a month ago, and while I think that course is slightly easier, a whole minute per mile should be enough to play with. But if it’s exceptionally hot or sunny, all bets are off.

Other plans:

  • Walk every aid station at least in the first half. Water on me, water down the hatch, eat whatever sounds good.
  • Tri club friends will be at mile 4, after the worst of the hills. High-five everyone. Draw on that energy.
  • Turn the Garmin to a useless screen if needed. If it’s a rough run, just finish.

And there it is. I start at 8, I’m number 1818, and I’ll be back on the other side of 70.3!

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Vineman 70.3: Week Eight

This week was packed with Vineman recon: a solo ride of 90% of the bike course on Thursday, a group brick including 10 miles of the run course on Saturday, and an intense amount of forecast-stalking on most days in between.

I’d debated how to structure this last big week of training — there were plenty of options besides what I did — but when I got to the end of Saturday’s workout, I only felt relief. I learned so much from being on each of those courses one more time, about the race and myself and when I felt good and when I’ll want extra motivation (read: food) to get me through a tough spot. It was a lot of driving, and a lot of time in the heat, but I’m happy with how I chose to spend this week.

Now it’s taper, which means trying to keep busy and not freak out about anything I am or am not doing. To this end, Pete and I went to a local nursery and bought a bunch of plants yesterday. If you need me, I’ll be in the garden potting herbs. And maybe obsessively checking the weather … but mostly potting herbs.

Here’s week eight:

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: Lacking swimming motivation — as well as my gym card, which I now suspect I may have lost at the gym — I met a friend at her pool. The accountability and the chance to swim long-course meters for the first time ever were well-worth the $15 drop-in fee. Swam 2600 meters (~2800 yards) including 4 sets of 400s with the first 300 easy and the last 100 speedier plus some hard 50s.

Wednesday: Track workout of 6×600, 2×300. We were supposed to go as far as 6×300, but when I checked in with our coach after the 600s and she found out I’d been speeding up on each one, she — rightly — guessed that I was holding back for fear I’d slow down or not finish. So, she sent me out with instructions to do just two 300s but legitimately run them as fast as I could. I ran 1:23 and then 1:17 (7:15 pace!), which I admit IS far faster than I thought I could run. My legs and back were sore after, though — perhaps proof that a) I’m not made for sprinting and b) I’m ready for taper.

Thursday: Solo 56-mile ride, 50 of it on the Vineman course, plus a 1-mile mini-brick run. I started from Windsor High, which replaces the first 5 mostly flat miles of the race with 5 other mostly flat miles and meets up with the course on Westside. For the first 30 miles of the ride, I felt amazing; despite a few brief stops (stoplights, retrieving a Gu that flew out of my bag when I hit a pothole, fixing my speed sensor), I was trucking along at 16 mph average — HUGE for me over that distance. I was smiling at passing cyclists and memorizing wineries on the course to tell my family where to spectate and looking at the scenery and, honestly, getting a little emotional. Western Sonoma County is where I started hiking, and started thinking of exercise as something more than drudgery in a gym, and started to fall in love with being outside. Being on my bike for hours out there, alone, was cathartic in ways I wouldn’t have expected.

The last 26 miles were tougher — a combination of the heat (I had plenty of water, but it had heated up so quickly it was hardly refreshing), a warm headwind, getting lost, and knowing the worst of the ride was ahead of me. I stopped for several minutes at the store around mile 36 to reapply sunscreen and refill my bottles with cold water, and I never really got momentum back after that. I kept waiting for the shady part of 128 that I remembered from my first ride on the course, but I apparently made it up. Chalk Hill was fine, but I let myself believe that it was all downhill from there, while actually the next five miles continue to roll — and roll over some of the choppiest pavement on the course. It’s really not till mile 50+ and the turn back towards Windsor that you’re solidly downhill on good roads.

Still, with all stops included, I pulled up to the car in 3:55, making me feel pretty good about my race goal of 3:45. I also learned how to swap water bottles from my front cage to the back and to drink out of my back bottle and replace it without crashing. And as a bonus, I even learned how to take salt pills, which was a major victory considering I often feel like I’m going to choke when trying to swallow even an Advil. My phone said it was 90 degrees at the end of the ride, and my car said 100; I’m inclined to align myself more with the car, because while it had been sitting out in the sun for four hours, so had I.

Takeaways: I really need to eat earlier in the ride (my goal will be a whole Gu before I’m off River Road during the race in addition to my every-20-minutes food plan). I may do a quick full stop to swap/refill water bottles for the second half of the ride if it’s a hot day (I thought I’d do a bottle of Rocktane and a bottle of Skratch on the bike and supplement with aid station water, but the stuff in the bottles was grossly warm after 30 miles). I need to save myself a special treat — mint chocolate Gu or a fig newton or something; jellybeans? — for the stretch between the Chalk Hill descent and Shiloh. Dry Creek is a great place to truck it, and Canyon really isn’t bad.

Friday: Rest. Skipped a short, optional swim because of silly logistical failures, and while I could have gone back out later in the day, I took it as a sign to just chill.

Saturday: My last big workout with the group: an hour out-and-back bike ride, then 10 miles of running on the Vineman course. It was overcast, but as Pete always used to remind me when he lived up there, there are two kinds of Sonoma County summer days: the ones where it’s cloudy in the morning and hot and sunny by noon and the ones where it’s sunny and hot in the morning and you just want to die all day long. Indeed, by the time we were starting the run at 10:15, it was sunny — but temperatures still hovered around 70. And it was delightful. The first four miles felt rough, but apparently it was just an extra-long transition, because my legs eventually got some spring back. I know it was a tease; I know it’s more likely than not to be 85+ on race day. But the run felt so much better when I didn’t need an emergency garden hose infusion to cool off.

Sunday: One mile of slow and choppy swimming at Aquatic Park. I didn’t notice the wind until I made the first turn along the buoy line and suddenly got slapped in the face with incoming waves. I felt strangely relaxed, though, and just rolled with it, enjoyed the ride, and thought about now nice swimming in a nice, calm river will be.

Week Eight Stats

Swimming: 4600-ish yards
Biking: 71 miles
Running: 15 miles
Other: A good amount of stretching/foam rolling

Most proud of: A solo long ride; making it to taper feeling good.

Need to work on: Plans for getting myself out of low spots should they hit on race day; laundry?

Excited for: SUNDAY.

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Vineman 70.3: Week Seven

Week seven: The week of waffling.

Sleeveless wetsuit or full-sleeve for race day? Salt caps or good ol’ fast-food salt packets? Email the bike fit dude that I still don’t love my seat or give it one more ride? What workout for my last weekend before Vineman: short bike/long run or one last 50-mile ride?

I’m at a weird point in training, in which I’ve hit a bunch of milestones — including week seven’s triple brick and run on the race course — and yet things feel unsettled. Vineman is still two weeks away. I’m not fully tapering yet. I still have a bunch of decisions to make about how to approach race day. And at the same time, is anything I do now actually going to make any difference? Or is my barn — to steal an overused blog metaphor — full of all the hay it’s going to get?

I guess this is why I train with a group: to have a coach on the other end of my dithering.

While I wait for him to tell me what to do, here’s what I actually did last week:

Monday: Rest.

Tuesday: In the morning, 2360 yards of swimming, including a total of 18 100s (3 sets of 5, one set of 3 and then had to dash to a conference call) at somewhere just under 2:00 each. In the evening, about “30 miles” of indoor riding at a computrainer class, with a total of 15 minutes (5 times through a set of 30, 60, and 90 seconds) at Zone 5 watts. I’d been debating whether to cry uncle on my newer, narrower saddle, but I made it through this class with no major issues — a far cry from the previous class with my old saddle, where I was uncomfortable from the get-go. Finished with a ~.75-mile misty transition run on the nearby bike path, which was absolutely covered in snails.

Wednesday: Track workout of about 4.5 miles, including a main set of 3×400 targeting 2:00, 3×1200 targeting 6:09. It was sunny, warm, and humid for San Francisco — I have to emphasize the for San Francisco — and while I hit all the intervals, I felt alternately like I was suffocating and drowning for the duration of the workout.

Thursday: 16 miles total of bike commuting (12 to/from work, 4 to/from yoga) and then the last yoga class with my favorite teacher, who’s taking a break from teaching. Yes, this makes me regret every single time I’ve skipped yoga since first finding her class last year.

Friday: Base Pace Test swim: warm up, swim 3×400, divide by 12, get base pace for 100 yards. I swam 8:16, 8:06, 8:04, putting my base pace exactly where it’s been for 18 months. I’m a little frustrated, but at the same time, I felt better on the 8:06/8:04 swims than I think I ever have during a base pace test; if I had another 400 to do, I bet it would have come in even faster.

Saturday: Second in our “peak weekend” series of workouts: the triple brick. I feel like I should be calling it The Dreaded Triple Brick, but having now done three triple bricks in my short triathlon experience, I can honestly say it’s one of my favorite workouts.

This was my first crack at the long course version: 18-mile ride, 30-minute run, 18-mile ride, 20-minute run, 18-mile ride, 10-minute run. Each loop was a circuit around Paradise Loop from Tiburon, including going up and over Camino Alto at miles 12, 30, and 42. First loop clocked in at 1:20, not speedy but steady. First run felt amazing — 9:14/mile pace, chatting briefly with friends along the way. I’ve been saying all year that I don’t know why I’ve been running well off the bike, but I think there’s actually an easy answer: my bike fit. When I run, I’m warmed up but not already worn out; I can use biking muscles for biking now.

Second loop, I was on track for a speedier ride, and I’d just hit the lovely part where the pavement smooths out when I heard a massive pop and felt my back wheel skid out of control. My previous flats have all been of the slow-leak variety, and I’ve been terrified of the explodey kind since I started riding, but in the moment I calmly understood what was happening, unclipped, and got off the road. Started dumping out my flat kit and realized, OH, that’s not tube, it’s tire — there was probably a two-inch frayed section that looked like ripped-up carpeting. I’d been telling passing cyclists that I was fine and had everything I needed, but clearly this was a bigger problem. Luckily, one guy had stopped despite my protests and had a patch that he figured would buy me a couple of miles of easy riding. I realized I could either get back to our starting point or keep going down the hill to a bike shop — and only one of those options would get me a new tire. So, kind stranger fixed my flat and followed me down the hill, where I rolled up to City Cycle and asked for a new tire right now, thanks! Finished up the loop on my sweet new tire, but the whole thing took 1:52.

My 20-minute run again felt great — I had lots of nervous/angry energy to burn — but then I had to decide what to do about the third loop. It was already 2 p.m., I was way behind schedule, and nobody was going to stick around to watch my stuff in our “transition area.” But I hadn’t just spent a bunch of money and time getting a new tire to bail on the workout. So, I packed up the car and set out for loop 3. The wind had picked up by then, but I think the sheer power of not giving up made it the most enjoyable ride, and I came coasting back to our starting spot in 1:16. Locked the bike to my rack, took off for another 10 minutes of running, and finally finished the workout at 3:40 p.m., six hours after starting. Not exactly the day I was expecting, but I’m so glad I didn’t quit.

Sunday: Talked Courtney into a trip up to Guerneville and Windsor for a Russian River swim and run on the Vineman course. The swim went well — same shallow parts as the week before, slightly faster time (41:15) — and I tried out the sleeveless wetsuit. Point for: definitely cooler. Point against: more time to get sunburned. Then we drove over to Windsor High to run, and oh my goodness, I thought I was going to actually wilt. My Garmin claims it was 93 degrees and cloudy, which is hilarious, because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky; my car, on the other hand, said 98. The first three miles are rolling with a little more shade than I expected, and I was actually looking forward to the end of the run … until I realized the course actually loops back on a parallel road with zero shade. We ran everything but the loop around the winery (about 7.4 miles), walked several times, and barely scooted in under 11-minute/mile pace — which is fine except my race goals were premised on 10-minute miles. Time for new goals. We also drank out of someone’s garden hose. Desperate times and all that.

Week Seven Stats

Swimming: 6150 yards
Biking: 101 miles (55 road miles, 16 commute miles, 30 trainer miles)
Running: 19 miles
Other: One yoga class

Most proud of: Finishing the triple brick after the tire situation

Need to work on: Heat acclimation, however possible

Excited for: Race day?! It’s starting to feel close.

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