“Maybe I’m not crazy?” That thought went through my mind while running between miles 7 and 8 on Saturday during Ironman Oceanside, 70.3 as I stretched out my stride, picked up my pace, and surged passed the runner who beat me out of transition an hour before, which meant there was one more woman behind me, and I was one more place closer to the front.
I listened to Gabrielle Reece, one of my heroes, on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast the entire two and a half hour drive down to Oceanside on Thursday afternoon. I have been a fan of the former pro beach volleyball player, and model since I first saw her on an episode of MTV Sports back in 1992. Over the years I have appreciated how her point of view has expanded from athlete, to parent, and wife to the legendary big wave surfer, Laird Hamilton. So to hear Gabby’s strong, steady, cool voice before starting the race, the first triathlon I have raced in six months, the first of the 2019 season, the first of my 40th year, and first after I said my long time goal out loud and people listened, was just what I needed to calm my nerves and settle into the moment.
Thank you, Gabby.
They changed the course since 2010, the last time I raced it. The swim started on the beach just south of the Harbor, and then veered right beyond the jetty and finished on the boat ramp inside the harbor. The tide was out, and it seemed like a million yards of sand laid between our starting line and the water. I was nervous, but ready.
It was a beautiful morning. A few clouds still clung to the sky from a storm that passed through the night before, but the sun was slowly rising and peaked through the cracks in the clouds, then suddenly a loud post-apocalyptic buzzer sounded, and it was my time to go!
Right away the ocean felt good. I ducked under about three waves and then was beyond the break and swimming toward the first red turn buoy. I kept my stroke in a strong and steady rhythm which felt fast, but wasn’t really, quite a few people passed me, but I was still in it, not leading the charge, but not lagging behind. Just before we made the turn into the harbor, I felt the current lift me, and relaxed, realizing I was in the ocean’s hand, and let her guide the way.
It was an awesome way to start the day.
I swung wide while in the harbor, which cost me some time, I should’ve tried to cling closer to the rocks, but I was never off course, and never got yelled at by any of the kayakers, (mini-victory), and after a final dose of a dozen mighty arm pumps I was back on my feet, out of the water, and running toward Simone.
The transition was really long. My bike was racked near the “Bike Out” exit, which was great, but it felt like it took twenty five years to get there from the the boat ramp. I stopped to have the wetsuit stripper volunteers yank off my speedy Roka suit, and then sprinted toward my bike. I ate one Picky Bar while putting on my shoes, slick new aero helmet, and race belt. Then I pulled Simone off the rack and pedaled toward Camp Pendleton.
Just before cresting the short, steep hill leading out of the harbor I saw my coach, Hillary, and a few team SFQ teammates cheering for me off to the right, and smiled. I couldn’t understand what Hillary yelled at me, but she seemed happy, which gave me a boost as I rolled passed them and started the challenging fifty-six mile bike ride.
The day before, or actually the entire week before, Hillary had her hands full with possibly more emotion from me than I’ve ever let on over our entire tenure working together. I crumbled a bit from my own expectations to live up to my “Trying to Go Pro” goal going into this race, but she said exactly the right things to bring me down to earth, which let me breathe, and just do my thing.
Thank you, Hillary.
I remembered how gorgeous the bike course was, but forgot how tough. The first thirty miles were mostly flat, but tricky, because I was swarmed by a team of dipshits while pedaling along the flat miles on the bike path. These guys had no idea how to follow the rules. They were packed together like a peloton, two or three riders wide, a big “No, no” in non-drafting triathlons, (like the one we were racing), which was both a dumb and dangerous way to ride on the narrow path, and made passing correctly on the left difficult to do. I tried to maneuver through them as safely as I could, but their recklessness definitely slowed me down. Oh well, by mile thirty they were behind me, and the real fun began.
The first hill was no joke. It was long, steep, and really gave me the chance to appreciate my enhanced lung capacity, because I was sucking air climbing up that thing. It was exactly how I remembered, hard, but beautiful. The next two hills surprised me. I thought there was only one after the big doozy, but there were two, and they both included the word “Hell” in their descriptions, typically not the namesake for an easy roller. Then came the wind. The final ten miles or so blasted us with a surly headwind that felt like a stinging high-five from Mother Nature. However, what overwhelmed me the entire 2:46 hour ride was how FUN it all was, which was a very welcomed reminder that I race triathlons because I have a blast doing them. I had no idea where I was in the standings at that point, but I felt great, and that is all I cared about. Also, I was ready to run.
After another long transition, I was on my feet, my 5Q Smashfestqueen lid on my head, and Roka shades over my eyes pounding the pavement at a 7min. mile pace.
That pace lasted about two miles, and then I settled into a wobbly 7:16ish pace which served as a wake-up call to triathlon running. There is a big difference between running a stand alone half-marathon on fresh legs, and running a half marathon after swimming hard in the ocean and pedaling hard for nearly three hours. It was like triathlon was waving a huge sign that read, “Welcome back, T!”
It took about seven miles to find my rhythm. I was going back and forth with a woman in yellow, who was my neighbor in transition, (we both had the same number written on our left calf), but around mile eight I started to feel good, like myself, and it was on. I passed her at mile nine, after dipping back down to a sub 7:15 pace, and locked it in for as long as I could to open up a gap between us.
I felt really good.
Each step felt stronger than the one before. It is during moments like this that I only allow one thought into my mind, “You’re a marathon runner, T, sustaining speed in discomfort is what you do.”
Sadly, it was not enough.
That runner in yellow passed me just before we made the final left turn downhill back onto the bike path, with less than a mile before the finish. I was bummed, but proud that I pushed her throughout the entire run, and grateful that she pushed me; that’s racing, which is exactly what I signed up for.
I found out a few minutes after I finished that I placed 5th in my age group and 10th overall Amateur woman. Initially I was disappointed, but quickly snapped out of that funk when I considered for the first triathlon of the season, and a half-ironman at that, not my specialty distance, that was a pretty solid day at the races.
On the drive home, while Marion was napping, (it was a big day for spectator’s too), I felt relieved that all of the time, energy, money, blood, sweat, and gallons of tears I have devoted to triathlon over the last dozen years, (especially the last six months), have not been for nothing. I realized that my performance was sufficient enough to confirm that I am not a lunatic for believing I have a shot of earning my pro card.
There is still a lot to do. I have a ways to go in growing my fitness before my next race at Ironman Boulder, but I feel like I made it through the first round of Rush for my favorite Sorority, they haven’t invited me to join yet, but they like me.
Next up is a grueling, yet delightful five days of hardcore training in Tucson at Hillary’s Spring Smashfest Camp, so come on back next Tuesday to see if I survived that always transformative experience.
In the meantime, I invite you to watch this tribute video I made of my badass TeamHPB teammates who dominated the standings at Oceanside: Cortney Haile, 3rd Overall Female Amateur, 2nd in 40-44 AG, (my new AG), Alex Watt, 4th Overall Female Amateur, 1st in 25 – 29 AG, and Lynne Fiedler, 1st is 55-59 AG. AMAZING.
Finally, if you want to watch and listen to the entire Rhythm Nation video from Ms. Janet, here you go.:)