Big Kahuna 2012: Race Recap

*I haven’t been able to write this post, even though the big day happened almost a a month and a half ago because I didn’t know where to begin.  Since I still don’t know how to start, and portray all the emotions surrounding this day, I am going to do my best.*

[SPOILER ALERT –  oh wait, that already happened]:

My SCE teammate Johan and I at the finish line.

September 9, 2012 I woke up at 3:30 wide awake and ready to go.  I realized I could still sleep for another hour or so, so I had to coax myself back to sleep.  I was a little afraid when I woke up again I’d be beat, but I was just as excited — apparently anxiety was running full steam ahead through my veins.

I ate my breakfast of banana + almond butter, showered, braided my hair, and double checked my bag.  I don’t know if you know this, but triathlons require pretty much everything you own but the kitchen sink.  Its ridiculous.  I had two bags stuffed to the hilt, and {stupidly} hopped on my bike to ride the two miles down the mountain to transition.

[note: bonus of living so close to the start of so many races here in Santa Cruz is that I can ride my bike to them – especially when they’re triathlons.  not-so-bonus of living close is that I stupidly ride my bike to events where there is no way I’m ever going to be able to make the trek home.  thank goodness for good friends who come to my rescue.]

I made it down to transition at 5am, and it was hopping.  I wanted plenty of time for food to digest, the nerves to settle, and to ensure everything was set and ready to go before my start at 7:15am (well I thought it was 7:15…).  I found two of my fellow SCE triathletes, Johan & Julian before we all headed down to the beach for the swim.

Once down at the beach, I thought my wave was starting at 7:15, so I hopped in the water at 6:50 to start warming up.  I said hi to a few of my tri friends both on SCE and outside, and shared race morning jitters with all. However, little did I know our wave didn’t start til 7:24 (they switched this race day morning), so I spent a solid 20 minutes in the water adjusting to the balmy 59 degree ocean water.  Probably about 10 minutes too long…my body was cold!

[For those of you not from northern California, 59 degrees is actually pretty freakin’ warm for the water…and it felt glorious on the sunny race day morning.]

The 1.2 Mile Swim:

At 7:24 the buzzer went off and it was off to the races.  I stayed to the inside on the way out on the swim.  I felt strong, and confident, and stayed with the middle of the pack for the entirety of the swim.  I ended up making it out and around the wharf for the 1.2 mile swim in 35:38.  A solid swim, in my opinion.  Especially given that I had probably warmed up a little too much.

Transition 1:

After the swim, there’s a 1/4+ mile run up to transition.  Then once in transition, I peeled off my wetsuit, dried off my feet, threw on my bike shoes (I wear them sockless), grabbed my jersey, poured a pack of sports beans in my both, grabbed a swig of water, threw on my helmet, grabbed my Switch sunglasses, and ran out of transition with my bike.  Somehow even though it felt like I was going as fast as my little legs could carry me, I still ended up taking 7:48 in T1.  Whoops.

The 56.4 Mile Bike:

Let me just begin this by saying that of all the legs of a triathlon, the bike is by FAR my weakest.  And I don’t mean by just a little bit, I mean that I need to get up close and personal with my bike if I want to shave time off any distance triathlon.  I am slow, and inefficient…and apparently know nothing about bikes.

The bike started out pretty good, my legs felt fresh, and I felt hydrated and fueled.  I started taking S-Caps as soon as I got out on the bike [best decision I’ve ever made in long distance events is taking S-Caps], and 100 calories of electrolytes/carbs in the form of Clif Shot Blocks or Sports Beans or Hammer Gel every 35-40 minutes.  I wanted to make sure I kept fuel in my body for the run.

Unfortunately the bike didn’t stay pleasant for long.  The bike goes 25 miles north on the 1 before turning around back to Santa Cruz at Pigeon Point.  The ride north is notorious for having ridiculous headwinds – and they were there in full force on race day.  Every minute that passed, the winds got just a little bit stronger — in fact it took me 1:57:xx to get to the turnaround point at mile 28.2 — yes, almost two hours to go not even 30 miles.   Yowsa.  It also didn’t help that my chain fell off at mile 20, adding a few extra minutes to my time.

On the way back, the tailwind obviously makes you float right along.  And I was looking forward to getting all this speed and gaining a bunch of time on the way back.  Things were going smoothly, and my average speed was 22mph (including the uphills), and then…then just after mile 40 things started going downhill.  My gears jammed up, making shifting almost impossible.  Then I heard a large thud, and then every time the pedal went around, there was a thud.  I couldn’t figure out what it was [This was my blonde moment…but I claim it was that I was so focused on the task at hand].  With these two problems, my bike started slowing, and I couldn’t get going faster than 15 mph…on the downhills.  Major fail.  After hoping to have a time of about 1:20 or less on the way back (yes, you really do fly on the way back), I had a second leg time of 1:40:xx, for a total time of 3:36:28 — which had already set me up to fail my goal time of 6 hours (I knew it was ambitious, but I also knew it was possible).

What really killed me on those last 16 miles?  The fact that I had to pedal 2-3x harder during those miles to go slower than I was going on the way out.  Talk about physically draining yourself.  And all because I had a flat tire…and didn’t know it.

[See, I told you: blonde moment.  And to be completely honest, I didn’t know I had a flat until I went to take my bike into the shop a few days later, and the tires was completely blown.  Apparently I’m not observant…]

Transition 2:

I was mentally and physically exhausted by this point, and had already realized that my goal time was out of reach, unless I miraculously ran 20-30 minutes faster than my half marathon PR time.  Yeah…that may happen someday, but it sure as hell isn’t going to come after swimming 1.2 miles and biking 56.4 with transitions in over 4 1/2 hours.  Sorry, not happening.

Anyway, I threw on my compression socks, running shoes, grabbed my race belt and visor, shoved half a banana in my mouth, grabbed my sports beans & handheld, and headed for the road.  I had a fairly speedy T2 (relative to T1) with a time of 4:49.

The 13.1 Mile Run:

When you’re mentally and physically drained, its almost noon, its hotter than your’e used to running in because there’s no cloud cover, the sun is shining bright, and you know you can’t reach your goal time, running 13.1 miles becomes the world’s most monumental challenge.

I started off fairly strong, especially seeing SCE friends Meg & Jenn at about mile 1 my PhD friends at mile 2.  They gave me hope of finishing, not much, but hope.  However, I quickly faded, giving in to a mild calf cramp, and started walking by mile 2.5.  At mile 3 I saw another friend who was finishing, and told me I could do it — I needed to hear it, but didn’t believe it at the time.  I was struggling.

It was from that point on I adopted a run/walk strategy.  I would run as long as I could, and then walk for .05 when I needed to.  I also walked through every aid station, and up every “hill.”  This course really has no big hills — but I didn’t take any chances of having my legs seize up.  This may seem ridiculous, but when you have a calf cramp, are on hours 5, 6 and 7 of a half ironman, its the best idea in the world.  Slowly the miles ticked off, and I started to gain my energy and speed back.  I continued to take fuel every 35-40 minutes with sports beans, and had an S-Cap to go with it.  I carried my handheld with me (the best decision I ever made), and made friends along the way.  Most of the people I chatted with for a bit before passing – which is generally how it works for me in tris: you pass me on the bike, but watch out for me on the run 😉  And I was happy to give out advice to people on the course since the run is on my home turf.

By the time I got to mile 9, my energy really started to return as I realized I would actually finish the half ironman.  And by mile 10 I was back on West Cliff, knew the course by heart and could almost feel the finish — I started picking it up.  I still walked through aid stations (getting sufficient water in was necessary), and up the one teeeny tiny hill on West Cliff, but continued to get faster and stronger as I knew the finish was near.

It was about mile 12 that I saw my friend Maggie who had stayed on the course while everyone else went to meet me at the finish. She gave me a final boost of confidence, and then she rolled up her sign to run to the finish.  What made me feel good?  The fact that she said it took her almost a FULL HALF MILE to catch up to me — meaning I was running about an 8 min/mile pace (or faster) for that last mile on the road.  When she told me this, it made me feel good, and proud, even though the previous 12 miles weren’t very pretty.  So with that, we parted ways and I took off on the last .2 miles to the finish.

The last .2 miles of Big Kahuna are possibly the hardest of the entire race: they’re .2 miles on the beach.  Yes, you turn off the road, onto Cowell’s beach, run under Santa Cruz Wharf, and up to the finishline by the bandstand on the beach.  Holy hell those last .2 miles burn.  But I finished, happy, strong and beaming.

I was still emotional about the fact that pretty much everything that could have gone wrong on the bike did, and thus my time wasn’t what I wanted, but I finished my first half ironman distance, and am now a Big Kahuna.

Maggie, Kate, me & Pia — part of my super fabulous cheer squads!  There’s a good chance I wouldn’t have finished the run if it hadn’t been for my supporters — they seriously boosted me on the run.

I was 14/20 in my age group, 383/522 overall finishers (men & women), with a time of 6:41:20.  I finished under 7 hours, which is still excellent, and while I’m proud of myself for finishing, I would be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed in my performance. But, I am being positive and I am taking this as an opportunity for improvement — I learned a lot of lessons about triathlons, myself and racing in general, and now that I’ve had time to reflect, I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

All in all, I’m so proud of myself for doing a half ironman distance, I’m proud of myself for not giving up, and I’m proud of myself for not giving up after such a difficult experience and taking another stab at it this spring.  I’ve gotten my feet wet, hopefully gotten a lot of the bad out of the way, and can’t wait for more!  I will definitely be back at Big Kahuna in 2013.

But that doesn’t mean BK is going to be my next one, I’m hooked on the HIM and I’ve already put the next one on my schedule:  HITS Triathlon Series Napa Half Ironman on 4/13/2013 — I’ll see you there!

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