Monday, August 31, 2015

Oakland Triathlon 2015 - Race Report

Note to self: Flat race courses do not mean easy race courses!

This was an important race for was going to be my first salt water swim and it was going to be on an entirely foreign course. I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of competing in a race outside of my comfort zone...a race not in Granite Bay, Rancho Seco, or Windsor, Ca. I was also going without any friends or teammates, it was just going to be me and Hot Stuff. If this race wasn't so important to me, this report would be much, much shorter.


I set my alarm for 4am with the plan to leave the house by 4:30am. I was up the second I heard the alarm and immediately started a pot of water for coffee. I filled my "Fuelselage" with Gatorade and placed by gear bag next to my bike. For breakfast I had a piece of bread with peanut butter and honey, a banana, and the rest of the Gatorade. As soon as the coffee was ready I headed back to the bedroom to change. HS was a little slower to get moving, but eventually we were dressed and out the door at about 4:45am.

HS questioned my desire to get to the race so early. He thought we would be there before the volunteers. I informed him that transition opened at 5am and that I wanted to get there early enough to get a spot on the racks and to drop off a pair of shoes at the swim exit. I had read the athlete guide and knew that there was going to be a walk of at least 5-10 minutes to the swim exit and then another 5-10 minutes to the start.

Traffic was light leaving Stockton and at the rate we were going, I knew I would be there with time to spare. That changed suddenly on the Altamont. About halfway through the hills, traffic came to a stand still. It took us roughly 30-40 minutes to make our way down to Livermore. I sat silently watching my plan tick away as we sat unmoving. It never crossed my mind to check the traffic. If I would have checked I would have found out that there was construction going on and that all lanes were merged down into a single lane.

Not the best pic

Eventually we reached the bottom of the hill and traffic started moving again as the construction crews started removing the cones and warning signs from the evening's lane shutdown. I was beside myself with worry about even making it to Oakland on time. HS made sure we made up a little time. I programmed Jack London Square into the navigation system and were on our way again. The navigation worked great and it got us right to JLS, however, this is not where transition is located. We saw a car with a bike on the back so I instructed HS to "Follow that car". The car stopped a couple of blocks down the road and let someone out. It wasn't at transition.

I grabbed a piece of paper where I had written down the location of transition. I was starting to panic and fumbled with the navigation on my phone. I was on the verge of tears, convinced that I was going to miss my race start. HS saw a police officer so he asked him where 3rd and Harrison was. The officer pointed us in the right direction.  It turned out we were only about a block away. HS drove me as close to the transition entrance as he could, got my bike out of the truck, and said he was going to go park and would meet up with me.

I walked into transition, flashed my wrist band and stood looking at the sea of FULL bike racks. Where was I going to set up? A volunteer was hastily walking up and down the center isle telling the triathletes that there are to be 7 bikes on a rack and that if there was less, shove the bikes down. I found a rack with 5 bikes and gently tried to wedge myself in between a couple of bikes. The owners of those bikes were no where to be seen...probably because they were on their way to the water.

I was about to squeeze into my wetsuit when I remembered my body markings. I found a volunteer, got my required ink and returned to get ready for my swim. HS appeared at the side of the fence and watched as I quickly got ready. Since I had Lindsey pick up my race packet for me, I had no idea where the numbers went and there were no instructions in the race packet (although I had a good idea). I looked at the bikes around me and attached the bigger sticker to my bike. The smaller sticker seemed almost too small for a helmet number so I asked a volunteer who confirmed that it was supposed to go on my helmet. Lastly, I secured my timing chip to my left ankle. I took care to make sure it was securely attached because I remembered how worried I was that it was coming on during Vineman.

Ok, time to swim.


Thankfully, I had packed a pair of flip flops to wear down to the swim start, it was quite a hike over sidewalks and streets and I was thankful my feet were protected. I explained to HS that I had an extra pair of shoes to wear out of the swim because that was going to be another run but that I didn't have time to drop them off first. He took the shoes from me and said he would place them at the exit for me if he could.

A gloomy start to the day

I walked as quickly as I could until HS told me I had over 20 minutes before my wave start and that I could slow down a bit. At this point it dawned on me that I was really thirsty. I had left my bottle of C4 mix that I wanted to drink before the race at home and during my panic on the Altamonte, I had barely touched my coffee (not that coffee is great for hydrating). The only thing I had drank since waking up was about 1/2 cup of Gatorade that didn't fit in my bottle. This was not good so I decided not to think about it. I told myself that I would be done with my swim in about 1/2 an hour and I could have a drink then.

I pulled my wetsuit on the rest of the way and HS zipped me up. My cap and goggles were next. I smiled for a quick pic and watched as the first wave of the sprint triathlon took off. I gave HS a kiss and said I would see him when I got out. I made my way down to the dock and sat down on the edge. The water wasn't that cold, I jumped in and paddled around. The announcer instructed the olympic distance racers to make their way to the small, orange triangles. I put my head down and started to swim. Jeez...that feels like I'm not going anywhere! I looked up, I really hadn't gone that far. It probably wasn't as hard as it felt, but I was definitely swimming against some kind of current and I started to worry that I was going to wear myself out just getting to the start!

NOTE: Originally the athlete guide and/or website talked about the tidal conditions on race day. Unfortunately they had not updated that part and it still had last year's data (Which they updated after I signed up). This year it turned out that we would not be swimming with the tide but against it. The race organizers changed some of the start times so that the sprint race started when the tide was flat (which I guess means not doing anything). However, by the time my wave started, one of the last waves, the tide would be in "flood" stage or whatever the term is...which apparently means it will be coming in. 

Since there were 4 waves in front of mine, spaced 3 minutes apart, I worked my way across the channel opening and went to the side where I could sink my tootsies in some soft, squishy, muck. Whatever, at least I wasn't trying to swim upstream for the next 12 minutes. Some guy that apparently did the race last year decided to consult me as to why the swim course was longer this year than last year. Uhhh...I really don't think it is longer but what do I know...this is my first time doing this race. Eventually the wave before me got started, so I moved into position. As I fiddled with my Garmin to make sure that I had correctly set up the multisport mode, the current moved me past the starting buoys so I had to make my way back. Crap! I don't want to be in the front!

The buzzer sounded and we were off.

I have never been in a wave start this large. The athlete guide promised no more than 150 people per wave and that is probably 5 times as many people as I am used to (except for Vineman)! On top of that, it was a co-ed wave, so I had to worry about getting dunked by some testosterone crazed men! I swam towards the first turn buoy and worked my way around all of the swim traffic. Within a minute or two I ran into a gentleman using a snorkel. He seemed unaware of the people around him or the fact that he was swimming in the wrong direction.

I had read that the first turn is the worst in terms of contact, but honestly, it was no worse then the open water areas. There were swimmers everywhere! There were only a few times where I had any kind of open space around me. Most of the time I felt like I was continually maneuvering my way around bodies. I was surrounded by swim caps of all different colors and I knew I had caught up with swimmers in earlier waves. Throughout the swim I felt strong and thought I was doing better than usual. Although at one point I got the feeling I had been in the water much longer than I usually am for an olympic distance race.

Finally I could see the final turn buoy. I moved up along side a gentleman in a navy cap like mine. I tried to give him space, but he moved in my direction and caught me with a right hook to the side of my head. My goggles moved a bit but stayed attached without letting in a lot of salt water. Wow! That really caught me by surprise! My next thought was, he would do a lot better if he wasn't swimming with a closed fist!

The swim exit was less than graceful. There was a blow up dock covered in some sort of astroturf. As the swimmers tried beaching themselves on top of the dock, the dock would tilt towards the water causing swimmers to slip back into the water. Thankfully a volunteer grabbed my hand and helped me flop onto the dock. I popped up and staggered to the ramp leading to solid ground. I took off my Garmin (lesson learned at Vineman), unzipped, and slipped the wetsuit down off of my arms. HS was waiting at the side to see me come by and pointed out the location of my Mizunos. Thank you, HS!  I slipped off my shoes and jogged off.


This race is billed as an "urban" triathlon. I guess because there are lots of challenges associated with doing a race like this in a large city. One challenge is crossing train tracks. At Jack London Square, pedestrians, and triathletes, cross train tracks by using a pedestrian bridge. If time is not a consideration, then wait for the elevator. If you are in a race, however, you run up about 6 short flights of stairs, across the bridge, and then back down the stairs on the other side.

Stock photo from the Oakland Tri website...doesn't really give
you a feel for the height of the stairs
By the time I finished the .20 mile run and the stair obstacles, my legs were shaking.

I reached T1 and located my bike easily. I took a swig of water out of an extra bottle I had brought to wash my feet if needed and stuffed a Cliff bar in my mouth. I made quick work of slipping on my shoes, riding glasses and helmet and was on my way.


I had read the few existing race reports that I could find from the inaugural race. Most talked about the rough conditions of the bike course...noting pot holes, sunken manhole covers, railroad tracks, etc. One race report reminded readers that the manhole covers may be slippery if it is foggy out. Well, it wasn't foggy today, it was a drizzling rain.

It wasn't a heavy enough rain to be called a rain or even a shower, but it contained enough moisture to make sure I couldn't see clearly out of my riding glasses. I was soaked by the time I finished my ride.

Heading down Broadway was tricky. There were a lot of riders which made trying not to be in someone's draft zone nearly impossible. On top of that, you had a wide variety of riders and skill levels. Movements were eratic and a road hazard could send someone into your lane of travel without much warning. At most corners (and there were a lot of them) volunteers warned people of slippery conditions and asked that racers slow down (much like the one turn at Vineman).

At one location however, CHP and/or volunteers were on a load speaker basically begging people to slow down during the next two turns. I heard the warning and as I slowed to make the next turn I saw a woman down in the street being attended by first aid staff. The woman that I saw crash in Vineman flashed through my mind. I continued riding at a conservative pace. This race was about finishing, not about winning. I was trying to prove to myself that I could do something different and there was no reason to hurt myself doing so.

During one nice, long, straight section, I hit a small bump and I saw something come off my bike. I quick peak told me I just lost the rubber piece of my "Fuel Cell". This piece is used to hold gels and stuff and to keep the goodies like tire levers, CO2 and tubes from coming out of the compartment below. My guess is that all of the rough pavement up until that point had worked the piece loose and the small bump was the straw that broke the camel's back. There were too many riders around me and I was going too fast to safely stop, so I made a note of the location and made plans to look for it on my second loop.

On my second loop, the sprint racers had thinned out a bit, but there was still a lot of racers. The drizzle continued and I could feel the slipperiness of the road. A couple of corners had me second guessing my speed. Volunteers continued their warning cries. I even saw a male racer wipe out on a turn right in front of me. Was it really worth it to make that turn just a bit faster? Watching the guy wipe out made me even more concerned about the turns. Even if I was riding at a safe speed, one idiot "racing" could take me out! Throughout the course I saw several bloodied competitors on the side of the road and a fair share sidelined with flats. I just wanted to be done with the bike and to make it back to transition with all of my skin.

As I came up on the spot where I lost part of my "Fuel Cell" I scanned the roadway in front of me. A rider up ahead pointed out something on the ground. There is it! There it goes! Just like the first lap, speed and other riders made it impossible to stop :-(  That's OK, worst case scenario...I have to buy a new one, best case scenario...we come back after the race and find it!


I think my official time in T2 was 2:00 minutes. Not bad considering that I had to slip socks onto soaking wet feet and then run down the entire length of the transition area.

I usually love the bike leg, but today
I was glad it was over and that I was still in one piece

Socks were a bit damp from sitting out in the drizzle


I had mixed feeling about the run. Since my goal was to finish this race, I didn't have a lot of desire to push myself too hard. In fact, part of me just wanted to walk...I'd still finish and that is what was important, right? However, in the back of my mind a little voice grew louder and louder. This little voice reminded me of the book I am currently reading. This voice told me that Scott Jurek wouldn't walk on a flat run course like this. The little voice also reminded me that I had a bit of remorse about not running more during Vineman. So I ran. The first mile was a bit on the fast side, but that was OK.

The race course headed out of transition through a tunnel or something and eventually out and around Lake Merritt. On Your Mark Events also had a race going on around the lake and I got confused sometimes about where I was supposed to be going. There were also a lot of runners and walkers out that Saturday. It almost felt like the swim course all over again as I maneuvered around bodies.

I walked through all of the aid stations except the last one. I had passed someone with what I thought was a 45 on her left calf around mile 5 and I didn't want her to catch me.  As I made my way back to the start, I was so happy that the race was almost over. Where is that finish line? I craned my neck to see it it was down the current street. Nope. I made another turn and then another and then it dawned on me that I was on the wrong side of the tracks to get to the finish.

Actually, I was right where I was supposed to be. However, in order to cross the finish line, I needed to cross the train tracks first...the same tracks I crossed after the swim. OMG! I've got to go up those damn stairs again. This time there was definitely less pep in my step. I ascended the stairs as quickly as I could, but it was still at more of a "walking" pace. I made a asked a guy coming up the stairs next to me "What kind of masochist puts stairs at the end of a race?"

Once I was back on the street and on the "right" side of the tracks I continued my pursuit of the finish line. Out of off all of the locations on the course, the end of the race seemed to have less volunteers...maybe they were still out on the bike course begging people to slow down. The guy from the stairs even seemed confused as to where to go. Eventually someone pointed a finger and we followed. The finish line finally appeared and then before I knew it, it was over.


After the race, HS and I walked around the expo a bit. We visited the Rudy booth and walked away with a new helmet for him and a new pair of riding glasses for me. I checked the results and saw that I placed fourth. Since only the top 3 place at this race, I was free to leave. HS and I made our way back to transition. Of course, this meant crossing the tracks again. This time I opted to take the elevator (didn't want to get in the way of any racers LOL).

Great finisher medal
I cleaned up my transition area and headed towards the exit. After we retrieved the truck from the parking garage, I asked HS if we could go look for my Fuel Cell. I pulled up the bike course map on my phone and tried to get us back to where I thought I lost it. There were some one-way streets that made it impossible to simply follow the cones. Eventually I got to a place that looked familiar. "Turn right at the corner!"

We drove down the frontage road a bit and then I saw it...a small black lump in the lane. HS pulled over and dashed across 4 lanes of traffic and retrieved the part. He hopped in the truck and handed it to me. A quick check told me my multi-tool was missing. I told HS that it must have fallen out. We looked across the street and could see a small silver item off to the side. HS ran back across the street and as luck would have it, found my tools!

So lucky that this was still where I lost it.

Final Reflection

Although I was far from a PR at this race, I came away feeling great about the experience. I broke out of my comfort zone and tried something new. Between the sprint, the olympic and the duathlon, there were over 1300 competitors and they all seemed to be in the water at the same time. I completed my first salt water swim (I won't call it an ocean swim) and did it swimming against the tide. Although the bike was a bit scary because of the slippery roadway, it was still fun. Lastly, I was happy that I pushed through the run and didn't give in to the desire to walk. A lot of times I come away from a race wishing I would have done this or would have done that, but I didn't feel that way after this race. 

I'm not sure I would do this race again. The logistics of picking up the race packet in Oakland a day or two before the race is not convenient and the condition of the bike course is concerning (even if it was dry). I am sure, however, that I won't be tentative about considering other races located outside of my comfort zone.