Monday, May 16, 2016

World's Toughest Half - Race Report

Pity Party Preface

I left the house this morning with tears in my eyes...fighting back a full on make-up ruining cry.

Before getting in the shower I checked the results from the “World’s Toughest Half” and realized that I had come in 6th out of eight people in my age group. It was my worst triathlon finish ever. I knew I didn’t make the podium during the race because I could hear the awards ceremony for my age group as I looped past the finish line headed out for the last 2+ miles of the run. At the time, I thought I finished 4th because I was only passed by three women in my age group…two during the bike and one on the run.  Silly girl!

Anyway, I didn’t get emotional until I was headed out the door and I gave Hot Stuff a kiss goodbye. I felt bad because he was such a good sport about hanging around for nearly eight hours for me to finish. I started thinking about the excitement that my Central Valley Triathlon Club teammates had been sharing after finishing their races. I remembered my first triathlon finish in 2012 and longed to have that same joyful, “can’t wait to do this again” feeling. I wasn't feeling like doing any kind of race again. The tears started to well up.

As I drove away from the house I started thinking about the Pearl Izumi pact to “endure and enjoy” and the tears welled up even more.  I endured the race but I'm not sure I can say that I enjoyed the experience.

Missed the team picture :-(


Regardless of how I was feeling this morning, I had an awful lot to be thankful for. Yes, the race was tough, but there were a lot of positives...
  • Spent the night before the race with my dad and stepmom…so much better than staying in a hotel!
  • Didn’t mess up the multi-sport function on my Garmin (although I did forget to pair my HR strap to it).
  • Improved my bike time from two weeks ago
  • Met a Pearl Izumi Tri Champions teammate
  • Several of my Central Valley Triathlon teammates stuck around long enough to cheer for me coming in off the bike
  • Vineman doesn’t seem so tough in comparison
  • I have a better understanding of my limitations
  • I did this on only a “mini” taper
  • I made it through a hilly run without destroying at least one toenail (I owe that to my shoes!)
Ok, time to get down to the nitty gritty race details…


There was a mandatory meeting on Saturday, the day before the race, to go over all of the details…and there were a lot of them. When the race director started going over all of the turn by turn directions of the run, I was totally lost. I looked at HS and said “I hope it’s well marked!” It was :-)

Toenail savers!
Just like Vineman, this race has two separate transition areas and you get to set up T2 the day before the race.  I found a spot on an empty rack and set out my running gear. This is always a little unnerving. I’m always afraid someone will move my stuff or I will come in off the bike and my shoes will be gone or there will be a large spider hiding in my shoe. Luckily, none of this has ever happened.

After the meeting, HS wanted to go check out Knee Deep Brewery, so we made a stop before heading up to Foresthill.

HS hammin' it up for the camera
Race Day

I set my alarm for 4am and hit the snooze when it went off. The second time I heard the alarm I knew it was time to get going. I changed into my Pearl Izumi Triathlon Champions kit, so excited to be racing in it for the first time, and went to the kitchen to fix breakfast. I toasted a bagel and smeared half an avocado on it. I had intended to eat the full bagel, but nerves were getting to me and I couldn’t eat.

When we arrived at Rattlesnake Bar I racked my bike and started setting up my gear. Body markings were next on the agenda and I couldn’t remember how old I was. One lady asked what year I was born and I told her 1967…and added "in December". We agreed that I would be 49 at the end of the year and that is the number they marked on my calf. How did I get this old? And did I really just forget my age? Oh, my!!!

My teammates, who were riding their bikes from T2, showed up and started getting their gear set up. I slipped on my wetsuit and was then greeted by Angela, a Pearl Izumi teammate.

2016 Pearl Izumi Tri Champions

HS and I walked to the swim entry point. I asked him to remind me to get my flip flops on the exit and he gave me a good luck kiss.


This race has a deep water start. The only other time I’ve done a start like this was at the Oakland Triathlon. I swam out to the start and floated around trying to remain relaxed. A race volunteer on a SUP described the swim course as we waited and told us that as long as we followed someone in front of us, we wouldn’t get lost. The course was fairly straight forward…just one big rectangle and all we had to do was keep the buoys on our left.

The swim start was hectic and there was a lot of slapping and bumping. This is definitely my least favorite part of the race. I can tolerate the swim once I get my own space but I hate the fight for position in the very beginning. I tried to remain calm and just swim my race.

At one point I looked up to sight, about half way to the first turn, and was amazed at how many green caps were in front of me. My first thought was “Is everyone on a freakin’ swim team?” Was I really that slow or was everyone else swimming that much faster than me? I tried telling myself that some people may have gone out too fast and I would soon be catching them. As I neared the buoy, I started passing some green caps, some of which were men. This was good…just keep swimming my race.

After the second turn, the glare on the water made it difficult to see the next buoy. I came up to sight and looked for the orange triangle buoy that we needed to keep on our left. I got my bearings and kept swimming. Out of nowhere a red cap (Olympic Distance) crossed directly in front of me. Where in the heck is he going? I looked to sight again. To my horror, the buoy I had been using to sight was the first orange buoy for the out bound portion. The buoy I needed to be swimming towards was way over on my right! ARGHH!!! I changed course and followed the guy in the red cap.

I can see my right turn, but I have no idea where that zig zag
move came from...maybe that's why my time was slower :-)

The swim course was very nice and didn’t seem nearly as long as the last time I raced this distance. It was however, my slowest time at this distance. I told myself not to worry…that I could make it up on the bike.

Still my favorite part of the swim 

HS and I had rode this course two weeks ago so I would be familiar with it. It was hard. I knew what
I was facing during the race (except for the 2 mile out and back section) and I thought I was mentally prepared. Two weeks ago it took us 4:38 to cover the distance in a total elapsed time of 6:30. I wanted to beat my time and to not walk any of the hills. The first test came a few miles in at the Shirland Tract switchbacks. This is the first climb HS and I walked so I knew I had to make this climb to set the tone for the rest of the day.

Leaving T1
I made the climb even though a little voice in my heading was saying to “save your legs and walk”. Shut up stupid little voice…this is going to be a long day! In the prerace meeting I think they said there is 1,000 ft of climbing in the first 7 miles. As a flatlander, I had no real appreciation for this feat until I actually tried it. It’s tough!

When my Garmin chirped at mile ten I did a quick calculation of elapsed time…I had covered this first part of the course about 5-10 minutes quicker than two weeks ago. I was feeling pretty good about that. I headed out of Auburn knowing that there were 46 miles of mostly climbing in front of me and I felt ready for the challenge.  Several miles later I was passed by someone in my age group (yes, I always look at the age). She remarked that she liked the colors on my bike as she went past me on her tri bike. Ugh!

After reading the race info and doing the practice ride of the course, I had decided to ride Beauty, my road bike, instead of my tri bike. It seemed like a good decision on the climbs, but on every descent, the tri bikes pulled further and further away from me. There was nothing I could do about that at this point except stick to my plan which included being patient on the first 40 miles of the ride.

The next “walked hill” approached so I kept my head down and forced myself not to look at it. I could hear cow bells and cheering in the distance. This confirmed that this was another tough climb…nobody stands at the top of an easy hill cheering for people. The stupid little voice in my head was a little quieter. Maybe at this point, the voice figured I wasn’t going to listen anyway so why say anything. I crested the top and notched another small victory.

At this point, I’d like to point out that the volunteers at this event were great. There were a ton of them and they were all so friendly and they cheered for everyone. This type of staffing and attitude helps make an event!

The ride continued and before I knew it, I was past the halfway point and headed back towards transition. Well, sort of. There is an out and back section that takes you in the opposite direction for a couple of miles, all basically uphill. This is the part of the course that HS and I didn’t ride so I had no idea what to expect. I made the right turn onto the “out and back” section and started to climb (surprise, surprise). I down shifted and dropped my chain. Seriously!?!! Argh! I remained calm and got the chain back on in a relatively short amount of time. My only concern was having greasy hands and white bar tape :-)

A few minutes later I was passed by another woman in my age group. The time lost to my chain crossed my mind, but as she got into her aero tuck and shot down the hill, I knew the amount of time due to the chain was nothing compared to the speed she was going on her tri bike. I made a mental note that I was probably in third place at this point.

I came to the last hill that HS and I had walked up. If I could get past this hill, I will have met my challenge of not walking any hills. I’m pretty sure that this is the hill they said that Greg LeMond walked LOL. I was about 2/3 of the way up the hill, confident that I was going to make it. All of a sudden a muscle in my left leg (that had never been a problem before) made itself known. I’m not even sure what muscle it was…it sort of went from my crotch to back behind my knee and felt like someone was strumming it like a guitar. All I could think of was the inner thigh cramps that makes HS shoot out of bed and lurch around the bedroom like Frankenstein. Please, please, please…do not cramp right now. I kept pedaling.

Next thing I know, my right leg starts to get the same strange feeling. No! Not right now. Puh-leeeze!!! The feelings intensified and I knew something was not right. I have never felt anything like this. I made the decision, as hard as it was, to dismount and walk the remaining 30-40 yards up the hill until my legs stopped freaking out. Normally I would beat myself up for getting off the bike, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

Such a lonely ride without HS
The rest of the ride was uneventful. Overall I am very pleased with the effort. I drank plenty of fluids…roughly 3-1/2 bottles and ate nearly all of the food I packed for the ride (4 - Honey Stinger Waffles, ½ cup dried coconut strips). I also managed to take a serving of sport legs and not drop them all over the road.

Coming in to T2

As I walked my bike into T2 I could hear someone yelling my name. I thought I recognized the voice. Julie? Was she really still here? I knew that James said he was going to stick around, but I was certain that everyone else would be gone by this point. To my delight, HS (he had no choice LOL), James, Julie and Jessica were all there to cheer for me. It felt so good to have their support…this race is pretty lonely compared to some races. I was so grateful to see their smiling faces. I lingered a bit longer in transition than I normally do. I even took time to change socks and pose for a picture LOL. I think I was just trying to avoid the inevitable.

I think I'll change socks
I left T2 for the run course…not knowing what to expect other than what I had read. The course starts off downhill on a single track trail. I am not a trail runner. Running downhill over rocks and roots and loose dirt really makes me nervous. So nervous, in fact, that I will often walk downhill because I’m afraid of tripping and falling. Today was no different. On top of my cautious nature, I was also unsure of my legs. They were really tired at this point and I had no idea if I would be able to stop myself if I picked up too much speed on a descent.

Headed out on the run.

I stopped at the first aid station, taking some water and Gatorade, and then willed myself to get moving again. The next part was a rolling (seemed like mostly climbing though) out and back section with an aid station at the turn around point. Halfway to the turn-around point I was passed by another woman in my age group. The chance of making the podium faded away as the woman ran up the hill away from me. At this point, the race became just another training day. All I wanted to do was finish.

One little loop to go
As I walked up a hill, I noticed that my head was throbbing. The last thing I needed was a headache. This didn't feel like a regular headache though. This felt more like the headaches I have had from overheating. How could this be happening? Yes it was sunny out, but the temps were only supposed to be around 75. I felt crappy and my legs did not want to cooperate.

At the next aid station a lady offered me a choice of drinks. Suspended between her hands, however, was a bag full of white pills.
“What are those?” I asked. She replied that they were salt tablets and to help myself. I popped one and washed it down with some coke.

I watched the miles tick slowly by on my Garmin. This was going to take FOREVER!!! Luckily, the trail was absolutely beautiful! There were places touched by fire that were eerily desolate yet amazing. Canyon overlooks. Lush shady areas with running water nearby. There was a portion that you had to run twice that took you along a flowing aqueduct that dared me to jump in and cool off (I didn’t take the dare). I would love to come back with HS and run this trail again…without the 56 mile warm-up :-)


After crossing the finish line and getting a kiss from HS, we headed into transition to get my bike. I took Beauty off the rack and attempted to push her out to the truck. The back wheel would not move. What the heck? Are the brakes rubbing? Maybe that's why I was so slow. I checked the rear brakes and there was plenty of clearance. I tried pushing her again and she still wouldn't roll.

At that point I was getting frustrated. I really just wanted to get back to the truck and head home. I lifted the rear of the bike and to my shock, the rear wheel jiggled around. Apparently the quick release lever had come undone. When did this happen? As HS secured the wheel he shot me a look like "What did you do?" Before the race, he made me promise that I would take it easy going down hill and not do anything crazy. I swear I didn't do anything crazy! Crazy is not my style!

Well...except for picking races...this race was a crazy!


Now that I've had about a day to reflect on everything, I'm feeling much better mentally (physically I feel pretty beat up and I still have the headache). Writing the race report helps me keep everything in perspective and overall I'm pleased with my effort. I don't feel, given the circumstances, that I could have given more. I am also over the pity party...I'm even embarrassed to say that I had those feelings, but feelings are what they are and that is what I was feeling this morning.

I'm not sure that I would do this race again. I don't feel like I have anything to prove. Correction...I am 99.99% I would not do this race again! LOL I did it once and that is enough. Would I recommend it to other triathletes? Sure. Overall it was a well run, challenging event with great volunteers on a beautiful course. Who could ask for more?

#endureandenjoy #ride365 #run365 #pearlizumi #endureandenjoy365 #wth #auburntriathlon