Thursday, August 3, 2017

Dirt, Sweat and Beers - Race Report

Before signing up for a triathlon class in 2012, I had my eyes on this race. It seemed short enough to tackle without any real knowledge of triathlons. However, because Hot Stuff was going to be out of town that weekend at the Moto GP races in Laguna Seca and because he was taking his truck, I had no way to get my bike to the race. I asked a couple of people if they could drive me but no one was available. I put the race out of my mind and signed up for a trail run instead.

Flash forward five years. After racing long distance triathlons for the last few years, I needed a mental and physical break. I decided that this year I would go back to shorter, local races that I could enjoy with my teammates and with new triathletes going through the same class I went through. As soon as I saw Dirt, Sweat and Beers I knew I wanted to do it. Besides, it was a mountain bike tri and I have a new mountain bike that I have been dying to try out.


This season I've gone back to basics. Breakfast was my tried and true favorite of soft boiled eggs on toast with a cup of coffee. I drank a Red Bull on the way to the race for an added pick-me-up. The one thing I didn't do was prep my bike gear. I am so used to having extra CO2 and tubes in my tri bag that as I was packing, it didn't dawn on me that I needed a different size tube. It wasn't until I got to the race venue that I realized I had nothing on me to deal with a flat. Fingers crossed it wouldn't be necessary.

Getting to the race was simple and there was plenty of parking (free parking!).

After we parked, HS and I grabbed our gear bags and hopped on our bikes to ride over to registration and the transition area. I grabbed a spot next to James and HS found a spot on a rack with a couple other Central Valley Triathlon Club member. As racers continued to show up the racks became a little congested. A couple of extra racks would have been nice...just for a little extra space for the mountain bikes.

I set up my transition area and got ready for the swim.


The swim is held in a lake designed for water skiing competitions. If you look at it on a map, it looks like a giant circle. For this race, we were starting at one end of the lake and swimming straight towards the exit and transition for 400 yards. Apparently, the water was a bit deeper than normal because of all of the rain this year. However, there was still plenty of access to the shoreline for the swimmers that preferred the comfort of being able to touch the ground every once in a while.

I heard a lot of swimmers remarking that they were keeping close to shore, so I opted to move towards the middle. I decided to wear my LAVA pants to see how they felt in competition. I have been toying with the idea of racing in them and this seemed like the perfect place to try them out.

We lined up at the rope stretched across the water and waited for the director to tell us to go. It was a mass start with about 100 competitors. Mass starts make me nervous, so I can only imagine what our new triathletes were thinking. A few of the brave ones signed up for this race even though they are only half way through the class. I'm not even sure if they have had the transition class.

As soon as the director said go, I tried to get ahead of the pack. There was a lot of bumping and foot slapping, but nothing aggressive or overtly annoying. I passed several swimmers (more than normal) and after a few minutes I was in clear water. When I raised my head to site, I was surprised at how many swimmers appeared to be ahead of me. It seemed like they were almost to the exit. However, it was probably more like 10-15 yards. I put my head down and kept swimming.

The relatively narrow water way made it easy to go straight. A couple of times I got a bit close to shore. I could tell because my left arm would sweep through the long stringy weeds and get caught up in my Garmin. I looked up to site again and saw the boat dock. One swimmer following the shore too closely swam right to the dock and had spectators yelling to go around. Thankfully, I missed the dock and was alert enough to realize that the exit was just past the dock.


This has got to be the shortest transition run I have ever done on a race. You get out of the water, cross a sandy beach that is probably no wider than 10 feet, cross a grass section about the same width and there you are at the bike racks.

I found my bike quickly and started to change. At that point I realized I forgot to advance my Garmin, so I pressed the necessary button and went back to my task.

I struggled to put dry socks on wet feet and got flustered when an athlete came in and slipped their shoes on without socks. Argh! I should have opted for bare feet. LOL I grabbed the rest of my gear, and hopped on my bike. I was off. My first official race on my mountain bike.


The bike course is through Delta farm land. It's pretty flat, but there are lots of different terrains to make it interesting. As we left transition we climbed to the top of the levee and proceeded down a gravel road. I was thankful I was clipped in as it definitely made riding much easier. The course was marked with wooden stakes capped with a pink flag every tenth of a mile. As long as you kept the flags on your left you should be OK. The course was a double loop for a total of 11 miles.

I was having an absolute blast on my bike. I was spinning away and passing guys. I did a quick count and only saw five riders out in front of me. I pedaled away to see if I could catch up. At one point, the course made a slight dip with a turn into a very sandy area. The guy in front of me went wide and right into a deep section of sand. He fell and when he got up and started riding he aimed his bike across the trail and towards me as I was passing. I called out that I was on the right and narrowly missed a collision. The sand continued for quite a while but was broken up by a mud puddle.

The site of the muddy section gave me pause. Just looking at the marks from the farm equipment made it apparent that the mud was deep and thick. The riders in front of me were far enough ahead that I didn't get a chance to see them cross. I've never crossed anything like this, so I put my head down and powered throw it. It went much better than I expected and I couldn't wait for the second loop to do it again.

On the back section of the course I saw the "4-Mile" mark. I'm not sure if the other miles were marked or not, but I knew I was getting close to finishing the first lap. The start of mile five was through a really rough section of trail. I did my best to struggle through it without burning out my legs which were starting to feel a little fatigue from riding through the sandy section. The course made a sharp left on to a paved section. As we neared the end of the first lap, a group of 20 or 30 riders appeared in front of me. They turned off a dirt path coming from the middle of the fields.

What just happened?!? My first thought is always that I went the wrong way but I remembered seeing the 4-Mile marker. I was on the right course, these people just cut through the middle of the field probably taking a mile or more off of the 5.5 mile lap. And they also skipped that really rough slow section!! There was nothing I could do about it, so I continued riding and set about trying to pass all of the people that just pulled in front of me.

Found this on Strava...someone's posted route showing their cut through the field.
The start of the second lap took me back up to the top of the levee and back to the gravel road. As I made my way through the second lap, I saw where the other riders got confused. There was a road coming off the bike course that had two cones supposedly blocking it off. Blocking it off for some or looking like "Hey, turn here!" to others.  It probably would have been better to string some caution tape across the cones and maybe mark it off with flour as often done on trail runs. Thankfully, no one cut in front of me on the second loop.

As I made my way along the paved section for the second time I saw a female rider in the distance. I closed the gap with her and a male rider. We climbed the levee for the last time but there was no one at the top to direct riders. The male rider was turned around closer to transition when someone on the staff asked if he had done two laps. I wonder how many others only did one lap? I entered T2 right behind the female rider.


Super fast transition if I do say so myself. I remembered to press the lap button on my Garmin this time and was feeling good about the race. I decided to grab the bottle off of my bike at the last minute because I wasn't sure if there were going to be aid stations and I was starting to feel a little warm.


The lady that came in just before me on the bike took off running and she was fast. I still haven't figure out how to find that gear in myself. I seem content to just plod along at a pace that is tough but nothing that really tests my will.

The course started off around the lake. The trail was packed dirt and was easy to run on. As soon as the trail turned away from the lake there was a volunteer standing at the junction to point the way. I made the sharp right turn and continued running. A little farther down the trail were a couple more volunteers, but that was the end of the course guidance. They pointed the direction to run and said "Good job".

The trail soon turned sandy. I mean really sandy like you were running across the dry part of the beach. I slowed down a bit and was caught by several male runners.  I continued on and at one point started walking through the really sandy sections. How long is this crap going to last was my only thought? Eventually I came up to one of the guys that passed me. He was standing at a tee in the road.

He looked at me and asked "Which way do we go?" There were no clear markings, no volunteers, and nobody else at that moment to follow. Going straight would seem to lead us away from where the finish line was, so it seemed to make sense to go left. We turned and up ahead saw two more runners standing in the path contemplating another split in the trail.

However, this time the split had two cones sort of blocking one direction. One guy thought we should turn and go through the cones (the same mistake many cyclists made). The other guy thought we should go straight. Turning would only lead it right back to the path we were on, so eventually we went straight. And when I say eventually, I mean eventually. It was the weirdest moment I have ever had at a race. I think there were 6 or 7 of us standing there discussing the route before a agreement was reached. Who stops to discuss the course in the middle of a race? LOL

A minute or so later, a two or three runners went around us. This group included the female that has started running in front of me. At that point I knew we had made a wrong turn somewhere. I could hear her making comments about how did a female get in front of her (I was thinking the same thing on the bike LOL). There was nothing to be done at that point. I considered turning around and trying to find the section I missed, but figured it wasn't worth it and would probably create more confusion with the runners behind me. The course was supposed to be a 5K run but competitors that I talked to afterwards had distances between 2.5 and 2.8. I was closer to the lower end.


I crossed the finish and collected my finishers medal. I changed into my flips flops and went back to the finish to wait for HS and the rest of my team. A couple standing next to me was talking about the poorly marked course. I couldn't help but add my two cents when I heard them talking about the short cut on the ride. The guy said he saw 20-30 riders cutting across the field. He said he was behind me on the bike and trying to catch me when all of a sudden all of these riders appeared. At that point, all we could do was laugh. He also made a wrong turn on the run. I began to wonder if any one competitor actually raced the course as intended.

During the raffle following the race it was announce that a survey was going to be sent out for suggestions about how to make the race better in the future. I will definitely have a few to offer about course markings and I will definitely be back next year to try this one again.

Central Valley Triathlon Club - Post Race