Santa Cruz Triathlon 2014

It is hard to know what to feel about this years Santa Cruz Triathlon...I have been trying to win this one for so long and have come so close so many times it has sometimes felt comical. This year before the race I was telling a couple of people that I almost felt like it would be more appropriate for me to get second and if that happened it would probably feel more fitting than if I won. Some may know this but some may not so I will interject here that I have finished second at this event the past five years in a row. So yeah. 

I had been feeling pretty crappy leading up to the race and the last few races I have done were just too close together and I was not doing a good job of getting enough recovery after them so for most of the week I was unsure if I would even race this weekend. I kept up hope and felt a little better the day before and told myself I would try and if my body was a wreck I would listen and pull out but I love this race and I was certainly well enough to do the swim and at least get on my bike so there was no excuse to stay in bed. The ride down to transition from my house is barely over five minutes and I was greeted by all of the friendly volunteers from UCSC Swimming who were running transition and Kim Mush, their coach and my college coach. I worked transition when I swam at UCSC and working at the Sentinel, as it was called back then, was my introduction to the sport. I chatted with friends and coworkers, sponsors and other athletes about the day and the course and helped people figure out logistics, got someone's flat fixed and helped someone else get a was a perfect event morning and although my body felt sluggish I was happy and at ease. 

I went for a short jog on West Cliff to stretch my legs and get my system going. My stride actually felt ok and I was glad because I knew at the very least I felt good enough to finish the day even if it didn't go well. I stopped to stretch and watched a woman playing with her dog at It's beach. She was throwing a toy for him and he was bounding after it with such joy and excitement, even when the waves would pummel him he would bound free from the white water without a care in the world, it made me smile. I did a few accelerations on my way back to transition to open up my lungs and get my heart rate up...that did not feel good. Once my respiration would rise it felt like I was having pounds of concrete heaped on my shoulders but I told myself 'You have felt like this before other races and done well, it is ok.'

Back in transition I did a last minute check of my gear and pulled on a new Roka wetsuit that a friend had brought me to try out from Sports Basement's rental fleet and it fit perfectly. We walked down to the water together and chatted about the relative merits of different gear, training, pets and movies and commiserated about the fact that we were both not feeling our best and that it was going to be a tough day. We jumped in the water a ways down from the swim start and swam along shore to the starting area, stopping a couple of times to wave to a curious seal nearby and chat about the wetsuit fit. I felt a little sluggish but smooth in the water and just kept myself thinking positive.

At the lineup for the start it was a clear shot to the end of the wharf and the water was calm...with a little overcast it was a perfect day for a race and I took some deep breaths of cool sea air which felt really good. As the countdown to start commenced, people cheered and I heard a few friends yell my name from the fence 5...4...3...2...1 GO!

I got a good jump and bounded into the water taking a few huge dolphin dives to get away from everyone else and then settled into a long smooth rhythm. The starting line is wide and it takes a while for a clear leader to establish a line for everyone else to follow. A couple of guys came up from my left and were moving well so I figured they were good to follow and after a minute or two Yuta Sano, who is a good friend and a decorated open-water swimmer and duathlete, came past and began to set a gap on the rest of us. One guy was casing him and the rest of us were in a bunch chasing. I didn't want the gap to grow too much because I did not know the guy chasing Yuta and it is always better to have people in sight. At the end of the wharf Yuta had about twenty seconds on me and the guy chasing him was at about ten...there were a few guys close behind me but I felt ok leading and was happy to set my own pace. On the way back in I started to feel burnt so I lengthened my stroke out and settled my breathing down to take some of the strain off my aerobic system. I knew if I was going to race the whole day I was going to have to conserve where I could. 

At the swim exit I could see Yuta of in the distance crossing the parking lot and the guy chasing him at the top of the beach. Jack Calhoun, who won this race two years ago (my third second place), came out of the water with me and one other guy who was quick! He passed both of us on the run back to transition and we all caught Yuta and the guy in second. The transition shuffled everything and the quick guy that came out of the water with us exited first with me ten seconds behind and Jack just behind me. My legs didn't feel strong right from the start and I tried to keep my cadence up and my heart-rate under control heading out of town but the guy we were chasing was gaining ground and I didn't know who he was or anything about him so I was worried that meant that I was moving really slow. We got out of town and by the time we reached wilder ranch I was forty seconds back and totally unsure what to think. My legs were warming up though and I was able to produce some good speed on the flats so I hoped that maybe he would fade later on or we could catch him on the run. 

When we crested the first hill on the coast I saw him slowing down and pulling over and I couldn't believe it...he had a front flat and all of a sudden I was leading the race. I didn't feel like I was putting out my best numbers but I kept the cadence low and spun the hills to keep my keel as even as possible. I took a few glances back and Jack was never more than thirty seconds behind which really help keep me motivated. I felt like I was riding fast but not really well but no one else looked close behind Jack and at the turn around in Davenport it looked like a couple of minutes to the next chaser. The rolling hills on the way back were a lot harder and I think the wind was in our face a bit. I definitely had some moments where I would accidentally go a bit too hard and it would take a while to get back on pace as I started to feel pretty worn. Jack never relented and was within thirty seconds as we hit the city-limit sign but I put my head down and hit the chicanes coming back through town full speed getting a bit of a gap. I think I pulled out twenty or thirty seconds coming back across town and I entered T2 in the lead and alone with a chance to take some deep breaths and refocus.

I got through T2 smoothly with friends and volunteers cheering loudly and I hoped that I had enough left to hold of Jack and anyone else that might have made up time on us in the second half of the ride. My legs were turning over quickly as I got started on the run but I felt heavy and my lungs were not feeling good at my limit so I backed it off a bit and figured I would wait to let my body loosen up a little. Out onto West Cliff I opened up my stride a little and still didn't feel stellar but I could tell that I was moving at a decent clip. I didn't know what kind of run fitness Jack had or how far behind anyone else was so I told my self to just keep going, that I was not out to set a 10k PR and I could deal with the gaps as they came. I didn't look back for a long time because I always get scared when I know someone is close so I just kept my tempo up and kept moving. There were a lot of people out on the run course cheering and I got a little boost of energy and a little smile when they shouted their encouragement. The third mile was tough...I felt pretty run down and my heartbeat was pounding in my head. My thoughts were wavering between 'If you just keep going you might win.' and 'You can stop. You can just sit on that bench right there and's fine.' I reminded myself that in twenty minutes I wouldn't have to do anything exercise related for a month and tried some other tricks to just keep moving. At a few of the curves in the road I glanced back and saw that Jack was at around thirty seconds which is a good gap but not insurmountable if I began to fade.

I hit the turn around where several of my swimmers were shouting encouragement and grabbed some water to wake me up a bit and cool myself off. The gap was still about thirty seconds, Jack and I gave a high five and traded encouragement as we passed. The last there miles were a slow trudge towards the edge of consciousness and a constant desperate attempt to catch my breath on the slightest decline and not allow my legs to slow their cadence. I checked back every half mile or so and the gap was still holding. There is no way to tell how the person behind you is feeling and all I could do was push as hard as my lungs and legs could handle and not ease up all the way to the finish.

I was so wrecked. It was a hard race on a tough day when I was not at my best against someone with whom I am very evenly matched...I am so glad it did not come down to a sprint finish because I am sure I would not have survived. 

I hung around the finishing area for a while chatting with friends and other athletes about the day and kept an eye out to see if anyone in a later wave had posted a strong time. Twice in years past I have finished first only to find out that someone set a faster time from a later group so I wanted to know for sure before letting myself get excited about the overall win. It was a hard fought day and even though on another day Jack or someone else could have bested me it feels good to be able to say that I won it at least once.

It is hard to know how to feel after finally winning this one. It has been a goal of mine for such a long time and I have come so close so many times. In some ways I think the years that I spent coming close have more meaning to me than having finally won it. This is the race that got me into the sport...this sport through which I have learned so much about myself and developed an incredible community of friends and supporters who have helped me become a happier and fuller person.

My first time racing The 'Sentinel' was in 2005 with my college teammates. I was fascinated by the sport and all of us were inspired by people that fearlessly challenged themselves to do such demanding events and put their all into somethings so daunting. I have learned so many lessons and grown so much, some of it through the sport but also some of it alongside the sport, and it has always been a constant for me. At first as a seemingly unattainable dream and then a crazy endeavor, for a while it was a stubborn self-righteous obsession and then a meticulous puzzle of patience and attention to detail. The lessons I have learned through triathlon have helped me figure things out in my life and the lessons that I have learned in life have made me better at triathlon. The significance has always come from the people I have shared it all with though...friends who have supported me, coworkers and bosses who have been understanding, teammates who I have shared goals and dreams with over pizza or burritos, family who have loved me no matter what place I finish or the odd stranger who tells me something I did or have done is inspiring. I love all of you.

I draw inspiration from so many people and it is the parts of all of you that have been imbedded in me that give me strength and hope, and give meaning to my life.

No Fears - No Limits - No Regrets

Pacific Grove 2014

As always this years Tri-California Pacific Grove was a blast and it fell on such a beautiful times I had to remind myself I was racing and needed to refocus on what I was there for. This is another annual favorite for me because it is fun format, draft-legal, and it is close to home. Not to mention it starts at noon! I had been feeling pretty run down for a while leading up to the event and a week before I was not sure if I would race at all but as the rest took hold I felt better and better up until race day and I am glad that I decided to toe the line.

There are always some regulars that race this event that I know well and love racing with including John Dahlz and Tommy Zefares who are both NorCal natives and we have been racing together for years. This year saw the late addition of several ITU athletes that regularly race in Europe and are on a totally different level than most of us locally so it promised to be a fast day.

Right from the start Tommy and the other ITU guys hit the gas and a group of six had a gap on us at the first buoy! I was swimming with two other guys though and I figured that group would fragment and we might catch one of them and get someone coming up from behind so chasing might be a workable option. At this point I got distracted because the water conditions were so amazing! The kelp had receded some from years past, possibly because the water has been so warm, and we didn't have to crawl over any! On top of that the water was really clear and we were swimming over a rocky kelp forest with all kinds of fish and other sea life floating around. This was one of those moments I had to catch myself because I found myself sightseeing with things on the ocean floor and loosing track of the guy in front of me. The swim was very smooth and I was taking it a little easy partially because I knew I couldn't catch the guys ahead of us on my own and partially because I still wasn't sure of how good I was going to feel later on.

I exited the water with two other guys and I was glad not to be riding alone but also hopeful that we would catch any stragglers up the road and put time into anyone chasing. T1 was smooth, except for the fact that I lost my goggles on the way to my bike and this time they weren't there when I went back later :( I loved those goggles. The three of us exited transition together and immediately started working well together and got some rotation going. At the turn around Tommy had a gap on two guys chasing together and there was one guy chasing them...John was another thirty or so seconds back and it was about a minute and thirty seconds back to us. That made the three of us 6th 7th and 8th on the road. After we made the first turn around we had a solid gap on anyone else but there were some solid bike/runners getting together to form a chase and we would need time on them before the run. On the way back to transition I really felt better than I thought I would and I knew I was riding stronger than the other two I was with so when I saw that the gaps had not changed with the exception of us making some time up on John I was excited that we might be able to pick him up and then start making some real progress.

After the turn to start the second lap I really caught a good deep breath and something told me I could bridge to John alone and leave the two I was with reducing the number of people I would have to run against later. At the first rise in the road I attacked to get the gap and then put my head down and started going about the task of catching the guys up the road to get into the podium chase.

To my surprise John had eased up a bit, I think expecting us to catch him, and once we got together the gap to the two I had left grew quickly. John and I worked really well together, knowing each other well and having ridden together a fair amount in the past. It is nice to have someone that has similar strength and work ethic to you to really get some good work done.

Amazingly with how strong I felt like we were riding, we still weren't making up time on the four up front but by the end of the bike we had put a sizable gap on the rest of the field and it felt good to know that we had a couple of minutes to work with on the run. We exchanged encouragement coming into T2 and talked about the people in the field and how they might run and what to look out for before a frantic change of shoes and a dash out onto the run course.

John is a stronger runner than I am and has been for years so when he started out at a pace I figured I could probably not handle I just pulled my visor down and listened to my body, waiting for it to tell me where my limit was. I felt surprisingly good and I knew I was running well which gave me the confidence to push a little harder once I got a mile or so in. On the second lap of the run it looked like John was fading a little and I could see that I was catching up to him. I think he was fading and I was accelerating because I caught and passed him at about mile four and started the last lap with a bit of a gap. I never looked back and was feeling so good that I am sure I ran the fifth mile a little too fast because at the last turn around my body really started to shut down. As I faded John came past me again with a fury and I couldn't go with him. I gave him a pat on the back and did what I could to keep my pace up but I was toast. John got twenty or so seconds by the line but I was totally happy with where I finished.

Given how I was feeling I am very happy with how the race went! It was great to have family and friends cheering me on as well as tough competitors to keep me motivated. A special thanks to Nancy Robertson Zaferes for capturing so many great photos of the event!